The Composer Is DeadLarge white sails interrupting a beautiful blue Sydney sky, the be-pebbled concrete of the foyer, the grandeur of a tiered wooden concert hall – offering the promise of something grand, befitting the scale of awe and wonder of architecture: the Sydney Opera House.

There is a charm in children’s literature which offers an irreverent playfulness – an element of infinite possibility, and an exemplary example is that of Lemony Snicket. It’s hardly surprising his is a pseudonym – or that he has a revolving biography that offers a fresh take on identity. Everything from: “Lemony Snicket was born in a small town where the inhabitants were suspicious and prone to riot. He now lives in the city. During his spare time he gathers evidence and is considered something of an expert by leading authorities” to “Lemony Snicket was born before you were and is likely to die before you as well. A studied expert in rhetorical analysis, Mr. Snicket has spent the last several eras researching the travails of the Baudelaire orphans” and “Lemony Snicket published his first book in 1999 and has not had a good night's sleep since. Once the recipient of several distinguished awards, he is now an escapee of several indistinguishable prisons. Early in his life, Mr. Snicket learned to reupholster furniture, a skill that turned out to be far more important than anyone imagined.” Snicket with the aid of his accomplist/ghost writer Daniel Handler has been a prolific voice in contemporary children's literature – and a witty one at that.

It’s a mystery!

As is the latest local production of a show commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra “The Composer is Dead!

Written by Nathaniel Stookey with text by Lemony Snicket, it is billed as a “cutting-edge introduction to the classical music.” Which it isn't. What it is, though, is an introduction to an orchestra, to the humour and philosophical musings of the very, very clever Lemony Snicket. On this occasion the joy and delight of orchestral music is placed firmly in the baton of Brian Buggy and the Sydney Youth Orchestra – and the joy of interrogation and vaudevillian ham in the agile wit and charm of our host Frank Woodley (comedian /professional show off of “Lano and Woodley” fame who has also starred in Thank God You’re Here, Bewilderbeest, Optimism, Inside) and directed by Craig Ilott (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Smoke & Mirrors, La Clique Royale). It is less an introduction to classical music and more a witty expose of orchestral identity riffing on classical music from the Western canon.

It is nearly impossible not to want our host to succeed – he’s self-reflective, goofy, awkward and determined – and we love him for his terrible moustache and because he is easily flattered by the woodwind section. In the spirit of Snicket, Woodley is playful, energetic and clever – and it is a big stage, a big orchestra – he swings through the sections always keeping his eye on the prize – us. It’s a big ask for such a big room, and Woodley and Illot serve the story and the context with grand gestures befitting of the backdrop made of swathes of red velvet.

There is a simplicity in the production that is appealing – charming in the grandeur of it all. But there is a disconnect between the concept of an “introduction” and a playful riffing on assumed knowledge. Unfortunately the former is not sufficient to support the later – and the show itself is best pitched to those who have some prior experience of orchestral music who are ready for the references and the knowing nods to composers (and decomposers) to slide slickly into the story.

For any child and parent familiar with the grandeur of classical orchestral music The Composer is Dead is guaranteed to amuse and delight by the mere charm of simple story told well.

Sydney Opera House present
by Nathaniel Stookey | text by Lemony Snicket

Directed by Craig Ilott

Venue: Concert Hall | Sydney Opera House
Date: 9 August 2014
Tickets: $27 – $39