Philip Quast with Anne-Maree McDonald at the piano, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, June 10. One show only.
There are few Australian music theatre performers as celebrated as Philip Quast, and none more modest about their accomplishments. So in this, the only performance of the world premiere of his one-person show, he seems almost startled to find he has to talk about himself. At no time in his delightful 70 minute excursion does he mention that he has won more Olivier Awards for Best Actor in a Musical than any other performer, nor that he defined the role of Javert in Les Miserablesfor all time.
Instead, he comes on stage at the Dunstan Playhouse in Adelaide rather like he has been ambushed in This is Your Life. He is caught in a genuine moment of nostalgic return. “I began my career on this stage,” he says with a catch of emotion, “in 1980 with the State Theatre Company.” It releases a Proustian recollection – not just of temps perdu, but personnes perdues– of co-performers such as the late Monica Maughan having a fag with her vocal warm up for A Hard God, of Nick Enright, also departed, and his play On the Wallaby, and the mischievous, and very much still with us, Teddy Hodgeman pranking covertly between the actors on stage during The Three Sisters.
The memories are fond and funny. Recalling one of his first roles – as Adam in The Wakefield Mystery Plays, Quast describes being required to be naked for the scene with Eve in the Garden of Eden. A few days later he received his first fan letter, from a woman commending his performance but noting that it was highly unlikely Adam would have been circumcised. And that, Quast merrily explains, is why his show is ironically titled Uncut.
His selection of songs is disarmingly eclectic. Opening with a childhood favourite The Gypsy Rover, Quast’s effortless, warm baritone has the audience rapt from the first line. With two Danny Kaye classics he shows he can match the master for fluency and comic emphasis with The King’s New Clothes(“The King is in the altogether/ He’s altogether as naked as the day he was born”) and the more wry I Like Old People Don’t You ?
At no time in his delightful 70 minute excursion does he mention that he has won more Olivier Awards for Best Actor in a Musical than any other performer.
To his father, who was a turkey farmer in Tamworth, he dedicates the tender ballad, In My Father’s Hands.
Philip Quast’s international reputation rests on many accomplishments, not least his association with the works of Stephen Sondheim. Again, the singer talks about his friendship with Sondheim with matter-of-fact understatement, barely lingering on the fact that Quast was an enduring Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George, a regular in Sweeney Todd with Bryn Terfel, and reprised the role of Benjamin Stone in the recent, much-praised National Theatre revival of Follies.
Of the last, he did confide that Peter Brook visited him after the show and called the production the best he’d seen in London in twenty years. Superbly accompanied by the excellent Anne-Maree McDonald, Quast sang Ben’s song from Follies – The Road I Didn’t Take, one of many highlights of the recital.
Talking about Sondheim led to a discussion about capturing the cadence of speech in song lyrics and Sondheim’s own declared mentors, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Quast, a master performer in South Pacific sang a velvet-rich version of Some Enchanted Evening, followed by the bittersweet Charles Aznavour composition, Happy Anniversary.
In an unexpected break in proceedings, the ebullient Quast called for the house lights up and bounded down into the stalls to demand an audience participation rendering of The Wiggerly-Woo Song to mark the 17 years Quast, in unforgetable partnership with Noni Hazelhurst, presented Play School, the ABC’s most enduringly watched program. Numbers of Gen X-ers not only sang and performed the arcane actions, but were visibly moved to be returning to their inner wigger.
In a final cluster of songs, it is to the heavens that Quast goes for inspiration. Lucky Old Sun, made famous by Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles among others, then leads to the stars. A memorable reading of Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars and then, the Schonberg/Boublil/Kretzner composition from Les Miserables– Stars to which Philip Quast commandingly brings his full Javert, the role he made legend in every city he performed. And made audiences rise to their feet, as again here in Adelaide.
For a more pensive encore to this splendid afternoon soiree, he chose the song for all actors, I Was Here, from Flaherty and Ahrens’ The Glorious Ones. And to round things off, what would this celebrated maestro of the music theatre choose? Another chorus of Wiggerly-Woo. What else ?
Image of Philip Quast with Anne-Maree McDonald by Kate Williams