There’s movement at the station… as Sigrid and Tom hit the big screen in concert

The Man From Snowy River is a much-loved Aussie film classic that’s about to be rediscovered by a new generation of film goers – and that makes one of its stars, Sigrid Thornton, very happy.

Mar 20, 2024, updated Mar 20, 2024

When the lights came on and someone in the audience realised Sigrid Thornton was sitting next to them, they would have had a surprise. A nice surprise. Particularly as they had just been watching the popular Australian actor on the big screen in The Man From Snowy River.

The iconic 1982 movie is playing again as The Man From Snowy River in Concert, a spectacular show featuring the film on a big screen with a live orchestra, the 54-piece Southern Cross Symphony, playing Bruce Rowland’s award-winning score under the baton of Peter Morris.

The show, the brainchild of producer Phil Bathols of Spiritworks and Theatre Tours International, started its run at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall last last year and after a pause over the summer break was a sellout at the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour Theatre in February. It will play in Adelaide this weekend (March 22-23), then moves on to Brisbane and Perth.

Before each screening and performance the movie’s two young stars, Sigrid Thornton and Tom Burlinson (a little older now, respectively 65 and 68), have a kind of fireside chat for 20 minutes or so to warm the audience up.

The pair are still friends and are enjoying reliving their glory days. Both have gone on to have stellar careers, Thornton as one of Australia’s most-loved screen stars and Burlinson as an actor, musical theatre star and crooner specialising in the oeuvre of Frank Sinatra.

Thornton, who started her theatre career as a girl living in Brisbane, says she has joined the throng on a couple of occasions after her star turn.

“Yes, I have sat in the audience after our bit,” she says. “I crept in, in the dark, as the movie was starting and it has been so gratifying to see how the show has reintroduced itself to subsequent generations. It’s a real family movie and there are children there who are seeing it for the first time. It’s strange for me because it’s almost like looking at another person.”

Thornton is instantly recognisable, of course, and may be the most recognisable Australian actor, known and loved for roles in The Getting of Wisdom and a string of other movies and on the small screen in The Far Country, All the Rivers Run and other series including the much-loved SeaChange from 1998 to 2000. She also appears with the country’s leading theatre companies and last year starred in Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of the Anton Chekhov classic, The Seagull.

In his book The Big Shift, about changing Australian demographics and culture, author Bernard Salt described the “Sigrid factor”, pointing out that Australian towns in which movies had been made featuring Thornton had thrived.

The “Sigrid factor” is still alive and well and on tour in The Man From Snowy River in Concert and, who knows, it’s so successful that they may decide to go again with The Man From Snowy River II, the 1988 sequel which also starred Thornton and Burlinson.

But it was the first movie, directed by George T Miller, that was so memorable, based on AB “Banjo” Paterson’s famous poem highlighting the life of our high country.

The cast list is impressive. As well as starring Thornton and Burlinson, The Man From Snowy River featured Hollywood star Kirk Douglas and many of Australia’s finest actors including Jack Thompson, Tony Bonner, Chris Haywood and Lorraine Bayly.

Based on Paterson’s bush poem of the same name, the story follows proud young Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) who, after the death of his father, sets out to become his own man. Taking a job with horse rancher Harrison (Kirk Douglas), Craig is treated poorly by the more experienced cowboys, but wins the heart of the rancher’s daughter, Jessica (Sigrid Thornton), when he helps her break a high-strung colt and later saves her life.

When he’s unfairly blamed for the loss of an expensive horse, Craig fights to restore his honour and prove that he’s worthy of Jessica’s hand. One of the most iconic pieces of music from the movie is the beautiful Jessica’s Theme, which Thornton says is still enchanting.

“The music is integral,” she says. “It enhances the extraordinary visuals and that was the thing that Bruce Rowland tapped into … the majesty of the environment.

“All the key elements are in place for this show and they all work together to create an alchemy. People are just so exhilarated by it and swept up by it still and that is lovely to see. The response has been extraordinary.”

And if anyone is still wondering how much of the actual exciting horse-riding Burlinson did, the answer is – a lot.

“I really have to give full credit to Tom,” Thornton says. “He had barely ridden a horse until the film but it turned out that he was a natural. Tom did an enormous amount of his own riding and it was hard filming that movie.”

Being on location away from home in Victoria’s high country, which stood in for the Snowy Mountains, was demanding but satisfying. Much easier to sit on stage with Burlinson and chat about it now. In fact, it’s fun and Thornton says she and Burlinson are having a great time … not to mention the audience.

The Man from Snowy River will play at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide on March 22 and 23. 

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