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.

THE A-Z OF AUSTRALIAN MUSICALS – THE ADELAIDE CONNECTION
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.

COUSIN FROM_FIJICOUSIN FROM FIJI 

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.

COMPUTERMarie Fidock in THE COMPUTER

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 16:08

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 14:17

Allegro

BRISK, LIVELY, MERRY AND BRIGHT! ALLEGRO!

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!
Allegro!

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.
[21]

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 skill...it 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 theatermania.com 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]

 

References:
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, www.theatermania.com, 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

 

Bibliography:

* 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 18:02

Show Music Thumbnails

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

Saturday, 16 March 2013 11:15

Prodigal

The fourteenth in a series of important Australian musicals by Peter Pinne.

The twenty-sixth of February 2002 was not only an important date in the history of the Australian musical theatre it was also an important date in the history of the Broadway musical because it was the opening date of the first Australian musical to play New York. [1] The show was Prodigal and the authors were Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank.

Dean Bryant (writer/lyricist) and Mathew Frank (composer) met in 1997 when they were studying at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). In looking around for something to write together the idea of a contemporary retelling of the biblical parable of The Prodigal Son set in Australia where the son was 'gay' seemed to have dramatic possibilities. [2]

They began work on the piece, keeping the cast small as befitted the intimate family story, focusing on the boy, his country family, and two city friends. The action moved between two locations; Sydney and the small fishing village of Eden on the NSW south coast. [3]

PRODIGAL 326Prodigal, Melbourne 2011, image by Jeff BusbyLuke, the prodigal son, has just turned eighteen. His parents want him to run the family fishing business with his elder brother Kane. Instead he goes off to study at Sydney University. It is there he discovers his homosexuality, befriends a free spirit Maddy, and meets Zack who becomes his first boyfriend. When he returns home, it is to a father who is less than accepting of his son's gayness and lifestyle, a switch on the original biblical tale where the father welcomes his son home with open arms. The characters of Kane and Zack were written to be played by the same actor.

The thirteen song score included: 'Picture Postcard Place', 'Happy Families', 'Run with the Tide', 'Brand New Eyes', 'When I Was a Kid', 'My Boy', 'Out of myself', 'Set me Free', 'Epiphany', 'Love Them and Leave Them Alone', 'Where Does it Get You?', 'Maddy's Piece', and 'Lullaby'. A couple of ballads, 'Harden Your Heart' and 'What the Heart Knows is True' were cut after the first draft. [4]

The musical, which was titled Prodigal Son, received a workshop at WAAPA in September 1999, which led to a small sold-out production at Melbourne's Chapel off Chapel during the Midsumma Festival (a Celebration of Queer Culture) in January 2000. It cost $1,000 to mount, half of which was donated by the gay club Three Faces. [5] A later and longer season was also sold-out at the same venue opening 6 July 2000, and playing for 18 performances.

The cast included Dean Bryant (Luke), Graham Pages (Kane/Zack), Amanda Levy (Maddy), with Barry Mitchell as the father Harry, and Jules Hutchison as the mother Celia. The composer was musical director, with direction by Kris Stewart. Yellow floor squares, three chairs, a large drape, a clear plastic sofa and a sheet of semitransparent plastic conveyed kitchen, pub, pad, hospital and dockyards in Paula Levis' design.

Prodigal flyer New York 2002Prodigal flyer, New York 2002Jim Murphy (The Age) said of the work, 'The songs are firmly wedded to plot and character, with well-turned lyrics and inventive settings. If the score lacks anything it is one song that truly lets go and takes the emotions of the piece soaring.' He thought Bryant 'nicely underplayed' the role of the likeable Luke, with Mitchell and Hutchison 'etching neat portraits of his decent but uncomprehending mum and dad.' According to Murphy, the show's 'finest musical moment' was Mitchell singing 'Lullaby', as the son and father reconcile.Following the season the cast recorded an album of the show's score. Two songs, 'Picture Postcard Place' and 'Happy Families' were included on the Bayview compilation recording Musicals from the Land of Oz (RNBW012) released in the US, UK and Australia in 2001.

In March 2001 Prodigal Son was nominated for three Victorian Green Room Awards and won Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor. The authors, creative and life partners, at the time were both 24.

Home for New York's York Theatre Company is an intimate theatre at St Peter's in the Citigroup Center, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. It is the only theatre in the city – and one of the few in the world – committed to producing new musical theatre works and rediscovering musical gems from the past.

Their 60 full-scale musical productions have included The Golden Apple, The Grass Harp, On the 20th Century, A Doll's House, Lost in the Stars, Carnival! and Merrily We Roll Along. Several of their productions which have moved to extended runs on Broadway and Off include Sweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures and Jolsen & Company. Their new work includes The Musical of Musicals, The IT Girl, Roadside, Avenue Q, Summer of '42 and Harold and Maude.

