Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Book by Carolyn Burns
Music and Lyrics by Tim Finn
Directed by Simon Phillips
A Queensland Theatre Production
Canberra Theatre to 2 April

Review by Len Power 28 March 2017

No-one believes you if you say a show is perfect, but this new Australian musical, ‘Ladies In Black’ comes pretty close!

Based on ‘The Women in Black’, an Australian novel by Madeleine St. John, this Queensland Theatre production tells a Cinderella story about a teenage girl who gets a temporary Christmas job at a Sydney department store in the 1950s.  Her interaction with the other employees and her own parents gives us a fascinating glimpse into life in 1950s Australia when long accepted traditions and values were starting to be tested and migrants from Europe seemed strange and a bit crazy.

Top director, Simon Phillips, who has amongst his credits ‘Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, ‘Love Never Dies’ and ‘Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical’, has given the show a lavish production that flows nicely from one scene to the next.  Set designer, Gabriela Tylesova, has designed a beautiful set that used three revolves and a forest of tall columns which gives the impression of a large department store interior.  Her costume designs for the cast are superb.  The lighting design by David Walters not only adds a great atmosphere to the set but at times comments on the action with subtle changes.

Carolyn Burns’ script has brilliantly written and very real 1950s characters and situations.  Although the show is set in the 1950s, Tim Finn’s music is modern and appealing.  It’s his lyrics that add the era’s flavour – ‘Bastard Song’ and ‘I Kissed A Continental’ are a good example.  There are also thoughtful ballads and rousing group numbers.  It’s a terrific musical score.

The large ensemble cast give excellent performances.  Sarah Morrison as the teenager, Lisa, wins the hearts of the audience very quickly with her accurate portrayal of a plain 1950s teenager who blossoms into a beautiful young woman over the course of the show.  Natalie Gamsu is delightful as Magda, a stylish designer from Hungary and Tamlyn Henderson as Frank nicely captures the doubts and fears of a troubled man of the era.  Bobby Fox is great fun but nevertheless very real as Rudi, another Hungarian migrant.  Every cast member gets their moment to shine in this show.

The choreography by Andrew Hallsworth is dynamic and suits the characters and the times and David Young’s musical direction of the onstage band is colourful and tight with a good sound balance between the band and the singers. 

If you don’t have tickets for ‘Ladies in Black’ yet, drop everything and book straight away!  This is a show not to be missed.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays).