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'Orpheus in the Underworld' - A Comic Operetta


Lazenby Hall, UNE - May 2005

Stage & Musical Direction by Bruce Menzies

Choreography by Tracey James
Produced by Margaret Kennedy

From the original by Hector Cremieux and Ludovic Halevy. Music by Jacques Offenbach. New book and lyrics by Phil Park. Music adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer. By arrangement with Hal Leonard Pty Ltd on behalf of Josef Weinberger Ltd, London.


According to Greek Legend, the minstrel Orpheus produced music so compellingly beautiful that wild beasts would follow him, the most savage of men would be calmed and entire mountains would move - enraptured by his magical harmonies.

Orpheus' great love and partner was the nymph Eurydice. Tragically, she was killed by a snake bite and taken to Hades. Grief stricken, Orpheus traveled to the underworld to plead with Pluto for her release. The plea was granted, on the condition that Orpheus should not look back at his wife until they had reached the safety of the earth. Unfortunately, anxious to ensure his wife's safety, Orpheus was unable to resist the temptation, and Eurydice returned to Hades forever.


Act 1 - A landscape near Thebes

The marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice is a farce. Orpheus is a self-opinionated violin teacher. His wife Eurydice has fallen for a spunky Shepherd named Aristaeus. Aristaeus is really Pluto, King of the Underworld in disguise, who has come up to earth for a bit of nooky. Eurydice is bitten by a snake in the cornfield. As she dies, Aristaeus reveals himself as Pluto, Lord of Hell, and whisks her off to his love nest in the Underworld.

Orpheus can't believe his luck: He is delighted to be rid of his wife, but his mother Calliope, fearful of public opinion and the effect it will have on her son's professional reputation, sends him off to Mt Olympus to appeal to Jupiter, King of the gods, to get Eurydice back. Orpheus, Calliope and their pilot Icarus set off for Mt Olympus in a balloon.

Act 2 - Mount Olympus

The gods are asleep. Venus, Cupid & Mars, however, have been up all night on the town. They arrive home the worse for wear. Mercury, messenger of the gods, comes prancing on to Mount Olympus. He has been ordered by Jupiter to investigate the disappearance of Eurydice from earth. He reports the scandal.

A revolt breaks out amongst the disgruntled gods 'Down with Ambrosia' -'Nectar Sucks', etc. Jupiter manages to quell the rebellion - but only just.

Orpheus and Calliope arrive in their balloon. Orpheus accuses Pluto of having abducted Eurydice, which he denies. Jupiter and all the gods decide to accompany Orpheus and Calliope to the underworld to look for Eurydice.

Act 3, Scene 1 - Pluto's Den

Pluto is keeping Eurydice in his boudoir in Hades. She is guarded by John Styx, Pluto's decrepit manservant. Styx was once the King of Beotia, but is now reduced to being Pluto's gaoler. He tries to entertain Eurydice with an account of his royal past.

When Orpheus and the gods arrive, Styx bundles Eurydice into a back room. When Jupiter sees Eurydice through the keyhole, he can't get enough of her. Cupid helps him turn himself into a fly to get through the keyhole. Eurydice fails for the fly. After a very silly love duet, Jupiter reveals himself as the King of the Gods, and they arrange to meet later.

Act 3, Scene 2 - Pluto's Party, Hell

The gods of Olympus have joined the denizens of Hades at a special party put on by Pluto. As the party rages, Eurydice enters, disguised as a bacchante (a frenzied follower of Bacchus, god of Wine). Jupiter and Eurydice try to sneak off, but Pluto stops them, reminding Jupiter of his vow to return Euryclice to Orpheus. When Orpheus and Calliope arrive, Jupiter grudgingly tells Orpheus he can have his wife back, but only if he does not turn round to look at her when they go. They set off, but when almost out of sight Jupiter hurls a thunderbolt at Orpheus's derriere - and Orpheus naturally turns round. Eurydice leads the Can-Can to celebrate her new life of wine and revelry.


When Offenbach wrote his most famous show Orpheus in the Underworld in the 1850s, he used the hallowed tale from Greek mythology of the devoted love of Orpheus for Eurydice and his search for her in the Underworld to cock a huge snoot at the daft hypocrisies and pretensions of the Parisian middle and ruling classes, its social set, and its wowsers.

Productions since then have used this outrageously funny send-up as a vehicle to take an affectionate (and occasionally not so affectionate!) stick to their own institutionalised idiocies.

