The first musical I wrote, is still sitting in a drawer at home.
I wrote it in collaboration with a music teacher, Henry Silver, who just happened to be working at the school over the road from the writing business my wife Elsie and I had established – the Wordsmith’s Shop, on the corner of Charman and Balcombe Roads, Mentone. Many of you may have seen it.
The show is called “Paradise Flats” and it’s about a country town battling against big city government when the local school is threatened with closure. And I still think it has a bit of merit.
It’s got characters like Wally the Shire President.
And themes such as “trust the ladies of the CWA”.
And the drama of the local footy hero who teaches at the school that is about to be closed and who might miss out on playing in the Grand Final, because of the ruthless machinations of the dastardly State Premier, who sounds not unlike Jeffrey Kennett.
The ensemble opens with this song:
Welcome to our country town
The pride of rural Australia
Trouble is we can't grow a tree
Or even a healthy dahlia
The crops have failed,
The cows are dry,
The weather is a farce
We're a town
That's going round
On the bare bones of our arse
Our council has been merged
Two butchers got the chop
You have to drive some 50 miles
To see the doctor for an op
The Ford man's closed
The library’s shut
The take away’s going under
It’s a pity we’ve no longer a band
‘Cos we’ve got a very fine rotunda
And then, they get into the blame game:
We're victims of the weather
Targets of recession
Pony-tailed city slickers
Ruined our slice of heaven
Governments have destroyed us
But the mongrel
That really killed us off
Was the economic rationalist
And so, it’s got a bit going for it.
But, look, Henry and I were babes in the wood and knew nothing about show business, so we found it very hard to find people interested in getting it off the ground. And besides, he was teaching and the Wordsmith’s was going flat out, and we both had four kids with which we were engaged in mortal combat, so it ended up in the drawer.
Nevertheless, I learnt a lot about the technique of writing a musical, which had been a life-long ambition of mine, forged when I was about eleven, and Mum and Dad took me to see “My Fair Lady.” Well, I was only a little boy, learning the piano and drums, and I was just captivated by it. The music, the costumes, the staging, and since that day I have always seen the musical as one of the great expressions of story-telling.
I was further inspired during my years as a daily newspaper journalist when I got to interview some of the world’s great song-writers, including Don McLean and Roy Orbison and, above all, Tim Rice, of Evita and Superstar fame, one of the finest lyricists of our age. And a really nice bloke, too.
And, as they say, it is not so much what you know, but who you know.
Because my next step, joining forces with Pete Sullivan, turned everything around.
Pete is an established pianist, composer, performer, producer and arranger. He has a Masters in Composition from Melbourne University and can play anything from Rachmaninoff to rock ‘n’ roll. He was Channel Nine’s Musical Director, conducting the orchestra for the tonight-type shows, the Logies and Carols by Candlelight and was one half of The Two Man Band that gave Australia one of its biggest ever hits, “Up There Cazaly.”
Now, I had known Pete casually for a long time, through friends. We used to meet at Christmas parties and after several beers, would say “We must do something together sometime.” But we never did.
Then one day, Pete drove past the shop, stopped, rang me on his mobile, and he said, “Grae, now is the time.”
The first thing we wrote was a musical based on the Cyrano de Bergerac story – the classic French yarn about the ugly but brilliant poet and the handsome but dumb muscleman combining their talents to woo the beautiful Roxanne.
We updated it and set it in a Call Centre. So it opens with the staff explaining:
YOU KNOW US, WE’RE PART OF YOUR LIFE,
WE TELL YOU YOU’RE A WINNER
WE’RE THE CALL CENTRE CREW
WE COME RINGING THROUGH
JUST AS YOU SIT DOWN FOR DINNER …
RING-A-LING, I’M YOUR CALL CENTRE BUDDY
TING-A-LING, I’M YOUR CALL CENTRE MATE
DING-A-LING, I’LL MAKE AN OFFER OF A LIFETIME
AND LEAVE YOU FEELING OH SO GREAT
HOW ABOUT YOU SEE A MOVIE?
