As I re-read my last blog, from July, that ended with a defiant “I’ll be back!” kind of vibe, I guess I felt sheepish. I still haven’t gotten back into the blogging thing, after being so diligent for so long. But, I’m sitting here two days before I join my family for Xmas up in Byron Bay and at 2am this morning I finished the first draft of my last project for the year. I’m kind of on holidays and I thought I’d take the time to recap the year in work.
The first cab off the rank was the debut of In Vogue: Songs by Madonna and the return of Britney Spears: The Cabaret, both as part of the Midsumma Festival. Both ended up having sellout seasons, with Britney even playing an entire extra week of shows, before setting out on tour around Oz. This little show that premiered in 2009 has now played almost three months worth of seasons since then, a combination of the talent of Christie Whelan (now Whelan-Browne, another 2012 highlight – for her and Rohan, I wasn’t here), the perseverance of Lisa Campbell and Luckiest Productions and the fact that the show seems to touch people. Touch them and make them piss themselves. I think it’s probably wrapped up now, after playing Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but like the title character herself – I wouldn’t rule out another triumphant comeback. Meanwhile, the mother of reinvention herself was brought to life by a camp and low-voiced man, and my best friend and former flatmate, Michael Griffiths. He’s taken our naughty and beautifully musical show across the whole country and to New York City this year, while playing one of the leads of Jersey Boys. I still laugh myself silly when he shows off her book of snapshots, and talks us through the banalities of the Sex book. Michael and I are about to start work on our next diva collaboration – debuting next year in June.
Next up were two months of heaven – putting Priscilla up in Sao Paulo. The show closed last week and I was sad not to be there. Though not being at things kind of gets to be a trend in your life when you’re always on the other side of the world from people you love. I missed the aforementioned wedding because I was in Brazil, and the closing nights of both Broadway and Sao Paulo. On one hand, closing nights are over-rated and on the other hand, I’d like to be there to make that call for myself. Brazil was a two month celebration of brilliant people and actors, capirinhas, a visit to Rio and just generally having a brilliant time. The show was great, too.
I came home to put Josie in the Bathhouse into the Spiegeltent. I love this show because I love Josie Lane. She’s brave, she’s gorgeous, funny as fuck and I could listen to her voice forever. The show sold brilliantly in the tent – the Arts Centre were kicking themself that they didn’t program more shows – and we had a hoot putting our dirty little show up again, with the added talents of Ro-Hung. The newly married Mr Browne-Whelan showed yet again why he’s the gayest straight man who lived. Who’s also hot. Which is just not fair. To single people. Bizarrely, this show set in a gay sauna still hasn’t played to any gay audiences, really. I would love to see how it went down with the set that like to go down. Ok, I know straight people do that too, but I saw a pun and took it.
From Josie I flew up to Sydney to work on that other romp, An Officer and a Gentleman – The Musical. That was the hardest any of us have ever worked, I think. It’s the first time I’ve done a six-day rehearsal week with two of those days, then three, turning into 12 hour days. I’ve written four of my own original musicals before, but until this musical, I didn’t know how hard new musicals were! The cast were troupers. Literally. Or factory workers. Also basically literally. But a finer group of people were never assembled to tell a military-based musical before. It was hard to get up, then there was all that reviews drama, then we closed. It really was a kind of dirty little war. What I remember most fondly, though, were the wine-soaked debriefs after each day with the indefatigable director Simon, and his core creatives of Matt, Dale and Andy. If I had to be led into war again, I’d want to be right behind that man and his crew.
This would’ve been the point that I started working on developing a television show. Pretty much since the end of last year. It’s interesting, learning an entirely new medium. There’s not much to say about it, as it’s still so far from even becoming a real pilot, but it’s scary and good to feel like a real beginner at something. It’s also the life of a writer, creator, whatever, to have to keep lots of projects in existence all the time, as you don’t know what quirks of fate will make one of them suddenly go. Things can happen quickly, it just takes meeting someone, but if you’ve got nothing going on…nothing much is gonna go on. This was probably also the point I started working with Todd McKenney on his concert for later in the year. We hung out and chatted about his life, Peter Allen’s life, and over the course of a few meetings, strung together a skeleton for his show. This continued through till October.
