Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Cross cultural epic

Review: Orana Productions, “Mimma: A Musical of War and Friendship” ⋅
Regal Theatre, April 11 ⋅
Review by Claire Trolio ⋅

A politically tumultuous, pre-WWII Italy meets the swinging London district of Soho in a brand new production which opened at the Regal Theatre last night. Mimma: A Musical of War and Friendship is the product of a chance meeting between the two WA based creatives from librettist Giles Watson and composer and producer Ron Siemiginowski.

The score includes both high energy, musical theatre numbers and operatic arias. It’s a curious combination that reflects the varied styles of Siemiginowski who had already written some of the music before he and Watson embarked on their creative venture. As such, the contrasting styles do feel a little incongruous, but the production solidifies in the second act which is more operatic in style.

Mimma (Mirusia Louwerse), Sarah (Holly Meegan) and Uncle Lorenzo (Igor Sas) at the Soho nightclub. Photo by Gary Marsh

Mimma is about how war wreaks havoc on the lives of innocent people on both sides, but at the crux of it, the story is about two young women: passionate, Italian journalist Mimma (Mirusia Louwerse) and London nightclub singer Sarah Parker (Holly Meegan). Turin is becoming increasingly dangerous for Mimma and her family, who refuse to stay silent under the reign of Mussolini, so she seeks refuge with her uncle (stage veteran Igor Sas) in his Soho nightclub. There she meets the kind-hearted, tea drinking, singer Sarah and the pair quickly become friends.

It’s their spirits and their careers that define the two female leads. Both women are strong, politically aware and unwavering in their values of freedom and fairness. Sarah is a dedicated singer who commands the stage while her ally Mimma is a journalist whose vocation remains at the core of her sense of self and ultimately creates a reason for her imprisonment. It’s refreshing to see a new work that champions women who have men in their lives but who are never defined in relation to them.

The casting of these two characters, then, is vital to the success of the production and fortunately Louwerse and Meegan delivered as Mimma and Sarah respectively. Accomplished soprano Louwerse displayed her vocal dexterity brilliantly in the second act. But it was Meegan who left the audience gasping and sighing with delight with her heavenly vocals. Meegan’s vocal clarity astounded the audience and was a true highlight of the performance.

The talents of Jason Barry-Smith as Mimma’s brother Aldo, and Suzanne Kompass as her mother Ada were partially obscured behind the booming music and chorus in Act One but both shone performing the Italian language arias in Act Two.

Uncle Lorenzo (Igor Sas) and Sarah (Holly Meegan). Photo Gary Marsh.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra performed expertly under music director/conductor Sean O’Boyle, whilst director Adam Mitchell proved once again why he’s in high demand right now.

After a dramatic couple of hours, Mimma concludes with some distinctly local flavour. The titular character and her surviving family move to Western Australia, docking at Fremantle and forging a new life on Australian soil. It’s a tidy package for local audiences to relate to, one which serves as an important reminder that those fleeing war-torn countries deserve to be welcomed and protected, and celebrates the ways in which immigrants enrich the cultural landscape. A fitting end to a cross-cultural epic.

Except that it wasn’t the end. An already a lengthy performance was unnecessarily extended with a reunion scene between Mimma and Sarah, where events the audience had seen were recounted. It was a bit too neat and tidy and left the audience wanting less, not more.

That said, the standing ovation said more than a bit of fidgeting did. The creatives behind Mimma have come together to build something new, unique and – with a little more time at the drawing board – world-class.

Mimma continues at The Regal Theatre until 21 April.

Pictured top: Mirusia Louwerse (Mimma) and Holly Meegan (Sarah) have got each other’s back in Mimma. Photo Gary Marsh.

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Singers and music director stand around the piano
Features, News, Performing arts

Global story takes to the stage

Ron Siemiginowski and Giles Watson were brought together by the shared ambition to write a musical. Neither of them had the faintest idea just how far their dream would go. Seesaw editor Rosalind Appleby found out more about Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship, which will open at the Regal Theatre next week.

“We never envisaged this,” said Siemiginowski, who is the owner of Orana Cinemas and has a background as a pianist and composer. “We met in 2015 and I played Giles some songs I had written. He went away and wrote an amazing synopsis and I was gobsmacked. From there things have taken their natural course as we met people and they connected us to others.”

A man sits at the piano with his score on the music stand
Ron Siemiginowski is the composer and producer of Mimma the Musical. Photo Jared Vethaak.

Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship will have its world premiere at the Regal Theatre on April 9th. The global production might have been dreamt up in a lounge room in Albany but it has attracted musicians from around the country and overseas. The lead role of Mimma will be performed by Australian/Dutch soprano Mirusia Louwerse, whose chart-topping crossover albums and tours with Andre Rieu have earned her the nickname ‘Angel of Australia’. She is supported by music theatre stalwart Jason Barry-Smith as her uncle Aldo Marini, WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate Holly Meegan as jazz singer Sarah Parker and US/Australian singer Suzanne Kompass as Ada Marini.

The story is set in World War Two and follows the Italian journalist Mimma, whose family are involved in the resistance against Mussolini. Mimma takes refuge from the spread of Fascism at her uncle’s nightclub in London and forms a friendship with jazz singer Sarah. As things begin to unravel on a global scale the conflict brings out the best and worst in people. The musical pays tribute to the friendship between Mimma and Sarah as they hold fast to humanity in the midst of the destruction.

World War Two history has fascinated Watson since he wrote his doctoral thesis on this period, and Siemiginowski’s childhood was filled with war stories told by his Polish/German parents who arrived in Australia as displaced persons in 1951. The composer and librettist discovered the period has lessons for our times too, particularly the themes of refugees and extremist ideology.

“There are parallels with the Syrian crisis and people displaced through war,” said Siemiginowski. “People looking for refuge from war, wanting to make a better life in Australia. I hope the audience will get a sense of the universality of what it means to be someone coming through great struggle, war, privation, and wanting to find refuge.”

The musical also highlights the extreme ideology evident in politics at the time.

“I’ve learned from my personal family history to be wary of extreme ideology on any side of politics,” explains Siemiginowski.

England’s paranoia about Italian and German migrants is articulated in the song Collar the Lot which quotes Churchill’s blanket approach to deporting ‘Enemy Aliens’.  In the musical a boat of deported Italian and German refugees is sunk, making reference to the sinking in 1940 of the Arandora Star by a German U-boat.

Mirusia Louwerse, Holly Meegan, Suzanne Kompass and Jason Barry-Smith in rehearsal. Photo Jared Vethaak.

Siemiginowski’s music weaves the themes together, with Italian arias inspired by the lush melodies of Puccini and Verdi sitting alongside 1940’s styled jazz numbers. There’s even a Rhumba Italiana which includes the transcription of a trumpet solo by Australian jazz icon James Morrison. New York based Australian composer and conductor Sean O’Boyle has orchestrated Siemiginowski’s piano score and will conduct the Perth Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere season at the Regal Theatre.

“I hope the audience will experience a wonderful story of courage, fortitude against all odds,” says Siemiginowski. “And above all love the music.”

Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship is at the Regal Theatre from April 9 – 21.

Pictured top: The Mimma cast includes Mirusia Louwerse, Jason Barry-Smith, Sean O’Boyle (music director), Holly Meegan and Suzanne Kompass. Photo Jared Vethaak.

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