James Morgan has been Artistic Director of the Company since 1997 and it is to him that Prodigal Son owes its Off-Broadway production. Linda Tulberg, a friend of Frank Van Straten's had the original Australian cast recording and was a subscriber to the York Theatre Company. She passed the CD on to him and then a few months later he was driving to Florida and popped it into his car stereo. He emailed the authors a few days later and said if they were ever in New York City they should do a reading of the musical at the York. [6]

Flush with royalties from a tour of their schools musical The People in Your Pocket, Bryant and Frank were already planning their first trip to New York. It was propitious that the email arrived a few weeks before their trip, so when they arrived in New York they immediately set-up the reading. [7]

Prodigal, New York 2002Prodigal,New York 2002, photo by Edward Pierce On 8 January 2002, it was announced that York Theatre Company would stage the American premiere of the Australian Musical Prodigal which the show was now titled. The cast featured Christian Borle (Kane/Zack), Kerry Butler (Maddy), Alison Fraser (Celia), David Hess (Harry), and Joshua Park (Luke). All had Broadway credits. Borle had recently been in a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, Butler had appeared in Bat Boy, Fraser in Romance Romance and The Secret Garden, Hess in Annie Get Your Gun, and Park had played the title character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Direction was to be by Victoria Pero, scenery by James Morgan, costumes by Dan Lawson, Lighting by Edward Pierce and musical direction by the composer. But that's not how it actually turned out.

Rehearsals were chaotic with the director asking for constant rewrites which the authors dutifully did, until eventually things came to a head and the director was fired one week before opening. Artistic director James Morgan took over, the rewrites were thrown out, and the script basically reverted to the Australian script. [8] When the musical opened on 26 February 2002, the score was unchanged from the Chapel off Chapel production.

NY 20Prodigal, New York 2002, photo by Edward Pierce Neil Genzlinger (New York Times) said 'Prodigal does, however, offer some good comic moments, a couple of decent musical numbers and two especially fine performances. It's just enough to make you forget, or at least forgive, that you've seen this story and format before.' He also praised the 'impeccable comic timing' of Fraser and Boyle, but thought that musically the 'creators were unable to decide whether to go for Stop the World I Want to get Off or Andrew Lloyd Webber; you find yourself wishing they would sometimes just let the songs be songs, rather than pseudo-opera.'

William Stevenson on broadway.com claimed, 'Frank's best songs, like "Where Does It Get You?" and "Epiphany" feature intertwining melodies and pleasing harmonies. Some of Bryant's lyrics are mundane, but at times they're quite touching.' He also called it a 'breakthrough musical'. In his praise for the cast he said Park 'has a strong voice and makes Luke more than just a stereotypical innocent kid,' and he manages a 'convincing Australian accent'. He also liked Fraser with her song 'Love them and Leave them Alone', and Hess with his solo 'Lullaby'.

Brooke Pierce (theatermania.com) thought the musical 'feels more like a sketch for a musical than a fully fleshed-out piece'. He then went on to say the music is 'pretty but not especially memorable, and many of the songs feel too short and/or simple to convey deep emotions'. He said the book was 'competently constructed and frequently funny', but wrapped it up by saying, 'Prodigal has a cute sense of humor and a lot of heart. What it needs is more strength, more energy, and more work.'

If they were not out and out raves, they were at least decent enough to attract audiences which the musical did for 40 performances. The production was scheduled to play until 7 April but closed a week early.

The York got it right when it came to the set which consisted of a series of corrugated iron panels that nicely delineated the Australian country landscape, but wrong with the props with no bottle of Fosters in sight. In this production the characters only drank Heineken beer. [9]

On 7 and 8 October, the cast reassembled at Clinton Studios, New York, to record the score for Jay Records (CDJAY 1370). It became the first Off-Broadway recording of an Australian musical.

In 2005, Prodigal had its first Sydney production at the Memorial Arts Theatre, Sutherland, on 25 February, as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Direction was by Craig Stewart, musical direction by Andrew Howie, with a pro/am cast that included Tim Watson, Michael Smith, Jane Newton, Leonie Johnson, Luke Coleman and Sam Ardasinki. Its short season finished on 4 March.

Later in the same year Prodigal was again produced in the US at Spirit of Broadway, Norwich, Connecticut, opening on 2 November.

Prodigal, Melbourne 2011Prodigal, Midsummer 2011, image Jeff BusbyProdigal had a Melbourne revival as part of the Midsumma Festival, 19-28 January 2011, playing a seventeen performance sell-out season at fortyfive downstairs. The production, financed by the authors, was directed by Dean Bryant, and billed as a 'coming-out-of-age story'. The cast included Edward Grey (Luke), Anne Wood (Celia), Peter Hardy (Harry), Adam Rennie (Kane/Zack), and Christina O'Neill (Maddy). Mathew Frank and Mark Jones were co-musical directors, but Jones played the piano accompaniment. Design was by Joanna Butler, with lighting by Rob Sowinski.

Writing in the program Bryant said, 'Matty and I wrote Prodigal when we were 21...There's so much in the show that only a 21 year-old writing for the very first time would write, but the upside is that it has an energy that only a 21 year-old could write.'

