"If there were more producers in this country with that sort of foresight and courage, it would be a very different landscape in Australian theatre."
Rehearsals for Georgy Girl — The Seekers Musical are well underway and Mike McLeish, who plays The Seekers' Bruce Woodley, speaks to us before heading inside. "We start at ten, so I'm just shoving a blueberry muffin into my face," he explains. McLeish "disappeared down the YouTube Seekers wormhole for a good coupla weeks and watched a lotta their live stuff" as part of his research. Footage of the band's "big, triumphant return to 200,000 people" at Sidney Myer Music Bowl in 1967 particularly impressed him. "It gives you an idea of just how massive they were," he gushes. "And I think because, you know, I mean, God! It's the '60s so it's getting close to being two generations away, but a lot of people don't have that understanding of just how successful a group they were and what an impact they had."
"...build an industry that we can really be proud of — here and overseas — and build it to a point where Broadway and the West End look to us to see what we're doing."
He already knew how to play guitar and learnt to play banjo for this role, but McLeish enlightens, "I've always been fine with singing harmony, but playing guitar and singing harmony was a whole pat the head, rub the tummy… It's that sense of separation — you just have to get good enough at one before you can implement the other — and also originally I was slipping into the melody and just phrasing things the way I wanted to and it's like, 'Oh, nup, nup. Four-part vocal group and the phrasing has to be absolutely spot on.'"
Given that this production is a world premiere, does that mean the original cast get to have more input? "Yeah, definitely," McLeish enthuses. "That's been one of the best things about the whole experience is that it's so collaborative and there's a real sort of generosity of spirit in the room from, you know, creative right through the whole cast, 'cause that's exactly what we're doing — we're creating something brand new from scratch… I'm, as always, very proud to be part of a new Australian thing.
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"This show, to a degree, is a bit of a dream role simply because it's a new Australian musical with an Australian creative team and an Australian cast. Like, I've found over the years this is what I've almost accidentally found myself doing and I love it, you know? And I really wanna continue to be a part of continuing to build an industry that we can really be proud of — here and overseas — and build it to a point where Broadway and the West End look to us to see what we're doing rather than the other way 'round. And maybe they're gonna start looking to bring over the Australian shows, because everything we do here is world class."
Given that so many 'classic' musicals are 'revived' for return seasons these days, it's a relief to see a new musical finding its way to the stage. "I mean, I think that's why — sorry, you'll have to excuse me chewing — I can't clap my hands loud enough for the producers of this show, you know: Richard East, Dennis Smith and Sue Farrelly just for having the basic, massive cojones to put on a brand new Australian musical and coming out all guns blazing with it — really backing the idea… If there were more producers in this country with that sort of foresight and courage, it would be a very different landscape in Australian theatre."