The Round Arts Centre

Opening Night Concert, featuring Lucy Durack and Gary Pinto. The Round, 379 - 399 Whitehorse Road, Nunawading. Friday, October 13, 2023.

After two years of construction, the $78million project undertaken by the Whitehorse Council is complete. This new world class precinct, known as The Round, features a 626 seat auditorium, a 200 seat studio theatre, a multi-purpose rehearsal/dance studio, a function centre, and a soundshell (with grassed amphitheatre space) for outdoor events. Incorporating elements from the surrounding parkland, residential area, brick-making traditions, and restored features from the original Whitehorse Centre, the edifice harmoniously blends into a single, vibrant entity. This architectural masterpiece provides a venue for communal events and celebrations, strengthening the bonds between neighbours and preserving the area's cultural legacy. There is so much to offer for performers and patrons alike!  

The opening night concert featured two of Melbourne's most loved performers, Lucy Durack and Gary Pinto, along with a showcase of local talent, many of whom will make The Round their new performing home. Indigenous Australian singer and songwriter Kutcha Edwards (accompanied by piano & didgeridoo) opened proceedings with his heartrending versions of 'Singing Up Country' and 'Mother Tongue' (accompanied by audience participation) followed by Welcome to Country by Colin Hunter, Jr. Next came the hilarious 'unofficial' opening by Julia Gillard, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Joe Biden (aka actors from the Wharf Review political satirical group). 'Joe Biden' then proceeded to wrongly open 'The Whitehouse', 'The Square' and then finally after much correction 'The Round'. It was a nice touch of Aussie humour to lighten the mood. After Mayor Mark Lane (along with fellow Councillors from the Whitehorse City Council) warmly welcomed the packed audience, and regaled relevant history relating to the project, a plaque was unveiled to officially open The Round Art Centre to rapturous applause and cheering! Pianist Anthony Barnhill performed an exquisite rendition of ‘Seasons of Love’, whilst a two minute time-lapse video package showed the construction of the arts centre from start to finish.  

The stars of the night Lucy and Gary then proceeded to sing ‘Seasons of Love’ (augmented by Barnhill, a four-piece band and off-stage choir). Although from the musical Rent, the lyrics to this song ('How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. How do you measure a year in the life?') was well suited to the occasion.  Lucy and Gary then proceeded to be our captivating MCs for the night. Originally from Blackburn, Gary Pinto (ARIA award winner and one of Australia's greatest soul and R&B singers) has connections to the area, performing numerous times at the previous Whitehorse Centre. What a fitting local personality to help launch the new theatre space. During the night Gary performed solos of Sam Cooke favourites 'What a Wonderful World', 'This Little Light of Mine', 'A Change is Gonna Come' and 'You Send Me'. His smooth and velvety voice, impeccable phrasing and emotional delivery won the hearts of the audience. Lucy Durack (Australian leading lady of Wicked, Shrek, Legally Blonde and Midnight - The Cinderella Musical) wowed the audience with her joyous rendition of Etta James 'At Last'.  The lyrics normally convey a sense of relief and fulfilment after a long wait for love, but in this case the words 'and here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last' were very fitting for reaching the end of this project, a monumental labour of love. Lucy continued to shine during the night with musical theatre favourites, 'Over the Rainbow' (The Wizard of Oz) performed with the City of Whitehorse Band, and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (Carousel) showcasing Lucy's more operatic side. One of my highlights of the evening was when Lucy performed her Act Two show-stopper, 'You Are The One' from her recent theatre role as Ms Madrina in the all-Australian, Melbourne based Midnight - The Cinderella Musical. Lucy's performance was mesmerizing and her voice ethereal, commanding complete silence from a spellbound audience! Gary's rendition of 'Any Dream Will Do' (Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) with backing vocals from the scouts and guides of Whitehorse Showtime (originating in 1965) was a touching and proud moment, particularly for their families in the audience. 

Another incredible performance was Senes Flamenco featuring Japanese flamenco dancer Aya Kitaoji, along with a trio of musicians.  For fifteen years, Aya has been a teacher and major influence (in both Spanish and Flamenco dancing) of students from the local Utassy Ballet School. The storytelling in both her body movements and facial expressions had the audience transfixed. We didn't want it to end!  

The City of Whitehorse Band opened the Act Two proceedings with the toe tapping 'All That Jazz' from Chicago as well as accompanying Lucy with 'Over The Rainbow'. What made the moment even more special is the fact that this band (formerly known as the Nunawading Band) played at the opening of the original Whitehorse Centre in 1958. Two of the local community theatre groups, Babirra Music Theatre and Nova Music Theatre companies were obviously excited to be back performing on their home turf again after a few years hiatus. Now with a world class, state of the art venue, with all the bells and whistles possible, the sky's the limit for future productions. Babirra performed 'C'mon Everybody' from their recent production 'All Shook Up' featuring Lachlan Glennie on lead vocals as Chad the Roustabout. I was lucky enough to see this wonderful production, however the excitement, precision and timing tonight was even better, possibly due to the larger stage space. The audience was treated to 'The Ball Scene' from the upcoming production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Cinderella' by the Nova Music Theatre group, lead by Chloe Terry (Ella) and Ju-han Soon (Topher). This will be Nova's 50th anniversary production (Camelot being performed at the original Whitehorse Centre in 1973) and the inaugural music theatre production for The Round.  To finish off an already full and exciting program the entire cast returned to the stage and aisles to perform 'You Can't Stop the Beat' (Hairspray). The energy and enthusiasm on stage was electrifying! The show finished with a bang of gold streamers falling onto a crowd of happy patrons. The more than satisfied opening night crowd was treated to drinks and finger food in the foyer afterwards.  A success all round for the official opening of The Round!

Whether its seeing a musical or play, cheering on your grandchild as they perform in their first concert, attending a wedding reception, watching a movie premiere, or just coming and having a coffee (and toastie) in the spacious foyer/cafe to catch up with friends, The Round is sure to emerge as the epicenter of culture in the eastern region of Melbourne, and quite possibly captivate your heart too!

Jonathan Cox

Photos: Henley Anderson