Daniel G. Taylor (Stage Whispers) called it 'the best of Midsumma 2011...this is one of those rare productions where everything is perfect: the direction, the acting, the lighting, the set design.' He thought Adam Rennie's performance as Kane/Zack was 'astonishing', and that Anne Wood delivered the emotional highpoint when she sang, 'Love Them and Leave Them Alone'.

Prodigal, Melbourne 2011, image by Jeff BusbyProdigal, Melbourne 2011, image by Jeff BusbyOther critics were equally as laudatory: 'Prodigal is a smart and big-hearted tear-jerker. It's home-grown musical theatre at its finest' (Cameron Woodhead, Age) ...The cast is talented, with Grey's clear tones and passionate performance bringing young Luke to life.' (Kate Herbert, Herald-Sun); 'Charming, engaging and entertaining, Prodigal is a charming first show from two of Australia's most successful music theatre practitioners.' (Richard Watts, Arts Hub)

Following the success of Prodigal Son, Bryant and Frank were commissioned by Lally Katz at the Next Wave Festival, Melbourne, to write a piece for their 'Primetime' series that was the length of a half-hour TV program without the ads. The Virgin Wars, was the result, a 24 minute tongue-in-cheek one-act musical about American teenagers preaching the virtues of virginity on a high-school stage. It was based on the abstinence movement in America where teenagers were given funding to educate other teenagers about 'staying a virgin' and Britney Spears (at that point) was the figurehead for the movement. [10]

It opened 17 May 2002 at the Arts House Meat Market, North Melbourne. The cast featured Esther Hannaford, Rosemarie Harris, Amanda Levy, Mary-Anne McCormick and Carmel Reeve. Direction was by Kris Stewart, choreography by Natalie Marsland, with musical direction by the composer.

Girl on the Screen, Malthouse 2006Girl on the Screen, Malthouse 2006, photo by Jeff BusbyFollowing positive feedback the authors decided to expand the work and wrote The Girl on the Screen and Jumpin' the Q, making the complete show a trilogy of one-act musicals with an intermission between the second and third. They also changed the title to Virgins: A Musical Threesome. The Girl on the Screen was about a journalist profiling women who ran internet porn sites, with Jumpin' the Q a song competition for asylum seekers, with the winning girl receiving Australian citizenship papers and a recording contract.

G4Y7174Jumpin' the Q, Malthouse, Melbourne 2006, photo by Jeff Busby

The Virgin Wars' songs included 'Tracy & the Virgins', 'Virginity', 'STD.', 'Ripped Apart', 'The Girl Most Likely', 'The Dream Ballet', and 'Strong Girl'. The Girl on the Screen's songs were 'Join Today', 'God, I'm a Journalist', and 'Connect'; while Jumpin' the Q's were 'Jump the Queue', 'Never Go Home', 'Land Where Good Men Go', 'Hope', 'The Gift of Fun', 'I Raise my Voice', and 'The World's a Screwed-Up Place'.

Jumpin' the Q received its first production as part of Top Shorts 2003, at the Old Fitzroy Hotel Theatre, Woolloomooloo, Sydney. Produced by and Naked Theatre Company, the cast included Hollie Andrew, Simon Burke, Helen Dallimore, Mel de Ferranti and Sigrid Langford-Schoerf. Dallimore was the director, Luke Byrne musical director with Mandy Carnie as choreographer.

Dallimore brought Burke to the table. He played the compere, a role that had originally been written for a woman. [11]

The first production of the trilogy opened at the Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne, 25 January 2006. The cast included Amanda Levy, Esther Hannaford, Rosemarie Harris, Kellie Rode and Verity Hunt-Ballard, with direction by the author, musical supervision by Mathew Frank and choreography by Natalie Marsland.

Jumpin' the Q was produced as it had originally been written for five women. The song, 'The World's a Screwed-Up Place' was also cut from the same show.

The reviews were ecstatic: 'Virgins in an exhilarating experience. Funny, edgy and visually spectacular, it bursts at the seams with talent at every level.' (Cameron Woodhead, The Age); 'Virgins is a musical with legs...not to mention hips, thighs and buttocks – a heavenly trinity of three self-contained one-acters...thigh-slappingly funny.' (Chris Boyd, Herald-Sun); 'This satirical burlesque trilogy oozes with talent in all departments and is an excellent example of the new spirit in musical theatre. It seemed to me to be one of the more telling pieces of refugee-protest theatre I have so far seen.' (Owen Richardson, Sunday Age)

 

On 6 February 2006, the cast recorded the musical at Newmarket Studios, Melbourne, with Andrew Kroenert (backing vocals/guitar), John Shawcross (keyboard), James Simpson (keyboard), Lauren Selway (bass guitar), and Ben Espinoza (drums).

Virgin-WarsVirgin WarsMalthouse, Melbourne 2006, photo by Jeff Busby Virgins was also nominated for six Green Room Awards: Best New Work, Best Director of a Musical (Dean Bryant), Best Lead Female (Amanda Levy), Best Featured Female (Kellie Rode), Best Design (Adam Gardnir), and Best Lighting (John Dutton).

