The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
Peter Pinne

Peter Pinne

Peter Pinne's musical theatre career reached a peak in 1995 when his and his longtime collaborator, Don Battye's musical Prisoner – Cell Block H The Musical opened a season at the Queen's Theatre, London and became a cult hit subsequently touring the UK in '96 and '97.

Prior to that he and Battye had written many musicals produced in Australia that included CarolineA Bunch of Ratbags, Red White & Boogie, and Sweet Fanny Adams. Their musicals for children, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Little Tin Soldier, The Shoemaker & The Elves, Jack & The Beanstalk, Beauty & The Beast, Rumpelstiltskin and Billabong Bill have become a staple of the children's theatre scene since they were originally produced at the Alexander Theatre, Melbourne.

Peter Pinne's other musical collaborations include; A Bit O' Petticoat with Ray Kolle, Pyjamas In Paradise with John-Michael Howson, and Mavis Bramston – Reloaded and Suddenly Single with Paul Dellit.

He has also had a high profile career in television where he worked for the Grundy Organization on such iconic shows as Neighbours, Prisoner, Sons and Daughters, The Restless Years, The Young Doctors, and Secret Valley amongst others. He has also worked in the U.S., Latin America and Indonesia producing television drama, game shows and sitcoms for Pearson Television and Fremantlemedia.

From 1999 until the end of 2007 Mr Pinne was the owner and president of Bayview Recording Company, Los Angeles, USA, a boutique label who newly recorded and reissued CDs aimed at the show music market. These included over twenty recordings from New York Town Hall's concert series Broadway By The Year.

Apart from scripting television drama, he also wrote, with Battye, the theme song for the series Sons and Daughters. Other music credits include the score for the award winning movie A City's Child. He is the author of the discography Australian Performers, Australian Performances, and currently writes for On Stage and Stage Whispers.

In late 2019 he released The Australian Musical: from the beginning, a definitive history of Australian musical theatre, co-authored with Peter Wyllie Johnston, and published by Allen & Unwin in association with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Only Heaven Knows (Part 2)

From the Archives

Delving into the THA archives, we re-publish an article by Peter Pinne from the Summer and Winter 2010 issues of On Stage. Revised to include an important recent production, this is the second of a two-part article looking at Australia’s first ‘gay’ musical, Only Heaven Knows. Click here to read Part 1»


In his series of articles spotlighting important home-grown musicals, Peter Pinne concludes the story of Australia’s first gay musical and its creator, Alex Harding.

OHK9Alex Harding as Dotty with Bloolips in New York, 1981.Alex Harding was born in England on 15 October 1949. His first credits appeared in 1975, after he became a founding member and musical director of Gay Sweatshop Theatre. The movement had its roots in the lunchtime theatre club ‘Ambience’, held at the Almost Free Theatre.

According to Harding: ‘Drew Griffiths, who was the backbone and founder of Gay Sweatshop, wanted to form a gay theatre company where we could present alternatives to audiences and help break down their fears and prejudices. What we had from TV and stupid West End farces was the stereotyped queen – which I don’t have an objection to because there are screaming queens out there – but at that time it was never balanced. You never actually saw any other images of gay men or lesbians on the stage to counterbalance the screaming queen and butch dyke – images like John Inman in Are You Being Served?1

When Harding composed the title song for Only Heaven Knows in 1986, it was Drew Griffiths he was thinking of: ‘His pride and his passion was an inspiration to the original members of the company.’ Later, four people stabbed Griffiths to death in his house. They were never caught.2

As Time Goes By was first produced for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality Conference in Nottingham in 1977. It was written by Noel Grieg and Drew Griffiths, Harding composed original music, and it was in three parts – the first in 1896 after the Oscar Wilde trial, the second in Berlin in the 30s, and the third in 1969 when Gay Liberation was born.3

Harding’s next project was Double Exposure, a collaboration with Alan Pope, another founding member of Gay Sweatshop. Told in story and song, Exposure 1 is an everyday tale of growing up gay, whilst Exposure 2 is a satirical look at Britain’s foremost authority on TV and smutty stuff. Songs included the witty ‘There’s Nothing like a Fairy to make sure the Party’s Gay’, a direct descendent of Coward’s infamous ‘I’ve been to a Marvellous Party’. The show’s first performance was at the Oval House, London, 1978.

The following year Harding and Pope collaborated again on Point Blank, a cabaret that was directed by Martin Sherman (Bent). Songs included ‘Monogamy’ and ‘Boys’ Talk’. The show was recorded live, released on cassette, and sold at second-hand gay bookshops. The same year also produced The Dear Love of Comrades, a play by Noel Grieg, with music by Harding. It premiered at the Oval House Theatre, London, in March.4

Harding and Pope’s final collaboration was Layers, a musical that had a sell-out season at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) Theatre, London, in 1979. It starred a young Michael Cashman, who later played Colin, a gay character in EastEnders. One of the songs was ‘Is the Outlook Somewhat Brighter?’ It was Harding’s first attempt at a full-blown musical, and it worked. The play told a clever and very amusing story of conflicting relationships in modern gay life. The Guardian reviewer called it: ‘the only play I have ever seen that opens with three naked men in one bed …’

During Harding’s time with Gay Sweatshop, the company toured the UK, Berlin and Amsterdam, and performed at the Edinburgh Festival. In its early years Gay Sweatshop nurtured acting talents like Anthony Sher and Simon Callow.5

In 1980 Harding became a musical director of the Bloolips Theatre Company, a drag troupe that toured Europe, Vancouver and New York. It was during his time with Bloolips that Harding created his alter ego drag character ‘Dotty’, and sang the song ‘Drag Queen’. He performed with the Bloolips for two seasons.

Alex Harding migrated to Australia in 1984 and one year later became a citizen. His first Australian credit was Not Quite Sixty Minutes, a cabaret written and performed by him at the Midnight Shift, Sydney, during the 1985 Gay Mardi Gras. The following year saw him appear in, and contribute to, Love, Sex and Romance, an umbrella event during the Gay Mardi Gras at the same venue. Songs featured included ‘What’s a Queen to do Nowadays?’, ‘Love’ and ‘Safe Sex Song’, in which Harding appeared as ‘Nuda the Condom’. According to Harding, ‘an incredibly long monologue preceded the song [written by Denis Gallagher] and at the end I’d sing about the joys of safe sex. It was at the time of the ‘Rubba-Me’ campaign.6 It was a very rude song.’7 It was also outrageously funny.

The same year Harding also contributed to Acid ’n’ Tonic, another gay cabaret whose chief writer was Larry Galbraith. The show reunited Harding with Dennis Scott, one of the founders of Sydney Gay Theatre Company, who had just returned to Sydney. It also featured Rob Dallas and Robin Fellows, with Grant Ovenden on piano. Richard Turner was the director. It opened at the Paddington Green Hotel, Sydney, in September 1985.8

OHK10Anthony Wong as Michael and John Turnbull as Colin in Blood and Honour, Belvoir Street, 1990. Photo by Tracy Schramm.Harding followed Only Heaven Knows with the play Blood and Honor. Written in a style that was at times stream-of-consciousness and at others with dialogue that cut back and forth between past and present, the play was a powerful statement about racism, homophobia and living with AIDS. Margaret Davis was back in the director’s chair, as were two of the cast from Only Heaven Knows, Jacqy Phillips as the feminist Mother, and John Turnbull as her son Colin, who is HIV positive. The third member of the play’s triangle was Anthony Wong, as Michael, Colin’s Australian-born Asian lover.

The first play to be produced by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Blood and Honor opened at Belvoir Street Theatre on 7 February 1990. Bob Evans (SMH, 12 February 1990) said it ‘is one of those rare works in Australian theatre which seeks to explore the links between sexual and racial intolerance in our society.’ He went on to say: ‘At its core, the play is an intensely personal response to the AIDS pandemic and to the questions which it poses for our society, pitting compassion and understanding against repression, guilt and punitive indifference.’ He said it wasn’t an easy night in the theatre and dramatically it was flawed, but ‘its manifest anger is a reminder these are not easy times.’

Rosemary Neill (Australian, 13 February 1990) concurred that the play was dramatically weak. Her criticism hinged on the fact that she thought Harding ‘attempts too vast a narrative and thematic territory: he raises a multiplicity of issues and gives insufficient attention to all of them’.

Of his work in Blood and Honor Harding says: ‘I had a lot of anger to get out in that play, because I hated the Liberal party. The person I was actually going for in that play was John Howard, but midway through they changed to Andrew Peacock. And also, the play was paralleling what I was going through in my own life. My lover at the time was dying. People called it an AIDS play, but it isn’t just about AIDS. It’s about racism. It’s about a political party that would not give a shit.’9 It is well-known that Harding’s lover of 15 years, David E. Thompson, died of AIDS five months after the premiere of Blood and Honor. The play was written for him and is dedicated to him.

OHK11Jacqy Phillips as the Mother in Blood and Honour, Belvoir Street, 1990. Photo by Tracy Schramm.In early drafts, the play was titled Two-Legged Pricks Down Under. Later, when Harding heard of a British neo-Nazi rock group called Blood and Honor, he decided to go with that because it fitted in with one of the themes of the play.10

Despite the play’s critics and a soft box office, it went on to win the 1990 UN Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Award for Drama. It was published by Currency Press in 1996.

Harding was back at Belvoir Street Theatre the following year in a one-man musical, Beauty and the Beat, which was part of the 1991 Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival. Written and directed by Rex Lay, a former Harding collaborator from his Bloolips days, and with songs by Harding and Lay, the show is set in a public lavatory. Bruce, a bank teller, comes in to change into his beautiful drag costume for Mardi Gras, and is locked in. The show explores the two characters in one – Bruce and Beauty – which are the opposite sides of his personality.11 Songs included ‘If I were God’, ‘Perfect Stranger’, ‘Draughtsman’s Contract’ and ‘Fly Away’. The latter has lyrics by Harding and was written by him as a tribute to his lover, David E. Thompson, whilst ‘Perfect Stranger’ is a touching ballad every bit as good as the title song from Only Heaven Knows.

‘In this beat there is self-discovery, vignettes of delicious and camp delight, and music that ranges from the bitingly funny ‘If I Were God’ through to soft and tender ballads like ‘Perfect Stranger’… There are gags and glitter in glorious abundance in this public toilet’ (Sydney Star Observer, 22 February 1991). There was an opening night hiccup when ten seconds into the script Harding forgot his lines, so he went home, much to the dismay of the director and the audience. Later it was revealed there had not been enough time for a technical run or dress rehearsal in the theatre. It was subsequently re-scheduled and opened a few days later. It ran from 5 to 24 February 1991.

In 1992 Harding was commissioned by Playbox Theatre Company, Melbourne, to write The Life and Times of Hanky Bannister, a futuristic piece about an eccentric theatre troupe living and performing in an eerie desert. It featured dwarfs, ballerinas and lion-taming strong men, all led by a mad genius called Hanky who would send Porky (a dwarf dressed as a general with a huge pompadour wig) out into the real world and have him come back with reports of what corruption and thug trickery was going in government and elsewhere. Harding got the idea for Hanky’s name when he went to Liquorland and saw cheap Scotch whisky labelled Hanky Bannister. ‘I liked the name,’ he said, ‘and the play was written on a lot of that cheap Scotch’. In early drafts it was titled Earthly Possessions: A Comedy of Ill Manners. It remains unproduced.12

Sydney Theatre Company commissioned Harding to write the play Three. It was given a full-day workshop and an evening open reading under the auspices of STC’s research and development wing, New Stages, in the Wharf Studio, on 13 May 1993. The director was Michael Gow, assistant director Lex Biolos, and Hugo Weaving, Judi Farr and Les Wilson were the three-hander cast. The story had Walter, an elderly transvestite who lives in Darlinghurst, commentating on what was going on around him in his neighbourhood. He spoke of shopping at the deli, Betty’s soup kitchen and so on – real places, real times. In the same year, the show also had a reading at the Lookout Theatre, Woollahra, directed by Diana Denley. In early drafts it was called Surry Hills 2010. It has never had a full production.13

In 1993 Harding also worked as the pianist with a group called Body Tales in a piece called The Will. According to Leonard Radic (Age, 21 May 1993): ‘It is an amalgam of mime, music, dance and shadow play in which the performers exploit and satirize the techniques and conventions of the silent movie … The pianist Alex Harding goes at a steady beat throughout, working up to a fine frenzy in the final chase and rescue sequence.’ He was the only performer mentioned.

In 1994 Harding wrote a radio adaptation for ABC Radio National of Romeo and Juliet.

OHK12Program cover for Only Heaven Knows at the Sydney Opera House, 1995.In the mid 90s Harding was commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to write and workshop a two-hander on the bushranger Captain Moonlite. Called Beloved, it was based on the death cell letters of Captain Scott (Moonlite) and his love for another man in the gang. Brett Partidge played Moonlite in a reading of the piece.14

Two of Harding’s one-act plays, The Reunion and Kaleidoscope, were mounted as part of the Queer Fringe by Lookout Theatre, in a program of four plays commencing on 5 February 1996. The other two, Shudder and Swellings, were by Alana Valentine. In The Reunion, a man, grieving over his dead lover, is visited by said lover who tells him to get on with his life. Dominic Chang played the man, and Anthony Cogin the lover. Stephen Dunne (SMH, 9 February 1996) said: ‘It’s a simple, affecting piece, emotionally poignant, wryly humorous, performed with coherency and depth. It’s also the best playlet of the night.’

In Kaleidoscope Harding took a selection of short monologues and two-handers from his play Three. ‘Unfortunately Harding has taken out the material connecting the various characters, leaving a whole lot of people who don’t seem to know each other and have no reason for sharing a stage,’ said Stephen Dunne (SMH, 9 February 1996).

On 18 February 1996 Harding premiered his one-man cabaret Just One More and Then I’ll Go at the Stables Theatre, Sydney. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Stephen Dunne called him a ‘legend’ and went on to say: ‘The songs, ranging from work for London’s Gay Sweatshop to his hit musical Only Heaven Knows, are wonderful, and Harding performs them, accompanying himself on piano, with superb phrasing, humour and passion.’

His remarks were echoed by other reviewers: ‘Highly recommended’ (Sydney Star Observer) and ‘The atmosphere is cabaretesque, the music enchanting, and Harding’s humour shifts from martini dry to fairly camp in nature’ (Beat).

The show, directed by Diana Denley, played until 10 March 1996, and was restaged for a benefit performance at the Luncheon Club on 17 April 1996. Harding recorded a CD (AH 196 CD) of the material; it features songs from Double Exposure, Love, Sex and Romance, Beauty and the Beat, Point Blank, Not Quite Sixty Minutes, Bloolips, Layers and Only Heaven Knows. Composers almost always perform their own material better than anyone else, and Harding is no exception. This is really a ‘best of’ collection and there’s no shortage of wit or melody.

OHK13Only Heaven Knows: The 1996 WAAPA cast backstage (l. to r.): Nathan Carter (Cliff), Tyran Parke (Tim), Larissa Gallagher Guinea), Peter Cathie White (Lea Sonia), Matt Dale, Peter Eyers, Kane McErvale [now Kane Alexander] (Alan).Later in the year Harding teamed with Mary Haire for a series of Sunday afternoon cabaret shows at the Tilbury Hotel. They played on 3, 10, 17 and 24 November 1996, and earned a return season at Hugh and Phillips’ Vegetarian Café, Sydney, in January 1997. He followed this with Harding in the Soup, a Sunday night gig playing piano at Betty’s Soup Kitchen.

In 1999 Harding’s Family Secrets, Sheltered Worlds, was included along with No Secrets (Malcolm Frawley/Tony Harvey) and The Saturday Night Club (Linden Wilkinson) in a season of three short one-act plays at the Stables Theatre under the title of Hungry. A Playpen Theatre production, the plays were all performed by Angela Kennedy, Deborah Jones and Brett Partridge, with direction by Frawley. Family Secrets, Sheltered Worlds brought together two sisters and their brother at the funeral wake of their father, a Reverend, who we learn was anything but a loving Christian – sexual abuse of the son, the beatings of an adopted daughter, and neglect of the other one, all done in the guise of holy righteousness.15 The Sun-Herald (7 February 1999) called it ‘the meat in the sandwich’ of the three plays, and said, ‘It’s shocking and over the top and makes the director lift his game’. The season played for 16 performances, 4-28 February 1999.

Walk down the Avenue, a three-character musical, was to be a Sydney Mardi Gras production for 1999, but the cost was too great so it was pulled at the last minute. Set in the 60s and 70s, it was about a husband and wife lounge act who get a gig entertaining in Vietnam, and their young male protégée singer with whom the husband is in love. Jacqy Phillips was to have starred as the wife and Gary Scale as the husband, with direction by Dean Carey. There was to be a search to find the ‘star’ boy.16 Several songs from the show appear on Jason Stephenson’s CD Found (2000): ‘Dreams do come True’ (also done as a dance mix), ‘Whispered Words, Forgotten Dreams’, ‘New York ’69’, ‘Where is Home?’ and a title tune. The CD also includes two songs, ‘Draughtsman’s Contract’ and ‘Fly Away’, from Beauty and the Beat.

Harding returned to the UK in late 2000 and since then has fallen off the theatrical radar. He currently works as an Activities Co-Ordinator in an aged care facility outside of London.

Prior to living in Australia Harding had only ever written music and lyrics. As a dramatist he was a late starter, but he certainly made up for lost time, writing eight plays over a ten year period, two of them award winners.

Alex Harding lived his life as an out and proud gay man. It didn’t worry him that he was labelled a gay or queer writer. ‘There’s nothing that would bore me to tears more than to write for an exclusive heterosexual audience,’ he says. ‘I write for a gay audience because I’m gay. I’m coming from a gay experience, my experience’.17

Since Only Heaven Knows there have been many gay or gay-themed Australian musicals, but Only Heaven Knows was the first. It was groundbreaking, it broke down the barriers, and it put gay life centre stage. What’s more it did it with honesty, compassion and love. For that we have to thank Alex Harding, an Englishman who considered himself an ‘outsider looking in’. He gave us an Australian classic.18


Special thanks to: Scott Abrahams, Derek Bond, Paul Dellit, Denis Follington, Frank Ford, Alex Harding, Sam Harvey, Gary Jaynes (Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives), Ivan King (HMT Archives, Perth), Margaret Leask, Barry Lowe, Margaret Marshall (APAC), Andrew McNichol, Stephanie Power (WAAPA Archives), Ian Purcell, Peter Reardon, Rick Scarfone, Judith Seeff (STC Archives), Alana Valentine, Frank Van Straten – and, especially, to Alex Harding himself.



  1. Phillip Bilton-Smith in Australasian Drama Studies, no. 31, October 1997, pp. 57-70.
  2. Liner notes for the CD Just One More and Then I’ll Go.
  3. Michael Huxley, A Guide to Gay & Lesbian Writing in Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1996.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Outrage, 43, February 1991, pp. 52-53.
  6. Liner notes, op cit.
  7. SMH, 16 February 1996
  8. Michael Huxley, op cit.
  9. Phillip Bilton-Smith, op cit.
  10. Outrage 81, February 1990, p.14
  11. Michael Huxley, op cit.
  12. Alex Harding, correspondence with author.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Phillip Bilton-Smith, op cit.
  18. Liner notes, op cit., Bayview CD reissue.


The Age, The Australian, The Bulletin, The Guardian (UK). The Mercury (Hobart), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Star Observer, CD liner notes, theatre programs, playscripts


Tuesday, 04 December 2018

Only Heaven Knows (Part 1)

From the Archives

Delving into the THA archives, we re-publish an article by Peter Pinne from the Summer 2010 issue of On Stage. Revised to include an important recent production, this is the first of a two-part article looking at Australia’s first ‘gay’ musical, Only Heaven Knows. Click here to read Part 2»


Only Heaven KnowsOn 13 March 1995 Stephen Dunn claimed in the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Home-grown gay theatre has finally ascended to the temple of culture on Bennelong Point.’ He was speaking about the transfer of Alex Harding’s Only Heaven Knows, Australia’s first gay musical, to the Sydney Opera House. A sell-out season at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, had precipitated the move. It was just another crowning success in the story of this humble little musical that began back in 1988.

