There was a buzz of excitement when I arrived at Queensland Theatre this week. A buzz because the cast for 2021’s Our Town was being unveiled. It felt a little like spying on people coming back for the first day of school, with old friends meeting again and the new kids being introduced. I kept a respectful distance and watched as costume designer Nathalie gave big hugs to her favourites, stars whom she’d dressed many times before. Stars like Hugh Parker who we’d loved in the 39 Steps and Nearer the Gods. There were big smiles from Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, who will be directing this first play for the 2021 season. Eyes glistened as the realisation dawned that these actors would be working closely on stage, together once again.
There was Jayden Popik, fresh from his acclaimed starring role in Mouthpiece and the statesman Jimi Bani, full of gentleness and calm. I let out a silent squeal as I spied the beautiful Libby Munro who I’d seen in Noises Off and had watched every week with my teen son when she played, Shazzy, on the brilliant Brisbane teen series, Slide. Libby has been carving out a successful career in the USA, so theatre audiences are very lucky that the pandemic has brought her home.
Another musical theatre star who has been making waves overseas is Amy Lehpamer, she’s come home too and will tread the boards of the Bille Brown Theatre. Amy’s body of work includes School of Rock and The Sound of Music.
In all 14 actors will grace the stage for this famous Thornton Wilder play, which tells of two families and their community in small town America. The play has been the most performed in US history and is a beloved story where we come to know the people of the town. We see how the threads of everyday lives are gently woven into the rich and complex, funny and heartbreaking fabric that is community.
I waved at the friendly Roxanne McDonald. I’d last seen Roxanne at an International Women’s Day event at La Boite Theatre. This had been the last soirée where we’d been able to mingle before lockdown, so it was laden with meaning in our hearts. I had seen Roxanne reading in the Playlab series, so knew she was here in Brisbane and was excited to see that she will be playing the character of Mrs Soames in Our Town. Roxanne has been busy and will be busier still in 2021.
Roxanne said, “ It was great news that I’ll be working on this play. I’m also working with Belloo Creative and will be in Canberra for The Rovers. Later I’m heading up to Aurukun. We are focusing on the positive: telling stories and planning vignettes with the locals, telling some of their stories.”
Jimi Bani is one of Australia’s most talented actors. I saw him in My name is Jimi and you might recognise him from Redfern Now, Mabo and The Straits. He takes on the role of Stage Manager, which was made famous in 2002 by Paul Newman. This role is considered one of the best dramatic roles ever written.
The pivotal role of Emily will be played by young Queensland actor and QUT graduate, Lucy Heathcote. Lucy will play opposite Jayden, as he takes on the role of George. The bond between the two is already in evidence so I can’t wait to see this ‘ Ross and Rachel ‘ moment play out on stage.
Rounding out the cast are Andrew Buchanan, who I loved seeing in 2019’s L’ Appartement , Anthony Standish, Egan Sun- Bin, Silvan Rus and two young actors to be named in the new year.
Lee Lewis said, “ Wilder wrote this play in the lead up to World War II in the 1930’s. The story focuses on two families, living next door to each other, the Gibbs and the Webbs. The young son, George Webb, and the young daughter, Emily, fall in love and marry. We follow the town over the course of about ten years and experience all the changes and sadness that happen ….Our Town is a play written for difficult times, to remind us about what matters”
It also happens to be Lee Lewis’ very favourite play.
This Pulitzer Prize winning play will provide the roles of a lifetime for this 14- strong cast and will remind audiences to look to the future with hope, to see the beauty in the world and to cherish the people we love. Our Town will be playing at the fabulous Bille Brown Theatre from January 30 until February 27. It is a celebration of all that is precious in life.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).