Razzamatazz Review by Glyn Davies

Razzamatazz: Malanda the Musical
Presented by Malanda Theatre Co, at the Majestic Theatre, Malanda
7th November – 15th November 2009
Review by Glyn Davies

Published by Arts Nexus Forums

There is something extremely compelling about the kind of theatre that results when a community comes together to celebrate a major event in its history. Razzamatazz (although I prefer the subtitle) is an ebullient celebration of the eightieth birthday of Malanda’s Grand Ol’ Opry – one of the few original 20s movie houses (replete with canvas seats) still in the business.

Opened in November 1929, the Majestic has had a chequered history of ownership, passing from private to public, and an equally diverse range of uses ranging from dance-hall through market-stall shelter to theatrical rehearsal and presentation. The remarkable thing is that it is still in the entertainment business after all these years and still the cherished cultural centre of its rural community. And that history is what inspired Graham Harrington, the writer, and Jill Harrington, the director, plus a cast and crew of 142 ranging in age from 8 to 80, to put so much effort into the show. They created a musical that had everyone cheering, toe tapping and singing along – thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Now, I’m well aware that all this sounds like a rave, and that a more sophisticated theatregoer than the average Tablelander might think it passé, naïve or just mere puffery to be going on in this manner. Well, I plead guilty to all that – without apology. This production deserves to be called for what it is, old-time vaudeville, with a touch of cabaret – relying on “in-jokes” to get the audience on side, and then have them fall about the theatre laughing. It is a wonderful thing to see an audience so engrossed in their own history that they are surprised when the interval arrives, and reluctant to let the cast out of their sight at the last curtain call. It is wonderful to see so many people enjoying the popular music of a bygone era, some of them for the first time.
Gill Harrington managed the large cast with her usual aplomb. She has a gift for comedy writ large, well in evidence here once more, with colourful, well-choreographed crowd scenes, plenty of variety, a little bit of satire, and a joie de vivre that is infectious. Graham Harrington’s script made no pretence to documentary realism (quite the reverse in fact). He invented history, fictionalised some of the town bigwigs, and took his story along at a cracking pace. In the process he gave a comical serve to the beauty pageant, the talent quest, small-town rivalries and revered institutions such as the CWA and the Shire Council. In this he was assisted in no small measure by the accomplished performances of Howard Smith (cast as Browning, the supercilious concert manager and talent scout), Jim Hill as Mr English (or rather one of the Mr. Englishes), Judy Quilliam at her comic best as Mrs Hennessey, Seth Hartley hamming it up with a false beard as Mr Whereat Senior, and so many others whose contributions were every bit as important. In keeping with the vaudeville style, all the acting was a little bit ‘over the top’, but that felt just right for this show. One of the great attractions was to see so many teenagers and children on stage – acting for all they were worth and bringing immense joy, no doubt, to the whole audience (and not just the doting relatives).
The choreography by Jan Sloane was not only appropriate for the period; it was also fresh and original, very well managed by the large cast (apart from Mrs Hennessy, that is, bobbing up and down when she should have been down and up!). The choice of music, catchy sing-along stuff, was brilliant and agreeably executed by the 9-piece orchestra under the baton of Bob Gaden. Edna Wright, the musical director, coached her chorus well, even managing to get her singers to do some quite sophisticated part-singing, particularly in the accompaniment to Peter Axford’s magnificent “Old Man River”, which first of all stunned the audience, then had them applauding enthusiastically.
Then there were the costumes – 1920s and 1930s flapper dresses in vivid colours, mostly red, old-style granny dresses and hats reminiscent of the 1900s, all contributing much, much more than historical accuracy. Leith Kerwin and her team gave the actors the wherewithal to get into character and whoop it up with comic relish. Dave King’s sets were workable, varied and smooth scene changes allowed the show to go on without a hitch. Very professional.
As an added and unexpected addition to the entertainment, the show began (appropriately enough) with a silent movie. This was the work of Noel Keid, Tania Keeble and Louis Simon: it also starred involved someone called Erroll Flynn (surely not, but the name is there in the program). It portrayed the opening of the Majestic all those years ago. It looked like the genuine 1929 article – dark, grainy and jerky: and it set the tone, as it were. Movie tone! (Sorry, couldn’t help it).
Were there any flaws in this show? Well, yes, I suppose – a few. Occasionally the orchestra overpowered the singers, there were some fluffed lines, but not many and it didn’t matter. The diction was sometimes muffled, and so on. Exactly the sorts of problems that the Majestic audiences have been treated to for 8o years, and I’m talking here about the films. But in the overall scheme of things, who cared? You could forgive any of these little problems when faced with the overwhelming delight of sharing in a community celebration. After all, a show that boasts a song item such as the one below has just got to cut it on the Tableland.

“Pardon me boy, is that the Millaa Millaa Choo Choo, etc.

“You leave the Yungaburra Station at a quarter to one,
Read a magazine and then you’re in Peeramon
Dinner at the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to share a cuppa with a Topaz miner…”

Glyn Davies
November 2009

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