This is a show that is cleverly crafted by writer Patrick Edgeworth (brother-in-law of Judith Durham) with script consultant Graham Simpson (aka Judith Durham’s manager, biographer and author of a recent book on The Seekers). So this is a musical that is very much a family affair and created with much love and respect and warmth. The first half is full of wit, humour and The Seekers’ fabulous music and excellent dance routines. The second half is darker, dealing with the break up of The Seekers, the tragedies in Durham’s life, and the resurgence of these incredible survivors of a very fickle industry.
Casting is of the utmost importance, and director Gary Young and musical director Stephen Gray got that just right. Never making the mistake of trying to produce carbon copies of the originals, they chose top class actor singers who could imbibe the spirit of their still-living characters, and replicate the right Seekers’ sound. No mean feat, and I take my hat off to them. In the central role of Judith Durham, Pippa Grandison was a sweet, strong, and funny Durham, with vocals that were so close that if I closed my eyes I was transported back to saving pocket money to buy the latest single featuring the fabulous Durham vocals and her smooth-voiced fellow Seekers.
Keating the Musical’s central character, Paul Keating, aka Mike McLeish was a great choice for Bruce Woodley, while Phillip Lowe caught Keith Potger’s cheeky personality and roving eye to a T. As the responsible adult of the group, with a firm belief that his horn rimmed glasses were indeed sexy to female fans, charismatic Glaston Toft delivered another knock-out and totally believable performance. While the fab four delivered the most astounding musical treat for the ears, at times the show was stolen by Adam Murphy, as Durham’s eventual husband Ron Edgeworth, acting as the link man, narrating the story. This was an ingenious device that meant everything flowed smoothly, without any gaps. Murphy is a stand-out performer who also has charisma to burn, and he was given plenty of juicy material to play with.
Of the smaller roles, Sophie Carter was extremely impressive as Durham’s always supportive sister Bev. While the story doesn’t mention that Bev Sheehan was and still is a fine jazz singer, the warmth between the sisters was a lovely element of the story. (And as this reviewer knows Bev Sheehan well, I was in awe of the way Sophie Carter caught the real life vocal nuances of the original, and even her body language!) This is a performer to watch – and it was gratifying that she is given a major solo where sister Judith is the secondary performer.
Ian Stenlake as Durham’s first love and Seeker’s tour manager John Ashby has the toughest gig, as he is required to sing several non-Seekers songs, and they don’t always sound as comfortably in his range as they might. But this may be an unfair picky point, as all it really proves is how terrific those Seekers songs are. Nevertheless, Stenlake gives us a fine characterization of the rat who “done her wrong” but was still a good group manager. Stephen Wheat gives us an appealing portrayal as Seekers’ manager Eddie Jarrett.
With so many musicals today being dependent on complex technology and whizz-bang tricks, it was refreshing to see that Georgy Girl doesn’t need any of that – most of the scene changes are done by people moving props or a backdrop change, with performers covering any gaps needed for changes. A fact which should make this show easy to take to most theatres. The piece de resistance was the curtain call on opening night, in which the on-stage Seekers were joined by the REAL Seekers who came up from the audience – the whole theatre erupted in loud applause for the originals, who couldn’t keep the broad smiles off their faces.
This is a musical full of heart, fun, some tear jerking moments and lots of great music superbly performed. Whether it will work as well for the under 40s audience as it does for the over 40s is an interesting question – but what is beyond doubt is that it is a theatrical and music triumph. Not to be missed.
Picture credit: Jeff Busby