AMTF: The Sound of Musicals

Australian Music Theatre Festival The Sound of MusicalsThe Sound of Musicals has been a staple of the Australian Musical Theatre Festival since its inception. For many it’s a highlight of the already jammed calendar; a final show-stopping showcase of all the immense local, global and upcoming talent the festival has to offer.

The velvet curtains of a sold-out Princess Theatre part to reveal a glimmering backdrop of LED stars. Beneath it, an ensemble of kids from Schools Mega Workshop surround festival headliner, Elenoa Rokobaro. She begins the evening with a stripped-back rendition of Sweet Charity’s Rhythm of Life, surrounded by energetic choreography from a near 100-strong group of students.

Queenie van de Zandt is our host, replacing the usual John X., Zandt is a naturally charismatic presence, a gifted improviser and a joy to watch think on her feet. Any stumble in tech, lighting or sound cues is taken in stride (in her hands a recurring spotlight issue proved an uproarious bit) with Zandt’s characteristic wit.

The night’s setlist is backed to the brim with spectacular performances. Samantha Hermen delivers an evening standout with her powerful Get Out and Stay Out from 9 to 5, while Dana Badcock performs Funny Girl’s People with elegance and control.

Other highlights include Rachel Beck’s loving dedication to festival head Tyran Parke with her pristine The Sound of Music and legendary Opera tenor David Hobson singing numbers from Oliver! And Man of La Mancha. Hobson, a last minute replacement for Todd McKenney, adds the perfect conversational air to the night before tearing the roof off the place with his unparalleled vocal chops.

In-between well-known musical chart toppers are little-known Aussie gems. Naarah shines singing Passionfruit Vine from Wesley Enoch’s The Sunshine Club. While Loren Hunter offers a tantalising glimpse of the new Australian musical Paper Stars (the story of P.L. Travers) with the self-assured Great Story.

Then there are the numbers from local and mainland schools – Encore Theatre Company, Music Theatre Crew, Kilarney Heights Touring Band – that continue the festival’s central motivating ethos of fostering community engagement.

It is admirable that the festival continues to invest in Tasmania’s local talent – a fact it makes a point of repeating often – but it could do better by them. One can imagine a night dedicated to Tasmania’s local scene with a headliner like David Hobson (or Todd McKenney or Rachel Beck) to conclude the show.

As it stands, the show feels disorganised, moving helter-skelter from promising up-and-comers to veteran performers; teachers and school students, to contemporary professionals. A night that is better curated to reflect the different threads that distinguish the festival would be ideal. It is a question of how the night is framed more than anything.

While Zandt hosts well, her presence represents a missed opportunity for the host to help organise the eclectic mix of performers assembled and so help curate the night more explicitly according to the various themes and offerings unique to the festival. Moving forward, its organisers might consider allowing the local teachers, students and performers to introduce themselves.

But there is no audience like the one that fills the Princess Theatre during this show – a combination of theatre fans, teachers, supportive students and industry players coming together to celebrate this charming festival.

To your left you might spot a mother tearing up watching her son’s first solo performance, or a group of loving students screaming out for their beloved drama teacher. The effect is quietly affecting – a community fostered in two hours. Like the festival as a whole, it models a form of connection that would melt even the most cynical of hearts.

Sound Of Musicals would do well to lean into the strengths of the festival it ultimately represents. Too often does it fall short of being the slick night of high-calibre performances that it seems to present itself as. When the show leans into the strengths of the community that make up its setlist, it shines – like shimmering stars on a velvet backdrop.

The Sound of Musicals
Princess Theatre, 57 Brisbane Street, Launceston
Performance: Saturday 20 May 2023 – 8.00pm

Image: The Sound of Musicals – photo by Cameron Jones Visuals

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