A vaudevillian mash-up of stand-up, documentary and jazz telling the tale of 'sick' comedian Lenny Bruce's abortive 1962 Sydney tour.
Lenny Bruce, ‘Sickest of the Sick Comedians’, did indeed make a trip to these shores in 1962. So ill-fated was the tour that it slipped into comedy folklore. Hounded by the vice squad, strung out, sweating and having show after show pulled out from under his feet, he split just before a threatened drug-bust and never returned.
This tumultuous trip was the subject of Damien Kringas’ book, Lenny Bruce: 13 Days in Sydney, and is now told in play form thanks to well-known wordsmith Benito Di Fonzo and the Tamarama Rock Surfers.
Lenny (Sam Haft) arrives in Sydney with a bag full of medicine and a head full of ideas that don’t fit into comfortable society, and quickly discovers that Australia is even less ready for his brand of comedy than his homeland.
Already in trouble in various districts and with years of obscenity trials to look forward to, he is brought out by Lee Gordon (Damien Strouthous), the promoter responsible for the equally ill-fated Frank Sinatra tour from the year before. Lenny nonetheless launches into his Sydney shows with gusto, and ends up pleasing as many fans as making new enemies. What follows is one scandal after another. Nazi salutes, swearing, jazz-mind-freak-outs, groupies, dodgy-doctors, upset locals, and before you know it, the rest of his shows are cancelled.
Gathering eyewitness accounts, from those for and against Lenny Bruce, snatches of autobiography, and even a rare recording of one of his Sydney shows, Di Fonzo and the Tamarama Rock Surfers have delivered a blistering show that zips in and out of narratives, personalities, tall tales, blurry recollections and ‘foul’ language like a jazz fever.
The performances are great; Haft throws himself into Bruce’s vitriol and lets the Yiddish flow like a natural, while Lenore Munroe, Damien Strouthous and Dorje Swallow take on various roles, from stuffy Sydney socialites, intellectuals keen for a revolution and tropical island singers, to Sinatra, Peter Cook and corrupt police officers. Swallow’s quick-shot Elvis threatened to steal the show.
The set is warm and busy, carpeted with old rugs that really tie it all together, and featuring tape recorders, musical instruments and a bar, as well as a stage within a stage, and adding to the impression that almost everything about this production flows into everything else in a few easy steps.
Lit like the 1960’s, all earthy hues from dirty light bulbs, it is easy to let one’s self slip into this moment in time where standards were in flux and the words you uttered could easily land you in trouble.
Well worth a visit an eastern ‘burbs roadtrip for all the inner west hipsters and the North Shore ‘I Was There’s’, Lenny Bruce: 13 Daze Un-Dug In Sydney is fast paced piece of play-tainment that helps bring to light an important time in popular culture.
Bruce, language-martyr, paid a high price for the luxuries we enjoy today, so going to Bondi to see a play about just one of his adventures is a small price to pay.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Lenny Bruce: 13 Daze Un-Dug in Sydney 1962
Written by Benito Di Fonzo
Directed by Lucinda Gleeson
Starring Sam Haft, Lenore Munro, Damien Strouthous, Dorje Swallow
Bondi Pavilion Theatre
10 April – 4 May
First published on