Now that the dust has settled a little and Melbourne is over the initial shock of losing The Production Company next year, it’s time for reflection.
First of all, Classic Melbourne’s Musical Theatre Editor Julie Houghton has her say…
In the beginning there was the word…and the word was MUSICALS!
In 1999 Melbourne theatrical circles heralded a new era with the launch of The Production Company, sponsored by Melbourne philanthropist Jeanne Pratt.
Borrowing from a New York tradition, this was a unique format for Australia – a musical would be chosen, a cast auditioned, just two weeks of solid rehearsals and it was show time! There would be a full orchestra and costumes but sets would be minimal, putting the responsibility for success back on the directors and performers rather than a showy look and bells and whistles.
I was covering arts for radio and newspapers at the time so was in at the very start, and what an exciting start it was! Mame was the first production and we weren’t quite sure what to expect – would performers be holding books? Would it be more like a concert version?
Well, I was blown away with what I saw – a fully staged production with choreography, costumes and live musicians who shared the stage with the performers, rather than hiding in the pit. And pretty soon Melbourne began to realize that you didn’t need lavish sets to have a great professional production – The Production Company simply created the magic on a budget.
One of Jeanne Pratt’s mantras was that everyone should be able to go to the theatre, so she made sure there were always cheap tickets for adults and tickets for Under 18s didn’t cost much more than taking them to the movies.
This became personal for me, as when our older son and his wife were living in Melbourne, we gave them a combined birthday present each year of season tickets to The Production Company. After the first year they loved it so much that another couple started to subscribe with them, so I feel I was able to support the company on a small paying basis, by providing four new subscribers.
Meanwhile, I had the joy of covering the yearly TPC launch, generally at Jeanne’s mansion Raheen in Kew.
There are so many people on main stages now who got their start with The Production Company – Christie Whelan Brown, Lucy Durack and recently Annie Aitken in the recent TPC production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.
It’s been a fabulous 22-year journey, and while I will be sad to say goodbye to The Production Company after next May, I must simply now say thanks for the memories…and what a wonderful ride it has been!
The official press release which we published 12 Sept echoes much of the sentiment:
Jeanne Pratt AC, founder and Chairman of The Production Company, announced that after 21 years and 65 musicals, her company will present its final musical in May 2020.
“I started the company in 1999 to stimulate the industry, create opportunities for local talent and produce quality entertainment at affordable prices. It has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and as we plan our final curtain call, we’re doing so with pride, pleasure and wonderfully happy memories.
“We’ve so much to be grateful for – our loyal audiences, generous sponsors and patrons.” The Pratt Foundation has donated more than $12 million to musicals in Melbourne and although the May 2020 show will be The Production Company’s final season, Mrs Pratt said she wanted to find further ways to support the industry and encourage Australian composers and writers. “The Pratt Prize for Musical Theatre, which we awarded during the company’s first decade, introduced some promising new Australian works and talents. I look forward to unearthing more,” Mrs Pratt said.
The Production Company’s announcement coincides with master-planning for a complete refurbishment of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Theatres Building venues, including the beloved State Theatre – home of The Production Company for 21 years. This upgrade which is the most significant redevelopment of Arts Centre Melbourne since its opening and is a central component of the Victoria Government’s vision to transform the Melbourne Arts Precinct, impacts on the State Theatre’s future availability.
Claire Spencer, CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne said today “What a marvellous legacy Jeanne, Rachel and Ken leave for audiences and many, many performers after 21 years of glorious entertainment on our stages. Along with thousands of others, I’ve laughed, cried, danced and stood with an adoring State Theatre crowd applauding the remarkable parade of performers and creatives. I’m so delighted to be partnering with The Production Company team to present their final show next May”.
Artistic Director Ken Mackenzie-Forbes AM said “There’s so much to celebrate. The Production Company has sold more than 1,000,000 tickets. We have provided the first professional engagements to hundreds of young artists and creative talents, many of whom have gone on to major careers. We have also created unique opportunities for Australia’s stars of musical theatre to perform in shows that would not otherwise be seen professionally. I thank Jeanne for her extraordinary leadership, passion and friendship over the past 21 years and Rachel D Taylor for her unique talents and commitment.”
The Production Company’s Australian premieres were Grey Gardens, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Curtains, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Sugar, She Loves Me, Thoroughly Modern Millie, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Lazarus and in November, Ragtime.
Executive Director Rachel D Taylor said “It’s been an incredible privilege to produce musicals with Jeanne and Ken for 21 years. The Production Company allowed us the scope to stage brand new shows, favourite shows and bring together brilliant talent onstage and off. More than 3,000 jobs were created and we are incredibly proud of that. I have a million happy memories to cherish and more to come! When I think of our legacy, I would hope that people have had a wonderful experience at a Production Company show.”
The Company presents the Australian premiere of Ragtime at the State Theatre from November 2.
Full details of the final musical to be presented in association with Arts Centre Melbourne in May 2020 will be announced in November.
Editor’s note: The preceding media release was issued from Julie Cavanagh PR. Classic Melbourne congratulates Mrs Pratt and her loyal team for 21 years of devotion to the music theatre industry and we are grateful to have shared many of those “wonderfully happy memories”.