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THORN BIRDS – THE MUSICAL

02-07-2009

The Thorn Birds

The Alex hosts a musical version of the blockbuster novel.  Terry Wills checks out if it’s a theatrical page turner.

Any new musical has to be a challenge for its production team. Down the years many stories, once considered possible smash hits, have fallen by the wayside. They arrived in a hopeful blaze of glory only to fade away long before having the opportunity to fulfil their hopeful promise.

So which category does Colleen McCullough’s very successful book ‘The Thorn Birds’ fall into?

The story was remembered for selling over 30 million copies on a world-wide basis and subsequently successfully translated into a smash hit TV mini series starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward, but could it could be resurrected as a major new Musical Theatre production?

It was the author herself who decided ‘The Thorn Birds’, a story set in the rugged Australian outback, where the Cleary family, torn apart by scandalous family legacy and tales of forbidden love over three generations, could translate it’s written success into a theatrical triumph.

She liased with the multi-award winning team of The Wales Theatre Company, helmed by their legendary director Michael Bogdanov, and then wrote the lyrics, which were then set to music by Gloria Bruni.

Without doubt the TV mini series of the Thorn Birds was a massive triumph. It captivated audiences on a weekly basis allowing viewers to gain an insight into the minds and thoughts of the principal characters that live in and work in the Australian outback.

The story centre on Catholic Priest Father Ralph de Bricassart, and his forbidden love affair with young Meggie Cleary.

Every time she approaches him he’s forced to withdraw from his deepest feelings. He is attracted to her, he does love her, and he knows she loves him but he cannot allow these feelings to outweigh his dedication to the Catholic Church, until he has cause to revisit the Cleary’s after a family death.

The inevitable consequence sees the couple finally succumb to their long held passionate desires. Meggie is the mother of a son. Father Ralph leaves unaware he’s a father in the other sense of the word. Inevitably ensuring there simply couldn’t be a happy ending for any of the individuals involved.

The problem for me, admitted by the author herself, was how to compress a 280,000 word novel into a stage musical?

Spanning three generations with characters growing older in theatrical minutes, as opposed to being allowed to mature over a period of television weeks, is a challenge in itself.

There’s another weakness, too – and that, crucially, is in the quality of the songs – none is immediately outstanding, although in saying that ‘Take this Rose’ and ‘Cane Pain’ could in time fall into this category

No doubt those who enjoyed the novel or TV series will enjoy this, but although this production will certainly attract interest, I doubt it will leave a lastng impression.

At the Alexandra Theatre  until Saturday july 4 here

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