Photos – Belinda Strodder artphotography.net.au
Yusuf Islam has sold more than 60 million records in an extraordinary career spanning more than 40 years. His personal journey from prolific award winning singer/songwriter Cat Stevens through to his conversion to Islam has been well documented and offers a fascinating insight into a man whose music has touched generations. It has long been his dream to weave his music into a stage show that recounts his spiritual journey and he has achieved this with Moonshadow, which had its world premiere last night at the Princess Theatre.
Moonshadow is Yusuf's allegorical tale of his search for meaning and enlightenment. The story is a fantastical drama set on an alien planet about to descend into complete darkness due to evil forces. Stormy (Gareth Keegan) is chosen by some dark but benevolent shadows to find the possibly mythical land of the sun accompanied by his 'conscious' Moonshadow (Jolyon James – on stilts and wearing a jaunty wig) who does his best to guide Stormy on his "Pippen-esque'-like journey. Stormy encounters strange worlds and characters and wrestles with various conflicts before he comes to find his peace and restore light to the planet.
While this concept is interesting it does not always translate well to the stage. Metaphor is widely intended but it is often confusing and indecipherable and this tends to disengage the audience. Characters are mostly one dimensional and although obviously representational, their lack of flesh and meaningful interaction with Stormy on his journey can leave the audience nonplussed.
There is however much to be celebrated and admired in this production, not least the catalogue of around 40 Cat Stevens songs interestingly arranged and beautifully executed by Stephen Amos' band and a vocally strong cast. There is some particularly good singing of those classics, from Gareth Keegan – who is rarely off the stage – and Sally Bourne as Stormy's mother. Tony Cogin and Robert Grubb as the warring fathers give a moving performance in their duet and Grubb gives a solid and assured performance in a production where the acting is not always its strength. Gemma Ashley Kaplan as Stormy's childhood sweetheart Lisa, captures the essence of her songs with a pretty and true voice, while Blake Bowden as her foppish suitor Patrick provides some welcome moments of levity.
Swedish director Anders Albien works hard to move the story coherently and build some real characters although at times constrained by the book itself. Adam Gardnir's set design and realisation is a real highlight. Using state of the art video animation, projections and shadow artistry, he has created the beautifully evocative worlds Stormy and Moonshadow encounter with great flair and imagination.
The appreciative audience was on their feet for last night's curtain calls but the biggest cheer came for Yusef Islam himself who appeared for the final call. And rightly so. Whether you are swept away by this production or left slightly puzzled, you can't help but appreciate this labour of love and the sincerity with which it is so amply imbued.
And of course, those sublime songs.
Moonshadow – The Musical
by Yusuf, Rachel Wagstaff and Anders Albien | Music & Lyrics by Cat Stevens/Yusuf
Director Albers Albien
Venue: Princess Theatre
Dates: from May 31, 2012
Tickets: from $79.90
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 111 011