‘ROCKY NUMBER NINE’ SOUNDS OH SO GROOVY
AND LOOK AT THIS! HERE’S A HOLIDAY TO TRY
A TIME-SHARE UNIT IN PARAGUAY!
OR MAYBE A MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION?
CAN I GIVE YOU A FULL DESCRIPTION?
IT’S GOT DIETS AND MAKEOVERS AND CELEBS AND FICTION
AND LINDSAY LOHAN’S LASTEST CONVICTION …
And whereas in the original, Christian stood under the balcony and repeated the words to Roxanne that Cyrano whispered to him from behind a hedge, we updated the communication techniques into email, Twitter and Facebook.
We decided that Christian, the dumb muscleman, should work in a bargain basement, so Roxanne sings:
I FOUND HIM AT THE REJECT SHOP
SPOTTED HIM AND MY HEART DID STOP
HE’S THE BOY FROM THE BARGAIN WAREHOUSE
IT’S THE PERFECT BOYFRIEND SNARE-HOUSE
ONE DAY I’M GONNA SHARE HOUSE
WITH THE BOY FROM THE REJECT SHOP
But of course, the big focus is on Cyrano’s massive nose, this gigantic honker of his.
GOD MUST HAVE PUT THE MOZZ ON HIM
TO STICK THAT GREAT BIG SCHNOZZ ON HIM
IT’S AQUILINE, IT’S SERPENTINE, MAYBE EVEN BYZANTINE
IT’S SO GALLIC, SO PHALLIC, A TRUE NASAL RELIC
IT’S A MAGNIFICENT CONSTRUCTION
WITH ITS OWN BOOK OF INSTRUCTIONS
IT’S THE PROBOSCIS
THAT SHOCKS US
AND SOMEHOW EVEN MOCKS US
IT’S THE EPIC GARGANTUAN HOSE
IT’S CYRANO’S GLORIOUS SUPER NOSE
While we were touting that around and looking for our next project, Pete said casually one day, “You know, I reckon there’s a good story in Norm.”
And immediately, I said, “I think you’re right.” Normie Rowe. The choir-boy who became the 60s King of Pop, got called up, served in Vietnam and came home to find his career all washed up.
So I emailed Normie’s manager, John Blanchfield - who himself had been quite a successful singer in those days – and put the idea to him. John wrote back saying that he had long thought Normie’s story was worth telling, whether as a book, a documentary, a film, a play, a musical or whatever. He suggested we get to it and come back with something in three months.
I set to researching Norm’s life and then wrote the treatment – that is, the synopsis, the run-down of the story – and sent that to John and everyone was happy, so I started on the script, or the book, as they call it. You earn things as you go. It’s not the script, it’s the book.
We also all agreed that at that point, we would simply keep Normie regularly informed of what was happening, rather than draw him into a project that was still embryonic and, who knows, could falter at any time.
Now, at first look, a story about a 60s pop star would obviously be a juke-box musical, full of that person’s songs that we all know and what made them famous – like Shout, the story of Johnny O’Keefe, or the Dusty Springfield offering, Dusty, or one of the first of the genre, Buddy, about Buddy Holly.
But I decided to make a couple of variations. First up, not every song is from Normie’s repertoire. Sure, we have “Que Sera Sera”, “Shakin’ All Over,” “Ain’t Necessarily So", “I Who Have Nothing,” and “It’s Not Easy” amongst many others from his hit-laden catalogue.
However, I have incorporated a handful of other songs from the 60s – for example, “Eve of Destruction”, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “Race With The Devil” - to help capture the times.
I also determined that Pete and I should write a further group of new songs that not only contribute to the story but serve to display Normie’s talents.
Also, I felt that with the complex life Normie has led, it was best to steer away from a full biography – it would just collapse on itself – and simply focus on the most telling part of his life.
