Holt, The Musical: The Seduction of the American
WORDS BY SANDRA BUOL
It’s an oddly sexy Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Waddell) who enters the stage about a third into the musical in a tight suit and a slim tie. He’s a crooner, he knows it and it only takes seconds for him to win over Harold Holt (Fred Pryce), the slightly clueless Prime Minister of Australia in charge of sending troops to Vietnam. “All The Way With LBJ” Holt sings with the ensemble and while the two politicians are said to have developed a personal friendship, there is definitely some homoeroticism added for the stage. After all, LBJ is not someone to refuse a little bit of kink.
Originally a staunch fighter against the thread of communism, LBJ finally succumbs to the Red Queen (Ondine Manfrin). This is after Harold Holt, the introducer of the decimal Australian Dollar who just wants people to like him like, has tragically disappeared in the rough waves of Cheviot Beach. Everything that was nice and good before – “If You’re White And Rich You Can Fall Upwards In Australia” – just goes to shit after Holt has presumably drowned. Or was murdered. Or escaped to the white beaches of Brazil. Or became the fair King to the consumerist Queen of Atlantis. Who knows?
Because it can get all a little too much if you’re the youngest MP in Australian history, protégé of the mighty Robert Menzies (brilliantly captured by Clare McCallum), if you’re Prime Minister without your own doing and you’re walking through life just looking for approval – also from the ladies. So, he disappears. And Australia falls into the hands of the Red Queen. Alternate history.
What is Harold Holt known for today? He’s the one that disappeared in the water. That’s not exactly much to work with for Baby Boy Bolognese, the student comedy group that put Holt! The Musical on production this February. At least they had the Hansard – without the transcripts of Parliamentary Debates (personified by Hugh Guest who nonchalantly narrates through the musical) it would have been hard to reconstruct the quarrels and intrigues of Parliament in the old days. The group did a superb job doing so.
Under the direction of Alexander Richmond (who was also responsible for the book) and Jacinta Gregory (who with Jos Markerink came up with the music and the lyrics and also played the part of Zara Holt) the cast puts up a great show from the first to the last minute – and the musical runs for 160 minutes including interval. Its finger-pointing to the less glorious moments of Australian history is not very subtle – but then it’s a comedy show and while the audience should feel the sting of certain policies, they also came to the Seymour Centre for a good laugh. And they certainly got what they came for. The script is entertaining, the songs catchy, the voices strong and the outfits stunning.
History repeats itself. Under Holt, the number of Australian troops in Vietnam were tripled. Up to today, it remains the largest force contribution in a foreign conflict since World War II. Australia might not say “All the way with Trump” these days. But the embrace of the American lingers – and continues to be warmly welcomed by part of the country.