Hayes Theatre Co – coming soon in 2015

A week ago, the Hayes Theatre Co had its twice-yearly Coming Soon event at which they announced their program for the second half of this year. Although the company has only been in existence for 18 months, we’ve come to expect the Hayes to give a good launch – and so they did.

Hosted by David Campbell, one of the producers running the venue, the evening began with a lively video montage telling the Hayes story to date. Dedicated to the presentation of independent musical theatre and cabaret, it certainly illustrated what a great start the-little-venue-that-could has had.

Blasting off with Sweet Charity and The Drowsy Chaperone, other productions have included Blood Brothers, Miracle City, LoveBites, Next to Normal, new musicals Beyond Desire and Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You and the current production of Dogfight, as well as a cabaret festival and several Month of Sundays cabaret seasons. It hasn’t all been an unmitigated success but it’s been an exciting ride with some sensational high points, proving beyond doubt that the Hayes is an invaluable addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

So what do they have in store for us for the rest of the year?

Cabaret Season 2015

Running from June 1 – 28, this year’s cabaret season includes 17 acts by artists including Marina Prior, Phil Scott, Amanda Harrison, Rob Mills, Tyran Parke, Mitchell Butel, Josie Lane and Damien Leith among others.

It begins on June 1 with Australiana: A Celebration of Australian Musical Theatre directed by Genevieve Lemon with Max Lambert as musical director. Featuring performers such as Nancye Hayes, Christy Sullivan and Patrice Tipoki, the concert will raise funds for the presentation of a new musical in November as part of the New Musicals Australia program, now being run by the Hayes.

The cast recording of Luckiest Productions’ acclaimed Miracle City, recorded at the Hayes, will be launched that night.

Phil Scott gave us a taste of his new cabaret show Reviewing the Situation, which he has written with Terence O’Connell and which he will perform as part of the cabaret season. Telling the story of Lionel Bart, composer of the musical Oliver! the character and concept would seem to be right in the pocket for Scott and one of the shows to look out for.

Akio!

The Hayes will host its first children’s show when it presents Blue Theatre Company’s Akio! – the story of a shy, young boy who is bullied at school and escapes by immersing himself in video games. Things get strange when he and Harumi, the girl of his dreams, are sucked into a video game. Akio! plays on July 4 & 5.

Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers. Photo: Noni Carroll

Trevor Ashley was on hand to discuss Heathers The Musical, which he will direct with a cast including Lucy Maunder and Jaz Flowers. A rock musical by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy based on the cult 1988 film, Heathers opened off-Broadway last year. It tells the deliciously dark story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful, teenage misfit who manages to become part of The Heathers, a powerful clique of popular girls all named Heather at Westerberg High School. When Veronica falls in love with new kid J.D. and Heather Chandler, leader of the Heathers pack, says she will ruin Veronica’s social life, there will be hell to pay.

The New York Times described the show as a “rowdy, guilty-pleasure musical”. Ashley’s production for the Hayes is the first time the musical has been staged outside the US. Flowers raised the roof at the launch with her blistering rendition of the number Dead Girl Walking. Heathers plays July 19 – August 9.

Masterclass

A hit in Melbourne, Left Bauer Productions brings its acclaimed production of Terence McNally’s renowned play Masterclass to the Hayes. Inspired by Maria Callas’ 1971 visit to New York’s Juilliard School of Music, the production stars Maria Mercedes, who recently won a Green Room Award for her portrayal of Callas. The cast also includes Blake Bowden who sang Recondita Armonia from the opera Tosca at the launch. Fast becoming a regular at the Hayes, Campbell quipped: “we’re not going to let him go until he gets it right!”

Masterclass plays August 12 – 30.

High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings I'll Be All Right from High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings It’s All Right With Me  from High Society. Photo: Noni Carroll

The Hayes Theatre Co will present Cole Porter’s classic musical High Society. It’s the first show presented solely by the Hayes rather than with one of the production companies involved with the theatre, or an external producer. Richard Carroll will serve as producer.

