Ladies in Black
Rating : 5 / 5
A return season of a hit Australian musical is something to stand up and cheer about. That’s what happened recently in Melbourne’s Regent Theatre when the home-grown musical Ladies in Black came to town as part of its national tour.
Ladies in Black is set in the cocktail frock department of the posh Sydney department store Goodes in 1950s Australia.
It’s a store that makes suburban dreams come true and into this heady atmosphere comes Lisa, a bright school leaver on a summer job before she goes to university. Lisa’s dreams don’t sit well with her traditional 1950s Aussie father, and there are several clashes before a satisfactory ending for both.
This Queensland Theatre production of Ladies In Black is based on Madeleine St John’s well-loved book The Women in Black, adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns, directed by Simon Phillips and musical director David Young, with music by Split Enz legend Tim Finn—a winning trans-Tasman combination.
Ladies in Black is a well-constructed musical—it has a huge heart and recognisable characters of many different hues and several interconnecting storylines. We meet classic Australian characters, European refugees making a new life Down Under, and the ‘ladies in black’ themselves—the coiffed and groomed sales attendants of Goodes, who can make an ordinary woman’s dreams come true with a little haute couture and panache, even when their own after-work lives may leave a lot to be desired.
Ladies in Black takes the audience into this world, via a fine script, terrific songs and a cast where everyone is perfectly suited to their roles. It is an ensemble show, with several actors playing multiple roles, but there isn’t a weak character in this musical, so everyone gets their moment in the spotlight.
As Lisa, Sarah Morrison perfectly catches the mix of naïve hope, candour, and the charm of youth. She blossoms as she is taken under the wing of the ‘crazy continental’ Magda, discovering a cultured European world that draws her as a moth to a flame. Natalie Gamsu’s Magda is a bravura performance, while Greg Stone switches with ease from the classic Aussie father to Magda’s romantic European husband—a winning performance that delivers two totally contrasting characters.
Bobby Fox sings, acts and dances his way superbly as three different characters, but it’s his Hungarian alter ego of Rudi who falls for an Australian girl Fay (played with fun exuberance by Ellen Simpson) that stands out.
Having the female roles outnumber the male roles (there are eight women—of varying shapes and sizes—to three men) is a nice gender reversal, as is having the ages of the characters ranging from teenage Lisa through to senior citizen Miss Jacobs, reflecting the reality of the audience watching the show.
Ladies in Black works so well because it captures the audience and takes us into the world of Australians and post-war migrants learning to live with each other. Alongside the typical Australian humour in dialogue and song, there are several poignant sub-plots that give us pause for thought, and the secret of the show’s success is that we care about every single character.
Designer Gabriela Tylesova’s gowns are a treat for the eye and you will leave the theatre humming Tim Finn’s catchy music.
Ladies in Black exemplifies everything that is good about theatre—and it’s our own home-grown success.
Ladies in Black opens in Canberra on 27 March.
Highlight: great music and storyline
Red flags: one sex scene and mild coarse language