I don’t keep a very clear diary, so I’m guessing that The Producers was next up. Perfect show. Perfect cast. Perfect experience. Brent and Wayne led a brilliant group of singing and dancing comedians, working so hard in such a short amount of time, to show off Mel Brook’s zany creation. It was a joy discovering just how funny this show actually was. And Andrew Hallsworth’s production numbers were exhilarating. We work together on everything. Literally. This year we’ve done Priscilla, Officer, Forum and Producers together. And Todd’s show, but we were only once in the same room for that. I love working with him, his sharpness in the room and his kindness outside of it. I’m very lucky that the collaboration of Simon Phillips and Ross Coleman begot the collaboration of Dean Bryant and Andrew Hallsworth. The Producers was especially enjoyable because Ken, John and Rachel at The Production Company always make you feel so good about yourself during the whole process. I was thrilled that everyone who worked on the show had such a good time together. I think it showed in the outcome.
Out of the blue, Mathew and I got offered a writing job. We were to create the songs for an episode of the upcoming Channel Ten show Mr and Mrs Murder. I can’t say anything about what the job was until it airs in February, but I can say that Fremantle and Ten were brilliant to work with. I think it’s the first time we’ve handed songs in and received congratulatory emails from a producer – I expected the TV world to be dismissive but maybe the novelty of what we were doing made them extra-enthusiastic. The songs were recorded beautifully and choreographed for the television by…Andrew Hallsworth, of course. It’s bizarre that the writing highlight of the year for us would be this, but it was.
I think I wrote a pilot next. It was really funny and it was good to get the ideas out there. It had about 40 characters, at least 10 of them actual celebrities. Since then I’ve watched a lot more comedy and pilots and realised that meeting just a few characters is hard enough, but 40? But it was invaluable research into how the world I was inventing talked and behaved. When I write the new pilot, with 8 characters and a few rooms, I’ll know a lot more.
Then it was off to London and Sweden to audition new casts for Priscilla. It’s touring the UK all of next year, starring Jason Donovan and Richard Grieve, and Andrew and I head off in two weeks to rehearse them in. London was in great weather all week. I caught up with friends and had the pleasure of seeing the best musical I’ve seen since Billy Elliot – Matilda. It just works. It’s charming, it’s intriguing, it’s cute, it’s moving – I just had a wonderful night at the theatre. Afterwards, too, when this slightly odd man and woman came up to tell me they adored my velvet jacket. It was nice and awkward in equal measures. Stockholm is a beautiful clean city full of beautiful clean people. Our hosts, Asa and Kristjan were as delightful as hosts could be, taking us to lovely dinners around the historic city.
Forum started rehearsals while I was finishing off casting. It’s still playing now at the Maj. There were a lot of famous funny people in that rehearsal room, famous for numerous and varied things. It was definitely the craziest rehearsal room I’ve been in – intentionally, as Simon wanted the show to have a manic, playful quality. Forum is a brilliant farce, with songs I grew to love (I knew Pacific Overtures better than I did Forum) so it was quite the process taking a bunch of different creative methods and impulses and making this piece of clockwork work. Geoffrey Rush was singing in this show, for the first time really. He came to our house to work with Matty for three months prior to rehearsals starting. He began to memorise the script at the same point. That level of detail and investigation for what many would say was “just a bit of fun” was testament to why he is one of our country’s greatest actors. It was invaluable to see just how hard you should work if you want to be an artist of that calibre. Even now he still invents every show, nine weeks after opening night.
And of course, Sondheim flew out to see the show. I got to chat to him for a half hour at drinks and it was…nerve-wracking, of course – you can’t help but put so much pressure on yourself to make this conversation count! He was affable, charming…we really just did small talk; jetlag, shows in New York, people in common etc. They say it’s dangerous to meet your heroes (and if I had one hero in the entire world, it would be him) because you’ll inevitably be disappointed. I saw that he was only a human and instead of being disappointed I was inspired again by the fact that those shows could come from that funny, normal man, and also that the level of adulation he has received for 40 years now hasn’t made him anything but kind and pleasant to all. I still would’ve like to talk about writing, but, who wouldn’t?