Only Heaven Knows was originally a Bicentennial commission. According to Alex Harding: ‘I sensed shock waves when some of the committee came along to a presentation work-in-progress. I think they were expecting an Australian Cabaret, a Sally Bowles equivalent with decadent heterosexuals at play, but were shocked to discover how seriously homosexual the piece was, hoping it would quietly disappear never to be seen or heard of again.’1 In his grant application Harding had cleverly omitted the word ‘gay’, and replaced it with ‘demimonde’.2

But it didn’t go away: it went on to be produced many times around the country to critical and audience acclaim. The playscript has been published twice, the cast recording of the 1995 Sydney production has been released internationally, and there are several versions of the show’s title tune available on record, making it the most recorded song from an Australian musical of recent times.

The show was inspired by Jon Rose’s book At The Cross: Growing Up in King’s Cross, Sydney’s Soho (Andre Deutsch, 1961). According to Robert Dessaix it was ‘one of the first post-war books for a general readership which described in positive tones what was in a sense a gay culture in Sydney during the Second World War.3

Only Heaven KnowsAlex HardingOnly Heaven Knows is called a ‘Romantic Musical Comedy’ and is set in Sydney during the 1940s (Act 1) and ’50s (Act 2). Each act is top and tailed by the Ghost of Lea Sonia, Australia’s leading female impersonator of the ’40s. Based on a real character, Lea Sonia was actually an American who was caught in Australia, unable to return to America because of the war. Australian audiences loved him/her (‘… is she really a man?’) so convincing s/he was in women’s clothing. S/he was a huge star and often headlined at the Tivoli alongside Mo. S/he was murdered when she was bashed and pushed under a tram by a drunken American serviceman.4

Act One takes place in Sydney in 1944. Seventeen-year-old Tim has left home in Melbourne to try his luck as a writer in Sydney. He rents a room in a Kings Cross boarding house run by night-club singer Guinea Newbolt, who introduces him to her male friend, Lana. Cliff and Alan are former lovers in their late twenties who share a flat. They were both dishonorably discharged from the Army when they were discovered engaging in fellatio with each other. Tim gets a job in a deli, where Cliff spots him, and despite the differences in their ages they fall for each other. On New Year’s Eve the five friends go to the Artists’ Gala Drag and Drain Ball. It is raided by the police, but fortunately none of them is arrested.

Act Two is ten years later and Sydney has changed dramatically. Tim and Cliff are living together but are being discrete about being gay for fear of losing their accommodation which has happened many times. Tim is pretending to be Cliff’s cousin. Guinea and Lana are running a theatrical hire shop, and Alan has been persuaded to have electro-aversion therapy to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. Tim gets a dream job offer to go to England to work on the London production of Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, but it will mean leaving Cliff. After becoming violently ill with his treatment, Alan, with the help of Lana, moves towards self-acceptance. After much soul-searching, Tim accepts the London offer and although devastated, Cliff gives his blessing. As Tim boards the ship for London they refrain from showing affection for fear of being arrested, but then finally give in to their emotions and hug each other.

Only Heaven KnowsProgram for the premiere production, 1988.The first time the project saw the light of day was in a reading at the Rocks Theatre, Sydney, in 1987. Mary Haire read Guinea, direction was by Margaret Davis, with Harding on piano. Although the Bicentennial Committee was not impressed, others at the reading were. Harding then applied for and received a grant of $29 000 from the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council. This enabled the musical to get up as a co-production with the Griffin Theatre Company.5

It opened at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, on 4 May 1988, with a cast including Steve Kidd (Tim), Paul Hunt (Cliff), James Bean (Alan), John Turnbull (Lea Sonia/Lana) and Jacqy Phillips (Guinea). Margaret Davis directed and choreographed the piece, with design by Judith Hoddinott, musical direction by Grant Ovenden (piano), and saxophone and clarinet by Amanda Jones.

The reviews were good. Bob Evans (SMH, 6 May 1988) said, ‘It is a much needed affirmation of love and community. There are moments of great humor and scenes of tenderness and tragedy, thrillingly played, especially by newcomer Steve Kidd, who catches the innocence, the energy and vulnerability of young Tim.’

Michael Morton-Evans (Australian, 6 May 1988), found: ‘It is very funny in parts, and in parts very touching,’ and called Harding a writer of ‘considerable skill and talent’. The Daily Telegraph said: ‘this is a brave and often poignant piece,’ and claimed there is ‘much pleasure in this heaven,’ whilst the Star Observer rejoiced, ‘at last a Bicentennial surprise.’

Only Heaven Knows has a strong contemporary theatre score. Tim is well served by the composer with three solos: ‘This Is It’, ‘Sydney, You’re Wonderful’ and the standout title tune, one of the best ballads ever written for an Australian musical. Guinea has a raucous moment with ‘Ain’t It A Shame That Your Itty-Bitty Mama’s Gone Fishin’ with Somebody Else’; Lea Sonia’s ‘Stealin’ It Every Way That I Can’ (later just called ‘Stealin’’), is a second act highlight; whilst Cliff’s ‘Without Him’ and Alan’s ‘Where Is The Love?’ are very effective emotional pleas. Two songs were cut before opening: ‘Dear Dorothy Dix’, in which Alan contemplates writing to the agony aunt for advice on his attraction to men, and ‘Lucky For You’, a song for Cliff and Tim.

Only Heaven KnowsSteve Kidd as Tim in the first production, Stables Theatre, 1988.The show also uses recordings to help recreate the period. It opens with the 40s pop song ‘Six Lessons From Madam La Zonga’. From a 1941 Lupe Velez movie of the same name, this was the real Lea Sonia’s signature tune. Other recordings included ‘Praise the Lord And Pass The Ammunition’ (replaced by ‘Moonlight Serenade’ in the 1995 production), ‘In The Mood’, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘One For My Baby’, plus ‘God Save The King’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’. When Lea Sonia returns at the end of Act One, ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ was played to denote the character was in a more contemporary place.

The show played Tuesday to Sunday and was so successful that the season had to be extended. It closed on 12 June 1988, after playing 35 performances.

The next production on this show’s ground-breaking journey was by the Playbox Theatre Company, at the Victorian Arts Centre’s Studio, where it opened on 6 February 1989. This time the role of Tim was played by Michael Pope, Guinea by Caroline Gillmer, with Alan Andrews (Lea Sonia/Lana), Robert Morgan (Cliff) and Kurt Geyer (Alan). Robert Meldrum was the director, Amanda Johnson the designer, with musical direction by Tyrone Landau on piano, and wind instruments played by Ken Schroder.

In the Bulletin (21 February 1989), Alison Croggon wrote: ‘The highlight of this production is undoubtedly the excellent acting…[it] makes all of Harding’s characters live and makes Only Heaven Knows as he intended, a celebration of their courage in appallingly difficult situations. While I never forgot I was watching a play centrally concerned with the issue of homosexuality, this was subsumed by the larger human issues it raises: the complexities of love and personal discovery in an often hostile society.’

Only Heaven KnowsAndrew McNichol (Tim) singing ‘Only Heaven Knows’, Hobart, 1990.Dennis Davison headlined his review in the Australian (6 February 1989) with ‘Sensitivity that’s neither gay abandon nor a drag.’ He called it a theatre piece which is a ‘mixture of cabaret, stand-up comedy, musical numbers, camp parody, drag-queen exhibitionism and serious drama.’ He thought Harding’s music ‘caught the flavour of the 1940s. The lyrics wisely refrained from trying to ape musical comedy big numbers and the men sang with feeling, if not with Glimmer’s expertise.’

Leonard Radic (Age, 7 February 1989) also praised Glimmer: ‘Unlike the men, she can sing. She also brings a warmth and naturalness to all her roles.’ He called it ‘a sympathetic study of gay living,’ and said, ‘Only Heaven Knows is a musical play with the strengths, but also the limitations of the genre. The blues and jazz music is atmospheric. But the plot itself is novelettish, and thin on both motivation and psychology.’

This time the show played Monday to Saturday, 7 performances each week, and once again, business was so good the season had to be extended until 11 March 1989. Like Sydney, it too clocked up 35 performances.

One year later The Old Nick Company presented the show at the University Studio Theatre, Hobart. It opened on 15 August 1990, and played a 10-night season, closing on 25 August. With direction by Glenn Braithwaite, who also played the role of Cliff, the cast included Andrew McNicol (Tim), Mark Weeding (Alan) and Amy Vogel (Guinea), with the roles of Lea Sonia and Lana being played by two separate actors, Cameron Hartley and Anthony Speed. Various other bit parts, which had been doubled in previous productions, were handled by Andrew Harper, Kate Johnson and Mimi Phoenix. This time the musical accompaniment was by Ben Sibson on piano and synthesizer, and Phillip Bywater on clarinet and saxophone. Production design was by Keith Bates.

Only Heaven KnowsGlenn Braithwaite (Cliff) and Andrew McNichol (Tim). Hobart, 1990.‘This warm and, for the most part, gentle story of homosexual love is told with comedy and compassion,’ said Wal Eastman in his Mercury review (16 August 1990). It has ‘plenty of romance, rollicking humour, good tunes, a brief naked-lovers-in-bed-scene, and a plot with its fair share of misunderstandings and making up.’ He said Braithwaite ‘excels’ as Cliff, and McNicol matches him in a ‘sensitive performance as Tim.’

In 1991 a group of gay Adelaide actors presented a play reading of the first act. This resulted in them mounting a full production as a Fringe Festival attraction during the 1992 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Calling themselves Theatre Sagitta – The Theatre of the Times, they hired the Sheridan Theatre for a two week season of the show – 17-28 March 1992. Tom Maloney played Lea Sonia, and Paul Halton was Tim.

Next up was a new production of the show by Umbrella Productions for the 1995 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Again playing at the Stables Theatre, it opened on 3 February 1995. The cast included Gary Scale (Lea Sonia/Lana), Anthony Cogon (Cliff), Jason Longley (Alan) and newcomer David Campbell (Tim). Jacqy Phillips was back again to play Guinea as she had done in the original 1988 production.

Les Solomon handled direction, Jason Langley did set design, and Michael Huxley was musical director. The production used Judith Hoddinott’s Sydney Habour Bridge backdrop design from the 1988 production. A reduced version of ‘Lucky For You’ was reinserted in Act Two, and Guinea’s Act One song was now listed as ‘Itty Bitty Momma’. It was later retitled ‘Ain’t it a Shame’. ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ had been dropped from the end of the first act, and an epilogue had been added for Lea Sonia in Act Two.

Only Heaven KnowsDavid Campbell (Tim) and Anthony Cogin (Cliff), Sydney, 1995.‘Campbell is absolutely terrific as the young Tim, all fresh-faced with a sweet voice to match,’ raved James Waites (SMH, 7 February 1995). ‘Gary Scale, of Tilbury Hotel fame, offers us his Lea Sonia, and a hilariously prune-faced Lana.’ He also liked Cogon, Langley, and said Phillips as Guinea was ‘total class’. Solomon came in for his share of accolades: ‘It takes good old-fashioned professionalism to make a show like this work and that’s what Les Solomon’s production has in bucket-loads.’

Bryce Hallett (Australian, 17 February 1995) said Harding has ‘fashioned an intelligent and immensely appealing gay musical that evokes Sydney, or more specifically King’s Cross bohemia in the 40s and 50s.’ He called the production ‘a timely, life-affirming theatrical occasion,’ and went on to praise Scale for his ‘humour and warmth’ and Phillips for her ‘knockabout experience and a slightly unhinged madness.’

The praise was also echoed by the Sun Herald (19 February 1995): ‘Harding tells his story through words, action and, perhaps most emphatically, music – songs that haunt: that raunch. This company delivers his story with lots of flash and zing.’

The production won the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Award for Outstanding Performing Arts Event, 1995.

The show played 30 sellout performances at the Stables until it closed 5 April 1995. It moved immediately to the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House, opening on 11 April and playing another 37 full-houses until it closed on 13 May.

For the Opera House season Paul Hunt replaced Anthony Cogon as Cliff. Stephen Dunne (SMH, 13 April 1995) headlined: ‘Quirky charmer still joy to watch,’ also saying the production had survived the shift from the intimate Stables venue to the larger Playhouse with the loss of intimacy made up for by more ‘settled performances’. Scale, Phillips and Langley still received plaudits, with Hunt giving Cliff a ‘nicely down-played blokey realism,’ and Campbell ‘dramatically fine but somewhat vocally tenuous.’

It was David Campbell’s breakout role. He was nominated for a ‘Mo’ award for ‘Best Musical Theatre Performer’ of 1995, and later moved to New York where he made a name in cabaret and starred in Stephen Sondheim’s Saturday Night and the Encores production of Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms.

In October 1996, an off-campus play-reading of the show was given by Music Theatre students from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Presented during Gay Pride week, the reading was directed by John Milson, with Denis Follington as musical director.

Only Heaven KnowsGary Scale (Lea Sonia), Sydney, 1995.It featured a cast of performers on the brink of their careers. Tyran Parke played Tim, Kane McErvale (he later changed his name to Kane Alexander) was Alan, with Nathan Carter (Cliff), Larissa Gallagher (Guinea) and Peter Cathie White (Lea Sonia). Other roles were filled by Peter Eyers, Sharon Wisniewski and Mathew Dale.

Parke remembers: ‘I really loved doing that show – mind you I think we only did three or four performances – but it was really, really well received. People felt very moved by the piece. I think the atmosphere of the Blue Room in Perth really added – it was very intimate.’

Since 1996, Only Heaven Knows has been revived twice in Melbourne. During the 1998 Midsumma Festival it played the David Williamson Theatre, Prahran, from 22 January to 14 February. The cast included Luke Gallagher, Larry Hunter-Stewart, Kurt Kansley, Catherine Rutten and Michael Smallwood, with Nigel Ubrihien on piano. Midsumma Festival was also responsible for a later production directed by Adrian Barnes at Chapel Off Chapel, 17 January–3 February, 2001.

Sydney has also experienced two revivals, both at the New Theatre. The first ran from 7 November to 19 December 1998. It featured Paul Flynn (Tim), Mark Fuller (Cliff), Lloyd King (Alan), with Benjamin O’Reilly (Lea Sonia), Alice Livingstone (Guinea), George Hoad (Lana) and Mary Lindsay, Don Ferguson and Karren Lewis. Direction was by Pete Nettell, with John Short as musical director. The second was a One-Off Moved play-reading on 4 December 2002, with basically the same cast and director. Musical direction was handled by Andrew Davidson. An unofficial video of the complete 1988 production survives.

In 2017 the Hayes Theatre, Sydney, produced a new professional production of the musical with Tim Draxl as Cliff, Hayden Tee as Lea Sonia and Lana, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) graduate Ben Hall as Tim, Matthew Backer as Alan and Blazey Best as Guinea. David Spicer in Stage Whispers claimed it was "Stylish, humorous and as relevant as when it was written." It played 43 performances.

The show has not been without controversy. According to Harding, one reviewer of the initial season, failing totally to see the politics of the piece, couldn’t get past the fact that Only Heaven Knows is a love story between two men – and whilst he was quite correct, he nevertheless felt obliged to demand that there be some sort of warning on the poster in order to alert potential theatregoers! A similar thing was to occur during the Opera House season. A group of American tourists walked out declaring that ‘… if this play and these actors ever come to Milwaukee, we’ll shoot them!’ And in Melbourne at the Arts Centre a booking clerk was advising people who wanted to see the show ‘… oh, you won’t like that, it’s about two poofters!’ An internal hunt to expose said booking clerk failed, but gave the show added publicity. And the work wasn’t without its gay critics. Outrage magazine complained that the show was ‘all white’ – i.e. there were no Aborigines in it.6

The show has been published twice by Currency Press. The first version appeared in 1989 and a second revised edition in 1996. Festival Music published a single sheet of the title song in 1988.

The 1995 Stables Theatre cast recorded the complete score (OHK95). It contains a ‘Prologue’, ‘This Is It’, ‘Night-Time In The City’, ‘Sydney You’re Wonderful’, ‘Would You Like That Too?, ‘Ain’t It A Shame’, ‘Asking Me Questions’ ‘Act 1 Scene 15’, ‘Act 2 Scene 1’, ‘Lucky For You’, ‘Where Is The Love?’, ‘Stealin’’, ‘Without Him’, ‘Only Heaven Knows’ and an ‘Epilogue’.

In 2000 this cast recording was reissued in the US and distributed in the UK on Bayview Records (RNBW005) with 6 bonus tracks by the composer: ‘Sydney You’re Wonderful’, ‘Stealin’’, ‘Where Is The Love?’, ‘Only Heaven Knows’, the cut ‘Dear Dorothy Dix’ and a full version of ‘Lucky For You’. The US and UK reviewers enthused: ‘The score is excellent, a lovely blend of poignant and witty songs…’ (Mike Gibb, Masquerade); ‘…the disc does boast as leading man David Campbell, who is excellent.’ (Ken Mandelbaum,; and ‘Alex Harding’s music and lyrics are pop hook-laden enough to hold interest.’ (Jonathan Padget, GLAA Metro Weekly).

The title tune has been recorded by David Campbell on his album Yesterday Is Now (Philips 532 714-2), and No.1 Musicals Album (Polygram 539-736), by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir on Something to Sing About (ABC LRF 295, 1993), and Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir (Larrikin LRF-481, 1997), Les Ms on Les Ms – Therapy (L-M, 1998), and by Jason Stephenson on Found (2000). This album also contains a version of ‘Where Is The Love?’. Harding’s version also turns up on Musicals From The Land Of Oz (Bayview RNBW 012), Just One More And Then I’ll Go (AH 196 CD, 1996), which also has ‘Sydney You’re Wonderful’, ‘Stealin’’, and ‘Where Is The Love?’ on it, and on a cassette released for the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. There are two tracks on the cassette, the other being ‘Fly Away’, which was used in the cabaret Beauty and the Beat (1991). Mark Fuller, who played Cliff in the 1998 New Theatre production, also features ‘Lucky For You’ and ‘Stealin’ on his live album Mark Fuller – Songs about Adam (Pride 010LPD, 1996).

To be continued.


  1. Liner notes from Bayview CD reissue.
  2. Phillip Bilton-Smith in Australasian Drama Studies No 31, October 1997, pp57-70
  3. Ibid
  4. Liner notes from Bayview CD reissue.
  5. Michael Huxley: A Guide to Gay & Lesbian Writing in Australia. Allen & Unwin, 1996
  6. Alex Harding correspondence with author


The Age, The Australian, Bulletin, Guardian, (UK), Hobart Mercury, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Star Observer, Stage Whispers
CD Liner notes
Theatre Programs


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Lola Montez

From the Archives

Delving into the THA archives, we re-publish an article by Peter Pinne from the Summer 2008 issue of On Stage written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian musical Lola Montez. This article has now been brought up to date by Peter and includes by way of illustration some newly revealed costume designs by Hermia Boyd.

Lola MontezFrank Gatliff (Vanderburg) and Justine Rettick (Lola), UTRC, 1958. Photo courtesy of Justine Rettick.When Lola Montez opened on 19 February 1958, a breath of fresh air blew across the Australian musical theatre landscape. Here, at last, was a show the critics thought could hold its own against the American and British imports of the day. The composer, lyricist and writer were young and unknown, but the quality of their work promised a bright future for all three. The show and its score have since been recognized as the landmark that they were, and fifty years later Lola is still kicking up her heels on Australian stages.

Peter Stannard (b. 1931) composer, Peter Benjamin (b. 1930) lyricist, and Alan Burke (1923-2007) book writer, met in 1951 at the Intervarsity Drama Festival, Sydney. They all shared an interest in musicals, and talk revolved around them writing one together. The subject of Lola Montez and her four-day visit to the Ballarat goldfields in 1856 was a story the trio thought had potential.

The colourful Lola was working-class Irish who improved her station by marrying an army officer. When he was posted to India, she walked out on him, later dancing her provocative ‘spider dance’ for the crowned heads of Europe. For a time she was mistress to Ludwig I of Bavaria (and others), but eventually she fled to America. Gold-rich Australia soon beckoned. She gave performances in Sydney and Melbourne and, of course, Ballarat – where she infamously publicly horsewhipped the editor of the Ballarat Times for daring to give her a bad review.

