Dr ZhivagoLeft - Anthony Warlow and Lucy Maunder. Cover - The Cast. Photos - Kurt Sneddon.

Brisbane audiences won’t feel they’ve been left out in the cold this winter after witnessing the passion, fire and intensity that exudes from Doctor Zhivago. After highly successful seasons in Sydney and Melbourne, the production has gained seven Helpmann Award nominations. This is not surprising considering the larger than life performance given by Anthony Warlow perfectly balanced alongside an outstanding support cast. 

The opening sequence swiftly moves into Russia at the turn of the 19th Century, a world on the verge of civil unrest due to the enormous divide between the ruling bourgeois class and the workers. Des McAnuff’s expert direction shifts focus but never falters as we move between characters and the classes. A young Yurii Zhivago (Anthony Warlow), a doctor/poet about to marry his childhood sweetheart, Tonia (Taneel Van Zyl) is introduced, followed in stark contrast by Lara (Lucy Maunder), an impoverish seamstress, who is involved in an affair with influential Moscow attorney, Viktor (John Bartholomew).   

A strong musical score by Lucy Simon and poignant lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers, are beautifully performed by all the cast. The consummate Anthony Warlow gives a brilliant and unselfish performance and commands the audience’s adoration with every note. Especially so with Zhivago’s first encounter with Lara with the solo, Who Is She? and during the emotive duets Watch the Moon, Now and On The Edge of Time.

After Zhivago and Lara’s extraordinary first encounter the plot points move very quickly. Lara marries Pasha (Martin Crewes) and the number It’s A Godsend provides excellent entertainment through it’s wonderful choreography by Kelly Devine, integrating hi-jinks and Cossack dancing to create a playful end to the couple’s celebrations.

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s striking set design was an interesting interplay of slightly minimal effects mixed with delicate touches of realism, effectively relating the grandeur of palaces to devastated battle zones to the vastness of the Russian countryside. The costume design by Teresa Negroponte beautifully captures the feel of the era and Russian sensibilities.      

Interesting use of projected still and moving images was incorporated into the production. At times certain images were distracting as they split the audience’s focus and felt unnecessary, especially the image of Lara, used while she confesses to her new husband that she wasn’t the innocent woman he thought. During the musical sequence When the Music Played the superb staging coupled with Lucy Maunder’s sensitive vocal and acting performance was more than enough to communicate the context and delicate nature of Lara’s predicament. However the use of the images in the war scene, Forward March for The Czar, added a thrilling and cinematic effect that heightened the tension of men going into battle.       

Boris Pasternak’s classic novel, Doctor Zhivago is an elaborate and sweeping work of narrative prose which won the 1958 Noble Prize in Literature. To transform and abridge such an epic novel into musical theatre, to create the right mix of heightened drama without overstepping the boundaries and entering into melodrama is an amazing feat.  After ten years of collaboration, writer Michael Weller, composer Lucy Simon and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers, together with the directing talent of Des McAnuff, have managed to bring a musical that touches its audience in all the right places and delivers on all accounts a deeply moving interpretation of Pasternak’s saga.

Doctor Zhivago is a dark piece of musical theatre that stirs strong emotions. It portrays with depth and sensitivity a devastating and bloody time in Russian history, but even in such a bleak era Yurii and Lara prove that love can endure and transcend all and transform those it comes in contact with.

based on the novel by Boris Pasternak
music by Lucy Simon | lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers | book by Michael Weller

Directed by Des McAnuff

Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Dates: From 6 Jul 2011
Bookings: www.qpac.com.au | 136 246

Most read Brisbane reviews

Before this concert began, Patrick Nolan, the artistic director of Opera Queensland, told us...

This long-awaited show delivers all you can expect and is a veritable feast for the senses! As...

Now playing Brisbane