I met a middle-aged man and his wife at the Festival Theatre who had never before been to the theatre – on land. They had recently gone on a cruise and, so enjoyed the shows they saw there, that they decided to try out the experience on land by going to see Walk of Fame. This show celebrated the first 45 years of the life of the Adelaide Festival Centre and the new star-studded walkway on the East-west promenade along its River Torrens side. It records in stone, up to 2016, 132 of the luminaries who have performed there and every year 3 more names will earn a star voted for by the public, as were the others. I can happily report that the show did the trick. Theatre will now become part of their lives, they said. I can only add that, if it hadn’t, there’d have been no hope for them because this was a cracker of a show with so much warmth and good-will emanating from the stage to and from the auditorium that it was palpable and resulted in a whole packed-theatre standing ovation.
It opened with a cry from offstage and then the familiar tock-tock-tock of wood on wood to introduce the Aboriginal troupe, Jamie Goldsmith and Taikurtinna who gave us not, as we were told, a welcome to country but more, “It’s good that you’ve come”. We thought that about them.
The didgeridoo sounds good in the Festival Theatre and this beautiful example was borrowed from the Northern Territory especially for this occasion.
A lone figure at the top of a long staircase, dressed in shimmering gold, turned out to be one of Adelaide’s darlings, Greta Bradman, with a dramatic change of focus. Accompanied by the 10 band members under their musical director, Mark Simeon Ferguson, who were on stage throughout, the impressive soprano sang in her unusual, commanding and compelling voice, “Vissi d’arte”, the aria from “Tosca”. Richard Bonynge, himself a star on the walkway and husband of another, Joan Sutherland, said of Greta’s voice, “It’s the true old fashioned bel canto sound – the sort we only dream about today.” We are so lucky to be able to hear it from Greta whose star is for 2015. I wondered at the end why we hadn’t heard more from her by way of a chat as we did with others.
Todd McKenney bounced in to rapturous applause and emceed the show from then on. He turned professional in 1983 after winning many awards for dancing and it was “The Boy from Oz” and subsequent television appearances that particularly endeared him to audiences and, as he said, his star on the Walk of Fame (1993) is between Eartha Kitt and Noni Hazlehurst, pretty good company. His name will be forever associated with Peter Allen and there was a frisson of excitement in the audience, hoping that they were going to benefit from that sometime along the way.
Very warm applause greeted Beccy Cole, famed country singer born in Glenelg and as Australian as they come. Among her very many awards, Beccy has 10 Golden Guitars and three gold records as well as her star which came in 2008. Her gutsy style, wide smile and powerful voice rang out with the raunchy “You girls are tough out here/Mate, you don’t mess with the girls out here” won appreciative approval but, when she skulled a beer on stage she earned rowdy cheers more than half of which were tinged with longing on that hot, hot day. An admirer in the audience of another show had called out “Wish you were my Mum” when she did that and, in this show, some lucky member of the front row was thrown a stubby holder with that printed on it.
Born in Adelaide and starting working life as a primary school teacher, Peter Combe hit the jackpot when he made a happy connection between his love of music and his ability to teach it to kids in a way that takes them into his happy, optimistic musical world and won him 3 ARIA Awards for Best Children’s Album. Many a member of the audience grew up with him and his songs and in 1988 he won his place on the walkway’s list. He won warm approval from the audience, played and sang a couple of songs garnering good responses from them, especially when he said that one was too polite and he wanted the Jimmy Barnes’ version. He got it! What a corker audience and what better bloke to headline the first Southern Children’s Festival at the Hopgood Theatre on Feb. 3rd. So get the children along to Noarlunga. It’s free.
It was time for glamour from an old-timer who’s still turning them on, as witness her appearance in this show. Vivid in red and still powerful of voice, 75 year-old Nancye Hayes sang the song that could have been written about her “Broadway Baby” with the lights dancing around her. She and Todd McKenney chatted about the past and the audience broke into spontaneous applause when mention was made of a show they’ll be in together “Bosom Buddies” in June at the Dunstan Playhouse. She won her star in 1986. They are both expert performers and sang and danced to “You’re getting to be a habit with me” and “Friendship, friendship”. Just to prove it, Todd related how he has named his pet greyhound “Nancy Hayes” and that she liked the dog so much she bought one – and named it ... Hugh Jackman!
We who love theatre should never under-estimate what we, the audience, can do for a performer, particularly an up-and-coming one. We can support them by going to see them, applaud and encourage them and talk about them. The next performer in this delightful show, born in Kazakhstan, emigrated here aged 5 with his professional violinist parents, began to study guitar with his father at 7 and gave his first professional performance on that instrument at 12. At 19 he was the youngest ever winner of the Tokyo International Classical Guitar Competition, won his place on the Walk of Fame in 1995, was Young Australian of the Year for the Arts in 1998 and has won ARIA awards in 2002 and 2017. Hardly up-and-coming, since Slava Gregorian “arrived” long ago, but an indication of what acceptance, approval and appreciation by audiences of talent, hard work and dedication can do for a young performer. He’s a solemn man on stage immersed in his music and in this case he was accompanied by violinist Niki Vasilakis. She studied at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide and blossomed into becoming a critically acclaimed violinist, on stage, screen and television who has made her mark here and abroad as both performer and composer. Together, she and Slava played from the hauntingly beautiful “Histoire de tango” in subdued lighting. Rather too subdued, actually. I would have liked to have seen their faces clearer. There were some thumps off stage and a baby crying, not that anyone, not even the baby, could cop it for the latter and I sympathise with the mum who presumably hurriedly took him/her out. But the music and its players won out and it gave us that comfort-rush that beautiful classical music, perfectly played, does.
