Arts / Denis kicks a little fun into footy

Denis Carnahan… headtaped, as Balmain Tigers’ captain Wayne Pearce.

IF you like a good laugh and you know everything about footy, you’ll love “Rugby League The Musical”; if you have a sense of humour but know nothing about football you’ll have fun; but if you don’t have a sense of humour and know a lot about football, give it a miss.

That’s the sage advice of sports satirist, Denis Carnahan, creator of this unlikely musical, when “CityNews” catches up with him by phone to Mount Colah near Hornsby, where he lives when he’s not singing on cruise ships, playing at the Bridge Hotel in Rozelle or performing the ever-evolving musical as it shifts its shapes.

“The show’s been in development for about a decade, but as a stage piece I played it in the Sydney Comedy Festival in 2015,” he says.

A professional singer-songwriter and musical recording artist, he derived it from a group of songs he’d performed at the NSW Leagues Club, for the ABC’s “Grandstand”, on Fox Sports and in “The Footy Show”. Now he has a repertoire of about 100 original songs and rotates about 20 of them through each show.

Carnahan fined-tuned his brand of sports satire at corporate functions, including one when Michael Weyman left the St George Illawarra Dragons and another when Nathan Hindmarsh retired from the Parramatta Eels, adding in web video clips, with permission. It gave him the chance to do some playing around with characters, “actually caricatures.”

Then he was asked to perform at a Best and Fairest Referees’ Day, and came dressed up as referee Jared Maxwell, hilarious to everyone but Maxwell. The highlight was the referees’ victory song “After a Good Game”.

His performance, headtaped, as Balmain Tigers’ captain Wayne Pearce on “Wayne Pearce Hill” at Leichhardt Oval led to a strange meeting of art and fiction where the mayor of Leichhardt stood with the real Pearce and Carnahan in big shoulder pads and bandaged knees singing along with the song in the third person – “sheer absurdism,” he says.

Carnahan’s credentials to satirise the greatest game of all are impeccable. A Canberra boy through and through, he can remember a time when multicultural Canberra was home to all codes, League, Union, AFL and soccer, “which we now have to call football”.

“Dad dragged me around to all of them,” he says. “But then the Raiders joined the big league and it made a real change, it was a part of my growing up… there was a real unification of Canberra, which was now on the big stage.”

Sadly, he’d already left Canberra for Goulburn then Lismore in the “glory years” but he does remember flying by Ansett to the Grand Final in 1987, and reports: “It was a fantastic day, we sang the Green Machine song all the way home, non-stop”.

His is a self-contained show, not really a stage musical, despite the title, but there are a lot of costumes and humour.

“It’s more like an academic thesis convincing people that Rugby League is the greatest theatre of all time,” he argues and as far as the “libretto” goes, there are the villains, the controversies, the betrayals, the comebacks, after-hours shenanigans in the strip clubs – “you couldn’t have made it up.”

There are larger-than-life characters such as Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce, and a new target in the form of ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie (who couldn’t name the Cronulla Sharks) and even a “panto” villain section.

“It’s a fully one-man show,” he says.

“I’ve done lots of music and my very first gig was playing at the Stockade in Braddon in the late ’80s and then I played in cover bands for TV, so I’m up with the technical necessities.”

It’s obviously a show for people who follow footy. Former chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission John Grant bought 12 tickets, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg enjoyed it and former Rabbitohs enforcer Mark “Spud” Carroll enjoyed it so much that he helped hand out the complimentary oranges at interval.

But the show is for non-specialists, too.

“Some visitors from Salt Lake City, who were killing themselves with laughter, pointed out that in the musical ‘The Book of Mormon’ there are lots of in-references the wider public wouldn’t get, but that they still enjoyed it,” he says.

“I’ve had a lot of people who fit into that category, particularly partners, but they are amused by the jokes, music and the costumes.

“It’s a bit like if [British comedian] Kenny Everett was a rugby league fan, this is what he would’ve done,” he says.

“Rugby League The Musical,” at The Street Theatre, Sunday, July 29, bookings to or 6247 1223.


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