So, Normie’s roller-coaster pop career is the vehicle. He is the everyman that drives us through the 1960s, one of the most explosive, creative and tumultuous decades of the 20th Century.
The story begins at the mid-way point of 1965, when the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, announces Australian troops are going to be sent to Vietnam. What he doesn’t say is that he concocted the “invitation” to join in without consulting anyone. He wrote to himself. Normie sings that what the PM is telling the Australian people “Ain’t Necessarily So …”
Now, many of you will know that “Ain’t Necessarily So” is from “Porgy & Bess” by George and Ira Gershwin, and was written in the 1930s and is quite Biblical in its references.
While it suited the scene, it needed a little updating, a bit more political. So I wrote some new lines for it.
Now, for this type of show, you need to get permission from each song’s licence holder to use it, and pay them a fee. With “Ain’t Necessarily” I also had to write a further submission, outlining why we wanted to use the song and the context it was in, and seeking permission to use the new lyrics.
I mean, for me to write fresh words for a classic written by the Gershwin brothers was pretty presumptuous, and it took weeks and weeks, right up until a few days before opening night. But they came back and said sure, go ahead.
The new lines are:
THE THINGS THAT YOUR LEADER
LIABLE TO FEED YA
THE WAY THEY ENGAGE YA
AND ALWAYS TRY TO CHANGE YA
THE LIES THAT THEY SPIN YA
IN ORDER TO WIN YA
THE MESSAGE THEY SELL YA
AND THE WAY THAT THEY TELL YA
IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO
From that point, the story-line then goes back to the 1960 Moomba Concert of the Lou Toppano Music School where 13-year-old Norman Rowe wins “Performer of the Night.”
From there we tell of how he comes out of working-class Northcote and rises to the very top of the rock ‘n’ roll pile. Along the way it captures the significant moments of the 60s – the anti-war demonstrations, Lyndon Johnson in Australia, the political turmoil, the fashion, music and free love revolution, and the brief ascension and subsequent death of Harold Holt.
It tells of Normie’s troubled relationship with girlfriend Marcie Jones, his UK exploits, his National Service call-up, his experiences in Vietnam, the collapse of his pop career, and the damning revelation that his conscription had been rigged.
Years later by sheer accident, he discovers that his call-up had been faked to get him in the army so they could put a pleasant face on an ugly war.
And it’s all true. That’s exactly what happened to him.
It was the 60s and there was only one Normie.
There is also another serious difference between our production and the classic biog musical – and that is, Johnny O’Keefe, Buddy Holly and Dusty Springfield are all, to not put too fine a point on it, deceased. I said to Normie one day, “You realise you’re not supposed to be alive, mate. They only do this when you’ve carked it.”
Not only that, it posed an underlying question. As he is alive, we must surely use him in the production? After all, he is in great shape, he practices his vocals and guitar work every day, he is constantly doing gigs all over Australia and is a headliner in the Go Show revival concerts.
Last year he did a rock ‘n’ roll cruise with Chubby Checker, and in 2015 he is leading a group across to Gallipoli for the centenary of the famous battle. And he sometimes works for Coles …
But where to place him in the musical? Obviously, he was too old to play an up and coming eighteen year old. And I didn’t want him to play his father. It’s a significant part, but limited vocally.
As well, I wasn’t too keen on him standing at the side as a Rocky Horror type narrator, or weaving in and out of the story like “Che” in Evita, or playing an ethereal figure looking down from the wings.
So, I was wrestling with this when one day, John Blanchfield rang me about a couple of other projects we were working on and said casually, “By the way, Norm’s been asked to play Harold Holt in an ABC doco. They reckon he looks a lot like him.”
And I pushed my chair back, got down on my knees and cried, “Oh, great writing spirit in the sky, thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.”
The answer had fallen in my lap, and having settled on him playing Holt, a significant part I had already written, it unfolded from there.