The visit also revitalised me in one way. Matty and I have been writing original musicals for 13 years now. They’ll pretty much all gone on and had lovely seasons and people love them. But lately I’ve struggled with what to write that has a bigger life, that gets seen by lots of people, that can get an audience that justifies the cost of big musicals. We’ve had our disappointments over the last few years and I’d gotten a bit “what the hell are we meant to write?” about it. But meeting Sondheim in the flesh, and hearing him talk at the afternoon chat made me remember – this man wrote what he wanted to, what he was interested in, what his collaborators suggested – and never what he thought would sell. It reminded me that to write and create for your own interest and pleasure is enough. And a much surer path to satisfaction than trying to find the project that will sell.
I thought once Forum was open, I’d be done for the year, but no – one of the balls thrown up in the air came back down again. I proposed a show for Midsumma’s 25th anniversary called Gaybies – a piece of verbatim theatre about children with gay parents. We were given the Sumner Theatre and suddenly, it was on! I hit the interview trail and over the last six weeks have met 27 people, talked to them about their lives and transcribed their words into a piece of theatre that will come to life in a month. I finished the first draft two days ago – the first time in my life I’ve finished on schedule! – and I feel good about it. It helps that the group of actors that are going to bring these people’s beautiful stories to life include favourites from all my shows over the last few years; Todd McKenney (Anything Goes), Virginia Gay (The Producers), Esther Hannaford (Once We Lived Here), Trevor Ashley (Liza), Christie Whelan-Browne (Britney), Alex Rathgeber (Experiment), Ben Mingay (Officer), Kate Kendall (Next to Normal), Gareth Keegan (Good Stuff), Brent Hill (The Producers) and newcomers Robert Tripolino (who’s swinging in Forum), Emily Milledge (did a workshop of my musical The Silver Donkey) and Georgia Scott (my good friend Phil’s daughter and a freshly minted WAAPA grad). Just typing that list I get excited…excited and sad as I’ll never actually see the show. It opens a week after I leave to direct the UK tour of Priscilla. The reins have been handed to up and coming director Daniel Clarke – he did the much-lauded Golden Dragon at MTC and Pornography at SATC this year, and is a verbatim theatre specialiste. I know come 8am on Thursday, January 17, I’ll be hovering over my iPhone, waiting to hear from my boyfriend how opening night went.
This is an example of what makes a life like this hard sometimes. Apart from missing my friends’ wedding this year and the closing of two shows with companies that I adored, missing seeing Gaybies at all really hurts. But you have to make choices that enable you to keep everything going forward. But dammit – being in the room on the opening nights of Once We Lived Here, Prodigal, Next to Normal and The Producers were moments of such bliss, when everything you and a group of people have worked towards is shared with another group of people, that it kind of pisses me off that these choices have to be made.
Next year will be good I think – there’s less of those jobs that keep me in a rehearsal room for weeks and time to imagine what I want to create. I’ve realised this year that I’m at my most content when I am creating – be it a musical, cabaret or piece of verbatim theatre – well, when I get the idea I’m content, then I’m stressed as I try to figure out how to, then content again when it’s working, then stressed again…etc etc. The balls are going up in the air as we speak – Josie Lane and I have a brilliant new idea for a show that basically allows her to belt for 70 minutes straight, Michael is arranging the songs of his new diva as we speak, that pilot is asking to be redone, and one of the gayby interviews gave me an idea for a movie that seems so perfect and Australian and camp-in-the-way-I-like that maybe I’ll venture over into that territory. And of course, Matty and I are due to write a new musical. Without worrying whether the audience will pay $140 a ticket for it.
And so, assuming the world doesn’t end tomorrow, there’s lots to look forward to.