Matthew Backer catches up with Hugo Chiarella about his new musical, Dreamsong, currently workshopping at Arts Centre Melbourne.
If there is indeed a God, and He happens to enjoy musical theatre, actor-writer Hugo Chiarella might want to send a few prayers of thanks His way.
One could almost deduce from talking to Hugo that some higher power is perhaps guiding his new Australian musical, Dreamsong, in exactly the right direction.
Currently in rehearsals to be presented “in the raw” as part of the Arts Centre Melbourne’s New Music Theatre Series, also known as Carnegie 18, in February, Dreamsong has had one hell – sorry – heaven of a journey.
About six years ago, Hugo was in the Australian tour of Fiddler On The Roof when a line from the show resulted in a clear ‘lightbulb’ moment.
“I had to turn to the Rabbi and say, ‘Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah all our lives; wouldn’t this be a good time for Him to come?’” he said.
“I later thought, ‘if the Messiah was to return, would the mega churches of today really be able to identify with His message of humility and would He even be able to live up to the expectation that those churches set?’”
Hugo began writing the book, music and lyrics for what would become Dreamsong, an irreverent new musical comedy about faith, fraud and forgiveness.
“At the time though I was getting frustrated with myself because I couldn’t write the music that I could hear in my head,” he said.
Hugo’s path was thankfully steered in the direction of the Victorian College of Arts Music Theatre course where he met classmate Robert Tripolino who, Hugo said, “could write music like what I could hear in my head so I asked him to write the score.”
After a class reading, it was decided by VCA’s own higher powers that Dreamsong would be one of the year’s graduating productions.
Hugo and Robert later applied for Carnegie 18 and their successful application allowed the show to “transition from an educational context into a professional one.”
“It’s only a few days into rehearsals and I’m absolutely spent,” Hugo said.
“I think every time someone makes a suggestion, your mind kind of jumps 10 stages forward so at the end of the day you’re left with 10 different versions of the show in your brain.”
The version a Melbourne audience can see will play at the Arts Centre from 4 to 7 February, along with Cautionary Tales for Children and The New Black.
Dreamsong is directed by Michael Gurr, also returning to the project after directing the initial VCA production.
“Michael tends to favor clarity and simplicity in the way he directs and that seems to serve the material pretty well,” Hugo said.
“He’s also not averse to the odd but of smut which doesn’t hurt with this piece either.”
The show follows a large American mega-church called Dreamsong which, in order to revive its fortune that was lost in the global financial crisis, stages the second coming of Christ.
Hugo, a self-confessed “nothing” when it comes to his own religious beliefs, said Dreamsong questions the topic of faith and how it is often used as a tool for financial and political agendas.
“I’ve always just been fascinated by it (religion),” he said.
“I think it’s really interesting that these fantastical stories shape our moral and ethical debates so much; they shouldn’t be informing complex debate in the way they do.”
And Hugo’s advice to other aspiring writers of musical theatre?
“I had to decide that I was just going to sit down every day and write a little bit more of the show no matter how arduous it was,” he said.
“Initially you just have to tighten your belt and say, ‘Gosh darn it! I’m going to write this!’”
Amen to that.
Starring John O’May, Sheridan Harbridge, Nick Christo, Sam Ludeman, Simon Wilton, Briallen Clarke, Nelson Gardner and Stefanie Jones, Dreamsong, with book and lyrics by Hugo Chiarella and composition by Robert Tripolino will play at the Melbourne Arts Centre on 6 and 7 February at 8.00pm, 4 February at 8.00pm and 5 February at 4.30pm.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.
All tickets $10
To book or for more information, visit www.theartscentre.com.au or call 1300 182 183.
The New Black, with book by Stephen Helper in collaboration with Leeroy Bilney and members of the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts and a score by Marcus Cowora, will also play on 1 to 3 February at 6.30pm and 4 February at 3.00pm
Cautionary Tales for Children, with book by Claudia O’Doherty and music by Mark Jones, plays 4 February at 6.30pm, 5 February at 3.00pm and 6 and 7 February at 6.30pm