Hardly A Gentleman

Recently Australia has played an interesting role in the development of new musicals, specifically shows with an international creative team, utilising the power of the Australian dollar to mount shows on a much cheaper scale than one would expect to do in the US.

Shows have included Dr Zhivago, a reworking of Love Never Dies, the upcoming Moonshadow, and the recently opened An Officer And A Gentleman. It is the opening of the latter that caused quite the scandal today.

Reviews were not particularly kind to the show, though it should be added that the performances (an aspect of these trial productions that will very unfortunately never make it to Broadway, while their shows might) fared a little better,receiving a number of relatively positive reviews across the board.

The most interesting article published today though, in response to a review in The Australian was that of Officer And A Gentleman’s Co-Book Writer (and as he’d clearly like to be known Academy Award Nominated) Douglas Day Stewart, who took quite a personal defence.

It makes for a very interesting read and I’m sure has lead to a number of headaches within the marketing department of Officer and a Gentleman, though clearly adept at writing cheese Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart does cleverly spin the piece into an advertisement for the show.

As a whole though, the response sends out some terrible messages.

” I can tell you this was not a review by any standards. It was an “execution” by someone clearly unable to feel human emotion, or to put it in a kinder way, by someone whose highbrow tastes do not represent you.”

In one almighty quote Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart suggests one HUGE generalisation. That Australian audiences are comprised of low-brow people, unable to grasp the concept of educated or intellectual material. Not only is this a terrible assumption to be made, while the piece has been broadly criticised across many publications, Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart has rebutted in a post on The Australian’s website, The Australian being a national, broadsheet newspaper which, according to Professor Robert Manne of LaTrobe University, “is read by virtually all members of the group of insiders I call the political class, a group that includes politicians, leading public servants, business people and the most politically engaged citizens.”  Hardly a low-brow, uneducated group of people.

But who is uneducated here? Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart goes on to say that:

“a plethora of five-star reviews agree An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical is the crowd-pleasing and inspirational love story it was as a movie, but even more thrilling and emotional because of it’s great score and innovative direction.”

Yet I am unable to find one reputable review source, from a major publication that rates the production five stars. In fact the only five star review I’ve been able to find for the show came from theatrepeople.com.au, which while undergoing a rapid period of growth in the past couple of years, cannot hold a torch to a major publication, especially when it comes to press quotes for the future benefit of the show, “theatrepeople.com.au” will not sparkle in the eye of a potential investor in the same way as “The Sydney Morning Herald” or “The Australian” would.

And that’s what this is all about. Development. A concept that Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart seems to have glossed over.

An Officer And A Gentleman is in Australia to develop. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work the piece, in a full production, with a talented cast, for audiences and critics that can provide feedback that one can then apply to the show to make it better, before it transfers to Broadway. (Which while that is the goal, like Dr Zhivago there has been no official announcement.) Because Broadway audiences and critics are going to be a lot tougher than any critic, or rather “executioner” as Academy Award Nominated Douglas Day Stewart would call them, have been.

“In recent years your city has emerged as a world centre for the opening of new musicals, including Dirty DancingPriscilla Queen of the Desert and Dr. Zhivago. If you listen to a critic like this, good luck on seeing any more new musicals come here.”

Again, it is not the critic that poses the biggest threat to Australia’s future as a development centre, but those working on the productions. If one does not reflect on the quality of work being produced, if one does not take the time to read what is being said and further develop the piece, if Australia continues to send dud pieces of fluff to the US or other overseas markets because of overly-protective creatives who aren’t willing to see their pieces need development, that is when we won’t see any more musicals come here, because the world will think Australia only produces schlock. Our industry cannot afford that.

This may be a World Premiere for An Officer and A Gentleman, and producers and marketing departments can spin that however they want, but the truth is it’s a testing ground. During development I do not expect pieces I’m working on to receive 5 star reviews. If it was that good, if you so strongly believed that you’d created a near perfect piece of theatre, you had no need to be here, you could have just opened on Broadway.

You’re lucky our critics have caught you before you fell into that trap. Because I’m sure Ben Brantley of the New York Times would have torn you a new Officer AND a Gentleman.

Producers and creative teams of the world, please, come to Australia, develop your works here, bring us exciting new projects that we can work on, and share with our audiences. Let’s create wonderful international partnerships and fantastic pieces of art. But do not, under any circumstance, expect us to be a group of low-brow uneducated convicts. We are cultural, smart and talented people, who are often wonderfully blessed by the best pieces of theatre from across the globe. People want to play to Australian audiences. People want Australian’s working on their product. Understand our culture, and respect longstanding institutions as respectable authorities of judgement, you are a guest here after all. Let us help you make your pieces better. Yes, new musicals need support from the early days, but please, provide us with material that can be supported, and listen to us when we say it’s just not there yet, don’t let ego cloud your vision.

Audience members- go see the show, and be truthful about your experience when you talk about it. That is what the show really needs right now. Truthful opinion, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferent. Say what you liked and what you didn’t. Play your part in the progression of this show.

And I can say all this as a recipient of the Australian Defence Force Long Tan Leadership Award AND Founder’s Trophy from Flinders Christian Community College in 2007 (totally irrelevant right?) but also as a proud Australian producer who stands behind our musical theatre industry, and also our critics.


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