When the lights went down for Light the Night 2012, the audience burst into warm applause before a single note was sung, before lights went up on the opening act. When Adam Rennie began to sing – a beautifully pure “Beautiful City” from Godspell, the warmth extended even further.
Light the Night is an extraordinary experience. A benefit concert created by brothers Shaun and Adam Rennie, and Monica and Greg Smith to fight for a cure for leukaemia in honor of brother Matthew after he was diagnosed, the show is now an anticipated night in the theatre calendar.
Five years after Matthew’s untimely death, the benefit continues to raise money for cancer research, advocate blood and bone marrow donation, and demonstrate the generosity and community of Australian theatre performers, who donate their time and skill to the night.
Hosted this year by Rob Mills, an excellent straight man for his hilarious co-host international music therapist Jan van de Stool (Queenie van Zandt), the skill and talent was immense — a strong reminder of all the musical and theatrical talent we have in this country.
Several acts of the night are rightfully celebrated in their field, like Emma Pask, the much-lauded jazz vocalist who, with Thirsty Merc’s Phil Stack on bass, wowed with Duke Ellington’s “Squeeze Me”; Trevor Ashley as Dame Shirley Bassey commanded attention; Legally Blonde‘s Emmett and musical theatre leading man David Harris sang “The Impossible Dream” impossibly well. Bobby Fox, another musical theatre mainstay most recently of Jersey Boys, brought a musical and vocal ensemble to the stage with tight harmonies and Fox’s impressive guitar work.
And then there was Australian theatrical darling, all-rounder Tyran Parke, who sang “I Will Remember”, written for him by contemporary New York composer Scott Alan for an upcoming project. It was a moment that stole hearts. Parke holds crowds in the palm of his hand.
Light the Night also featured some of those in the industry who are underrated gems. South Pacific‘s Elise McCann sang a stunning “I Can’t Make You Love Me”; Shaun Rennie, with his liquid-smooth vocals, singing the heartbreaking “Good Night My Angel”; and cabaret star Tom Sharah, who recently gained attention as part of Channel Ten’s I Will Survive, and opened the second act with more charisma and more voice than you could hope for — Sharah is a true force of nature.
Neo-soul mystics Okenyo, fronted by STC Resident Zindzi Okenyo, captivated. Zindzi is a fiercely compelling presence on stage and her band’s new/old-world infused rhythms are electrifying: this is a group to watch.
In a breathtakingly bittersweet moment — one of the best of the night — the cast of Sydney’s Next to Normal, a production which was supposed to premiere at the Capitol Theatre this year but was sadly cancelled, performed a tantalising medley. A look, it was called, at what might have been. And Sydney, we have missed out. Michelle Doake singing “I Miss The Mountains” was a revelatory experience, and bridging from “I Am The One (reprise)” into “There Will Be Light” was stirring, moving. That this production may never happen is incredibly disappointing, because from this number it was clear to see that the team had pulled together magic in their casting. (And it was great to see Erica Lovell, slated to play Natalie, back on stage again).
Adam Rennie spoke touchingly about his late brother, and about having grown up over the past eight years in front of Light The Night audiences, reminding us all both of the very real people leukaemia affects. The statistic repeated through the night bears repeating here: 1 in 3 Australians will need blood in their lifetime. Only 1 in 30 donate. A call for action presented with simple fact.
Through Adam and Shaun’s speeches, what also became evident was the strength that comes from a supportive community; the power of this tiny benefit to affect change, to grow as it has and to raise money for research grants and potentially save lives. It was a grounding moment that visibly reached the audience.
The uplifting, inspirational, somehow perfect ending to each Light the Night is a performance of the only song Matthew requested be played at his funeral. Sung by the full cast of the night, and supported by the audience (of course!) is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” The Life of Brian’s irreverent number is somehow so perfect. It’s a personal choice that resonates out across the audience; a beautifully human number that manages to encapsulate everything Light the Night is about: inspiration, rememberance, hope.
Light the Night 2012 was pure magic.
For more information about Light the Night and for information on how to donate and further support the cause, please visit http://www.lightthenight.com.au/