If anyone was lulled into sleepiness, they soon became fully awake with the dynamic, tall and vibrant, red head, Rhonda Burchmore. A string of glorious successes in musicals and as a dramatic actor, Rhonda won her star for “Hot Shoe Shuffle in 1996.” Beaming in a lovely dress, surrounded by colourful fingers of light and the orchestra silhouetted against a bright red background, she cut a stunning figure and when she sang ... wow! She and Todd are such consummate performers that they carried the audience along with them in their duet “You’re the best” amongst pink green and white lights and it was a joy to see them obviously enjoying themselves and sharing their undoubted talent. There was a touch of under-rehearsal here and in other spots in the show. Perhaps getting all these stars together at the same time didn’t give them as much time as they would have liked.
But who would have expected what came next? No fingers of piercing colourful lights, no recognisable music but out of misty darkness came dancers from the Australian Dance Theatre with a dance the likes of which few would have seen. They are under the Artistic Direction and danced to the choreography of Garry Stewart, one of the world’s top fifty contemporary dance choreographers. Lucky them, lucky us. Dressed in unisex black with the only prop a tree in a pot, to repetitive demanding music, similar to that of Philip Glass, by The Zephyr Quartette, the waves of sound brought such grotesque, physically demanding and complicated choreography that the audience literally gasped at what they saw. Oh, I’d like to see that again and I will when “The Beginning of Nature,” of which it was an excerpt, comes to the Dunstan Theatre in July before performing in other places in Australia this year. It was exquisite with young muscular bodies contorted and beautiful with members of the troupe having solo moments leaving images, like a bug on its back, legs clawing at air trying to survive, faces extraordinarily expressive and ... well, all so beautiful and exciting and wonderful.
Todd was concerned when he came on, offering Epson Salts for the dancers and water for the tree on that hot day and giving us time to recover our wits. Here I think was the misfit of the show with actor Paul Blackwell (who won his star in 1990) with his London, not quite Cockney, accent giving an excerpt from the show to come later in the year, “Faith Healer”. It wasn’t funny – “They ‘aven’t got two brains to rub together” – (who has?) - and it was not good programming. It failed because it was inappropriate, not amusing and out of context.
When someone stocky comes on stage in a show like this, opens his performance by blowing his own trumpet (as he said), and plays “Basin Street Blues,” he’s expected to be James Morrison because no one does it better here. A bit of cheerful chat and then “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and the audience were as usual in the palm of his hand, trying their damndest to stop jogging about and muttering the words under their breath. This man, who earned his star in 2002, plays 13 different instruments and flies a plane. He probably has many other talents too but right at that moment he was going full bore, with remarkable breath control and wry humour, with a number that hit the button for an excited audience.
Todd took a few minutes to thank the musical director for the show, Mark Simeon Ferguson, appreciation that the audience were only too happy to endorse. In fact, he, Zac Tyler (Creative Director), Chris Petridis (Lighting Designer) and Wendy Todd (Stage Designer) and the whole crew deserved our plaudits on jobs so well done.
The show closed on a high with the appearance of long-haired Tim Minchin, he whose recent success with the musical “Matilda” has shot his fame even higher. Good natured and extremely talented in so many fields of entertainment, it was revealed that he and Todd had worked together and been close buddies for years, Tim, who called Todd “that charming, excellent man,” getting his star in 2005. He played piano for us, having a spot of faux bother with the seat and muttering about “loose stools.” The whimsical song he’d written, “If this plane goes down” had never before been played in public and reflects what he thought about on a recent a plane trip. It was tongue-in-cheek – “If this plane goes down I want to go down smiling ...” and mentions he’d be Hades bound. Well, a devil of a time they’d have there then with the chap known as “Australia’s best globally recognized live comedian”. Tim can probably compose music and write lyrics for a song out of anything that takes his fancy. With his wizardry at the piano, he sang “When I grow up” from “Matilda” and it was greatly enjoyed. But the audience sensed it was coming – that moment when Todd would be unleashed and together they would bring this lovely show to an end. Surely the ghost of Peter Allen (star 1980) would rise now. And it did. “Shove up” said Todd and shared the loose stool with his mate and, with his emcee shackles unleashed at last, we saw him dance with that physicality and enjoyment we know of him. Imagine those two playing, singing and dancing “I go to Rio” and “I still call Australia home”. What is it about those songs and the latter in particular? Surreptitious happy tears were wiped away as the lights came up and the audience sighed with pleasure knowing that they had seen something very special.
Adelaide Festival Centre presents
Walk of Fame Gala
Director Zac Tyler/Mark Simeon Ferguson
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre | King William Road, Adelaide SA
Dates: 19 January 2018
Tickets: $40 – $35