Print Page

Who Was Lola Montez?


STEP BACK IN TIME INTO THE WORLD OF THIS OUTRAGEOUS CHARACTER AND THIS AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL BLOCKBUSTER.

On Saturday 2 June, Riverside Theatres hosts the 60th Anniversary concert performance of a long forgotten but, in its day, extremely successful musical titled Lola Montez. But who was the mysterious Lola Montez and why was this very popular musical written about her?

Lola Montez was the persona created and lived by Maria Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818. As Lola, she entranced all of Europe through her force of character, her outrageous dance, as a savvy entrepreneur and a reigning beauty of the day. She was the lover of Franz Liszt and Alexander Dumas among many and the true love of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The King made her a Countess and she became his chief political advisor, much to the scandal of the Bavarian court, including the King’s wife. Forced to flee Bavaria, Lola made her way to the USA touring the country with her infamous Spider Dance.

Genevieve Lemon

Genevieve Lemon

Like many independent women who followed in her footsteps such as Mae West, Madonna and Eva Peron, Lola was acutely aware of how to manage her image to maximum effect. She even published books on women’s beauty and her fictionalised autobiography. Her performances always sold out. Lola headed to San Francisco during the Gold Rush in 1849 where she also created a sensation. Miners threw gold nuggets to her on stage. They did the same in Ballarat, seven years later. She resided in California until charges of bigamy forced her to set sail for Australia where she toured Sydney, Melbourne and gold towns. At her departure from Australia a sheriff demanded she pay her many debts. Lola appeared to acquiesce but instead removed all of her clothing on the dock, standing naked before him on the dock save for her jewellery. The sheriff was so taken aback with shock he handed her her clothes and shooed her on board. At the top of the gangplank, Lola turned around naked, waving and said, “Goodbye, Australia!”

Back in America Lola soon stopped performing and wrote her (somewhat fictional) autobiography. Her last year or so was spent in New York City, volunteering at a refuge for fallen women. She died aged 42 in 1861, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, with the simple grave stone and the name, Eliza Gilbert.

Written in 1957, Lola Montez is the most commercially successful Australian musical with an original score of all time. Now, 60 years since its final performance, Lola is back for a 60th Anniversary Celebration Concert of this Australian musical masterpiece for one night only.

With a reinvigorated script based firmly on the original, sparkling new orchestrations and a brand-new song for Lola written by original and recently departed composer, Peter Stanard, the show is again ready to excite audiences and critics alike.

Originally produced in 1958, the musical sold out seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and had chart-topping songs on the Aussie hit parade which outsold Elvis Presley. Lola Montez was the first musical ever broadcast on Australian television.

An all-star cast has been assembled to bring Lola Montez back to life. In the title role of Lola is the incomparable and multiple Helpmann Award nominee Debora Krizak (pictured at top). Debora’s most recent and notable credits include her show-stealing take on Frauline Kost in the Melbourne and Sydney seasons of Cabaret as well as playing Sheila in the 2012 Helpmann Award winning musical A Chorus Line. She has also been seen in Anything Goes, The Producers, Sweet Charity and Calendar Girls.

Scott Irwin

Scott Irwin

The role of Sam Vanderburg, Miss Montez’ manager is being played by Scott Irwin (Beauty and the Beast ), while Australian TV and radio icon Red Symons plays the newspaper critic Seekamp. Musical theatre leading man Peter Cousens (Les Miserables) plays Smith while multi-award winner Genevieve Lemon (Billy Elliot) plays Rose.

Other roles are played by Ashleigh Rubenach (The Sound of Music), Joel Granger (Brigadoon), Caitlin Berry (Melba), Kaeng Chan (Muriel’s Wedding), Luke Joslin (The Play That Goes Wrong, Shrek the Musical), Josie Lane (Little Shop of Horrors) and newcomer Brendan Xavier.

Lola Montez boasts a stellar creative team including director Stephen Helper who brings an abundance of experience after spending 27 years as a director/ producer, including creating the worldwide hit Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Paul Mercurio, best known for his leading role in Strictly Ballroom, is choreographer while Craig Renshaw brings his extensive expertise as musical director.

With toe-tapping music by Peter Stanard, lyrics by Peter Benjamin and a book by Alan Burke, the musical reveals the outrageous true story of the powerful femme fatale and her visit to the goldfields of Ballarat in 1854.

Red Symons

Red Symons

Now is the time to bring back this incredible musical, far too long confined to the dusty shelves of forgotten archives and give her a 60th Anniversary party that will once again set tongues wagging and audiences stomping and cheering. Don’t miss Lola Montez at Riverside Theatres Parramatta on Saturday 2 June at 8pm, for one night only.



Explore more from the riverside blog

Three Women Playwrights: Part 2 – The Mid-career Artist

Guest writer Elissa Blake from Audrey Journal met three women playwrights at different points in their careers who will have their plays presented at Riverside during winter. This is Part 2: The Mid-Career Artist: Alana Valentine. “The story is a ...

Sharp Short Dance Returns to Uncover the Country’s Best Young Dancers and Choreographers

Sharp Short Dance aims to encourage youth participation in all genres of dance and provides a platform for choreographers and dancers to showcase their talent and network with peers and industry experts. Registration is open to any aspiring dancer...

Rainbow Vomit Colouring-In Competition

To celebrate award-winning company Dancenorth bringing their spectacular technicolour family show Rainbow Vomit to Riverside Theatres, we are giving away some double passes to the show. Demonstrate your artistic talents for your chance to win!