Established in 1953, the Melbourne Theatre Company or MTC, is a subscription – driven organisation based in Southbank. For more than sixty years, the firm has developed a reputation for staging solid classical and contemporary content. Featuring both local and international source material, this season their wide mix of mainstream and experimental artistic choices includes:
- John (by Annie Baker)
- Faith Healer (by Brian Friel)
- Melbourne Talam (by Rashma N. Kalsie)
- Three Little Words (by Joanna Murray – Smith)
- Minnie & Liraz (by Lally Katz)
- Macbeth (by William Shakespeare)
- Noises Off (by Michael Frayn)
- Di and Viv and Rose (by Amelia Bullmore)
- Hay Fever (by Noel Coward)
- The Father (by Florian Zeller)
- Vivid White (by Eddie Perfect)
Born Yesterday kicks off the MTC’s 2017 calendar with a loud and colourful bang.
A shining example from Broadway’s Golden Age, this savvy comedy – drama premiered in New York City more than seventy years ago. Written and directed by the legendary Garson Kanin, his gripping tale of political corruption in Washington D.C. is as searing and relevant now as it was in 1946.
The original production made a huge star out of Judy Holliday.
As Billie Dawn, Holliday embodied the quintessential dumb blonde ex – showgirl. That is, until a deal is struck between her character’s boyfriend, Harry Brock (played by Paul Douglas), and a newspaper reporter, Paul Verrall (Gary Merrill), to essentially make her over.
So that Dawn is less of a public embarrassment to Brock, Verrall agrees to be both her teacher and guide. Soon, the pair fall secretly in love. Meanwhile, Dawn slowly learns the shocking truth behind Brock’s business concerns.
Born Yesterday ran for over three years and 1,642 performances. It has had two Broadway revivals since in 1989 (starring Madeline Kahn, Ed Asner and Daniel Hugh Kelly) and 2011 (with Nina Arianda, Jim Belushi and Robert Sean Leonard).
The play was adapted for the screen in 1950, winning Holliday a Best Actress Academy Award in the process. Brock was played by Broderick Crawford, William Holden was Verrall, and direction was by George Kukor. In 1993, a glossy remake used Melanie Griffith, John Goodman, and Don Johnson.
(It should also be noted that Jackie Weaver headlined a highly – successful national tour here in 1983.)
Christie Whelan – Browne is known for a strong list of Australian theatre credits. Noted particularly for her precise comic timing, musical roles that have showcased this innate ability include The Rocky Horror Show, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Singin’ In The Rain, The Producers, and Xanadu. For the MTC, Whelan – Browne appeared in The Drowsy Chaperone, The Importance of Being Earnest, and most recently, The Odd Couple.
On the basis of this impressive resume, casting Whelan – Browne as Bille Dawn seems like a logical conclusion. If you will excuse the pun, she was born to play and make this iconic part her own. Through Kanin’s updated take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Whelan – Browne draws focus with quirky intelligence and a unique flair.
This isn’t the first time the MTC has employed an established musical theatre performer to star in a straight play. In 2014 Lucy Durack was in Private Lives, and later this year, Marina Prior will feature in Hay Fever. (Interestingly, both pieces are light comedies from Noel Coward.)
Thanks to the formidable supporting cast, Whelan – Browne holds the stage with actors of equal standing to play against.
As her tough – guy boyfriend, Harry Brock, Russell Dykstra is the villain audiences will love to hate. Further, Dykstra’s vocal inflections and raw physical presence mirror the swagger and blind arrogance of a certain incoming American leader, too.
Joel Jackson is suave, smart, and a little bit sexy as Paul Verrall. Sharing legitimate chemistry with Whelan – Browne, it is easy to see why her character falls for him.
Tyler Coppin is appropriately flustered as Ed Devery, Brock’s doorway into deal – making. Chris Fortuna plays Brock’s dim – bulb brother and right arm, Eddie, with menacing charm.
Richard Piper, Heidi Arena and Josh Gates all play multiple roles with expert definition.
Dean Bryant’s balanced direction references Kanin’s pacing with Kukor’s sophisticated air, maintaining audience interest throughout.
Designed by Dale Ferguson, the two – tiered hotel room set is a luxurious throwback to big – budget motion pictures of the past. Given the play’s location, it comes as no surprise that its Neo – Regency interior and antique props make strong references to the White House as well.
A stunning spiral staircase dividing both levels. To the right of the stage, a huge image of the Washington Monument looms thick and tall behind a glass – panelled balcony. It may also be wry reference to which gender dominates the town, as well as the bully ruling over Dawn’s life for much of the story.
Ferguson is also responsible for the stunning costuming, where each performer’s clothing helps to define both their status and to some degree, acting choices.
Lighting (by Matt Scott) is bold and bright, painting the narrative with subtle mood changes, as well as indicating different times of day, too.
Matthew Frank’s incidental music composition is playful and appropriate to the post – war era time – frame. Sound engineering is excellent, and in full support of Leith McPherson’s crisp vocal and dialect coaching.
Andrew Hallsworth adds a touch of glitter with his moments of acrobatic choreography. Realistic fighting was created by Felicity Steel.
Julia Smith’s stage management (with assistance from Meg Richardson) keeps the action smooth and fluid.
The MTC has created a production faultless in casting and technical execution. Given the world’s mass – concern surrounding the United States’ recent electoral handover, Born Yesterday’s strictly – limited season could not be more timely or pertinent.
Don’t miss it!