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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review Of The Year 2010

With the snow sun of December comes the compulsion to look back over the year and recap the journey that's been made over the last twelve months. Thanks for indulging me...

2010 was kicked off in pretty good style - as the bell tolled midnight and the calendar flipped over, I was in New York; land of dropping balls. One of the few things better than a trip to New York is a trip to New York that someone's paying you to go on, and David & Lisa Campbell and I had been sent there by FOXTEL & SBS to film a documentary 'David Campbell On Broadway', which would launch their new arts channel 'STVDIO' come Easter time. New Year's Eve itself was pretty low-key - I'd flown in that day from North Carolina (where I'd spent Christmas with my family at my sister's house), and Lisa was at this point 3 months pregnant. So we invited a select group of people (John Bucchino, Chris Denny, my Sort Of Cousin In Law Jen and her boyfriend Salih) to the apartment I was staying in, and had a fun evening of chat, jokes and drinks. I'm sure you'll agree that any New Year's Eve that doesn't end in severe disappointment and annoyance can be considered a success - and by that measure this year's was a triumph.

Lisa and me on New Year's Eve

Come New Year's Day it was time to start production on the documentary. I still marvel at how smooth and enjoyable a process it was to make the programme in such a limited time period, in so many different locations around the city. We were welcomed with open arms by everyone from Sardi's to the New York Transit Authority, and thanks to DC's reputation and contacts in New York, we were able to carry out fascinating interviews with everyone from Julie Wilson and Alan Cumming to Stephen Schwartz, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The whole experience was a dream come true for three musical theatre geeks like ourselves (plus Avi Lipski, who was a gift sent from Yahweh to help us out), and the memories I have of crouching in a corridor or squatting behind the camera listening to DC talk to John Kander about writing Chicago, Cabaret and New York, New York; or to Alain Boublil about where the idea for a musical of Les Miserables came from; will stay with me forever.

DC and Alan Cumming

DC and John Kander

DC and Stephen Schwartz

After only 10 days or so, it was time to fly over to Los Angeles for DC to record the album 'On Broadway', which was the catalyst for the documentary. This too was a momentous experience - two days recording with a 40-piece orchestra made up of the world's finest players, all in one room together - they really Don't Make Them Like This Anymore. The fact that it came off so beautifully was down to the vision and professionalism of Rob Fisher and Bill Elliott, the producers of the album, whose passion and musicality kept everyone believing that such a thing could be achieved - and of course to DC, who was able to sing for two days straight, laying down 14 songs in that time. And these are Broadway numbers people, they're not easy to sing! And on top of all this, I got to go and visit the studio next door where Brian Wilson (my all-time number one musical idol) recorded Pet Sounds (obviously the greatest album of all time), and even sit at Brian's favourite instrument - the mixing desk. We flew back from LA feeling very happy, and very lucky.

At the mixing desk in the Pet Sounds studio

I arrived back in Australia to find my parents already arrived for a visit. Together we skipped around Sydney with all the joy of people who have recently escaped from a northern hemisphere winter, and I spent a joyous birthday on a boat on the harbour, with my parents, other family members and some good friends, living the Sydney dream. I always wanted a summer birthday, and all I had to do was move to the other side of the world to get it!
Employee of the Month: David Campbell

My memories of February are rather less glamorous and exciting. This was the month of the Music Clearance. It turned out that post-production on the documentary was every bit as slow and frustrating as production had been easy and enjoyable. For those of you who have never had to clear music for use in a television programme, let me just tell you - NEVER get involved with it. And I'll leave it at that.

Brief respites in this month of hell included a trip down to Melbourne to see several of my friends in the absolutely wonderful MTC production of The Drowsy Chaperone; seeing Trashley's virtuoso reinvention of Liza Minnelli, and meeting the real one; watching The Gossip at the Enmore, and DC playing ACER Arena with Tom Jones; heading up to the Hunter Valley for Mike's 30th birthday with the Brit crew, and making him a birthday video surprise featuring many of his friends - and all topped off on the last weekend of the month by Sydney Mardi Gras, which this year was combined with Trashley's 30th birthday to create a perfect storm of campness and outrageous fun.

