Julian Kuo is a sensational triple threat: singer, actor, dancer. He’s also amazingly intelligent and literate, the latter not always a defining characteristic of music theatre performers. On stage, he generates electricity in everything he does, and believe me, he does everything! He caresses every song and inhabits every soliloquy
The great white way of Broadway seems a long distance from Stratford-upon-Avon and even further from Marrickville, but Shakespeare hits the showbiz boards and belts out the hits in early September when brilliant young singer/actor Julian Kuo performs Mosman writer and director Melvyn Morrow’s highly successful cabaret, Broadway Bard, as part of the 2011 Sydney Fringe Festival.
‘It’s a hook Shakespeare would surely approve of,’ says Morrow. ‘Will was a commercial playwright, and if he were alive today, he’d be writing Broadway and West End musicals and splurging on the royalties.’
As the co-writer of the mega-hit jukebox musicals SHOUT! and Dusty, Morrow knows something himself about royalties. ‘I seem to bounce between six million dollar musicals and six hundred dollar ones,’ he observed. ‘Broadway Bard is the latter, but offers just as much entertainment value as the former. The cabaret’s premise sees a number of Shakespearean heroes and villains perform their most famous soliloquies but then launch into the Broadway hit Will would love to have written. Most of the show is, to put it mildly, wickedly cheeky in the pairing of soliloquy and song, but there are also some moving moments in which power ballads add to the emotion of a particular character’s circumstances.’
Legendary characters the audience meets over the seventy minute hitfest include Romeo, Julius Caesar, Benedick, Richard III and, of course, Hamlet. ‘But I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what numbers they sing. Hamlet’s turn is especially wicked,’ says the writer-director. ‘With luck it will delight and offend simultaneously. The dream would be to have Fred Nile or Cardinal Pell declare the show a literary blasphemy. We’re sending them tickets to the dress rehearsal in the hope they’ll be outraged and exhort their respective flocks to boycott the production. Then we’ll draw full houses, make a motza and head like a bat out of hell to Broadway or Booligal. Shakespeare and I are big names in Booligal,’ claims Morrow. ‘Indeed, they speak of little else there.’
Morrow started out writing satiric scripts for Phillip St Theatre and The Mavis Bramston Show ‘way back in the 60’s before the Mayflower set sail.’ It’s little wonder then that his son, Julian Morrow, proved to be a chip off the old block and was a founder member of the notorious Chaser gang. ‘Julian’s much more intelligent than I am,’ asserts Morrow, ‘but I’m much more handsome than he is. I think we’re both agreed on that. Certainly, I am. And also, I haven’t been arrested on terrorism charges.’ ‘You will be after this production,’ shoots back the Chaser boy.
‘Though he’s quicker at one-liners,’ said Morrow Senior, ‘Especially in the witness box. Seriously, though, of the dozens of musicals and cabarets I’ve written, including three others revolving around Shakespeare in one way or another, this is the one Julian reckons is the most commercial.
‘Seriously though,’ Morrow Junior mimics, ‘Broadway Bard is a great show: without doubt the best collaboration between Shakespeare and dad. I loved it – and not only because I’d be written out of dad’s will if I didn’t.’
‘Broadway Bard is a sort of musical magic pudding,’ continues Morrow Senior. ‘It’s totally adaptable to whichever star plays it. You take out a slice, and immediately another equally tasty one pops up in its place. The show has been performed by the Bell Shakespeare Company as a fund raiser (‘An enormous success. A wonderful show,’ wrote John Bell) and a number of years go, it enjoyed two sell-out seasons at Café Basilica with now WAAPA music theatre graduate, Warwick Allsopp (‘No Holds Bard. Pairings particularly apt. ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ will never be the same,’ raved the Sunday Telegraph.’)
Morrow senior says with bubbling enthusiasm that he was knocked out by current star, 20 year old Julian Kuo, when he saw him perform at The Australian Institute of Music’s graduation musical last year.
‘I’m naturally predisposed to like all Julians, and Julian Kuo is a sensational triple threat: singer, actor, dancer. He’s also amazingly intelligent and literate, the latter not always a defining characteristic of music theatre performers. On stage, he generates electricity in everything he does, and believe me, he does everything! He caresses every song and inhabits every soliloquy. His range in both areas is astounding, and dancing seems to run in his family what with his brother, Patric Kuo, being a member of the mind-blowing Instant Bun, finalists in Australia’s Got Talent. Such is Julian’s charisma, I have no doubt that this show will move from Marrickville to Manhattan. It’s already booked for a early December season in Canberra at Teatro Vivaldi, so we’re obviously on our way, albeit with a tangential stopover. Still, as the Bard said, ‘Journeys end in unlikely airports.’ Or something like that.’
Julian Kuo’s enthusiasm rivals his director’s. “There is something creepily perfect about the combination of Shakespeare and Broadway,’ he says. “I have always thought that Shakespeare would be a great thing to do after I had fulfilled my aspirations in musical theatre. Now I get to do both in the one show which, to tell you the truth, I had never even considered possible! Melvyn tells me that Shakespeare wrote “There is a tide in the affairs of musicals, which, taken at the flood, leads on to Marrickville.’’ That guy’s amazing. Shakespeare, I mean. Mel’s not too bad either for someone who lives in Mosman.’