The 22nd Old Time Music Hall '96Canberra Repertory at ANU Arts Centre. Direction - Rosemary Hyde. Music - Andrew Kay. Choreography - Jan Carey. Wednesdays to Saturdays May 30 - June 29, 1996. Amateur.
Not being a Music Hall regular, I couldn't honestly put my hand up at MC Russell Brown's invitation, but after opening night I'm happy to raise my hand, a leg and a voice - even a glass - to a show full of verve, vivacity, vicarious vitality and viparious vit (sorry - wit). In fact, in the light of Peter Costello's tasteless references to child abuse in Parliament earlier in the day, I was suspicious that the introduction to a wonderfully inane satire on the British Scouting tradition was politically motivated. Dr Brown reminded us that Baden-Powell's original book was entitled "Scouting for Boys"!
Music Hall is a Canberra institution, so it can't be criticised - even though it is a rather weird reincarnation of an ethnic English cult. These are my origins too, so I could sing along with gusto, but I was caught by surprise across the cultural distance of 40 years and 12,000 miles at the sentimental stereotypes surrounding sex, drink and crime. The '96 Canberra show is kept essentially at the level of jolly good fun, although music halls of a century ago included songs of social distress and disaster (like "Don't go Down in the Mine, Dad") which could literally bring the audience to tears. This was nearly achieved in one item - James Payne's rendition of "Ol' Man River" in a voice momentarily reminiscent of Paul Robeson, but costumed in white tie and tails. Here was an irony which created a silence in the audience uncharacteristic of most of the show.
There were too many highlights, and no lowlights, for each individual performer to be properly acknowledged in this space. Judy Burnett sang out of tune wonderfully, and successfully turned an inadequate harp into a remarkable sex object. The Charleston sequence was a clever reflection on the original - one example of the excellent choreography which obviously enthused the whole cast throughout the show. Discipline and polish brought this year's Music Hall out of the ordinary, with perhaps the Harmony Quartet shining as they played with the polyphony and dissonance in Andrew Kay's original compositions. Costumes were classy and backstage management, with very fast changes in costumes, sets and props, was as smooth as the MC's patter.
Don't miss the '96 Music Hall if you are a regular - I think there is more creative flair in the music and dancing than I have seen on my previous visits, and old favourites have lost none of their zing. If you are not ethnic British, don't miss the chance to learn and laugh: they're a bit funny peculiar, and they're certainly funny ha-ha!
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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