Rohan Browne and Geoffrey Rush in The Drowsy Chaperone

Mike's birthday video
Sydney Mardi Gras

Employee of the Month: Trevor Ashley

As usual, March (otherwise known as 'the period immediately following Mardi Gras') necessitated a rest period. Most of this month was pretty low-key, as we edited the documentary, started planning the Broadway Tour, and DC remained on tour with Tom Jones. Sadly the music clearances nightmare continued for me all the way through March and right up until the broadcast date on 3rd April. Seriously, never get involved with it!
Employee of the Month: Unawarded

Easter time once more brought the fantastic Hayley Durward to Sydney, spreading joy and excitement wherever she went. Her time here coincided with the Last Days of Mike Malyon, who moved back to London, triggering my moving for the first time ever into a flat of my own. Fortunately, I love it, and can't quite remember how I ever coped with other people being around. I do miss Mike though.

With Hayley and Mike

Our documentary was aired on 3rd of April, which was a great moment - the director Larry Meltzer had done a masterly job bringing together the various strands (interviews, location work, studio footage, etc) to create an entertaining and coherent whole. The Broadway album came out the previous day, and much of April was taken up with promo - we visited Hey Hey, and the Anzac Day game at the MCG, among many others. And all the time, Lisa's due date was getting closer and closer. My calendar also has an entry on the 17th April that says 'Lesbian jelly wrestling' - a brainwave of Jillian Eugenios's (naturally), that fortunately I managed to duck out of.

At the MCG on Anzac Day (DC on screen)

Leah in the Hey Hey studio

Employee of the Month: Hayley Durward / Mike Malyon

May saw the first performances of Show Stoppers, a show Luckiest had put together with fellow producer Neil Gooding and a bunch of very talented performers and musicians, with a view to giving it a long-running life on the club circuit. The debut performances at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta were a great success, and just like that we had another project up and running.

DC and Lisa had already flown to Adelaide (where Lisa was to give birth), and May also saw the departure of Leah Howard, who moved to Melbourne to begin rehearsals for Mary Poppins. They were dropping like flies at this point in the year - and more to come! One silver lining was Paul Denham moving into our office (taking Mike's old desk) - he's been providing gossip, advice, and Friday afternoon champagne ever since.

Goodbye Leah Howard!

Office fun

Employee of the Month: Paul Denham / Neil Gooding and the cast of Show Stoppers

June in Australia for me has only ever meant one thing - the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. This fantastically fun and ridiculously high-quality festival has been run by David and Lisa Campbell since I moved here, and I've been lucky enough to be a part of it for the last two years. It's hard to describe just how intense and enjoyable an experience it is - artists fly in from all around Australia and the globe, and perform, socialise, eat, drink and sleep all in the same 500 square metres or so for three weeks. It's a place to make new friends and catch up with old ones, as well as to see some of the best shows in the world. And those performers do know how to party. Some of the highlights for me this year were Smoke & Mirrors, Frisky & Mannish, Kim Smith, and Mark Nadler in the piano bar. Ridiculously fun.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival photobooth

Oh, one more thing did happen in June - Lisa finally had her baby! Just a week or so before the Cabaret Festival opened, Leo Richard James Campbell was born. He was (and remains) enormous and adorable. He also has two excellent midde names.

Employee of the Month: Leo Campbell

July was supposed to be another rest period. Although I didn't officially sign up to the 'Dry July' phenomenon, I planned to take it easy after the pounding my liver had taken in Adelaide. Unfortunately, circumstances and my weak will conspired to destroy this notion. There were opening night parties for West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and I'm Every Woman (Trashley's show at the Opera House studio); my dear friends Chris Parson and Jillian Eugenios both headed overseas, which necessitated several rounds of 'leaving drinks' each; and there were an unnatural number of birthdays too. July was the Month I Went Too Far - by the end of it I was a shell of a man, and decided to go dry for August. The very last day of July saw the first date of DC's Broadway Tour, an ambitious orchestra tour of state capitals that aimed to bring Broadway music to a fanbase who we had no idea would show any interest in it. Fortunately, they trusted DC enough to come along, and the tour was a great success.

In Melbourne for the Broadway Tour, with Joey and Les

Employee of the Month: Chris Parson / Jillian Eugenios

Aside from a quick trip down to Melbourne to see David Harris in the revival of The Boy From Oz with Todd McKenney, August was spent on the road with the Broadway Show - the highlight being a triumphant night in the sold-out Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. This happened to fall on the second anniversary of my arriving in Australia, and Lisa and I spent the whole day wandering around muttering that we couldn't believe we were producing a show at the Opera House. The evening itself was a riot - DC was on top form, and so many of our friends were there to share it with us. The tour rolled into its final stop - Adelaide - ready to be filmed for a live DVD, which was released later in the year as a joint venture between Luckiest Productions and Sony Music Australia.