Amy Lehpamer will play Tracy Lord, the gorgeous, privileged but coolly pretentious young socialite, whose swelegant wedding plans are thrown into disarray when her ex-husband turns up as well as a pesky, undercover, tabloid reporter. Directed by Helen Dallimore, the cast will also include Bert LaBonte, Bobby Fox and Virginia Gay – or “Amy Lephamer, Bert LaBonte, Bobby Le Fox and Virginia Le Gay” as they will be known for the production, joked Dallimore.

Singing It’s All Right With Me, Lehpamer – who is on an incredible roll right now – showed why she’s been cast as Tracy Lord.

High Society plays from September 4.

Rent

Highway Run Productions (Toby Francis and Lauren Peters) will present Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent in association with the Hayes. Loosely based on La boheme, Rent is set in New York City’s East Village, over the course of a year in the early 1990s, where a group of impoverished artist friends struggle to live, love and create under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic The cast of Dogfight performed the song Seasons of Love from the show and set spines tingling.

Rent plays October 8 – November 1.

Violet

Mitchell Butel will direct the musical Violet with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori, which he described as his favourite Broadway show of the last 10 years. A road movie of a musical, it is based on a short story by Doris Betts called The Ugliest Pilgrim about a young, disfigured woman who embarks on a bus journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma to find the preacher she believes can heal her. The production will star Samantha Dodemaide who sang the numbers All to Pieces and Lay Down Your Head.

Violet plays November 2 – December 20.

I Might Take My Shirt Off

As part of A Month of Sundays, Dash Kruck will perform his cabaret show I Might Take My Shirt Off, which premiered at the Brisbane Powerhouse in February. Featuring original songs by Kruck and composer Chris Perren, Kruck performed a short extract from the show. He plays Lionel, a timid flooring salesman and cabaret virgin struggling to cope with a relationship break-up, who finds himself on stage when his German therapist Grizelda pushes him into doing a cabaret show as a way to express himself. On the basis of the launch taster, it’s a very funny evening.

I Might Take My Shirt Off plays on September 20 & 27 and on October 11.

Neglected Musicals

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals' Dear World

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals’ Dear World. Photo: Noni Carroll

Neglected Musicals will present Jerry Herman’s Dear World, directed by Nicholas Hammond. Based on Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot, Hammond described the 1969 musical as “25 years ahead of its time”. The Broadway production, he said, was over-produced; as a small production, he believes it works a dream. The staged reading will feature Genevieve Lemon and Simon Burke, with Max Lambert as musical director. Dear World will be presented on August 3.

It was also announced that the Hayes has launched TALK through its website, which consists of regular podcasts and a series of editorials by Daily Review arts writer/reviewer Ben Neutze about musical theatre and cabaret.

All up, it’s an impressive line-up from one of the exciting companies in town.

Full details of the Hayes Theatre Co season can be found on its website: www.hayestheatre.com.au

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Sweet Charity remount

Playhouse Theatre, Sydney Opera House, January 16

Verity Hunt-Ballard as Charity. Photo: Jeff Busby

Verity Hunt-Ballard as Charity. Photo: Jeff Busby

In February last year, the Hayes Theatre Co burst onto the Sydney musical theatre scene with a thrilling production of Sweet Charity directed by Dean Bryant and starring Verity Hunt-Ballard.

The ingeniously staged, dirtied-up, gritty take on the 1966 musical had audiences and critics raving (you will find my review on this blog) and three days after opening you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money.

The show went on to win three Helpmanns for Bryant, Hunt-Ballard and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth and has nine nominations at the 2014 Sydney Theatre Awards to be presented tomorrow (January 19).

The announcement of a remount at the Sydney Opera House’s 400-seat Playhouse Theatre and then a tour to Canberra, Melbourne and Wollongong generated much excitement. But how would the production – created for the intimacy of the 110- seat Hayes Theatre – fare in a bigger venue?

Well, it has sashayed seamlessly into the Playhouse where it received a rapturous response at Friday’s opening night.

Inevitably you lose some of the intimacy but there are compensations. Hallsworth’s fabulous choreography (with nods to Fosse) has more room to sharpen and breathe for starters. And if anything, the performances seem more detailed than ever as most of the original performers revisit their roles.

The grungy staging is essentially the same: an inspired use of a couple of two-way mirrors, a few chairs, a costume rack and a red neon sign at the back saying, “Girls, Girls, Girls” (set design by Owen Phillips).

