July 6, 1988
Seven Little Australians
James Hardie Industries Ltd and Seven Little Australians (Aust) Pty Ltd, by arrangement with Paul Dainty, presentation of a musical in two acts with music by David Reeves, lyrics by John Palmer and script by Peter Yeldham and Palmer, based on a concept by Jim Graham from Ethel Turner's novel. Executive producer, Reeves; associate producer, Pamela Brand. Directed by John O'May; designer, Kennth Rowell; lighting, Donn Byrnes by arrangement with Stage Wright Pty Ltd; chorepgraphy, Pamela French; conductor, William Motzing; orchestral arrangements, Tommy Tycho, Neil Thurgate, Reeves and Motzing. At the Comedy Theater, Melbourne, June 22, 1988; $A33 top.
Captoin Woolcott..................John O'May
Esther Woolant....................Alyce Platt
Bunty.....Murray Golding/Sean Delahunty
Nell.............Tasmin West/Caroline Craig
The Little General........Rebecca Mitchell/
With: John Murphy, Liso O'Dea, Noel Mitchell, Judith Roberts, Judith McGrath, Grant Dale, Dale Burrage, Kelly Akers, Mark Hodge, Rachel Bacon, Simon Krawat, Mark La Guerre, Tracy Boyd, Rayna Creagh, Chris Lamb, Kate Gorman, Mark Larsen-Disney, Susan Sargison, Geoff Neumann, Michelle Wedge, Michael White.
Music numbers: "Spring," "Have A Hearty Meal," "Children," "If You're Good," "L'Academie de Monsieur Marcea," "Can You Love Me," "The Littlec General's March," "Discipline," "Walking The Block," "Parramatta River," "Miracles," "Deportment," "Dear Miss Woolcott," "Look For A Rainbow," "Rattle The Track," "Never-Never," "Thc Boys From Yarrahappini," "Seven Liltle Australians Theme."
Melbourne It's hard enough to get an imported musical to work in Australia these days unless it's a Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza or on old charmer like "My Fair Lady." Producers of new indigenous works have enormous courage, and despite a natural Aussie cynicism, ingrained particularly in the theater industry, nobody really wants to see such ventures fail.
Which could explain why "Seven Little Australians" has been well received, despite its glaring inadequacies. Melbourne critics buried "Manning Clark's History Of Australia, The Musical" before audiences could decide for themselves; "Rasputin" never even made it to the Southern city after its lukewarm treatment in Sydney. Maybe it's time for a change of heart, regardless of the latest show's merit.
Or maybe it's loyalty and affection for Ethel Turner's enchanting 1894 novel, which tells the simple story of seven little terrors, their tyrannical army-bred father, and their young and kindly stepmother. An Australian Broadcasting Corp. miniseries in the 1970s did great service to the book through its naturalistic treatment necessary to tv production. This stage version, however, trivializes the subject and sets Aussie legit back 90 years.
The show delibrately is staged as it would have been in the novel's own time. But surely the style of the Victorian melodrama belongs to a period of theater history best forgotten. The kitschy painted sets, stock characters and stiff poses are hardly likely to satisfy contemporary audiences.
The show seeks to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and resorts to that tired old method of putting cute children on stage, their cuteness being their only talent. The youngest is carried and thrown around the stage, exploited like a circus animal.
John O'May as the father is one of the cast's few strengths, but probably at the expense of more imaginative direction, which he also handles. O'May has a showstopping singing voice, but it's wasted on forgettable songs which often have no bearing on the thin story. Melissa Bickerton as the wayward daughter the only fleshy character tries hard with the saccharin sentimental drivel she has to speak; it's the actress' enthusiasm which saves her from being swaliowed up in schmaltz. Judith McGrath's comic role of servant and teacher are the only other bright sparks in a lacklustre display.
Chances are this musical will best succeed in Melbourne, appealing as it does to a conservative, undemanding audience. First-nighters were in raptures. Families in search of old-fashioned idealism and innocuous entertainment will be pleased. More discerning folk in Sydney, however, might be less likely to pay top prices for something the likes of which they could see free of charge at their local shopping center any lunchtime. Krug.