In 2004, Kris Stewart, who had directed Bryant and Frank's Prodigal Son and The Virgin Wars, became the founding Executive Director of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, an event which annually saw the premiere of over thirty new musicals and was called by Time Out New York 'the Sundance for musical theatre'. Shows that premiered at the Festival and later went on to Broadway production included Altar Boyz and Next to Normal. Stewart extended an invitation to Bryant and Frank to bring Virgins to New York.

The authors accepted and organised a Virgins Unplugged concert at the inner-city jazz venue Manchester Lane, Melbourne, 21 August 2006. All proceeds from the high-profile fundraiser went towards sending the cast to New York. The night also served as the launch of the original cast recording. Hosted by Colette Mann, the concert featured Rhonda Burchmore, Mitchell Butel, David Campbell, Lisa McCune, Silvie Paladino, Meow Meow, James Millar, Lisa Sontag, Bert LaBonte, Natalie Marsland and the cast. The recording also included the cut song, 'The World's a Screwed-Up Place' as a bonus track.

In New York, Virgins played six performances at the Barrow Group Theatre on 36th Street, an out-of-the-way venue in the garment district. The reviews mirrored the Australian raves. 'Bryant's book and lyrics are often amusing, and Frank's generally cheerful music combines pop and Broadway influences...And the five actresses, who originated the roles in Melbourne last February, sound as lovely as they look. Levy is perhaps the standout, but all five are excellent.' (William Stevenson, broadway.com)

'When it comes to the hearts and craft beneath the hood of this often-charming, triple-bill tuner, Bryant and Frank are up there with the best.' (Matthew Murray, talkin'broadway.com)

The song singled out for acclaim was 'Connect' which was likened to the work of Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. Natalie Marsland handled choreography, while lead guitarist Andrew Kroenert sang and also did a little puppetry on the side.

In 2007, Virgins embarked on a two-week regional Victorian tour to Dandenong, Williamstown, Mildura, Shepparton, Ballarat and Taralgon, and in September 2010, Kris Stewart again directed the work with students from the Australian Institute of Music, Sydney.

Once We Lived There, Melbourne 2009, image Bryant & FrankOnce We Lived There, Melbourne 2009, image Bryant & FrankOnce We Lived Here was the next major Bryant and Frank musical to get up into production. Its gestation period was long. Nine years. They wrote the first song for the show, 'Soon They'll Forget' in 2000. It appeared as a bonus track on the Australian cast recording of Prodigal Son being attributed to Emoh Ruo, an early title for the musical. The show was originally commissioned in 2003 by Aubrey Mellor when he was artistic director of Playbox Theatre, Melbourne, and later won the Pratt Prize for Musical Theatre, in 2007.

When no commercial producers were knocking on their door wanting to produce the piece, Bryant and Frank decided to once again mount it themselves.

Once We Lived Here is about a fifth generation farmer whose fortunes are failing. As Bryant says, 'When do you make the decision to say something is not working? If you stay, is it out of love or desperation?' 'Soon We'll Forget' is a song about grief and letting go. 'That song got us writing around the show for years and years.' It was inspired by Bryant's mother, who lost her own mother at fourteen and brought up her younger siblings on the family farm. Bryant himself grew up on a Strathmerton dairy farm. [12]

On an ailing sheep-station in Northern Victoria, Amy and her mother Claire fight a losing battle to keep the farm afloat. Son Shaun, an aimless and troubled musician, and Lecy, Claire's other career-oriented daughter, return for a scorching long-weekend. Burke a former farmhand and Amy's ex also turns up having been invited by Claire. When Amy tries to persuade Shaun and Lecy to help her keep the farm going they argue, which results in Claire telling them she has sold the property. A bushfire sweeps close to the homestead and ignites the shearing shed. While everyone tries desperately to put it our, Claire dies. Later at her funeral the family unite as they realize it is time to move on.

The thirteen song score included 'All Roads Lead to Home', 'Gotta Fix the Pump', 'Ordinary Day', 'What the Hell', 'Soon, They'll Forget', 'The Shearing Shed', 'As Far As the Eye Can See', 'Guitar Lesson', 'Only You', 'We Like It That Way', 'Startin' From Scratch', 'Patch of Dust', and 'The Leaves of Summer'.

Bryant and Frank gathered a strong cast: Esther Hannaford (Amy), Sally Bourne (Claire), Christie Whelan (Lecy), Sam Ludeman (Shaun), and Warwick Allsopp (Burke). Bryant handled direction, Frank led a three-piece group of piano, Double Bass and Guitar, with costumes by Paula Levis, set design by Micka Agosta, and lighting by Kimberley Kwa.

The production opened to mixed reviews at fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 3 September 2009, and played for 17 performances.

Tim Richards in The Age was glowing: 'Musical theatre full of life, emotion and renewal...the songs are effective and engaging: the best is "As Far As The Eye Can See"...bleakness gives way to hope and renewal, though at the cost of accepting change and moving on. It's an inspirational finale that underlines the quality of this home-grown musical.'

However Chris Boyd in the Herald-Sun thought otherwise: 'Once we Lived Here is a big, maxi-series story of squabbling siblings, their terminally ill mother and a failing farm. The dialogue and lyrics are banal and even less forgivable, so are the songs...Casting and performances are first-rate. So good, in fact, they tip the scales towards must-see...It's a shame then that most of the tunes are about as interesting as the Lazaway pools jingle.'

