I won’t be going to any of them, since I heard quite enough of old showtunes when growing up with my parents. Not only did they insist on dragging me along to things like High Society, Carmen Jones, South Pacific, Porgy and Bess etc. etc., and if that wasn’t enough they also insisted on playing the soundtrack albums of the shows each and every weekend. It was enough to quite put me off musicals for life!
Now I hear advertising for the umpteenth revival of the Rocky Horror Show. Who’s going to see it this time? Surely there can’t be anyone left in Australia that wants to see it and hasn’t already?
It’s not that I didn’t like it at some stage about forty years ago. I’m sure I did. But how many times can people go and see it, yelling “Let’s do the timewarp again.” Yawn. No, let’s not. “Let’s just leave it alone,” get a life, and “Let’s never speak of it again”. Whenever that song pops up on a playlist at a party or social gathering, with all those people leaping up off the couches and waving their arms screaming the chorus in your face, well, “That’s when it’s time to be leavin”.
Reminds me of the medical gig that I worked at a long, long time ago where ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ was on high rotation from the DJ. A very drunk senior registrar wearing only a kilt and some braces was leaping around, dribbling and yelling “Hit Meeee…” in people’s faces, until one of them got tired of it, took him at his word and punched him out cold. Naturally it being a medical function, expert help was at hand, which consisted of fellow doctors stepping over him and laughing.
But I digress.
It’s not that I don’t like theatre and live music, because I do. I think it must be fairly well known to regular readers of this column (who they? Ed) that I like live music. I like its immediacy, the ‘now’-ness of it, the fact that there’s no safety net, no second chance. If there’s a stuff-up, everyone knows about it. But luckily the stuff-up only lasts for a few seconds, then it’s gone; the fluffed solo dribbles to an end, the song finishes, the caravan moves on.
I also like live theatre for the same reason. Amateur or professional, I’m not picky; I enjoy them both. So if live music and live theatre can be combined without Rogers and Hammerstein or Stephen Sondheim getting involved, then I’m all for it!
In New York a couple of years ago, I went to see Rock of Ages at the Helen Hayes theatre. I don’t know much about Helen Hayes, but she must have been very short, because the seats in the balcony had a great view and sound, but were designed for legless dwarfs. Without a word of exaggeration I spent the whole show folded up with my knees under my chin. And despite this, I still enjoyed the performance, which just goes to show how well it was done!
The movie, on the other hand, did nothing for me at all, because you can do anything in a movie; there’s no challenge. Unlike a play, the change from one scene to another can go across town or across the world in a split second.
What makes a play work for me is how well it disguises its stage limitations – each scene change and set change takes you to another place, with nothing really more than clever lighting. There are no re-takes, just actors at the top of their game and a live band playing great music.
Back home, I went to a first-run performance at St Kilda’s Theatreworks, (the local equivalent of an off- Broadway theatre) of Flower Children, a play featuring the story and songs of the Mamas and the Papas. A very simple, minimalist production, with each of the actors playing a band member, telling their story, and singing the songs while we in the audience waved our flowers. Great fun, very moving and sad, ideally suited to this smaller, more intimate theatre. And, once again a great live band as well.
I actually did sound for a play at Theatreworks myself. It was an independent production of a dark drama called Sunset Rising. At the production rehearsal the producer told me he wanted all the sound effects to be loud, especially the final gunshot. Hmmm. Never tell the sound guy you want it loud. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it” Well they sure got it all right! As the audience trooped out at the end, nursing their bleeding eardrums, the director came up to me and whispered in my ear “Maybe not quite so loud next time, Dunk!”
Last Saturday, my gf and I went along to the opening night of a local production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, at the Phoenix Theatre in Elwood, a suburb of Melbourne. This is my kind of show. When I used to drive up and down the back-blocks of Victoria and NSW ferrying PA systems for a succession of bands, there were two things we liked to have playing, in order to keep us awake. One was the tape of the previous night’s gig, usually laughing at the band’s mistakes. (Did I say before that any stuff-ups were fleeting and gone in a few seconds? Hah. Not when the crew has a recording of it!) The second was the complete collection of Monty Python albums on cassette.
So I already knew what I was getting, and I wasn’t disappointed! What I was surprised to see was a full orchestra in an orchestra pit with a conductor!
The story is a loosely re-told version of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie, but referencing many of the classic sketches as well. The audience was full of fans like me, laughing in all the right (and wrong) places! The best thing about doing a show like Spamalot is that no-one in the audience really knows what’s a mistake and what’s not; sometimes the whole thing looks like a silly mistake, and that’s what makes it funny!
At interval time I looked up at the mixing bunker to see my old mate Les Marton, sound mixer to the aurally challenged. Damn. If I’d known he was doing the show I would have asked for free tickets! Always up for a bit of a challenge, he was not only miking up the orchestra, but he and his partner Trish were running seventeen wireless mics on stage. Talk about gluttons for punishment, but it all worked well. Some standout singers, actors and dancers made it a truly fun night.
Next big show for me is definitely going to be The Book of Mormon. Written by the South Park team, what’s not to like?
By the way, rumour has it that there is a website featuring musicals for Jihadists. Popular titles are Seven Brides for one Brother, Brigadoom, and the most popular – Ain’t Misbeheadin’!
And now I hear that there’s something bizarre on its way called Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music, where the audience goes out to watch the movie and sings along with it while waving their bunches of Edelweiss! Aagh. Spare me. I’ve only heard it on the radio ad, but that’s enough to scar me for life. No truth to the rumour that ‘How do you solve a problem like my rear’ is sponsored by Weight Watchers!