Hot on the heels of last year’s runaway successes [title of show] and A Sondheim Triptych, Magnormos, in association with the Melbourne Recital Centre, is presenting an exciting and unique theatre experience – three nights, three shows, one Broadway legend. A Jerry Herman Triptych spanning three consecutive Mondays in July will bring to life the early works of Herman; Milk and Honey, Dear World, and Hello Dolly!
Directing the first production of the triptych is Australian theatre veteran, Avigail Herman. Fresh from her integral role in the running and development of NIDA’s Diploma of Music Theatre, Avigail has put together Milk and Honey, a story she describes as “funny, poignant, touching, exciting and ultimately life-affirming.” The show follows a romance between two Americans set against the backdrop of Tel Aviv and the Negev desert. Avigail’s enthusiasm for the show is evident:
"The chance to bring to life a seldom-done show is always an incentive. This show was written in 1961 when Herman was 31. It is interesting on many levels. It is set in Israel 13 years after its birth, which in itself becomes an interesting backdrop (much like South Pacific is set on an island amidst the Second World War) and thus draws on a range of characters and issues, which weren’t necessarily the norm for musical theatre at the time. It also points to [Jerry] Herman’s future work both musically and in terms of character, so it’s a chance to explore his beginnings as a composer/lyricist."
Avigail has a diverse and enviable career that has seen her not only win various awards, but also serve as an 11th-hour ambassador for ovarian cancer. Her talents include, but are not limited to; stage performance, direction, teaching, musical direction, vocal recordings, and television. Her expertise and generous nature are evident in her passion for the NIDA program that she has been instrumental in creating.
"Teaching is a wonderful way to give back, to pass on knowledge and watch a new generation learn and grow; it is quite a gift in itself. It is also a way of honing ones own ideas and beliefs as one has to be articulate and succinct in terms of approach and philosophy…I am very proud of the course and its track record. Not only have graduates made their impact on the industry here but are also working on the West End in London and the US."
Under such skilled hands, Milk and Honey promises to be an exceptional treat for audiences. Describing him as "brave," Avigail reminds readers of Jerry Herman’s better-known works, which have delighted theatregoers for decades.
"Who would have thought that at the time of writing La Cage au Folles, American audiences (who are often very conservative) would not only accept but fall in love with a gay couple, one of whom was a drag queen!"
Highlighting the pioneering spirit present in Herman’s shows, Avigail is also quick to point out another forward-thinking motif in his work – "he was also one of the first to write strong, empowering roles for women and older women at that!"
When asked of her personal opinion on her own country’s theatrical future, Avigail is certain Australian theatre "is in better shape than it was:"
"We are now in a position where new shows are being created here [such as] Dr Zhivago, An Officer and a Gentleman, [and] the new version of Love Never Dies, which all create employment for both performers, musicians, designers, technical personnel…and put us in the enviable position where others overseas will recreate roles we have created (a nice change)."
She is hopeful for improvement, however, when it comes to "our own Australian voice:"
"It is such a struggle for young talented composers/lyricists/librettists here…that’s why companies like Magnormos and New Musicals Australia are so important. We need to look to our own and nurture them so that our own stories can be told. I hope that this will be better recognised and established."
The life of such a busy person can only get busier. After Milk and Honey, Avigail has committed to several projects including recording tracks for a new musical, running workshops and master classes, and performing her acclaimed one-woman cabaret Hey World, Here I Am – The Streisand Story.
With a team of directors that boasts a powerhouse like Avigail Herman, it is more than safe to say that Magnormos has done it again. The multi-talented production teams and casts of the triptych have been hard at work to bring these shows to life. As with all great and accomplished performers, storytelling is of the utmost importance to Avigail: "Therefore, the production elements are simple, leaving much room for the actors to play and create this special world into which we invite the audience…I am sure they will leave inspired and buoyed by its youthful vigour and energy and by the talent and craft of the actors on stage."