Ladies and gents this was the moment you waited for.
It was hard to tell the difference between Josh Piterman and Hugh Jackman when the former opened the Overture concert with that line on Saturday evening.
Yes, it really was The Greatest Show.
Lucy Durack and Josh Piterman were superlative as the headline acts, while the hauntingly engaging Billie Palin (Dubbo native) and man of swagger, Jarrod Draper (originally from Orange), delighted people from all over the Central West (and beyond!) who had descended on the Cooke Park Pavilion.
The event was MC'd, and produced by the much-loved Parkes local Jess Westcott alongside UpStage Australia producer Harriet Snaith, with the incomparable music director Nicholas Gentile arranging the music in his customary imaginative and innovative style.
Of course it wasn't just about the headliners, or even the performance itself.
It was about giving musicians and singers in the Central West the opportunity to learn, grow and perform alongside of top industry professionals - through Jess and Harriet's non-profit UpStage Australia - which aims to connect said talented local musicians with the best in their field.
Parkes Christian School students Lexi Herden and Aimee Ross defied their youthful age to peform like seasoned amateurs, while honorary local Henry Best (Grenfell) and Holly Hare (Bathurst) fit in like a glove on the stage with some of Australia's finest.
Josh Piterman, probably most well-known as 'The Phantom' was far more than just a headline act - he was 100 per cent all in on the entire experience from start to finish.
I think it's safe to say he enjoyed his time in Parkes!
"It was an unbelievable few days. From the moment I got there, Bill (Parkes Shire Councillor William Jayet) was amazing...he even made me this delicious chicken, veggie and rice dinner with truffle mustard and gravy on the side," laughed Josh.
"I ran the masterclass for Henry, Aimee and Lexi plus five others on the Thursday and it was incredible; all the students just surrended to the process and that was facing a lot of insecurities, performing in front of people they didn't know and soaking up all the information they could.
"What was established straight up when I arrived, was it was so wholesome, and you want to do these things with people who have joy, excitement and passion.
"Then to come in to the (Cooke Park) pavilion on Friday was phenomenal, meeting all the people in the orchestra and choir was so lovely and you could just see how dedicated everyone was and how much this meant to them.
"The easy part of all this was singing and performing at the concert. It was nice to sing Bui Doi with the choir, and it's always special to sing 'Music of the Night' - sharing that Phantom experience with Australians is amazing.
"It was also special to see how much effort the whole town has gone to and the work that has gone into getting this event off the ground," said Josh.
Josh saved special praise for Jess and Harriet, who have been at this for a year. No, this concert did not just come together at the last minute - it took hundreds and hundreds of hours of work behind the scenes from Jess, Harriet and Nick in particular.
"There's not enough adjectives to describe what Jess and Harriet have done, it was mastermind level stuff," he said.
"This doesn't happen without Jess and Harriet, pure and simple. I texted them the day after saying I can't wait to work with them again!
"As I said, if it's not wholesome it isn't going to land, and that sums those two up to a tee.
"It was equal parts elation and relief for Jess and Harriet once the concert finished," laughed Josh.
Billie Palin commanded the stage with an incredible presence and humour (sign us up for any gig she does anywhere in the world), particuarly delighting during the 'Dubbo National Anthem'. Proud Wiradjuri man Jarrod Draper, who is currently starring in Moulin Rouge, brought some serious swag to the stage and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to listen to him perform 'The Prayer' with Josh.
And those stars....boy they starred.
Josh opened the concert (alongside Jarrod, Billie, Henry and Holly) with the aforementioned 'The Greatest Show' and oozed class, energy and an indescribable warmth that had everyone present lining up to purchase Phantom of the Opera tickets, if they hadn't already.
The joy on his face was a sight to behold. This wasn't just a box to tick or a cheque to cash.
And Lucy Durack.
One of Australia's most recognisable faces of musical theatre, was the effortlessly bubbly, humourous and versatile superstar we all thought she would be.
To see and listen to her walk on the stage for the first time alongside Aimee and Holly singing the iconic Shrek song 'I Know It's Today'; well, I haven't been able to get that performance out of my head all week.
No doubt that is something Aimee and Holly will never forget, and neither will the crowd.
One could wax lyrical all day about the performance, but it was about the process and development, of course.
Jess said the two and a half hour concert was a year in the making, and the result of an uncountable number of hours practicing, preparing and organising a spectacularly large amount of people.
"Nick and I spent hundreds of hours recording a video for every line of the choir to watch and sing as they practiced; for example an alto could go into video that was specific to them," she said.
"Given COVID and the geographical area, the orchestra learned the material by themselves in their rooms through Zoom calls, but that also made it a really fun journey.
"I think my favourite thing about the whole weekend was the spectrum of excellence in every age group from the young to the old...they were all elevated in some way from the experience with Lucy and Josh and singing or performing next to them," said Jess.
Lexi Herden was one of those people elevated by the concert.
Josh was glowing in his praise of Lexi's performance in particular, telling the Parkes Champion Post it was a moment he won't forget.
"The moment I will remember most from the night, was being side stage when Lexi (Herden) sang 'When I Grow Up'," he said.
"She was so invested in her performance and is such a sweet, talented girl - it was really something else."
Jess echoed those thoughts, and agreed it was one of the highlights of the entire show.
"Lexi is just really humble. We listened to this hauntingly beautiful audition, but what we didn't anticipate was she had went away, had two lessons and was just happy, engaging and comfortable on stage," she said.
"Lucy and Josh's managers were backstage, and they were blown away as well, and told us as such."
Josh said watching precocious talented young eight-year-old twins Skye and Caitlin Elder perform in the orchestra was another moment that transfixed him.
"One of the other moments I'll remember was watching the two twins playing violin, I was loving watching them so much. I just get so passionate watching young kids care about their music," he said.
"I was singing 'The Prayer' and instead of performing I was too busy watching them make magic with their fingers on the violin!"
One of the great treats for the crowd was hearing their local hero sing the operatic aria 'O mio babbino caro', and despite initially resisting against singing herself, Jess said she understood why it was so important.
"I truly didn't want to sing, but Nick said it will give Parkes something to be proud of, and of course I love singing in Parkes, and for Parkes, so it was really special."
Jess said the incredible production was spawned by a couple of crazy ideas - and thanks to the brilliance of herself, Nick and Harriet, Overture, billed as 'Stars under the Stars' really was out of this world.
Of course there were SO many people behind the scenes that made this event, and experience, a huge success; but it also took huge efforts from everyone in the orchestra, choir and singers.
"I said to Nick: 'Hey we're doing a show, we think we'll have a youth orchestra, we kind of don't know what we'll have either'. For instance we didn't have an oboe and lost a clarinet due to COVID but for Nick, basically nothing is too hard," said Jess.
"I asked simply too much of every person, and every person over-delivered.
"Eliza Noakes, our orchestra liason, was instrumental, and Carolyn Butler was incredible too. We can't thank Cathy Treasure and Megan Morrison from the Parkes Shire Council enough either; while Bill (Jayet, councillor) and Dad (Neil Westcott, deputy mayor) worked incredibly hard too," Jess said.
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So, what's next?
For Jess and Harriet, UpStage Australia has some grand plans - which of course includes Parkes, and the lucky kids of the entire region.
"There is no Central West youth orchestra that encompasses multiple towns that auditions kids, and there's none that holds them to account and pairs the kids up with professionals, either," said Jess.
"For UpStage, the experience of Overture has helped realise the vision and see how we can continue it, we'll plan the next big thing in Parkes and hopefully form a committee, keep pushing the workshops and we are planning for a summer camp as well."
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