Musical theatre / “Evita”. Director Hal Prince. At Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until November 3. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA
A ROUSING ovation greeted the cast of this jukebox musical par excellence at Sydney’s State Theatre last night at the opening night of a stage show about a bunch of Aussie kids who went to London in the 1960s in search of adventure and found themselves at the top of the charts.
It’s a simple as that. The songs are fantastic, the nostalgia trip is powerful for people of a certain age, but the story is average.
The production company that has staged “Georgy Girl” has given of its best, with a versatile set by Shaun Gurton that allows projections of everything from an FJ Holden to the Vietnam War, and dazzling lighting by Canberra-raised designer Trudy Dalgleish.
An ever-amusing kaleidoscope of 1960s costumes by Isaac Lummis and snazzy choreography by Michael Ralph nearly disguises the fact that at the centre of it is a very simple story. Sure, there’s a perfunctory effort to make lead singer Judith Durham look like a frump who’d rather stay at home with her sewing machine than visit Carnaby Street, with an ongoing joke—“what I am I going to wear”—often repeated, but in fact she was always an attractive personality who had young women everywhere in England trying to look like her.
Nonetheless, this is the general idea that the musical proposes – a bunch of nobodies become somebodies and then they grow up. The strength of the musical is in the songs and musical director Stephen Gray has captured the instrumentation and the style of The Seekers perfectly, showing just why they were such a big hit.
It was a long first act as the narrator, Durham’s pianist husband Ron Edgeworth (Adam Murphy) took us through the seekers rise and rise. The second act was tighter, yet suffered from too much elaboration. There should have been a way of focusing on the main action. As well, the break with convention to have the actors sing in character was less than successful. It came as quite a surprise, for instance, to have Durham’s sister Bev (Sophie Carter) and Durham’s wayward boyfriend and road manager John Ashby (Ian Stenlake) burst into song.
As Judith Durham, Pippa Grandison gives a perfectly judged, affirmative performance. Phillip Lowe as Keith Potger, Glaston Toft as Athol Guy, and Mike McLeish as Bruce Woodley are all terrific musicians, going along affably with the corny jokes given to them and the humour around the idea of simple Aussies enjoying the 60s.
Stenlake’s wickedness adds a bit of zing and carter helps round the personal side of the main character. I was less convinced by Murphy as the husband/narrator. Apart from the fact that he commits the dramatic sin of dying before the show is over, the accent is uncertain and the cosiness with the audience never quite comes off.
So it’s not perfect, but the music is simply fabulous and rolls along until it comes to a conclusion tinged with sadness. The use of Bruce Woodley’s justly celebrated number “I am Australian” to conclude the musical brings it to a rousing finish but had some patrons scratching their heads – what did that have to do with the Seekers?
Composed by Woodley, the number was indeed performed by The Seekers at their 25th anniversary, but it might have been better to have finished with one of the more joyous songs. After all, “Georgy Girl – the Seekers Musical” is a joyous show, and that’s good enough for this reviewer.