The Story to Here
The story of Magpie’s journey so far is the classic one of an underdog overcoming the odds, and at the core of that story is Michael Gray Griffith.
Ten years ago, Michael, a struggling writer and new tram driver kept passing this old homeless man on the streets of Kew who was known locally as the Red Man. A bear of a man, he wore several layers of grubby red clothes. He was also cantankerous which made Michael think that for some reason he was as angry inside as he was out. Around this time the Choir Of Hard Knocks premiered, and as he watched it, Michael comically thought that if someone rich wanted to join this choir then they would have to pretend to be homeless. In that very next thought he linked this idea with the Red Man and realized instantly that this was “My Fair Lady” . . . backwards.
Michael could see most of the story and immediately knew that it was a musical, but since he had never written a song and couldn't play an instrument, as our children were still young and the family were surviving on a single income, and because we’d heard that producing a new musical in Australia was almost impossible, Michael told this forming idea to go away. But the story was so strong it wouldn’t listen. Finally, despite all the odds and already in love with the emerging characters, he gave in and started writing.
Our four-year-old daughter composed the first line for the first song. Michael was looking for a line that comically alluded to the shallowness of many things in our modern world, i.e. the wrapping without the gift, when she suggested “Like a Twinkle Without the Star?”
Michael knew as he progressed that the songs needed to move the story forward and/or build character. And scene by scene, these songs almost instantly emerged along with melodies as if this piece wanted to be written.
When he had six songs written and due to these songs that wouldn’t stop forming- and due to this he’d driven his tram the wrong way several times working on them, we knew we now needed a composer. But where would we find one and how would we convince them to come on board when there was no money? Then, a mum who had a boy at our daughter's kindy posted an original piece of music on Facebook. It was beautiful and so Michael invited her around. Coffee in hand, she sat in our rented kitchen and after telling her the story, Michael stood up and sang the songs that he had so far acapella. Instead of collapsing with laughter, she nodded and said she could hear it.
Her name was Dallas Rayner, and for the next few years she and Michael worked on the piece. Finally, a reading was arranged at La Mama Courthouse.
We decided that if the audience walked out before it finished, then we’d take that as a sign to give up. But first Michael stated that the Magpie needed one last song: a duet between the lovers that also summed up the theme of the entire musical. But this song would have to be the best so far.
So one morning, he got up and went into the living room and a few minutes later, I heard him singing. Outside the door I remember thinking: seriously? The song, even with Michael’s questionable voice was incredible and the lyrics were perfect. Even without music, it stuck in my head for days. Then when Dallas turned up a short time later with the music, I truly felt that this was a hit song.
Not only did it run incredibly smoothly, the audience were attentive and not one of them left. Instead, they laughed at the funny bits, gasped at the gasping bits, sighed at the sighing bits and then they cried. We have on tape that during the final duet, one woman cried so hard the lead actor had to stop mid-song. And the applause was so huge, the actors came back for a curtain call. This was a reading! The next week we met with Adrian Storey, a theatre producer who had been at the reading. He urged us to keep going with it. Then the esteemed director Hugh Halliday came on board. He loved it too and was driven to help us stage it, but with no money, the path was still not clear. It all seemed too hard. Despite this, Simon Walters, a more experienced composer came on board to help us further develop the songs. Together he and Michael worked to bring the musical up several notches and even added some new songs....
Rohana Hayes (Co-Producer)