When I finished this new draft, I said to Normie, “How’s that, you’re going to play the bloke that led the government that conspired to put you in the army that killed your career.” He loved the delicious irony of it all, and was humbled and chuffed that someone had chosen to write a production about his experiences, even though some of those wounds have yet to fully heal.
A key scene, right at the end of Act One, is Normie as Harold Holt singing one of our original songs, “How Do I Sell A War?”
Holt is agonizing over the mounting death toll, the disturbing realisation that victory is proving far more elusive than the Americans had predicted, and that the protest marches are rapidly getting bigger and nastier. He sings:
How do I sell a war?
How do I tell the poor
And the rich
And all those
Who moan and bitch
About what we are fighting for?
Out there on the killing floor
How do I sell a war?
How do I sell a cause?
How do I spark the roars
For the way
Our boys have fought?
I should be getting applause
For closing the communist doors
How do I sell a cause?
The last line of the first act is an agonized Holt singing: “How do I sell this bastard war?”
This lament inspires an Army publicist to covertly come up with the idea of fixing the draft so Normie can be called up, the military and the government benefiting in the same way the US gained from Elvis Presley’s service.
Unaware of what has happened, Normie dutifully enters the Army, does 12 months’ training, serves honourably for a year in Vietnam, only to come home to find he is being booed off stage and has been overtaken by bands in pink with names like Zoot.
After a bruising re-think, he gradually becomes a hero for the Viet vets, and discovers one day – when he is picked up by a traffic cop who turns out to have been born on exactly the same day – that his birth date, February 1, 1947, never came out of the barrel.
So, that is the storyline.
Writing a musical like this is like creating a jigsaw, jockeying things into fit.
How, for example, do you use “Pride & Joy”, one of Normie’s hits? I eventually worked it in with Menzies and Holt’s wife Zara, singing it to Harold, you are my pride and joy.
With others, the solution stood out. “It’s Not Easy” works beautifully with Harold and Zara singing it. After all, he was a ladies man, and she knew it. But she was also his best asset.
So the lines, “It’s not easy loving you baby, but it’s harder girl (or harder, boy) to let you go” work really well.
And for “Shakin’ All Over”, Holt shows his love of women when he sings this to a young female reporter he meets at a White House Reception, the famous “all the way with LBJ” moment.
“When you’re movin’ right up close to me,” he sings. And he goes right off, “shaking all over,” and is about to move on her when Zara brings it all to a halt.
We also wrote a new song for Harold to explain his capacity for loving other women.
IN MY OWN WAY I AM FAITHFUL TO MY LADY
IN MY MIND I DO EVERYTHING JUST RIGHT
IN MY HEART I WOULD DO NOTHING TO HURT HER
BUT I CAN’T HELP MY SPIRIT TAKE FLIGHT
WHEN I MEET SOMEONE NEW AND QUICKLY SAY I LOVE YOU
RESPOND TO HER SMILE, HER TOUCH SAY THANK YOU SO MUCH
I DO IT REPEATEDLY WHEN SOMEONE JUST GETS TO ME
WHEN SOMEONE, SOMEHOW, JUST GETS TO ME
So, you spend ages fitting all the pieces together. Writing a musical is a tortuous game, particularly when you get to the point when you need to reveal to the world what you have written.
By that I mean, when you are writing a book – and a lot of you in the room will appreciate this - you can re-visit it and re-draft it, get a few people to read the manuscript and offer their opinion, maybe work with an editor, and do a lot of reconstructive work in a confined zone at little expense and negligible public exposure.
But, writing a musical – well, at some point you have put it up on stage and reveal it in front a live audience, warts and all. And at that point, there is nowhere to hide.
You certainly cannot do that on opening night, before a house full of expectant customers. That is courting disaster. You must get audience and professional feedback in the preliminary stages to see if you are on the right track.
