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'Georgie Girl' is an amazing musical

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Georgy Girl – The Seekers musical |Crown Theatre | Until July 31 | ★★★★★ 

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In the 1960’s an Australian band formed and quickly headed over to Swinging London where they found international success.

The Seekers achievements were ground breaking, their many hit tunes were catchy, and they’d go on to capitalise on their place in the hearts of the kids of the 60’s with reunion tours and re-releases.

But does their story make a good musical? The world has loved revisiting the hits of The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli with ‘Jersey Boy’, could the same storytelling technique work with The Seekers?

They certainly have the back catalogue of hits to draw upon, but is their enough drama in their personal story?

When I first saw the news that The Seekers story was going to become a musical, it didn’t fill me with excitement. An Australian made musical, I’m embarrassed to say I experienced a moment of cultural cringe and set my expectations low.

I was wrong, so very wrong. This show – it’s cast, the story, the music, the dancing, the costumes, was sensational. Oh, so very good.

We follow singer Judith Durham (Pippa Grandison) as she meets Keith Potger (Phillip Lowe), Athol Guy (Glaston Toft), and Bruce Woodley (Mike McLeish) and agrees to become the singer at the front of their folk band. They head off for a ten week trip to London where they find success. A return home to Melbourne is cancelled and the band score a series of hit records, becoming Australia’s most successful international act.

Despite being able to sing in front of thousands, Durham who is a bit of a wallflower, spends her time writing letters home while the three boys makes the most of swinging London. The band is caught up in a whirlwind of tours, TV appearances and the effects of fame.

Durham finds love with tour manager John Ashby, played by ‘Sea Patrol’ captain Ian Stenlake, but he too is a bit of a Lothario and the relationship leaves Durham heartbroken. As time goes on Durham begins gain confidence and starts to explore her opportunities as a singer outside the band.

To guide as through the story is a narrator, musician Ron Edgeworth (Luke Joslin), who in the second half of the musical enters the story line, when he meets Judith Durham and becomes her husband.

The Seekers own hits fill the show with ‘Georgy Girl’ being turned into a big musical number, while ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, ‘A World of Our Own’, ‘Morningtown Ride’, ‘Red Rubber Ball’ are cleverly worked into the narrative as either performances by the band or embedded as part of the story.

The show also included other songs from the era including Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’, Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and The Dave Clark Five’s ‘Glad All Over’.

Image: Jeff Busby
Image: Jeff Busby

‘Glad All Over’ was one of the shows many highlights. Used to convey the nightlife of London, it saw the stage filled with go-go dancers, psychedelic fashion and swirling lights. It packed a punch.

Ian Stenlake opened the second half of the show with his over the top moment in the spotlight delivering his take on the Tom Jones classic, ‘It’s not Unusual’.

The later part of the show covers the period after the band split up, and revisits them decades later as they reform for their silver jubilee.

The show’s closing number ‘We Are Australian’ which was co-written by band member Bruce Woodley and recorded by Judith Durham was a emotional finale. Underlining not only the bands achievements and contribution to Australian culture, but also a powerful statement on shared values.

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The opening night performance was rewarded with a well deserved standing ovation, and a lot of praise for Pippa Grandison in her starring role as Judith Durham.

The Perth born performer was in town a few years ago performing on the same stage as the mother in ‘Mary Poppins’. This role however really lets Grandison show off her amazing vocal skills and versatility.

Her performance not only featured some powerful singing but she also excelled in delivering a portrayal of Durham as a complex, challenged and interesting person.

Be warned though, if you see this show, you’ll be humming the hits of The Seekers for many days afterwards.

Bringing the musical to life

Actor Ian Stenlake, who plays the band’s tour manager John Ashby, told OUTinPerth that it was exciting to be part of a new Australian musical.

“As an actor this is one of the most exciting things I can do, to help to create a band new show, particularly as it’s Australian, written by Australians, for Australians.” Stenlake said.

Stenlake is clearly loving playing Ashby, who describes as “a lover or a bad boy” and said that while he’s not playing one of The Seekers, he still gets to perform a few of their songs in the show.

Pippa Grandison, who takes on the role of lead singer Judith Durham, said the music was the real star of the show and said hearing the familiar tunes of the band gave many audience members a flood of happy memories.

“In the Melbourne and Sydney shows we’ve seen them signing along, laughing and clapping.” Grandison said.

The actress said she’d been having some family time away from the stage when her agent approached her about taking on the role of the iconic singer.

The suggestion saw Grandison exploring the bands work by watching YouTube video and she said she quickly found a real connection with the bands work.

The role of Judith Durham is a big part for Grandison perform as she sings 21 different songs during the show, it’s also a part that requires many different costume changes.

“The costume changes are intense,” Grandison said, “I have so many.”

Among the many different costumes she wears in the show are recreations of some of Durham’s stunning dresses that she wore during some of the bands biggest performances including their massive 1967 homecoming show at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne.

One of Grandison’s big challenges was working out to sing like Judith Durham.

“Right at the start we all agreed it was just getting the spirit of Judith Durham that we were after, as close to the sound as possible, but there will never be another Judith Durham.” Grandison said. “It’s just about being true to her spirit and honouring the music as close as possible.”

Graeme Watson

 

 

 

 

 

 

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