Prodigal Play Returns
Recent Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate Edward Grey has no regrets about becoming a” triple threat”. His teachers were right;it’s a sure fire way to get interesting work on stage. This Midsumma Festival Grey is a drama graduate to watch out for as he is set to lead the musical cast of Prodigal in the remarkable story of a student from the country who turns “fearless”.
Since Prodigal debuted at the 2000 Midsumma Festival, where it struck a high note with local audiences, it has been hitting high notes ever since. Including various Green Room Awards, an off Broadway production at the York Theatre in New York in 2002 and numerous productions since, both in Australia and overseas.
Grey is in fine company, WAAPA graduates seem to have a knack for musical theatre, and past alumni includes a who’s who of stage luminaries. Actors like Lisa McCune, Marcus Graham, Guy Pearce, Hugh Jackman and Prodigal Writers and Directors, Mathew Frank and Dean Bryant.
“The interesting fact about performing arts training at WAAPA is the wide-range of focus it has and I mean that as a positive. In my course we were trained to become 'triple-threats', that is a performer who sings, dances and acts. I think that is a skill in itself.”
Drama school, he explains, “from a pre-drama school perspective seemed like such a hyped-up experience. However, I must say now, in hindsight, that much of the hype was true. You spend three years being pushed in directions that are often surprising and confronting, but always fun. I learned something I didn’t know about myself- I am capable of anything if I put my mind to it and do the work. The only thing that would get in my way was my own fear. Once that’s out of the way and stops being the thing you base all your decisions on, it’s a lot easier."
Performing in Sondheim’s Company as the second year WAAPA production helped Grey come to terms with his fears. “I played the role of Paul – amazing- a man who has a neurotic fiancée who ends their wedding on their wedding day. Company is classic Sondheim – extremely clever, funny, a great pleasure to perform. I learnt so much from that role, being adaptable.”
Last year during his final intensive year of study- while refining his triple threat skills and dealing with even deeper fears again- Grey was cast as the character Georg – a classmate deeply in lust with his Piano teacher in the Musical hit, Spring Awakening.
“I learn't even more from playing this role, it’s a confronting story. I loved romping around the stage at Sydney Theatre Company each night with my piano teacher. That was great.”
Penned by German Dramatist Frank Wedekind in 1891, and adapted into a musical in 2006 with lyrics by US dramatists Steven Slater and Duncan Sheik, Grey explains why Spring Awakening also became something of a personal awakening.” It’s a haunting story about growing up, a rather horrific coming of age of a bunch of German teenagers. I played Georg, who is haunted by his extremely sexual Piano teacher and is part of the cohort of classmates who experience awful events. Things that that tend to happen when you don’t talk about sex.”
“The reason I believe this musical strikes such a chord with audiences today is due to the fact that many of the issues in the musical- masturbation, sex, death, homosexuality, abortion- are still largely taboo subjects within many families now. This musical sheds light on these issues and hopefully provokes thought and discussion, things that help us to understand and be open about these issues rather than be closed about them. I think this is really important, being closed about these things means they just become a destructive force.”
Prodigal, a coming-of-age musical just like its 19th Century musical counterpart also has the subject of taboo at its heart. As Grey sees it, both plays are not simply about addressing what society considers taboo, it’s about tackling society for choosing not to see things as they really are.
“I’m playing Luke Flannery, an 18 year-old from Eden in NSW. He heads off to University in Sydney against his parents’ wishes and discovers he is gay. When he tells them this, he is rejected. He explores his new ‘identity’ and it turns sour. Luke comes from a very loving family who are just a little stuck in their ways. Over the course of the show, they come to realise that being a family also means accepting each person in the family- for who they truly are - as a unique individual.”
Grey remains philosophical when it comes to his Prodigal role. He considers that Luke’s journey is not just a parody of the Bible parable, it’s a journey into manhood, into the ocean of fear. “I don’t really approach Luke as a ‘gay’ character to be honest. That’s not his defining feature. Being gay, is just part of a much greater part of who he is.”
This “greater part” Grey alludes to includes his character’s relationships and his sense of relatedness- to friends, to family, to his memories of childhood, to his sense of place, his imagination and to his sense of the future. This greater part is also cleverly contained in the musical score.
“I really love the song, When I Was A Kid that my character sings. It’s a really eloquent and touching song about Australian childhood, one that’s not embarrassed by or anxious about our culture. It’s rare to find Aussie songs without cultural cringe. I love re-creating my character’s childhood memories. This one is beautiful to sing, it always enchants me.”
until January 29