Queensland Theatre Company
July 4 – August 8 2015
Reviewed by Chanel Lucas
QTC’s musical play Country Song juxtaposes the career of Australian singer Jimmy Little against key events in our political and human rights history to create an interesting and entertaining story.
Jimmy Little can be described as one of Australia’s first and greatest country music stars. He toured around Australia during the 60s and 70s but his career extended to acting and in the late 90s and 2000s he recorded and released songs by contemporary artists such as Paul Kelly, Bernard Fanning, Nick Cave and Dave Graney.
As Jimmy Little, Michael Tuahine spent most of the show under a single spotlight, in front of a microphone, with his guitar, as the tumultuous events of Australian Aboriginal history occurred around him. We were invited into his world backstage and as an audience for his live shows with a simple stage design and spotlights on the main action. Events such as the 1965 Freedom Ride and race riot in Moree; or the rise of boxer Lionel Rose placed Jimmy Little’s life story into a larger context. The show seemed to be almost apologetic that this famous singer did not engage with the protests and social justice issues of his time and yet celebrated this gentle man who ‘just wanted to sing’.
The ensemble does a great job, each performer playing multiple characters with sensitivity and humour, and making up the competent on-stage band for the show. Megan Sarmardin and Elaine Crombie both bring strong singing voices, producing endearing characterisations of singer Auriel Andrew, and of Little’s mother Frances. Tuahine is very natural and has a similar vocal style to Jimmy Little. He is a confident guitarist, and leads the band through the songs with ease. The crowd around me were tapping and singing along the whole way through. Musical Director, Jamie Clarke, produces a capable on-stage live band from the actors involved.
The music is a real highlight of the show, featuring songs such as the classic Little hits Royal Telephone, Oh Danny Boy, and I Want To Thank You, were presented alongside his more contemporary 1999 cover Under the Milky Way Tonight, which seemed to be an anthem for this gentle man constantly wondering, “I wish I knew what you were looking for”.
There are some truly beautiful moments during the show.
I think some in the audience came expecting a Jimmy Little tribute show in the vein of Elvis or Fleetwood Mac RSL shows. This show did not meet those expectations, although we did hear excellent versions of many of Little’s hits. The ‘live show’ scenes in the play really did lend themselves to a bit of ‘whoo-hooing’ and clapping along from the crowd.
I felt that the show could have benefited from amplification in all of the scenes. There were some scenes ‘backstage’ or in Little’s family house that lost some momentum because they were so much quieter than the ‘on-stage’ scenes. This may have been a deliberate choice by the production team however, to make the ‘on-stage’ scenes have more impact on the audience.
The show runs at the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC until 8 August and then tours to regional venues. If you love country music – go see this. If you are interested in Australian history and music – go see this. If you enjoy musicals and local stories – go see this. Country Song is heartwarming and entertaining, and you’ll jump up for a dance at the end!