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Driftwood: The Musical - Review

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by Jen (subscribe)
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A story of creativity, survival, perseverance, love & family
driftwood the musical review, community event, theatre, fun things to do, performing arts, true story, entertainment, chapel off chapel, umbrella events, alexander theatre, the ian potter centre for performing arts, actors, director gary abrahams, karl and slawa duldig, invention of the foldable umbrella, holocaust, playwrights jame bodie, original memoir by eva de joing-duldig, music and arrangements by anthony barnhill, lyrics by tania de jong am, jane bodie
Images © Cameron Grant, Parenthesy

With a variety of matinee and 7.30pm shows, Driftwood - The Musical has landed at Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran, and runs from 18 May to 28 May 2022. Showtime is in two Acts with a duration of 60 mins in Act 1, 50 mins in Act 2, and a 20 min interval in between. Get your tickets here to this unmissable theatre event enjoying its world premiere.

Do note that the performance contains smoke effects, and there is no immediate parking at the venue due to renovations. You'll find parking down Carlton Street, or Chapel street close to Carlton Street, from where it's a short 2-5 min walk to the theatre. Seating is allocated. Please make sure you arrive a minimum of 15 mins prior to the performance start time. If you require wheelchair access or require a Companion Card booking, please call the Box Office on 03 8290 7000 Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm for personal service.

Driftwood, Eva de Jong-Duldig's critically acclaimed memoir has been adapted for the stage by award-winning playwright Jane Bodie and directed by Gary Abraham, with musical direction and original music composition by Anthony Barnhill.

The cast is headed by acclaimed Soprano Tania de Jong AM as Slawa Horowitz-Duldig, actor and singer Anton Berezin as Karl Duldig her husband, award-winning actress and critically acclaimed cabaret powerhouse Michaela Burger as Rella, her sister, Sara Reed whose musical theatre credits include Billy Elliot: The Musical, as Slawa and Karl's daughter Eva de Jong-Duldig, and Troy Sussman (Aladdin, Les Miserables Australian and West End productions) in many roles as Ignaz, Marcel, Gauleiter, Patent Attorneys and more.

An inspirational story of renowned Austrian/Australian sculpture Karl Duldig and his artist/inventor wife Slawa, it follows their romantic and artistic lives in pre-war Vienna, Slawa's ingenious invention of the foldable umbrella, and their miraculous escape from the Holocaust, to living out their lives as artists in Melbourne.

The theatre adaptation takes on even more meaning when Karl and Slawa's own granddaughter, Tania de Jong AM takes on the lead role of Slawa, her inventor, artist, grandmother. Having attended the show on Opening Night, I got to spend a few minutes chatting to the real Eva (played by Sara Reed) who penned the memoir; at the after-show event, where we were able to mingle with the cast and creative team.

It was such an honour to be in Eva's company - a glorious, elegant woman, her eyes shining with her sheer zest for life. A very interesting woman indeed who needs to have another book bubbling about her own life story, and what it was like growing up with such accomplished parents, and living in completely different environments.

About the play, Tania de Jong AM says it best when she says "The work poignantly explores the loss that families encounter when they are dislocated by war, whilst illuminating an immigrant experience that is uniquely Australian. Driftwood captures the universal narrative of seeking safety for yourself and your family, the lingering effects of intergenerational trauma. The plight of refugees during wartime and the themes of loss, escape, migration, internment and resettlement remains relevant today. They are dramatically illustrated through this uplifting true story of survival. I am so inspired to be playing the role of my extraordinarily creative and resilient grandmother."

When you walk into the theatre, you are immediately impressed by the set that takes up just about the full breadth of the theatre, musicians tucked away at one end, playing live, emotive themes from a song list that supports every scene and emotion on stage. Musical director Barnhill sits on piano, with two other string musicians adding the highlights to his arrangements. The score is influenced by both music of the era and Jewish music which would have been valued in the characters' lives.

The stage design by Jacob Battista is inspired by Slawa's umbrella as referenced in the shape of the set and the floor. Overhead is an overhanging screen shaped like a torn scrap of parchment, for video projections as needed to support and enhance the story, which was very clever. The whole design combined with the power of music and the human voice, allows you to be taken on a journey with the family, from home to refugee camps to foreign lands and train stations as elements are revealed and masked as necessary.

The scene opens with the celebration of young Eva's 18th birthday. She's handed a couple of boxes filled with memorabilia. Through it, she pieces together a seamless timeline that fills the gaps she's missing in her life. Confidently performed, Reed's strong vocals gives emotion to the narrative as she carries the intricate lyrics melodically. Michaela Burger is another that brings warmth to her character as the spirited Rella. She lights up the stage with her natural ability as a performer and brings light hearted fun to the stage. However, small in stature and not powerful enough vocally to command authority, her projection as a military official is less than believable. It's amazing how just five characters tell such a complex story, and as it races to cover all that has happened in the Duldig's lives, it loses a little of its emotions and doesn't quite successfully tug at the heartstrings. Overall, as gorgeous as everything is, the play tries to cover too much, and might have been better off concentrating on less, and giving it more emotional weight for the audience to truly connect to its characters. It needs some fine tuning to tighten the tale.

Visiting the Duldig Studio Museum and Sculpture Garden right here in Melbourne will provide you with more information on the story behind the Musical. Driftwood is Umbrella Productions & Events first production. They're a registered charity committed to telling stories that matter through a variety of art forms. Your support will help in the future touring of Driftwood, and the production of other creative events. All donations are fully tax-deductible to this registered charity, and all support gratefully accepted. Please donate here, or you could call 03 8679 6000 to donate.

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*Jen was invited as a guest
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Why? Driftwood - The Musical. An inspirational true story
When: 18 to 28 May 2022 - various dates and showtimes
Where: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran, VIC
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