Nick’s Bar

Nick Enright

Nick Enright

Sydney will soon have a theatre named after Nancye Hayes (the former Darlinghurst Theatre). Now, it has a theatre bar named after the late, much-missed Australian playwright Nick Enright.

Last night, Darlinghurst Theatre Company and the Enright family hosted a wonderful event in the foyer at the newly opened Eternity Playhouse where friends and colleagues of Enright’s, including Nancye Hayes, gathered to celebrate the news that the foyer bar will be known as Nick’s Bar.

Enright’s brother Ian also announced that, over the next three years, the Enright family is supporting Darlinghurst Theatre Company to produce three plays by the renowned Australian playwright, starting with Daylight Saving in 2014.

Enright, who died in 2003 at age 52 of a melanoma, was a dearly loved man of the theatre. A prolific writer for film, television and the stage, he was also an actor, director and teacher who was Head of Acting at NIDA between 1983 and 1984.

His playwriting credits include On the Wallaby, Daylight Saving, St James Infirmary, Mongrels, A Property of the Clan, The Quartet from Rigoletto, Blackrock, Good Works, Spurboard and A Man with Five Children. Together with Justin Monjo he also adapted Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet for the stage.

He wrote the book and lyrics for many musicals including The Venetian Twins, Variations and Summer Rain with composer Terrence Clarke; The Betrothed, Mary Bryant and The Good Fight with David King; and Miracle City with Max Lambert. He also wrote the book for The Boy From Oz, which went on to become a hit on Broadway.

Enright co-wrote the screenplay for Lorenzo’s Oil, which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Last night’s event included performances and talks by friends of Enright’s who remembered a man who was warm and witty, wrote comedy and lyrics with effortless ease, and was also a great mentor to many young artists. David Marr (who runs Enright’s estate with Ian Enright) also recalled the playwright’s “ferocious” but insightful editing of his biography of Patrick White.

Enright wasn’t a great drinker himself, said Marr, but understood that red wine and conversation go together so the naming of a bar after him was an apt tribute.

Marr was the MC – a role he said that we didn’t need (given that everyone in the room knew each other) but had to have because Enright loved the formalities of the theatre.

Genevieve Lemon opened the show with “I’ll Hold On” from Miracle City – a heart-breakingly beautiful song, beautifully sung, bringing back great memories of the show, which surely deserves to be seen again soon.

Lynne Pierse and Doug Hansell performed “Love Has Lousy Timing” from the first version of Summer Rain, which was subsequently cut from the show, Paul Capsis sang Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”, Jay James-Moody gave us the ever-popular comedy number Jindyworoback from The Venetian Twins with composer Terry Clarke at the piano and Tony Sheldon brought the night to a moving end with “If I Don’t Have You” from Variations (recently given a concert performance by Neglected Musicals).

Sandy Gore did the honours in officially opening “Nick’s Bar”. During a lively, touching speech she revealed that Enright had been so frustrated and depressed at his plays not being picked up and staged that he vowed that he would stop playwriting if Daylight Saving (which he wrote for her in 1989 after Marr suggested he tackled a comedy) was not a success – and she believed him. Happily it sold out and Enright’s career took off.

Mark Kilmurry directs Daylight Saving for the Darlo next year (October 30 – November 30).

“If you need any assistance on the mother, it’s my mother and I can tell you how it’s done,” said Marr.

Hopefully, Daylight Saving is just the first of many Enright revivals to come.

Marr also paid tribute to remarkable Sydney pop artist Martin Sharp who died on Sunday. The Eternity Playhouse is named after Arthur Stace who famously chalked the word “Eternity” on Sydney’s pavements for 30 years after hearing a sermon at the Burton Street Tabernacle now converted into the theatre. Sharp included the word in several works including his 1977 poster Eternity Haymarket! and also illuminated it on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the New Year’s Eve celebrations leading into 2000.

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

Todd McKenney’s Centre Stage Tours: interview

Todd McKenney

Todd McKenney

Todd McKenney is used to being centre stage. Now the musical theatre performer who has starred in shows including The Boy From Oz, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – the Musical, Crazy for You and Annie among many others, is organising a series of personally guided theatre tours, which will give others the chance to join him there – if only after the curtain has fallen.

Todd McKenney’s Centre Stage Tours will kick off during the Sydney leg of the forthcoming tour of Grease – in which he plays Teen Angel – when he will take people backstage after the show, ending up on stage for photographs with himself and other cast members.

He is also opening up his beautiful, spacious home on Sydney’s Upper North Shore for high tea soirées at which guests will wander his lovely garden then gather around his piano for a relaxed private performance.

The first soirée on August 4, at which he will perform with Nancye Hayes and Chloe Dallimore, sold out within a matter of hours after he chatted about it on radio with Alan Jones. However, there are still some tickets available for his first theatre tours. Some of the proceeds from the tours will go to the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia.

The idea began during a conversation with his friends Julie and Chris Walker, co-owners of several Sydney restaurants including Berta in Surry Hills.

“They said, ‘have you ever thought of taking groups to Broadway and the West End?’” recalls McKenney. “I thought about it more and more and said to Julie, ‘why don’t you run it with me?’ So we looked at putting it together and decided to start closer to home where we have the contacts.”

