Ronald Dale Barassi. His name is intrinsically linked with Australian Football, as player, coach, media performer and visionary. And what better way to celebrate Barassi’s contribution to football and life in Victoria than in the form of the Stage Show! Barassi the Stage Show is nearly upon us, combining two of Melbourne’s great passions; footy and the arts. I was lucky enough to be invited for a sneak peak at rehearsals and a quick chat with some of the cast, but before I had even entered the building, I felt that this show would be a success. Why?
Well in a quiet backstreet of Collingwood, the majority of the cast was involved in a glorious game of kick-to-kick. This is what they do in their breaks. Parked cars were at risk of damage while the possibility of the footy lodging itself in a tree loomed large. It was beautiful.
On entering the main rehearsal room it was as if being in a football museum, with old photos, Sherrins, Premiership cups (I think they were fake) and even newspaper clippings lining the walls. As a stickler for detail, I could see that much thought and research is going into putting this show together.
But just how do you bring the rough and tumble game of football to the stage? I didn’t have to wait long, as the fist scene we were treated to was an artistic impression of Jesaulenko’s famous mark from the 1970 grand final. Here’s the thing…it was done in slow motion! I won’t go through the mechanics of how, you can see for yourself in the video below.
All of the best choreography in the land would be futile however without someone who could pull off the role of Ronald Barassi himself. Enter Chris Asimos and Steve Bastoni, playing ‘young’ and ‘older’ Barassi respectively. When meeting the young Barassi, Asimos, I was struck by his appearance. He has the Barassi mouth, the strong jaw line, while also pointing out that he was Greek and not Italian like Barassi’s heritage. Originally from Adelaide, Asimos noted that “you need to have a team to follow in Melbourne,” and as such he now follows the Dees.
Chris Asimos portrays a young Barassi. I like that his Melbourne jumper has a collar!
While I didn’t get to see the young Barassi in action, Bastoni too has the strong jaw line and presence to play Ron. The legend of Australian football is not the most eloquent of speakers. Even he once famously said after adressing a player that “you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about!.” But both the script and Bastoni combine to bring Barassi’s sharp and at times clumsy manner of speaking together in a most enjoyable way.
Ron Barassi, young and the old…er. Asimos on the left, Bastoni on the right.
An interesting aspect of the show is the teaming up of former high flying Melbourne star Russell Robertson, a performer in his own right whether taking a hanger in the square or behind his guitar, with the experienced Sean McGrath and Glenn Maynard. The inclusion of Robertson for his first acting role appears to be far from a token appearance of a footballer.
The three work as a team throughout, portraying a multitude of different characters relevant to the stage of Barrassi’s career being depicted. Remember, Ron was in footy from the 1950’s through to the 1990’s, so there is much ground to cover.
“This is all new to me so being with Sean and Glenn has been great, I’ve just soaked up as much as I can form them” said Robertson of working with McGrath and Maynard, himself familiar with footy. “It’s different to footy, that just takes up your whole life, you can’t drink, you have to watch what you eat… whereas these guys work hard but then go to the pub every night for a couple of beers!”
Ron The cast go through their paces, Jane Clifton with her enthralling narration while the ‘boys’ await their turn.
Having a professional footballer on board certainly has it’s benefits in a project such as this, and in a search for authenticity, Robertson has been able to give some ‘footballing direction. “Chris (Asimos) was too balletic and clean in his movements, I had to dirty him up a bit” Robertson said with a cheeky grin, well aware that he was a novice of the theatre but looking for a bit of playful leverage. “All I’ve really helped in has been movement…to make it more realistic.”
Maynard, who among other roles depicts indigenous star Syd Jackson, pointed out that it’s a show for everyone, “not just Melbourne supporters” added Robertson. Barassi once said that “loyalty was doing the right thing by the club you were with for the time you were there,” and as such spent time at 4 different clubs. However Barassi transcends club, he represents Australian football, and has been patriotic about spreading it around this land. “It’s a history of VFL/AFL football, everyone should see this play” Robertson concluded.
Richard Sutherland playing North administrator Albert Mantello, attempting to lure Barassi to coach the only club without a premiership.
Rehearsal hours are long, but with the show opening in little over a week and a noticeable increase in media coverage, there is a great sense of enthusiasm amongst the cast. Bastoni was sporting a Marngrook Footy Show top, no doubt a memento from his recent appearance on the show to plug ‘Barassi.’ It seems apt as the Margrook footy show mixes live musical performance with footy talk, much in the way footy will hit the stage with this production.
September in Melbourne is more than just finals time, it’s also a celebration of Australian football. There’s no better way than to make sure you catch ‘Barassi.’ Check out this quick video of how rehearsals are coming along.
For more information, please visit the comprehensive Barassi Play website. Ticketing and cast information can be found along with plenty of other interesting features.
Young Ron Barassi image from http://gameplans.tumblr.com/post/549942291/ron-barassi-jim-stynes-and-the-mcg