Arts / The ‘Widow’ with new words

PETER Smith, the director of Queanbeyan Players’ next production, is venturing into different territory from that of his beloved Gilbert & Sullivan as he takes on “The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek”.

Danny (played by Charles Hudson) and widow Anna (Louise Keast) in "The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek". Photo by Alison Newhouse

Danny (played by Charles Hudson) and widow Anna (Louisa Keast) in “The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek”. Photo by Alison Newhouse

No, it’s not a spoof. All the music is exactly as it was, but the script is a complete rewrite by Australian writer and BBC TV producer Frank Hatherley. It is considered so good that it’s been endorsed by the estate of the original composer, Franz Lehar.

Instead of being set at the “Pontevedrinian” embassy in Paris, this one is in the newly-installed Australian embassy in Paris, 1901, the first for the new Commonwealth.

Smith hasn’t been taking the historical accuracy of the show seriously, but considers it a reasonable speculation, just as good as setting it in the original’s mythical Ruritanian embassy.

Besides which, the original is in German and the English translations he’s seen have been numerous and sometimes tired, so why not adapt?

The show’s famous songs include “The Merry Widow Waltz”, “Vilja”, “Maxim’s” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”, but this time round the waltz floor, the words won’t be the same.

In Smith’s view, the new lyrics work well, so they haven’t put the old titles in parenthesis. Take the nostalgic song “Vilja”, for instance, made famous by everybody from “our” June Bronhill to “our” Joan Sutherland, now it’s about a tree in dear old Oz.

The merry widow, now Mrs Anna Gladstone (Louisa Keast), is the widow of a wool baron, while her ex-boyfriend Danny (Charles Hudson) is obliged for patriotic reasons to marry an Aussie. Silly stuff, but who cares? Not Smith.

In his view, the important thing is that the actors be able to sing and with that in mind he has trained classical singers in the leading parts.

“CityNews” has been keeping a close eye on Keast, a Wesley Music scholar, for some years now, easily picking her out of the crowd in the recent Canberra Opera production of Puccini’s “Sister Angelica”. Smith has discovered that she has a remarkable capacity for comedy and suspects it must be a nice change from playing nuns.

Charles Hudson’s operatic repertoire includes Don Ottavio in “Don Giovanni”, but it is his performance in “From a Black Sky”, Sandy France’s opera about the Canberra bushfires, that has aroused the most interest. He’s also been a regular principal in Carl Rafferty’s “Opera by Candlelight” and tenor soloist in Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” and Handel’s “Messiah”.

President of Queanbeyan Players since 2009, Smith plainly has a canny understanding of the balance between entertainment and quality and although he says: “I know nothing much about James Bond”, he’s tickled pink that some observant members pounced on actor George Lazenby when he was in Australia for Goulburn’s “SPYfest” – now he’s one of the society’s patrons.

“The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek”, at The Q, Queanbeyan, November 4-13. Bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.

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