Vale Matt Byrne

Vale Matt Byrne

Vale Matt Byrne – “seasoned old pro.”

The South Australian arts community is mourning the passing of 63-year-old producer, writer, journalist and raconteur Matt Byrne.

The lights dimmed on the theatrical force of nature this week.

How to describe Matt to those outside of Adelaide?

Well, his private company called Matt Byrne Media was the largest, most successful community theatre in the city of churches – usually gaining the rights to the biggest shows, using his persistence and charm to swoop in and pick up the rights ahead of other companies.

On the rare occasion when my company released a blockbuster musical Matt would be on the phone within minutes of the email going out. 

He loved producing the Adelaide premiere of a musical and his productions would always start in the city at the Arts Theatre, then finish up at the suburban Elizabeth Shedley Theatre.

He was especially passionate about producing the Adelaide premiere of Saturday Night Fever the Musical, due to the local connection of its creator Robert Stigwood.

Robert and Matt will have a lot to talk about in heaven – both larrikins of the theatre world.

Matt had fingers in lots of pies. He was a prominent local arts journalist and publicist.

He had a good eye for opportunities. I remember speaking to him at an after-show party in Sydney – which he had been flown up to – and he told me of another junket he had scored – reviewing wineries around Australia.

Matt could do everything - act, sing, dance (a little), direct and produce.

On a visit to Adelaide when I was with him, his mobile phone kept going off – because he was also the box office contact.

When he decided to stage The Producers ,of course there was a part he wanted – the lead role.

“I auditioned like everyone else,” he told me with a twinkle in his eye.

It would have been hard for the director to say no to the producer of The Producers.

What did the critics think of Matt?  

This review from the Adelaide Theatre Guide of 2007 says it all.

“Matt Byrne (Max Bialystock) has a ball and his enjoyment shows – he is lecherous, conniving and Fagin-like. His comic timing is a little askew early on, but as the show progresses, Byrne hits his mark. For an amateur, he is a seasoned old pro and he knows how to deliver vaudevillian one-liners.”

Matt could also write one-liners and was a fixture at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, usually with an original work poking fun at local identities.

His first fringe show was the footy comedy Barrackers in 2002 and he was a fixture at Maxim’s Wine bar. Some of his other works included Married at first Fight and a real estate comedy Hott Property – which is proudly represented by David Spicer Productions.

To manage volunteers over a long period takes diplomatic skills of the highest order and Matt’s good heart helped him forge a strong following.

Many performers got their first break in a Matt Byrne Media production.

He leaves a big hole in the Adelaide arts community.

The abrupt cancellation of his company’s auditions for Jersey Boys earlier in 2021 led to grave concerns about his welfare, then came news of a serious bout of pneumonia.

He once told me that several of his male relatives had passed away at 57 and was wary that his time on earth might be limited.

So he lived his life to the fullest leaving a legacy of happy memories for everyone who came into his orbit.

David Spicer

(Pictures - Matt Byrne in his own company's productions of 12 Angry Men, We Will Rock You and Hott Property.)

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