Colin Lane in Joh for P.M. a New Australian Musical

New Australian Musicals? Here They Are!

19 comments

Since my last article, there has been a lot of discussion about the current state of Australian musical theatre. This discussion is certainly not new, with some debate sparked in early 2015 by John Senczuk’s platform paper ‘The Time is Ripe for The Great Australian Musical’. Recently, I was invited to speak on ABC Radio Sydney Mornings with Wendy Harmer and Radio National Drive with Patricia Karvelas, showing that there may now be a growing public interest in the wider community about Australian musicals. It is also clear that the remainder of 2017 sees the development and premiere of many new Australian Musicals which may herald some progress towards major commercial productions.

Today (7th July) sees the premiere of Joh for P.M. (pictured above), a new musical by Stephen Carleton and Paul Hodge, at the Brisbane Powerhouse. This production is a collaboration between a theatre (Brisbane Powerhouse), a commercial producer (Jute Theatre) and a funded festival (Queensland Music Festival). This collaboration sets up a very interesting and exciting model for a possible way forward for Australian musicals.

Similarly, Muriel’s Wedding – The Musical, premieres in Sydney in November as a collaboration between the Sydney Theatre Company and Global Creatures – the producers of King Kong, Strictly Ballroom and Walking With Dinosaurs.

In August, New Musicals Australia, which is also a funded organisation are collaborating with the Hayes Theatre Company to produce a short season of Melba – A New Musical by Nicholas Christo and Johannes Luebbers starring much loved Australian soprano Emma Matthews.

Emma Matthew, Melba - A New Musical, Hayes Theatre, New Musicals Australia
Emma Matthews in Melba – A New Musical

November sees an embarrassment of riches when it comes to new Australian Musical Theatre on the publicly funded stage. Melbourne Theatre Company are producing Eddie Perfect’s Vivid White (which was originally commissioned as a play but has since added original musical content) and Belvoir are producing Barbara and the Camp Dogs  – an original rock musical by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine.

Are funded companies the only existing forum for new Australian Musical Theatre?

Beyond the funded organisations, there is a wealth of new Australian Musical Theatre in performance or development during the remainder of 2017.

Ned: A New Australian Musical with music by Adam Lyon and Book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre based on the life of Ned Kelly will receive a concert performance at the National Theatre Melbourne in July. Errol and Fidel, with a book by Boyd and Guy Anderson and Music by Peter and John Kaldor and Doug Oberhamer will open the New York Musical Festival from July 10. It is based on Boyd Anderson’s novel around true events involving Errol Flynn’s encounters with Fidel Castro.

Ned: A New Musical, National Theatre, St Kilda,
Ned: A New Musical at National Theatre, St Kilda in July

Other new musicals are being workshopped regularly by independent producers with a view to refining them for commercial production. Between Worlds – A New Musical, with music by Gareth James Hudson and Libretto by Nick Higginbotham traces the final journey of Captain James Cook. It will receive a staged workshop performance in July. Other new musicals with ongoing workshops include a piece about Charles Kingsford Smith, Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets, and Unrequited, a new musical by Sally Whitwell and Emma Grey.

While trying to be thorough, I have, no doubt missed some productions – please add information in the comments section below!

Home Grown continues to do excellent work including their Grassroots Initiative. This provides development opportunities for writers to hone their craft and develop a piece of work leading towards a reading for a panel of Industry Experts to provide feedback and advice.

Tertiary institutions are also playing their part in the writing, development and performance of new Australian musicals. Monash University recently established a Musical Theatre Artists in Residence Program in partnership with The Pratt Foundation and The Production Company. This will result in a staged production of A Servant of Two Masters by 2017 Artists in Residence, Lucy O’Brien and Andrew Strano in October.

The Arts Academy at Federation University, Ballarat recently premiered The Spirit Level by Dr Rick Chew and Rufus Norris as a part of Ballarat Heritage Weekend.

The Victorian College of the Arts has incorporated the development of new works into the Musical Theatre Curriculum and in February 2018 they are providing an opportunity for Australian writers and composers to present their work to renowned Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz for feedback and mentorship. WAAPA also has a long history of developing Australian musicals.

