Forty years on… The Man from Snowy River rides to a new beat

Tom Burlington and Sigrid Thornton

It’s a new and exciting concept of presenting a much-loved film to audiences accompanied by a full-piece symphony orchestra and several actors speaking about their past roles on the big screen. The Man From Snowy River in Concert will come to Perth next year, with actors Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton, on stage discussing those heady days of 40 years ago when they made the film which became a big success.

The Man From Snowy River in Concert is a celebration of the enduring legacy of director George Miller’s iconic Australian film, while the live-to-screen performance will showcase the film’s award-winning score by legendary composer Bruce Rowland.

“It’s quite a difficult process to pull the music off the track of the movie using the dialogue and sound effects as it is, but they are able to do it,” says Tom Burlinson speaking to Have a Go News from Sydney. “It’s been done with James Bond movies but this is the first time it has been done in Australia. 

“I guess the producers chose The Man from Snowy River because its score is so popular. They are able to screen the entire film with the symphony orchestra playing the score in sync with the movie.

“It is a new way of presenting the film with the music played live. It was done in Melbourne’s Hamer Hall at the Victorian Arts Centre in August with three shows, which immediately sold out, so they put on a fourth.

“That was hugely popular and, as a result, we are going to Sydney and Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, next year. I was asked to kick things off with Sigrid Thornton to share some memories of making the film all those years ago.”

Ever versatile Toronto-born Burlinson, had his career break in 1981 when he was given the main role in the biggest Australian film production ever The Man From Snowy River, as Jim Craig. He had only a few weeks to learn to ride a horse. Snowy
was filmed and released in Australia in 1982, quickly becoming the highest-grossing Australian film ever at that time, bringing Burlinson to stardom.

Burlinson says that he and Sigrid Thornton hadn’t seen each other for a while, when they met to discuss their format for the start of the new show. 

“We shared memories and it brought back those times so we decided roughly what we would do. It’s not scripted, it’s in the moment, but prepared.

“We discuss my audition for the movie; Sigrid was cast as Jessica before any of the other actors so she read opposite all the young actors auditioning for Jim. We talk about that and actors Kirk Douglas and Jack Thompson and other cast members, about horse riding and other things. We have 20 minutes, so it’s easily achieved.

“There are grandchildren in the audience who were not even thought of when we made the movie which is just as popular as ever. Lots of people know it intimately from the watching the video tape or DVD and they still love it. To hear the music played live is pretty special.

“There are some rousing moments, say in Jim’s ride. That is reflected in the orchestra when horses are galloping and things are happening, it’s really quite stirring. There are also some beautiful lyrical passages such as the breaking of the colts scene when the lovely piano piece, Jessica’s Theme is played.

“There are more than 30 members in the orchestra from strings to horns, all overseen by Bruce Rowland with Vanessa Scammell the conductor. 

“It all works a treat and, as I say, audiences have responded so well.”

Burlinson says it came as a surprise on opening night in Melbourne when there was an intermission. 

“I thought this is like the old days of the movies but, of course, this is to give the musicians a break.”

This year Tom Burlinson marks 40 years in the industry. 

“Apart from Snowy River, this year marks 40 years since Phar Lap, which I also appeared in, so there are a few milestones. I’m very fortunate to continue to work.

“I had some fantastic breaks early on with Snowy River which was more successful than anyone imagined, It was a great career break for me and then Phar Lap happened which was also very popular.

“There was a period in the 1990s when there was not a lot of work around and I was able to diversify into music and singing. I’m very glad I did, because for most of the past 25 years my income and employment has largely been through singing rather than acting.

Burlinson is highly regarded for his own musical shows celebrating the music of Frank Sinatra and other vocal stars including Now We’re
which toured Australia.

“I think the quality of those early movies raised my profile and led to other work. Just trying to continue in other areas of work live on stage, television, theatre and movies is necessary if you want to continue in show business in Australia, because we don’t have as big an industry as other countries.

“I’ve performed overseas in film and took my show about Sinatra to Toronto and also performed in Las Vegas so it’s all been an amazing development over the years.”  

The Man From Snowy River in Concert with Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton sharing behind-the-scenes stories before the film screens, alongside the Southern Cross Symphony Orchestra, plays at Crown Theatre, 7.30pm Friday April 26 and 2.30pm Saturday April 27. Tickets from Ticketmaster.