This wonderful production begins in 1966, as the rise of television is changing the nature of entertainment. Evie May (Amanda Harrison & Loren Hunter), star of the Tivoli theatre and circuit, prompted by questions from her inquisitive dresser Cole (Keegan Joyce), reflects on what she has given to the stage, and how it has enriched her life. We drift into the past and see Evie on the make, hitchhiking towards the big city lights, obscuring her past, and carving out a fulfilling niche for herself in a more conservative era.
“What’s Tivoli?” you ask. The Tivoli was a theatre and music hall on Castlereagh St, Sydney which operated between 1911 and 1966. It was once the major outlet for variety theatre and vaudeville in Sydney, at its dizzying heights playing host to luminaries such as Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 1948. Unfortunately for Evie May, television killed the Tivoli star, and the theatre went into decline from around the mid 50s.
This production has been developed through New Musicals Australia, which is managed by the Hayes Theatre Company. Evie May: A Tivoli Story by Hugo Chiarella (book / lyrics) and Naomi Livingston (music / lyrics) was selected as the winner of the 2016 program, and received a development workshop in 2017 and now this full production in 2018.
The writers note that any mention of the Tivoli theatre conjures images of a time when men were men and jokes were punctuated with a drum sting, and while this show holds up a lamp for us to gaze into the past, it also lights the way forward. Evie and June (Bishanyia Vincent), who fall in love, battle discrimination at every turn as they seek to live full and meaningful lives.
We often turn to stories about the past to help us to make sense of the present, and the tenderness and subtlety of this production’s treatment of the subject matter contributes wonderfully to a fuller understanding of the oppression that marginalised figures have endured even in arenas widely considered to be fundamentally progressive.
The story line is overflowing with thrilling twists and turns, with plenty to keep you guessing: it’s hard to get ahead of the writers in this one. One of the true stars of this show is the music itself. I hadn’t read the program and assumed I was being treated to the greatest hits of the Tivoli period. I was surprised later to discover that the music was all original, and all composed by Naomi Livingston. A great quality of generosity seemed to burst forth from each of the twenty four musical numbers.
One of the touching lines that flashed by went something like ‘every act of giving is an act of love’, and the songs were all steeped in that spirit of giving. The greatest endorsement I can give this show is that I am very likely to see it again, this time prepared to receive the act of giving on offer.
The performers all had their moments to shine brightly, but for me, apart from the startlingly versatile Bishanyia Vincent, it was Loren Hunter as the young Evie May who really embodied the spirit of the piece. Seemingly one of the strongest triple threats going, she set the audience at ease every time she stepped onto the stage, appearing to intuit what each moment required, and delivering it up with relish. This assured quality seems to be exactly what a new Australian musical requires.
This show is a must see: float back in time and let the songs wash over you until the present day melts away. The writers note that the musical is about a time when ‘there were greater opportunities for us to come together, connect, and share a communal experience.’ This production offers just such an opportunity.
Evie May: A Tivoli Story
Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Performance: Wednesday 17 October 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 3 November 2018
Information and Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au
Image: Amanda Harrison, Loren Hunter and Bishanyia Vincent in Evie May: A Tivoli Story – photo by Nik Damianakis
Review: Oliver Wakelin