There is no need for us to 'deconstruct' Orpheus to make it relevant to 2005 Armidale audiences. Offenbach had already done this in his era by setting Orpheus in a wild and zany version of mythical antiquity, brimming with what was described by a critic of the time as "anachronisms, allusions, witticisms, and crazy situations".

In this production we have tried to combine classical mythology with 21st Century Australia (and a touch of 'Moulin Rouge') in a riotous orgy of dance, song, and spectacle, reaching its climax in a seedy King's Cross Nightclub with the delectable revels of the celebrated Can-Can.

Come and join us in this highly disrespectful romp. We hope you'll have a hell of a time!


Orpheus: Mike Gibson, Eurydice: Ruth Strutt, Jupiter: Brad Crook, Calliope: Cheryl Landers, Pluto: Neil Horton, Cupid: Angie Torbay, Mars: David Paterson, Venus: Chris Leger, Mercury: Warren Bartik, Diana: Leanne Roobol, Bacchus: Corin Barry, Juno: Inge Southcott, Styx : Waine Grafton, Icarus: Alec Watt, Vulcan: Phil Oxley

Dancers: Bart Verschuuren, Bethany Shepherd, Corin Barry, Jill Gordon, Katrina Lennox, Layna Stephens, Lindy Hardman, Penny Gurner

Ensemble: Alan Wilkinson, Annie Abbott, Barbara Colledge, Betty Hall, Blake Noonan, Bruce Southcott, Bryce Little, Catherine Fenning, Cathy Archer, Dianne Murphy, Donna Wainohu, Ellen Fitzgerald, Emily Thomas-Moore, Emma Hall, Garry Slocombe, Ingrid Rothe, Kate Horrack, Koro Sciascia, Leisil Slocombe, Lissa Monk, Maria Rummery, Marney Tilley, Maxine Allan, Rob Turnuth, Robyn Slocombe, Ros Brady, Sally Lucassen, Tracey James


Orchestra Leader & Solo Violin: Erroll Russell, Violin 1: Kate Chapman, Violin 2: Sujata Allen, Jhana Allen,Viola: Michael Stockwell, Cello: Clare Chapman, Caitlin Driscoll, Bass: Wendy Griffiths, Flute: Sharon Davidge, Oboe: Graham Maddox, Clarinet 1: Chris Garden, Clarinet 2: Janet Million, Bassoon: Alex Bell, Horn 1: Alastair Finco, Horn 2: Kerry Hawkins, Trumpet: Tony Jones, Trombone 1: Dave Brown, Trombone 2: Terry Million, Percussion: Chris Bradley, Piano: Robyn Bradley


Stage & Musical Director: Bruce Menzies
Artistic Director: Waine Grafton
Choreographer: Tracy James
Producers: Donna Wainohu, Margaret Kennedy
Assistant Musical Director: Robyn Bradley
Assistant Director & Make Up: Mike Gibson
Stage Manager & Set Construction: Pat Bradley
Publicity: Ingrid Rothe
Graphic Design: Denis Wright
Lighting & Sound: Nick Monk
Costume Design : Donna Wainohu, Narelle Jackson, Narelle Marshall
Front of House: Isabel Strutt (Catering), John Brady (Finances)
Ticketing: Garry Slocombe
Photography: Terry Cooke
Video: Brian Thomas


Director's Assistants: Barbara Colledge, Pam Menzies
Assistant Rehearsal Pianists: Cathie Lamont, Peter Maddox
Catering: Dorothy Pollard, Pam Menzies
Prop Crew: Aline Christenson, Dorothy Pollard, Jess Wilkinson, Jody Brash, Kristin Adair, Lauren Meredith, Pam Menzies
Cast Coordinator: Diana Helmrich
Set Construction & Stage Crew: Bernie May, Brianna Bishop, Clive Skilton, Colin Barry, Dale Wallis, David Rowland, David Stellar, Jack Stevenson, James Poole, Jim "Balloon" Reid, Len O'Riley, Marty Lawlor, Nick Smolders, Nikki Heavey, Stephen Lyons
Publicity: Diana Helmrich, Ingrid Rothe, Marney Tilley, Neil Horton, Pam Menzies
Program: Denis Wright, Neil Horton
Program Production: Annie Abbott
Autumn Festival: Alan Wilkinson, Alec Watt, Ingrid Rothe, Margaret Kennedy, Neil Horton, Pam Menzies, Sebastian Monk and all helpers on the day
Lighting/Sound: Andrew Carson, Daniel Wales, David Hardman, Lachlan Ashley, Sebastian Monk, Therese Scott
Costumes: Aline Christenson, Barbara Colledge, Dorothy Pollard, Georgi McDonald, Hanaaka Raanhuis, Joan Eigan, Lauren Hearne, Peta Abbott, Robyn Slocombe, Ros Brady, Veronica Moore
Makeup: Aline Christenson, Carol Elder, Dianne Murphy, Donna Wainohu, Gwen Holley, Helen Schwartz, Maddy Zell, Mike Gibson, Nickalee Ferris, Ruth Strutt
Hairstylists: Lindy Hardman, Nick Monk
Front of House: Beryl Hamel, Beverley Jenkins, Frances Tafra, Jan Paterson, Jane Watt, Jim Harrop, John Hamel, Joseph Tafra, Libby Stahiut, Isabel Strutt, Margaret Kennedy, Philip Watt, Playhouse members, Ros Schuize

