Usually when a theatre takes on a performer’s name, it’s in memory of someone who is no longer around. When the team behind the Hayes Theatre Co rang Nancye Hayes to ask if they could name their Potts Point theatre after her, she apparently said, “are you sure?”

They were sure. And what a brilliant move it was to name the musical theatre venue after a living legend – one of Australia’s star performers and most loved leading ladies. On top of that, she lives a stone’s throw from the theatre, and is there whenever she can be to support the latest production.

Five years after the venue took her name, Hayes is in the house performing a cabaret show – and what a special night it is. Hayes @ The Hayes looks back over her nearly 60-year career, but rather than including all the obvious numbers from the shows she’s been in, it offers a far more interesting musical selection.

Photograph © Branco Gaica

Devised by her close friend Tony Sheldon, it’s a beautifully crafted show, drawing on a fascinating song list – many of which I admit I didn’t know – that he relates to Hayes’ life and career, changing some lyrics to fit her story. (“He probably knows me too well!” quips Hayes towards the end of the show).

It opens with If My Friends Could See Me Now from Sweet Charity – the show which catapulted Hayes to stardom when she played Charity Hope Valentine in 1967. The lyric changes set the scene perfectly: “If they could see me now, performing in a theatre named for little me…. They’d hardly believe it, if my friends could see me now.”

From there, the songs include Home from The Night They Raided Minksy’s, Up On The Roof by Carole King, I Do What I Can With What I Got from Paper Moon and Time Machine from Half Time, among others, all cleverly used to illustrate her life and career.

Directed with a light assurance by Jason Langley, the set (attractively lit by James Wallis) features a large photograph of Hayes taken just after she was cast in Sweet Charity and a photograph of a 2019 painting of her by John Klein, as well as chair and a stool. Nothing more is needed as she tells her story about moving from being a junior secretary for the Forestry Commission to landing her first professional role in My Fair Lady, and the numerous roles that followed.

She recalls dancing ecstatically to Broadway cast recordings – to complaints from her downstairs neighbour– and praying not only that the show would be produced in Australia but that she’d land a role. She charts the changes she has seen in the Cross where she has lived for 36 years, and the many Sydney theatres that have disappeared.

She shares stories of friends and mentors, and tells us about the sitzprobe for the Sydney Theatre Company’s 1983 production of Chicago in which she played Roxie Hart to Geraldine Turner’s Velma, where the saxophonist immediately caught her eye. He turned out to be legendary jazz saxophonist Bob Bertles, now her husband, who joins her on stage for two numbers, giving incredibly moving renditions of My Foolish Heart and This Is My Birthday.

Photograph © Branco Gaica

In a dance sequence, Hayes shows she’s still got it, differentiating the different dance styles in a huge range of shows in a just few nifty moves for each. Describing some of the comic roles she’s played, she dons their accents as if it’s second nature – from Hedy LaRue in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, and Miss Hannigan in Annie, as well as Liliane La Fleur in Nine.

Looking exceptionally glamorous in a sparkly black trouser suit, Hayes is, as we’d expect, the consummate star: gracious, classy and sassy; a generous performer with plenty of pizzazz who knows how to deliver a song and land a joke.

With Music Director Michael Tyack on piano and Dave Ellis on bass proving perfect accompanists, this is a show that anyone who cherishes musical theatre will adore. At times I felt the tears gather. Don’t miss this chance to share time with one of our true theatre legends.

Hayes @ The Hayes plays at the Hayes Theatre Co, Potts Point, Sydney until October 13


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