Simon Phillips Has the Knack for Musical Theatre

In a wide-ranging career spanning several continents, which to date has seen him employed as artistic director by two Australian state theatre companies and awarded for his direction of theatre and opera, New Zealand-born Simon Phillips has become increasingly identified as a director of major musical theatre, ArtsHub reporter Richard Watts writes.

Despite acclaimed productions including Love Never Dies, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Ladies in Black (which returns to Australian stages, touring nationally, in 2017) Phillips said that he was surprised to find himself “the current über-director of musicals in Australia”.

Phillips directed his first musical – a production of Oliver! in New Zealand – only because the person who was supposed to direct it “jumped ship at the last minute and they looked around and handballed it to me”.

Nonetheless on that production Phillips became fascinated by the ingredients which make a musical work.

“It seemed to me to draw on a more complex number of skills than anything else I’d worked on. You have to kind of find coherence between the musical element, the choreographic element, the scenic element – most musicals are predicated on the idea that you can move very fluidly from Mr Brownlow’s study to the slums of Soho – so there’s a lot of scenic fluidity which is required.

“And then there’s the drama. So as the director of a musical all those things have to be brought together in a particular way, which I found fascinating,” Phillips said.

The success of Ladies in Black, with music and lyrics by fellow New Zealander Tim Finn, is cheering – and a reminder that no-one ever sets out to make a mediocre production.

“[That] is the hurdy-gurdy of trying to make magic that I’m involved in. It has risks every time and it has aspirations every time and no-one, no-one sets out to make a mediocre piece of theatre … Things fail but people don’t aim to fail. I don’t anyway,” Phillips concluded.

Original article by Richard Watts, ArtsHub, October 16, 2016.

Tags: ArtsHub  Ladies in Black  Simon Phillips  Tim Finn  

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