Lola MontezLola in negligee. Costume design by Hermia Boyd for Lola Montez, 1958. Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Lucinda and Cassandra Boyd.Stannard began writing music in his teens, sending his efforts to such radio programs as Search for a Song. Later, while studying Arts at Sydney University, he produced, scripted and appeared in student revues. During a stint working for an advertising agency in Brisbane in 1956, he produced, directed, wrote and performed in the revue Heaven’s Above – The Sky’s The Limit (14 March 1956), which was mostly recycled material that he’d written for the Sydney University Revue of 1954. Benjamin also studied Arts at Sydney University, where he majored in Maths. During his time there his clever facility with words found him also contributing to the annual student revues.

Burke, who graduated from Melbourne University, began his career working with Brett Randall at the Little Theatre in South Yarra. In 1952, he was appointed administrator of Canberra Repertory. He followed that with a three-year London stint, working with BBC television courtesy of a UNESCO fellowship. On his return to Australia in 1956 he spent two years working with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, before joining ABC TV.

Correspondence about a Lola musical continued between the trio throughout 1953 and 1954. Eventually they gathered under one roof and between Boxing Day 1956 and New Year’s Day 1957, they completed the first draft of the book, music and lyrics.

The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust agreed to fund a tryout production of the work by the Union Theatre Repertory Company (now MTC), at the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne. John Sumner was to have directed the show, but during rehearsals he fell ill, so Alan Burke took over. It wasn’t the last time he would direct Lola. The show was cast from the then current group of repertory players, many of whom later went to local and international fame; Frank Gatliff, Hugh McDermott, Patricia Conolly, Neil Fitzpatrick, Robin Ramsay, Monica Maughan, Alan Hopgood, and George Ogilvy. Justine Rettick, an operetta comedienne, was recruited to play Lola. Glen Balmford, also cast from outside the ranks, played the young love interest, Jane Oliver.

The musical’s story centred around Lola’s four-day visit to the Ballarat goldfields, where the miners in appreciation of her performance threw gold nuggets to her on the stage, and her subsequent infamous Editor horsewhipping episode. A sub-plot was a sweet little love story that had an Irishman travelling halfway around the world to find the girl who nursed him in the Crimean War. As for the score, the opening song, ‘Southerly Buster’, was a hearty and memorable men’s chorus, and ‘Let Me Sing! Let Me Dance’ was an appropriate and effective big number for the lead. ‘Partner, Name Your Poison’ and ‘Maria, Dolores, Eliza, Rosanna’, were clever duets for Lola and her manager Sam Vanderburg, and there were two ballads that stood out, ‘I Alone’ and the pretty waltz that had hit potential, ‘Saturday Girl’.

The Bulletin (26 February 1958) said: ‘Lola Montez was a definite success, and looks likely to continue for some time.’ It praised Justine Rettick, ‘the most accomplished singer and an energetic actress,’ Neil Fitzpatrick for playing ‘a sufficiently naïve and Irish, Daniel Brady,’ and said ‘Frank Gatliff was an amusing and swaggering American Sam Vanderberg.’ Others to be noticed were Glen Balmford and Hugh McDermott. Although the Bulletin carped that, ‘Some of the best songs have overseas big brothers,’ the score was generally liked. Howard Palmer’s headline in The Sun (20 February 1958) called Lola Montez ‘a show to see’. He went on to say that he thought it would sell abroad. The Herald’s Harry Standish (20 February 1958) said, ‘there are good choruses and songs with world class lyrics and catchy enough tunes.’ But he thought Lola lacked fire: ‘Lola herself is the disappointment of the show. However much past her prime, she should be a dancer, with fire to stir the diggers to throw nuggets. Justine Rettick doesn’t get near it.’

The public responded positively to the notices, which resulted in the season being extended. On opening night, Hugh Hunt, executive director of the Elizabethan Trust, announced that the Trust would mount a full-scale production later in the year.

Lola MontezMary Preston as Lola, AETT, 1958. Production photo by Fred Carew.The Trust came good on its word. It scheduled its production of Lola Montez to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane, on 1 October 1958, to be followed by a transfer to its Elizabethan Theatre in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. Top-starred as Lola was English dancer Mary Preston, whose previous London credits included playing a ‘starlet’ in Grab Me a Gondola. Frank Wilson, who had spent some time in London appearing in Call Me Madam (1952), Paint Your Wagon (1953), and had a stint as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (1954), was cast as Lola’s American manager, Sam, with Jane Martin and Michael Cole as the young lovers, Jane and Daniel. Others in the cast included John Auld, Bernard Shine, Doreen Oakshott, Ron Pinnell and Alan Hopgood, who was the only cast member retained from the tryout season in Melbourne.

Direction and choreography were in the hands of expatriate Australian George Carden, who returned from London for the assignment. His London credits included dance direction of the Arthur Askey–Julie Wilson musical Bet Your Life, which had a score by another expatriate Australian, Charles Zwar. Leo Packer was assigned as musical director, and orchestrations were by Verdon Williams. Between the Union Theatre season and Brisbane, the second act song, ‘She Was Like the Gold’ was cut and replaced with a reprise of ‘I Alone’.

In the Courier Mail (2 October 1958) Roger Covell called the show a ‘genuine home-hewn nugget,’ and went on to praise George Carden’s choreography, ‘some of the most supple and inventive dancing seen here,’ as well as the sets: ‘Hermia Boyd’s warmly coloured scenery waltzed round in spectacular fashion.’ The score also found favour; ‘Peter Stannard has thought up some excellent tunes in the current Broadway style. “Be My Saturday Girl”, “I Alone” and “I’m the Man” should find their way about without any trouble. Peter Benjamin’s lyrics alternated wit and sentiment judiciously, and probably came over best in “The Wages of Sin,” one of the hit scenes of the show.’ Covell’s criticism of the cast was reserved for Mary Preston, who ‘made us sit up and take notice,’ and Frank Wilson, ‘who clinched every scene in which he appeared – a truly masterful performance.’

But a good notice in the most important paper in town was not enough. Brisbane was unaccustomed to tryouts of any musical, let alone a local one, and with little pre-show publicity, audiences were sparse for its brief run.

By the time the Sydney season opened on 25 October 1958, Eric Thornton had replaced Michael Cole as Daniel, and Lola’s second act solo, ‘A Lady Finds Love’ had been cut. The press was again positive. L.B. in the Sydney Morning Herald (24 October 1958), thought, ‘there was still plenty of Gold in Ballarat,’ and that the Trust had ‘dug up a rich nugget of it,’ and that it had ‘zest, pace and colour.’ Stannard’s score was called ‘crisp and racy,’ and Benjamin’s lyrics ‘danced with verbal fun.’ But they did complain the show was not particularly Australian and could easily have been called, ‘Annie Get My Fair Damned Okladoon Game,’ for it was never less than a skilful synthesis of oft-proven New York tricks.’ They thought it ‘needed a bigger and more forceful personality than soubrettish little Mary Preston’ in the title role, that Eric Thornton ‘sang well,’ but ‘the finest singing came from the rugged men’s choruses, most of all in the unaccompanied little folk ballad of the second act [‘Ballad of a Tree’].’ Alan Burke’s book was said to rely too often for laughs on ‘copious bloodys and raucous insults about trollops and “dingoes” and such.’

Lola MontezPreparing to record Lola Montez at the EMI Studios, 1958: l to r: composer Peter Stannard, musical director Leo Packer, lyricist Peter Benjamin, record producer Ron WillsBut the writing was on the wall. Audience response was dismal and the show closed at a loss of £31,581. A few weeks later EMI, in a first for Australian theatre, released an original cast LP. It had been recorded in Sydney by Ron Wills, on 19, 23, 24, 25 September with the Brisbane cast, in between the Brisbane and Sydney seasons. It was the first stereo recording ever produced in Australia. Two songs, ‘There’s Gold in Them There Hills’ and ‘Ballad of a Tree’, were dropped from the score for the LP release. There is no doubt it is this historic recording that has kept the show alive for the past fifty years.

The following January, on Australia Day, the ABC broadcast a condensed radio version of the show with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust cast. Three years later ABC TV produced it for television. Both versions were directed by Alan Burke. The television cast featured New Zealand actress Brigid Lenihan as Lola, pop-singer Johnny Rohan as Daniel, Patsy Hemingway as Jane, Campbell Copelin as Seekamp, and two original Trust cast members, Frank Wilson as Sam and Alan Hopgood as Smith. Lenihan was ‘superb’ according to The Televiewer in the Age (3 May 1962), and they also liked Frank Wilson and Johnny Rohan. Their major criticism however was for the absence of any close-ups of the legendary whipping scene. Hopgood was the only actor to appear in all four productions, the original Union tryout, plus the Trust, radio and TV versions.

Thirty years after its first production, the show had a major revival in Canberra (3 December 1988) for the1988 bicentennial. Using a slightly revised script, it was again directed by Alan Burke, and featured Kate Peters as Lola. W.L. Hoffman in the Canberra Times (4 December 1988) said it ‘offers a pleasantly entertaining evening of music-theatre.’

At the time of the show’s major production in 1958, Chappell and Co. published a Piano Selection of the score with lyrics, which included the songs ‘Southerly Buster’, ‘A Lady Finds Love’, ‘The Wages of Sin’, ‘I Alone’, ‘I’m the Man’ and ‘He’s Mine’ and ‘Saturday Girl’. The latter two were also published as single sheets.

Apart from the EMI cast recording, which was produced in stereo and mono, there was also a medley released on LP from the Bobby Limb Sound of Music TV series. This was sung by Rosalind Keene, Bill Newman and Darryl Stewart with Bob Gibson’s orchestra. It featured the songs ‘Southerly Buster,’ ‘I’m the Man,’ ‘Saturday Girl’ and ‘I Can See a Town’. Stewart Harvey released ‘I’m The Man’ as a single in 1958, and several artists through the years have recorded ‘Saturday Girl’ – Johnny O’Connor, Tony Bonner, Philip Gould, David Campbell, and an orchestral version with Brian May and the ABC Melbourne Show Band. In 2000 the Bayview (US) CD reissue of the Original Trust Cast album restored the two songs that had been dropped from the LP. ‘There’s Gold in Them There Hills’ was taken from a radio program of the show, and the unaccompanied ‘Ballad of a Tree’ was specially recorded for the reissue.

Although Lola finished in the red, it certainly put the names of Stannard, Benjamin and Burke on the map. They were next commissioned by ATN 7, Sydney, and Shell, to write an Australian musical for family television which resulted in the trio creating Pardon Miss Westcott, which was broadcast live at 9.30pm, 12 December 1959 and repeated two weeks later on Christmas Day at 5pm. It was the most ambitious and costly project ever undertaken by ATN 7 at the time, and was the first original Australian television musical.

Lola MontezJane Martin (Jane) & Michael Cole (Daniel), AETT, 1958. Production photo by Fred Carew.This time the authors again chose to work in period, and set their show in Sydney in 1809 after Governor Bligh’s departure and before Governor Macquarie’s arrival. It told the story of Elizabeth Westcott, a young woman transported from England who slyly arranges her own ticket-of-leave and opens an inn with the help of the colonel who runs the colony. It starred Wendy Blacklock in the title role, with Michael Cole, Queenie Ashton, Nigel Lovell, Chris Christensen, Nat Levison and Michael Walshe. David Cahill directed the show, which had orchestrations by Julian Lee and Tommy Tycho and musical direction by Tycho.

As with the score of Lola Montez, there were a couple of rousing male choruses, ‘Heigh Ho, You’ll Never Go Back’, and ‘Grog Song’, two feisty numbers for Wendy Blacklock, ‘Send For Me’ and ‘I’m On My Way’ and two solid ballads for Michael Cole, ‘You Walk By’, and ‘Sometimes’. One of the highlights was Queenie Ashton in her character number, ‘Our Own Bare Hands’.  

The television critics enthused: ‘…an entertaining and beguiling tuneful premiere…Nine numbers in a 75-minute show is pretty fair value and the Stannard–Benjamin tunes and lyrics were fluent, neatly turned and literate.’ (SMH, 15 December 1959), ‘As a musical I liked Pardon Miss Westcott even better than Lola Montez written by the same team of Peter Stannard and Peter Benjamin’ (Sun-Herald, December 1959). ‘Diminutive Wendy Blacklock, as the Miss Westcott of the title, had difficulty in reaching some of the high notes,’ said the Sun’s TV Topics (18 December 1959), but thought, ‘Nigel Lovell as Colonel Patterson, the Acting Governor of NSW, was outstanding in the supporting cast.’

The show was recorded for LP by Peggy Mortimer, Neil Williams, Stewart Harvey, James Harris, Alan Light and the Claire Poole Singers, with Tommy Tycho conducting the ATN Concert Orchestra. Queenie Ashton was the only member of the original TV cast to repeat her performance on the disc. On the release of the album a year later, the reviewers were impressed. ‘ATN stars Peggy Mortimer and Neil Williams skip through the light Stannard and Benjamin numbers with grace and humour, and Queenie Ashton is… well, Queenie Ashton’ (Sun, 24 November 1960).

In 1965 the trio wrote their most ambitious work yet, a light opera version of Ruth Park’s much-loved, working-class novel, Harp in the South. Burke had already directed a play based on the book for BBC TV in London, and was keen to bring it to the stage. To this day the work remains unproduced. The reasons are probably cost. In 1965 no producer was prepared to gamble on a local work that required a large cast, a big orchestra, and expensive sets, but there’s no denying the piece contains some of Stannard and Benjamin’s finest work, as this excerpt from the lyric of ‘The Red Shawl’ testifies:

ROIE: (SINGS)           Mumma, I wanted to touch it, hold it,
                                    And it just had to be mine –
                                    Silky and shiny and bright as a ruby,
                                    So filmy and fancy and fine.

                                    Mumma, you mustn’t be angry. Mumma?
                                    Couldn’t you please understand?
                                    Would you believe you could hold so much beauty
                                    And not feel its weight in your hand?

                                    Shimmering there in the breeze
                                    The red flashed in my eye.
                                    Oh, the fringes were flying
                                    And so was I –

                                    When there’s Irish in you,
                                    Whether you’re faded or fair,
                                    How can you feel like a queen in a palace
                                    And not have a crown in your hair?

Stannard and Benjamin began working on a fourth musical, Hot X Line, an original idea that was based on a joke. In the 1960s Australia’s population was around 12 million. The premise for the show was that the country would be sold for 12 million and each member of the population would receive one million each, which they could use to move and live anywhere they wanted to in the world. The tag of course was that nobody wanted to move. The show was never completed, but one of the songs from the score, ‘Nothing’s Going to Stop Me Now’, survives on a recording by Dawn Dixon with Tommy Tycho’s Orchestra. 

Hot X Line was the end of the line for the partnership. Although continuing to write music, Stannard focused his career on advertising, while Benjamin went into his family’s retail department store business. In 1995 Benjamin surfaced as the creator of the ‘Oxford Street Medley’ in Jeannie Little’s cabaret act, writing parody lyrics to three Cole Porter Tunes, ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘You’re the Top’.

Stannard went on to compose some serious works, notably “Capriccietto” (1998) for flute and piano, and “The Entheon Concertino” (1999). He returned to musical theatre with Rosie in 2005. With music by Stannard and book and lyrics by Frank Hatherley, Rosie premiered at the Independent Theatre, Sydney, (6 August 2005) with Geraldine Turner in the title role, and a cast that included Angela Toohey, Rodney Dobson, Jillian O’Dowd, Hilton Bonner, Tyran Parke, Jeannie Kelso, Rohan Seinor, Nick Simpson-Deeks and Alexander Lewis.

The show was inspired by Rose Shaw, a Martin Place flower seller, who dreamt of one day becoming an opera star, but instead ended up a Sydney icon. Stannard’s score was old-fashioned, but still highly melodic. Hatherley’s lyrics, while not as felicitous and lyrical as Peter Benjamin’s, were nevertheless workmanlike. The title character had several good songs, ‘My Name is Rosie’, ‘I Came Here to Sing’, ‘You Can Take It From Rosie’, and there was one exceptional male ballad, ‘Never Wait Until Tomorrow’, but there were also some clunkers, ‘The Things You See in a Big City’ and ‘Hi There, Sydney!’

Lola MontezLP/CD Cover artCritics called the show old-fashioned, which it was, but praised the cast. ‘Turner is convincing as the larger-than-life, warm-hearted and charismatic Rose … In “Never Wait Until Tomorrow”, Dobson touchingly renders the show’s finest song.’ Audiences were hard to come by, and the show limped along until it closed on 1 October. A theatre that was frequently dark was no help. No commercial recordings were released of the music, although a three-track promo CD of instrumental versions of ‘The Gumboot’, ‘Hi There, Sydney’ and ‘High Time’ was sold with the souvenir program. Agent David Spicer, who controls the performing rights, also included a vocal version of ‘My Name is Rosie’ sung by Jillian O’Dowd (who as young Rosie sang it in the show), on his promo CD Musical Spice 2.

Peter Stannard and Peter Benjamin are to be proud of Lola Montez. It’s not the best show in the world, but it is entertaining. Part of the problem is that the title character is not really a starring role. In the original production Lola’s entrance was 45 minutes into the first act. (The script has since been revised and now she enters 15 minutes after the show starts). She has one major number to sing, ‘Let Me Sing! Let Me Dance!’ two duets with her manager, ‘Maria, Dolores, Eliza, Rosanna’ and ‘Partner Name Your Poison’, and one comic ballet in the ‘Spider Dance’. It’s not enough. In contrast, the character of Charity, in Sweet Charity, a major singing and dancing role, has seven numbers either with chorus or solo. But the score of Lola Montez still ranks as one of the best written for an Australian musical; it was even endorsed by Broadway critic Ken Mandelbaum on the CD reissue of the EMI Cast Recording: ‘wildly tuneful with half a dozen terrific numbers.’ And it is. When it was written it might not have seemed very Australian, and it does have echoes of Broadway shows of the period, but fifty years later, as Frank Van Straten said reviewing the CD reissue, the score still ‘sparkles’.  

Special thanks in the preparation of the article go to Peter Stannard, Peter Benjamin, Gay Laurance-Daniel and Frank Van Straten.
Lyrics of ‘The Red Shawl’ are used by kind permission of Peter Benjamin.
UTRC photo courtesy of Justine Rettick. AETT production photos by Fred Carew.
Hermia Boyd’s costume designs reproduced by permission of Lucina and Cassandra Boyd, and Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection.
Books and newspapers sourced for this article include:
Philip Parsons, Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Peter Pinne, Australian Performers, Australian Performances, Performing Arts Museum, 1987
Liner notes for Bayview CD reissue of the original cast recording, 2000
Sydney Morning Herald, Bulletin, Age, Courier Mail, Canberra Times, Sun, Sun-Herald.

Saturday, 05 December 2015

Queensland Sings

QUEENSLAND SINGS – Original Musical Theatre in Queensland 1955-2015

Paper given at the PAHN Conference, QPAC, 22 October 2015


The Battle of Brisbane, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, bushrangers, Superman, Boadicea, Smiley, Cyrano, Lottie Lyell, Houdini, and the Cuban Revolution are just some of the subjects of original musicals that have premiered in Queensland over the last 60 years.

Beginning with Under the Coolibah Tree in 1956 and ending with Ladies in Black in 2015, this eclectic range of subjects and musical styles embraces everything from traditional musical comedy, through folk, big-band, and rock in its many forms.

The Australian Musical – The First 100 Years is a book in preparation that has been written by Dr. Peter Whyllie Johnston and myself and the 34 entries under discussion today are culled from it.

The first original musical that we have come across that originated in Queensland was the Brisbane New Theatre production of Dick Diamond’s Under the Coolibah Tree. Dick Diamond had had great success with Reedy River at Melbourne’s New Theatre in 1953 which went on to be produced by New Theatre’s in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and at the Unity Theatre, London.

Prior to writing Reedy River, Diamond, a journalist, had written the political satire Soak the Rich in 1941, and a political pantomime Jack the Giant Killer in 1947. During the 1930s he had been a member of the communist party so he was a good fit for the left-leaning New Theatre. Reedy River used traditional folk songs as its score and could arguably be called one of Australia’s first “jukebox” musicals.

