I Can Jump Puddles  The Musical.

by Brenda Clarke

Book & Lyrics by Terence O’Connell, Music & Orchestration by Xavier Brouwer, I Can Jump Puddles The musical had a reading at CentreStage Performing Arts School Brunswick Sunday 1st Dec 2019.

Against a backdrop of a heavy Melbourne downpour, the cast (comprising both adults and children) and musicians did brilliantly well keeping focus and performing in front of an enthusiastic invited theatre industry audience.

The show is based upon the book by Alan Marshall (rather than the tv series) and portrays a young country Australian boy’s struggle with Polio around 1910.    The musical has had two workshop stages of development and already shows signs of great heart, good humour and exciting possibilities for future growth.

Anna Mitsikas the Musical Director kept a kind eye and a steady hand on the proceedings as well as playing keyboard.  She was accompanied by Nick Miceli on Fiddle, Sarah Bond Flute/Piccolo as well as two actors doubling up with musical instruments; Don Bridges on Guitar/Mandolin/Bodhran and who also performed the role of Travelling Man, and Anthony Craig who portrayed the Father and also played the Banjo/Guitar.  With this small band, Xavier was giving us a glimpse of his musical arrangements that covered both an Aussie bush style with a mix of modern musical theatre.  The mothers’ ballad performed by Sophie Stokes was sublime, as was “I Can Jump Puddles” brilliantly sung by the 13 year old “Alan”, Oliver Burnes.  He was supported by two terrific teenage actors, Desiree Katakis in the role of Maggie and Nicholas Dugdale who played Freddie.  Another voice supporting the vocals of the children/ensemble was Olivia Brouwer, and Abi Richardson performed the role of Mrs Carruthers, the wealthy landowner calling the shots in town.

Terence is envisaging the scenic design for the show to be influenced by the paintings of Russell Drysdale eg:

“Sofala” (1947 Russell Drysdale)

There has been a plethora of musical imports over the last decade from America as well as England (including juke box musicals) and the tide is slowing turning towards making our own shows.  We need to nurture and develop our unique Australian stories that represent our culture and that will resonate and ring true with local audiences.

Musicals in the USA have many years of preparation before they get to Broadway and have what’s commonly known as “out of town tryouts” to iron out any wrinkles prior to going to the “big white way”.  It is particularly difficult in Australia when trying to get new works up and running especially as there is so much competition and so little money when it comes to funding these new works.

It is imperative that new Australian musicals such as “I Can Jump Puddles” get support from not only the Government but from other funding bodies and Philanthropic Organisations.  Creative people such as Terence and Xavier deserve to be paid for the many hours of work devising, creating, composing, arranging and dedication to get a project up and running.  The time spent on collaboration, presenting readings, gaining feedback, doing re-writes, re-thinking the show as a whole, just doesn’t happen overnight.

The creative team are hoping that the next goal for them will be to present a more staged performance to fill the musical with movement and choreography to emphasise that having a physical disability doesn’t mean that you can’t move and take part in life.  This will be achieved using props such as a go cart built by Alan’s father, a wooden wheelchair, a puppet horse that Alan learns to ride and of course Alan’s signature timber crutches.  Terence, also the director of the piece, has some great ideas about a Dream Ballet sequence that was demonstrated at the reading (choreographed by Yvette Lee) and which will surely pull at the heartstrings of an audience, where Alan dreams he can once again walk, run and literally jump puddles.

Child actors from the reading: Desiree Katakis as “Maggie, Oliver Burnes as “Alan” and Nicholas Dugdale as “Freddie.

This production shows great promise and it is well worth taking the time and effort to develop the piece to reach its full potential.


Images: Jodie Hutchinson