The musical was a mix of fact and invention. It veers off from the original Frank Gardiner's life, introducing characters such as Wu Lin, Frank's Chinese love, Sylvia Torpy, a rich entrepreneur's wife who's besotted with Frank and Frank's Aboriginal grandmother. (As far as I can glean, the real Frank had no Aboriginal blood.)
With the law and an unhappy Mr Torpy hot on his heels, Frank (played by Brent Dolahenty) faces adventure after adventure, in bushranging terms, relationship terms and managing to keep out of jail terms.
The stage was a large, bare space in which the actors played out their scenes and songs using a few props: hats, chairs and tables. A small orchestra sat behind, consisting of a piano, two violins and a cello. The pianist, Allan McFadden (who also wrote the music and lyrics along with Peter Fleming on book and lyrics), gave what seemed, though was undoubtedly the opposite, an effortless performance. The songs came thick and fast and no one missed a beat.
The actors, also, delivered their parts with gusto. With a multitude of characters featured in the musical, they seamlessly transformed from one character to another, often changing accents, intonation and hats. While all the actors sang beautifully, Lena Cruz (Wu Lin) and Jennifer Reed (Sylvia Torpy) were standout, particularly Reed, who made me feel like I should write a musical just for her.
The songs were upbeat and humorous, although a little repetitive at times and some songs ran too long for my liking. My favourite song was 'Won't Whinge', where two typical Aussie "bushmen" (played by Timothy Monley and Trent Kidd) have a good ol' song and dance. The actors were a delight to watch and when they pulled out a few tap moves the entire theatre howled with laughter.
At two hours long, with a ten minute intermission, 'Frank Christie Frank Clarke' would benefit from a cut down. The repetition of songs was often unnecessary and an edit of some scenes would hone the musical and result in a stronger and more entertaining piece.
As part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, 'Frank Christie Frank Clarke!' is showing at the Italian Forum in Leichhardt, which holds an impressive and slick new theatre.
If you're looking for some light-hearted, Broadway-sounding-but-drenched-in-Aussie-values entertainment, then this is the musical for you. And, if you're still undecided, you can take a look at the trailer here.