By Taylor Kendal
Rohan Browne has seemingly done it all. In a career that spans over twenty years, he has solidified himself as one of Australia’s most versatile and talented performers. From humble beginnings in ballet classes to becoming the leading man in some of musical theatre’s most coveted shows, a founding member of The Tap Pack, and performing as a soloist with the likes of Chita Rivera and Australia’s proud son, Hugh Jackman. And now, he brings his show Influences to the Morning Melodies stage at Arts Centre Melbourne.
Right from the start Browne opens up with that big bang swing feeling, with a big Dean Martin number Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone, dressed in black tie and complete with red carnation in his lapel, he has every bit the charismatic crooner charm of old. His presence on stage from his cheeky grin, stunning vocals and effortless movements prove without a single hesitation that he is at home on the stage where he belongs, and has no issue capturing the essence of such an iconic era in music.
This skill and passion is backed by an incredible band, lead by Anthony Barnhill on piano, Kieran Rafferty on drums, Ben Robertson on bass, Mick Fraser and Paddy McMullin on trumpet, Jordan Murray on trombone and Carlo Barbaro on saxophone/reeds. Lead so beautifully and playing with seemingly the most simplest of ease while adding their own spin on well known arrangements, the bad deserve as much praise for the performance as its leading man.
In addition to being a talented performer, Browne showcases his quick wit, particularly during an unscripted ‘wardrobe malfunction’ losing his cummerbund, and his skill set when it comes to storytelling. An ‘anecdotal performance’, Influences, as its title suggests, is comprised of hits from the artists who influenced Browne’s love of music and performance, and in turn gave him a voice of his own. Intertwined with these are personal anecdotes of a life quite remarkably lived; from 2014, where Browne was in Los Angeles, standing in the home of one of his idols, Gene Kelley, being shown around by Kelley’s wife and being able to hold the legend of stage and screen’s very own tap shoes, to meeting Peter Allen’s sister Lynn Smith backstage at The Boy From Oz and being told that it was like watching her brother on stage. Honestly, what higher praise can you get?
Delving into his past, Browne recounts the audience with tales of how childhood influences shaped his life and inevitably lead him to be on the stage. Listening to The Rat Pack with his Grandparents lead to a lifelong love of the classics, particularly Frank Sinatra, and a stunning performance of some of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ hits such as Fly Me to the Moon and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, beginning out on drums quickly followed by keys and bass soon seamlessly slipping into a rendition of Mack the Knife that was equal parts a tribute to Sinatra as well as Browne’s own personal style. Taking ballet as a young child and idolizing the likes of Gene Kelley and Fred Astaire, guided his love of dance, and the smooth and effortless moves that he performs so naturally in such a wide variety of styles. This is showcased so brilliantly with a solo tap number set to the beat of a metronome (provided by drums) and displays just how in tune with the movement Browne really is.
Over the last 20 years, Browne has had the fortune in starring in over 30 musicals, playing such coveted roles such as Don Lockwood in Singing in the Rain, Zach in A Chorus Line (the show that made him want to be in musical theatre), and Riff in West Side Story. The latter introduced a stunning medley of songs from the beloved Sondheim musical, including When You’re a Jet, Somewhere, Cool, America, Tonight and Maria. The stunning medley consisted simply of a drum beat (well deserved shot out to Kieran Rafferty for his role in the entire show) and vocals, it was hauntingly beautiful.
But the Rohan Browne story can’t be told without the mention of one influence in particular, who has affected his career in so many ways; the Australian legend that was Peter Allen. From working as an Usher at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney during the opening performances of The Boy From Oz, to making his way into the cast as a Swing, and eventually portraying the man himself – one of only 3 actors to ever play the role on stage.
By this point of the show, things have almost stripped back; less of the big showmanship of Big Band, to a more gentler and natural feel as Browne, without his jacket and simply on a stool before the audience, captivates the room with stunning renditions of I Honestly Love You, and Tenterfield Saddler. Such natural, gorgeous emotion without all the bells and whistles and truly capturing the essence of Peter Allen. But what tribute to Peter Allen, and the afternoon itself could finish without an incredible performance of I Go To Rio, complete with all the moves, flair and joy of Peter Allen – as well as the trademark disco ball. The only thing that was missing, was the maracas.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.