Music Theatre showstoppers on the small screen

Nancye Hayes, Todd McKenney, Chloe Dallimore in Annie 2012.
Nancye Hayes, Todd McKenney, Chloe Dallimore as Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily St Regis. Image by Jeff Busby.

I’m sitting in the grandstand-like audience seats of a TV studio at Foxtel and the air is ripe with atmosphere. Directors, sound technicians, stage managers and an audience wrangler straight out of a 90’s sitcom are hustling and bustling about as lights are set and mics are checked. Were Norma Desmond to appear, black Schiaparelli skirt suit and all, and begin to sing, she would not be out of place. Something is coming and I am all a-tingle.

One of my very favourite things, beyond an original cast recording (and we’ll get to that), is watching Broadway shows perform on US TV. The cast of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever on The View. Sutton Foster from Anything Goes belting it out on The Tonight Show. The edible Reeve Carney from Spiderman on Good Morning America. And, sadly, there really is no Australian equivalent.

True, it can be said that occasionally a showstopper will pop up on Sunrise or The Morning Show. And Lord love Kerri-Anne, she did like a good chat with a music theatre star. But the arrival of a big new show in town doesn’t seem to ignite the small screen as it once did.

Fortunately YouTube has preserved many a glorious moment from the day and age when the box and the theatre were more harmonious in their cross-promotion. Thanks be to music theatre nerds and archivists everywhere, we can still see glimpses of a gentler age where Anthony Warlow, Debra Byrne, Marina Prior and Maria Mercedes all went on to Hey Hey It’s Saturday! and the like to sing the showstoppers.

Now we are not so lucky. Love Never Dies is about to unleash a DVD on the world we have not seen even a 60 Minutes special! Were this to occur on Broadway, 30 Rock would be awash with hate mail from producers and die hard fans.

Two words to act as balm to the issue: John Frost. Ever the trendsetter he is behind the buzz I am experiencing at Foxtel as he presents a TV special on his latest venture, a star-spangled revival of Annie.

To air my dirty laundry, I must be quite literally the only person in Sydney who didn’t enjoy Annie. And yet from the beginning of the TV special to the final fade-out I was utterly rapt with this special. What a joy to watch Nancye Hayes talk about her career – in any setting! The Godmother of Australian music theatre getting a chance to talk about shows old and new – such a special could be built around her, and, put on DVD if we’re lucky!

But what a great chance to see the cast perform – and hats firmly off to that dauntless trio of hoofers Todd McKenny, Chloe Dallimore and (once again) Nancye Hayes. “Easy Street” isn’t exactly a big production number and yet, somehow, that day in that TV studio, they made it feel like one.

Likewise the fantastic cast of young girls playing the orphans that populate the cast of Annie gave a fire and brimstone rendition of “Hard Knock Life”. And seeing Anthony Warlow on screen again – well it was just like old times.

Hopefully these circumstances set something of a trend. Australian music theatre is known internationally as the height of the collectors treasure trove. Our (all too rare) cast recordings are cherished, while recordings of TV specials and documentaries about our musicals are heavily sought after. Leave it to John Frost to give the people what they want.

Including – the Original Australian Cast Recording of Annie.

Other Australian producers: take heed – and keep up!

An Audience with the Cast of Annie was telecast, exclusive to Bio, on Sunday January 22 at 6.30pm AEDT. 

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