Theatre review: Doctor Zhivago

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Casinos are strange places. In the movies they are depicted as the playground of the rich and famous, where men in tuxedos get sexy women to blow on dice before they make a lucky throw, tipping the croupier with a thousand dollar chip on their way to the valet parking to collect their Ferrari. However, for the vast majority of the population, that’s not the experience we get.

The average Joe gets flashing lights, sticky, worn carpets, garish decor and tacky promotions, plus the privilege of paying $25 to park the car. You can sense the desperation in the air. Men in sports jackets hover around the tables. Women sit on stools in front of pokies pressing buttons and staring blankly at the pretty images on the screens. No one seems to be having fun, with the exception of that group on the Hen’s Night. Wow, those beauty pageant sashes are so unique.

That was my experience as I attended the world premiere of Doctor Zhivago at Star City on Saturday night. Apparently famous people such as Jerry Hall were there. I’m glad she wasn’t sitting in front of me. Whilst Jerry evaded me, I did, however, see Maria Venuti and Peter Phelps in their best dress hovering in the foyer. I know that most people would remember Phelps for his turns in Water Rats or Stingers. I prefer his US TV debut as token Aussie lifeguard Trevor Cole in the first season of Baywatch. I should have asked him to run in slow motion for me.

I suppose that I should review the show now. I must admit that I was not at all familiar with the Doctor Zhivago story. I haven’t seen the movie. All I know is that it stars Eddie Murphy and he can talk to the animals.

Although billed as a world premiere, this work was originally produced as Zhivago in San Diego in 2006. Now extensively reworked by composer Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden, a moderately successful musical from 1991) and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Borden, Doctor Zhivago has been unveiled as a vehicle for star Anthony Warlow.

With a budget of over $5 million, this is a major risk for producer John Frost. With the cheapest tickets in the nosebleed section of the cavernous Lyric Theatre being just under $100, audiences will expect a decent bang for their buck. And this show doesn’t disappoint.

You can literally see the millions of rubles spent on the sumptuous set, which recreates the bleakness of revolutionary Russia with a colour palette of turquoise and greys. Arches, stairs, pillars and train cars roll effortlessly on and off the stage. Projections are also used to great effect, in particular as a rain effect onto the Moscow set.

The cast, led by Warlow, Lucy Maunder and Taneel Van Zyl, are all in fine voice. The onstage chemistry between the leads as they portray the participants in one of literature’s most famous love triangles was very apparent, even from the back of the theatre. Warlow pulled his calf muscle in rehearsals, missing several preview performances, but now fully healed after intensive physiotherapy, makes this role his own, in what may even surpass his iconic turn as the original Australian Phantom of the Opera.

The storyline covers much Russian history in a short space of time as Zhivago survives a World War, the Russian revolution, Civil War and the Chernobyl disaster, the whole time sticking to his idealism and principles. Between loving two women and saving lives as a medic, Doctor Zhivago also finds time to become a prolific Russian poet, although in this adaption his more famous works such The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are not mentioned. Interestingly, Doctor Zhivago takes the opposite ethos to Les Miserables. This time, the revolutionists are the bad guys and we sympathise with the proletariat.

A sign of a good musical is being able to walk away with at least one tune implanted in your head. This show won’t disappoint with several beautiful songs such as Now and On the Edge of Time. The Australian cast recording is in the pipeline and will soon be a must buy for fans of musicals. Enjoy the songs now before they are rendered into cliché by Susan Boyle.

Doctor Zhivago is an immensely enjoyable musical experience which is well worth discovering. See it now at your local casino before it hits Broadway or the West End.

Published in: on February 25, 2011 at 06:27  Leave a Comment  
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