William Smith returned to Melbourne after living in Britain and a surge of patriotism swept over him. Happy to be home, Smith started writing songs about Australian history: the convicts, the explorers and the Anzacs.

“I’m a rocker, I’m not really a musical theatre person, and I decided I was going to write a rock opera. About the same time, I read this amazing book about Albert Jacka. I learnt about this most famous of the Anzacs that is now forgotten and it just seems such a terrible shame. This guy was like a real life Chuck Norris – he was nuts, Albert Jacka. I mean you couldn’t write the story. The things he pulled off seem just totally implausible,” explained Smith, enthusiastically.

“Albert Jacka was the first Australian to be awarded the Victorian Cross at Gallipoli. He became the poster boy of the war. His face was on all the recruitment posters. He epitomised the Anzacs,” added Smith.

It was back in 2010 when Smith first read the book, Hard Jacka, by Michael Lawriwsky. Smith was immediately captivated by the story of Albert Jacka – his daring, his skills, his strength of character. Smith explains Albert Jacka was a man who demonstrated the great Australian characteristics of loyalty, integrity and egalitarianism. However, Albert Jacka was also a man of considerable paradox. He had a strong sense of duty and yet also rebelled against authority at the time.

“He was the toughest bastard ever. If he wasn’t so famous he wouldn’t have gotten away with it,” laughed Smith.

Smith loved the book so much it seemed logical to base the rock opera he had already planned to write around this book. He sought permission from the author to create the story into a musical and commenced writing the music at the end of 2012.

Smith was part of the band, HMAS Vendetta and started playing some of the songs he’d written to his audiences and discovered they were well received. However, writing songs is not the same as writing a full musical. He knew he’d need to write a love song and at least one epic battle song. Once Smith had completed those tasks to his satisfaction he realised this might actually work. He took a a two week country sabbatical in 2013 and spent the time rereading the book and “smashing out a song a day”.

“It was the most productive period of my life!” said Smith.

Within two weeks Smith had written most of the musical. He returned to Melbourne, finished the script and added some extra songs.

Smith reflected on the process of writing this musical and the difference required in writing songs “to order” for a musical rather than just random songs. The first thing he did was divide the book into chunks and write each episode of the story onto a page. He then decided what to keep in the musical and whether to represent this via a song or as dialogue. He then had to decide the tempo of each song, as this would convey the mood. Finally he had to consider the central lyrics of each song. The end result, a new musical called Jacka VC.

“It’s going to be a high impact show. What’s been pretty thrilling for me is entering into the music rehearsals,” said Smith, excited to finally hear his music performed.

Smith describes Jacka VC as being a show with large slices of traditional musical theatre served with rock. Despite his rock background, Smith has also drawn on some more traditional aspects of musical theatre. He regards his song ‘To Be An Officer One Has To Be A Gentleman’ to be similar to the stylings of Gilbert and Sullivan, while his love song ‘What Might Have Been’ is reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Smith expects the rock stylings of Jacka VC will appeal to the 15 to 35 year old demographic but hopes older theatre goers will also come along to support the show. Smith wants to introduce the next generations to the story of the Anzacs. It’s also a show for people of all ethnicities.

“I’m very pleased to say we have a Turkish person in the show, so everyone is welcome,” said Smith.

As we celebrate the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli, most of us would be unaware of the name of our very first recipient of the Victoria Cross and the incredible true story of Albert Jacka. Jacka VC hopes to change that. Not only will it provide audiences with an insight into this remarkable war hero.

Smith acknowledges the Anzacs is a subject matter that deserves respect, “It’s our job to do the story justice.”

World premiere season of Jacka VC

DAREBIN ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE

Friday 9 October 8pm Saturday 10 October 2pm and 8pm

Tickets $38 / $34 Concession, Veterans, RSL members

http://www.darebinartscentre.com.au

Phone: (03) 8470 8282

CAPITAL THEATRE BENDIGO

17 October 2015 8pm

Tickets $38 / $34 Concession, Veterans, RSL members

http://www.thecapital.com.au

Phone: (03) 5434 6100

Jacka VC

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