Julia Sutherland pulls up a Brentwood with Twisted Broadway producers, The Benge Group.

They're ba-ack! The Benge Group are about to twist our Broadway sensibilities once more. And this year, it's   quite the extravaganza, and then some.

The Twisted Broadway concept remains the same; stars of the professional stage perform songs originally written for the opposite sex, and all proceeds go to Oz Showbiz Cares: Equity Fights AIDS. But Twisted 2011 is different. Producer Kate Macdonald sums it up in two emphatic words, “BIGGER and BETTER!”

Bigger is right. Bigger venue for starters. Twisted Broadway now takes up residence at Fed Square's BMW Edge. And the cast size has grown a tad, too. “We've gone from a cast of sixteen to a cast of fifty,” says Daniel Benge, matter-of-factly. Fifty? Yep, you heard correctly.

Following last year's success, The Benge Group were inundated with performers wanting to be a part of this year's Twisted Broadway, and the calibre of performers was just too impressive to cull. “Kate and I feel so privileged that so many want to get involved,” says Daniel, “Hence we have a small army.” The cast (full list of which you can find here: https://www.theatrepeople.com.au/features/twisted-broadway-2011-cast-list) is brimming with eager talent from Rock of Ages, Next to Normal, Mary Poppins and pretty much every successful professional production staged in Melbourne in recent memory. A bumper crop, indeed.

But the largeness of scale doesn't end with the cast and venue. Chuck in “a plethora of group numbers, a band, choreography, a lot more dancers and performers playing their own instruments,” and you're starting to get an impression of the new face of Twisted Broadway.

Kate is thrilled with the cast dynamic. “Our cast is a big family. They all want to know what the others are doing, they all support each other and the feeling really is like that of any cast that has been working on a show for 6 months solid…Over the past few days I have had a number of calls from James (James Simpson – Musical Director) who is rehearsing with the cast and he keeps saying 'Kate, I know I keep saying this, but *insert cast member here * is phenomenal.”'

As for repertoire, Kate reveals, “There are the old favourites like Sondheim and Rogers and Hart and your newbies like Lippa and JRB.”
“As eclectic as it gets!” confirms Daniel, “Contemporary scores, classic, crowd-pleasers, and of course, some stuff that most people never even knew existed.  Let’s just say that the show is filled with many 'release the doves' moments.” Daniel is visibly peaking at the mention of the final number, though he won't reveal anymore, preferring to keep us all in suspenders.

If this is the extent to which Twisted Broadway has grown in the 9 short months since its birth, shall we book our tickets for the 2012 Twisted Broadway Arena Spectacular now? “The show will inevitably run with the times,” says Daniel. “It will change every year according to the casts that are in Australia, as well as the response we get from the audience. It will never remain stagnant, and we will continue to think of innovative and creative ways of showing off the talent.” World domination next? “There are plans to expand the event to encompass other cities, yes.”

Gen Y detractors take note…Initiative and application are clearly not the exclusive domain of us 30-plus stalwarts. Kate and Daniel both speak so passionately about their mission, and both appear a little underslept in that brilliant I'm-doing-something-I-love-so-the-exhaustion-is-actually-intoxicating way. What a trip for such huge theatre enthusiasts to be spending their time hanging (albeit in a very focused fashion) with the who's who of Australian musical theatre.

I want a little inside information. Rapid fire, let's go. Of all these fabulous names, who has the best…

…Hair : “Nick Eaton. No question.” (Kate)
“Definitely the wig Lisa Adam wears as Amy Housewine – it is MASSIVE.” (Daniel),

…Laugh: “Leah Howard” (Kate), “Leah Howard.” (Daniel)

…Belt : “Sam Hagen” (Daniel)
“My man of the moment is Todd Strike, my lifelong commitment is with John O'Hara.” (Kate)

The breathtaking pace at which Kate and Daniel multitask and mould their baby into shape makes one wonder if there's much they can't do. What on Earth is next for The Benge Group? “Can’t say! We are in the process of developing a couple of projects but it’s all very secret.” More suspenders from Daniel. Kate is no less zip-lipped, “Post July 18th, Daniel and I are hoping to get to bed before 3am for one whole month! Once we come out of hibernation, and Twisted Broadway 2011 has been a raging success, you will start to hear more from us regarding upcoming projects.”

To help ensure said roaring success, and that the coffers of good will runneth over, book your tickets, rouge your knees and hold onto your hats. We'll see you there for what is not just a mammoth fundraiser, but the event destined to become the highlight of the musical theatre calendar.