In what’s sure to be one of the emotional highlights of the 2012 Mardi Gras season, the acclaimed musical song cycle Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens will bring together a mammoth cast to perform a collection of free verse poems and songs inspired by stories from the Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

First developed in the late 1980s, the piece hasn’t been seen in Sydney for some years, a situation that director Brett Russell (pictured) told the Star Observer he was glad to be rectifying.

“While AIDS is not as prevalent in our community as it was back in the late 1980s, I feel this theatrical piece deserves to be told — to celebrate and remember the brave who have passed, and to sympathise with those who have and continue to suffer the loss,” Russell said.

Originally written by Janet Hood and Bill Russell (no relation to the current director) in New York, the work is intended for four singers and a supporting ensemble of 32 actors to perform the monologues. For Russell, that means he’s charged with the task of coordinating a mammoth cast made up of some of Australia’s brightest theatre talents — Lucy Maunder and Belinda Wollaston (Dr Zhivago), Paul Whiteley and Jason Te Patu (Jersey Boys) among them.

“When I first read the piece, I was determined to cast all 36 roles,” he said. “

Productions in the past have doubled up on characters, but I feel that is detrimental to the message the piece is trying to deliver. To have this number of people on the stage come the end of the show speaks volumes.”

The show’s producer, Paul Holmes, has described Elegies as “moving, funny and above all uplifting”. Those last two adjectives might seem surprising for people who haven’t seen it before, given the subject matter, but Russell said there was a wry, gentle humour in many of the monologues.

“It’s vital we get that [humour] across in the show, otherwise the audience will come out slitting their wrists. We don’t want that.

“Some of the characters require the actor to be an experienced comedian or be able to ‘find the humour’ in the monologue. We will be working hard to deliver that element,” he promised.

INFO: Elegies for Angels, February 28 – March 3, Seymour Centre. www.sydney.edu.au/seymour/boxoffice

For your chance to win one of two double passes to the ACON charity preview of Elegies for Angels, head to the Giveaways section of this website.

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