The cast recorded the score which was released in 2010. It includes a bonus track of 'All Roads Lead to Home' sung by Andrew Kroenert, plus 'Shaun's Idol Audition', a brief improvised tune with lyrics by Bryant and music by Sam Ludeman. [13]

Geoffrey Rush writing on the CD sleeve called the musical, 'A beautiful, poignant piece of home-grown music-theatre. It may echo Chekhov and Sondheim but it's thrillingly pure Oz'. Once We Lived Here later won the 2009 Green Room Award for Best New Australian Musical.

The Silver Donkey, Melbourne 2006, image Bryant & FrankThe Silver Donkey, Melbourne 2006 TSD 2006


 In 2005, The Silver Donkey won the Courier Mail book award for young readers and the 2005 CBC Book of the Year award for young readers. Published in 2004, the novel for children was written by Sonya Hartnett.

Set during World War I, the book traces the journey of an English soldier deserter and two young girls, Marcelle and Coco, in the French countryside. The soldier suffers psychological blindness and the girls help him plan a way to return across the English Channel back to his brother. The soldier and the girls bond, with the soldier telling moralistic tales of courage, perseverance and trying your best at all times. Though his tales are fiction, one is not; the tale of his younger brother who while being extremely ill finds a small silver donkey in the garden. The soldier has carried the silver donkey with him everywhere for luck, hope and inspiration. He gives the silver donkey to Coco in the hope that luck, hope and inspiration will spread to her.

Bryant and Frank adapted the book into a musical in 2006, with the following score: 'No Heroes Here', 'The Road To Bethlehem', 'Facts and Figures', 'The Way of the World', 'Waiting For the Rain', 'What Kind of Man?', 'Cliffs of a Foreign Land', and 'Do Your Best'.

The Silver Donkey was produced by the Children's Performing Company of Australia and Echelon Productions. It toured the US in 2006, performing in San Francisco, New York City, Orlando, Washington DC and Las Vegas. The cast were all between the ages of ten and twenty.

In late 2006, for publicity and licensing purposes, a studio cast recording was produced. The CD cast included James Byers (Lieutenant), Annie Johnstone (Marcelle), Georgie Darvidis (Coco), Andrew Kroenert (Ernie), Josie Lane (Ruth), Luigi Lucente (Joseph), and Chris Scalzo (Sky).

At Christmas 2007, Melbourne Theatre Company had a reading of the piece in the rehearsal room of the Playhouse at the Arts Centre.

The Silver Donkey toured the US for a second time in 2008, appearing in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. Performance venues included Disneyland, The Acorn Theatre on Broadway, and numerous high schools. The cast numbered fifty-seven.

Trevor Ashley in Liza with an ETrevor Ashley in Liza with an E 

Bryant and Frank's first musical for children was The People in Your Pocket! a musical which told the stories behind the faces on Australia's banknotes. The subjects included Sir John Flynn and his establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service; Dame Nellie Melba on the eve of her 'sentimental tour' of Australia; Edith Cowan becoming the first woman in Parliament; and Sir John Monash on the battlefields of World War I.

The score includes 'The People In Your Pocket', 'Discipline', 'A Woman Can', 'The Empty Heart', 'The Ballad of Mary Reibey', 'The Last One Onstage', and 'Forever Young'. [14]

The musical, aimed at a history and mathematics curriculum, was a mix of comedy, song, dance, and student interaction. It was first produced in 2001 by Perform Productions for a Centenary of Federation tour of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, and has since toured to other states.

School testimonials attest to how well Bryant and Frank achieved their aim. 'Brilliant, entertaining and educational, best we've seen in years.' (Chimside Park Primary School, Victoria) 'Outstanding! The students immensely enjoyed it and really enjoyed being involved.' (Harbord Public School, NSW) 'It's entertaining and enjoyable and doesn't really come across as education even though it very much is.' (Curl Curl North Primary School, NSW)

Hugh Sheridan in Newley DiscoveredSheridan in Newley Discovered

Rock Me Galileo, Wipeout and Dollars and Sense followed. Rock Me Galileo focused on Galileo's findings and life and was delivered by Mikey, a musician on work-for-the-dole and by Derek, his supervisor; Wipeout looked at sustainable energy, was set on the Great Barrier Reef, and preached the importance of clean energy technology and Australian ecosystem's under threat; whilst Dollars and Sense was about financial literacy. It could be played as a double bill with The People in Your Pocket although it wasn't as it also uses the famous people on the banknotes. A young couple are having trouble with money – he can't earn it, she can't save it – and through the intervention of the famous people off the currency they learn how to make better use of money and thus their relationship. [15] All four of the school musicals are still being produced today.