Over the years the industry has developed a process and the first step is called a reading. Once you’ve got the script to a point where you are happy with it, you appoint a director, who organizes a cast and rehearses them in a hired space over a month or so.
Then you hire a theatre – we used the Cromwell Theatre in South Yarra - and invite a hundred or so guests for a one-night performance. It is very basic. There is no scenery, no costumes, very few props, and with the musical director playing everything simply on a keyboard. For much of the night, the actors will be carrying their script with them as they move around stage. But they will have rehearsed their lines and songs thoroughly, and will deliver them in full voice with the humour, drama and pathos intended.
There are no ticket sales and you have to fund the hire of the theatre, the cost of a professional to video it for later reference, and the all-important drinks at the end of the performance to schmooze the investors you’ve brought along to have a look at it. So, you are probably talking two or three thousand dollars.
At this stage, still, we did not need Normie on board to perform, and in fact he was busy touring and sent a best wishes email from Perth.
As it unfolds on stage in front of you, you get a handle on how it feels generally – what it sounds like, the pace and logic of the story’s progression, what works and what doesn’t. You find out whether there is a bit of work to do to patch it up, or a massive re-write to save it, or it is beyond salvation and you just have wasted four years of your life.
Fortunately, it came up pretty well. Dennis Smith, our producer, who produced “Dusty” and “Shout” and revivals such as “Guys & Dolls” clapped a hand on my shoulder and said. “Graeme, you’ve got a show. Now, you know what to do. Few things to fix.”
He then said. “I’ll see you after Christmas. I’m off to London to bump Dusty in, in the West End …”
Now for an old hack journo, with stars in his eyes, that was amazing. My eldest daughter Caitlin, herself a writer, overheard this, and said later, “Wow, Dad, you’re in the big time now.”
The next step in the process is to take on board what you have seen and go away and re-write. To go through the notes you took, trawl through the video, and fix all the things that you spotted. Is the dialogue in that scene working? Does that song fit? Should we swap scenes five and seven? And … how did that line get in there?
You just don’t know sometimes. A line you think is an absolute cracker passes without the slightest audience whimper. And another you thought was a bridging line brings enormous response.
At the reading, at the climax of the Holt drowning scene, the scarlet woman on the beach, Mrs Gillespie, screams, “Harold, don’t go in that water!” It’s meant to be serious, but the place packed up.
And when the actor we had playing Harold turned to her and said, “Marjorie, I know this beach like the back of my hand,” they roared even more.
You just don’t know.
So while the re-write is under way, we start focusing on the next phase. A one-off performance called a workshop. This is a big step up in the process. You are looking at costumes, scenery, a 20-piece orchestra complete with finished arrangements.
It’s a fully rehearsed night, no scripts in hands, every performer expected to be right on top of their character. A version as close as you would like to see on opening night. That’s because you are going to hire a theatre that seats eight or nine hundred people, and fill it with a range of guests including regular theatre goers, focus groups, family and friends to pump things up, and most importantly, financiers who hopefully will start writing big cheques to back the next step – the major production.
The thing is, as well as paying for the theatre, costumes, scenery, backstage crew and musos, you will also be up for payment for the performers, who up until now have worked for nothing in the hope that they will get a part when the show finally hits the big time. So you need to raise $150,000 to finance this one night!
It’s a big call. And a lot of people behind potentially great musicals baulk at that point and the script goes back into the drawer and is never heard of again.
So, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Hmmmm.
I was about to mention to Elsie those endearing words every spouse likes to hear, “house” and “mortgage”, when another moment of inspiration came out of the blue.
You see, one of the smartest things we did early in the piece was appoint a young director. The standard course would have been to hire a well-drilled stage-show veteran. But John and I just did not want to work with someone who’d say, “Ah, what’s this old yarn about? Yeah, I know Normie, I’ll fix it, she’ll be right.”
We wanted someone to view it with fresh eyes, someone who’d never even heard of Normie Rowe, and who would put it up on stage without pre-conceived notions. His name is Simon Eales and he is only in his early 20s, but with a great track record through school, university and professional productions.
