Rolling Thunder Vietnam captures the pulse and drama of a momentous era

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Rolling Thunder Vietnam captures the pulse and drama of a momentous era

All along the watchtower, audiences are seeing Rolling Thunder Vietnam take the country by storm on a magic carpet ride through one of the most industrious musical eras of all time – The Vietnam War. The dynamite production propels a rock and roll river streaming with sensational songs – the current of which remains today as strong as the Mekong!

Like a bridge over troubled water, the energised and endearing enthusiast of the era Will Ewing tempers the turbulence and tempestuous trials of the Vietnam War through his vital and influential roles as Narrator and Musician. Playing the part of Mick since 2014, Will embraces the opportunity “to fill in the social and political context of the time”.

As Will encapsulates, “It’s an absolute hoot, to be honest. The show itself is a rollicking ride through the era. It’s an amazing soundtrack; the show is a lot of fun… people leave with an upbeat kind of smile on their faces; it’s got a lot of heart. It’s a concert drama, so it’s not quite a musical; but you know what – at the end of the day, it’s an Australian story…so it’s a real joy to tell this.”

A fortunate son whose musical childhood was nourished by The Beatles, Will shares a distinct familiarity with his current performance genre, encompassing an illustrious list of artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gladys Knight, and Paul Simon. Will shares, “To be honest, I love The Letter – The Letter is such a beautiful song. Johnny, one of the characters, receives the letter; so it’s all about receiving – it’s also used as a reprise song because the audience just loves it by the end. I think it’s just such a fun number. Bridge Over Troubled Water… comes at a really pivotal moment in the show where the characters have found out something kind of quite devastating, and it brings out a lot of heart to the story with a beautiful song.”

An outstanding spark for Will is “Meeting the Vietnam veterans afterward, and seeing how deeply affected they are”, which “is quite something – they’re so appreciative, but obviously it’s affected them in a kind of beautiful way; so that’s something about the story that kind of gets me.”

Rolling Thunder Vietnam 2016. Photo by Jeff Busby

Rolling Thunder Vietnam 2016. Photo by Jeff Busby

Endorsed by Patron and Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, the production is “very much a story that supports the soldier; but doesn’t support the war.” Spotlighting several identifiable aspects of the War, the production promotes the importance of the Australian involvement in Armed Forces duty. “Speaking of commemorating the Australian story of Vietnam, although it wasn’t as big as America, it was still a significant contribution to that war; and we make sure that that is known; and although it wasn’t the big ‘rolling thunder’ level, it was still very much a contribution.” To enhance the authenticity of such a dramatic portrayal, Will informs “I believe this year that we’ve sourced again some original military gear from Vietnam veterans”, complementing some of the “wonderful ball gowns and amazing dresses” which have decorated former configurations of the show.

With a storyline and score running concurrently, the format of the show is one of Will’s favourite forms of theatre – and that’s Direct Address: “you know exactly how they’re feeling; what they’re going through; and the whole cast just deliver.” Progressing in smooth transitions from narration to music, the structure is natural and organic. Will continues, “I took part in the workshop of the production back in early 2014; and what David Berthold’s driving direction was that we need to make sure that the songs and the words follow each other organically. The lyrics of the artist and the words written by the writer Bryce Hallett are very much intertwined, and they lean on one another”.

Musical Director Chong Lim, a musical marvel with placidity and intense devotion to his craft, is “Such a charming, amazing man…he’s everything you see…and he’s incredibly dedicated, but has a wonderful sense of humour; and to me, over the years he’s been a fantastic mentor, and then taught me a lot; so I really take my hat off to Chong. He has a reputation not only for being a wonderful M.D. [Musical Director], but for nurturing young talent…he’s just tremendous and we love him.”

Born to be wild, Rolling Thunder Vietnam is something “you kind of live and breathe”, and is undoubtedly the real thing in musical theatre.

See it at The Playhouse in Geelong for multiple performances on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th of March. Tickets are available now on the Geelong Arts Centre website.

Written By Renée N. Abbott