Tim Chappel has revamped some of the costumes adding extra colour and sparkle to various outfits including the witty, surreal costumes for The Frug, which gives the production a little more visual zing in the larger space.

Hunt-Ballard, who gave a sensational performance last time around as Charity Hope Valentine – the dance hall hostess with a heart of gold who keeps looking for love (and at one point an office job) as a passport to a better life – is more stunning than ever.

She radiates such warmth, such sweet, kooky naivety and such sunny optimism that her Charity is irresistibly endearing. Her comic timing is a knockout but always there is the knowledge that Charity uses ditzy humour to deal with her hurt and pain, as a way to bounce back, until that final, terrible let-down.

Hunt-Ballard inhabits the role completely. She sings superbly, dances well and her acting is sublime. But never do we feel that she is busting out a big song-and-dance number. Always the songs emerge organically from the character and the situation whether it’s the exuberant, show-stopping If My Friends Could See Me Now or Where Am I Going? which she delivers in heartbreaking fashion.

She is beyond divine in the role; it’s hard to imagine anyone playing Charity better.

Bryant brings this kind of truth to every aspect of the production. Character and emotion colour every song. Hey Big Spender erupts with the crowd-pleasing blast you expect but the girls look blank, emotionally shutdown, as they display their wares in the meat-market line-up.

Verity Hunt-Ballard, Kate Cole and Debora Krizak. Photo: Jeff Busby

Verity Hunt-Ballard, Kate Cole and Debora Krizak. Photo: Jeff Busby

When Hunt-Ballard, Debora Krizak as Nickie and Kate Cole as Helene (two of the other girls from the seedy Fandango Ballroom where Charity works) sing There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This it feels as exuberant as ever but tinged with palpable sadness: three feisty women, perilously close to being over the hill, knowing they will probably never escape this life.

Cole is new to the production and she is a great addition to the cast, bringing a real weight to the role of Helene.

Martin Crewes reprises the roles of Charlie, Vittorio Vidal and Oscar and again creates wonderfully delineated characters. His suave Vittorio is particularly strong and he sings Too Many Tomorrows with a lovely, classic Italianate tenor sound, then slides effortlessly into a nerdy, Jerry Lewis-tinged Oscar. In fact, his performance sits better in the larger space than in the tiny Hayes where it felt a tad outsized.

Verity Hunt-Ballard and Martin Crewes as Oscar. Photo: Jeff Busby

Verity Hunt-Ballard and Martin Crewes as Oscar. Photo: Jeff Busby

Krizak is once again a delight as the hard-boiled Nickie, nailing her fierce one-liners, and also as Ursula, Vittorio’s glamorous, jealous girlfriend.

As at the Hayes, the band – led by musical director Andrew Worboys on keys – sits along the back of the stage but it’s great to see them given more space and visibility. Worboys’ fantastic, funky, electronic orchestrations of the songs are again a winning, driving element of the production.

Bryant integrates the musicians into the production with Kuki Tipoki playing guitar as well as Big Daddy along with several ensemble roles, while Worboys plays Fandango owner Herman.

Original producers Luckiest Productions (Lisa Campbell, David Campbell and Richard Carroll) and Neil Gooding Productions are joined for the tour by Tinderbox Productions (Liza McLean). They should have a huge hit on their hands.

This is one of the most exciting musical theatre productions I’ve seen in a long time: a show given fresh life and raw, gritty currency by a superb creative team and cast. It has made the leap to the larger space in style. Don’t miss it.

Sweet Charity plays at the Sydney Opera House until February 8; The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, February 11 – 21; Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, February 25 – March 8; Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong, March 11 – 15

Not a Launch: Hayes Theatre Co 2015

Hayes Theatre Co, September 29

Blazey Best, Hilary Cole, Mike McLeish and Cameron Holmes as the Truswell family in Miracle City. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Blazey Best, Hilary Cole, Mike McLeish and Cameron Holmes as the Truswell family in Miracle City. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

“It’s not a launch,” said David Campbell. “It’s just a release of information.”

Whatever it was, it was a great way to introduce the Hayes Theatre Co’s program for the first half of 2015 with performers on hand to sing numbers from the shows featured, and to give us a preview of the final shows for 2014.

British director Neil Rutherford introduced Beyond Desire, the new musical for which he has written book and lyrics, with music by Kieran Drury, which will play at the Hayes from November 21 to December 13.

Beyond Desire is an Edwardian murder mystery, inspired in part by E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice, which Rutherford described as “Downton Abbey meets Hamlet”. It will feature contemporary music inspired by the period, with influences of Elgar and Debussy. The score will be performed by a six-piece orchestra.

Nancye Hayes, who plays a housekeeper, sang an amusing number about family secrets, in costume complete with a tray of tea and sandwiches. It will be the first time Hayes has performed at the venue named after her. After that performance, I can’t wait.

The 2015 season begins in January with a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal by Geelong’s Doorstep Arts (January 8 – February 1). Introduced by the company’s founding director Darylin Ramondo, the production will feature Natalie O’Donnell as Diana, the suburban mother with worsening bipolar disorder and delusional episodes.

The cast will also include Alex Rathgeber and Anthony Harkin. O’Donnell performed I Miss the Mountains in which Diana sings about missing the dizzy heights of her non-medicated state.

In February, Enda Markey produces Blood Brothers (see related feature) with a fabulous cast led by Helen Dallimore, Michael Cormick, Blake Bowden and Bobby Fox. Running February 6 – March 8, Dallimore gave a taste of things to come with a medley of Easy Terms and Tell Me It’s Not True.

In May, Neil Gooding presents Dogfight with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and book by Peter Duncan, all still in their 20s.

Based on the 1991 film starring River Phoenix, it tells the edgy story of three young men on their way to Vietnam who attend a “dogfight” the night before they leave at which they compete to bring the ugliest date, out of which emerges an unusual love story.

The show premiered off-Broadway to generally good reviews in 2012 and was staged at London’s Southwark Theatre in August to more mixed reviews.

Johanna Allen, who will play the prostitute Marcie, sang a number called Pretty Funny, performed in the show by the leading lady Rose. Dogfight runs May 1– 31. Gooding said that Pasek & Paul will hopefully come to Australia towards the end of the season and conduct some workshops and masterclasses.

Meanwhile, Miracle City by Max Lambert and the late Nick Enright plays at the Hayes from October 17 to November 16. The keenly anticipated revival of the musical, which had a brief work-in-progress season at Sydney Theatre Company in 1996, will be a brand new show directed by Darren Yap.

Described by Campbell as “a shitload of fun”, Miracle City is inspired by US televangelists Jimmy and Tammy Bakker. Telling the story of the Truswell family, it is set in real time during a live-to-air evangelical television show.

Blazey Best, Mike McLeish, Hilary Cole and Cameron Holmes who play the Truswell family performed the song Miracle City, a very funny, jaunty, gospel hoedown in which they sing about the Christian theme park they are building. The song was the first they wrote, said Lambert, but didn’t make it into the original show.

It was a spectacular way to end the evening and a fantastic teaser for Miracle City.

Sweet Charity, the Hayes’ inaugural, sellout production, which won three Helpmann Awards, will tour in 2015. A Canberra season has already been announced for February with other dates to be confirmed.

Details can be found at www.hayestheatre.com.au

David Campbell Sings John Bucchino

Hayes Theatre Co, June 18

John Bucchino and David Campbell. Photo: Sam Bratby

John Bucchino and David Campbell. Photo: Sam Bratby

David Campbell and renowned songwriter John Bucchino met in New York 17 years ago. Friends ever since, their ease with each other shows in their new cabaret show David Campbell Sings John Bucchino currently playing as part of the Hayes Theatre Co Cabaret Season.

In the intimate setting of the tiny theatre, with Bucchino on piano, they perform songs from across Bucchino’s career, from the heartfelt “Grateful” to the jazzy “Puddle of Love” to a number from the DreamWorks animated film Joseph: King of Dreams.

They’re beautiful songs with lovely, sophisticated melodies and lyrics in which Bucchino wears his heart on his sleeve. Many have a theatrical feel and a strong sense of storytelling. They may not be widely known but they are accessible.

Campbell sings most of them though Bucchino does a few himself, while Bucchino has the lion’s share of the patter as he talks (delightfully) about how the two met, his career and the inspiration for the numbers (often love and loss). Campbell chips in with the odd witty comment and bit of banter but for the most part stands respectfully to one side when Bucchino chats.

