As we reveal in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Independent Music Theatre is honouring Australian musical theatre legend Nancye Hayes by renaming the Darlinghurst Theatre after her.
When Hayes first got a call from David Campbell to discuss the idea she was so surprised she didn’t quite believe him.
“It’s something I’m still coming to terms with,” says Hayes. “When David rang me I thought, ‘this call isn’t happening.’ It’s not something you think will happen to you.”
Campbell is one of six producers and independent companies specialising in small-scale musicals and cabaret who have formed a consortium called Independent Music Theatre (IMT).
When the Darlinghurst Theatre Company leaves its Potts Point venue later this year to move to a new home in East Sydney, IMT will take over the theatre and turn it into a home for music theatre and cabaret.
IMT is renaming the 115-seat venue the Hayes Theatre as a tribute to one of our most loved leading ladies whose career in Australian musicals spans 50 years.
When Hayes first started performing in musicals, the leading roles automatically went to imported performers. Together with Jill Perryman and Toni Lamond, Hayes helped change this when at the age of 24 she played Charity in the 1967 J.C. Williamson production of Sweet Charity – one of the first Australian musical theatre performers to receive star billing.
The fact that she lives just around the corner from the Darlinghurst Theatre was the clincher.
“Nancye is a local so she’s the perfect fit,” says Campbell. “She’s still starring in shows like Annie and she also directs and choreographs. I think in this country we often leave it too late to honour people. We should cherish our stars and honour them while they are still living.”
Hayes says she feels “very humble, very proud and very honoured” and believes that an initiative like IMT is “long overdue. There has never been enough (small-scale musicals) for people,” she says.
When it comes to musical theatre, Sydneysiders are used to seeing a handful of big commercial shows each year but not a great deal else, besides amateur productions. Small-scale musicals are produced, but sporadically and at venues all over town.
Presenting them at one, dedicated theatre will shine a light on the work and help “develop audiences and develop the art”, says Campbell. “It will make musicals more accessible. There will be a place where you know you are going to be able to see a musical show at an affordable price.
“It’s like always going to blockbusters and never seeing an arthouse film. If you just go and see all the X-Men films and never see a Woody Allen film then you are not getting the full cinematic experience. We are trying to provide a similar thing (to arthouse films).”
Talented young performer Sheridan Harbridge, who has performed in musicals like My Fair Lady and An Officer and a Gentleman but also writes her own cabaret shows, is excited by the new venue. “Having this space is going to push a lot of artists to experiment a lot more, I think,” she says.
IMT will start producing shows at the Hayes Theatre early next year.
“You won’t come to the Hayes Theatre for great sets, it’s about the shows and the performers,” says Campbell. “But you’ll see productions that are so visceral and exciting you’ll think, ‘why do I need a big set for a show like this?’
“Things like this happen in London and New York all the time. There are places where they create new shows or stage revivals, which then move on (to bigger theatres). It’s important that Sydney has a place like this as well.”
An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on August 18