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EMTC gears up for theatre double feature

By Ivy Jensen

WHAT DO THE jungle and the 1980s have in common?

Well, apart from the classic ’80’s jungle hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the answer would always be nothing.

Except that nothing has just become a seriously entertaining something.

Not just one something, either.

The link between jungle and the self-indulgent ’80s has become two things – but with a common thread.

Which would be the Echuca-Moama Theatre Company and its junior productions, which open in just under two weeks.

And right now, the directors, cast and crew are flat out with the final few rehearsals of their individual shows (The Jungle Book and Back to the ’80s) before bumping into the Paramount this weekend.

Lesley Summers and Ivy Jensen are directing The Jungle Book, which features a cast of 24 children aged between eight and 12.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same name, The Jungle Book follows the familiar story of Mowgli (played by Nkiru Ekeanyanwu) who is raised in the jungle but must leave the only home he’s ever known when the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Ruby Miles) unleashes his mighty roar.

Guided by the no-nonsense panther Bagheera (Ruby Newman), and free-spirited bear Baloo (Digby Newman), Mowgli meets an array of jungle animals, including slithery python Kaa (Georgia Cadd), smooth-talking ape King Louie (Amali Nunan) and pompous elephant Colonel Hathi (Maverick Failla).

With only two rehearsals left before the cast and crew pack up their costumes, sets and songbooks and head into the Paramount Theatre, Lesley said things were looking pretty good.

“Once the cast’s kids get into costume, they immediately get more into character and their energy levels pick up,” she said.

“It is just delightful watching the kids portray whatever their role is, whether it be a swaying tree, a vulture, a cheeky monkey, a cute bottom-wiggling bumble bee or simply a facial expression.

“Sixty per cent of our cast are 10 or under – and some of them first-timers in a show – so it has been a good experience for them to gain confidence and there have been new friendships formed as well.”

Back to the ’80s directors Mark Thomson and Zali McKee have also been putting the finishing touches on their show, which is shaping up to be as bodacious as the decade.

“There has been a lot of hard work and fun at the same time,” Mark said.

“The cast has been busy learning all the songs and vocal parts, along with choreography and starting to use the sets and props.

“The costume team has been busy with taffeta, denim on denim and fluoro legwarmers to create the looks for the cast who are loving getting dressed up in outfits from another era.

“This is also true for hair and make-up – the hair-crimper and blue and pink eyeshadow is on the table to assist the transformation.”

First-time director Zali said it had been a joyful journey.

“There’s a lot you don’t think about when it comes to putting a show together.

“It can have its challenges, but it’s all worth it watching these kids grow into fantastic performers,” she said.

“Being able to support them has been a treat, also sharing a lot of laughs and funny moments throughout these past months.”

Back to the ’80s tells the story of Corey Palmer (played by Griffin Visca-Lias) and his senior year of high school: his best friends (Indi Gilmore and Ethan Kirchhofer), the class bully (Kurt Habgood), and Tiffany (Harper Raverty), the girl he loves.

With a Star Wars dream sequence, high-energy dance routines, an ’80s party scene and some of the most popular songs ever written, the musical is set to entertain young and old.

The cast even tried a dry run recently, dropping into the Caledonian Hotel and blasting out three of their songs to entertain, amongst other things, the Thursday quiz night at the Cal – to rapturous applause.

And while that may have been a basically a cappella (as well as impromptu) performance, Zali and Mark agreed the show would be nowhere near as good as it is looking without their live band – six talented musicians who have been rehearsing in a converted dairy in KyValley every week.

Matthew Walsh, the band’s bass player, generously offered his home rehearsal studio for the band to practise in.

Matthew played in the stage band for Shepparton Theatre Arts Group’s Jesus Christ Superstar and was keen to be involved in Back to the 80s.

Musical director Victoria Pannett, who was in a jazz band for more than 15 years, and EMTC regular Sandra Davidson are both on keyboard.

When saxophonist Peter Heywood responded to an advertisement in the Riv asking for musicians for Les Miserables, EMTC nabbed him for Back to the 80s.

‘‘He was really keen to get involved,’’ Zali said.

‘‘He’s also in a big band in Shepparton and another band in Sydney which will be touring the UK after the show.’’

The band’s lead guitar player is Patrick Gibson, from the Midnight Echoes, who has also played in many bands for community theatre shows around the Kyabram region.

And finally, Richard Pannett is on drums. While he hasn’t played in a band since he lived in the UK, he decided to dust off his drum sticks thanks to a little coaxing from wife Victoria.

Both shows open on November 8, but The Jungle Book will only have four performances on the first weekend and Back to the ’80s will perform eight shows over two weekends.

Tickets are available at the Paramount.