Australia’s first Aboriginal stage musical, Bran Nue Dae, is to return to the stage in 2020 for a 30th anniversary production. Australia’s premier opera companies announced today that they have joined forces under the Opera Conference banner to produce the first major revival of the show, directed by Andrew Ross, who led the original 1990 production.
Bran Nue Dae in 1993, Black Swan State Theatre Company. Photograph © Jeff Busby
Bran Nue Dae was written by the late Jimmy Chi in collaboration with the band Kuckles, with whom he played for 15 years. It premiered as part of the Festival of Perth in 1990, with a cast including Ernie Dingo and Maroochy Barambah, and then toured nationally over a three-year period. Described as “a beacon of light” in Aboriginal and Australian cultural history, the musical is set in 1960s WA and tells the coming-of-age story of a young Aboriginal teenager, who hitchhikes his way from his mission school back to Broome to win the heart of the girl he left behind. The irreverent, joyous show – which Chi based on his own life – is full of humanity and humour, yet still has a strong serious social and political message.
Speaking to the ABC when Chi died in 2017, Ross described Bran Nue Dae as a “gamechanger” for Australian theatre, saying: “What really stood out for me was that it was such a unique voice, such a unique take on things a lot of people were talking about but never viewed in the way that his eccentric and I think genius mind saw things and understood them.”
In 2009, it was adapted as a film by Rachel Perkins and Reg Cribb, and directed by Perkins with a cast including Ernie Dingo, Geoffrey Rush, Jessica Mauboy, Missy Higgins, Deborah Mailman, Magda Szubanski and Dan Sultan.
For the new stage production, Ross has gathered an impressive creative team comprising Tara Gower, a Bangarra dancer and Yawuru woman from Broome, as choreographer, Mark Thompson as set and costume designer, and Indigenous man Mark Howett as lighting designer. The band Kuckles will lead the musical direction with original members Patrick Bin Amat, Gary Gower, Michael Manolis and Stephen Pigram all involved.
The Opera Conference is an Australia Council initiative that unites Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, State Opera South Australia and West Australian Opera. The production will open in Sydney in January 2020 and then tour to Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. The show will feature 15 performers, all of whom will be Indigenous except one. Auditions will be held in Broome, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.
Further information about auditions and tickets can be found HERE