Last week I published an article on The Conversation about the Australian Musicals that have graced our stages in 2017.
There has certainly been a lot of activity this year to promote new Home Grown product with major productions like Muriel’s Wedding, Ladies In Black, Dream Lover, Vivid White, Barbara and the Camp Dogs and Joh for P.M.
We are also starting to see some interest in earlier Australian Musicals with revivals of works such as Miracle City, Paris and Only Heaven Knows appearing in 2017. Strictly Ballroom: The Musical is already popular on the amateur circuit and received productions in the UK and Canada. It will receive its West End debut in March 2018.
New work is constantly being developed and presented by organisations such as Home Grown and New Musicals Australia. In Lisa Campbell’s words: “the desire and the energy for Australian work to be seen by audiences is really growing.”
It seems, though that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Independent producers and the education sector have made huge contributions to the development of local work in 2017 and many new pieces have been workshopped and performed around the country.
Tertiary Institutions have long been great supporters of new Australian work. In 2017, the new Pratt Foundation Artists in Residence Program at the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance saw the creation and performance of Lucy O’Brien and Andrew Strano’s Jack of Two Trades, inspired by Goldoni’s A Servant of Two Masters and set in Melbourne in the 1990s. As well as supporting Home Grown’s Grassroots Initiative, the Victorian College of the Arts has supported development workshops of Jess Newman’s Einstein: Master of the Universe and Jamie Burgess’ The Insatiable Moon. Shanon Whitelock’s Fearless was also performed at the VCA as a part of Daniel Sinfield’s Masters in Directing graduating performance. The Arts Academy at Federation University, Ballarat have presented three new Australian works in 2017: Magpie, The Spirit Level and The Mystery of Captain Moonlite. New work has also been workshopped at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
Independent producers around the country have maintained a strong commitment to new Australian works through 2017 and this area seems to be growing significantly. Of particular note is the StageArt Xposed initiative which produced performances in October of Drew Downing’s Beautiful Things (described as Zoolander meets The Avengers) and Lay Down Sally, a satirical look at what it means to be an Australian Sports Star by Spencer Hadlow, Andrew White and Taylen Furness. Another exciting initiative was the University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association’s The Sitzprobe which presented excerpts from 8 original Australian musical theatre works. This will be expanded into a project called The Workshop in 2018. Errol and Fidel, based on Boyd Anderson’s novel around true events involving Errol Flynn’s encounters with Fidel Castro, opened the New York Music Theatre Festival in July and Ned – A New Australian Musical by Adam Lyon, Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre was performed in concert at The National Theatre, St Kilda.
The ever-innovative Anthony Crowley developed When A Star Fell In Our Wheatfield with students from Tempy Primary School in regional Victoria with funding from Creative Victoria. This performance was then live-streamed via YouTube in November https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4k18WXid_lg .
Other new musical performances, demonstrating an extraordinary diversity of style, audience and subject matter have included The Red Tree, The Things I Could Never Tell Steven, Good Omens, Hatsical, Three In The Bed, Fairybread, A New Summer, The Tale of Ichabod Scrubb, The Tree of Life and Self.
A number of new musicals have been workshopped and developed in 2017. Amity Dry’s newly renamed The (M)other Life received a West End Showcase in October.
Between Worlds, about Captain James Cook, was presented at Australian Theatre for Young People in July. Unrequited, with music by well-known Australian composer Sally Whitwell in her first venture into musical theatre, is an adaptation of Emma Grey’s novel and was workshopped and presented at St Clare’s College, Canberra in November. Other workshop performances included Brad McCaw’s The Little Princess, Alexander Bayliss and Rex J Ablett’s On The Docks, Jonathon Biggins and Philip Scott’s Josephine Wants to Dance and Christopher Thomson and Fin Taylor’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael.
In terms of revivals, a closed workshop and funding campaign took place to revise and produce a new version of Lola Montez – a hit musical from 1958 by Peter Stannard, Peter Benjamin and Alan Burke. Although the funding campaign was unsuccessful, it will be fascinating to see how this project develops in 2018.
2017 has seen the CD release of Brad McCaw’s Becoming Bill, Drew Lane’s Final Words, Ned – A New Australian Musical and Alex Giles’ The Tale of Ichabod Scrubb. There will also be a cast recording of Muriel’s Wedding.
Australian musical theatre writers are also making an impact internationally. Eddie Perfect is currently writing for the Broadway productions of Beetlejuice and King Kong. Cal Silberstein, Jess Newman and Alanya Bridge are currently studying in the NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and Jess Newman was a winner of the New York City Center’s Lobby Project Song Writing Competition.
While we may still be searching for “The Great Australian Musical”, there has been significant progress this year towards telling Australian stories on the musical stage with Australian creative teams. John Frost’s comments that there won’t be a great Australian musical and that writers should head to New York or London, where musical theatre writing is more supported, do not hold true – there is a thriving scene for the development of new musicals here in Australia, and continued vision and leadership in the future will surely bring some exciting developments.