An exciting new piece of musical theatre is opening in Melbourne next week. Theatre People sat down with some of the cast and crew to discuss the journey.
‘It’s May 1941. High school student Sarah arrives for her first day at Bridgeman College in San Francisco, California. Sarah is from England and has experienced war firsthand, having survived the bombing of London during the early years of World War II.
The local students seem untroubled by a far-off war in Europe and are looking forward to a holiday on Decoration Day. Baseball, music, dancing, and who’s dating who are their main worries, but their world is about to change forever.’
Decoration Day is a new musical written and composed by Australian artists Laura and Trevor Thomas, combining jazz with contemporary music, dance, and an engaging coming of age story.
Both Laura and Trevor are history buffs, which is where a lot of their inspiration came from when creating Decoration Day.
‘The 40’s is one of my favourite eras and it gave us an exciting musical opportunity to combine 40’s jazz and swing with a more modern music theatre sound.’
‘Laura and I saw an opportunity to combine our skills and experiences in music and Theatre to tell a story in song that we hoped will move and entertain audiences. Laura, being a Teacher also saw an opportunity to write something that High Schools could potentially perform, given her experiences in schools and more broadly in Musical Theatre.’
When asked to describe Decoration Day, Laura called it ‘an exploration of a dynamic and challenging time in history, its impact on young people and the resulting consequences for their futures; tied together with a recognition of the past and its effects on both the present and future.’
Directing and producing a brand new musical has its own unique set of challenges, which were eagerly met and mounted by both Laura and her father Thomas. ‘The challenge for me was less in directing my own work, which I found creatively fulfilling and exciting, and more so in producing the work. There are so many different considerations and challenges to putting forward a piece of theatre, particularly with a new show, both dad and I ended up wearing a lot of different hats and that juggling act was a challenge.’
As composer and musical director of Decoration Day, Trevor’s challenges were a little different. ‘From a musical direction and vision perspective, getting the scores into a shape took much more effort than anticipated. This includes getting notation to a place that others can effectively interpret, while still developing certain aspects of the work in parallel, has certainly been a challenge.’
The large cast aged between 20 and 35, plus ‘one adorable eight year old’, has enjoyed the collaborative nature of working on a new piece. ‘It has felt very refreshing. Old work falls victim too often to old conventions and stale direction and no deviation from a carbon-copy, cardboard-cutout original production. Here, we ARE the original production, so everything we bring to the table is a fresh idea and a brand new creation’ says Jye Cannon who plays Paul.
‘Each individual has the liberty of exploring and interpreting their character and the nuances that develop around their understanding of their experiences, perspectives and relationships. What is unique is the chemistry that sparks around that, and how each character influences the next with a sense of qualifying the other and brings a very real shape to their own and the content of the show itself.’
Tayla Muir is bringing to life the character Joan. Tayla has found working on Decoration Day an incredibly rewarding experience, and she can’t wait to bring the story to life each night, but has one moment in particular she looks forward to each time. ‘One of my favourite moments in the show would be the finale. The song is stunning – it’s an ensemble piece with amazing harmonies and it intertwines different pieces from the show. Whilst being an ensemble piece, there are moments focused on each character where you see how they truly feel about their journey and where they are headed for the future. The contrast of each character’s emotion is beautiful.’
‘That’s like being asked which of your children you like best, although, I don’t have any children’, says Laura when asked her favourite moment that she has written. ‘I have many favourite moments in the show, but there are two particular numbers in the show that come to mind – a song called ‘No Doubt’, which juxtaposes two different perspectives of the same event – and another song called ‘My Father Loves Me’, which is a kind of homage to our father-daughter relationship; although I will add that dad does not have the same struggles as the father referenced in the song, it’s not verbatim, but the relationship and love that exists between the characters is definitely reflective of our relationship.’
Decoration Day opens on 25 October and plays until 27 October. Tickets are available from http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/decoration-day/