What about existing Australian Musicals?

There is a growing interest in the heritage of Australian musicals from the past. Paris – A Rock Odyssey by John English is being presented at the Melbourne Recital Centre in July. Lola Montez (a 1958 Australian musical by Peter Stannard, Peter Benjamin and Alan Burke) is currently undergoing workshops by The Follies Company to revamp the show with a view to a professional revival. Only Heaven Knows was recently revived by Luckiest Productions at The Hayes Theatre. A revived interest in Nick Enright’s works has seen the publication of The Nick Enright Songbook, a Songbook Series concert produced by Home Grown as well as productions of Miracle City (Hayes Theatre 2014)  and Summer Rain (New Theatre, 2016)

Paris - A Rock Odyssey, Australian Musical Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre
The promotional image for Paris – A Rock Odyssey at Melbourne Recital Centre in July

There is always room, though, for more revivals of Australian musicals as this will heighten public awareness of these works and perhaps even encourage more performances by amateur musical theatre companies and schools, as is becoming more common for Australian plays. These groups must stop seeing Australian works as inferior to Broadway and West End product and take some risks to produce Australian content.

How do we bring these shows to a wider audience?

There is certainly progress in developing original Australian Musical Theatre, but bringing these pieces to a wider public beyond the publicly funded companies or independent producers is still proving difficult.

To move forward, I would suggest that as an industry, we need to:

  1. Develop collaborative discussions between commercial producers and the organisations currently producing and developing new works to establish the commercial viability of projects
  2. Investigate the need for a tertiary level training course for writers, composers and producers of musical theatre works
  3. Build the Australian audience for local musical theatre product

I will explore these ideas in more detail in my next blog post. In the meantime, I encourage you to spread the word about the amazing work already being done and get out there and see the shows! Commercial producers will start to engage even more when we can show there is a significant general public audience for our own home-grown work.

Please contribute your thoughts and discussion in the comments below!

 

 

 

19 comments on “New Australian Musicals? Here They Are!”

  1. Trevor, welcome to the heady world of Australians blogging about musical theatre! I hope you are better than I at posting regularly. I, apparently, like to to think about every new post for six months or so.

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  2. Thanks Peter! The plan is to post fairly regularly – I’ve really enjoyed writing the last couple of articles (and the next one is already written – I just didn’t want to saturate the market too soon!). I’m also using this as a way to force myself to write regularly in the lead up to my PhD thesis and general academic expectations in the future!

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  3. Woohoo! Great article!!
    And mentioning so many amazing projects!
    after just going through NMA’s ‘snapshots’ I’m super excited for what’s next with ‘In Stitches’, but for what it’s worth for your readers, I would love to recommend my previous projects: stalker: The Musical (NY international fringe festival 2015, Chicago musical theatre festival 2016) and ‘The Tale of Ichabod Scrubb which we independently presented at Blood Moon Theatre in January 2017 (and on iTunes and Spotify!)

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    1. Thanks Alex! Spread the word and encourage people to follow the blog please (or twitter @mtvocalcoach). I’ll be publishing another article with ideas for how we move towards more commercial productions and wider audiences in the next few days.

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  4. Hey Trevor, mine and Naomi Livingston’s musical ‘Evie May’ is currently in development with New Musicals Australia and The Hayes and will have a full production at The Hayes in 2018.

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  5. Brilliant article, Trevor!!
    Yes, and yes, we are ripe for the picking in Australia, and I think audiences really appreciate hearing their own stories told by their own creatives. I agree that we need encouragement and tertiary support in terms of book writing and compositional structure. I pondered this aloud last year at NIDA wondering why one of the Writing for Performance MFA’s was not writing a book for a musical…

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  6. It’s worth remembering (and I’m sure you have, Trevor – I’m talking about the rest of us) that what prompted this latest discussion on a venerable theme was not really “where are the Australian musicals?”, just as it wasn’t “why are the Helpmanns full of overseas shows?” and it wasn’t “why aren’t we at least casting locals?” These are important questions, and the first has been most recently answered by this article; but it’s always been possible to point to lots of original Oz musicals-in progress.

