RespectLeft - Rhonda Burchmore. Cover - L-R - Elenoa Rokobaro, Lucy Durack, and Belinda Wollaston

From the same producers that brought us the surprise hit Menopause The Musical, comes RESPECT - A Musical Journey of Women.

Based on the research of Dr Dorothy Marcic, Respect charts the story of women’s 'co-dependence to independence' through the musical hits of the past century. From “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked A Cake” to “These Boots Are Gonna Walk All Over You,” the 'Journey' boasts an impressive soundtrack, but while the message might be upbeat, sadly the narrative is all cheese.

In the US the production seems to have been greeted with an almost religious fervour in some quarters, and the official website boasts a long list of testimonials from audience members who were moved, inspired and transformed by the experience. The play also apparently responsible for the establishment of the Respect Project – a not for profit organization that seeks to empower women through the arts.

Essentially a jukebox musical, Respect draws upon a wide range of material, from early 20th Century classics such as “By The Light of the Silvery Moon” and “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”, juxtaposing anthems like “Stand By Your Man” and “I Am Woman”, to modern hits like “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and Mariah Carey’s “Hero”.

In this production, adapted for Australian audiences, the story goes something like this - three young women have been instructed to arrive an hour early for an audition for a new musical called “Dorothy’s Story” (presumably also based on the research of Dr Dorothy Marcic). When they arrive they are met by Broadway battle-axe Dodi Calquhoun (Rhonda Burchmore) who has been engaged to run them through their paces before the actual audition. As part of their preparation, Calquhoun makes them sing and dance through a range of musical styles from 1910 to the present and gives them a brief social history lesson in the form of snippets from Dorothy’s research. Along the way, aided by the music, they learn something of the journey of women and share a little of themselves, and although they start out as competitors by the end they vow to be best friends forever.

Respect boasts some pretty impressive fire power in the form of its creative team - Rhonda Burchmore is of course the headline act and indisputable star of the show - and rightly so. In a role written specifically for her, she has a presence to easily fill the large stage of the Palms at Crown and spans the broad range of musical styles effortlessly. Partly as a function of her character but largely due to her considerable stage charisma, Burchmore dominates every scene she is in.

Having said that, Lucy Durack and Belinda Wollaston are no slouches, both rising musical theatre stars in their own right. And at just 17, Fijian-born newcomer Elenoa Rokobaro, with a voice to die for, clearly has a big future ahead of her. Each of them have some powerful solo moments but it is their group numbers that really shine. Add to that the formidable talents of director Roger Hodgman, a script adapted for this Australia production by Beatrix Christian (screenwriter for the film Jindabyne), a songlist that includes some of the most popular songs of the last century and you’d be forgiven for thinking Respect should be a lay down misere for its Australian producers, Jim McPherson, Michael Lasky and G-Four Productions.

But in spite of a terrific songlist and strong vocal performances from the small cast, the characters never really rise above theatrical stereotype, and somewhat at odds with the earnest promotion of the ‘message’ of the play, their individual journeys become hard to take seriously. As a consequence, the production falls between two stools, lacking the lightness of touch for a musical comedy or the genuinely engaging characterisation that may have proven truly inspirational.

Rhonda Burchmore, Lucy Durack, Belinda Wollaston and Elenoa Rokobaro in
RESPECT – A Musical Journey of Women
Written and created by Dorothy Marcic, freely adapted by Beatrix Christian

The Palms at Crown | 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank
30 May - 24 June 2007
Tues 6.30pm, Wed – Sat 8pm, Matinees: Wed, Sat & Sun 2pm
$39.90 - $49.90
Ticketek 1300 795 012 or

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