Review / Charm shines through despite opening blemishes

musical theatre / “The Merry Widow From Bluegum Creek’. Music by Franz Lehar; new book and lyrics by Frank Hatherley. Directed by Peter Smith. At The Q until November 19. Reviewed by Bill Stephens

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 (Louise Keast) in “The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek”. Photo by Alison Newhouse

Despite its seriously under-rehearsed opening night performance, Queanbeyan Players production of “The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek” still managed to charm, not the least because of Frank Hatherley’s entertaining new book and lyrics.

Hatherley has set his version of “The Merry Widow” in the Australian Embassy in Paris in 1901. The storyline follows closely on previous versions, but many of the characters have been Australianised to create some funny comic situations. He has managed this without either bowdlerising the characters or compromising the integrity of Lehar’s music.

In fact, Lehar’s glorious score remains largely intact, and is the great strength of this production, being very well performed by Jennifer Groom’s large orchestra and, generally, well sung by the cast.

Director Peter Smith has assembled a cast of impressive singers, led by Louise Keast, who charms as the widow, Anna Gladstone, and provides the vocal highlight of the evening with her superb rendition of “Vilia” (in this version called “Bluegum”). Charles Hudson is also well cast as her reluctant love interest, Danny Macquarie.

Fine singing also from Ken Goodge and Stephanie McAlister, obviously relishing their roles as the lecherous Count Camille de Rosillon and his flirtatious paramour, Lady Valerie Wentworth, from Matt Greenwood, nailing every laugh with a fine comic performance as the embassy’s only Frenchman, Michelin, and from Thompson Quan Wing, who not only designed the attractive setting, but also slyly flaunts an impeccable French accent to great effect.

Robert Grice earns his fair share of laughs as the bumbling Australian ambassador and Janene Broere shines as the doyen of the embassy wives, leading them with gusto through a display of unsuspected talents, as French can-can dancers.

Hopefully, blemishes that took the gloss off opening night, such as remembering to switch body-mics on and off; smartening up responses to line cues and mastering Belinda Hassall’s very basic choreography, will be attended to so that Lehar’s glorious music, and Hatherley’s

very funny script can shine through, without distraction.

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