|Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke|
|Friday, 17 April 2009 20:51|
Chelsea Plumley, Valerie Bader, Anne Looby and Gretel Scarlett. Photos - James Morgan
Let's not talk about vaginas. Let's talk about tits. No, I'm not being chauvanistic or, worse still, misogynistic, or even supercallafragilistic. I merely quote the all-but-opening lines of this Wendy Harmer-plus-penned ninety-minute musical. Having promised not to offend, it lobs into a strident, Pythonesque call, along those lines.
When I say Harmer, plus, I really do mean plus. Creatively, this production boasts an almost impossible, & impossibly long, list of literati; among the wittiest and wisest we have to offer, including the fiendishly clever likes of Richard Glover; myriad talents of actress, author and, above all, former Play School presenter, Merridy Eastman; equally high-achieving actor and playwright, Jonathan Gavin; journo, screenwriter and televisage, Sheridan Jobbins; actor, singer & writer, James Millar & 'multimedia; writer, Debra Oswald.
(I loathe them all for their surfeit of unabashed, unbridled talent.)
But, in the end, just quietly, it's not so very much the book, but music and lyrics, by Bruce Brown, that take the cake, steal the show and, if not the soul, are at the very heart of the action and narrative arc. BB has been described as 'a true, unsung hero of songwriting'. Someone has also said 'his songs are like potato chips: once you hear one, you'll wanna hear 'em all'. Born-and bred in LA-LA-land (where he's worked all the major clubs), he now teaches jazz in Wellington, just across the ditch, works regularly in Sydney and enjoys a very considerable career, as pianist, singer and writer.
The other genius is Anne Looby who, apart from starring, came up with the idea, in the first place.
Obviously, there's something in it for practically everyone; male, female, or she-male. After all, one way or another, at any given age, we all have a vested, or unvested, interest in breasts.
But far from being a vehicle for puns, cheap jokes, jibes, taunts, or wink-wink, nudge-nudge, loo-door inscriptions, Harmer & co have taken on-board the full scope of the subject, in dealing with the ages and anxieties of women, the men in their lives and, most ambitiously of all, cancer!
Cancer isn't, traditionally, the stuff of musical theatre. You won't find it in G & S or Sondheim, to the best of my recollection & knowledge; even if you might find something equally dire and devastating in Schwartz.
Here we find intelligence, insight, sensitivity, empathy and authenticity; backed, by the look of it, by a good deal of research, both medical and anecdotal. It's a great achievement, among many here.
Another is the set, which almost covertly emulates the form of boobs.
Yet another is, again, the score, which exploits all the best motifs of the form, with expertise.
Another is the 3-piece orchestra, under the extraordinary musical directorship of Michael Tyack, which couldn't have been bettered in multiplying it by ten. Piano, bass and drums are more than up to the task.
The final feather in the cap (taking other technical aspects like lighting as read) is the cast, which boasts numerous among Australia's premiere performers, including Valerie Bader (a stalwart of The Wharf Revue, to name but one of her claims to fame); David Harris (Miss Saigon, for one); A Country Practitioner, Anne Looby; the exceptionally well-endowed Sunset Boulevardier, Chelsea Plumley &, making her professional debut, 2008 WAAPA grad, Gretel Scarlett who, just between you and I, arguably outshone the lot of 'em (testimony, I hasten to add, to her charismatic, shimmering brilliance, as actor, singer and dancer, as opposed to any slur, whatsoever, on the shining performances of her peers, onstage).
In fact, BW is about much more than mere chesticles. It's about the totality of life, love & loss. Lock, stock & barrel. It's just that it uses the undiminished glamour and excitement of chest-fruits (like Seinfeld, no matter how many I see, I never tire of them) as the prism through which to view ourselves. It turns out they're more translucent than they appear.
The inevitable publicity blurb cites it as 'a witty and heartwarming journey of courage and determination'. It bloody well is, too.
In the final analysis, it's not My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, Cabaret, West Side Story or Rent. It doesn't need to be. It stands, proudly, squarely, justifiably, and admirably, on its own two feet and extends the genre into ground I don't think it's occupied before. And that's really something.
Jason Langley has done a magnificent job, as director; everything, tight as a drum! Simone Parrott, Neil Gooding and, again, the looming Looby, have ensured all has gone according to plan, or better, as producers. Nathan M Wright has effected some impressive choreography indeed. Trudy Dalgleish's lighting design is superb. James Millar has doubled, very capably, as dramaturge, and we've Imogen Ross to thank for that set (another highlight of the production design was in the homage to the French inventor of the bra, which utilised a flag, woven from same, in their dozens) and costumes.
Mammaries are made of this. (C'mon! Someone had to say it.) And I think it's going to inspire some comparable, homegrown ventures. Of course, whether they manage to be comparably good remains to be seen.
Better yet, this uplifting musical (with a fascinating backstory and evolution) strongly supports the National Breast Cancer Foundation. It promises to do more for grassroots education, in that respect, than practically any initiative to date, so, aside from its very considerable entertainment value, it's worth the price of admission, and then some, purely on that basis.
An Uplifting Musical
Music and Lyrics Bruce Brown
Written by Merridy Eastman, Jonathan Gavin, Richard Glover, Wendy Harmer, Sheridan Jobbins, James Millar and Debra Oswald
Director Jason Langley
Venue: The Everest Theatre, The Seymour Centre | Cnr Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale
Season: 16 April – 3 May 2009
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm
Matinees: Wednesday 1pm; Saturday 2pm;
Sundays (19 April 3pm); (26 April 1pm & 5pm); (3 May 1pm)
Prices: Saturday Evening Premium $75; Adult A Reserve $60
All other shows: Adult $55; Concession $38 (excl. Fri/Sat/Sun)
Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com.au or 02 9351 7940
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