Diamond’s second venture into musical theatre was Under the Coolibah Tree, which like Reedy River used a collection of folk songs as its score. It was a period piece set in the 1880s on the banks of the Darling River where a paddle steamer has run aground while carrying a cargo of beer to Bourke. The plot revolved around a villainous squatter, a free selector hero, and the Captain of the steamer. The song-and-dance chorus was provided by girls from a third-rate touring show who were on board the steamer, and a group of shearer’s from a nearby sheep station.

It opened at All Saints’ Hall, Brisbane, on the 18th March, 1955, and played for 22 performances, a decent run in those days. The critics endorsed it with the Guardian saying “It takes great versatility and imagination to produce a musical play of this kind. New Theatre has both.” The songs included; “The Old Bullock Dray,” “The Old Bark Hut,” “Andy’s Gone With Cattle,” and “Flash Jack from Gundagai.” The musical also featured a ballet based on an Aboriginal legend. Most of the cast had appeared in the Brisbane production of Reedy River in 1954. The musical was later produced in Adelaide and by New Theatre’s in Sydney and Melbourne as an Olympic attraction in 1956.

Whilst Sydney and Melbourne were enjoying Under the Coolibah Tree, Brisbane New Theatre mounted another folk-song musical called The Wild Colonial Boy. It was written by John Meredith and Joan Clarke, two luminaries of New Theatre, Sydney. Meredith had been one of the driving forces behind the success of Reedy River in Sydney leading “The Bushwacker’s Band” which accompanied the show, and New Theatre Sydney and Adelaide had produced Clarke’s play Home Brew in 1954.

Rum DoThe Wild Colonial Boy opened at All Saint’s Hall, Brisbane, on the 6th April, 1956. It was loosely based on the life of the Irish convict John Donahoe who at 18-years of age was sentenced to transportation for life to Australia in 1925. According to the Tribune it “captured the spirit of the period” and had “wonderful songs” but could only manage a 6 performance season and has never been produced again.

From Australiana and convicts our next two musicals move us into the world of the marionette. Little Fella Bindi was a large-scale marionette musical set in the Australian bush and was a follow up to the enormously popular and successful The Tintookie in 1956. Created by Peter Scriven, who also created The Tintookies, it had music by Eric Rasdall and was produced by Scriven and the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, opening at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane, on the 4th August 1958.

The story followed the adventures of a small Aboriginal boy, Bindi, who makes friends with all the animals in the bush, in particular Ga-Ga a little baby wombat. The musical was voiced by actors, who included Ray Barratt and Beryl Marshall, and sung by Neil Williams and Valda Bagnall and others. The critics were unanimous in their praise, “As gay and thoroughly Australian as waratah and wattle blossom” said Constance Cummings in the Courier Mail, whilst Roger Covell in the same paper claimed Eric Rasdall’s music was “tuneful, lively, and continuously interesting.”

The musical played 39 performances in Brisbane before touring to Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, and Sydney notching up a total of 537 performances. The musical was remounted in 1966 with new puppets, new scenery and new songs, and then in 1967, against the background of the Vietnam War and political unrest in Indonesia, it played a 7-month, 30 cities in 12 countries South East Asian tour. It was the first and largest tour ever undertaken by an Australian Arts company at the time. On its return it played another national tour in 1967.

In 1960 Peter Scriven again opted to premiere his latest marionette musical in Brisbane, when The Magic Pudding opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, on the 3rd June. Based on Norman Lindsay’s classic children’s book about a pudding that no matter how often it is eaten, always re-forms in order to be eaten again, it was another success for Australia’s premiere puppeteer. Music was by Hal Evans, whilst Gordon Chater, Stuart Wagstaff and Beryl Marshall were amongst the actors who brought Lindsay’s classic to life.

The Bulletin called it “An exquisite little work of art” and claimed it “has a unique enchantment.” Following Brisbane the musical toured to Sydney, Devonport, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and later did national tours in 1971 and 1972 and again in 1981. It became one of the most popular titles in the Tintookies series.

From puppets to paw-paws and Tropicana a musical set in Far North Queensland and one that opened on the 1st October 1962 at Merrilands Hall, in Atherton. With music by Gloria and Billee McMahon and book and lyrics by Joyce Peterson, Tropicana was a salute to the scenic grandeur of the Tablelands and rainforest areas of North Queensland. A simple story of young lovers, Bill, a proprietor of a holiday hotel on a Barrier Reef island, and Jane, a schoolteacher from the South, and their squabbles, was held together with satirical songs whose titles speak for themselves, “Hooking a Bloke,” “Life’s a Blasted Mess,” and “A Man Must Stir a Woman’s Blood.”

After playing two performances in Atherton, the musical toured to Ravenshoe, Mareeba, Innisfail and Cairns playing one performance in each city. The critical reception was good with the Cairns Post claiming it had “Bright music” and that it “provided light-hearted entertainment.” The production featured an underwater observatory scene with dancers in leotards carrying phosphorescent stylised coral and fish. And it has the distinction of being the only known musical to include a real live baby crocodile in its cast!

Beach Blanket TempestOn 30th April 1963, Orana Hall, Clayfield, saw the premiere of Starlight, or as it was later known Captain Starlight. It was a musical based on Rolf Bolderwood’s classic bushranging novel Robbery under Arms which was written in 1888. The story was set around the Marston Gang, young brothers Dick and Jim, and their leader, the mysterious Captain Starlight, and their adventures as cattle thieves and bushrangers.

The score was written by Ian McInlay, with book and lyrics by Paul Sherman. Both McInlay and Sherman were teachers at Banyo High School, and the first production of the show, which had a cast of 150, was mounted by the school. It played 4 performances but after a positive review in the Courier Mail, “with a little more polish and a professional cast this play could be another Summer of the 17th Doll success for Australia,” the season was extended by 2 performances.

McInlay’s original score was augmented by traditional folk songs. Following it’s first production, the musical was mounted in 1964 by the Brisbane Choral Society and played as a Warana Festival feature at the Rialto Theatre, West End. A North Queensland production in 1985 played Charters Towers, Ingham and Home Hill. The musical was widely produced by high schools during 1988, the bicentennial year.   

In 1969 author Jay McKee, who hailed from Atherton and whose real name was Rod McEllhinney, created an original children’s musical Raggedyanne for Brisbane Arts Theatre, about an inanimate rag doll and a one-armed golliwog. With music by Jan Bates, who was also musical director, the show opened 15 March 1969 and played 17 performances. It was produced by Doris Fitton at the Independent Theatre, Sydney, in 1970, and later in New Zealand and Alabama in the U.S. The Sunday Mail called it, “An enchanting spectacle of make-believe,” whilst the SMH echoed the comment saying “Make-believe that is enchanted.” It has been produced widely throughout Australia for the last 40 years with Brisbane Arts Theatre mounting a 10th Anniversary production in 1979.

1970 saw the inauguration of the new federally funded Queensland Theatre Company, with Englishman Alan Edwards sitting in the Artistic Director’s chair. He decided to launch Queensland’s first professional drama company with Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt for the Sun and follow it with an original musical A Rum Do.  

A Rum Do had music by Robin Wood, book and lyrics by Rob Inglis, and was set in Sydney in 1825. It told the story of Governor Macquarie and his achievements as a builder and of Francis Greenaway the convict architect who helped him achieve his aims. In 1968 Inglis applied for a grant to research and write two historical plays. He was given $2,700 and the entire sum was consumed by one play, The Old Viceroy, about Governor Macquarie and the evolution of the colony from a gaol state. On advice from the Arts Council and the ABC, Inglis invited composer Robin Wood to turn the play into a musical.

In August 1969, excertps of the new version which was now called Everybody Sniff Your Neighbour were presented to an invited audience at the Independent Theatre, Sydney, to great success. QTC bought the property, renamed it A Rum Do, and cast it with Raymond Duparc as Macquarie and Donald Batchelor as Greenaway. Appearing alongside them were Geraldine Turner, Terry Bader, Ron Shand, Brent Verdon and Ken Kennett.

Three days after the premiere, which took place at the SGIO Theatre, Brisbane, 10 April 1970, the musical was presented as a gala performance in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Princess Anne. Following a four week run of 27 performances, the musical toured regional Queensland to Stanthorpe, Toowoomba, Roma, Longreach, Innisfail, Cairns, Ingham, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, and Nambour.

David Rowbotham in the Courier Mail said “It’s the finest Australian musical I’ve seen,” but Brian Johnston in Truth thought otherwise, “The most puzzling thing about the Australian musical A Rum Do is why it was ever written at all. The songs would be hard pressed changing a temperature chart, let alone getting within cooee of the Top 40.”

Talented composer Ralph Tyrell makes his first appearance as a composer in 1970 with The Bacchoi, a rock-opera version of Euripdes Bacchoi originally written in 405BCE. It launched the newly constructed Schonell Theatre, at the Queensland University, opening 24 September 1970 and playing for 15 performances. Book and lyrics were by director Bryan Nason with choreography by Keith Bain. The cast included Geoffrey Rush and Ross Thompson. Katherine Thompson in the Australian said it was “A spectacular success” and that the music was “the evening’s chief pleasure.”

Four years later when the show again opened a new venue, the new Nimrod Theatre in Belvoir Street, Sydney, with a cast that included Anna Volska, Jon English and Jeannie Lewis, the critical reaction was decidedly different. Most carped that John Bell’s staging had reduced the promising work to comic book level and the mix of singers and actors at times worked against the drama, although Brian Hoad in the Bulletin has praise for Tyrell’s score, “the most insidiously pungent music for theatre since Kurt Weill joined up with Bert Brecht to the annoyance of Nazi Germany.”

Ralph Tyrell was back at the Schonell 4 February 1971 for Childhead’s Doll, a pop-opera about a young man, Childhead, and his friends who search far and wide for a doll stolen from Childhood by the Black Prince. Working for the first time with librettist and director, Willy Young, who later changed his name to William Yang, the cast again included Geoffrey Rush. David Rowbottom in the Courier Mail called it “pretentious” but did concede “Tyrell composes music which is easy on the ear,” and that Young had written a “cross between Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm and clothed it with a mixture of Hair and Greek tragedy.”

Brian Nason later directed a production of it at Jane Street Theatre, Sydney, in 1971, which was choreographed by Keith Bain, and featured Maggie Kirkpatrick, Ross Thompson, Elaine Cusick and Jeannie Lewis. It played 15 performances in Brisbane and 9 in Sydney.

Tyrell was again back at the Schonell in 1972 for Oddodyssey a science-fiction musical with an anti-pollution theme. He was again working with Willy Young who provided book and lyrics plus the costumes which had a Barbarella comic-book look. Direction was by Jeremy Gadd, and the cast included Kris McQuade, Terry O’Brien, and Barbara Llewellyn.

Peter Charlton in the Brisbane Telegraph said it was “One of the most exciting pieces of new theatre to hit Brisbane for a long time,” whilst Brian Johnston in the Sunday Truth called it “a weird mixture of brilliant flashes and stretches of boredom.” It played 34 performances and did not travel.

Hugh Lunn, Over the top with JimOddodyssey was the last musical Ralph Tyrell premiered in Brisbane, but he continued to write with Willy Young and created Cooper and Borges for NIDA, which played at the Jane Street Theatre in 1974, and then worked with Dorothy Hewitt on Pandora’s Box which played the ill-fated Paris Theatre, Sydney, in 1978. It was his final mainstream stage musical. He later composed music for film and television including over forty-eight titles for Network 7s The World Around Us series.

Moving forward four years and we find another prolific Brisbane theatre composer making his first appearance in our story. Clarry Evans, working with his wife Judy Stevens, wrote book, music and lyrics for a rock-opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth called Macbeth: The Contemporary Rock Opera. It premiered at La Boite, 22 January 1976, directed by Graeme Johnston, with a cast that included Ray Meric, Sean Mee, Kim Durant, and the authors. Sue Gough’s Courier Mail review enthused, “a crowd pleaser that does Shakespeare proud.” It played 15 performances.

Since its premiere the rock-opera has been revived at 12th Night Theatre in 1994, the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, in 2006 and 2009, and at St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre, Melbourne, where Jim Murphy in the Age wrote, “Judy Stevens and Clarry Evans write a much more interesting recitative than Lloyd Webber seems able to manage, and they make splendid use of the Shakespearian libretto, both in setting actual text and using it as a jumping-off point for original songs.”

The next musical Man of Steel has the distinction of being the most performed Australian musical of all time. According to Maverick Musicals, the agent who licence the show, up until the end of 2010 it had played 4003 performances, mostly in high-schools.

Now, let’s put that into perspective. Priscilla – Queen of the Desert the Musical is the most successful commercial musical. If we add all of its Australian and New Zealand performances together plus a 3 year London run and Canada and Broadway we come up with 2,563 performances. Therefore 4003 is an amazing achievement.

The musical was a take on the Superman comic book legend, and played La Boite for a short 5 performance season from 28 November 1977. David Rowbottom in the Courier Mail claimed “The finale ‘Everybody Needs a Superhero,” is a fine, finishing flourish indeed, enough to send anyone home with a case of acute exhilaration.”

Man of Steel had music by Ian Dorricott with book and lyrics by Simon Denver, but a scan of the original program will reveal he was called Simon Carrington. The reason was that Denver’s mother was the La Boite Drama Teacher and the La Boite committee did not want two “Denvers” in the program so they changed Simon’s name for that one production.

Denver has continued to write musicals and plays for the schools market, including six with Dorricott: Sheerluck Holmes (1980), Bats (1983), The Circus (1985), Smithy (1986), Henry (1993), and The Curse of the Mummy (2000).

The Grand Adventure in 1978 was a lavish return to marionette musicals. It was Phillip Edmiston’s first production under the umbrella of his own company Theatrestrings. Edmiston was 26 and had previously toured extensively with the Marionette Theatre of Australia, throughout Australia, India and Asia.

It used 127 life-sized puppets and a budget of $120,000, and opened in Edmiston’s home town of Nambour at the Civic Hall, 28 May 1977. The musical had music by Eric Gross, with book and lyrics by Hal Saunders, and was broadly based on the story of Captain James Cook’s voyage to the South Seas with botanist Joseph Banks on the H.M.S. Endeavour in 1770. The production later toured Queensland and NSW, and played Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.   

The critics raved: “The most exquisite production imaginable” said Frances Evers in The Australian, whilst Romola Constantino in the SMH claimed it had “everything that could be desired for a fantasy entertainment.” Edmiston was later responsible for setting up the Queensland Marionette Theatre Limited which created and produced puppet shows throughout Queensland in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1979 Clarry Evans made a return to musical theatre stages when he composed the musical and lyrics for Boadicea – The Celtic Opera. It was written in a rock opera style and was based on the story of Boadicea, the Queen of the British Icini tribe, and the uprising she led against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60. It ran for 5 weeks at 12th Night Theatre, Brisbane, from 1 February 1979, with later productions appearing at the Princess Theatre, Brisbane, in 1998, and the Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, in 2014. The critical reception was mixed. Veronica Kelly in Theatre Australia, said “the musical electricity and dramatic tension pick the show up to a real high,” whilst the Sunday Sun were not impressed, “When Boadicea opened at 12th Night Theatre last Thursday it still had more teething problems than a crocodile with pyorrhea.” But with it still being produced in 2014 it has proved it’s got legs.

Starstud which was later retitled Starbuck first appeared at the Schonell Theatre, 20 August 1981. It had music by John Rush, Book and Lyrics by Malcolm James Cook, and was directed by Sean Mee. It was a rock musical that revolved around the space hero Starbuck and his sidekick Jason, who on retuning to their home planet find it has been taken over by the evil fast-food king, Shall Bizarre, whose plan is to dope the community with hamburger mayonnaise that’s been laced with drugs.

The Courier Mail said it “has its terrific moments but they are few and far between,” whilst the Sunday Mail thought it was “the most energetic rhythmic rock show to hit the stage for yonks.” It played for 16 performances and later did a season at the Rialto Theatre, West End, for another 16, with Chris Herden playing Starbuck.

Helmut Bakaitis commissioned Dennis Watkins and Chris Harriott to write Beach Blanket Tempest for the New Moon Theatre Company, a satire which mixed Shakespeare’s The Tempest with teenage beach movies using a score of cloned rock ‘n’ roll hits of the 1950s and 1960s. It opened 25 July 1984 at Cairns Civic Theatre, where it played 5 performances before touring the North Queensland circuit of Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton. The critics enthused calling it an “Inspired rock musical.”

The musical attracted the support of John Frost, and under the Gordon-Frost Management it played Adelaide, Canberra, and Sydney. Later productionws appeared in Brisbane, Penrith and Perth. It became and still is a popular title on the amateur market. The title song had originally been used in the musical Dingo Girl in 1982. Watkins and Harriott went on to success with their Vietnam War satire Pearls Before Swine in 1986. Later Watkins became an Executive Producer for the ABC, whilst Harriott after scoring McLeod’s Daughters achieved even greater success writing for the phenomenally successful Hi-5 group.

Live at the TrocaderoIn 1994 Clarry Evans returned with Live at the Trocadero, a big-band musical that used the infamous “Battle of Brisbane” in 1942 as its plot. The one-night only battle was waged on the streets of Brisbane between Aussie Diggers and American soldiers. Evans and Michael Lynch created the music with both working on the lyrics with Christopher Toogood and Brett Heath. Toogood and Heath were responsible for the book.

The musical opened at the Rialto Theatre, West End, 16 December 1991 and played 10 performances. Three years later it had a 10 night season at Brisbane Arts Theatre, and in 2009 was mounted by Villanova Players for 11 performances. Peter Dean in The Courier Mail said, “Trocadero provides novelty, a well-mounted setting and a lot of charm,” whilst Richard Waller writing of a later production for the same paper noted it was a “nostalgic look at local history.”

In 1991 Horrortorio was workshopped with Stephen Sondheim at the Cameron Macintosh Music Theatre Workshop at Oxford University, England. It had music by Denise Wharmby, lyrics by Tony Taylor, with a book by Taylor, Wharmby and Alisa Piper. It was set in the golden age of 19th Century song and staged in Grand Guignol style. The plot had Tonetta who will stop at nothing to sing in the new opera which will make or break the young composer Raffael. She is the one behind a blinding flash of red light which terrifies the diva Gilda and forces her to flee the final rehearsal.

With a $32,330 Australia Council grant, the production opened at La Boite Theatre, Milton, 10 June 1992, with direction by David Bell, design by Christopher Smith, and Christen O’Leary, Valeria Bader and Darryl Hukins as the cast. Sue Gough in the Bulletin said “It is all too clear why Horratorio has not been staged before: it still needs a lot of work,” with Barbara Hebden’s Sunday Mail review endorsing Gough’s opinion, “Pruning some of the dead wood, instead of the bodies, would make this a better piece of theatre and take it beyond undergraduate material.” It closed after playing 24 performances and had not been revived since

The same year also saw the premiere of a much different beast, a musical version of the beloved movie Smiley. John Watson based his book and lyrics on the novels by Moore Raymond, Smiley (1945) and Smiley Gets a Gun (1947). The story was set in the outback community of Murrumbilla in the post war 1940s just prior to Christmas. Smiley, a young larrikin boy is obsessed with owning a bicycle, but his plans are thwarted by the return of his alcoholic father.

When the films were released in the 1950s Queenslander Clyde Collins wrote a song “A Boy Called Smiley” which was not connected to the original film but became an enormous hit when the 1956 movie was released. This song was retained for the stage version which had a score by David Cocker, with additional songs by Mark Jones and Lance Strauss.

Smiley – The Musical opened at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre, 15 October 1992, where it played 14 performances with a cast that included Gaye MacFarlane as the mother. The critics noticed her song “He’s all the world to Me” which they called a “showstopper.” Later productions were mounted in Rockhampton and Beaumaris, Victoria. 

Our next musical first saw the light of day as a concept CD in 1992. David Reeves, who had had great success with a musical version of Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in the bi-centennial year, opted to musicalise Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French comedy Cyrano de Bergerac. Released by EMI, the recording had a starry cast headlined by Simon Gallaher, Kirri Adams, Penny Hay, and Normie Rowe as the flamboyant romantic soldier and poet.

