Twin brothers from Merimbula have crafted a musical about one of the best-known and most influential women in the world, but its just one of a number of productions launching in 2018 for the Willis boys.
‘Oprah the Opera‘ will open in San Francisco during the second half of 2018 and charts the life of America media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist – Oprah Winfrey.
Geoff and David Willis have been making music together for decades.
Their partnership with New Zealand performer Kathy Blain won the 1978 Grand Final of Bert Newton’s ‘New Faces’ TV talent show.
The decision to write a musical about Oprah came over a cup of coffee, buoyed by completing their first musical “The Great Houdini’ six years ago.
“Oprah is a one-woman show with a band and gospel choir,” David says.
The brother’s work is a true collaboration, Geoff writes the music and lyrics, David writes the script.
“She [Oprah] has opened up her life in a huge way, from abuse as a child to the most successful woman in America,” David says.
“There is so much there, a lot of comedy, a lot of heartaches, it’s a really entertaining show and people really love it when they’ve read the script.”
Click play to hear the full conversation with Geoff and David Willis…
Initial planning for the show is underway now, including casting.
Starting out in 1000 seat theatres in San Fransico, David and Geoff are creative consultants to musical director Gregory Cole and will relocate to the U.S closer to showtime.
“We’re excited because it will be an all-black cast and it will be a gospel choir of 50 or 60,” Geoff explains.
“There aren’t a lot of shows that are written for African Americans [cast members].”
The twins aren’t sure if the lady herself knows about the show yet, they have only been able to get as close to Oprah as her personal assistant, but she will be receiving an invite to opening night in July/August next year.
Both David and Geoff are natural showmen and play a range of musical instruments as well as sing. They are well known for pulling a crowd whether it’s on one of their regular cruise ship tours of the Pacific or Atlantic or in the many concert halls that dot the hills around their hometown of Merimbula.
Their signature tune ‘Me and My Shadow’ is always a hit.
“Being twins, we understand each other very well,” Geoff says.
In shaping their music the pair will often work apart in order to challenge their creativity.
“When we wrote ‘The Great Houdini‘, I actually went to the Gold Coast and spent a few years there,” David says.
“We thought it was a good idea to be away from each other, but it’s amazing how things tied up.
“He [Geoff] would write a song and we wouldn’t discuss it, I would write the script, and the words in the song and the script tied in,” David smiles.
“It’s a twin thing!”
The Great Houdini was the first musical the pair worked on – 16 years in the making, hard work that is now paying off.
“It’s a huge show to put on, we have just met with producers in New York and London, and we are looking at staging that later next year,” Geoff says.
The pair became mesmerised by the legend of the great magician as 10-year-olds after seeing ‘Houdini’ the movie starring Tony Curtis, twenty years later they felt compelled to write a musical about their idol.
“Dave wrote the script over a 16 year period, and I wrote 60 musical pieces for the show,” Geoff says.
“It had to be perfect,” he says.
The story starts in modern day New York at a Houdini exhibition and works backwards.
“Dave describes it really well as – music, magic and mystery,” Geoff says.
In trying to explain why it is that two Merimbula creatives have stage shows launching a million miles from home, David and Geoff believe there is a sense of confidence missing from the Australian entertainment industry.
“There is a bit of frustration that we are not being accepted by Australian producers,” David says.
“We’ve been to producers in Australia about our shows, and [the impression we’ve been given is that] if it is a success overseas they would probably say, we’ll do it here,” he says.
There is one success closer to home the Willis boys can crow about, and one their Bega Valley fan base can travel to easily.
‘Billie and the Dinosaurs‘ launched in Sydney last week to sell out shows at the Australian Museum.
Next April the production steps up a notch and will take to the stage in Canberra at Llewellyn Hall featuring the Canberra Youth Orchestra.
It’s a narrated children’s story in the style of ‘Peter and the Wolf’.
David and Geoff have worked with well-known funny man, Tim Ferguson, of Doug Anthony All Stars fame.
“Tim is the writer and has worked very hard on the script and he is the narrator, he is a lovely person to work with,” Geoff says.
“The Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras are also interested.”
Geoff has composed all 27 orchestral pieces, while David has prepared all the educational material for the production.
The show tells the story of a 10-year-old girl called Billie who makes friends with real live Australian dinosaurs and together they defeat school bullies.
Despite their growing success far from the shores of Merimbula Lake, both men seem to relish and value their stage work at home.
“We live in a beautiful town, and we are very much appreciated by the people here,” David says.
“I was the conductor of the Sapphire Coast Concert Band and Geoff was the conductor of the Big Band and we only gave that up at the end of last year because of these other projects.
“And of course recently we did a show with Frankie J Holden and Michelle Pettigrove, which was a huge success and raised money for raked seating in the new Twyford Theatre.
“We are happy being here, we love living here,” David says.
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