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Mary MacKillop: the Musical

July 13, 2010

Heavens, the stage is set for Mackillop the musical casting

It’s soul music as Mary’s life hits the stage

Do you have what it takes to be a saint? AP reports that a nationwide call has gone out for a woman to play Mary MacKillop in a new musical to mark her canonisation. The production, to be staged in October in Sydney and Melbourne  is by underwritten by the Australian Catholic arts organisation, Artes Christi. Almost 10 years in the making, the cast will be made up of close to 80 actors and a live orchestra.

When I first saw the headlines about the musical I was surprised that I was, well, surprised.  Over the last few years Broadway has seen musicals about the life of ABBA and Queen and the lives of the Beatles, along with various members of the Rat pack. But why was it that I was taken aback when I was confronted with a musical about the life of the first, about-to-be-canonised, Australian nun?

The composer of MacKillop, Xavier Brouwer, said he was struck by the complexity of her life after reading a biography: “It occurred to me that she was a remarkable woman with a remarkable story.”  He interviewed people who had known Mary MacKillop directly and indirectly to get a sense of her personality: “She was Scottish, which is quite interesting because Scottish people are often quite hot-headed,” Mr Brouwer said. “She wasn’t a woman who was over the top. She was a very withdrawn, reserved, humble woman, so we’re looking for someone who can bring the strength of her character across through singing and acting.”

Artistic director Anthony McCarthy said the musical would show the road to sainthood was not an easy one. “She had a vision for helping Australians all across the nation and she suffered greatly for that,” he said.

“The tone is like Les Miserables,” Brouwer said (Soul music as Mary’s life hits the stage). “It’s like a dramatic musical set in old-fashioned times. It’s got touches of Gilbert and Sullivan, touches of modern musicals.”

Mackillop’s story follows the key events in her life, and according to news reports everything has been fact-checked by the Sisters of St Joseph (the order Mary MacKillop founded), as well as Jesuit scholars and historians. “Mary Mackillop was an extremely positive role model, and she wasn’t a nun who stayed in a convent all day,” Brouwer said. “She went out there and set up schools and orphanages and helped women in refuges. It struck me that these are the sorts of role models that we need to put out there for young kids.”

What do you think of the musical form being employed to share the life of Mary MacKillop? How do you think a musical differs from a biography even when it is biographical in intent? Is this musical inherently directed toward entertainment and is sensationalism and exaggeration essentially part of the package?

Image: Sisters of St Joseph Tasmania

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