John Frost, the producer of Grease, and the Lyric Theatre, where the show is playing in Sydney, both loved the idea. “The Lyric are giving us private champagne rooms as the guests arrive, all sorts of stuff. We have had two travel agents contact us now so we are meeting them. It’s just taken off,” says McKenney.

The first tours on offer are dinner-theatre tours on October 25 and November 1 when a group of 30 will dine at Berta, which offers modern Italian cuisine, then go by private coach back to the theatre for pre-show champagne. After seeing they show, McKenney will take them on a backstage tour. There are also sip-a-soda tours on December 1 and 8 after the matinee with an optional meal.

The reason McKenney is able to dine with guests before the show is that as Teen Angel he only sings one song in the second act – however, he plans to dazzle, literally.

“They asked what I wanted to wear and I said, ‘I want to blind them,’ says McKenney with a laugh.

“If I’ve only got one number I want to hit that stage like a human mirror ball so I’ve got a costume covered in Swarovski crystals with silver aviators, a big white quiff and silver crocodile skin boots, which I’ve just had made. So it’s going to be a good look. I’m going to make an impact.”

Into the future, McKenney is performing in another musical for Frost next year, which is yet to be announced. He has also put in a couple of requests.

“There are a couple of shows I really, really want to do before I can’t do them. One of them is Barnum,” he says. “I’m desperate to do Barnum so I rang Frosty one day and he and I have been talking about that for the future. I don’t know if he’s got it.

“It’s a role I’ve always wanted to play. I love the music, I love the character, I love the story. He’s a showman but he’s got a dark side and I get to do acrobatic tricks. It’s an itch which I haven’t been able to scratch – and it’s my Mum’s favourite musical.”

Meanwhile, Dancing with the Stars – where McKenney has made his mark as the “nasty” judge – is set to return to Channel Seven for its 13th season. The line-up has not yet been announced but McKenney is keen to return.

Dancing with the Stars and The Boy From Oz changed my life,” he says. “As long as they keep running it and asking me back, I’ll be there.”

Tour information and bookings: toddmckenneyscentrestagetours.com.au or Julie 0411 424 010.

An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on July 14. 

Noel and Gertie review

Glen Street Theatre May 22

Noel and Gertie is a delicious, frothy confection of a show that has the sparkle of fine bubbly and a similarly intoxicating effect.

It was devised in 1982 by Sheridan Morley who used the words and music of Noel Coward to tell the story of Coward’s legendary, tempestuous friendship with actor Gertrude Lawrence – his sometime muse for whom he wrote Private Lives.

The show doesn’t break any ground dramatically. Morley tells their story chronologically using a montage of songs and extracts from Coward’s plays, diaries and letters. But when performed as well as it is here by James Millar and Lucy Maunder, it’s a delight.

 

Lucy Maunder and James Millar. Photo by Nicholas Higgins

Lucy Maunder and James Millar. Photo by Nicholas Higgins

The production, deftly directed by Nancye Hayes, has an elegant simplicity. Graham Maclean has designed a simple, Art Deco-inspired set and a gorgeous, slinky, white satin, Molyneux-like gown for Maunder, while Millar wears black tie.

Millar is cut out to play Coward. He looks the part and tosses off Coward’s witticisms effortlessly in a precise, clipped, English accent as if born to it, bringing the house down with his rendition of Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington.

Maunder also gives a lovely performance. Like Millar she is attuned to the sophistication and rhythms of Coward’s writing and sings more beautifully than Lawrence in numbers including Sail Away and Parisian Pierrot.

Together, they have a scintillating chemistry and capture the mischievous, bantering relationship between the two stars.

 

Lucy Maunder and James Millar.  Photo by Nicholas Higgins

Lucy Maunder and James Millar. Photo by Nicholas Higgins

It’s not easy to perform Coward – and even harder when you’re performing extracts out of context. But the scenes from plays including Private Lives and Blithe Spirit work a treat, while the one from Still Life (which became the film Brief Encounter) is touching. There is still a little more emotional depth and nuance to be found but this will doubtless develop as the show settles in.

Musical director Vincent Colagiuri provides sensitive accompaniment on a grand piano sitting unobtrusively at the back of the stage.

Morley tells us almost nothing about Coward’s private life. There is one passing reference to Graham Payn performing in Tonight at 8.30pm but no mention of the fact that he was Coward’s partner for 30 years. Nor does Morley include the more colourful incidents from Lawrence’s. Watching it you feel you’d like to know more about them.

Nonetheless, in the hands of Millar and Maunder, Noel and Gertie is a stylish, delightful entertainment.

Noel and Gertie plays at Glen Street Theatre until June I then tours nationally to the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith, June 5 – 8; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, June 11 – 15; Frankston Arts Centre, June 20; Whitehorse Centre, Nunawading, June 21 – 22; The Concourse, Chatswood, June 26 – 29; The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, July 2 – 7; Dubbo Regional Theatre, July 10; Orange Civic Theatre, July 12 – 13; Laycock Street Theatre, Gosford, July 16 – 18; Manning Entertainment Centre, Taree, July 20; Adelaide Festival Centre, July 23 – 27.

An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on May 16.