BRAN NUE DAE has had a major revival on its 30th birthday , co-produced by Opera Conference and the Sydney Festival.
Jimmy Chi’s musical lovingly directed by Andrew Ross takes us on a road trip through 1960’s Western Australia , with music by Kuckles,the country-reggae-soul band.
It is bright, full of warmth and joy, exuberant and yet also has a dark underlay, raising many social issues that are still around today regarding the treatment of Indigenous peoples.
It is about a quest , a search for identity , knowledge and fulfilment. Set in the famous Sun Pictures outdoor cinema of Broome , we follow young Willie as he hitchhikes back to the girl he loves,Rosie ,from Perth after being expelled from school. He meets up with Aboriginal elder Uncle Tadpole , and befriends two flower-power hippies ( Marijuana Annie and Slippery) in a combi van on the way as well as an assortment of other characters.
Some of it is saucy and witty , other sections extremely powerful – lasting dispossession and genocide of Indigenous peoples is evoked in Listen To The News when the ensemble sings ‘is this the end of our people ? “ , the men with boomerangs , the women performing a traditional dance -just after some of the cast embody a real historical photograph projected on the back screen of Aboriginal men chained together by their necks. The Stolen Generation, deaths in custody and land rights are other issues raised.
Mark Thompson sets the show in the Broome open air cinema, with deck chairs and corrugated iron. The large screen at the back Is used also as a landscape and location setter – eg streets of Perth , the Combi van. The van on stage is portrayed by a scattering of chairs .Some parts of the set that slide in and out ( eg Father Benedictus’ mission). Mark Howett’s lighting complements this and is also integral to the show.
Choreography by Tara Gower, a Bangarra dancer, drawing on traditional movement from the Kimberley area blends Indigenous dance with Western social dance of the period and showbiz musicals.
Music becomes at times almost comprehensive Country and Western but ranges from ballads, songs with a powerful punch and romantic numbers contrasted with exuberant huge production numbers. The great band , directed by Michael Mavromatis and Patrick Bin Amat , are hidden at the back of the stage.
The swell ensemble cast were in fine, boisterous form.
As Willie Marcus Corowa shone brightly, warm and graceful, captivating the audience.
Ernie Dingo as Uncle Tadpole , recreating the role he played both in the original production of the show and the movie was superb , wise and ironic. Cheekily at one point Uncle Tadpole declares he has given up his days of droving – but he hasn’t given up his days of drinking.
Teresa Moore was splendid, sweet and charming as Rosie but the role was perhaps underwritten and could be expanded .
Beautifully voiced rotund Andrew Moran has great fun playing the wily Father Bendedictus who expels Willie from school for stealing Cherry Ripes ,( observe the chausable he wears! ), as well as a menacing policeman and a publican.
Callan Purcell as Slippery and Danielle Sibosado as Marijuana Annie gave fine performances as the somewhat spaced out pair of hippies.
Czack Bero as Pentecostal Pastor Flakkon gave a very strong and impressive performance , wearing a rather unexpected very posh beautifully cut silver lame suit , leading his followers in All The Way Jesus .
Willie’s mother Theresa was given a robust performance by Ngaire Pigram .
The plot is perhaps a little slight and the structure perhaps a little heavy handed with somewhat unbelievable coincidences at the end but this is a musical that brings joy and hope .While looking at the struggling past it also affirms the future. BRAN NUE DAE’s cry for understanding and reconciliation is extremely relevant today.
BRAN NUE DAY runs at Parramatta Riverside 15 January – 1 February 2019 then a national tour.