A free concert version of the musical was mounted in Suncorp Plaza, South Bank, 7th November 1992. It featured all of the performers on the EMI disc accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. In 1994 Cyrano was produced for a second time after a complete rewrite by West End writer Hal Shaper who reworked book and lyrics. The musical was given a 6 performance staged concert production in the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. Normie Rowe again played the title character, with a cast that included Kirri Adams, and John O’May. British actor Sir John Mills was imported to introduce and close the performances, something that was criticised as being unnecessary.

A popular Queensland book became a popular Queensland musical when Over the Top with Jim was produced at the Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, 26 August 1996. Journalist and author Hugh Lunn’s autobiography of his childhood years growing up in Brisbane in the 1950s had been the country’s best-selling non-fiction book of 1991. It was serialized by ABC radio and produced as a documentary film. The humour was gentle, very Australian, and the musical captured the era perfectly.

A jukebox musical of popular songs of the period, “Honey Hush,” “Chickery Chick,” and “The pub with no Beer,” with one original song “As I Wander (Down Memory Lane)” written by Paul Dellit. Following the Brisbane season it toured to Caloundra, Gold Coast, Rockhampton, Mackay, Cairns, Charters Towers, and Burdekin. Later Villanova Players mounted a 12 performance production in 2006.

The Sunshine ClubIn 1999, QTC mounted their first original musical since A Rum Do in 1970. With book and lyrics by Wesley Enoch and music by John Rodgers, The Sunshine Club, was based on Roger Scholes documentary-drama The Coolbaroo Club, which looked at a post-World War Two Aboriginal dance club in Perth. The plot centred on a returned Aboriginal soldier who found attitudes were just a racist in the late 1940s as they were before the war so he defiantly creates an Aboriginal dance club where he can dance with his white girlfriend.

The musical did a brief North Queensland tour starting in Cairns, and then playing Mackay and Townsville before opening in Brisbane. Alison Coates in The Courier Mail was full of praise, especially for the jazz ensemble – which she called “fantastic,” and David Page as the male lead, “an engaging young actor with a great future.”

One year later the musical was produced by the STC in Sydney, directed by the author, with some of the Brisbane cast that included Wayne Blair and Ursula Yovich. The white girlfriend was played in Brisbane by Christen O’Leary and in Sydney by Natalie O’Donnell. Stephen Page was the choreographer in both productions. Nick Enright was script consultant. It played 17 performances in Brisbane, and 42 in Sydney.

Cuba premiered in Atherton at the Atherton International Club, 10 October 2002. It was not the first Australian musical to use Latin themes, but it was the first to use the overthrow of the corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista by the revolutionary Fidel Castro as its background.

The Mafia want promising young boxer Raul to take a dive in his next bout. He refuses, slugs the Mafia guy and goes on the run ending up in the rebel camp in the mountains. He joins them and falls in love with a fiery rebel girl, Juanita.

Ken Cottrill wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics with Tjeerd Micola von Furstenrecht. Music was by Rhonda Micola von Furstenrecht. Apart from the lovers the characters also included Ernest Hemingway, Che Guevara, and Jayne Mansfield. It played 6 performances in Cairns, 2 in Mareeba and 2 at Malanda. Brian Sager in the Tablelander called it “an exciting musical” with “infectious numbers.”

The armed rebellion of goldminers 1854 known as the Eureka Stockade has been the inspiration of at least six Australian musicals. Eureka – The Musical was the latest. Composed by Michael Maurice Harvey, with book and lyrics by Maggie May Gordon, a concert version opened at the Arts Centre, Gold Coast, 9th August 2003, after playing a preview performance at the Sydney Opera House Studio Theatre, the night before. It then did a regional tour up the eastern coast of Queensland culminating at Cairns. The cast included Rob Guest, Barry Crocker, Peter Cousins, Leonie Page and Trisha Crowe.

Harvey had previously written Pan in 2000, a version of Peter Pan that contained lots of background music and a few songs, and had been Julie Anthony and Peter Allen’s musical director for many years. He had also written pop songs.

With Simon Gallaher on board as co-producer the musical, heavily revised, played a 72 performance season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, 28 September 2004. Directed by Gale Edwards, with musical direction by Michael Tyack, and choreography by Tony Bartuccio, the cast featured Rachael Beck, Ian Stenlake, Michael Cormick, Barry Crocker, Nancye Hayes, John Lidgerwood, James Millar and Trisha Crowe. Crocker and Crowe were the only performers to repeat their roles from the concert version.

Jim Murphy in the Age said “Eureka fashions Australian history into a rousing contemporary entertainment and does it well,” whilst Bill Perrett in The Sunday Age opined, “The show is essentially a couple of predictable love stories, strung together with some banal rhetoric about democracy and the Fair Go.” Veteran Nancye Hayes was labelled the best thing in it.

From a miners rebellion to the early silent era of Australian cinema, our next musical Lottie – The Musical premiered in 2005 and told of the secret love affair between pioneering film director Raymond Longford, and Australia’s first movie star Lottie Lyell. Longford remained married to another woman throughout the duration of his affair with Lyell who suffered a tragic early death from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five just before she and Longford were due to marry.

With a score by Alathea Monsour and book and lyrics by Katy Forde, the musical was produced by Villanova Players on 25 November 2005. Alison Coates on Stage Diary said the score was “enchanting,” claiming “this sparkling piece of musical theatre offers much more than just patriotism and pride.”

The authors received a “Career Development Grant” from Arts Queensland to finance a fully-arranged recording of the complete score. Scenes from the musical were presented as part of Magnormos’ “On the Drawing Board” showcase in OzMade 2010.

With a fanfare of publicity, Sideshow Alley came to the Playhouse, QPAC, with a promising history. It had won the inaugural Pratt Prize for New Musical Theatre in 2002. As part of the prize a workshop production, directed by the esteemed Gale Edwards, was staged at Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne in 2003. It had a score by Paul Keenan, with book and lyrics by Gary Young, and prior to opening the cast recorded an original cast CD, a rare occurrence in the history of Australian musicals.

The musical concerned a money-losing touring sideshow run by Bev and Tiny in Australia during the late 1950s. The main plot revolved around a love triangle between Italian fortune-teller Rita, tent show boxer Billy, and drifter Alex. Billy and Alex love Rita, but discover they have feelings for each other. After being beaten and raped, Billy commits suicide, but not before Lady Chaing, the half man/half woman has been murdered and the sideshow has been burnt to the ground.

A high profile cast featured Silvie Paladino as Rita, Alex Rathgeber as Billy and Christopher Parker as Alex. It opened 20 January 2007. The critics were underwhelmed, but the principals were praised, “Paladino is likeable as Rita, and Rathgeber and Parker pull off roles that require them to be blokey one moment and super-sensitive the next.”

It played 47 performances and has not been produced since. It was scheduled to play a Melbourne season at Crown Casino but due to poor houses at the Playhouse was cancelled.

One was a musical, written in a rock-opera format, of love, revenge and murder set in Jerusalem in 28AD. It premiered at the Arts Centre, Gold Coast, 11 August 2007. Book, music and lyrics were by Shannon D. Whitelock and Brad Golby. The production spawned a 2CD live recording. Whitelock later had great success writing music for Rachel Dunham’s Oprification which was a hit at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival.

My own name as a composer makes the first of two appearances in this story with the workshop production of Suddenly Single at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, 20 March 2009. The musical followed the lives of three twenty-something guys, Ryan, an electrician, Aaron, an IT specialist, and Luke, a sensitive new-age priest and their relationships over a four-year period. When the musical starts all three guys are in a relationship but by intermission they are all Suddenly Single. By story’s end they are all back in a relationship again but not necessarily with the same partner.

Book, music and lyrics were written by Paul Dellit and myself. Sue Porter was musical director, direction was by Shaun Murphy, and the cast included, Natalie O’Donnell, Christopher Parker, Chris Fennessy, Penny Farrow, Judy Hainsworth and Tim Dashwood. Twenty minutes of the musical had previously been performed at OzMade Musical 2007 in Melbourne. There are currently four commercial recordings of the anthemic song, “Making a Difference.”

Houdini - The man from BeyondThe first man to fly in Australia, Houdini was the subject of Houdini – The Man from Beyond which premiered at the University of Southern Queensland, Arts Theatre, Toowoomba, 20 August 2010, and played 7 performances. With music by Russell Bauer, and book and lyrics by him and acclaimed Queensland poet, Bruce Dawe, the musical in the first act focused on Houdini’s exploits as an escapologist, whilst the second concentrated on his debunking of spiritualists and spiritualism.

Musical direction was by the composer with direction by Sue Rider. Chris White was noticed favourably as the title character. The score also included the song “Rosie, Sweet Rosabel” which was originally written by Paul Dresser in 1893. Historical footage of Houdini’s first flight in Australia was screened as an overture. A snapshop of the work was presented by New Musicals Australia in Sydney in 2011. 

2010 also brought forth Megan Shorey’s four mini-musicals which went under the collective title of Handle With Care, and celebrated the beauty and bitch of being a woman. Lewis Jones was the director, with the composer as musical director, when it premiered at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 14 April 2010. It played four performances.

In 3 Kilos Eve Penny Farrow struggled to lose those last 3 magical kilos to keep her weight in double digits; in Girlfriend it’s the eve of Judy Hainsworth’s wedding and although her fiends are excited for her, they are both struggling with their own demons; The Silk Powersuit found Sarah Knight vying for promotion against her male counterpart in the corporate workplace; while in In My Arms Rachel Dunham and Liz Buchanan shared the trauma of having, or not having a child.

Gilliam Bramley Moore in the Courier Mail called it “elegant and uncluttered,” whilst Amy Hyslop’s Australian Stage review said “Shorey’s latest offering, Handle With Care, should deservedly cement her reputation as one of Australia’s brightest talents.” Later In My Arms was given a one performance Showcase by New Musicals Australia at the National Playwrights Festival, Sydney, in March 2011.   

My second entry in this overview was the jukebox musical Pyjamas In Paradise which opened at the Arts Centre, Gold Coast 2 September 2011, and played for 8 performances. Conceived by John Michael Howson, the musical had a book by Howson and myself, and was set against a background of the notorious pyjamas parties on the Gold Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, and used a score of pop hits of the period.

Three girls from Gympie meet up with three guys from Melbourne, on the Gold Coast and fall in love. It was directed and choreographed by Tony Bartuccio, and the cast included Jane Scali, Donna Lee, Stephen Tandy, Terry Stewart, Mathew Ward, Alana Tierney and Emma Taviani. When we couldn’t find pop songs to fit some situations, Howson and I wrote some originals with Ashley Irwin who also orchestrated the show.

The musical was first presented as a “rehearsed reading” at Metro Arts Studio, Brisbane, 9 May 2005, with a cast that included Stephen Tandy, Karen Crone, Miranda Deakin, Bryan Proberts, Mark Conaghan, Carita Farrar, Hazel Phillips, Sheila Bradley and John-Michael Howson who played the role of mayor Bruce Large.

Jay McKee’s Stage Whispers review said “This show sizzles,” whilst Suzanne Simonet in the Gold Coast Bulletin claimed it was “a work that should find favour on stages around the country for years to come.”

Hopelessly Devoted was another jukebox musical, this time mining the hits of Olivia Newton John. A two-hander it was set in the suburban lounge room of a middle-aged sister, Amy, and brother, Andy, who are caring for their chronically ill mother. To help her cope with the depressing situation Amy escapes into a fantasy world where she imagines she is Olivia Newton John.

The musical had a book by Elise Grieg who also played the part of Amy in the initial production. Dan Crestini was her other half, Andy. Marc James, Aegis Theatrical said the musical was “one of those happy discoveries with an intellectual and emotional script.” The production opened at the Zamba Theatre, North Tambourine, 23 March 2012 and played for 3 performances. It then toured to the Gold Coast Arts Centre for another 3 performances and later in 2014 played the Glen Street Theatre, Sydney, for 8 performances.    

The first new musical of 2015 takes us back up to the Atherton Tablelands again, where on 28th August, Nania, The Horse and His Boy opened at the Silo Road Theatre, Atherton, for 10 performances. Based on the 1954 book by C.S. Lewis, the musical was adapted by Jacqueline Stephens and Patricia Prohaska, who both created music and lyrics. With a seven-piece orchestra, and direction by Stephens the cast numbered eighty.

The story is an adventure of what happened in Narnia and Calorman and the lands between in the golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queen under him.

The final musical in our overview is Ladies in Black which is due to open in a few weeks on the 14th November 2015, at the Playhouse, QPAC. The QTC production is directed by Simon Phillips, has a book by his wife Carolyn Burns, music and lyrics by Tim Finn, and is based on the 1993 novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John.

The three major creative personel all hail from New Zealand but have built their careers in Australia. Finn is a former member of the rock groups Split Enz and Crowded House, Phillips is best known as the director of the Pricilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical, whilst Burns had adapted the MGM movie High Society, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, into a stage musical in 1992. The State theatre companies in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland produced it and followed it with a capital cities tour.

Ladies in Black is set in Sydney in the late 1950s. 17-year old Lesley, a would-be-poet, gets a seasonal job at F.G. Goode’s (think David Jones) a large department store, changes her first name to Lisa and gets embroiled in the world of haute couture fashion and the lives of her co-workers; Pattie whose husband may or may not be sterile, Fay who gets engaged to a ‘continental,’ and the exotic European Magda, head buyer of Model Gowns.

The musical has already had two development workshops, one in 2013, and another in 2014. The cast includes Christen O’Leary, Lucy Maunder, Bobby Fox, Naomi Price and Deidre Rubenstein.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to the end of this 60 year overview of original Queensland musicals. By any standards it’s an impressive list, with a truly diverse range of subjects, and it proves that Queensland’s contribution to the Australian musical landscape has been significant.  

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Show Tunes

THERE'S NO TUNE LIKE A SHOW TUNE by Peter Pinne May 2013

There's a line in the script of 42nd Street when Julian Marsh, the producer, says to Peggy Sawyer, the understudy he's trying to convince to go on in the show, "think of musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language." Or as Jerry Herman so succinctly put it in the song he wrote for his 1960 Off-Broadway revue Parade "There's No Tune Like A Show Tune." Everybody's heard one. Some people can hum, sing or whistle one, and some are addicted to them. Count me in the latter.

thumb IMG 000I could not have imagined my life without musical theatre. Growing up on a diet of MGM musicals, the Tivoli and J.C.Williamson, I've been in love with the genre since I was a child. And with that love came my passion for collecting the music from it. Ever since I learnt to play the piano when I was eleven I have been collecting music sheets from every type of musical show. In the early days I bought them from the ordinary music retailers, but in later years I discovered flea markets, opportunity shops and secondhand stores as a wonderful source for those hard to find gems. I haunted them, not only in Australia, but around the world. I was lucky I had a career that took me to other countries so I was able to indulge my passion in the U.S., the UK, Europe and South America. This has resulted in a wide-embracing show music collection of over 3,500 pieces.

Collecting sheet music today is a very different hobby to what it was when I started. With the advent of the internet and the demise of the traditional music retailer, the sole source of new sheet music with show covers is in theatre lobbies when a musical is playing. It is still possible to find older sheets in secondhand shops but the rare titles are harder to come by.

The 'Pinne Collection' as it is informally known, was acquired by the National Library of Australia in 2004 and is one of the largest collections of its type in Australia, encompassing single sheets, vocal selections, piano selections and vocal scores from Broadway, the West End, Europe, Australia, Television (mainly musicals that were written for the medium), and Movies. It is divided into three sections; sheets that were published in the U.S., the UK and Australia, and covers a period from the early 1920s to the present. From the hits to the flops, the songs which were dropped out-of-town, the title and cast changes, are all documented in the collection which is essentially a history of the musical theatre throughout the world.

thumb IMG 0001All of the famous American and English theatre composers are represented, along with the obscure. The same can be said for the performers. There are the stars, the popular matinee idols and the divas, along with the one-shot wonders and the forgotten. Some sheets have been easy to find but most are rare and several are extremely valuable. As the fashions changed so did the musical theatre and so did the cover artwork. Moving from the heady Charleston era of the twenties, to art-deco in the thirties, war influences in the forties, psychedelic in the seventies, to the iconic show logos of today. It's not only a history of the musical theatre but also a history of fashion, fads, and the changing times.

Australian names abound throughout the collection on Broadway and the West End and it is possible to chart a composer, lyricist, performer, choreographer, musical director or designer's international career through the sheets that are represented. Charles Zwar, a composer born in Broadford, Victoria, had the distinction of having J.C.Williamson's produce his first show Blue Mountain Melody (1934) one of only two original Australian musicals the 'Firm' ever mounted. Albert Arlen's The Sentimental Bloke (1961) was the other. He later went to London and became very successful writing for intimate revue and the musical theatre. His West End credits include the Arthur Askey and Julie Wilson vehicle Bet Your Life (1952), and Marigold (1959), a show which starred Sophie Stewart and Jean Kent.

Blue Mountain Melody (1934) also starred Australia's answer to Astaire and Rogers, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Their careers took them to London and New York where Ritchard, working solo after Elliott died, had a major Broadway career. It began when he directed John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953), and followed with a career-making turn as Captain Hook opposite Mary Martin in Peter Pan (1954), the lead in The Happiest Girl In The World (1961) with music by Offenbach, and then top-starred with Anthony Newley in Newley and Bricusse's The Road of the Gresepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1964). Ritchard also appeared in many original U.S. TV musicals and graces the cover of the music sheets for The King and Mrs Candle (1955) which had a screenplay written by another expatriot Australian, Sumner Locke Elliott whose most famous work was the hit play Rusty Bugles (1948).

thumb IMG 0002In 1950, Sydney pharmarcist Edmond Samuels premiered his musical The Highwayman at the Kings Theatre, Melbourne, which was the original version of a musical he'd had produced in the West End titled At the Silver Swan (1936) which starred the popular French actress Alice Delysia. Two music sheets survive from the original London production. Samuels however was not the first Australian composer to have his musical presented in London. That honour goes to Dudley Glass whose The Beloved Vagabond (1927) opened a decade earlier.

John Taylor began his writing career at Sydney's Phillip Street Theatre writing topical revue material for Two To One (1955) a show that featured Max Oldaker. He later went to London where he coauthored with David Heneker the wildly successful Charlie Girl (1965) which starred Anna Neagle, Derek Nimmo and Joe Brown. He later musicalised two of Noel Coward's one-act plays, Fumed Oak and Still Life as Mr and Mrs (1968) which featured Honor Blackman, John Neville and Hylda Baker. He also wrote additional songs for the Jeannie Carson musical Strike A Light (1966).

Ron Grainer, born in Atherton, Queensland, is best remembered for his outstanding light-operatic score for Robert and Elizabeth (1964) a musical version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. It starred two Australian perfomers who had built their careers in the West End, June Bronhill and Keith Michell. Prior to Grainer's theatrical success he had composed the popular television themes to Steptoe and Son, Maigret and Dr Who and several film soundtracks. He followed Robert and Elizabeth with the pop piece On the Level (1966) but without the same success. Michell had previously scored in Vivian Ellis' And So To Bed (1951) and opposite Elizabeth Seal in Irma La Douce (1956).

thumb IMG 0003Australian choreographers abounded in the West End in the 50s. Freddie Carpenter had many credits, such as Noel Coward's Ace of Clubs (1950), Harry Parr Davies' Dear Miss Phoebe (1950), and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1958), which introduced pop star Tommy Steele to the musical theatre. Robert Helpmann likewise had the South African themed Golden City (1950), and Noel Coward's After The Ball (1954), a musicalisation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, whilst George Carden worked on Charles Zwar's Bet Your Life (1952). Later Noel Tovey choreographed the revival of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend (1967), a chore he also did for the Phillip Theatre revival of the show in Sydney in 1968.

Loudon Sainthill, the acclaimed Australian set and costume designer, also worked on Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1958) in London, and followed with David Heneker, Monty Norman and Julian More's cynical take on the pop industry, Expresso Bongo (1958), which starred Paul Schofield in his only musical appearance; David Henker's Half A Sixpence (1963), with Tommy Steele; Noel Coward's Sail Away (1961), with Elaine Stritch; and Wolf Mankowitz and Monty Norman's music-hall pastiche Belle (1961) with Rose Hill in the title role.

