One of Australia’s most unassuming theatre treasures was honoured with a one night only Songbook Gala presented by Home Grown at Chapel Off Chapel this week.
Nick Enright was an Australian theatre treasure: a writer, director and teacher , working for NIDA and WAAPA, writing radio drama, plays, musicals, and he was the first Australian playwright to be nominated for a Tony Award. A multi-award winning writer, he wrote 12 musicals and many plays, including The Venetian Twins (1979), On the Wallaby (1980), Variations (1982), Summer Rain (1983), Orlando Rourke (1985), Miracle City (1996) and perhaps his most well known musical The Boy From Oz opening in 1998 and seen by more than 1.2 million people before opening on Broadway in 2003. He had a myriad of writing partners, including Terence Clarke, Alan John, Max Lambert, Glen Henrich and David King. He is also known for iconic plays Blackrock, Daylight Saving, Mongrels and Cloudstreet, Tim’ Winton’s novel adapted for the stage with Justin Monjo.
Sadly, Enright passed away at age 52, in 2003, from cancer, but his legacy in theatre lives on. His works often deal with lower and middle class Australians in a sympathetic and insightful way, as well as journeys and relationships with religion. He has a real way with words and uses Australian slang and local language in his works, so the songs sang with Australian accents is very refreshing. Enright was not a fan of the ruthlessness of the commercial world; he found it unattractive, and was a selfless and generous advisor to many.
Home Grown presented a selection of songs from 10 of his 12 musicals, performed by some of Australia’s biggest voices and hosted by the wonderful David Harris. Harris, who is from Maitland, just like Enright, spoke of his deep personal connection with Enright and the advice he had given Harris as a young performer, as well as speaking with deep admiration of his legacy.
“Acting is always about being simple and truthful”, Harris was advised. His performance of ‘Jindyworoback’ from The Venetian Twins had the audience chortling, and embraced the colour of Australian slang and accents.
The night was very much like that advice: Simple and truthful, with a lot of heart and energy as each performer took to the stage to perform a song from the vast collection of works. The women seemed to have the best run of numbers, from Kerrie Anne Greenland ruling ‘The Ballad of Eulalia Horne’ (She Rose Above It) from Orlando Rourke, backed up by Baylie Carson and Andrew Kroenert, to the highly emotive ‘I’ll Hold On’ from Miracle City, performed by Queenie van De Zandt and one of my favourite highlights of the evening, ‘Your Name is On My Heart’ from Mary Bryant, absolutely slayed by Hilary Cole.
A stunning and powerful duet between Zoy Frangos and Jonathan Hickey called ‘The Father I Dream’ from The Good Fight, and ‘You Might Miss The Mongrel’ from Summer Rain, performed by Sophie Carter and Johanna Allen brought out the chemistry and humour in the songs and characters Enright created. Every song performed on the night, by up and coming or well known Aussie talent, showed the incredible depth, variety and heart in Enright’s work.
Some issues with microphones, forgotten lyrics and the surprise appearance of a possum in the theatre weren’t able to dampen the pride and inspiration Enright has instilled in the industry.
Closing the show with ‘New Day Dawning’ from Orlando Rourke, Greenland and Frangos were joined by a group of VCA Music Theatre Students. Enright previously commissioned Summer Rain specifically to feature a role for everyone in that year’s graduating class at WAAPA, so it felt a fitting tribute to feature these students, as well as 2016 Rob Guest Endowment runner up Genevieve Kingsford, and Jonathan Hickey (both having their first major Australian roles in The Light in the Piazza this year) and other young performers included in this performance.
An absolutely stellar night of performances, of too many songs and stars to name, but a wonderful tribute to one of Australia’s greatest theatrical names. Home Grown, under the direction of Jason Langley and the fabulous accompaniment of Michael Tyack on piano and with the help of Chapel Off Chapel, City of Stonnington, MTI Australiasia and Hedger and Nicholson, put on a delightful show that would be delightful to see tour or make a comeback in the future.
Photo credit: David Peake