Saturday, June 7, 2014

The story behind the hit musical Failing In Love Again

In late1978 I arrived back in Australia after four years away travelling. I'd spent most of my time in the USA, where I started writing songs and had joined (as percussionist) an all girl latin jazz band called Baba Yaga. I remember sitting in Tamani's Cafe telling Kerry Dwyer all about my US song writing adventures and she suggested I apply for the position of writer in residence at the Pram Factory. I'd been an actor at the Pram before I left in '74 and had slotted right back in joining the Nightshift crew, one of the many groups under the Pram umbrella. I made the short list for the residency and it came down to me and a guy who was writing a full on Trotsky-esque political drama. Luckily for me the feminists had taken over the excecutive committee and I got the gig.

I ended up writing a musical (lyrics and music) called Failing In Love Again for five singers and three musicians. It was performed in November/ December, 1979 ( the last show of the old guard of the Pram). The nameless characters were: a heterosexual man, a heterosexual woman, a gay man, a lesbian and a bisexual woman. All were 'casualties of love' and sang songs like: Sad Masochist, My Mother Wore The Pants, On the Beat, Better Than Het, Gotta Get Outa The Ghetto, Song of A Single Cynic, Split Guilt, and Monogamy Shbedogamy.

The original cast of Failing In Lova Again. Photo: Ruth Maddison

I had no idea right up until opening night if people would like it or not. I was also performing in it, playing the bisexual woman. The poster and set was by Carol Porter, it was directed by Robin Laurie and Nano Nagle, the musical director (also pianist) was Elizabeth Drake with Marnie Shehan on guitar and Cathy Loosely on drums. The other singer/actors were Evelyn Krape, Di Duncombe, Terry Darmody and Robbie McGregor. Costumes were by Laurel Frank. On opening night the house was packed and as we took our final bows, the thunderous applause told us we had a hit on our hands.

Word spread to Sydney especially among the gay community, who even chartered buses to get to Melbourne to see it.  It was full house every night of the four week run. But such success was short lived. No body filmed it, there was an audio recording which was lost and only the wonderful black and white photos by photographer Ruth Maddison remain.

Poster by Bob Daly

There was talk of touring, but it was too expensive and the old guard of the Pram was on its last legs. However Elizabeth Drake and I had the bright idea to take the cabaret version of the musical to the Adelaide Fringe Festival. We tried it out at the Flying Trapeze Cafe in Brunswick St. The pared back show suited our duo dynamic perfectly and another couple of songs were added: The Vibrator Song and Orally Fixated. In Adelaide we peformed at Carclew where we met production manager Leanne Donnelly who became an integral part of our team.

Jan & Elisabeth at Flying Trapeze Cafe. Photo: Ruth Maddison

It was one of the hits of the festival so we decided to take it on the road: Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Nimbin, Bellingen, Newcastle, Sydney. In Sydney we joined a fabulous network called Cabaret Conspiracy, headed up by Johnny Allen, who launched our show at Palms Cabaret in Oxford St. Word spread and soon we were invited to perform Downstairs at The Nimrod Theatre (now Belvoir) in Surry Hills. Apparently our show was the most financially successful of its era.

Read a review of the Nimrod show here,

We wrote another show soon after called Worse Than Perverse which we launched at Nimrod Downstairs and took to the Adelaide Fringe in 1982. At Troupe theatre we performed both shows back to back to sold out houses.

Jim Sharman with poster of Worse than Perverse

After the festival Elizabeth and I went in  different directions; I developed my one woman shows — Woman On The Run, Aroma Billings, Exotic Artiste Ordinaire and Standing Up Bent. I was invited to take part in the woman's comedy revival at the Trade Union Club in Sydney (set up by Larry Buttrose and Judy Barnsley), performing alongside Wendy Harmer, Gretel Killeen, Mandy Solomon. After having kids I became a playwright and screen writer and didn't come back to performing until 2004 as a spoken and sung word poet at The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.

Elizabeth went on to compose for theatre and film, becoming the only woman to win an AFI award for her musical score for the film Japanese Story directed by Sue Brooks. She has worked widely composing for theatre and film including a number of theatre productions with playwright/director Jenny Kemp. In 2012 she performed  at Womadelaide with Caroline Almonte. a two piano version of  Canto Ostinato, by Simeon Ten Holt, a stunning piece of highly evocative minimalist music that can be performed in different formats, with different combinations of instruments and venues.  


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