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Stars come out as Qld Theatre reveals first big night on the Town

Culture

Queensland Theatre has announced casting details for its first production for 2021, with some of Australia’s most celebrated actors joining four QT debutants for the company’s production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town.

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The Thornton Wilder-penned play, which will be helmed by Queensland Theatre’s artistic director Lee Lewis, is set to open on January 30 with a cast of 14 – the largest ever to grace Bille Brown Theatre.

Lewis has described Our Town as a fitting play to launch next year’s season “after a long time of darkness”.

“It’s a huge story told very simply, about a beautiful group of people who live in a small country town,” Lewis said when announcing the details of Queensland Theatre’s 2021 season last month.

“It’s an extraordinary reminder that it’s the small things in life that matter in the face of big tragedy.”

The 12 roles already confirmed will be played by some of the country’s best stage actors, with Jimi Bani, Colin Smith, Libby Munro, Hugh Parker, Roxanne McDonald, Andrew Buchanan and Anthony Standish all among the cast announced at the company’s West End headquarters yesterday.

They will be joined by four artists making their Queensland Theatre mainstage debuts – Amy Lehpamer, Lucy Heathcote, Egan Sun-Bin and Silvan Rus.

Jayden Popik – who made his acclaimed Queensland Theatre debut as Declan in the powerful adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece last month – will also make his return to stage with the company.

The role of the Stage Manager in Our Town is considered one of the best dramatic roles ever written and has been played by actors including Orson Welles, Paul Newman and Hal Halbrook.

Bani, who is renowned for his roles in television dramas including Mabo, Redfern Now and The Straits, as well as stage performances in stage productions such as The Shadow King and My Name Is Jimi, will take on the coveted role for QT.

“Jimi Bani is one of this country’s greatest actors, so it’s incredibly exciting to see him play one of theatre’s greatest roles,” Lewis said.

Jim Bani will play the pivotal role of The Stage Manager in Our Town.

“Paul Newman famously performed it on Broadway 2002, marking his final ever stage appearance, following a near 40-year break. Such is the appeal of this role, in this play.”

The roles of Dr Gibbs and Mrs Gibbs will be played by stage stars Colin Smith (Nearer the Gods, Black Diggers) and Libby Munro (Noises Off, Venus in Fur), and Mr Webb and Mrs Webb will be played by Hugh Parker (Nearer the Gods, The 39 Steps) and Amy Lehpamer (School of Rock and The Sound of Music).

“The superb Colin Smith was last seen on the company stage in 2018’s Twelfth Night and we welcome home from LA and back to Queensland Theatre, the dynamic Matilda Award-winning Libby Munro,” Lewis said.

“Queensland Theatre fans will be thrilled that the much loved and talented Hugh Parker is back on our stage, along with the brilliant actor and musician, Amy Lehpamer who has been conquering the musical theatre world across the seas, in her debut with us.”

Lewis said she was thrilled to be welcoming Popik back to the company to play the role of George Gibbs following his breakout performance in Mouthpiece.

“Jayden Popik wowed critics on the Playhouse stage last month in Mouthpiece opposite Christen O’Leary,” she said. “It has been one of the strange gifts from the pandemic that we have been able to work with an artist of such talent at this stage of his career.

“Opposite Jayden, playing Emily Webb, will be young Queensland actor and QUT graduate Lucy Heathcote. We can’t wait for audiences to see the chemistry between these two,” she added, calling Our Town the original rom-com and “George and Emily the original Ross and Rachel from Friends”.

Roxanne McDonald – who last performed with Queensland Theatre in the acclaimed Head Full of Love – will take on the role of Mrs Soames, with stage alumni Andrew Buchanan (L’Appartement, Harrow) and Anthony Standish (City of Gold, The Wider Earth) also part of the cast.

QUT graduate and Queensland Theatre Young Artists’ Ensemble alumni Egan Sun-Bin (Three Sisters, Dinner) and Queensland Shakespeare ensemble favourite Silvan Rus (Henry IV, Pt 1 and Hamlet) will also be part of the production.

Lewis said Thornton Wilder wrote this play in the run-up to World War II in the 1930s when people “were incredibly worried about fascism and what was happening to the world and the values they’d cherished so much”.

“He wrote this play to remind them of what was deeply important, creating the story about this little country town called Grover’s Corners and it’s a town we all recognise,” she said.

“I grew up in a country town, probably a little bit bigger than Grover’s Corners, but still had the same things and similar people.

“The story focuses on two families living next door to each other, the Gibbs and the Webbs. The young son, George Gibbs, and the young daughter, Emily Webb, fall in love and marry.

“We follow the town over the course of about 10 years and experience all the changes and the sadness that happens. The end of the play is magic. Thornton Wilder was an incredible form breaker in his time.”

Lewis said Our Town is a play that was written for difficult times, to remind people about what matters.

“That’s why my heart went straight there when I thought about the possibility of a 2021 season,” she said.

“We need to see great big stories that fill us with inspiration. We need to have our artists back at work, breathing life into the imagination. We need to talk to friends about the play we all saw last night and disagree with them about what it really meant. We need the buzz of a foyer. We need our culture to come back to life, and we are making this happen.”

Our Town runs at Bille Brown Theatre from January 20 until February 8, 2021, with single tickets on sale now.  Visit the website for more information about Queensland Theatre’s 2021 season or to purchase tickets. 

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