A world premiere bringing wonderful new memories to classic Australian favourites.
Adelaide Festival Centre
June 7, 2015
The homage to two of Australia’s most prolific artists, baritone Peter Dawson and songwriter Jack O’Hagan, begins with a lone violin. We are on a musical path with Cameron Hill’s solo, and as it turns into a road, we arrive at a place we know well; Gundagai. The audience, expecting reminiscences with their tribute show, are already delighted from the opening passage. Our memory lane vocalists join the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Along The Road to the Gundagai all but has the audience singing along; and it’s only the first number.
Barry Humphries is our charming raconteur, and, with green velvet jacket, sparkling wit and passion, creates a delightful fireside-storytelling atmosphere, thick with sentiment and humour. His narration reveals key performances and career highs and lows of both artists, and delightfully paints scenes from days of yore that speak of a simpler, almost romanticised era. The timing of orchestral intros and outros are well conceived by director Rodney Fisher, and add mood and polish to the tales. Conductor Vanessa Scammell expertly handles the complexities of various musical styles and innumerable cues, whilst drawing from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, impassioned performances of music in genres they are not most famous for.
Soloists, baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, soprano Greta Bradman, and vocal quartet The Idea of North, along with Humphries, create something a paradox; the seasoned Australian greats are so good, with the passage of time, they’ll have their own tribute show. Humphries’ pals, presence and content keenly reminds us of the wealth of talent in the past and present Australian arts, and brings to the fore our somewhat understated pride.
The adage, “if you haven’t got anything to say, sing it” is proven by the jingles O’Hagan composed during his stint in advertising. Between our laughter, the dulcet a cappella tones of The Idea of North utterly convince us of the benefits of dog food, eggs, milk, heat, and gin (yes, it is good for you!), with their cheeky delivery, perfect timing and delicious harmonies.
Further highlights include Bradman’s Mexican Serenade which showcases her exceptional vocal control and stunning upper range, and Tahu Rhodes’ On The Road to Mandalay, in which he brings the ultimate mix of nostalgia, tonal power, and charm to the piece theoretically bookending the evening’s journey. O’Hagan’s Flames of Desire pairs the soloists in a dreamy yesteryear romance/musical number; the delicacy and strength in their voices so compatible, it seems the composer wrote it just for this moment.
Group number O’Hagan’s Our Don Bradman leaves a lasting nostalgia for the era and the legend, and an ebullient Waltzing Matilda closes the retrospective before Tahu Rhodes takes us to Cornwall for encore, The Floral Dance, with visions of Humphries in his youth, playing Dawson’s version on a portable gramophone in country Victoria. Missed audio cues and Humphries’ microphone issues dampened an otherwise excellent concert; the camaraderie amongst the troupe as delightful as the performances which richly deserved the standing ovation. Peter & Jack was a world premiere and Adelaide exclusive; here’s hoping this splendid show will travel.
Mr. Humphries et al, you had us at Gundagai, but the journey to Mandalay impressed wonderful new memories on these classic favourites.