The score for Rock Me Galileo was 'A Life that Rocks', 'Possibility', 'Don't Wear the Toga', 'See It With Your Own Eyes', and 'There's So Much you can do with Science'. Wipeout's song titles were: 'Wipeout!', 'Bee Bee Bee', 'Plant a Tree', 'Photosynthesis', 'Give Us Power', and 'We First'; whilst Dollars and Sense were: 'Dollars and Sense', 'Need vs. Want', 'Assets and Liabilities', and 'The God of Compound Interest'.

In recent years Dean Bryant has also been active writing for the cabaret scene. Working with Trevor Ashley he created Liza (On an E) and I'm Every Woman. Liza (On an E), a one-person tribute and parody show about Liza Minnelli has played Sydney (twice), Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Perth and Brisbane.

Christie Whelan in Britney Spears in CabaretWhelan in Britney Spears in Cabaret 

Cameron Pegg, reviewing for a Brisbane Cabaret Festival gig, 22 June 2010, said: 'it's the big hits from the Liza songbook that elevate the show beyond a smart drag act. Ashley can sing, and being able to belt counts when it comes to torch songs like "Maybe This Time". That number is the high point of the production.'Kate Herbert, reviewing a January 2011 Midsumma performance for the Herald-Sun, reported Trevor Ashley received a 'standing ovation' and 'nearly lifted the roof of the Hi Fi Room...He does not impersonate Liza. Rather, he channels her spirit: her inane giggle, affected sibilance, crusty vocal quality, rambling chatter, forgetfulness, boozing, awkward dancing, glittering costumes, wardrobe malfunctions and pixie hairstyle...And in between the songs there is acerbic and hilarious patter (written by Dean Bryant) about Liza's childhood, career and marriage choices'.

In I'm Every Woman, Trevor Ashley donned the wigs and dresses of fourteen of his favourite divas, Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, etc. Matt Akerston reviewing his Sydney Opera House Studio appearance for samesame.com.au claimed Ashley 'treated his mostly gay audience to a fabulous pick-n-mix of diva singing stars'.

The 2010 Adelaide Cabaret Festival saw the premiere of Newley Discovered, a one-man show that traced the career highs and lows of actor and composer Anthony Newley. Written by Bryant and Phillip Scott and directed by Bryant, it was performed by Hugh Sheridan.

 

Experiment: Cole PorterRathgeber, Experiment: Cole Porter

'Sheridan gives a charming and nuanced performance as Newley...Songs are both integrated lineally into the plot, or their lyrics are used to support the narrative outside of their chronological placement, and Sheridan gives a beautiful voice and personality to the music... a theatrical gem.' (Jane Howard, Australian Stage)

'Tegrity: Britney Spears Live in Cabaret was written and directed by Bryant with musical arrangements by Mathew Frank, and was a one-woman show about Spears' tempestuous private and public career starring Christie Whelan. It began life in the JB Room at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival before playing Sydney where it was nominated by the Sydney Theatre Critics 2009 award for Best Cabaret.

'Even those who aren't fans of Britney's music will be won over by Christie Whelan's tragi-comic turn as the scandalous pop diva... Her slow-burn rendition of "Toxic", sung atop a piano, was sexy and knowing, and shows that Britney has been blessed with some terrific songs... "Slave" was another inspired arrangement, with Whelan singing it in the guise of Britney, the child star...It's one of the many examples where Whelan, together with writer/director Bryant and music arranger Mathew Frank, give Britney's songs a depth and poignancy missing from the real girl's music clips.' (Sara Bannister, Stage Whispers)

Bathhouse Josie in the BathhouseThe show later played Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne, 18-29 January 2009, and then toured to Brisbane and Sydney. When 'Tegrity was dropped from the title after the first two seasons the show sold out from that point on. [16]

Bryant also created the cabaret Experiment: Cole Porter, which looked at a young man's year in London as told through the songs of Cole Porter. It starred Alex Rathgeber and debuted at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010.

Josie in the Bathhouse was a tribute to Bette Midler's New York bathhouse shows in the 70s and starred Josie Lane. It premiered at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2011 in the Space and later played the Spiegeltent in 2012. "Her voice would put Christina Aguilera and her contemporaries to shame" (Aussietheatre.com), "wonderfully steamy...fresh, and immaculately delivered" (Australian Stage Online)
With In Vogue: Songs by Madonna, Michael Griffiths, as Madonna at a baby grand with no wig, accent or costume, took the audience on a masterclass in how to write a pop song. It premiered at the Artspace at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2011. It later toured to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland and New York where it played Don't Tell Mamas.

 

MadonnaGriffiths, In VogueBryant's latest work was Gaybies which played the Sumner Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company as part of the Midsumma 25th Anniversary. It was a piece of verbatim theatre where Bryant interviewed children of gay families about their experiences of growing up and starred 14 actors including Magda Szubanski, Todd McKenney, Virginia Gray, Kate Kendall, Ben Mingay and Christie Whelan. "The beauty of this work lies in its poignant simplicity...As uplifting as Gaybies is to watch, it comes with a sense of sorrow as well as celebration, because as the answers quoted throughout this production show over and over, in 2013 such pleas for acceptance and equality should no longer be necessary. (Kate Herbert, Herald-Sun)Bryant was Worldwide Associate Director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical, directed The Last Five Years at fortyfivedownstairs, Stables and Q Theatre, and has also worked on many musicals for MTC: Next to Normal, The Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown (also STC), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (also STC), and Hitchcock Blonde.

