After a successful debut in MTC’s 2016 Season, new Australian musical Ladies in Black has returned in 2017 with Queensland Theatre’s national tour. Based on Madeleine St John’s popular 1993 novel, The Women in Black, this luscious show is generous with juicy characters, sublime visuals and miraculous music.
At first impressions, a musical about a girl working in a department store may not sound like it’s going to be particularly riveting. She’s finished high school and waiting for her score before she makes any big university decisions and has gotten a summer job in the mean time. It’s a fairly common story in our lives, except this is Sydney in 1959 and women are fighting to be more than housewives and secretaries.
As Lisa (Sarah Morrison), our poetry-obsessed school leaver, would know, one should never judge a book by its cover. This is a story of a young woman finding her place in the world, without a guy sweeping her off her feet. Her guy is merely another piece of her life, while she’s on her way supported by brilliant women.
At F.G. Goodes, Lisa meets an array of women of all ages, sizes and shapes. These women work their way into our hearts with impeccable charm and authenticity. Director Simon Phillips allows the characters to drive the narrative and Carolyn Burns’ book is intricately woven to let these stories fly.
Lisa is the quirky country girl trying to find her way in the big city. Morrison’s warmth and vulnerability help make this precious young woman shine as she traverses through the complicated situation of an unknown future. Her regular solos allow her voice to soar. This entire cast is magnificent.
Ellen Simpson as Fay is a clear crowd favourite, bringing her relatable and bubbly persona to the girl waiting for Mr Right. Bobby Fox as Rudi brings hilarity and pizazz, with his impeccable dancing allowing Andrew Hallworth’s sensational choreography to have the spotlight. This partnering is vibrant, and Simpson and Fox work exceptionally well together.
Madeleine Jones and Tamlyn Henderson as Patty and Frank respectively are raw and entirely real. Jones brings a delightful sensitivity to the role, where Henderson plays up his burliness to create a character justifying the inclusion of “Bastard Song”.
Carita Farrer Spencer’s Mrs Miles is the mum we all know wishing the very best for her daughter. She’s funny and supportive, and Spencer gives a truly heart-warming performance. Greg Stone’s Mr Miles and Stefan are significantly different roles but the experienced actor handles them with grace and ease. Magda, Lisa’s mentor from seemingly another world, is sumptuous and charming as portrayed by Natalie Gamsu.
Trisha Noble’s Miss Jacobs is touching and a gentle surprise, where her Mrs Crown is boisterous and witty. Kate Cole and Kathryn McIntyre round out this sensational cast with their smooth voices and precise comedic timing. These characters are people that we most likely know already, with their remarkably genuine personalities.
Australian accents are something that will always be wonderful ringing out through an auditorium. Combining them with Tim Finn’s superb music and lyrics is nothing short of magical. The wit and charisma it takes to deliver performances such as “Bastard Song” and “I Just Kissed a Continental” are engrained in Australian humour, ensuring this is a musical for all. The six-person band delivers this decadent music with finesse.
Listening to audience reactions from the now outdated views of “higher education is just for men” and various sexist and casual xenophobic remarks is interesting. It’s fairly easy to pick out the different generations. The opportunity to aim for university without many questions is something relatively new for women. While the majority of the show remains light-hearted, these serious themes are present and have the power to create interesting post-show conversations.
Gabriela Tylesova’s gorgeous set and costumes keep things simple yet elegant. The stage is never cluttered and allows room for the audience’s imagination to contribute, and the numerous revolves help create swift scene changes and dynamic choreography. All production elements are crisp and create a sophisticated show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
It’s always a thrill to be part of a standing ovation at the Regent Theatre. Full of rich stories and delectable moments, this heartfelt show earned every moment of applause. The music and stories make this musical accessible to non-theatre lovers and theatre buffs alike.
This show is for the clever girls out there. It’s for those of us who love clever girls and want to inspire future clever girls. Seeing a group of fantastic women representing a variety of ladies who support each other, all while being their incredible, flawed and strong selves, is a true treat in theatre.
Ladies in Black is on at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre until 18 March 2017.