If the idea of a musical about a badly run aged care facility doesn’t quite elicit laughter, here are two words to change your mind: Tom Gleisner.
Currently best known as the host of Have You Been Paying Attention?, he’s been one of Australia’s top comedy writers for decades (his credits span everything from sketch comedies The D-Generation and Frontline to Aussie cinema classic The Castle and public-service satire Utopia). Now he’s teamed up with singer, actor and composer Katie Weston and an all-Australian cast to create Bloom, a musical that treats aged care with heart and humanity, while leaving the audience (and cast) plenty of time to laugh.
“Every single day of rehearsals we find ourselves in fits of laughter,” says Vidya Makan. “It’s such a joyous process.”
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Makan plays Ruby, an overworked personal care assistant working in a nursing facility that’s being run – very badly – by Mrs MacIntyre, played by Anne Edmonds. “Ruby’s life is kind of pulled upside down by a young musician who arrives via a program to live there for free in exchange for light duties,” says Makan.
Makan has plenty of experience on the Australian stage, with a string of critically acclaimed roles in recent years, including Six: The Musical, Sunday in the Park With George, Merrily We Roll Along, and the 2018 national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot. But with Bloom, she felt a personal connection to the material.
“What really drew me to the project was reading the script and just thinking about my grandpa who passed at the beginning of last year. He was living in an aged care setting, and I used to go and sing for them and do little concerts.”
Anne Edmonds and Frankie J Holden are the big names on the poster, but it’s a cast that spans generations, with Jackie Rees, John O’May, Slone Sudiro and Christina O’Neill among those on stage.
“It’s full of Aussie legends,” says Makan. “It’s full of people that I have looked up to for so long. I’m 29 years old and in the past few shows I’ve been one of the older ones in the room, but here it’s really cool to be one of the babies.”
These intergenerational connections are a big focus of Bloom, especially when it comes to the relationships between the elderly and their carers.
“That’s really powerful,” says Makan, “seeing that mix of young people with, dare I say, middle-aged people, with the older generation – even the sound that we create when you hear us singing together, it’s really special.”
The musical certainly isn’t short on big numbers, and it’s brought out some striking performances from unexpected quarters – audiences can expect to be surprised by some of the more familiar faces on stage. “Katie’s written a heap of bangers and they’re so much fun onstage,” says Makan. “Some of my favorite ones to perform are actually Anne Edmonds’s numbers. She is a musical-theatre artist hiding within a comedian.”
Above all, Makan says Bloom is a celebration, both of carers and of the bonds that form across generations. “I think everyone, at some point or another these days, has a relationship with an aged care setting,” she says, “whether that be through a grandparent or a parent or themselves. I think what Bloom does really successfully is find the fun in it. There’s a lot of cheek to growing old.”
Bloom is at the Arts Centre Melbourne Playhouse from July 18 to August 19. Find more information and book here.
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