Brisbane has warmly embraced Queensland Theatre’s The Sunshine Club Musical with open arms. Now playing at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre the Australian Musical has been revived for a new generation of theatre goers. The Brisbane story tells the tale of Indigenous ANZAC soldier Frank Doyle after returning from World War II in the 1940’s and his childhood friend Rose Morris as she is leaving for London to pursue a singing career. Originally written and directed by Wesley Enoch in 1999 the show centers around the discrimination and prejudice of Indigenous Australians which was especially prevalent during that time. This incredible production has gorgeous, soaring music by John Rodgers and beautifully fleshed out characters to tell this important and necessary story of love and reconciliation with First Nations people.
Marcus Corowa brilliantly embodies the pivotal character of Frank Doyle. His presence on stage is second-to-none as his character invites the audience into his world when he reconnects with his best family friend Rose. As he arrives home Rose is singing at the Cloudland club. Before the war Aboriginal people were not permitted to enter. Frank thought attitudes had changed after he got back from WW2, as all men fought together and became mates. They were all Australian no matter what colour their skin was. However no such luck, he was refused to enter due to racial ignorance. Frank was fed up and started his own club where all people whatever their ethnicity can dance as one at ‘The Sunshine Club.’ Marcus comes alive in this vital show and his connection with Irena who plays Rose is undeniably flirtatious, although at first they argue like an old married couple. His voice is sensational and he brings to light important issues that Aboriginals still come up against today.
Irena Lysiuk’s personifies childhood friend and love interest Rose Morris so beautifully. She brings such light and depth to the character and realises the discrimination against Frank and she is appalled. Irena is a magical performer and connects with Marcus so gorgeously as their characters initially are skeptical of each other and then can’t deny their chemistry and fall in love with each other, to the dismay and fear of others around them. When they pinky promise or touch hands there is an instant spark and they start dancing and all their troubles are behind them. Irena has a spectacular voice in her Queensland Theatre debut role which is particularly prevalent during the song ‘Let it rain’ as she sings and dances in the ‘rain’ with an umbrella, confetti and streamers.
Frank’s hilarious and protective sister Pearl Doyle is played by Naarah. She is a wonderful and giving actress and provides many comical moments in the show. Narrah has a soaring and beautiful singing voice with a complicated story arc. She has always wanted to be a singer but knows Indigenous people don’t receive many opportunities to perform professionally especially in the 1940s. Naarah is able to showcase her talents at the newly established ‘Sunshine Club’ created for all to be accepted. Her character Pearl begins a relationship with a white man Peter Walsh played by the inviting and intoxicating performer Trent Owers.
They get friendly and hang out at the club together. She soon learns she is pregnant with his child, and he ultimately rejects her and says they were never serious, and it was just a fling. He tells her she cannot keep the baby and that it will be taken away from her when it is brought into the world and authorities learn about the mixed-race child. This is a devastating and vulnerable moment for Naarah and her character Pearl in the production. It highlights the terror and fear of the ‘The Stolen Generation’ and the trauma still haunts First Nations people today.
Legendary Australian actress Roxanne McDonald becomes the endearing and nosy Aunty Faith Doyle. She plays Frank and Pearl’s Aunty and is very loyal and protective of them. Roxanne has a beautiful, spiritual stage presence and connection to Marcus’ character Frank on stage. She wants the best for them and always knows what’s going on, especially with Frank and Rose sneaking around. Roxanne sings with such passion to Frank as she reminisces about their Uncle Charlie and keeps an otherworldly dialogue with him. They also touched on the lack of education for indigenous people when Aunty Faith said she has someone lined up to read Rose’s postcards to her which was quite common and still is today.
Beau Dean Riley Smith gives the audience a breath of fresh air with the delightful Dave Daylight. Dave is an Aboriginal man Rose and Frank met on the street near the club. Beau is so comical and has an infinite affection for Pearl Doyle. He only wants to impress her and be part of the group, he even rigged the raffle at the club so she would win. Beau is an undeniable talent and funny performer with brilliant one-liners. Beau is an incredible didgeridoo player and his character Dave only wanted Pearl to like his performance.
Andrew Buchanan embraces the role of Reverend Percy Morris, Rose’s accepting but protective father. He loves his daughter and wants the best for her and has cherished Frank and Rose’s friendship since they were young despite Frank’s ethnicity. Andrew performs splendidly although is wary when Frank proposes to Rose just as she is beginning her career. He wants her to chase her dreams and is afraid what occur if she stays with an indigenous man as much as he loves and respects Frank.
Andrew is a delight on stage and the banter that Aunty Faith and him have is so fun as they don’t want any hanky panky at the new Sunshine Club.
The ensemble in this Aussie production are sensational and bring the whole piece together with a beautiful sense of community. They consist of Zoe Walters as Mavis Moreton, Jazleen Latrise as Audrey Martin, Colin Smith as Pauly O’Brien, Kate Yaxley as Patti Maguire and Garret Lyon as Lorry Hocking, Ghost and Bill Harris. They are all triple threats and feel like they have known each other for years. The Sunshine Club number to conclude the musical is so uplifting and joyful with glorious 40s costumes and swing dance partner combinations.
The powerful way they end the show with the repetition of ‘If not now, when’ as they all walk in unison to the front of the stage in Aboriginal traditional paint is breathtaking. In solidarity and together in peaceful protest change can occur for the treatment of First Nations people.
Come and enjoy this beautiful story of love, hope and acceptance with unforgettable characters who represent what really happens to our First Nations people. Enjoy the wonderful music, incredible band and acknowledge the first owners of the country we call Australia.
The Sunshine Club Musical
Playing now until 30 July
Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
All images supplied.