When it comes to the musical numbers, Campbell is in fine voice, singing with supreme control and beauty, and connecting to the lyrics with great sensitivity. Highlights include his dramatic performance of “I Stayed” from Bucchino’s 2008 Broadway musical A Catered Affair  – how good it would be to see him back on stage in a musical – and a moving version of Learn How to Say Goodbye, as well as Bucchino singing songs like Unexpressed.

The chance to get so up close and personal with the composer and hear his songs performed by such a superb interpreter makes this a special show.

David Campbell sings John Bucchino is at the Hayes Theatre Co until June 28 and at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta on June 29

A version of this review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 22

Magda turns wicked; Bonnie searches for Snow White

Magda Szubanski. Photo: supplied

Magda Szubanski. Photo: supplied

When Magda Szubanski agreed to feature in Snow White – Winter Family Musical, Bonnie Lythgoe couldn’t contain her excitement as another part of her “dream team” fell into place.

“I was waiting with bated breath to find out if she’d do it. I can’t tell you how happy I am,” says Lythgoe, who was a judge on the first three series of So You Think You Can Dance Australia.

As revealed exclusively in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, Szubanski will play the Wicked Queen in Lythgoe’s contemporary pantomime spectacular (co-produced with David and Lisa Campbell’s Luckiest Productions), which has a short season at Sydney’s State Theatre in July.

“I haven’t done a panto before but I’ve always thought it would be terrific fun,” says Szubanski. “I did do A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Geoffrey Rush. That was rather like a panto and that was tremendous fun.”

“We haven’t really done a lot of (pantos) here but the tradition they have in Britain is so popular that I thought it would be a hoot to do. I don’t think you can underestimate how joyous these things are.”

Szubanski is looking forward to playing the villain. “One of the dwarves was the role I was after – but I think I’m too short to play a dwarf,” quips the much-loved actor/comedian.

Szubanski joins a celebrity-studded cast that includes the unlikely pairing of Kyle Sandilands and Sir Cliff Richard as the two (pre-recorded) faces of the Wicked Queen’s magic mirror. Naturally Sandilands is the nasty Mirror Disgruntled while Richard is the kindly Mirror Enchanted.

Jimmy Giggle (aka James Rees) from the ABC-TV children’s show Giggle and Hoot will play Snow White’s best friend Muddles and TV host Peter Everett, recently seen on Celebrity Apprentice, is her guardian Chambers.

The huntsman is played by Josh Adamson, an Australian performer currently living in the US, who performed in Lythgoe’s panto Aladdin and his Winter’s Wish at the Pasadena Playhouse in December. The role of the Prince is still to be announced – but is likely to be another name.

However, Lythgoe is offering a complete unknown the chance to land the starring role. Later this month, she and a team of celebrity judges will embark on a nationwide search for an actress, aged 16 to 26, to play Snow White. Pant O-Z Factor: The Search for Snow White, will be filmed and covered by the media.

The auditions will take place at Westfield shopping centres around the country (see details below), where the various judging panels will include people like Sonia Kruger, David Campbell, Matt Lee and Prinnie Stevens among others.

Bonnie Lythgoe auditioning for one of her pantos in the US. Photo: supplied

Bonnie Lythgoe auditioning for one of her pantos in the US. Photo: supplied

Lythgoe has been staging pantos in the US with great success for several years now and has already produced Snow White there with Neil Patrick Harris as the Magic Mirror. The shows combine the British panto tradition (“he’s behind you!”) with contemporary pop songs.

For the Sydney production she says she is looking for a leading lady who is “a little bit more feisty” than the Disney heroine “but a lovely, warm, friendly person.

“I’m looking for raw talent. I don’t want somebody who has been working for five years,” says Lythgoe. “She needs to sing well, to believe in the character she’s playing and be real. She also needs to move well but she doesn’t need to be a fantastic dancer.”

As well as playing the Wicked Queen, Szubanski has been enlisted as a co-writer to ensure the comedy speaks to Australian audiences and promises there will be “fun jokes for all the family”.

“It’s like the stuff we did with Fast Forward where there’s the colour and movement for the kids and then slightly more sophisticated (or not!) elements for the adults, so I think it will be really fun” says Szubanski. “My Mum who is 89 is saying, ‘Oh! I’ll pop up to Sydney to see that.’”

