MELBOURNE -The Theatre City

“THEAGE” newspaper (Melbourne, Australia) recently wrote an editorial entitled, “Something rotten in the state of theatre?” (24/2/04). This is my reply to that editorial:

Too many theatres in Melbourne? I think not. Could they be better utilised? Definitely. There is so much theatrical activity and creativity in this city that it is bursting at the seams. The reason why so many Melburnians don't see it is because it is buried away in the nooks and crannies of small, run-down, out-of-the-way places like basement art galleries, church hall sheds, disused courthouses, trades hall meeting chambers and pubs.

Meanwhile our premier theatres The Comedy, The Princess and Her Majesty's sit dark waiting for the next big money spinner to light them up again. These theatres need big money spinners in order to pay the bills. All three theatres are on prime city real estate. The cost of owning and operating these theatres with or without a show is prohibitive. Mounting productions in these theatres then becomes prohibitively expensive for producers wishing to use them. Big producers (of which there are almost none) take the risk to meet these expenses. Fledgling drama and musical theatre productions haven't got a chance.

The State government financially supported Arts Centre should be supporting and promoting these composers, writers and performers more vigorously by producing and performing their work, “Bringing mainstream attention to artists in the margins” (George C. Wolfe, retiring artistic director, N.Y. Public Theatre). The government should be providing financial assistants to the heritage theatre owners so they may fit out their theatres with state-of-the-art “in house” lighting and sound equipment. Productions can then easily transfer from The Arts Centre to Exhibition street for extended runs or expanded productions without the added expense of hiring lighting and sound equipment from outside contractors. The independent theatre owners should receive tax break incentives for booking local content. Local content should be defined as productions conceived by Australian production teams and containing Australian casts, musicians (not direct transfers of Broadway and West End productions such as “Cats”, “Les Miserables,”, “The Producers, Oliver, Cabaret...”). This gives the independent theatre owners the flexibility to seek out and book the big multimillion Broadway and West End smash hits and fill their theatres with local product of the same calibre during the intervening periods.

With regard to ticket sales and attendance, ticket sales will go up when the ticket prices come down. I speak to hundreds of people who love the theatre but don't attend mainstream productions more than twice a year because they are too expensive.

A synergy needs to be created between all parties concerned. It has to happen. It has to happen now. The lives of hundreds of theatricals are at stake. We are talking about jobs for actors, musicians, composers, authors, directors, production staff, carpenters, electricians, visual artists, make up artists, designers….

“See you at the theatre!”

Henry Sachwald

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to 2001
Melburnians may have rung in the New Year of 2004 this past December 31st but for the world of entertainment (specifically musical theatre) it’s welcome to 2001.

The Broadway Musical/Tony® Award season of 2001 was the year of The Full Monty (opened 26 October 2000) and The Producers (opened 19 April 2001).

The Melbourne musical theatre season of 2004 is presenting both of these musicals and another show that opened in 2001 (but was a contender for the 2002 Tony® award) with the unusual title of Urinetown (opened 6 May 2001 off-Broadway, moved to Broadway in August 2001).

It’s been a long time since Australian audiences have been treated to new and original musical theatre works. Since bidding farewell to the era of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh mega-musical productions there has been a drought of original new work. Yes we have been treated to sterling new productions of Chicago, Cabaret, Oliver and a re-acquaintance once again with the dated rock-musical Hair. Excluding the short-lived The Witches of Eastwick in August 2002, audiences have been fed a diet of ABBA and QUEEN greatest hits thanks to Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You.

The Full Monty, Urinetown and The Producers bring new and original scores to the Australian stage. The Full Monty and The Producers are familiar titles to movie-goers and have remained faithful to their original source material. Urinetown stands out from the crowd for two reasons: it is based on an original idea and has an original title.

The reason all three of these shows pass the enjoyment factor test is that they succeed in combining fantasy with reality. We are reminded to laugh at ourselves and not take everything in life too seriously, but at the same time don’t take life for granted. Most important of all, singing about life gives us hope and makes us feel ‘good’ inside.

In addition to providing entertainment these three shows will be providing some steady employment for our work starved and extremely talented musical theatre performers. Urinetown has a limited run as part of the Melbourne Theatre Company season, The Full Monty is scheduled to tour and The Producers is anticipating a long run at the Princess Theatre. This is welcome relief for the Australian musical theatre industry.

The interesting thing to note about all three shows is that they revolve around the topic of money and in the case of Urinetown and The Producers, greed. The protagonists in The Full Monty are out of work and hatch their plan to make money out of despair. Urinetown is at the mercy of corporation heavy Caldwell B. Cladwell who owns and operates all the toilets in town. Bialystock and Bloom as ‘The Producers’ live up to their reputation by trying to do what every producer aspires to do, make a fortune the fastest way possible.

The cast of The Full Monty is first rate. This includes the principles and supporting cast. The sad thing is most of the audience doesn’t even know who is playing what part other than the few recognisable faces like Paul Mercurio, Michael Veitch and Val Jellay. So for those people who can’t or won’t spend $20 for the over-priced souvenir program, here is a list of the players (without the glossy photos) that you’re applauding at the end of the show: Maryanne McCormack – Georgie Bukatinsky, Rodney Dobson – Dave Bukatinsky, Matt Heatherington – Jerry Lukowski, Danielle Barnes – Pam Lukowski, Max Chanesman/Jared Daperis/Joss Kasper – Nathan Lukowski, Ric Herbert – Reg Willoughby, David Harris – Malcolm MacGregor, Rowena Wallace – Molly MacGregor, Paul Mercurio – Ethan Girard, Michael Veitch – Harold Nichols, Queenie van de Zandt – Vicki Nichols, Milton Craig Nealy – Noah ‘Horse’ T. Simmons, Richard O’Brien – Buddy ‘Keno Walsh’, Laura Fitzpatrick – Susan Hershey, Emma Langridge – Joanie Lish, Deone Zanotto – Estelle Genovese, Aaron Cash – Teddy Slaughter, Donal Forde – Police Sergeant, Paul Hanlon – Minister, Scott Irwin – Tony Giordano, Natalie Gilhome, Deni Gordon, Scott Hendry, Bert Labonte and Adam William. Conrad Helfrich – Musical Director andConductor.                              

The cast list for The Producers to date is:
Reg Livermore – Max Bialystock, Tom Burlinson – Leo Bloom, Bert Newton – Franz Liebkind, Tony Sheldon – Roger De Bris, Chloë Dallimore – Ulla, Grant Piro – Carmen Ghia, with Phillip Lowe, Anton Berezin, Benjamin J. McHugh, Meredith O’Reilly, Stephanie R Simonelli, Julie O’Reilly, Frank Hanson, Matt Young, Ilia Streltsov, Indigo Felton, Natalie Marsland, Lisa Sontag, Anna Burgess, Bianca Campbell, Debora Krizak, Cara Dinley, Sarah Jane Purnell, Megan West, Sean McGrath, Matt Heywood, Jeremy Powell and Tony Taylor.

Casting for the Melbourne Theatre Company production of Urinetown hasn’t been completed yet, but it can’t get any better than the line-up of performers Simon Phillips has already signed up for this production. The cast includes: Kane Alexander, Shane Bourne, Rhonda Burchmore, Mitchell Butel, Gary Down, Irene Dios, Colette Mann, Lisa McCune, Adam Murphy and Christen O'Leary.

So ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR!’ to everyone. There is no excuse to sit at home when there are these terrific shows and performers to see live, up-front, on-stage.

‘See you at the theatre!’
Henry Sachwald

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