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(Greta Gertler Gold - photo by Edwina Pickles)

GRETA GERTLER GOLD DIDN’T come back to Australia for a gig, though it’s nice to have, as we will find out soon; it was some lost girls wot done it. The kind of girls who go up a rock and don’t come back. Cue the pipes.

The east Sydneysider who has lived the bulk of the past 20 years further east still, in New York, with a husband and now two children, has been back and forth of course. Occasionally stranded by a pandemic, once bludgeoned by a fire which destroyed their Brooklyn home, sometimes offering up her songs from projects like the chamber pop groups, Peccadillo and The Universal Thump, and a handful of solo recordings, and in 2017 a personally thrilling run from Parramatta to the Sydney Opera House with The Red Tree, the musical she wrote with Hilary Bell, based on the much loved book by Shaun Tan.

But the past few months Gertler has been working with Bell and Tony-nominated Australian director Jo Bonney on a musical adaptation of Picnic At Hanging Rock. Based on the original novel by Joan Lindsay rather than Peter Weir’s now iconic 1975 film (what? no pan pipes???) it’s coming along, slowly.

“These things just take so many years to bubble up to fruition, and then all of a sudden things can happen at once,” Gertler says. “But I’m very excited. I’m just finding it fascinating to work on it with the team we are assembling.”

The excitement, and disbelief, began even earlier.

“Hilary and I were so stunned to have got the rights to make it into a stage musical in 2021. It’s unusual for writers to get these sorts of rights; usually a producer would get them and then hire everyone.”

Gertler Gold, whose musical with Alexandra Collier, Triplight, was performed off-off-Broadway in 2019, had had her eyes on a musical adaptation for some years, including ideas that she and Bell had to explore further the Indigenous aspects of the story (“We’ve got a lot of learning to do about that.”). However, they had to wait for the rights, which were in the hands of a New York producer, to lapse.

Why was a New York producer holding the rights to an Australian classic? Who knows. In any case, the nascent show has just had its first workshop at the Hayes Theatre, six songs and a couple of scenes. It’s a pretty rapid two years on from their start when an arts grant and a financial backer who had put some money into Triplight, gave them seed money.

“We’ve been trying to move forward and get the time we need together to develop it, so it’s really amazing that we had the chance recently at the Hayes Theatre,” says Gertler Gold. “Some of those performers are going to be coming to Church Street Studios to do those songs again.”

Her subtle segue is a reminder of that gig mentioned at the top, on September 2, called Characters. If you were in New York in February the name might ring a bell as Gertler Gold performed it at the not-exactly-small-beer Lincoln Centre. The opportunity, while she is in Sydney, to reprise that show, with a full band, string quartet and special guests, was far too tempting to resist.

It’s a collation of a career’s worth of songs from her pop and musical sphere, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will have any of the songs she wrote for Dr Seuss toy series called Toniebox. Unless the audience insists maybe.

“Maybe because I haven’t had much sleep and they’ll pop out,” she laughs uproariously. “Or maybe if my children come.”

The idea of blurring Green Eggs And Ham into Picnic At Hanging Rock tickles her fancy and mine. However, it’s possible the real excitement will come in a promised PowerPoint presentation with backstage photos and behind-the-scenes stories accompanying her narrative and songs. Yes, she is serious. Because nothing says theatre and entertainment like a PowerPoint presentation.

“I know! Exactly. Maybe I’ll throw a bit of WordPerfect in there as well.”

Can Lin Manuel Miranda offer you that?

The performance at the Lincoln Center was something of a fillip for Gertler Gold who has had a hectic few years since that house fire.

“It’s spoiled me forever because I had the chance to hire a huge band plus a lot of guest actor/singers and then we did all these songs,” she explains. “It felt euphoric to be performing there. I mean, I’ve never been treated so nicely by a venue – now it’s hard to go back to the tip jar.”

It may not be the Lincoln Centre, but Church Street Studios, which used to be the animation studios for pioneering animation genius Yoram “Blinky Bill” Gross, has been refashioned into an art-filled performance space with some 20 music studios, by his son, Guy Gross.

Intimate it might be but the show itself has semi-seriously been described by its star as a “retrospective or a sloppy, orchestral pop cabaret show with many featured musical guests”. Why differentiate? Maybe just add dancers. Or Gertler Gold could do the dancing too.

“Um. Well … then it might have to be called a deathrespective,” she says. “Because I’d have to be dead before you got me to dance.”

Dancing dead girl … there might be a film in that don’t you think? A musical, obviously.

Greta Gertler Gold: Characters – Church Street Studios (62-68 Church Street Camperdown) September 2, 8pm


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