Pant O-Z Factor: The Search for Snow White auditions will be held at:

Saturday February 22, Westfield Marion, Adelaide

Saturday March 8 at Westfield Chermside, Brisbane

Sunday March 9 at Westfield Chermside, Brisbane

Saturday March 15, Westfield Southland, Melbourne

Sunday March 16, Westfield Knox, Melbourne

Saturday March 22, Westfield Parramatta, Sydney

Sunday March 23, Westfield Hurstville, Sydney

Auditions will be held from 9am to 5pm each day. People wanting to audition should arrive at 8am on the day to register. More information about the show can be found at Bonnie Lythgoe’s website http://www.bonnielythgoe.com

Snow White – Winter Family Musical plays at the State Theatre in Sydney, July 4 – 13. Bookings: http://www.tickemaster.com.au or 1300 139 588 

Independent Music Theatre names venue after Nancye Hayes

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

Independent Music Theatre: creating a new home for small-scale musicals and cabaret in Sydney

The Independent Music Theatre team. Left to right: Lisa Campbell, David Campbell, Neil Gooding, Michael Huxley, Richard Carroll, Simone Parrott, Michelle Guthrie, Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns

The Independent Music Theatre team. Left to right: Lisa Campbell, David Campbell, Neil Gooding, Michael Huxley, Richard Carroll, Simone Parrott, Michelle Guthrie, Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns

Yesterday’s announcement that a new, not-for-profit consortium of producers and organisations called Independent Music Theatre (IMT) is to run the Reginald Murphy Hall in Potts Point as a home for small-scale music theatre and cabaret has my heart singing.

It’s exciting news given the potential for the company to become an important and much-needed addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

Currently known as the Darlinghurst Theatre, the 111-seat venue was home to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company from 1999 until this March when the company vacated it to move into the new Eternity Playhouse in East Sydney, opening in November.

Having won the tender from the City of Sydney Council to become the next resident company, IMT will announce a new name for the venue in the coming weeks.

Describing themselves as a “collaborative partnership”, IMT comprises a team of organisations who already have runs on the board producing small-scale musicals and cabaret: Luckiest Productions (David Campbell, Lisa Campbell and Richard Carroll), Neglected Musicals (Michelle Guthrie), Squabbalogic (Jay James-Moody and Jessica Burns, who are soon to stage Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Factory in Marrickville), Neil Gooding Productions (who produced the Australian musical The Hatpin by Peter Rutherford and James Millar) and independent producers Michael Huxley and Simone Parrott.

Commercial musicals currently dominate the music theatre scene in Sydney – and there aren’t that many of those each year given the relatively limited audience compared to London or New York.

It’s not that Sydney doesn’t see small-scale, independent musicals but the productions are sporadic and scattered around various venues. Presenting regular shows in one venue will give the work a very useful focus.

Having their own home, where they can support each other, will also give the companies involved a better chance to survive and thrive.

Initially IMT’s audience is likely to be industry-based along with serious musical theatre fans but if the work is good a broader audience will hopefully follow pretty quickly. London’s Menier Chocolate Factory is an obvious model, whose success will doubtless be encouraging for the IMT team.

The chance to see musicals from overseas that would otherwise be unlikely to make it to our shores – whether that be little seen classics or more recent, innovative work – is so important for the development of the artform, as well as for the people who want to make it and perform in it.

Developing new Australian musicals – that most challenging of theatrical beasts – is  something that IMT will hopefully be well placed to undertake in the fullness of time.

It is a small venue but the IMT team are specialists in the field of small-scale music theatre and cabaret and should have the expertise and nous to choose the right shows and make them work in the intimate setting.

Neglected Musicals is already associated with the venue having presented terrific rehearsed readings of nine musicals there including No Way to Treat a Lady, On the Twentieth Century and Variations by Australia’s Terry Clarke and the late Nick Enright.

Stephen Colyer’s Gaiety Theatre (not associated with IMT) has also had success staging musicals there, including Hello Again and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

The first IMT production is likely to be presented at the start of next year. I can’t wait.

You can find IMT at www.independentmusictheatre.com or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @IMTsydney