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Driftwood the Musical – Riverside Theatres (NSW)

Based on Eva de Jong’s memoir. Book by Gary Abrahams and Jane Bodie. Music and lyrics by Anthony Barnhill.


Reviewed by Justin Clarke Riverside Theatres Until 4th June Eternity Playhouse 7th June – 18th June Tickets: https://driftwoodthemusical.com.au/


3.5 STARS


- A show that has the capacity to be a rich piece of theatre in the Australian musical canon -


Based on the memoir by Eva de Jong, Driftwood the Musical opened to rapturous applause when it premiered last year at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel. A new Australian musical with a real-life premise, poignant and heavy subject matter, and a hauntingly beautiful score, Driftwood has the makings to be a resonating musical in the Australian theatre canon. With the production and its materials still in its early days, it has a long way to go before it can award itself with this title.


With a book by Gary Abrahams and Jane Bodie, Driftwood the Musical tells the real-life story of Slawa and Karl Duldig and their family. Told through the eyes of their daughter Eva, we journey with Eva as she discovers the hidden past of her family’s escape from Nazi-invaded Austria and their eventual arrival to Australia. Along the journey we witness Slawa’s invention of the foldable umbrella and Eva’s burgeoning tennis career, as well as notions of intergenerational trauma and displacement as a result of the Holocaust.


If you think that the notion of a musical revolving around one of the largest genocides in history is cause for concern, the creators of Driftwood soften these qualms through a focused lens of family and identity found through art.


Photos by Cameron Grant, Parenthesy


Director Gary Abraham guides the production with bold, gentle strokes, harnessing Jacob Battista’s set design and Justin Gardam’s AV design to encapsulate a space in time that is both comforting and cold, distant and yet familiar. The most stunning part of the production sits hovering above the stage – a torn strip of parchment on which projections reflect. Throughout, photographs, letters and Nazi propaganda are shown, adding authenticity and a reminder of the play’s realism which is brought into focus.


Leading the charge as the show’s creator and producer, Tania de Jong AM provides additional lyrics to the production as well as taking on the role of her grandmother, Slawa. It’s clear that de Jong has a firm grip on the show itself and has worked in every way possible to highlight her family’s journey through World War Two and their displacement from the world they’ve known. The ingenuity of Slawa is demonstrated early on in the production through her seamless invention of the foldable umbrella as well as Karl’s artistic flair within his detailed sculptures.


Anthony Barnhill’s orchestrations are haunting, yet beautiful, mixing operatic and musical forms together to create contrasts and motifs throughout. Through connecting the music to the Viennese art stylings of the Duldig’s past, Driftwood the Musical encapsulates a unique world of musical theatre that is sometimes joyous and sometimes heart-wrenching. Others it comes across as melodramatic and in opposition to the action taking place on stage. The show itself isn't afraid to challenge the theatrical norms in order to tell a story of immense courage.


This utilisation of operatic orchestrations within the musical theatre genre clearly lends itself to de Jong's rich history in theatre. Even though de Jong is more than capable of artfully singing the tuneful notes and arrangements, her training in Opera doesn’t fully translate to the mixed-genre of the show. Whilst those around her are full of vibrancy and vigour, flowing from scene to scene and vignettes, Slawa doesn’t take the reigns of the story as she should, feeling like a side character within her own story.


The focal point of the show seemingly comes to Anton Berezin’s portrayal of Karl, who is arguably the heart and soul of the production. Berezin plays Karl with complete honesty and authenticity, taking control of each moment he inhabits and encapsulates the weight of the story he is telling.


Starting the production as the young Eva, still yet a schoolgirl, Bridget Costello shines in the second act of the musical. Eva’s vigorous hunt for answers from her parent’s journey should have been the lens through which the story was told from the start. The desire to know more and to uncover every piece of her family’s history provided an overarching theme through which we were able to weave in and out of the Duldig’s story and Costello was adept at taking this on her shoulders.


"...a reflective tale of the beauty of art that survives the most horrific of circumstances."

Encapsulating Slawa’s sister Rella, Michaela Burger is a standout as the sister full of life and theatrical dreams. Burger artfully expresses Rella’s dreams and fears through Sophie Loughran’s tight choreography. Burger mirrors de Jong’s Eva through her desire for the preservation of art amidst a time in which Jewish culture was being eradicated.


Rounding out the performers, Nelson Gardner takes on a variety of roles from Eva’s uncle to Nazi Generals, and Rella’s Parisian saviour. Gardner’s baritone voice resonated in the space and helped to give the show moments of much-needed tension to provide the stakes of the story in key moments of the well-known history.


Whilst Driftwood the Musical didn’t quite soar to the heights it desired, it still provides a reflective tale of the beauty of art that survives the most horrific of circumstances. Harnessing a moment in history that continuously unearths stories, Driftwood’s success will come when determining the story it wants to tell.


The show is a biopic harnessing elements of verbatim, opera and musical theatre storytelling, it is a tale of umbrellas, of horror, of art persevering through war. It’s a tale about all of these things, and yet none of these things. With further refinement and a well-harnessed bout of dramaturgy, Driftwood the Musical has the makings to be something truly resounding and important.

 

CREATIVES

Gary Abrahams Director

Anthony Barnhill Music and Lyrics

Tania de Jong AM Concept, Executive Producer

Eva de Jong-Duldig Author of Driftwood: Escape and Survival Through Art (2017)

Jane Bodie Based on an original stage play by Jane Bodie

Marcello Lo Ricco Sound Designer

Jacob Battista Set Design

Justin Gardam Sound and AV Creation and Design

Harrie Hogan Lighting Design

Kim Bishop Costume Design

Bec Poulter Production Supervisor

Craig Donnell General Manager

Anna Davies Tour Production Manager

Tiff Lane Stage Manager

Sophie Loughran Choreographer


CAST

Tania de Jong AM Slawa

Anton Berezin Karl

Bridget Costello Eva

Michaela Burger Rella

Nelson Gardner Ignaz, Marcel, Gauleiter, Patent Attorneys & more...


MUSICIANS

Roy Theaker Violinist (Melbourne)

Kalina Krusteva Cellist (Melbourne)

Michele O'Young Violinist (Sydney)

Rachel Valentine Cellist (Sydney)

David-Gardos Musical Director/Piano (Sydney)

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