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Aussie story coming home on stage

A new musical based on best-selling Australian novel The Book Thief is bound for the West End, Broadway and Australia following its world premiere in northern England.

Award-winning playwright Timothy Allen McDonald, one of the four-strong American creative team behind the adaption of the book by Markus Zusak, said the plan was to give the production a long life.

“We hope to go to the West End and then Broadway,” McDonald told AAP at the world premiere at northern England’s Octagon Theatre.

“The fact the author created this story in Australia means it has a home there too. This show demands to be in Australia so we’d like to play Melbourne and Sydney.”

When the musical goes on the road he is keen to include young Newcastle-born Australian actor Charlie Murphy, a cast member in the premiere.

“It took an American team to adapt this Australian book and stage it in England,” McDonald said.

“Having an Australian in the cast is part of that mix.

“You bring Charlie on stage and everyone starts smiling. It would be great to have Charlie involved in the future.”

The Book Thief mixes dark themes of war, persecution and death.

Set in Nazi Germany, the plot follows the fluctuating fortunes of a young German orphan Liesel who steals books and befriends a Jewish man her adopted parents are hiding in the cellar.

“We crafted this musical in line with productions like Fiddler on The Roof and Les Miserables,” McDonald said.

“The subject matter is strong and serious but it also has joy and humour. You can seduce an audience with music and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve.”

The Book Thief has sold 16 million copies and was turned into a film starring Australian Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush.

The musical adaption has surprised and delighted its author who was in the audience for the premiere.

“It is overwhelming,” Zusak said.

“I started this book 20 years ago. Now I am in a theatre in England thousands of miles from home. It is an honour to even be here and a bit surreal.

“I originally thought the book would sink without a trace. It’s 580 pages set in Nazi Germany, narrated by death and everyone dies. Who is going to read that? Twenty years later it’s a musical which really captures the feeling of the book.”

Sydney-born Zusak said he’d be excited but “pretty nervous” about an Australian season.

The character of Rudy, played by 12-year-old Murphy in the musical, is based on Zusak’s father Helmut, who’s 90 and still living in Sydney.

“I thought Charlie was fantastic, what a professional.” Zusak said. “So young and brilliant. The other kids in the cast are also amazing.”

The Book Thief musical continues at the Bolton Octagon Theatre until October 15.

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