Music Theatre Melbourne (MTM) is proud to bring Paris: A Rock Odyssey to Melbourne audiences in a strictly limited season, as a tribute to the late Jon English.
The concert production is the first professional production of Jon English’s Paris, a rock musical inspired by the Trojan War. It tells the story of Paris, Prince of Troy, and Helen, the Greek Queen.
Bringing together cast members from the original recording and a range of talented new performers, Music Theatre Melbourne is committed to helping up-and-comers make their mark on the industry by pairing them up with more seasoned performers.
The varied main cast features John Waters, Ben Mingay, Tim Freedman, Matthew Manahan, Madeleine Featherby, Brian Mannix, Scott Johnson, Kerrie-Anne Greenland, Mark Dickinson, Tod Strike, John O’May, Cameron Macdonald, Shirley Bowen, Annie Aitken, Daniel Cosgrove, Jack O’Riley, Jordon Mahar and Caitlin Quinn. They are supported by an exceptional and large ensemble.
Madeleine Featherby and Matthew Manahan are playing lead roles Helen and Paris respectively, an exciting step for both of them, given their recent graduation from their musical theatre courses at WAAPA and NIDA.
“It’s so hard to get your ‘foot in the door’ in this industry so it’s amazing that a company like MTM can provide a platform to promote younger performers on such a large scale, and in the company of such amazing, well-known actors,” Featherby said.
“It’s not often that you get to work with such incredibly talented, well-known actors like John Waters and Ben Mingay!
“I think the company also goes that extra mile to really make a show the best it can be. They don’t cut corners – whatever it takes, it takes!”
The role is a dream come true for Featherby, someone who grew up listening to and loving the Paris soundtrack.
“I’ve always wanted to play Helen of Troy. It has been a dream of mine since I was about 13 years old,” she said.
“So, to actually have the opportunity to play the character, and in such a massive production, is mind-blowing!
“I feel I could learn a lot from the cast members and I plan to make the most of every moment I get to spend with them.”
Neil Gooding is directing and Isaac Hayward is the musical director for MTM’s Paris. Bringing their wealth of knowledge and experience to the show is another point of excitement for the cast. Daniel Cosgrove, playing Aeneas, feels that this helps guide his motivation.
“Listening to the incredibly detailed orchestrations that Isaac has put together, you can just tell how hard he works,” Cosgrove said.
“If your creatives work that hard it just pushes you to want to work harder yourself.”
Scott Johnson, playing Hector, is looking forward to returning to work with some familiar faces.
“I worked with Neil and Tim Freedman on The Whitlams’ musical workshop, and I’ve worked several times with Isaac including a record I made a few years ago,” Johnson said.
“It will be a pleasure to work together again.”
Caitlin Quinn, playing Athena, shares the passion of the team in their endeavour to produce quality Australian works.
“Isaac is a musical genius so what’s not to be excited about!” Quinn said.
“Neil has a great reputation for championing music theatre in Australia and supporting the success of homegrown talent.
“He has directed some amazing productions over the years so it’s a wonderful opportunity to be working with him.”
The importance of producing Australian works has been brought back into the spotlight after the noticeable lack of them in the Helpmann Awards nominations this year, so having a director as passionate about doing so is immensely welcome. Cosgrove feels the poignancy of this situation.
“Supporting Australian work is always fantastic,” he said.
“It helps bring new ideas to the musical theatre community and it gets people talking.
“It’s unfortunate that Australian works aren’t consistently done on this scale, but it’s a privilege to be involved with a company backing Australian work.”
The cast all agree that the finale of Act 1 “Hell or High Water”, sung by Paris, will be a crowd favourite, with most describing it as “epic” and “vocally impressive”. Manahan, as Paris, is thankful to be working with such a remarkable group of people.
“Because Paris is quite a vocally challenging role, they’ve definitely given me the permission to experiment with the text,” Manahan said.
“I’ve been having music calls with Isaac over the past few weeks and we’ve had a blast working through this score.
“It’s kind of funny how it works. Sometimes you can just click with your creative team and that’s exactly what has happened with Paris.”
He also shares Featherby’s excitement over the cast he’ll be working with.
“To be able to work with such iconic Australian artists, all under the one roof? It’s a bit of a dream,” he said.
“When the official cast announcement came out, I couldn’t tell who was more excited, my parents or me!
“I grew up listening to a lot of these artists at home with mum and dad so it’s pretty special to be collaborating with them now.”
John O’May, playing Priam, comes from the more experienced end of the spectrum in the cast. He appreciates that Music Theatre Melbourne make it their mission to nurture a welcoming atmosphere in a sometimes-cutthroat industry.
“The youngest graduate can bring the same level of commitment and excitement to work as can someone with fifty years’ experience,” he said.
“That is what makes the arts such a great thing; that age doesn’t matter when it comes down to talent.
“To be involved in a little-done work with people you like and respect, created by icons of the business, is always exciting.”
The Trojan War has been depicted in many ways over the years. From Homer’s The Iliad to the film Troy, this war is pervasive and has become visually striking, summoning up images of the Trojan Horse and lending itself to idioms involving Achilles’ Heel. Johnson has a fond memory of Homer’s epic poem.
“I remember first reading The Iliad in my early 20’s and loved it,” he said.
“It’ll be a real pleasure to tell this story with such a great bunch of performers.”
The prolific story, and this musical it has inspired, has found its home in the hearts of the cast.
“I became fascinated with the myth of the Trojan War, and the detail and intricacy of the story,” Featherby said.
“It wasn’t just your stock standard ‘boy meets girl’ love story.
“There are so many underlying stories, sub-plots and themes. I could go on forever!”
Cosgrove finds the imperfections of the characters a particular highlight of the story.
“I actually really like how the dynamics of power change throughout the musical,” he said.
“No one always has complete power; it changes time and time again and shows that each character is flawed.
“I feel it makes each character much more humane and relatable which is important in a story about Greek Mythology.”
Jon English maintained his rocker image all through his musical theatre ventures, leaving a void in the entertainment industry when he died last year. Luckily, through Paris and his other work, his legacy will live on.
“I grew up listening to the soundtrack of Paris (from the age of 13) and I instantly fell in love with the music,” Featherby said.
“To be part of this production will most likely be a career highlight for me and an experience that I will treasure forever.
“I really hope that this production catapults Paris to the level of acknowledgement and appreciation it deserves.”
Manahan echoes Featherby’s sentiments wholeheartedly, reflecting on the influences that the rest of English’s career had on Paris.
“One of my favourite musicals is Jesus Christ Superstar, in particular the role of Judas. That’s a bucket list role,” he said.
“Jon English of course played Judas, so when I listened to the full cast-recording of Paris, I could hear influences from his time on JCS.
“Personally, I think this might be a tiny bit better. Can I say that? Probably not, but I will.”
Quinn is relishing the opportunity to be involved in such an important moment in Australian musical theatre history.
“It’s clear that MTM regards Jon English in the highest regard and it’s important that his legacy lives on and Australia get to witness some of his best work,” Quinn said.
The staging had been planned since before English’s death, so being able to continue, and indeed even have his son as part of the orchestra, makes this production that much more special.
“I think it’s fair to say Paris is an under-appreciated piece of work, so the fact it’s only being staged professionally now is surprising,” Manahan said.
“But I think MTM have gathered the right people to do it. And I think Australia will love it.”
The strictly limited season of Paris: A Rock Odyssey is on at the Melbourne Recital Centre Thursday 13 July – Saturday 15 July 2017 for four shows only.
Tickets are available for purchase via the Melbourne Recital Centre website.