Hornsby Musical Society was formed back in 1958 by a group of enthusiasts staging concerts in the local Church Hall. (St Peters Church of England at Hornsby). In those early days the shows were generally musical concerts and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and from 1968 began performing regularly at St. Johns, Church of England Hall at Gordon.
In 1972 the society moved its performing venue to Asquith Boys High School Auditorium, where we staged no less than 40 productions, until 1991. At this time we felt the need to find a more suitable venue location with better facilities. This was not easy, Hornsby Council has never showed an affinity for the arts and despite constant lobbying, Hornsby Shire has never had a suitable venue for the staging of full scale musicals.
During our time at Asquith we performed many of the old established favourites e.g. “Rose Marie”, “Oklahoma”, “Bitter Sweet”, “Showboat”, “Brigadoon” and “The Student Prince” together with a number of the more modern shows e.g. “Chicago”, “Cabaret”, “Pippin”, “Man of La Mancha” and “West Side Story”. In 1983 we staged the amateur premiere of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with a production budget of $20,000. Throughout those years we were able to make nominal improvements to the facilities within the school hall while some students and staff through their association with the society were able to improve on their technical and stagecraft skills.
For our 1991 production of “The Sorcerer” we moved to Abbotsleigh School Auditorium and then followed some of our more lavish and bigger budget productions. These included “Evita”, “Mame”, “Barnum”, “Oliver”, “Les Miserables” and “Sweet Charity”. These types of shows were now virtually small businesses and we were obviously impinging on school curriculum and in 1996 we were asked to leave. We were most grateful for our time at Abbotsleigh where the facilities for both patrons and the production of large scale musicals were far superior than those we had been experiencing. Our production of “Les Miserables” with a budget of $96,000 in 1995 was considered by most to be the best of the Sydney amateur productions of this superb musical.
The next move was to Mount St Benedicts Girls College at Pennant Hills where we made improvements to the stage to the value of $27,000 but we were back to a flat floor, poor acoustics and limited backstage facilities. (Oh how we envy the Council supported societies). Again we inevitably clashed with the school’s programme and we had to move once more. It was October 2001 and we moved to Castle Hill High School for our production of “Chicago” and where we remained until 2004 when we briefly returned to Mount St Benedict’s for one production before finding our home at Hornsby RSL. This has enabled us to provide more comfortable conditions for our patrons. We continue to provide high standard productions and look forward to the time when when we will again be able to produce plays in a more intimate space.
During the latter years of the century it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract sufficient patrons to make our productions viable. This was probably mainly due to our lack of a permanent theatre but also the common problem that all societies are finding, and that is that we are all competing with an ever increasing number of groups, bodies and associations that are seeking the limited ‘leisure dollar’. Hornsby Musical Society in 1998 decided to introduce a mid-year play to it’s calendar. This was for two reasons, primarily to keep our name in the public domain but also to enable our actors that didn’t sing a chance to demonstrate their talents. These plays have thus far been of a high standard and have also realised opportunities for new directors within the group.
HMS has been recognised as one of Sydney’s premier amateur societies for many years. We have always been a very open society and auditions have always been widely advertised. We are very proud of the fact that there have been relatively few productions in which we have not been able to introduce new talent to our patrons. And on the subject of talent, a number of Hornsby people, some of whom had their very first theatrical experience on Hornsby’s stage, have now gone on to their own very successful professional careers e.g. …
One of our founding members, the late Brian Stacey, was the musical director with the long running Australian production of “Phantom of the Opera” and at the time of his untimely death was already one of Australia’s leading musical directors.
Barbara Newton and Wendy Purdy have both performed with the Australian Opera. Wendy has since appeared in a number of the professional musicals and in “Oliver” at Star City.
Michael J. Hurney has performed regularly in professional productions including “Pirates of Penzance” and “Hair”.
Liam Shields performed in the touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
Lisa Nicholls was the director in charge of wigs for “Cats” and then “The Phantom of the Opera” world wide.
Natalie Davis-Pratt was in the professional production of “My Fair Lady”.
Andrew Bevis, when only 18, auditioned for the orchestra of “Phantom of the Opera” and was appointed Chorus Master, he has since gone on stage and played Barnaby Tucker in the professional production of “Hello Dolly”. He then went to London and played Marius in “Les Miserables” in the West End and was signed for the leading role in London’s “Romeo and Juliet”.
Technically, we have always had a wealth of talent and are fortunate, to be have been able to call on very capable production teams …
Phyllis Horne is a Life Member of the society and has directed more than 35 of our productions.
Helen Howe musical director, has worked with a number of Sydney Societies as MD and is also a talented singer and performer on stage.
Janina Hamerlok, choreographer, is a qualified teacher of dance (Jazz, Ballet and Tap) and was the Principal of Hornsby Dance Centre. Janina is also a Life Member.
Jeremy Secombe played Javert in Hornsby’s production of Les Miserables in 1995. He moved to London soon after to follow his dream. In October 2015 he is set to play Javert in the London concert version celebrating the 30th anniversary.
Andy Peterson has been MD for a couple of Hornsby shows and moved to New York in 2014. He has been writing music for films and has appeared in Happy Yummy Chicken as well as being musical director for a number of shows. He has collaborated with Dave Russell and Alex Giles to create Stalker the Musical which was performed at the New York Fringe Festival in August 2015.
We also regularly invite submissions from Production Teams to do Hornsby shows and have occasionally used professionals in the areas of directing, dance and lighting. In 1987 for instance, “Pippin” was directed by the late Arthur Dicks who at the time was Director of Design with the Q Theatre and had also been a teacher of Design at NIDA. For our Sydney premiere production of “The Secret Garden” we had the services of Mariette Rupps-Donnelly for professional coaching.
If your interest lies in costuming or design we have a very large range of stage costumes which are also available for hire at reasonable rates to schools, individuals and other societies. There is of course generally a great amount of sewing to be done before each production and costumes have to be stored, catalogued and maintained.
With any musical production there are always at least as many people behind the scenes as there are on stage. There are sets to build and paint, props to be obtained and looked after, dressers and make up, front of house, caterers, sound and lighting operators, marketing, bookings etc. Almost any sort oaf help is greatly appreciated.
The society has a reasonably constant membership of about 50 people, depending of course on the particular show at the time, and we often have social activities, theatre parties etc., throughout the year. Contact is maintained on a regular basis through Facebook and various mailings. Hornsby Musical Society is a member of The Association of Community Theatre Inc. (ACT) which is a cooperative of most of the groups in New South Wales. ACT offers a range of seminars throughout the year, it maintains a blanket Insurance Cover, maintains a website advising up coming auditions and shows and holds a vast database of information to assist members.