I spent the week of Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve in my old hometown of Sydney and to what a smorgasbord of thoughts this sojourn led me. These musings were much, although not entirely, to do with the glittering theme of musical comedy.
To start with, there was the now-well-canvassed topic of Alan Jones treading the boards as Franklin D Roosevelt in Annie.
I would gladly have handed over my hard-earned notes to hear Jones express in song the virtues of the New Deal but, due to timing issues, this was not to be. Something that struck me equally about this production of Annie was that Miss Nancye Hayes is appearing in it, just as she did in the first Sydney one, back in 1979. Admittedly, she is playing a different part, that of Miss Hannigan, the virago who runs the orphanage, as opposed to Lily St Regis, the lurid girlfriend of Hannigan’s brother, the character that Hayes played back in the day. Even so, I always think that revisiting a work after two or three decades must cause you to be stalked absolutely everywhere you go by the white-bearded figure of Old Father Time, as was surely the case for the cast of The Last Picture Show, when they all had to hare back to small-town America for its sequel, Texasville, twenty years after the fact.
Anyway, the knowledge of this Harbour City revival of the Great-Depression-themed smash took me back to one of my happiest childhood memories – attending an ‘open audition’ for the original Sydney cast of Annie. I was not deterred by the fact that not only could I not sing, I was completely unfamiliar with the show – the first I heard of any part of it was the irritating, yet memorable, ‘Tomorrow’ being belted out by almost every other one of my many rivals. Now I wish that, simply in order to stand out, I’d elected to sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’, the Nazi singalong from Cabaret. I instead chose, for my audition to portray an orphan in the ‘Brother, can you spare a dime’ era, a rollicking number from The Boy Friend, the charming musical that was, in a ghastly manner, adapted for the screen in 1971 by mad old Ken Russell, and is set in the French Riviera, playground of the rich, in the Roaring Twenties.
While I, quite reasonably, was rejected for the show almost before I finished my audition piece, with my carefully choreographed touch of lifting my arms at its conclusion, it was a most wonderful day of hanging around the Seymour Centre and getting to brush against show business, as opposed to when I used to be forced outside for the chamber of horrors known as a ‘bush walk’. It was the first excursion I’d had that even came close to the time that I was permitted to attend a taping of the television program It’s Academic. So, I would argue that an open audition is by far the best way to keep a child entertained but it seems to have gone the way of the conversation pit, possibly because it’s now unfashionable to scar your offspring for life with the sting of rejection at an early age. And, speaking of conversation pits, another means of diverting the brood that I would heartily recommend is the visiting of project homes, something else that my family and I used to do that was far preferable to being out in the air. Never will I forget one place I saw, around the time of my Annie audition, that was mock Tudor on the outside and decorated completely in purple on the inside.
And, speaking of razzamatazz, while in Sydney, I elected to watch Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! on the television, having seen it at the cinema in the days of yore. I recall that, back then, my family and I had wanted to see it at Fox Studios, because it seemed so exciting to partake of the film where it had actually been made. Apparently everyone else had the same idea, however, so we were forced instead to go to Paddington, which did at least have the advantage of being in the heart of perhaps the gayest area in Sydney, which seemed to make it a fitting place to view this flamboyant spectacle, in contrast to, for example, the suburb of Hornsby. Personally, I’ve a soft spot for Rouge!, which, I know for a fact, is something that would make many right-thinking individuals throw balled-up newspaper at me as hard as they could. Even people I know who actually like musicals walked out of Rouge! after half an hour, unable to endure the endlessly headache-creating sight of what was onscreen.
But what I admire about Rouge! is that it was a totally stupid idea that was bullied into working thanks to the film’s very relentlessness, even while this relentlessness is what a lot of people hate about it. If you compare it with 1978’s Bee Gee-filled anti-spectacular Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I had the pleasure of doing recently, Pepper, while also admirably fucking nuts, exposes itself more to criticism due to its lazier West Coast nineteen seventies pacing, which leaves the viewer with so much time to think up insulting comments. A woman dies in Pepper and you have before you Barry Gibb singing and a funeral sequence with a glass-topped coffin for what feels like an hour (before she’s SPOILER ALERT! brought back to life), while in Rouge!, Nicole Kidman exits this world and, before you know where you are, you’re exiting the cinema. Moulin Rouge! is a folly in every sense of the word that one can find in the dictionary, which made me want it to succeed, even though, until the first time I got chills watching Ewan McGregor sing ‘Your Song’ to Kidman, I had also badly wanted it to fail because, in common with the rest of humanity, I relish a big, juicy flop.
Even after I returned to Melbourne, it was as though I had never left, thanks to the fact that, that very night, I watched Channel Nine’s broadcast of the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks and the preceding entertainment. That is to say (and aside from dipping into Funny Lady, one of the most ill-advised sequels ever made) I saw David Campbell performing ‘Goody Two Shoes’.
Yes, a cover version of a 1982 single originally written and sung by a man who, has sadly, been committed was considered the best way for us to usher in 2012. In the absence of my desired Royal Commission into how this state of affairs occurred, I did some hasty research and discovered that Campbell is to tour with a show of eighties hits, which at least gives his NYE performance some context.
Nonetheless, I would argue that, while I would never normally speak in favour of Wang Chung, a band that has been responsible for perhaps the most spirit-crushing singles of all time, Campbell should instead have gone with their song ‘Let’s Go’, which, the Internet tells me, is not only on the set list of his money-in-the-bank tour but is also lending the venture its title.
Chung’s non-specifically optimistic tune would seem to me to be a more appropriate choice than one that is about the travails of the ‘Dandy Highwayman’ at the hands of the tabloid press and his thoughts on the perils of being overhyped, a topic that, even at the time, seemed of limited interest.
Still, in the words of Ant, and as now appropriated by Campbell, ‘Send a treasure token token/Write it on a pound note pound note’. This piece of advice is a lyric nearly as pleasing as the great Human League’s observation ‘I’m really glad you came here/Thank you for the talk/It’s funny how my problem stopped/ When we went for a walk’, so perhaps ‘Goody Two Shoes’ was a really splendid way to ring in the New Year after all.