Rugby league and musicals don’t really go together… but Australian journalist Hugh Lunn and composer Bradley McCaw have combined the two, for a new show Home Ground: The State of Origin Musical.
It will have its world premiere in June in Brisbane, during the State of Origin clashes between New South Wales and Queensland.
It’s a true story about how Queensland battled against its wealthy neighbours and of victory against the odds.
They spoke to Upbeat’s resident sports and musical theatre enthusiast Zoë George about bringing the razzmatazz of sport to the theatre and closing the divide between arts and sport.
Lunn was inspired to write Home Ground following the devastating floods of 2011, resulting in the deaths of 38 Queenslanders. People were swept away in their homes and cars, and some drowned on the top of mountains in Toowomba. “I thought I should write something that (would) lift the spirits and mend the hearts of Queenslanders,” he says.
The State of Origin seemed the perfect fit to unite the state that had been through so much. The true life Aussie battler story follows the Maroons as it takes on NSW, after 21 years of defeats. “The story is about bringing people home to their home ground and what it means. Once they pull on the maroon (jersey) they are seven foot tall… it’s like the All Blacks jersey,” Lunn says. “It shows how loyalty is important. It’s not contrived. There’s no salary cap, no draft picks, no import limits. It’s us versus them.”
Some might balk at the notion of a musical based on rugby league, but composer McCaw had been thinking about for some time. “A lot of people hear of footy and music and think “you’re pulling my leg. These guys are clearly drunk!”” he laughs. “But when you think of rugby league you think about the songs that are sung in the stands, the songs after the game with everyone either rejoicing or crying because of victory or loss.
“Song is part of sport; it’s a part of our life. Sport is an extension of our life.”
When Lunn first took the idea to theatres, he was turned away because they thought rugby league fans wouldn’t be interested in theatre. But Lunn thinks Home Ground will squash those stereotypes of rugby league being for the working class, and the theatre being for the elite. “Theatre people always complain that they need to get more people to the theatre,” he says. “They said football people wouldn’t go or are not interested. But they are rejecting the millions of people who are interested in sport.”
Ultimately, the duo just want to tell good stories. McCaw hopes Home Ground will speak to a new audience in a way they’ve never been spoken to before. “They are just waiting for the right story,” he says. “Isn’t that what makes all of us go to the theatre?
“There's a joy in finding these men singing as they tackle each other and crunch bones.”