Musical Director, Ray Cook, who started his career playing piano at Sydney's Phillip Street Theatre, also has numerous West End credits which included working with Ginger Rogers in Jerry Herman's Mame (1969).

Robert Chisholm, who had been a leading man in Australia playing opposite Gladys Moncrieff in three shows, The Maid of the Mountains (1921), Sybil (1923), and Collits' Inn (1933), also had a substantial Broadway career starting with Jerome Kern's Sweet Adeline (1929), then followed with two Rodgers and Hart shows, Higher and Higher (1940) and the revival of A Connecticut Yankee (1943), Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's groundbreaking On The Town (1945), and again with Comden and Green in Billion Dollar Baby (1945) which had music by Morton Gould, and in Harold Rome's Bless You All (1950).

thumb IMG 0004Maggie Fitzgibbon after appearing as Bianca in J.C.Williamson's Australian production of Kiss Me Kate (1952), had a successful London career which began with Leslie Bricusse's first show Lady At the Wheel (1958), and followed it with Jule Styne and Comden and Green's Do Re Mi (1960) where she starred opposite Max Bygraves. Joy Nichols, popular on radio in Australia in the forties, also made it big in the UK on the BBC's Take It From Here. At the height of her popularity she top-starred in the London production of Adler and Ross' The Pajama Game (1955) with Edmund Hockridge and Max Wall. Lewis Fiander got his chance in I And Albert (1972),a musical about Queen Victoria and her consort by the American composer Charles Strouse. Kevin Colsen was part of the principal 'menage au trois' in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love (1988), Bruce Barry became D.W.Griffith for The Biograph Girl (1980), Jason Donovan fresh from his Neighbours soapie, raked in the audiences and the cash in Webber and Rice's Joseph And the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1991), as did Craig McLachlan from the same soap who headlined a revival of Grease (1993) with Debbie Gibson.

Before Barry Humphries made an impression as Mr Sowerberry, the undertaker, in the original London production of Lionel Bart's Oliver! (1960), he appeared in the short-lived The Demon Barber (1959) a pallid version of the grisly Sweeney Todd tale by South African composer Brian Burke.

And what are the gems, the ultra rare and 'pieces de resistance' of this extensive collection? By far the most prized sheets are from Rodgers and Hammerstein's tryout of Oklahoma! When the show opened out-of-town in New Haven it had the title Away We Go (1943) and five songs from the score were published under this title before the title of the show was changed to Oklahoma! The Away We Go sheets with brown and yellow covers were only sold in the theatre lobby and when the show's title was changed they were immediately withdrawn. Each sheet is now worth in excess of $1000. Four sheets grace the collection, "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top", "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're In Love", and "Boys And Girls Like You And Me" which was ultimately cut. Rodgers and Hammerstein later kept adding it to several scores but it was always dropped until it was finally used in the stage version of their hit movie musical State Fair (1996).

thumb IMG 0005Also extremely rare and worth the same as the Away We Go sheets is a song from Cole Porter's London disaster Nymph Errant (1933) a show that starred the enchanting Gertrude Lawrence and expatriot American, Elizabeth Welch. Of all of the songs in Porter's ouvre "The Physician" is probably one of his wittiest and with the original thirties show artwork on the cover the sheet is indeed a gem. Another rare Porter piece is a copy of an original edition of "Begin The Beguine" also with its thirties artwork from the hit musical Jubilee (1935).

Jerry Herman had his first Broadway success in 1961 with Milk And Honey but at the same time he also had Madame Aphrodite (1961) playing Off-Broadway. This show turned out to be a 13 performance flop. Four songs were published from the score, three of them in this collection and all autographed by the show's book writer Tad Mosel, "The Girls Who Sit And Wait", "Only Only Love" and "Take A Good Look Around". With an eye-catching design of a woman's bejewelled hand putting drops into a cook pot on a red background, the sheets have a distinctive look. There are also five rare sheets from Herman's Off-Broadway success Parade (1960), "The Next Time I Love", "Your Hand In Mine", "Two A Day," "Your Good Morning", and "There's No Tune Like A Show Tune", a song he later reworked and which became "It's Today" in Mame (1966). When Ben Franklin In Paris (1963) was in trouble out-of-town Jerry Herman was called in as a show doctor and wrote two songs, both credited to the original composer Mark Sandridge Jnr. Of all of the songs published from the score Herman's contributions, "To Be Alone With You" and "Too Charming" ended up as a single sheet and as part of the Vocal Selection but without giving him credit.

thumb IMG 0006Also in the extremely rare category is the title song from Stephen Sondheim's 1948 college show Phinney's Rainbow. Josiah T.S. Horton had a co-lyricist credit. The three songs published from the score by Broadcast Music represent the first published work of the esteemed composer.

Similarly to Oklahoma! some shows have a title change out-of-town and this was the case with Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach's Roberta (1933). Out-of-town it was titled Gowns by Roberta (1933) and the collection boasts five sheets with this title including "Armful Of Trouble", a song which was ultimately cut. Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Fields Up In Central Park (1944) out-of-town was simply called Central Park. There are four sheets with the out-of-town title and six from the Broadway edition. The sheets are notable in that they all use a distinctive Currier and Ives drawing on the cover which is perfect for a show set in turn-of-the-century New York. Carol Channing's Delilah (1955) also had a title change before it hit Broadway as The Vamp (1955) but the delicious cover artwork of Channing in a Theda Bara pose stayed. When Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's The Firebrand of Florence (1945) opened out-of-town it was called Much Ado About Love (1945). There are music sheets with both titles.

When a show is on the road, music publishers, in anticipation of a Broadway opening, print songs from the show, but sometimes the shows don't make it. This is what happened with one of songwriter Jimmy McHugh's rare Broadway ventures Strip For Action (1955). The same fate dogged Vernon Duke's Zenda (1963) which closed out-of-town in Los Angeles and Andrew Lloyd Webber's WhistleDown the Wind (1996) which closed in Washington. Whistle Down the Wind however did have a successful London production directed by Australian Gail Edwards in 1998. When Kurt Weill died in 1950 he was working with Maxwell Anderson on a musical version of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1950). Some songs were published from the score and one of these, "This Time Next Year" features in the collection.

Sometimes a road tour uses different artwork which was the case when Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's Jekyll And Hyde (1995) toured before coming to Broadway. Three songs were published from both versions. The tour artwork has a Jekyll and Hyde drawing on all three, whilst the Broadway edition uses a Jekyll & Hyde word logo.

Booed by the first night audience and slaughtered by the critics, John Osborne's only foray into the musical theatre The World of Paul Slickey (1959) had a hasty demise from the Palace Theatre in London six weeks after it opened. Osborne, working with composer Christopher Whelan wrote a score that was labelled 'yellow-and-grey' and the only thing that survives from their creative marriage is an album containing five songs from the score. A five song album with a striking white and green cover with a cartoon of a rabbit is also all that survives of the London revue Share My Lettuce (1957).

thumb IMG 0021-tesArthur Askey's popular piece for the West End, The Kid From Stratford (1948) was tailor made for his talents yet little remains from the six month season. One of the rare song sheets from the score, "As For You", written by Manning Sherwin,the composer of the wartime hit "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square", features a cheeky drawing of the star dressed in Shakespearian attire.

Other striking covers include New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno's brilliant caricature of Ethel Merman on the original song sheets from Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam (1950), and Richard Addinsall's "A Jabberwocky Song" from the London revue Tuppence Coloured (1947) with the show title in various colours on a yellow/gold background.

Original television musicals are a rare breed, and music sheets from them even rarer. In the days before videotape it was one performance and no repeat. Therefore to find a sheet from Stephen Sondheim's only work for the medium, Evening Primrose (1966) was like striking gold. "Take Me To The World" has of course been published in various forms since the show aired but to have it in its original publication with the purple filigreed tree and show title and credits in yellow is a bonus.

Other rare television sheets include two songs from Cole Porter's Aladdin (1957) which had a London stage production in 1960 with Doretta Morrow, Bob Monkhouse and Ronald Shiner, and six songs from Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen's musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1955) which starred Frank Sinatra.

As the collection grew there were songs that no matter how hard I searched I simply could not find. One was the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song from the Bing Crosby movie Mississippi (1935) called "Down By The River". As a child I'd had a 12" 78 recording of a selection by George Melanchrino and his Orchestra from the film Words and Music (1948) about the life of the famous writing duo. The melody was pretty and it remained embedded in my memory for years but I could not find the music. Finally, I did come across it in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a Spanish and English lyric. That was also where I found a vocal version of Leonard Bernstein's theme from the film On The Waterfront (1954) with a lyric by the underrated American poet and muse, John Latouche. Brussells, Belgium, was where I found "People In Love" a song from the British musical version of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" titled A Girl Called Jo (1955). The thing that's unusual about this song is that no one knew it had been published. It was not listed on any of the other song sheets from the show so it became one of the prized pieces in the collection.

Rare entries from Australian musicals include three of Lance Mulcahy's songs from early Phillip Street revues, "To Have And Hold" from Merry-Go-Round (1952), and "Begone The Beguine" and "You Came From Outer Space" from Top of the Bill (1954), plus the "Tintookie March" from the large-scale Marionette musical The Tintookies (1956). The gem of the Australian section however, and the sheet that brings us full circle, is "Shadows" from Charles Zwar's Blue Mountain Melody (1934) with its green bush-setting artwork by the show's book writer J.C.Bancks, better known as the creator of the Ginger Meggs comic strip. It's a fitting finale to the joy to be found in this comprehensive show music collection.

The complete "Pinne Collection" can be accessed at 

A full set of larger images relating to this article can be seen by clicking on any of the thumbnails below, then by using the 'next' or 'previous' button.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Her Majesty's Pleasure

HER MAJESTY'S PLEASURE by Frank Van Straten (Wakefield Press $39.95)
Australia's pre-eminent theatre historian Frank Van Straten has been at it again, this time documenting the 100 year history of Adelaide's Her Majesty's Theatre, affectionately known as the Grand Old Lady of Grote Street. Originally built in 1913 and called the Tivoli, then one of many around Australia, it is now the only Tivoli theatre still standing. Starting as a vaudeville and variety house that saw the likes of W.C. Fields, Sir Harry Lauder, and Stiffy and Mo treading its boards, the venue has presented a kaleidoscope of entertainment throughout its history. From classic musicals like My Fair Lady, Camelot, The Rocky Horror Show, and innumerable ballet and opera companies, to operetta, jazz and rock 'n' roll with lots of comics, grand pageants, movies, university revues, amateur Rep., and boxing and wrestling in between. John Guilgud, Marcel Marceau, Reg Livermore, Spike Milligan, Danny La Rue, Julian Clary, Whoopi Goldberg and Barry Humphries are just some of the stars who have performed there in one-man shows. Humphries claims it's his favourite Australian theatre. He first appeared there in 1953 playing a Welsh peasant in Emlyn Williams Wind of Heaven during a University Drama Festival. Apart from Humphries, other major talents to emerge from the theatre have included; Keith Michell, Robert Helpmann, Bobby Limb, Robyn Archer, Glynn Nicholas, Paul Kelly and Glenn Shorrock. Milestones have included the premiere of the first Australian musical, F.F.F., in 1920, the premiere of Robert Helpmann's ballet Electra before the Queen Mother in 1966, and Menopause – The Musical's record-breaking run of 20 weeks in 2007. Written in the same format as Van Straten's previous work on the Tivoli, fifty per-cent of the book is photographs. And what marvellous photographs they are. They not only capture the stars and styles of the eras, but also a changing Adelaide as well. Her Majesty's Pleasure is much more than a pleasure it's a banquet of riches. Handsomely produced by Wakefield it comes with an extensive index. Peter Pinne

By Peter Pinne & Peter Wyllie Johnston
A paper delivered by Peter Pinne at Research and Collections in a Connected World, a joint conference of International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres, Australia Branch, and The Performing Arts Special Interest Group of Museums Australia, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, 28 September 2012

Yantabinjie scriptScript cover, PAC AdelaideIn the early 1970s I bought a pianola and with it came a cupboard full of old rolls. There was one that I instantly fell in love with and kept playing constantly called "Omeo." I didn't know it at the time but discovered some years later that it came from a musical, and not just any musical, but what is recognized as being the first professionally produced Australian musical, F.F.F. It was written by Reg Stoneham and Jack DeGaris and opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Adelaide, on the 28th August 1920.

F.F.F. is where our story starts. THE A-Z OF AUSTRALIAN MUSICALS which Peter Wyllie Johnston and I have been working on for two years, is a book that lists the details of over 250 Australian Musicals from 1920 until the present time. Each entry lists the creatives, cast, synopsis, songs, reviews and whether the work has been recorded or published.

This overview of what musicals were created and premiered in Adelaide gives a good cross section of the range of content and of the many creatives who are part of the Australian musical story.

F.F.F. was sub-titled "An Australian Mystery Musical Comedy," and was the brainchild of Jack DeGaris, a pioneer of the Mildura dried fruits industry. He employed Melbourne composer Reg Stoneham to write the music. Stoneham had previously had some success with his First World War hit "Heroes of the Dardinelles." DeGaris took the work to Hugh McIntosh at the Tivoli Circuit. McIntosh initially turned it down but later said yes when he was faced with financial difficulties. He persuaded DeGaris to invest ten thousand pounds of his own money in McIntosh's company with DeGaris guaranteeing against losses of up to 2000 pounds.

Yantabinjie score coverYANTABINJIE score, PAC AdelaideThe convoluted plot involved a budding English playwright Fitzwilliam Ferguson, "Fitz," who is sent to Australia by a rich uncle to become a "dinki-di" Aussie, and who falls in love with his typist, Flo.

The cast was headed by Minnie Love, Maggie Moore, Hugh Steyne, Rex London and Charles Workman. The reviews were mixed. "There are undeniably clever features in F.F.F.", said the Adelaide Register, but then went on to say "The boast that F.F.F., was written in record time suggests more merit might have resulted by greater attention to the requirements of a difficult technique."

The musical played 14p before moving to His Majesty's Theatre, Perth, where it only played 3p. A Melbourne season at the King's Theatre followed with Winifred O'Connor replacing Maggie Moore. The critics liked Stoneham's music. "There is abundant evidence in the music of Mr. Stoneham that given a better peg on which to hang his art he may do big things," said The Age, with The Argus claiming the most successful song was "The Murray Moon."

As an advertising ploy, DeGaris offered cash prizes of 50 guineas each week if anyone could state what three words beginning with "F" the title referred to. The answer was provided in the closing song, "The Riddle of F.F.F."

Adelaide in the 1920s was a fertile ground for original musicals.

The following year Jack Fewster created with local writer Frederick J. Mills, Yantabingie (1921), a musical about a theatrical troupe who are stranded on a remote sheep station. Fewster was inspired to write Yantabingie after attending the premiere of F.F.F. It played 1p at Thebarton Town Hall in August and was not reviewed.

Cast of The Moon DreamCast of THE MOON DREAM, PAC Adelaide

1924 saw the premiere of Kenneth Duffield's first and only musical written in Australia, Healo. Duffield had achieved great success in London where between 1920 and 1922 he wrote or contributed to five West End revues; Puss Puss! (1920), A-Z (1921), Pot Luck (1921), Snap (1922), and The Nine O'Clock Revue (1922).

Healo was about Barnabas Burnaby, whose company Healo Limited is in crisis. The share price is falling and the factory girls are on strike. He decides to disappear and hides aboard a yacht bound for the South Seas. The yacht is shipwrecked and he ends up on the Island of Bliss, where he is crowned King.

The ballet chorus included Robert Helpman in one of his first professional roles.

The musical opened at the Theatre Royal, 4th December, and played 6p. Duffield later retitled the musical Hullo Healo and mounted another production at the Theatre Royal two years later. This production, with popular comic Arthur Stigant in the role of Burnaby then toured to Sydney where it played the New Palace Theatre, in 1927.

Critical reaction was good, with the Advertiser claiming there was a "lilting quality in many of the tuneful numbers," and giving praise to Helpman and co-dancer Alan Ziegler whose work they said "thoroughly merited the enthusiasm accorded it." The Sydney Morning Herald said "The music mostly pleased," and that a "wonderfully smart and active chorus assisted in the enjoyment."

1932 The_Moon_Dream426TMB cast cartoon, PAC AdelaideIn 1926 Jack Fewster collaborating for the first time with Adelaide musician Tom King and book writer Edith Aird, wrote his second musical Yvonne. It was a story about an Adelaide heiress, who is in love with Ted, a handsome but wayward character who constantly disappears. With the help of a Genie, Yvonne is magically transported to wherever Ted is to be found. These included exotic locations in Venice, Baghdad, Rangoon and Japan.

The musical opened in March at the Norwood Town Hall and played a 3 night season in March 1926 and became the first Australian musical to be broadcast in its entirety on radio. The News called it a "musical play of distinct originality," with "much lilting music."

The final musical to premiere in the 1920s was Juanita, another musical by Jack Fewster, Tom King and Edith Aird. Its fanciful plot had Cedric, a young rouseabout working on a sheep station in outback South Australia, desperate to meet a girl. He is persuaded that the best place to find a woman is in Spain. He travels there and meets the exotic dancer Juanita, who tests his ardour in many ways but finally agrees to marry him.

It opened at the Theatre Royal and played one week with the Advertiser claiming, "The music is delightful, and the lyrics are bright and catchy." Two months later it played 4p at Norwood Town Hall. It was also broadcast live on radio in its entirety from the Theatre Royal. Later in 1930 several scenes from Juanita were included in Fewster and King's revue Footnotes which was produced at the Theatre Royal.

 Program cover to Tropical Trouble 1944Program cover, PAC AdelaideThe 1930s started with another Australian first when On The Airr, a musical written for radio became the first original musical to be broadcast in that medium. Book, music and lyrics were by Evan Senior, who in 1926 at 20 had become the youngest managing director of a radio station in Australia at 5DN.

It was a musical fantasy, which the Advertiser called a "bright titbit," and was broadcast on 5CL on 5th August, and repeated on the same station on the 4th April 1932. Senior later became drama and music critic for the Adelaide News in 1936, and later in 1947 founded and was editor of the London monthly Music and Musicians.

1931 also brought the fifth and final collaboration between Jack Fewster and Tom King and their third book musical with Edith Aird. It was called Dutini – A Song of India and told the story of an Australian officer, Brad, who is stationed in India and engaged to Ruby, the Colonel's daughter, who falls in love with the beautiful 16-year-old priestess Dutini. The Advertiser said "Tom King and Jack Fewster probably have never produced anything more pleasing than the musical numbers of Dutini."

The musical opened at the Theatre Royal in July and played for 8p. On the last night of the season the performance was relayed from the Theatre Royal and broadcast on radio 5CL. 

The Moon Dream, which opened at the Theatre Royal in November 1932, brought to an end an era of Australian musicals at the Theatre Royal that had begun with the musicals of Fewster and King and Kenneth Duffield.


The music of The Moon Dream was written by Dr. T.D. Campbell, with book and lyrics by Alex Symons, and was produced in aid of charity. The Advertiser called the score "tuneful" and the libretto "sparkling." The cast included Harold Tideman who later became a theatre critic for the Advertiser. Also in the cast was Tom King's partner Phil Peake who appeared in the Melbourne production of the first Australian musical hit Collits' Inn (1933), which starred Gladys Moncrieff.

The final musical for the 1930 introduces a new name to our story, Lloyd Prider, who with His Royal Highness (1938)Midnight Manouevres (1942), and Tropical Trouble (1944) kept the Australian musical flag flying throughout the Second World War. All were produced by Prider's Playbox Theatre Company, all had music by Maurice Sheard, and all played the Australia Hall, or as it became known in the forties, the Australia.No Australian musicals appeared in the 1950s, and it wasn't until the Flinders Street Revue Company, in a departure from their usual intimate revues, produced a musical version of Norman Lindsay's The Cousin From Fiji in 1962, that Adelaide saw a new original work. With Music by Peter Narroway, lyrics by Ruth Barratt, and a book by Lois Ramsay and Alan Babbage, the musical played 15p at Union Hall.

A period piece, the plot concerned the return of a planter's attractive widow from Fiji with her equally attractive daughter, and their period of adjustment to the family circle in provincial Ballarat.

