Few truly original tuners are staged in Oz, and none on the scale of “The Man From Snowy River Arena Spectacular,” which is set for a 31-show national stadium tour. Inspired by the equine sequence in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and driven by its creators David Atkins and Ignatius Jones, show features a clutch of TV thesps; popular country music singer Lee Kernaghan and his band; a sweep of line dancers; 24 riders; double that number of horses; and a dozen fairground performers who look like they were lured away from the agricultural-show circuit with promises of big bucks and bigger auds.
To hedge their risk, the producers have taken the title, and loosely adapted the storyline, from a nationally significant poem written by Banjo Paterson (also scribe of Oz’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”). Edgley Intl.’s 1982 film of the same name remains Australia’s sixth-highest-grossing local pic.
Well-considered casting saw a trio of local favorites — Georgie Parker, Bud Tingwell and Steve Bisley — in key roles driving the narrative behind Kernaghan and his band.
But as with most spectaculars, story is of scant consequence — something about a spirited colt who escapes to roam with wild horses, thus triggering a breathtaking bush chase. There’s some romance, too.
Auds have come to tap feet to the tunes; to see bucking horses broken, unbridled packs of horses ringing the perimeter fence at speed and stagecoaches driving perilously fast; and to enjoy the type of spectacle first glimpsed at the Olympics.
The night’s only major technical hiccup infused the show with added excitement: An errant horse smashed a paling when attempting to crash through a prop fence before it bolted into the perimeter fence.
With the story resolved early in act two, show gave way to pageantry — riders in formation, wearing Australian-flag drizabones (bush all-weather jackets), the sawdust-covered arena filled with line dancers, horse and buggy stunts.
Despite its grand ambitions, “Snowy” managed to deliver. It was mightily entertaining (as long as it wasn’t given much thought) and if producer Kevin Jacobsen has his way, it will travel offshore.