Sydney’s Hayes Theatre is taking us back a century this WorldPride season with the roaring twenties set, classic 1940s feel-good musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The Hayes has really gone to town with this production; there are big voices, a big marketing push, and a big set (perhaps a little too big for the space). The one thing it hasn’t gone big on is explicit queerness.
Get ready to set sail on the luxury cruise liner The Ile De France with the rich and the wannabe rich. Bombshell blonde with a secret, Lorelei Lee (Georgina Hopson), is in search of a millionaire husband after letting the last one slip through her fingers. She enlists the help of her best friend Dorothy Shaw (Emily Havea). Although all Dorothy really wants to do is have fun, whether it’s sipping champagne on the upper deck, or getting down and dirty below. But, like Guys and Dolls taught us “every happy plot ends with a marriage knot”. Welcome to mid-twentieth century musical theatre logic! So how will these two thoroughly modern girls find their “happy ending”?
With music and lyrics by Broadway royalty Leo Robin and Jule Styne, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is subtly subversive for its time when it comes to examining gender roles. Lorelei and Dorothy aren’t playing second fiddle to the men in their lives. All the examples of masculinity around them are buffoons and the only reason to marry any of them is for their money. With mercenary precision, Lorelei works her way through them all to find one that she can lock down. Dorothy however, likes flirting with the athletic young men on the ship and won’t give up her work just to be married.
Georgina Hopson and Emily Havea are dynamite as Lorelei and Dorothy. Hopson brings that big voice which she wowed audiences with as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Sydney Harbour, fighting the elements to deliver one of the best theatre vocals of last year. By the time she hits “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” she has the audience eating out of the palm of her bejewelled hand. Havea fills Dorothy with a raspy, no-nonsense charm, nailing the role as the dry-witted best friend and she has the vocal chops to match. The pair are surrounded by a young ensemble, all with fantastic voices and great comic skills too, who are frequently required to play characters decades their senior. It’s a little unfortunate that they all have to spend so much time rearranging the rather cumbersome set that dominates the small stage.
So what does a solidly heteronormative musical have to do with WorldPride? Dorothy gives off a bisexual vibe in glances, but it’s so slight I wouldn’t even say it was “coded”. While Lorelei’s suitor, zipper king Josephus Gage (Tomas Parrish), is presented as somewhat queer, dressed in fruity colours and a leather harness, but it only amounts to window dressing, as is the rainbow lighting in some of the musical numbers. Muscular men posing in tiny shorts are great to look at, but that’s just eye candy. If Lorelei and Dorothy had thrown the men aside and discovered their love for each other I would understand how this fell under the WorldPride banner, but they do not. Given the WorldPride context, it felt like the plot was screaming for a Some Like It Hot-style reinvention.
The real draw here are Hopson and Havea. Two performers with strikingly different styles who compliment one another perfectly. In fact, when Hopson lets it rip with her spectacular voice it’s worth the price of admission alone. Although this may not be the WorldPride show I had anticipated, it’s nevertheless a really fun production in its own right and well worth stepping aboard.
By Chad Armstrong
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes plays at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney from February 16th – March 18th in association with Sydney WorldPride. Click here for tickets and more information.
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