AMTF: Cut Outa Town

Australian-Musical-Theatre-Festival-photo-by-Cameron-Jones-VisualsA Patti LuPone memoir on a black grand piano surrounded by six low-lit tables sets the scene for Cut Outa Town, the newest addition to this year’s Australian Musical Theatre Festival program.

Every year the festival trials a new idea for a show – Ghost Light and Come to the Cabaret being examples of previous successes. The premise for the show is simple – songs that didn’t make the final cut.

Festival Director, Tyran Parke has trawled the cutting room floor to assemble a showcase of all the ballads, showstoppers and unheard hits that were lost in the journey from the rehearsal room to the Broadway stage.

From a nearly-lost LuPone chart-topper, a long-forgotten ballad from Metro Street, or a discarded Little Mermaid banger, it’s a two(ish)-hour trip down a memory lane not many remember.

Industry stars and festival headliners fill the Earl Arts Centre alongside local talents and 2nd year VCA students to offer an eclectic mix of performances accompanied by the incomparable Vicky Jacobs. It’s part-cabaret, part-nostalgia trip, framed in a casual performance style that mostly works.

Tyran Parke is our MC for the night. He introduces numbers drawing on his near-limitless knowledge of theatre history with delicious tit-bits of gossip – from preview infighting during The Bakers Wife (hence the LuPone memoir) to Stephen Sondheim’s early experiments.

In between these historical intros are interspersed personal anecdotes from his time in various productions, as well as his experience teaching some of the performers showcased. At their best, these stories contextualise each number with rich detail and titillating gossip, offering a tantalising glimpse ‘behind the curtain’ of these productions and the realities of musical development.

But a selection of local, Tassie-based artists feel shoehorned in to fill out a setlist made up mostly of VCA students. While the VCA cohort assembled here are incredibly talented, the event does begin to feel like an assessment showcase more than anything. Inside jokes and references to text-message chains or emails between Parke’s cohort of students are initially charming, but quickly wear thin (unhelped by the near two and half hour run time).

It’s an insular world, musical theatre – all the more the institutions that teach it – and there is a certain romantic appeal to being part of that world for a night. But this event isn’t put forward as a showcase of VCA talent alone.

And, in subsequent iterations, it would be in the Festival’s best interest to actively pursue ways it can avoid accusations of Melbourne-centric naval-gazing to diversify the pool of talent it draws from, or be more intentional about how it organises events according to the diverse groups it has to offer.

Why not, for instance, populate the night with Tassie-based performers alone and offer a separate event that focuses on VCA students (who I do hope are getting paid for their tireless contribution to the festival)?

Still, the night is jam-packed full of show stopping performances. Samantha Hamersley tears the roof off with her number, as does Amber with her iteration of the Little Mermaid’s Ursula.

Meanwhile, Imogen Rabbitte delivers what is quietly the evening’s most emotional performance – on par with a surprise performance from a cast member of the nearby Ghost Light – with a duet of In The Bedroom Down the Hall – a song cut from the Tony-award winning Dear Evan Hansen.

Festival Headliner Elenoa Rokobaro and Parke himself deliver powerhouse performances. And a rendition of early iterations of Sondheim’s Being Alive from Parke and his students offers a quietly affecting end.

I hope to see Cut Outa Town return next year in some form. It’s a night of casual, cabaret-style showstoppers from some of our best, strengthened by wine and delectable Tassie ice-cream. In all ways, it leaves one delightfully satiated.

Cut Outa Town
Earl Arts Centre, 10 Earl Street, Launceston
Performance: Friday 19 May 2023 – 6.00pm

Image: Australian Musical Theatre Festival – photo by Cameron Jones Visuals

Review: Guy Webster (attended as a guest of the Australian Music Theatre Festival)