Employee of the Month: David Campbell

With September came the first chance of the year to have a short break - but not before DC (very successfully) hosted the Helpmann Awards on the 6th September. With that night (my first back on alcohol) out of the way, I headed up to far north Queensland to enjoy my annual bonus from Lisa - some R&R at the Sebel Reef House in Palm Cove! I spent a blissful almost-week lying on the beach, swimming in the pool, and getting massages and treatments in the amazing in-house spa. I returned to Sydney feeling rested for the first time in an age. I then got onto preparing for October's Melbourne season of Britney Spears: The Cabaret, a show we had produced in Sydney at the same time last year, with considerable hardship but to a great response. I also managed to attend the Sydney opening of Jersey Boys, and catch the fantastic August: Osage County at the STC.

Lisa and I dressed up for the Helpmanns (Christie shaving pits in the background)

Employee of the Month: Lisa Campbell

I spent pretty much the whole of October in Melbourne - the first time I had spent more than a few days in that city. Despite my regular jokes about how defensive Melburnians are about their city - and especially about how good they think their coffee is - I really like it down there, especially as so many of my friends are living there at the moment. My stay was kicked off by the opening night of Hairspray, starring my dear friend Trevor Ashley in a tour-de-force performance.

I also got the chance to get to know most of the rest of the cast when I gatecrashed was invited on a weekend trip up to Marney McQueen's parents' guesthouse-slash-cricket-oval in the bush, where we had a rollicking good time drinking, barbecuing, drinking, climbing hills, drinking, feeding the cows, drinking, and singing round the campfire.

Doing Britney was so much more fun the second time around (TWSS). The show was just as great - if not better - and the audience reaction was equally ecstatic, but we had none of the venue problems that we'd had in Sydney, and great publicity and word-of-mouth (as well as the reputations of Christie Whelan, Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank in the city) meant we sold out all the performances for three weeks - an amazing achievement for a cabaret show. I've talked about my love for this show in another blog ('Gimme More'), but suffice to say it was an absolute pleasure to watch it every night, and to work with Christie and Mat again (Dean was away in New York rehearsing the Broadway cast of Priscilla) - I can't wait until the next season.

Employee of the Month: Trevor Ashley / Christie Whelan

November was another busy month. We kicked it off with a visit to the Melbourne Cup, where DC sang the anthem. If you ever go, make sure it's with the anthem singer, because we were treated like royalty. We had our own driver on call, VIP access, a security detail, the lot - it was a very fun day, made even better by the presence of friends like Trevor Ashley, Leah Howard, Marney McQueen, Jack Chambers and Michael Queen.

The following week I was off to Wellington, New Zealand with Adam Stuart Williams and a fun bunch of gays to attend the wedding of Chris Parson and Tim Hardie. The weekend was a bit of a blur, but I do know that we had a lot of fun.

No sooner was I back in the country than it was time to head overseas again - this time to America, where we were mounting a small tour to promote the US release of DC's Broadway album. We went first to LA, a place that all three of us (four if you incude Leo) loathe. Fortunately we were only there for a few days (and two gigs) before heading to New York, where not only did DC play a triumphant run of gigs at Feinstein's, but I also got to catch up with Jillian Eugenios, Kim Smith, Avi Lipski, Mike Malyon (who flew over from London), and many more. Our lives were made incalculably easier by the genius that is Scott Gorenstein, our US publicist. I even had the opportunity to nip down to North Carolina for a few nights to see my sister and her family - including my newborn nephew Harrison.

Then it was back over to San Francisco for one final (very popular, and very fun) gig, before heading back to Australia. I was only away for two weeks in total, and it was nice to be able to come back so quickly to the first flush of summer. I've had my first few visits to the beach for the year, and there really is nothing else like it.
Employee of the Month: Scott Gorenstein / Harrison Procaccini

So that brings us to the final month of the year. I've just popped down to Melbourne again and stayed with my adorable new(ish) friends Jack and Michael. We've had a few DC gigs at The Basement, and a couple more Show Stoppers dates, but professionally things are winding down to a quieter period for the first time since I started working for Luckiest Productions. We're relishing the opportunity to spend some time developing ideas and making some longer-term plans in the new year. And personally, I'm still ecstatically happy to be living in Sydney (to be fair, it's pretty easy to be ecstatically happy in Sydney in the summer), and to be doing the work that I do alongside some of my best friends. I turn 30 next month - we'll see where that year will take me...
Employee of the Month: Jack Chambers & Michael Queen