Albatross Musical Theatre Company stages Chicago

Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), LSIS Yuri Ramsey (photographer)

Location(s): Nowra, NSW

Robin Byrne (left), records management officer with the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and founding member of the Albatross Musical Theatre Company, stands with Lieutenant Commander Stuart Withers from 816 Squadron, who is dressed in the costume of Sergeant Fogarty, a police detective from the musical 'Chicago'. (photo: LSIS Yuri Ramsey)
Robin Byrne (left), records management officer with the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and founding member of the Albatross Musical Theatre Company, stands with Lieutenant Commander Stuart Withers from 816 Squadron, who is dressed in the costume of Sergeant Fogarty, a police detective from the musical 'Chicago'.

Lieutenant Commander Stuart Withers is probably best known to personnel at HMAS Albatross in his role as Flight Support Officer with 816 Squadron but that could change when he transforms into 'Detective Sergeant Fogarty' for the Albatross Musical Theatre Company’s staging of Chicago, an all singing, all dancing tale of murder, greed and corruption.
 
This glitzy production at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, with its state of the art audio, video and lighting and 1000 seat capacity, is a big contrast to the company’s far more humble origins in the Albatross Band Practice Room nearly 40 years ago.
 
The company started in May 1975 when a group of Navy musical theatre aficionados decided to form the Albatross Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Their first production, The Pirates of Penzance ran for three nights in November that year and was deemed such a creative, critical and economic success that the Society went on to stage a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta every winter until 1980 when they expanded their repertoire to include South Pacific. The company also staged Variety Shows and Christmas Shows.
 
By 1983, the company had outgrown its 'theatre' in the Albatross gymnasium and since the civilian makeup of the Society now outnumbers Navy personnel a new home was found in Nowra’s School of Arts.
 
With the new location came a new name, although one that retained the company’s links with the naval base, and The Albatross Musical Theatre Company was born. The company has since gone on to stage everything from The Sound of Music, to Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables and even The Full Monty.
 
Mr Robin Byrne, Information & Records Management Officer with the Fleet Air Arm has been with the company since that very first meeting.
 
“I was originally involved with the Albatross Band, “so my contribution has mainly been as a percussionist but one of the great things about being involved in the company is that everyone pitches in whether it’s onstage or backstage.
 
"It’s a creative outlet, so for me, the most enjoyable aspect is the opportunity to use my musical skills, but it’s also a social outlet.
 
“There’s always a Navy presence in the company so there are familiar faces from around the base but it doesn’t matter where I go in town, to the Council offices, post office or supermarket, I’m bound to meet someone I know who’s been involved in the company at some stage,” Mr Byrne said.
 
Lieutenant Commander Withers is looking forward to stepping into the spotlight as Detective Fogarty.
 
“It’s only a minor role, but I get a lot of pleasure from being on stage and immersing myself into different characters and just having fun with it.
 
“I also really enjoy getting to meet and perform with all sorts of great and talented people from all walks of life.”
 
Besides the name, another link to the company’s origins is the role of Patron which is traditionally held by the Albatross Commanding Officer. 
 
The current Commanding Officer, Captain Simon Bateman, said the continuing connection between the naval base and the Company was pleasing to see.
 
“It’s quite remarkable when you consider how, from a meeting of Navy operetta enthusiasts nearly 40 years ago, the company has grown and developed and it’s especially gratifying when you consider how much pleasure the company has bought to the community - both as audience members and participants - in that time.” Captain Bateman said.
 
Plans are underway for 40th Anniversary celebrations and the company is seeking input from current and earlier members. See http://www.atmc.org.au for more details.