ORPHEUS - THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY - A Review by Barbara Albury - 8th May 2005

The gods have descended on Armidale, riding in on the coat-tails of Jacques Offenbach and his seductive 19th century operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. I attended the last Armidale & District Musical Society rehearsal at the showground before their grand opening in Lazenby Hall (UNE campus) on Thursday 12 May. After steering my car to a scatter of small lights in the pitch black grounds, I was suddenly thrust from the darkness into a dazzling display of energy, excitement and talent as the cast of Orpheus hurled themselves into a passionate rendering of Offenbach 's effervescent satire on the lecherous Parisian court of Napoleon III in the mid 1800's.

Offenbach's Orpheus is a send-up of the original Greek myth in which the mortal woman, Eurydice, is spirited away by Pluto to his kingdom in the Underworld and her only salvation is for hubby Orpheus to come down to Hades to fetch her. The snag is that he mustn't look back until he has brought her up to the light, or else she is doomed forever. Whilst the original story is fanciful enough, Offenbach 's adaptation takes it a step further. His Orpheus and Eurydice don't much like each other. In fact they're on a collision course. He's a hopeless wimp, addicted more to his fiddle than his wife; she is a restless young thing "busting out all over", a gal who just can't say no. She can't help tangling with shepherd boys who happen to be gods in disguise. The first time it's Pluto. Later, Jupiter can't resist a seduction and does one of his famous transformation tricks. Except that, on this occasion, he becomes a humble housefly so that he can get through the keyhole of her locked boudoir in Pluto's den. (The duet between Jupiter and Eurydice is one of the funniest, and naughtiest, in the show).

Supporting this improbable scenario are a host of wonderful characters - a delicious Eurydice (Ruth Strutt), her ineffectual, fey husband (Mike Gibson), a sleazy mafioso Pluto (Neil Horton), his decrepit assistant Styx (Waine Grafton), Orpheus' overbearing Wagnerian mum (Cheryl Landers), a cheeky Cupid (Angie Torbay), a tired but lecherous Jupiter struggling to keep control of his Olympian realm (Brad Crook), his carpy wife (Inge Southcott) and their brood of bored, bickering offspring - Diana, Venus, Vulcan and Mars, all of whom are fed up with ambrosia and nectar. All they want is a good night out in hell. Only fleet-footed brother Mercury (Warren Bartik) side-steps this jaded, dysfunctional family by making lightning visits to earth where he checks out the latest gossip. In this instance Euridice's abduction by Pluto.

There are some bawdy moments, so be warned! But, what you really come away remembering is the luscious, infectious music, the spirited can-cans, the joyous sound of the chorus at full voice, belting out some of the most famous foot-tapping tunes in the light operatic repertoire.

Director Bruce Menzies has gone all out to make Orpheus relevant to today with political commentary and a setting halfway between the Australian backyard barbie and the demi-monde world of the master himself. A cross between Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and his La Boheme .

It's sizzling, it's inspired, it's only on for eight performances. If you want a ride to Hades and back, buy a ticket. Just hang on tight.


Armidale High School, Armidale Showground Committee for rehearsal venues, Barbeques Galore for banana lounges, Bliss Day & Beauty Spa, Copernican Dream for sound equipment, Duval High School, Image 2 Dye 4 Hairstylists - Lindy Hardman, The Cattleman's Motel - Matt and all the crew for sponsorship and poster, Tim Clarke and staff for assistance at the performance venue. 

Orpheus in the Underworld graphic courtesy of Denis Wright

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