Doctor Zhivago: A New Musical

The Lyric Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane

“I sing you all day long; a melody so strong and sweet and real”

A doctor and a poet, Zhivago struggles to choose between his family and his love Laura as the Russian revolution tears his world apart. But Zhivago is only one of three men in love with Laura…

Anthony Warlow. That is really all I need say. Of course I’m going to say more but his name on the poster not only symbolises sheer talent but acts as quality assurance for the material itself. The man never makes a wrong move. Along with Love Never Dies, this show was a part of the flux of Australian musical theatre that hit in 2011. An Australian production of a show that had only been briefly performed as a draft version in L.A years before. Or as the posters put it: A New Australian Musical. No denying the use of Australian talent in the show however. Once again Warlow shines with every note; even his stage presence is unprecedented. If there is one man who can really make you feel the anguish of a character through song it’s Warlow and luckily Zhivago has a lot of anguish. (Fairly) new-comer Lucy Maunder plays a sweet Laura but if there is any challenge to Warlow it is Martin Crewes as Pasha/Streinikov. An amazing performance for an amazing character. He begins as sweet comedic Pasha with an outstanding number in the first act but develops into Streinikov with the most tension built number in the second act.

I was anxious about seeing this one as there was no movie version, clips on youtube or soundtrack (only 2 bonus tracks released with my copy of Stage Whispers Magazine) to prepare me. I knew the plot from the classic non-musical film (which they didn’t follow much anyway) but I was walking into the unknown as I stepped into the theatre. Being an epic involving love, war, revolution and a battle of conscious I was expecting something along the lines of Les Miserables and I wasn’t completely wrong. There is similar subject matter and thus inspirational anthems (complete with flag waving) but the emotional pull  is organic and less the assault on the tear ducts that Les Mis can be (it has three deathbed songs! Three!). Like Les Mis the effects of the revolution are seen in many characters but Zhivago is much more political and serious. We get a song that gives the women’s view of war but we also see satirical comments of both the reds and whites and people switching sides to take advantage of the situation. Safe to say that Doctor Zhivago does not have the budget of Les Mis so in crossing time and place for this epic, some sets are nothing more than two benches. But while Les Mis has the barracade, Zhivago also has its main spectacle: moving projections. Truthfully it doesn’t sound like much but the result is flawless and adds to both set, plot and commentary in different places. For example as Yuri sits down to write his poems, words rain down upon the stage. Other times when big musicals would have thought out another complicated spectacle, simple stage effects work just as well. Being chased by the reds, Yuri hides while the stage turns dark and men line up with torches pointing into the audience moving an inch closer with each note. There are gun shots, people being hung, flash lighting, sound effects of war and planes in surround sound… it has a lot of action. Doctor Zhivago is not a little musical but it is an Australian work competing with the megamusical spectacles and doing a damn fine job. The most outstanding comparisons between this and the megamusicals are in the songs; lots of them, big, poetic and emotionally stirring numbers that simply stay with you. It is an absolute crime the world is being deprived of the soundtrack for “legal reasons.”

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