The Seekers were Australia’s first international supergroup (they have sold tens of millions of records), so it is only fitting that their story makes it onto the stage as a musical in Georgy Girl: The Seekers Musical. With Judith Durham as their centrepiece, their arrangements and pure sound saw them score hit after hit in the ‘60s. The came together in 1962 and their rise to stardom is well captured in this world premiere production.
Durham, a Balwyn girl whose mother oriented her towards opera, started her career as a jazz singer. Then, a quartet which had lost its male vocalist introduced Durham (their first gig was at a South Yarra cafe called Treble Clef) and they went from folk singers to bona fide pop stars. A 10-week voyage to England aboard a cruise liner really ignited their stellar career in the mother country. In their day they had periods when they outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The show deals with Durham’s heartbreak at the hands of her boyfriend and the group’s tour manager before she found love with another man, who was to meet an untimely death. Further trauma follows, with Durham having a shocking car accident and then suffering a brain haemorrhage. Notwithstanding that, The Seekers’ melodic sound excited audiences the world over and that remains the primary focus of attention in the show.
Pippa Grandison (The Graduate, Mary Poppins, Wicked) has a superb voice and is well cast as Durham, bringing good old-fashioned values and decency to her portrayal. Glaston Toft (Shout!, My Fair Lady, Jersey Boys) is Athol Guy, Mike McLeish (Keating! The Musical, Shane Warne: The Musical) is Bruce Woodley and Phillip Lowe (Crazy For You, Show Boat, Cabaret) is Keith Potger. As a group, they most certainly gel and do justice to the succession of hits The Seekers had. They included I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, The Carnival is Over, Georgy Girl and Morningtown Ride.
Adam Murphy (Dirty Dancing, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) is a scene-stealer as narrator with his well-delivered lines and great sense of comic timing. In fact. beyond Murphy, much of the musical’s spoken components are easy on the ear and generate howls of laughter.
Written by Patrick Edgeworth (Durham’s brother in law) with script consultant Graham Simpson, direction is from Gary Young. Music supervision, arrangement and orchestration is by Stephen Amos, musical direction by Stephen Gray and choreography from Michael Ralph. Shaun Gurton is set designer and Isaac Lummis responsible for the costumes, which are undoubtedly a feature.
Some of what appears in the production has been introduced for effect (you are told as much by the narrator), but it is so much fun that doesn’t matter. Mind you, I, for one, would really like to know how much dramatic licence they have taken with the material. I felt the first half narrative was easier to follow than the second (the show unfolds chronologically), which deals with a significantly longer time frame.
Ian Stenlake plays Durham’s first love and The Seekers’ tour manager, while Sophie Carter has the role of Durham’s sympathetic and empathetic sister. She and Grandison share a delightful scene after interval in which she consoles Durham following an unwanted discovery. The resultant song involves the use of spoons and a bottle. Among the leading cast members, Stephen Wheat is cast as the group’s agent.
A minimalist two-tiered set allows simple props, representing everything from domesticity to a recording studio, to appear and disappear at will in a matter of seconds. A series of conjoined video screens displays appropriate shots of the period depicted. At one point, we are even privy to archival footage of appreciative fans. Upwards of 200,000 turned out to see The Seekers performing at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in 1967.
The show finishes with a rousing rendition of I Am Australian (surely it, rather than Advance Australia Fair, should be our national anthem), before we hear a second rendition of Georgy Girl as an encore. The finest moment came when the original Seekers appeared hand in hand with the four cast members who played them to take a bow. Very special!
Enjoyable and good humoured, Georgy Girl: The Seekers Musical is an uplifting tribute to four Australians who have brought countless hours of pleasure to so many people the world over.
It is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne until March 20th, before opening at the State Theatre in Sydney for a nine-week season from April 2nd.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television