Frank's musical director credits for MTC include: The Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown (also STC), Poor Boy (also STC), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,The Sapphires and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Geoffrey Rush.

All Roads Lead To Home, a compilation show of their own work first played a season at the BMW Edge, Federation Square during the 2004 Melbourne International Arts Festival. Hosted by Colette Mann, it featured Damian Humbley, Adam Murphy, Rosemarie Harris, Anne Wood, Christen O'Leary and Erin Cornell. Mann later hosted it again when it played the Shepparton Arts Festival with Adam Murphy, Jolyon James, Kellie Rode, Esther Hannaford and Amanda Levy.

thumb Gaybies2Cast of Gaybies, Midsumma 25th Anniversary

Sheet music of songs from Prodigal, Virgins, Once We Lived Here, and The Silver Donkey can be found at their website www.bryantandfrank.com

So far Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank's creative career has taken them down the path of small-scale musicals. Their dream is to one day write the Great Australian Musical which Bryant believes is 'just around the corner. That's why we are training ourselves on these smaller shows. We'll hone our shows and eventually take on a big show that will be loved by Australian audiences'. [17]

Until then, Bryant and Frank can be happy in the knowledge they have already created history writing the first Australian musical to play Off-Broadway. And what's more they did it at 25!

Special thanks to Dean Bryant and Frank Van Straten for their help with research for this article.

References:
[1] Prodigal was the first Australian musical to be written, developed and produced in Australia before being produced On or Off-Broadway. Chu Chin Chow was written by Geelong born Oscar Ashe (book & lyrics) but premiered in London in 1916 before opening in New York in 1917. Likewise, Peter Whyllie Johnston's Moses – The Spirit of Freedom was created in Australia but premiered in London in May 1999 and in New York in October 1999.
[2] Liner notes Prodigal US cast recording.
[3] ibid
[4] Interview with Dean Bryant, 2013
[5] Prodigal, 2011 program
[6] Interview with Dean Bryant, 2013
[7] ibid
[8] Interview with Dean Bryant following the New York premiere.
[9] Author's observation on New York production.
[10] Interview with Dean Bryant, 2013
[11] ibid
[12] Herald-Sun, 9 September 2009, p.55
[13] Interview with Dean Bryant, 2013
[14] ibid
[15] ibid
[16] ibid
[17] Herald-Sun, 9 September 2009, p.55

Newspapers and web pages sourced for this article:
The Age
Arts hub
Broadway.com
Herald-Sun
New York Times
Samesame.com.au
Stage Whispers
Sunday Age
Talkin'broadway.com
Theatermania.com
Time Out New York

Bryant & Frank Discography:

prodigal cd Au

 Prodigal Son (2000)

Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne
Cast: Dean Bryant, Barry Mitchell, Jules Hutchison, Graham Pages, Amanda Levy
1. Overture - Piano
2. 'Picture Postcard Place' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell, Graham Pages
3. 'Happy Families' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell, Graham Pages
4. 'Run With the Tide' – Dean Bryant
5. 'Brand New Eyes' – Amanda Levy, Dean Bryant
6. 'When I Was a Kid' (1) – Amanda Levy, Graham Pages, Dean Bryant
7. 'When I Was a Kid' (2) – Dean Bryant
8. 'My Boy' – Barry Mitchell, Jules Hutchison, Graham Pages, Dean Bryant
9. 'Out of Myself' – Graham Pages, Dean Bryant
10. 'Set Me Free' – Graham Pages, Dean Bryant
11. 'Epiphany' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell, Amanda Levy
12. 'Love Them and Leave Them Alone' – Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell
13. 'Where Does It Get You' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison
14. 'Maddy's Piece' – Amanda Levy
15. 'Lullaby' – Barry Mitchell
16. Finale – Dean Bryant, Amanda Levy, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell
17. 'Soon They'll Forget' – Amanda Levy

 

prodigal cd NY

Prodigal Son Productions

Prodigal (2002)
York Theatre, New York, USA
Cast: Christian Borle, Kerry Butler, Alison Fraser, David Hess, Joshua Park
1. Overture - Piano
2. 'Picture Postcard Place' – Joshua Park, Alison Fraser, David Hess, Christian Borle
3. 'Happy Families' – Joshua Park, Alison Fraser, David Hess, Christian Borle
4. 'Picture Postcard Place' – Reprise Joshua Park, Alison Fraser, David Hess, Christian Borle
5. 'Run With the Tide' – Joshua Park
6. Brand New Eyes – Kerry Butler, Joshua Park
7. 'When I Was a Kid' – Part One – Kerry Butler, Christian Borle, Joshua Park
8. 'When I Was a Kid' – Part Two – Joshua Park
9. 'My Boy' – David Hess, Alison Fraser, Christian Borle, Joshua Park
10. 'Out of Myself' – Christian Borle, Joshua Park
11. 'Set Me Free' – Christian Borle, Joshua Park
12. 'Epiphany' – Joshua Park, Alison Fraser, David Hess, Kerry Butler
13. 'Love Them and Leave Them Alone' – Alison Fraser, David Hess
14. 'Where Does It Get You?' – Joshua Park, David Hess
15. 'Maddy's Piece' – Kerry Butler
16. 'Lullaby' – David Hess
17. Finale – Joshua Park, Kerry Butler, Alison Fraser, David Hess

