It has been a very long time since we last saw this exciting new work due to the constraints of the pandemic. I’m sure the creative team have been busy behind the scenes constantly putting their heads together (on Zoom at least) to share their ideas in preparation for the Development Workshop Presentation that I attended on the weekend at the Clocktower Centre.
The new Australian musical follows Alan’s journey growing up in drought-riddled rural Victoria where his aspirations of becoming a horseman are crushed when he is diagnosed with polio, losing his mobility in the prime of his youth.
Together with his friends Maggie and Freddie, Alan and his family seek to overcome their challenges in an uplifting tale of determination and grit. This production encompasses contemporary issues such as disability and racism while embracing the timeless story about family, friendship and never giving up.
The focus on this workshop was with the cast of the young performers, which featured 12 young actors aged 10 – 18 with over a dozen fully-staged songs from the musical I Can Jump Puddles based on the famous Australian novel by Alan Marshall.
The Creative Team has a new addition of Freya List as choreographer. Her use of mime and slow motion movement portrayed the race where young Alan Marshall collapses was brilliantly depicted in such a confined space of the Studio.
I can imagine this being even more effective on a larger proscenium stage. Her dance elements and movement with the young cast (that work in a similar fashion to a Greek Chorus) was cohesive and assisted in the storytelling.
The Ensemble include: Bessie Blaze, Oliver Burnes, Elena Edwards-Short, Lada Mekmathayan, Gabrielle Rota, Lucia Schwerdt, Lachlan Young and a standout performance from Sebastian Whitt as “the Bully”.
We saw the beginnings of a Dream Ballet segment where young actor William Wiseman depicted Alan dancing with freedom and joy skilfully assisted by his two mates, Maggie, performed by Nelana Ferguson and Freddie, performed by Callum Ryan.
It is very evident the amount of work that has gone into the development of the child characters by the Director Terence O’Connell (also writer of the book and lyrics) because there was such a strong bond between Alan, Maggie and Freddie.
Their individual characters are all diverse as well as showing great depth. This comes across in the scenes as well as in the musical numbers. Some of the songs pull at the heart strings and bring a tear to the eye, mainly due to the wonderful emotional melodies created by the composer Xavier Brouwer.
The musical numbers were accompanied on keyboard by the Musical Director Ana Mitsikas. Her dedication and talent immediately revealed itself when she conducted the young cast who sang the very first number, A cappella, with great harmonies and diction.
The workshop was presented with the Director Terence narrating parts of the story to set the scenes, concentrating on parts of the story that involved mainly the child characters/chorus. Special mention must go to the actor Nicholas Dugdale who portrayed Alan junior in the previous workshop who in this version, now portrayed the older teenager Alan in Act 2. He sang the last number of the show with great emotion and gusto.
Brandon Pape, Artistic Director of Antipodes Theatre, came on board to assist with presenting this great new work at the Clocktower Centre. It is vital that new Australian work such as this is supported not only by creative individuals and the theatre community but is also given significant financial support from the Government and philanthropic organisations.
The Creative Team on I Can Jump Puddles have been tireless in their dedication to get this project up and running. Every step they make is getting closer to the blossoming of its full potential. The show has great heart and deserves to be professionally produced to share a great classic Aussie tale on our Australian stages.
I Can Jump Puddles The Musical
Clocktower Centre, 750 Mt Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds
Performance: Saturday 23 April 2022 (Development Workshop Presentation)
Image: I Can Jump Puddles (supplied)
Review: Brenda Clarke