We put it to him this way: “Look, we’re a bunch of old guys trying to get a story up. But the story is about a young man. You’re a young man, and we want you to create it through a young man’s eyes.”
He jumped at the opportunity, saying, “I want to make sure the baby boomers in the audience can reminisce. But also that kids my age watching the show don’t feel like they’re being dragged through a museum.”
The beauty was that when it came to working out how we were going to raise the cash to mount the workshop, John and Simon started to think laterally. And a breakthrough idea suddenly loomed tantalisingly on the horizon.
Simon is an ex-Scotch College boy. And six years earlier a group of former students had launched an amateur theatre group called OSMaD, Old Scotch Music & Drama. Each year since they had been producing quality seasons of shows such as “Les Miserables,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Sweeney Todd” at the school’s magnificent multi-million dollar 500-seat theatre, named after the late, great radio identity Geoffrey McComas.
What say, John said to them, instead of doing an established musical, you do a brand new show?
OSMaD’s boss Tim Shearer and producer Richard Beveridge were taken by the idea, but of course there was the element of risk. Amateur theatre survives because it does shows with a proven track record. Les Miz is going to put bottoms on seats anywhere. I’ve been to see Les Miz in Frankston!
But a brand new show? If this was to flop, they would do their dough and probably have to fold.
So I had to put in a 30-page submission, along with copies of the script and CDs of the music, incorporating demo versions of the seven original songs that Pete and I had written and recorded in his studio at Highett.
After months of discussion and a final okay from the OSMaD Board of Directors, not only did they decide to do it, they embraced it with such enthusiasm. And after five months of auditions, rehearsals and fine-tuning, we had the world premiere of “Normie – The Musical” on November 23 last year.
Now, this approach proved a masterstroke – first of all, we didn’t have to raise the money for a workshop, as the ticket sales covered all costs. Darling, no need to mortgage the house! Isn’t that good?
Secondly, instead of a once-only performance to see how it looked, we got an eight-show season to view it from all angles.
Thirdly, we got a wonderful, enthusiastic performance from a fabulous production team, cast and crew - all amateur or semi-pro - that created an engaging version of what we had all visualised.
As one of them, David Schloeffel, who played Normie’s Dad, said: “To be involved with something new, is something special. There’s a lot of love in this show.”
Ah, but, as many of you will know, no matter how good your book, or movie, or album, or show is, you are not going to get people to buy it or come and see it if they don’t hear about it, and as we had a tiny, tiny advertising budget, we relied heavily on getting media coverage.
It took a while to get any traction. There is so much happening in the entertainment world today - embryonic pop stars churning out albums in their bedroom studios, budding Spielbergs knocking out films with hand-held video cameras, people self-publishing books by the thousands. And they are all, quite rightly, jostling for space.
But things turned around when, the idea of a photo of the Three Normies took hold.
In the show, we have a young lad playing Normie as a 13 year old, and then a young man doing the bulk of the character as Normie the pop star. At the end, the three Normies come out and lead the cast in the encore, a reprise of Que Sera Sera.
Normie has changed one line in that. Instead of singing “Now that I have children of my own,” he sings, “Now that I have grandchildren of my own …”
So, a couple of weeks out, The Age hooked onto the Three Normies idea and had a great picture of Nathan Hotchkin-van Neuren, who plays little Normie, Julian Campobasso, who plays pop star Normie, and the man himself, in his Harold Holt wet-suit, heading a terrific story that occupied one third of a page – broadsheet at that point, still!
From there, things picked up, and stories and mentions started to emerge, including the local Leader doing a piece on me as a Bayside writer with a new project.
But the piece de resistance, the thing that really boosted us was a Channel 7 feature by Nick McCallum. Nick is one of the most experienced, hard-working and versatile reporters on TV and he did the full monty on our show, with interviews with Normie cut into rehearsal footage and historical shots of the Vietnam days.
