Riverside Theatre, January 17
Rather like that of an early Shakespeare comedy, the plot of Bran Nue Day spirals into ever greater silliness. To hold the audience, however, it needs to ride a mounting wave of joy – a joy that can’t be faked. You should feel it as a contagion in the room, spreading via the jokes, the songs, the dancing and yes, even the silliness. This revival of Bran Nue Day lacked that spark. It flickered and occasionally flared, but was far from constant.
Performing musical theatre without charismatic leads is a hard slog, and Ernie Dingo was the only charismatic on the stage. Reprising his role of Uncle Tadpole, he had a presence the other leads lacked. The pitch of some of his notes wobbled here and there (his voice sometimes reminiscent of Seaman Dan’s), but you never doubted his conviction, and his every entrance made the lights seemed brighter, the band sharper, the songs stronger and the plot more credible.
Without him it was a bit drab. Marcus Corowa, as Willie, brought a restrained electricity to delivering the dark satire of composer Jimmy Chi’s opening song, Acceptable Coon, but thereafter he became oddly anonymous, as was Teresa Moore as the under-written female lead, Rosie. Two highlights came from within the ensemble: Czack Bero as the Pentecostal pastor, wearing a startling silver suit (by Mark Thompson, who also designed the set), and Taj Jamieson standing out amid some ordinary dancing (choreographed by Tara Gower).
Singing voices that were either bold or beautiful were thin on the ground, with the exception of the baritone of Andrew Moran, who played the dodgy Father Benedictus (also enjoying a turn as a grotesque WA copper). The ensemble singing was merely adequate, and even the band was tamed to the point of insipidity.
Some of the songs, now over 30 years old, haven’t aged so well, either, the notable exceptions being Acceptable Coon, Marijuana Annie, Child of Glory and Bran Nue Day. Many of the others morph into generic country and western, and aren’t especially well integrated into the narrative. Director Andrew Ross’s production still entertains, but given that it combines the resources of four of Australia’s major opera companies, better singing and dancing and simply more of the show’s inherent spark of joy might have been expected.