    What’s not possible, apparently, is for almost all of those shows to have a life beyond their first production. They go on, they get reviewed a bit, they get a mixed response (usually) and then they’re never heard of again – with a couple of exceptions.

    The industry’s favourite assumption is “Oh well, they’re such a risky prospect” and that’s true, but why do the toughest, most hard-nosed, hit-loving overseas producers regularly take that risk? They’re not soft-hearted people, they’re not noble, they’re smart: they know that the first production is almost never enough, that it takes years to make the latest hit, and that having us send them a chunk of our box office gross is way better than the other way around.

    All of which I’m sure your next article covers, and I look forward to reading it.

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    1. What I’m really interested in at the moment is hinted at in the Dear Evan Hansen article that I just tweeted. The fact that the commercial producers were involved and consulted from the earliest stages seems to be a major factor that is only just starting to happen here (eg Muriel’s Wedding). Collaboration seems to be the way forward and I think producers are starting to be ready to enter the conversation which is nice.

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    2. The thing is, though, that some of the biggest recent hits to get multiple productions originated by state theatre companies have been musicals. “Keating” and “The Sapphires” both toured extensively for Belvoir, similarly “Ladies in Black” for Queensland Theatre Company. There are virtually no non-musical Australian plays that have played to audiences as big as those three.

      Second productions of anything in Australian theatre is rare – musicals or legit-plays. As someone who’s been involved in amateur theatre and seen how Australian plays often budget themselves out of the market by charging more for rights, that may be part of the answer… though only part.

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      1. I don’t think of tours as second productions. I’m talking about, say, ‘Ladies in Black’ going on afresh, overseas.

        As far as tours go, I remember John Frost remarking (of, I think, ‘The Producers’) that it cost as much to go to Brisbane as you could possibly make there. But one of the reasons to go there was to keep the company together long enough for a theatre to become available in Sydney – and you couldn’t *not* play Sydney.

        Even if I’m remembering that wrong, I sometimes wish ‘Ladies in Black’, for example, hadn’t toured at all: I wish instead it had a cast recording and a live video.

        Or, if it’s not too much to hope, a tour, a cast recording, *and* a live video: I guess, as well as the important funding available from Playing Australia, I want something called Replaying Australia (and Elsewhere)?

        But you’re right, Simon: when a local, non-megahit with little or no brand recognition can set you back 16%, and ‘Wicked’ is 18% – well, I know which one I can sell more tickets to.

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      2. I agree so much with the need for a cast recording. It’s the thing that makes the music survive and helps new audiences discover it outside of the theatre. How do we fund these?

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      3. Jesse Green’s recent NYT article about Broadway cast recordings describes them as “loss leaders”, often funded by the productions themselves, rather than by a record label. At the risk of giving producers a heart attack, I’d say that’s probably the way things have to go here as well. https://nyti.ms/2uaaTGJ

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      4. Thanks for your comment Simon! I would challenge your statement about non-musical Australian plays. Away by Michael Gow and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll have had many successful runs. I am really interested in your comment about Australian pieces charging more for rights, though. You are absolutely right – if we want our works to be performed by schools and community groups, they must be affordable. I wonder how we can make this happen?

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  7. Hi Trev. You have forgotten Secercise The Musical which you helped develope. Since then we have funded around half a dozen new Australian musical work shops and committed to a couple of those going to full production. In fact we have at least 4 new OZ musical wotkshops booked into the Alex over the next 12 months. Recent work shops include Space The Musical a collaboration with John Forman. Love Me Tender with Frank Howsan and Warren Mills. Jungle book with Derrek Rowe and David slade.. Already schedulled for the UK in 2019. The Alex Theatre offers space time and facilites at least 6 times a year to encourage new Australian Musical Product. We are always open to submisions for new proposals of new shows. Thanks Aleks Vass

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    1. This is brilliant Aleks – and I certainly have not forgotten Sexercise – that experience gave me so much reflection around the development of new Australian musicals and it was a fantastic experience to work on the development of – the focus of this article, though was on shows in 2017 (or is the show seeing new life?). Great to hear about these other new works. Please make sure you send more details so we can continue to discuss and support them! Your great support for new musicals is amazing!

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