It got two runs – a two and a half minute version on prime news time just as we opened and a six minute version on Sunrise on the Sunday morning. It gave us the coverage and the legitimacy we were searching for and we went into opening night with a mixture of buoyant enthusiasm mixture and twanging nerves.
Now, I have written a lot of stuff over the years, but it has always appeared down on the page. And a good mate of mine, playwright and columnist Barry Dickins, once said to me that of all things for a writer, the greatest thrill is to stand at the back of the theatre and hear, for the first time, the words you have written being uttered by performers up on stage.
Well, thirty years later, it finally happened for me, and I must admit that, even in my dotage, it was an absolute buzz. There is no feeling like it.
The thing was, even though I was so intrinsically involved, the first time I actually the show was opening night. That’s because there are two alternatives for the writer as a project goes into preparation. He can either attend rehearsals and be involved in every step.
Or he can hand the script over to the director and say, “Good luck.”
Simon put these two options to me, and when I said, “You’re the man, you’re in charge, you go for it,” he looked enormously relieved. I didn’t think it would be right me sitting in the dark at rehearsals, clutching my script, agonizing over every word, looking over his shoulder.
And it was the right decision. He had my trust and he ran with it.
Nathan, the young boy selected to play little Normie turned out to be a Scotch College student and he was terrific. And Julian, well, he nailed pop star Normie. He’s got a tremendous voice, the right look, a great stage presence and we are all hoping that the stars align and he will go forward with us on the major version.
As we do too for Emma Newman, who played Marcie Jones. Not only does she have a beautiful voice, but a wonderful emotional quality to her acting.
But of course, there is only one Normie and he is brilliant as Harold Holt.
The audiences loved it, we had full houses most nights, and most importantly, it paid its way. Most of the critics were very positive, giving us up to four stars – out of five! One said, there are only three things wrong with this show, “the script. The script and the script.”
But that’s fair enough. Not everyone’s going to like it, and you have to consider what they say.
So, having lived and breathed this thing for so long, I then deliberately took a three-month break away from it, just to let it sit before I locking myself in my writing studio and set to work.
The result is that the entire seven-and-a half-minute opening scene has been scrapped, two original songs have also been dropped, the dialogue has been sharpened, a couple of unnecessary characters have been axed, and the first half is now 15 minutes shorter. Importantly, the love story between Normie and Marcie has been strengthened, and we are writing a new song for Marcie to sing what they call the 11 o’clock special. The song that tugs at the audience’s heart and is in their heads as they walk down the street after the show. Emma, the actress, is really thrilled about that.
You see, Australia doesn’t have the luxury, like the US, of starting a show out in the sticks and working on it and refining it before hitting Broadway. As the producers of “Manning Clarke’s History of Australia” in the 80s and “An Officer And A Gentleman” last year, will tell you. Both started out with optimism and expectation and both flopped.
So out of our experience, other writers and producers have looked at what we have done and said, “Now, that’s an interesting way to go.” So we might have introduced a change in the approach to the development of new musicals in Australia.
Of course, we are still a long way from perfection, and that is the beauty of this method of creating a show. This is only one more step in the process of our plan to have it in a major Melbourne Theatre such as Her Majesty’s or the Princess by the end of next year.
Our producer is now out talking to backers to take us on to the big stage. We will only need about six millions dollars, and so I will be passing around envelopes at the end of the session …
So, so far, it has been more than five years to get to this point, an exhilarating, intriguing ride, a steep learning curve, but it’s been fantastic.
Here I am now, with one musical still stuck in a drawer, one up on stage, another doing the rounds of the producers, a fourth half-way written, and having come back from a month travelling through India, inspired to do something Bollywood style.
And I can tell you, whatever confronts you on a journey like this, you just have to stick at it, and keep bearing in mind what Normie sings in “Que Sera Sera”.
Whatever will be, will be …