THE Canberra Theatre’s just cancelled staging of “Shrek”, was to have been the first Canberra gambit by Australia’s top producer of musicals, John Frost, since 1991.
It was then that he brought “Jerry’s Girls”.
Frost is impressed with the Canberra Theatre‘s new director, Alex Budd, saying: “He’s got such an entrepreneurial flair,” and expects, despite the cancellation, to do more business with him.
Frost and I had first met in the early 1990s, when he told me of his plans to stage the Lucy Simon musical “The Secret Garden” but needed to undertake serious market research to find out if people would be interested. They were.
By coincidence, this year he was due to co-produce a revival of the same musical with Opera Australia, but it was not to be and he’s guessing it might be a couple more years before they can get it up.
It’s been quite a trajectory for the stage-struck Adelaide boy who talked his way into a job as a dresser on JC Williamson’s tour of “Mame” at the age of 16 and hasn’t looked back.
He’d already staged many musicals in Australia when his big break came with “The King and I” which gave him a Tony Award on Broadway in 1996, then in 2003 he won another Tony for co-producing the original production of “Hairspray”.
What followed is the stuff of theatrical legend, as Frost went on to produce Australasian tours of “Chicago”, “Doctor Zhivago” and “Wicked”. Recent productions have included “We Will Rock You” and “Dream Lover” and stage plays such as “Art”, “An Inspector Calls” and “Driving Miss Daisy”, starring Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones.
All the while he’s been based in Sydney, but makes about four trips a year to the US, impossible this year, of course – “it’s been quite nice really,” he says.
To him, the highlight of recent years has been his relationship with Opera Australia, with which he collaborates on the big, popular musicals that help the flagship opera company stay afloat.
There was “South Pacific” with Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Lisa McCune in the star roles, then a revival of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and another season of the “The King and I”, with Tahu Rhodes and McCune again.
“But the icing on the cake,” Frost says, “was getting Julie Andrews to come and direct the original 1956 version of ‘My Fair Lady’ in 2017 – that was fantastic, I enjoyed that immensely.”
It was then that Frost met Alex Budd, at the time Opera Australia’s touring manager for the Andrews’ show, production and now in Canberra, hence his optimism.
In recent years his production company has been doing three or four shows a year, but with covid, closures were inevitable.
“Shrek” was running in Melbourne, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was due to open in Brisbane, “The Book of Mormon” had started in Auckland and the musical “9-to-5” was only a week away from rehearsals, so Frost’s year has been one of refunding tickets and, of course, letting go of performers – “That was pretty rough,” he says.