Guest writer Chris Fung attended Broadway Unplugged – Sydney’s hottest new industry event – last week for the first time. He shared his thoughts on the evening with AussieTheatre in this special feature piece.
I had never been to Broadway Unplugged before. I walked through the doors and was greeted with the proprietary grin of George Youakim, a well-known producer and the man who runs this particular show. George took my ten dollar note, and briefed me on the run down of the night.
The interior of the room was smoky without the smoke. Cries of ‘Darling’ and the raucous laughter that I’ve come to associate with gatherings of Musical Theatre people, rebounded unrestrained. Goodness gracious, I thought, what have I got myself in for.
Making my way up the winding staircase to the second level, I took my seat on a balcony overlooking a tiny stage packed brimful with noisemaking things. A full drum kit, a double bass, a piano, multiple guitar stands, and a microphone downstage centre. Smooth Jazz buzzed over the conversation.
It wasn’t long before George hoisted himself onto stage to begin the night in his chuckling bumbling manner. And that’s when things began in earnest.
The five metres between you and the performer feels more like one. If you were in the habit of doing such things, you could stick out your tongue and lick the stage. But that feeling has less to do with physical distance and sound system than it has to do with the calibre of performer on show.
Tony Sheldon, Ross Chisari, Courtney Glass, James Lee: men and women who have properly invested their lives into being Musical Theatre performers. Hushed whispers of “Musical Theatre Royalty” accompanied the enthusiastic reception of Tony Sheldon. Each of these men and women have held major leading parts in large-budget productions here in Australia and internationally.
But what struck me was that this wasn’t a concert. It was too damn fun and relaxed and easy to be a concert. This was a bunch of kids who were out to muck around and play with a bunch of their friends. The night and the performances flew by in a heady jumble of complicity. It’s hard to describe in words what that audience reception was like. There is something indescribable about a group who are all actively urging the storytelling along. Willing each singer on with the collective force of their good will. Before I knew it, the first act was done. The second half was an open-mike night, where a keyboard wizard (Musical Director Steven Kreamer) would sight-read for all those brave enough to get up and have a yodel. And yodel they did.
[pull_left] If you’ve never been to Broadway Unplugged and you are currently auditioning as an actor and you want to learn who the people in your industry are doing, you can come to these nights to do that[/pull_left]
From hobby singers to Musical Theatre students to between-contract performers, it didn’t matter who you were, or what you had done, or whether you looked right, or any one of the thousands of reasons that are sufficient for rejection in the audition room, the night was just about storytelling. There was this freedom in that room because wordlessly, communally, like some hive-mind mandated order, everybody bought in to that. If you’ve never been to Broadway Unplugged and you are currently auditioning as an actor and you want to learn who the people in your industry are, what everybody else is doing, you can come to these nights to do that.
If you want to pay a very tiny fee in order to see the cream of today’s Musical Theatre stars up close and personal, perhaps hunt down a signature or two, you can do that too. Or you could come to these nights and simply luxuriate in an unfettered enjoyment of storytelling, amongst a crowd of unapologetic Musical Theatre enthusiasts who all know what it is to feel exactly what you are feeling when you walk out onto that stage, and the first bars of your songs play, and all eyes are on you.
Broadway Unplugged plays roughly once a month, the next event will be on March 16.
For more information visit www.broadwayunplugged.com.au