 

virgins cd

Jay Records – CDJAY 1370

Virgins (2006)
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne
Cast: Amanda Levy, Esther Hannaford, Rosemarie Harris, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Kellie Rode
1. 'Tracey and the Virgins' – Andrew Kroenert
2. 'Virginity!' – The Girls
3. 'STD' – Esther Hannaford, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Rosemarie Harris, Kellie Rode
4. 'Ripped Apart' – Amanda Levy, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Rosemarie Harris
5. 'The Girl Most Likely' – Kellie Rode, Rosemarie Harris, Esther Hannaford
6. 'The Dream Ballet' – Kellie Rode
7. 'Strong Girl' – Rosemarie Harris, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Esther Hannaford
8. 'Virginity!' – Reprise – The Girls
9. 'Tracey and the Virgins' – Reprise – Andrew Kroenert & Girls
10. 'Join Today' – Verity Hunt-Ballard, Esther Hannaford, Rosemarie Harris, Kellie Rode
11. 'God, I'm a Journalist' – Amanda Levy
12. 'Connect' – Verity Hunt-Ballard, Rosemarie Harris, Esther Hannaford, Amanda Levy
13. Finale – 'Connect' – Reprise – Amanda Levy
14. 'Jump the Queue' – Amanda Levy & Girls
15. 'Never Go Home' – Esther Hannaford
16. 'Land Where the Good Men Are' – Verity Hunt-Ballard
17. 'Hope' – Rosemarie Harris
18. The Gift of Fun – Kellie Rode
19. 'I Raise My Voice' - Girls
20. 'I Raise My Voice' – Reprise - Girls
21. 'Bows' - Band
22. 'The World's a Screwed-Up Place' (Cut) – Rosemarie Harris, Esther Hannaford, Verity Hunt-Ballard

once we lived here, CD cover 

Once We Lived Here (2010)

fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne
Cast: Esther Hannaford, Sally Bourne, Christie Whelan, Sam Ludeman,
Warwick Allsopp
1. 'All Roads Lead To Home' - Company
2. 'Gotta Fix the Pump' – Esther Hannaford, Christie Whelan
3. 'Ordinary Day' – Sally Bourne, Esther Hannaford, Christie Whelan, Sam Ludeman
4. 'What the Hell' – Christie Whelan, Sam Ludeman, Esther Hannaford
5. 'Soon, They'll Forget' – Esther Hannaford, Christie Whelan
6. 'The Shearing Shed' – Sam Ludeman
7. 'As Far As the Eye Can See' – Esther Hannaford
8. 'Guitar Lesson' – Warwick Allsopp, Sam Ludeman
9. 'Only You' – Christie Whelan, Sally Bourne
10. Finale Act 1 – Company
11. 'We Like It That Way' – Esther Hannaford, Sam Ludeman, Christie Whelan
12. 'Startin from Scratch' - Warwick
13. 'Patch of Dust' – Esther Hannaford, Warwick Allsopp
14. 'The Shearing Shed' – Reprise – Company
15. 'The Leaves of Summer' – Esther Hannaford, Sam Ludeman, Christie Whelan, Warwick Allsopp
16. Finale Act 2 – Company
17. 'All Roads Lead To Home' – Andrew Kroenert
18. 'Shaun's Idol Audition' (Bryant/Ludeman) Sam Ludeman

The Silver Donkey (2006)

Studio Cast: James Byers, Annie Johnston, Georgie Darvidis, Andrew Kroenert, Josie Lane, Luigi Lucente, Chris Scalzo

1. 'No Heroes Here'
2. 'The Roads to Bethlehem'
3. 'Facts and Figures'
4. 'The Way of the World'
5. 'Waiting for the Rain'
6. 'What Kind of Man?'

7. 'Cliffs of a Foreign Land'
8. 'Do Your Best'

Not released commercially

Musicals from the Land Of Oz (2001)

1. 'Picture Postcard Place' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell, Graham Pages
2. 'Happy Families' – Dean Bryant, Jules Hutchison, Barry Mitchell, Graham Pages

Both from 2000 Original Australian Cast Recording
Bayview RNBW012

Bryant & Frank Sheet Music:
Prodigal
'Brand New Eyes'
'Love Them and Leave Them Alone'
'Lullaby'
'When I Was a Kid'
'Where Does It Get You?'

Virgins
'Connect'
'Hope'
'Land Where the Good Men Are'
'Never Go Home'

Once We Lived Here
'As Far As the Eye Can See'
'Only You'
'Soon They'll Forget'
'Staring From Scratch'
'The Shearing Shed'

The Silver Donkey
'Do Your Best'

Cabaret
'Friend'

 

 

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