Frank Van Straten’s new book, Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne: The Shows, The Stars, The Stories was launched in style at The Maj on Monday, the 26th of November 2018 as Judy Leech explains.
Having tripped lightly and fantastically along the obligatory red carpet, we proceeded into Her Majesty's foyer and upwards – to the accompaniment of Mr. Norman Camm on piano, surely a most fitting way to take the stairs to an already packed and effervescent Melba Foyer.
Fortified and invigorated by
"This French champagne,
So good for the brain",
we found many familiar faces to acknowledge; much mingling and networking ensued.
But then – let the show begin!
To start, a brief description of the order of events. Enter, stage left, Mr. Mike Walsh, "the man who saved The Maj", then Miss Nancye Hayes, joined later by the young Beau Woodbridge and Miss Donna Lee, and finally, and most importantly, the author himself Mr. Frank Van Straten. We saw projected images of the shows, we watched the stars, we heard the stories ...
Nancye spoke of Frank's magnificent new book (designed by Miss Jenny Zimmer) as a "treasure of a tome" and she regaled us with tales of the many productions she, and others such as Toni Lamond and Jill Perryman, had performed in, from My Fair Lady, and onwards – shows "that were the fabric of my early and extremely formative years" – How to Succeed in Business, Camelot, Hello Dolly, Pajama Game, Sweet Charity – to name just a few.
"But that was yesterday," Nancye said, "and this theatre is very much of today and the future." Beau Woodbridge then took the stage – "the young man who on the opening night of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was seen in the role of Jeremy". Beau spoke of this experience and also gave us "Waving through a window" (a song by Ben Platt, from the Broadway production Dear Evan Hansen), accompanied by Mr. Andrew Patterson on keyboard.
Interspersed throughout the presentation (produced by Mr. Peter A. Adams) were video clips and slides, and the recorded and illustrated words of Frank Van Straten.
Following Beau's segment Nancye spoke of "A powerhouse of a performer, Gloria Dawn was cast in the role of Mama Rose in Gypsy and what a performance as the stage mother from hell! Also in the cast was her very own daughter", Donna Lee, who gave us a delightful and energetic rendition of "Some People", a song first sung by Ethel Merman in 1959 – the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the music by Jule Styne.
With an inspiring speech Nancye Hayes launched Frank's stunningly impressive book –
"This book is important. It is more than a collection of people and stories and this wonderful building – it is, more importantly, about us – the way we were. The importance of history is that it allows us to take a good look at ourselves and is a permanent record of what made us laugh and cry and, as such, is a social history of us all. When Mike took over the theatre it had seen better days but thanks to his determination and generosity Her Majesty's Theatre Melbourne will continue well into the next century. Bravo Mr. Walsh!"
Donna and Beau treated us to one of Jule Styne's most memorable songs from Gypsy, "Wherever we go". Then, to the strains of Irving Berlin's "Let's go on with the show", it was time for the cast – Nancye, Mike, Frank, Donna, Beau and Andrew - to take their well-earned bows.
But, quite literally, this spectacular book must have the last word:
"It's great – ah it's great,
So grand! So grand!"
Indeed yes – and what a swell party it was!
With apologies to Cole Porter – and probably quite a few others …