All Musicals Great and Small: Carnegie 18 (Full Tilt) and Prodigal (Bryant & Frank)
Given the nature of this top-down quest, to make a Broadway-style musical, many works were overcapitalised and overblown before they had a first showing. Works like Petrov (gorgeous music by Michael Easton, unworkable libretto by Alan Hopgood) and Paris (one of Jon English’s dogged projects) were D.O.A.
All the while, there were impressive and highly theatrical works appearing from less traditional sources. They came from Newcastle (Essington Lewis: I Am Work) and South Yarra (Vincent: an a cappella opera), from churches (Pastrana) and Masonic Halls (Journey Girl) alike. Some were small-scale. None was lacking in ambition. But too many disappeared without a trace.
The national tour of Bran Nue Dae in the ’90s seems to have put the quest to bed. Since then, diversity has ruled. For every Shane Warne and Keating joke fest, there has been a Children’s Bach (Andrew Schultz) or a Virgins: a musical threesome (Bryant and Frank).
Oddly enough, the first Australian musical to be produced in New York was Prodigal, an innocent and conventional indie piece written by Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank when they were 21. The prodigal son in their updated parable is an 18 year-old boy who leaves his family home in Eden to study in Sydney. His share of the ‘inheritance’ is the family car, which he hocks after he develops a taste for boys and pills.
Prodigal conforms to every rule and cliché of the Broadway musical form down to the Lloyd Webber-like rotation of musical and lyrical themes. It’s a touching and passionate piece nevertheless, and it’s cast and acted superbly in the small-scale revival at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne.
On the other side of the Yarra, in the Arts Centre no less, four new and highly original works have been workshopped and presented as part of the first Carnegie 18 new music theatre series. The series takes its name and number from the stage in the development of the human embryo when the inner ear is formed, about a month and a half into pregnancy. And these are, very much, embryonic works.
But the showing is as exciting as a first ultrasound. Unquestionably, these works have a heartbeat. It’s no stretch to imagine Maude Davey’s piece in front of an MTC subscriber audience. A Sondheim-like fairy tale about parents who murder their children, Every Angel Is Terrible is instantly familiar and instantly likeable musically, but casts a deliciously dark shadow.
Angus Grant’s Contact! is an unlikely hit in the making too. It’s an opera about an under-21 netball team. Think ‘Three Little Maids’ and the Three Ladies from The Magic Flute... with a Goal Attack.
Tight as the music is in Peter Burgess’s metal opera RAWK, the story is jejune.
David Chisholm (writer of Curtains) is by far the most experienced and accomplished of the creators in this round. The combination of strings with accordion and pipe organ in his eclectic score is inspired.
Another developmental round is locked in for 2012 -- proposals are invited -- and season director Vanessa Pigrum is optimistic that private funding will be secured to underwrite seasons in 2013 and beyond.
Carnegie 18 new music theatre series. Presented by the Arts Centre as part of Full Tilt. At the Fairfax Studio January 19-25, 2011. [Performances reviewed: January 19 and 22.] Sold out. Tickets $15. Bookings: 1300 182 183.
Prodigal by Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank. A Bryant & Frank production. At fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne, until January 30. [Performance reviewed: January 20, 2011] Tickets: $28-$35. Bookings: 03 9662 9966 or www.midsumma.org.au or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com.