SALESMANPenny Welsh & Axel Bartz in TRAVELING SALESMANThe cast included Lois Ramsay, Desi Moore, Diane Chamberlain, Hedley Cullen, Bob Moore and Kathleen Steele Scott. Critical reaction was not unkind, nor was it enthusiastic. The Advertiser thought the plusses were the sets and the "lighthearted lyrics and music of Ruth Barratt and Peter Narroway." Max Harris in The Bulletin said that Ramsay and Babbage had "produced a script of interminable length and in Ivor Novello idiom, which sounded more like an exercise in clichés than in Australian folksy."

The seventies were a bumper period with no less than eight musicals opening in the decade.

First up was two one-act folk operas commissioned by the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Love Travelling Salesman and The computer, written by myself and Don Battye. Played as a double bill at lunchtime and in the evening, they opened at the AMP Theatre, in March 1972, where they played 12p.

Both dealt with love in a commercial world. In Love Travelling Salesman a young man is hired as a prostitute to sell love to lonely wives and spinsters in the country, but breaks a young girl's heart when she falls in love with him. In The computer, an innocent boy from the country is programmed into the world of automation by his love for a young girl.


Both sung-through musicals used the same cast; Marie Fidock, Axel Bartz, Penny Welsh, Peter Strawhan and Wendy Parsons. Kenneth Hince in The Australian called Love Travelling Salesman "a pretty innocent morsel, not at all pretentious, full of roaring trite dialogue set to a kind of damp post-Gershwin music." In The computer, Harold Tidemann in the Advertiser said "Marie Fidock plays the tea lady with flourish," and that "Axel Bartz and Penny Welsh make a handsome pair as the young lovers."

Two months later Barry Eggington produced I Love You Humphrey B. Bear at the Royalty Theatre during the school holidays. It introduced an important composer in the story of the Australian musical, David King. It was based on the popular children's TV series.

It played 24p at the Royalty, then the following January played Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, and in August 1973 appeared at Her Majesty's Theatre, Perth, where it ran for 24p, before returning to Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide, for a further 10p season. In the original season the cast included Robyn Archer as the wicked witch Hepzibah.The Advertiser called it "a well-staged fantasy full of sparkle and color," whilst the West Australian thought it "Exceedingly professional."

HUMPHREY-BEARProgram cover

From the 7th May 1973, the Royalty Theatre again housed a children's musical, Golly Gosh! Fat Cat, for 16p. It was also based on the TV series, Fat Cat and Friends, and had a musical score by Alistair McHaig. The Advertiser called the music "tuneful" and said "it has some very effective sets designed by Malcolm Harslett and some clever effects." Later in August 1973 the production played Her Majesty's Theatre, Perth, for 26p.

David King also composed the score for Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which played a 22p season at the Royalty Theatre, Adelaide, in August, 1973. Harold Tidemann in the Advertiser claimed the song "Someone" was "outstanding."

The Circle Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from the 15th January, 1976, for 18p, was home to Steve Spears Young Mo, or to give it its full title, The Resiscitation of the Little Prince Who Couldn't Laugh as Performed by Young Mo at the Height of the Great Depression.

It was basically a jukebox musical with some original music by Roy Ritchie. It told the story of revue comic Roy Rene "Mo," his partner "Stiffy," Nat Phillips, his wife Sadie Gale, and fellow variety star Queenie Paul, in a series of flashbacks and vaudeville slapstick routines.

Program cover GOLLY GOSH! FAT CATProgram cover, PAC AdelaideThe original cast included Michael Scheid as Mo, with Robyn Archer as Queenie Paul. The Arts Council took the production on tour throughout South Australia in 1976, with Rob George as Mo. In 1977 a star-driven production by Nimrod Theatre, Sydney featured Garry McDonald as Mo, and veteran variety performer Gloria Dawn as Queenie Paul. It was Dawn's final appearance on stage. There were later productions at La Boite in Brisbane in 1978, and Crossroads Theatre, Sydney, in 1993.

Critical reaction was mostly good. Harold Tidemann said "With some pruning and smoother running, Young Mo should be a first class show giving a vivid idea of a bygone era." The SMH thought that when it doesn't take itself too seriously, it made a "very entertaining evening," whilst the National Times called Garry McDonald a "genius."

1977 also produced Lofty, sub-titled "An epic from the annals of country rock," with music and lyrics by Peter Beagley, who later changed his name to Peter Head. Beagley was a former member of the blues rock band Headband. The book was by Rob George.

The plot, set in colonial times, involved a bushranger Lofty, deported from England for singing suggestive songs at Queen Adelaide's nuptial feast, and his forming of a gang of bushrangers called the Lofty Rangers, who reward the people they plunder by singing them songs.

The show opened at her Majesty's Theatre, the 28th January 1977, and played 11p. The cast included Wayne Anthoney, Maureen Sherlock and Tony Strachan. One song was written by Bon Scott who later found fame as the vocalist with rock group AC/DC. Accompaniment was by the Mount Lofty Rangers whose line-up at various times included Glenn Shorrock, Robyn Archer and Jimmy Barnes.

Ian Meikle in the Advertiser said "Lofty is big on fun, but a bit short of being the country rock epic it boasts."

Ned KellyNED KELLY, PAC AdelaideThe final musical for the seventies was Reg Livermore's much maligned rock opera version of Ned Kelly, called Ned Kelly – The Electric Music Show. Book and lyrics were by Livermore, with music by Patrick Flynn. It was produced by the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, Eric Dare, and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. A visually impressive production, it opened at the Festival Theatre on the 30th December 1977, to good notices with the Advertiser calling it "marvelous" and The Bulletin "Brilliant," but a withering review from Advertiser Arts Editor, Shirley Despoja, (known in theatrical circles as Shirley Destroyer) who called it "monumental bad taste, vulgar and pretentious." Her notice helped kill the box-office with the show only playing 31p.

A later Sydney season did not fare much better playing 47p. The cast included Nick Turbin as Kelly, with Geraldine Turner as Ma Kelly. In 1982 Ned Kelly became the opening production of the New Moon Theatre Company opening in Cairns, before touring to Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton.

SONGS FROM SIDESHOW ALLEYSONGS FROM SIDESHOW ALLEY, PAC AdelaideRobyn Archer's Songs From Sideshow Alley was the first musical of the 80s. A two-handed work it opened at the Southeast Community College, Mount Gambier, in March 1980. Set in a seedy sideshow alley, Trixie and Pearl mourn the passing of the Royal Show as it used to be. As they nostalgically plan one last show they perform all their old tricks.

Robin Nevin played Trixie, while Archer was Pearl. The show played 3p at Mount Gambier before moving to Adelaide where it played 13p at Union Hall. There was a 1980 regional South Australian tour which starred June Bronhill and Isobel Kirk, and a 1980 Sydney production with Maggie Kirkpatrick and Nancye Hayes. The critics liked it, with the Advertiser calling it "fun" whilst the SMH said it was "an important and endearing show."

1980 also saw the first production of Nick Enright's musical documentary about the fortunes of an Irish family during the depression, On The Wallaby. It was written in a 'living newspaper' style with overtones of Brecht, and used pre-existing Australian songs for its score.

Produced by the State Theatre Company it was very successful playing 15p at the Playhouse with a cast that included; Nancye Hayes, and Phillip Quast. There were further productions at the New Theatre, Sydney, in 1981, Q Theatre, Sydney, in 1983, and the Playhouse, Perth, in 1986.

The Australian said "it is a remarkably effective piece of didactic theatre," and claimed Nick Enright "as a coming man in Australian theatre." The Advertiser agreed and called Nancye Hayes "excruciatingly moving" in a song written by Enright called "What do I have to sing About?"

Nick Enright was also responsible for the next musical to get up which was Buckley's in April 1981. Produced again by the State Theatre Company, it was a piece about unemployed youth which had music by Glenn Henrich, Lyrics by Enright and a book by David Allen. Phillip Quast was again in the cast, as was Enright, and in keeping with the theme, free seats were available for the unemployed.

CD cover of EVERYTHING'S F**KEDCD cover, Pinne private collection

The Australian thought it "marvellously honest and inventive," the Advertiser said the production couldn't disguise its "underlining despair," and Theatre Australia praised Quast saying his "performance was the highlight of the show," and as a performer showed "impressive potential."

Peter Combe's highly successful adaptation of May Gibbs' classic Gumnut Babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie ushered in the 90s when it played to an audience of 20,000 at its first performance in Elder Park in March 1992. Produced by the Adelaide Festival of Arts, it was a concert version with the Adelaide Festival Chorus, the Adelaide Girls Choir and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. A later production in the Festival Theatre in 1993 featured Ruth Cracknell as May Gibbs, who also played the role when it was repeated at Suncorp Piazza, Brisbane, in 1994.

When The Emerald Room opened at the playhouse in November 1994, composer Chris Harriott and lyricist Dennis Watkins already had several successful Australian musical credits to their name – Beach Blanket Tempest and Pearls Before Swine to name two. 


CD bookletEVERYTHING'S F**KED, CD booklet

Unfortunately The Emerald Room did not add to their successes. The plot, set in a night-club, concerned the relationships between a singer, Lena, the club manager, Aurora, and a songwriter Alex, with a female impersonator weaving through the action doing impersonations of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and Bette Midler.Paul Capsis was the drag queen, Judi Connelli the club manager, Nick Carrafa the songwriter, with Helen Buday the singer. The show was crucified by the critics who claimed it was a "lesson in how not to put book and lyrics together." Produced by the State Theatre Company, it was the last of the ill-fated Australian Musical Foundation musicals to see the light of day, a foundation that had been set-up by Jim Sharman and Michael Turkic, with seed money from Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber for the development of new musicals. 

Dutch Courage in 1997 was the first of four musicals composer and lyricist Sean Peter premiered in Adelaide. It was based on a true story and told how a group of gay men joined the Dutch underground to fight the Nazi invasion during World War 2. The book was by Barry Lowe.

Flyer to LOVERS AND HATERSFlyer, Pinne private collection

"What gives Dutch Courage its emotional density is Sean Peter's music and lyrics," said The Bulletin, with Tim Lloyd in the Advertiser proclaiming the song "Fags Can't Fight" was "a hilarious and rollicking anthem." The musical played 18p at Theatre 62, had a Melbourne production in 2004, and a successful New York outing in 2008.

 Scam! in 1998, was a contemporary Rock-Opera version of The Threepenny Opera. With music and lyrics by Sean Peter and a book by Barry Lowe, it played the Queen's Theatre for 15p commencing 5th August. The reviews were glowing: "entertaining script, good music, solid direction, a strong cast and clever use of technology," said the Advertiser, "exhilarating and accomplished" echoed the Bulletin, whilst the Sunday Mail called it "satirical, sharp and passionate."

Sean Peter was again writing music and lyrics for The Pink Files which premiered in 2001. It was developed from an oral history project which recorded the experiences of gay men and women living in the gay community from the 1940s to the 1970s. It played Theatre 62 for 14p in October. Samela Harris in the Advertiser thought it had "some wonderful moments and some lovely performances."

 In June 2007 at the Dunstan Playhouse, Eddie Perfect presented the "unofficial premiere" of his Shane Warne – The Musical, a show about the private and public life of the legendary cricketer. The following year in March, Shane Warne The Musical: A Work in Progress played the Melbourne Comedy Festival with Neil Armfield as director, and later in December opened at the Athenaeum Theatre for a run of 41p. This production then played Perth and Sydney. Eddie Perfect wrote book, music and lyrics and played the title role in all productions. The Age called it "genuinely clever, genuinely funny, and genuinely affectionate."

Sean Peter made another appearance in 2007 when his sung-through musical about September 11, 2001, and the effects the disaster has on four ordinary people living in Australia, Everything's F**ked – The Musical played a 17p season at the Space. The critics called it an Australian Rent, and according to JJJ Radio it dragged "music theatre kicking and screaming into the 21st Century."

Metro Street_programMETRO STREET program, PAC AdelaideNorwood Town Hall which saw the premiere of Fewster and King's Yvonne back in 1926, now comes back into the picture a century later with the premiere in March 2008 of Rob George and Maureen Sherlock's Lovers and Haters. The musical was about the secret life of South Australia's flamboyant premier of the 1970s Don Dunstan. Quentin Eyers wrote the music which relied heavily on satire and revue. Critical reaction was mixed.

Finally, the last show in this overview is Mathew Robinson's Metro Street which opened in a production by the State Theatre Company at the Dunstan Playhouse in 2009. The musical, about a family coming to terms with a mother's recent diagnosis of breast cancer, featured an "A" list cast; Debra Byrne, Nancye Hayes, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Cameron Goodall and Jude Henshall. "Impeccable cast, staging and music hit all the right notes," said The Australian, with Australian Stage Online calling it "a gutsy, raw, original work with modern and relevant lyrics and fresh and haunting music." The musical had originally won the Pratt Prize for Musical Theatre in 2004. Following the Playhouse season the musical toured to South Korea where it played 6p at the Daegu International Musical Festival with the original cast. Debra Byrne won Best Female Actor in a leading role at the Daugu Musical Awards, with the show nominated for four Helpmann Awards.

It's a fitting finale to this Adelaide overview putting the Helpmann name centre stage again, a name we first encountered in the 20s.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Bruce George turns 100

On April 10th 2013 composer and musician Bruce George turned 100 celebrating his birthday with his daughter Shelley and family at their home at Hope Island on the Queensland Gold Coast. A prolific composer Bruce George is most well-known for his 'Pocket Opera' The Ballad of Angel's Alley written in 1958 which the Union Theatre Repertory Company had great success with in 1962.

Bruce GeorgeBruce was educated at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School in East Melbourne from the age of eight until he was fifteen. He then had two years at University High, and was a student teacher from eighteen until he was twenty-five. His musical education was three quarters of piano tuition at age six, and in his youth he was Weightlifting Champion of Australia for six years. He worked as a musician from the age of sixteen until he turned seventy-six and at one time had his own six-piece band, the Bruce George Ensemble. Twice when times got tough he took a job as a clerk in the Navy Department. Bruce was based in London from 1965 until 1974 and during that time he was musical director of Noel Coward's 70th Birthday Concert A Talent To Amuse at the Phoenix Theatre, London, on the 16th December 1969. The star-studded cast included; June Bronhill, Cyril Ritchard, Danny LaRue, Joyce Grenfell, Maggie Fitzgibbon and Stanley Holloway.

Apart from The Ballad of Angel's Alley written with Jeff Underhill, Bruce George's twelve produced musicals include; Alice In Wonderland, also with Underhill, The Long Drop with Peter Clarke, Little Women with Ray Kolle and Peter Pan with Howard Charlwood, June Lansell and John Carroll.

Saturday, 04 May 2013



A paper delivered to the symposium RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN - UNDERSTANDING THE PHENOMENON, in Federation Hall, Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne, Monday 13 August 2012, presented by the Australian Centre For Music Theatre Research and Development.


Allegro opened at the Majestic Theatre in New York on 10th October 1947 to the largest advance ticket sales in Broadway history. [1] But with mixed reviews it did not go on to become the hit everyone was expecting and closed after playing 315 performances, the shortest run of any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical except for 1955's Pipe Dream which ran 245 performances.

But for its time Allegro was groundbreaking pushing the boundaries of the musical theatre into new and exciting areas. It was a 'concept musical' long before that phrase had ever been coined. But in 1947 a 'concept musical' was not what the public wanted to see.

A recent 2009 complete recording of the score of Allegro reveals the invention and craftsmanship of the work proving that the musical has been unduly underrated for the last fifty years.

In 1947 Rodgers and Hammerstein were on the crest of a wave of popularity and critical acclaim. Oklahoma! in 1943 and Carousel in 1945 had been enormous successes, they had won an Oscar for their song "It Might As Well be Spring" in what turned out to be their only movie collaboration in 1945's State Fair, and had produced Irving Berlin's blockbuster hit Annie Get Your Gun. They dominated Broadway.

In early 1946 Rodgers and Hammerstein began searching around for a new subject for their next musical. It was Hammerstein's idea to write a show about the problems an ordinary man faces in a contemporary society. Rodgers was not enthused but on discussion warmed to the idea when the protagonist became a doctor's son. Rodgers was the son of a doctor and his brother was also one as well. [2]

LibrettoBroadway premiere 1947By September the general theme of the story had evolved into "the struggle of the main character to avoid compromising his principles as he progresses through life." Hammerstein had initially wanted to write about a man from birth to death, but after having just killed off Billy Bigelow in Carousel he was reluctant to kill another protagonist. In the end the central character in Allegro moves from birth to age 35. [3]

Both men had been impressed with the simple staging of Thornton Wilder's small-town America classic Out Town in 1938 and because Allegro was set in small-town America they wanted to use this style. [4] They conceived it as taking place in an open space, using props and projections to convey scenery and time and place. In addition to the singing chorus, there would be a speaking chorus, in the manner of a Greek chorus, which would comment on the action, and speak to both characters and the audience. [5]

Hammerstein did background research by interviewing his own doctor. [6] He wrote a few pages of the book before embarking with his wife on a ship for Australia to visit her mother. On arrival in Brisbane he mailed Rodgers the rest of the material he had written on board. Rodgers, who did not compose until his lyricist supplied him with the lyrics, immediately set to work composing three songs. [7]

Hammerstein spent a year polishing and refining the first act. The second was very rushed because of the approaching production deadline and it was only completed one week before rehearsals began. [8]

Allegro begins in a small-town in the Midwest in 1905 with the birth of Joseph Taylor Junior the son of Marjorie and Joseph Taylor, the town's only doctor. We follow Joseph Junior from childhood to high school, his dreams of one day following in his father's footsteps and becoming a doctor, emotional complications with his childhood sweetheart Jennie, and his going away to college. While he is away at college Jennie realizes her ambitions go far beyond the wife of a small town doctor, but Joe's every thought is of her. He misses her and just prior to graduation rushes home to propose to her.

Marjorie believes Jennie is not the right wife for her son, but her concerns are cut short when she succumbs to a fatal heart attack and dies. Father and son are stunned with grief, but life goes on. A wedding takes place with Marjorie looking on foreseeing a troubled future for Joe.

Act Two opens during the Great Depression with Joe in partnership with his father. Jennie is convinced that moving Joe's medical practice to the big city is the only way to realize her financial and social ambitions. When he gets a job offer of a high paying internship in the city, she persuades him, despite his not wanting to leave his father, to accept it.

In the city, Joe is succumbed by the money and position. Emily, his nurse who has a crush on him, reminds him that his focus has strayed. The patients who really need him have been replaced by pill-popping sycophants. Joe becomes disillusioned with the lack of meaning in his life, which is only worsened when he discovers Jennie has been having an affair with the hospital's Chairman.

At a banquet, Joe turns down the offer to replace the head of the hospital and announces he is returning home to his father and his family roots. He is taking back his life and practicing medicine again. He leaves Jennie and goes back to his hometown with Emily and his best friend Charlie.

childrenThe Children's Dance from the original Broadway production 1947 

As they did with Carousel and the "If I Loved You" sequence, Rodgers and Hammerstein went further in Allegro weaving song and dialogue together throughout the musical. And in another break with tradition, important musical numbers such as "So Far" and "The Gentleman Is a Dope" were given to subsidiary characters and the leading "Everyman" character Joe Junior had little solo work. In a high school dance sequence set in the 20s, Rodgers wanted a piece of music that would evoke the popular hits of that era, so he used one of his own songs, "Mountain Greenery" written with Lorenz Hart in 1926. [9]

The score opens with "Joseph Taylor, Jr." sung by the Ensemble in which they proclaim that except for her wedding, this is the "happiest day of Marjorie Taylor's life." This is followed by the grandmother singing "I Know It Can Happen Again," in which she expresses that babies grow up into men because she's seen it all before. "Pudgy Legs" follows and then "One Foot Other Foot" as Joe Jr. begins to walk. A Children's Dance introduces a new character, Jennie Brinker, who later becomes Joe's childhood sweetheart. Joe's grandmother's death is followed by "Winters Go By" and "Poor Joe," brief interludes which are used to transition Joe from a child to a teenager and sung by the Ensemble.

Next up is the first major song, a duet for Joseph Senior and his wife Marjorie, "A Fellow Needs a Girl."

"A fellow needs a girl
To sit by his side
At the end of a weary day,
To sit by his side
And listen to him talk
And agree with the things he'll say.

