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

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Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: review

Formed in 2006, Squabbalogic is a nifty addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene with its mission to present local premieres of the types of show we wouldn’t be seeing otherwise.

The fact that the company is one of the groups behind Independent Music Theatre, which is taking over the Darlinghurst Theatre and turning it into a home for music theatre and cabaret, is cause for celebration.

Peter Meredith (centre) and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo: Michael Francis

Peter Meredith (centre) and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo: Michael Francis

The ambitious little indie company is currently staging Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – a rollicking, raucous rock musical by Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music and lyrics), which tells the tale of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States who governed for eight years from 1829.

Nicknamed Old Hickory for his aggressive, no-bullshit style, he was a divisive figure who drove the British and Spanish out of the US, forcibly relocated the Native American Indians (massacring those who refused), took on the banks and positioned himself as a man of the people, forming the Democratic Party.

In the musical – which had a short Broadway season in 2010/11 after moving from off-Broadway – Jackson is presented as a cocky emo rock star, with plenty of charisma but serious flaws. Pragmatic doesn’t begin to describe him. Was he America’s greatest president or an “American Hitler”? asks the musical. Cast your own vote.

Combining rock music, irreverent sketch comedy and political satire, the 90-minute show hurtles along poking fun at narrative storytelling and American conservatism as it puts the boot into ruthless politicking – though it starts to flag a little towards the end as it keeps circling similar terrain.

The music ranges from the catchy, rousing opening number “Populism, Yea, Yea!” to a dark take on “Ten Little Indians”.

Though the writers had the American culture and political climate in their sights, it feels surprisingly relevant to here, particularly the treatment of indigenous people (and suspicion of any outsiders) and the political pandering to polls and public opinion.

Craig Stewart’s appropriately raw, rough-and-ready production, staged in a suitably grungy space, fairly explodes onto stage given the pumped, anarchic energy of the young cast. On one side of the room, next to the auditorium seating, there is an area where the performers have set up camp, lounging around on tatty chairs when not on stage.

The space is festooned with barricade tape and fairy lights that hang from the ceiling along with the odd pair of frilly knickers (set design by Sean Minahan). Other than that the stage is pretty bare. At the back of it sit the smoking band led by musical director Mark Chamberlain.

In tight black jeans, rock god bling and dark eyeliner, Peter Meredith brings just the right charismatic, sexy swagger to the title role and has a strong rock voice. Among the rest of the cast, all of whom play various roles, Jay James-Moody (Squabbalogic’s founding artistic director) is a standout, his comic timing immaculate, while Max Newstead is also impressive.

Some of the singing is pretty patchy and there were sound problems on opening night with mics used inconsistently (or perhaps not working when they should have done). But you can’t fault the rocking conviction of the cast. Overall, it’s an exciting production and a great opportunity to see a relatively little known show. Given the impending Federal election it’s also a neat piece of programming.

Squabbalogic deserves the support of anyone interested in musicals and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson ­­– which should have particular appeal to a young audience – is well worth seeing.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays at The Factory Floor, Factory Theatre until September 1

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