‘Blitz – The Musical’

‘Blitz – The Musical’ is a wartime based musical, with the music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart; Joan Maitland contributed to the libretto. Bart based the story on his own childhood memories of London’s Jewish East End during the Blitz. The musical was first performed in London in 1962 and ran for 18 months, but was not considered as interesting or relevant enough for the American market, so it never transferred to Broadway.

The musical was not seen for decades, as the original scores went missing during Bart’s ‘unsettled’ years. In this period, he sold the rights to ‘Oliver’ for $200 to Max Bygraves, in order to get money for booze. A 19-year-old Australian fan, Andrew Jarrett, restored the show.

This two and a half hour, energetic and lively musical is being presented at the Limelight Theatre, in Wanneroo at 8.00 pm on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 10th December.

Alan Brock’s elaborate sets, included the Bank Underground, Victoria Station, Petticoat Lane, and a London street on fire during an air raid. Alan Brock and Dave Browning built the sets. The magnificent scenic artist was Ursula Kotara.

The sets were cleverly designed to rotate to produce a new location, but it was the extras like the ruins after a bomb had dropped – and a special effect in the last few seconds – that really gave depth and realism to the show. The stage crew of Deb Anderson, Maddie Innes, Helen Smolders, Zak Ozolins and Jen Edwards worked quickly and silently.

The highly realistic lighting design was by Robert Benson Parry and Jacob Anderson, with the operators being Wally Fry and Jacob Anderson. The lights flickered as the bombers flew over, and the red glow was threatening. To the number ‘As long as this is England’ the lights oscillated red, white and blue as the Union Jacks were waved.

The most convincing and multifaceted soundscape was designed and produced by Patrick McGinn and Kim Elford. With a sensible use of the smoke machine, the technicians gave us a true day in the Blitz.

This complex production with a cast of ‘thousands’ was co-ordinator by Ros Guye.

The orchestra was positioned in front of the stage, but in a ‘below the ground’ pit. Thanks to the multi-talented Musical Director, conductor and on keyboard, Lyn Brown, the sound balance was perfect and you could even pick out individual instruments. The orchestra musicians were Violins – David Maconochie, Pam and Henri Pougnault, Jeanne Vernon and Tamara Scott. Cello – Russell Vernon, Bass – Roger Tuffley, Reeds – David Lawrence, Miriam Wholer, Chelsea Kittler and Bronwyn Booth. Brass section – David Lawrence and Sandra McKenna with Terry Murphy on drums. Great accompaniment.

     The scene is the platform of Bank Underground station, where the residents of Petticoat Lane are sheltering. They are singing along with Vera Lynn on the radio. The widowed, pickled herring seller, patriarchal Mrs Blitztein (Susan Vincent – outstanding) then sings to the people who are lying on the platform, avoiding the bombs outside. Her Yiddish accent and singing are abused and insulted by fruiterer, Alfred Locke (Alan Markham).

     Alfred’s son, Georgie (Oliver Bourne) is in love with Mrs Blitztein’s daughter, Carol (Catherine Dunn), and her son Harry Blitztein (Adrian Price) seems to have rejected his usual girlfriend, lodger Elsie (Tania Morrow) preferring a married Shiksa (a disparaging Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman) posh Joyce Matthews (Libby Cooper) whose husband is fighting overseas.

     The bombings are becoming worse, and so with suitcases in hand, the schoolchildren are led by their teacher (Elinor King) to Victoria station for evacuation in the country. Next to leave are the army reserves, supervised by the Sergeant Major (Glenn Rowan), who are heading for the docks and the Front.

     Ever pessimistic Ernie (Tim Riessen), Alf’s best friend and fellow air raid warden, announces the damage so far. Mrs Blitztein’s best friends, shopping bag maker, Mrs Joseph (Kerry Goode) and her husband, baker Mr Joseph (David Nelson) are desperately trying to get a few shillings by selling their wares. Rachel (Colleen Hopkins) and Cissy Blitztein (Colleen Hopkins) are well-loved in the market and help the stallholders.

   The ‘Queen of Petticoat Lane’, Mrs B. has taken in Mr Sen (RJ Smolders) and his wife (Karen Thompson) as lodgers, because they have lost their home to a bomb. Mrs Murphy (Gwen Browning) and daughter Peg (Lauren Hulatt) go to live with Alfred’s family. The other folks in this close community are Mr and Mrs O’Hara (Tom Kinshela, Jayne Triffitt), Mrs Smith (Joan Braskie), Mrs Jones (Carol Keppler) and Mrs Higgins (Hope Baylis).

     We soon find that Harry has not boarded the troop ship, and is actually AWOL. He met an old friend, Bird (Andrew Brown) and has become a spiv.

     Playing several parts were Taneeka Hall, Dave Browning, Brad Beckett, Jacinta Buckland and Gabrielle Bright.

‘The Kids’ troupe comprising Brandon Orgill, Zackary Gosatti, Lucie Lockyer, Grace Elford, Arion Marama, Katie Moloney, Faye Whitwell, Indianna Rowan, Daniel Grant, Jenna McGougan-Shaw, Lilly Varley, Georgie Lockyer, Joe Neil and Jacob Miles was the best set of young singers and dancers that I have seen in years. Every single member was perfectly in step, even throughout the complex routines, everyone smiled; and when acting was required, the expressions and body language were that of an experienced adult. Fabulous work from every single ‘kid’. Superb stage awareness and wonderful teamwork.

The director and choreographers, Jen Edwards and Alan Brock, even in quiet scenes such as the homeless sleeping on the platform, ensured that there were various groups doing different antics. The stage was alive. The intricate dances with the lively foot work, was jaw dropping at times.

The demand upon the costumes department was huge. With the show being based 80 years ago, the dresses had to be researched, and then made with the styles and patterns of the day. There were soldiers and police uniforms – all tricky to source. The children’s clothing and their board suitcases added to the nightmare. However, Joyce Gilbert, Kim Elford, Kerry Wood, Elinor King, Meg Considine, Marion James, Shelley McGinn and Pearl Jensen have done a mammoth task, to bring such quality to the stage. There were a few unusual props supplied by Susie Benson-Parry and Carryn McLean.

The blitz was obviously a depressing time, but this cast clearly demonstrated the greatest message of the day – love and support your neighbour through hard times.

This was a very expensive show to present (a massive licence fee), with numerous sets and a huge cast, but thank you for taking the risk and giving us a rarely presented musical. A wonderful, light-hearted fun show, crammed with several great singers and catchy tunes. Every scene was a visual feast. Dare I mention that some of the dancers were a little more mature than usual, and yet they had all of the drive and vivacity of youth in every step? The mass entrances and exits ‘just happened’ with no obvious crowding, such polished planning.

This production had to show tragedy, happiness, antisemitism, the darker side of a blitz, as well as find a cast that could tirelessly sing and dance. Everything worked a good, solid success.