College danceThe College Dance from the original Broadway production 1947  

The action then moves to a college Freshman dance with "Mountain Greenery" played by a jazz band in the background. This sequence includes one of the few solos for Joe when he sings the brief "It's a darn nice campus," which extols the virtues of college life, but tags it with the fact that he is lonely and he wishes he were home.

A scene on the Football Field follows with a football song, "Wildcats" sung by the players, which segues into Jennie's garden and her reading a letter from Joe where "It's a darn nice campus" is repeated.

The next sequence is a composite of classrooms in which five Professors sprout their various subjects, Chemistry, Greek, English, Philosophy and Biology, in competition with Joe's daydreams about Jennie, during which the Ensemble comment in song "She is never away" (from her home in your heart). The sequence is interrupted by the song "So Far" sung by Jennie's sister Beulah on a first date with Joe;

"We have nothing to remember so far, so far,
So far, we haven't walked by night
And shared the light of a star"

But Jennie appears in Joe's thoughts and he returns to singing "You Are Never Away" (from your home in my heart) with the Ensemble.

The First Act ends with "What a Lovely Day For a Wedding" which includes a song by Joe's friend Charlie "It May be A Good Idea," and then segues into the Act One Finale inside the church where the gathered sing, "Wish them well, wish them well." "They have faith in the future, and joy in their hearts, wish them well."

Act Two opens during the depression in the backyard of Jennie and Joe's home with Jennie and her girlfriends singing the ironic waltz, "Money Isn't Everything."

"Money isn't everything
Unless you're very poor"

A brief reprise of "Poor Joe" follows by the Ensemble, which in turn is followed by Joe reprising "You Are Never Away." Hammerstein is at his most bucolic in his lyrics for this song;

"You're a rainbow I chase
On a morning in spring,
You're the star in the lace
Of a wild willow tree,
In the green leafy lace
Of a wild, willow tree."

Joe Senior is disappointed at his son leaving but resigns himself as Marjorie appears and sings a reprise of "A Fellow Needs a Girl."

A cocktail party is in full swing at Joe and Jennie's apartment in Chicago. The chorus sing "Yatata."

"The deep-thinking gentlemen and ladies
Who keep a metropolis alive
Drink cocktails
And knock tails
Ev'ry afternoon at five"

Disillusioned with her boss, Emily leaves the party and sings the sardonic "The Gentleman Is a Dope," a Hammerstein lyric in the style of Lorenz Hart.

broadway1947From the Broadway production 1947 

"The gentleman is a dope,
A man of many faults,
A clumsy Joe
Who Wouldn't know
A rhumba from a waltz,
The gentleman is a dope,
And not my cup of tea –
(Why do I get in a dither?
He doesn't belong to me!)

Later, Joe, who is also disillusioned with his life sings with Charlie, Emily and the Ensemble, the title song, a cynical paean to big city life.

"May's in love with Kay's husband,
He's in love with Sue!
Sue's in love with May's husband,
What are they to do?
Tom's in love with Tim's wife,
She's in love with Sam!
Sam's in love with Tom's wife,
So they're in a jam!
They are smart little sheep
Who have lost their way
Blah! Blah! Blah!

Brisk, lively, merry and bright!

Musically Rodgers borrowed the ascending phrase at the end of the song from "Johnny One Note" his song from 1937's Babes in Arms. It's one of the rare instances when Rodgers took a direct quote from one of his own songs.

The song "Allegro" is followed by a dream ballet which depicts the confusion and the futility that pervades the society in which Joe practices medicine, before he decides to go home. The Ensemble and Marjorie then sing "Come Home."

"Come home, come home,
Where the brown birds fly
Through a pale, blue sky
To a tall green tree,
There is no finer sight for a man to see –
Come home, Joe, come home."

The Finale Ultimo features a sequence that includes snatches of "Yatata," "Come Home," and "One Foot Other Foot."

There was one song that was dropped before rehearsals started called "My Wife."

"You are so lovely, my wife,
You are the light of my life."

Rodgers later used the melody in 1949s South Pacific where it became popular and known as "Younger Than Springtime." [10]

In an unprecedented move Rodgers and Hammerstein hired Agnes De Mille to not only choreograph the musical but also direct it. [11] It was the first time the two functions had been done by one person in a Broadway musical. De Mille had choreographed both Oklahoma! and Carousel creating the innovative 'Dream Ballets' in which the characters' psychological states were conveyed to the audience. She appeared to be a good fit for the project. [12]

But De Mille was concerned about the cohesion of the script as she received it from Hammerstein. A few days before rehearsals began she asked him what the show was all about. He replied, "It's about a man not being allowed to do his own work because of worldly pressures." [13]De Mille answered, "That's not the play you've written. You haven't written your second act." Hammerstein replied, "But we're already committed to the theatre in New York." [14]

De Mille was not the only one who did double duty on the musical. Jo Mielziner created sets and lighting. With minimal sets and only projected images to set the scenes, lighting became an important element in the design. The first time lighting served as the principal staging factor in a Broadway musical. [15] There were 500 lighting cues, at the time a Broadway record.

Stephen Sondheim was employed on the production during his summer college break as a $25-a-week gofer. [16] He was 17 at the time. It was his first job in the theatre. He remembers.

"Jo Mielziner designed a serpentine curtain that hung from an "S" shaped track, which allowed sets to be revealed and concealed as the curtain was pulled to one side. One set could be placed behind the curtain on Stage left while a scene was being played on Stage Right and subsequently revealed when the curtain slid across in the other direction. This movie-wipe technique satisfied Oscar enough for him to use it in his next show, South Pacific, where wipes and dissolves were used throughout. Hal Prince has often acknowledged that this production was one of the main influences of his style – seeing those cinematic effects employed in the theater. Allegro initiated that approach, but because it was a failure few people paid attention." [17] 

chorusRodgers rehearses the chorus 1947 

Rehearsals took place in three different New York locations, for principals, singers and dancers. [18]

John Battles played the role of Joseph Taylor Jr. He'd previously appeared in Cole Porter's Something for the Boys, and as Gaby in Leonard Bernstein's On the Town. Roberta Jonay was Jennie Brinker. A Hollywood actress, it was her Broadway stage debut. It was also William Ching's Broadway stage debut playing Dr. Joseph Taylor. He also came to the show direct from Hollywood. Annamary Dickey was Marjorie Taylor. She was a former Metropolitan Opera performer with Broadway credits in Rhapsody and Hollywood Pinafore. [19]

John Conte and Gloria Wells both left the production of Carousel to appear in Allegro, as Charlie Townsend and Beulah respectively. Conte had been playing the role of Jigger Craigin in Carousel whilst Wells had been Arminy. [20] The part of Emily went to Lisa Kirk whose previous Broadway experience had only been in a show called Good Night Ladies.

Australian-born Muriel O'Malley was Grandma Taylor. She had started her career at 17 when she had sung in the Williamson-Melba Opera Company in 1928. At the time her most recent Broadway credit had been appearing as Aurelia in a revival of The Chocolate Soldier in March 1947. [22]

Rodgers' longtime orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett was credited with orchestrations, and although he did the bulk of the work, he was helped by Menotti Salta and Ted Royal. Salta orchestrated "The Gentleman Is a Dope," "So Far," "Wildcats," and "You Are Never Away" whilst Royal did "It's a Darn Fine Campus." [23]

Trude Rittman arranged the dance music, with Salvatore Dell'Isola conducting the orchestra. The choral director was Crane Calder, while Josephine Callan directed the choral speech. Costumes were by Lucinda Ballard. Like they had with Oklahoma! and Carousel the Theatre Guild were on board once again to Produce.

Allegro opened out-of-town at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut, on the 1st September 1947. The first preview was disastrous. Scenery collapsed during William Ching singing "A Fellow Needs a Girl," dancer Ray Harrison caught his shoe in a track, tore the ligaments in his knee and was carried screaming from the stage, and Lisa Kirk fell into the orchestra pit while singing "The Gentleman is a Dope." She was catapulted back onto the stage with no pause in her singing, to great applause by the audience. [24] Sondheim recalls.

"Next day in the New York Herald Tribune, Billy Rose, of all people was saying, 'A star is born. Next night she comes back, came to the same point in the song, and starts to fall, and the entire audience gasps because they'd all read the Herald Tribune. She recovers quickly, they all sigh, and she gets another ovation. Oscar came backstage at the end and said, 'You do that a third time and you're fired.'" [25]

From New Haven the production moved to Boston where one performance was marked by boisterous behavior by some conventioneers. Having had enough Hammerstein told them loudly to "Shut Up" which they did. [26]

But all was not well backstage. The project was proving to be too big and beyond Agnes De Mille. At one point the cast were up in arms at her treatment of them. [27] She went to Hammerstein and said "I can't do the new dances and the new songs and the new book," so Hammerstein stepped into direct the dialogue. [28]

Sondheim later expressed his views of De Mille as a director calling her a "horror. She treated the actors and singers like dirt and treated the dancers like Gods... [she was] I think, an extremely insensitive woman, an excellent writer, and a terrible director, in terms of morale, anyway. That was my first experience of bad behavior in the theatre." [29]

During this period Hammerstein sought the advice of Joshua Logan who suggested a different ending, that Joe not return home, but take over the large hospital and change its focus from catering to rich, spoiled clients to the needs of the poor and truly ill. Logan believed that Hammerstein should be ruthless in making changes to the show. Hammerstein chose to retain his original ending. [30]

Theatergoers line-up at the Majestic Theatre box-offce 1947Theatergoers line-up at the Majestic Theatre box-offce 1947 

Expectation was high in New York for Allegro which by the time it had opened on 10th October 1947, had amassed $750,000 in advance sales, at a time when the top price ticket for a Broadway musical was $6. $100,000 advance would have been considered astronomical. [31] Allegro's top ticket price was $4.50.

A special performance the afternoon of the opening for friends and associates generated wild applause however the audience at the official opening in the evening clapped little.

Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times said the work "just missed the final splendor of a perfect work of art," with Robert Coleman in the Daily Mirror stating "Allegro is perfection," and adding that it was "a stunning blending of beauty, integrity, intelligence, imagination, taste and lends new stature to the American musical stage."

Ward Monkhouse of The Sun called it "distinguished and tumultuous. It takes its place alongside of Oklahoma! and Carousel as a theatrical piece of taste, imagination, and showmanship."

Robert Garland in the Journal American claimed "Allegro is bigger and better than anything Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein have written." Richard Watts Jr. in the Post said it was "a distinguished musical play, beautiful, imaginative, original and honestly moving."

But then there were the negative, three of which called it "a disappointment"; Wolcott Gibbs in The New Yorker, William Hawkins in the World Telegram, and Louis Kronenberger of New York P.M. The latter also said it was "an out-and-out failure."

Cecil Smith in Theatre Arts claimed "Allegro fails where Our Town succeeded...Joseph Taylor Jr.'s life has little or nothing to tell us about our own lives," while George Jean Nathan New York Journal American thought it was "as pretentious as artificial jewelry and just about as valuable."

Agnes De Mille's direction and choreography were reviewed positively with the New York Times dance critic John Martin stating, "Allegro has definitely made history" for De Mille's giving "form and substance to material with little of either."

All in all there were four raves, one favorable, two unfavorable and two pans. The large advance helped, as did the rave reviews, but the bad reviews hurt, and more importantly, so did word-of-mouth. Audiences either loved it or loathed it. There was no middle ground.

playbillPlaybill for the U.S. tour 1948 With a weekly payroll of forty stagehands, eighteen principal actors, twenty-one supporting players, twenty-two dancers, thirty-eight singers and thirty-five musicians, Allegro was an expensive show. The production generated bad publicity when the producers proposed to dismiss several orchestra and chorus members to cut costs so the show might continue through the summer of 1948 with the fired performers alleging dismissal for hard-line unionism. [32]

On 19th July 1948, Allegro folded after a run of nine months. It cost $400,000 to produce and needed a year to break even and ended with a loss of $50,000. [33]

A national tour, which visited sixteen cities, commenced in November 1948 and played for eight months. The ads for the tour proclaimed "Direct from one year on Broadway" which was a gross exaggeration. [34]

There were no international productions. During the 1950s the show was popular with community theatres because of its large cast, no stars and no scenery, but there have been few professional productions of the work.

The first was a radio version which starred Jane Powell, John Lund, whose role was sung by John Baker, Stephen Douglass, Shannon Bolin, and Roberta Jonay from the original Broadway cast. It was broadcast as part of the Theatre Guild of the Air series, from the Masonic Auditorium, Detroit, Michigan, 24 July 1951, to celebrate the 250th birthday of Detroit. [35] In this version the song "So Far' was sung by the character of Jennie.

St. Louis Municipal Opera presented it in 1955, Goodspeed Musicals, Connecticut in 1968, Equity Library Theatre, New York, in 1978, and a stage concert version in March 1994 by New York City Center Encores! The cast included; Stephen Bogardus as Joe, Christine Ebersole as Emily, Donna Bullock as Jennie, and Celeste Holm as Grandma Taylor. [36]

A revised version re-written by Joe DiPietro was produced at Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia, in January 2004. This version cut the musical in size and scale with some characters being amalgamated and the orchestrations being simplified. [37] There have also been concert stagings in London and Toronto. [38]

Although Rodgers never set out to write any hits, two of the songs in the score became popular; "So Far" and "A Fellow Needs a Girl." It has been said that because of their popularity it helped the show stay around as long as it did. Both songs were recorded by Perry Como whose version of "So Far" reached No. 11 on the Hit Parade with "A Fellow Needs a Girl" reaching No. 25. Frank Sinatra also recorded both songs, while Doris Day recorded "A Fellow Needs a Girl" and Margaret Whiting did "So Far."

LP CoverRCA Victor LP record cover 1947 

In 1947 Victor records released five 78rpm recordings of songs from the score. These 78s became an original cast LP in the 1960s. It was later reissued on CD in 1993. The complete studio recording was released by Sony Masterworks Broadway in 2009. It featured Patrick Wilson as Joe, Nathan Gunn and Audra McDonald as his parents, Marni Nixon as the Grandmother, Laura Benanti as Jennie, Liz Callaway as Emily, Norbert Leo Butz as Charlie, Judy Kuhn as Beulah, with guest performances by Danny Burstein, Kurt Peterson, Harvey Evans, Stephen Sondheim and the voice of Oscar Hammerstein who was heard as one of Joe's college professors. Peter Filichia on called the release "utterly glorious."

In the 1947 Donaldson Awards Allegro won Best Score, Lyrics and Book of a Musical. Lisa Kirk was the only member of the original cast to go on to have a major career on Broadway appearing as Bianca in the original production of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate and Lottie in Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel in 1974.

Oscar Hammerstein was embittered about the public reaction to Allegro. He felt the audience did not understand what he was trying to say and according to his biographer Hugh Fordin, "he knew it was his fault that the message was not clear." [39] To many Allegro came across as a "success corrupts" morality play in which the wholesome virtues of America's heartland were set against graft and greed in the big bad city." [40]

Sondheim believes "the show is autobiographical – Oscar wanted to show what had happened to himself. As a result of the success of Oklahoma! and Carousel he had become so successful that he was an icon, and a useful one. He was elected Vice President of the World Federalists, made President of the Authors League, spent time travelling the country receiving honors and awards by the score and so forth – all because of his clout, his presence, his fame and his celebrity could help promote and raise money for good causes. In Allegro he was writing about the conflict between responsibility to your community and responsibility to yourself. He found that the more public appearances he made, the more speeches he gave, the more he traveled to support those causes, the less time he had for writing, the thing he was born to do. That is what he was trying to convey in Allegro. And nobody got it. He thought it was the fault of how he had handled the second act – that he hadn't made this clear. [41]

According to Steven Suskin in Show Tunes, "the insurmountable problem was quite simple: the songs weren't good enough." [42]

Sondheim claimed "It was a seminal influence on my life, because it showed me a lot of smart people doing something wrong." [43] He also called it "the first really good experimental show." [44]

Bert Fink in the liner notes of the 2009 recording claims, "that the bold artistic chances taken in Allegro did eventually pay off: maybe not for the show itself and not even for Rodgers and Hammerstein, but certainly for the American musical. While Oklahoma! and Carousel changed the course of the musical overall, Allegro no less importantly signaled the start of a powerful new genre within" the concept musical. Reverberations of Allegro have resounded over the years, from seamless staging that breaks time and space (Dreamgirls, Evita), to the introspective use of dance (West Side Story, Contact) and chorus (A Little Night Music, Ragtime), from the thematic (Company) to the metaphoric (A Chorus Line). [45]

Oscar Hammerstein was determined to fix Allegro and was working on a television adaptation when he died in 1960. Rodgers stated in his autobiography "of all the musicals I ever worked on that didn't quite succeed, Allegro is the one I think most worthy of a second chance. [46]

The flop of Allegro did more harm to the long-term Rodgers and Hammerstein association than it did in the short term. As Thomas S. Hischak says in his book The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia, "the failure of Allegro only partially tarnished the reputation of Rodgers and Hammerstein; after all it was a very respectable flop. Yet the long-term repercussions were more serious. Never again would Rodgers and Hammerstein experiment so boldly and risk losing their audience. They would continue to come up with surprising and wonderful things, but the days of radical and foolhardy innovation were over. From then on they would stick to the tried and true. Allegro marked the end of the Rodgers and Hammerstein revolution. [47]


1. Fink p. 9
2. Hyland p. 167
3. Secrest p. 280
4. Fordin p. 252
5. Hischak p. 6
6. Hammerstein p. 182
7. Hyland p. 167
8. Fordin p. 254
9. Fink p. 11
10. Nolan p. 157
11. Hischak p. 6
12. Hischak p. 64
13. Fordin p. 254
14. Ibid
15. Fink p. 12
16. Sondheim p. 15
17. Sondheim p. 16
18. Easton p. 266
19. Allegro Playbill p. 44
20. Ibid
21. Allegro Playbill p. 46
22. Allegro Playbill p. 44
23. Suskin p. 317 – The Sound of Broadway Music
24. Mordden p. 98-99
25. Ibid
26. Fordin p. 255
27. Secrest p. 282
28. Fordin p. 254
29. Hammerstein p. 182
30. Secrest p. 282
31. Fink p. 13
32. Mordden p. 98
33. Secrest p 283
34. Suskin p. 44
35. Hummell p. 12
36. Hischak p. 7
37. Toscano, Michael. Allegro: Review,, January 13, 2004
38. Fink p. 14
39. Forden p. 255
40. Fink p. 14
41. Sondheim p. 17
42. Suskin p. 46 – Opening Night On Broadway
43. Secrest p. 282
44. Fink p. 13
45. ibid
46. Fink p. 14
47. Hischak p. 7



* Fink, Bert. Liner Notes, Sony Masterworks Recording 2009
* Fordin, Hugh. Getting to Know Him: A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein 2nd. Jefferson, N.C.: Da Capo Press, 1995 reprint of 1986 edition ISBN 978-0-7864-2246-3
* Hammerstein, Oscar Andrew. The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2010. ISBN 978-1-57912-846-3
* Hischak, Thomas S. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 978-0-313-34140-3
* Hummel, David. The Collector's Guide to the American Musical Theatre. Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J. and London, 1984. ISBN 0-8108-1637-7
* Hyland, Richard G. Richard Rodgers. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1998 ISBN 978-0-300-07115-3
* Mordden Ethan. Rodgers and Hammerstein. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992. ISBN 978-8109-1567-1
* Nolan, Frederick. The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Cambridge, Mass.: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2002. ISBN 978-0-306-80668-1
* Secrest, Meryle. Somewhere for Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers. Cambridge, Mass.: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2001. ISBN 978-1-55783-581-9
* Sondheim, Stephen. Liner Notes Sony Masterwork Recording, 2009
* Suskin, Steven. Opening Night on Broadway. New York: Schirmer Books, 1990. ISBN 0-02-872625-1
* Suskin, Steven. Show Tunes – Fourth Edition. New York: Oxfor University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-019-531407-6
* Suskin, Steven. The Sound of Broadway Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-530947-8

Friday, 05 April 2013

Show Music Thumbnails

Peter Pinne discusses the latest additions to his ever growing library of CDs and DVDs.

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