As the title suggests, Georgy Girl: The Seekers musical is a jukebox bio-tuner about Australian folk group turned pop stars, The Seekers. Without much prior knowledge of The Seekers I didn’t have the kind of emotional investment in the show that those who love the band will, but I am in general a sucker for a feel-good jukebox musical. I came expecting a celebration of one of Australia’s legends of music. Instead, I received an emotionally artificial book that let down my first experience with The Seekers’ catchy hits.
We open on a mostly empty, malleable stage (designed by Shaun Gurton), bordered by walls that resemble office partitions. With the aid of a few props, flashy costumes (by Isaac Lummis) and vibrant lighting design (by Trudy Dalgleish) we’re transported between recording studios, suburban homes, a hospital and even the bustling streets of London.
We first meet Ron Edgeworth (Adam Murphy, charismatic, but with a script that’s working against him; his over the top jokes are irritating), a jazz pianist of the time who plays narrator here. He will eventually be important to the story, but for now he introduces us to the show and takes us back to the humble beginnings of the band, opening with, and largely focusing on, sole female band-member, Judith Durham (Pippa Grandison). After a chance meeting with folk group the Seekers, Judith signs on for their gigs, and it’s not long before they head to London on a 10 week job. From there, success finds them quickly, and they are thrust into global stardom.
But the effects of this change are brushed over and strained. The band’s inevitable moments of doubt and insecurities are only moments without real dramatic traction. Judith’s fixation with her weight and appearance whilst in the spotlight is a running joke, but mostly this is a light-hearted musical without much to say.
The recreation of the Seekers’ hits is the one thing that is well executed in this production. These onstage Seekers – Phillip Lowe as Keith Potger, Mike McLeish as Bruce Woodley, Glaston Toft as Athol Guy, and Pippa Grandison as Judith Durham – create tight harmonies and blend well together. Grandison delivers a standout performance: her dynamic and powerful voice soars onstage and she’s likeable from the first as the youthful and innocent Durham. Lowe, McLeish and Toft handle the music seemingly effortlessly, creating a cohesive and pleasant sound. The music is superb, but script doesn’t give the men much else to work with.
This production lacks drive. Its feather-light script feels stagnant in the hands of director Gary Young. The band’s important milestones, like an affair, family illness, terminal disease, a severe car accident, the group’s breakup, and even death, become meaningless subplots in a story that just wants to have fun and sing some songs. The most egregious crime of storytelling: when Judith’s husband announces he is dying, we almost glimpse a touching moment (and Grandison gives a subtle and sweet performance of her grief), but it’s swiftly and bafflingly brushed aside for a patriotic nod with the concluding song, ‘I am Australian’. That moment illustrates the problem at the heart of the show: it’s all style, no substance.
Ostentatious costumes, a minimalistic set, and high-energy dance numbers provide entertainment and distraction at times but can’t make up for what is lacking in the script. Only a show about The Seekers could get away with a limp book, because even people like me, who aren’t familiar with the Seekers will adore the music. There were moments in the midst of song, such as the oft repeated ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ or the act two opener, Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and ‘Mama’s Got the Blues’, when I was tempted to forgive the musical for its flaws and lap up the sentimentality onstage. I even almost forget the shocking lead up to the final scene because it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sappy but genuine power of one of our nation’s unofficial anthems.
But this is a musical, not a tribute show. If you can overlook the poorly structured book, this musical can be a great chance to relive (or introduce) The Seekers’ hits, but don’t expect anything more.