There’s much to admire about the new Australian musical Ladies in Black, a coming of age story set in Sydney in the 1950s.
After a very successful run in Melbourne last year, the show is back at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. While there have been some cast changes and the show is at a larger venue, it is still the same highly enjoyable production.
Based on the novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John, the show tells of shy but very clever Lisa (Sarah Morrison). A lover of books and poems, Lisa has just finished school and while waiting for her results, takes a holiday job at F. G. Goodes, Sydney’s most prestigious department store.
Lisa wants to go to university but her father believes a higher education for a young woman is unnecessary. An only child protected by her parents, a whole new world opens up to her as she befriends the ladies of the women’s frocks’ department.
They include the unmarried Fay (Ellen Simpson) who has been treated badly by several Australian men and Patty (Madeleine Jones) who with her husband Frank (Tamilyn Henderson), desperately wants a child but seemingly is unable to fall pregnant.
There’s also Miss Jacobs (Kate Cole) who lost the love of her life during the war and the glamorous and exotic Magda (Natalie Gamsu) her husband and their best friend Rudi (Bobby Fox) who are refugees from Hungary (referred to as Continentals).
Magda introduces Lisa to new food, styles, customs and fashions including the stunning European designer gowns she sells at Goodes.
While the mood of the show is generally cheerful, both the script by Carolyn Burns and the original music and lyrics from Tim Finn subtly highlight some of the shifting values and challenges faced by different groups at the time.
When Fay kisses Rudi in public, for example, the cast breaks out into the humorous song She Just Kissed a Continental. The equally funny He’s A Bastard highlights some of the challenges facing married working women.
There really isn’t a weak link in the show. The music and script tie in perfectly, there are a number of very colorful dance scenes and then there are the many glamorous gowns, made especially for the production.
The cast is excellent with all portraying their characters extremely convincingly. Several play more than one role including Greg Stone who plays Lisa’s father and Magda’s husband.
As well as being highly entertaining Ladies in Black also provides some interesting, albeit lighthearted, insights into a 1950s Australia.
Ladies in Black is playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre until March 18. It then opens in Canberra on March 27. For more information visit the Ladies in Black website.
*Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Ladies in Black as a guest of the producers.
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