Interview: Driftwood The Musical is the new high calibre Australian production set for the world stage

Having already enjoyed a sold-out world premiere Melbourne season in 2022, Driftwood The Musical is set to return to Melbourne on 3rd May before debuting in Sydney across a run of three venues from 24th May.

Ahead of this run of shows, and off the back of the news that the show will be heading to New York, we spoke to Tania de Jong AM, the show’s Creative Producer. The show is based off Eva de Jong-Duldig’s memoir Driftwood – escape and survival through art, who also happens to be Tania’s mother. We spoke about the journey to bring the show to the stage, what audiences can expect from the production, and hear about the show’s plans to head to New York City.

Tell us more about your role with Driftwood?

I am the Creative Producer of Driftwood The Musical and also wrote some lyrics for the show. I am playing the role of my incredible and inspirational grandmother Slawa Horowitz-Duldig who invented the foldable umbrella in Vienna in 1929.

What was your first interaction with the source material?

Well, Eva is my beautiful and brilliant Mum. I knew she was writing a Memoir, but I never realised how little of my family’s story I actually knew properly. It was challenging, confronting and insightful to read her outstanding book. I was immediately inspired to turn it into a piece of theatre. And I felt the story would be told most powerfully using the medium of music theatre.

What do you think it is about this story that makes it perfect for the stage?

Driftwood The Musical tells the inspirational story of the renowned Austrian/Australian sculptor Karl Duldig and his artist/inventor wife, Slawa Horowitz-Duldig (my grandparents). The story takes in their romantic and artistic lives in pre-war Vienna and Slawa’s ingenious invention of the foldable umbrella. We follow the family’s narrow escape from Nazi Austria, as well as the recovery of all their Viennese art and other possessions after the war. It’s an incredibly unique, true story. Its themes are very important and timely because there are many parallels with increasing challenges we are facing globally.

Spanning three continents and three generations, Driftwood is an epic story affirming the power of human creativity and familial bonds.

Driftwood is a story of art and creativity, survival and perseverance, family and love and the endurance of the human spirit. This is a piece of musical theatre about the resilience found through creativity and in the face of adversity. It is also about displacement and finding solace and strength in family, art and community. While it is the story of the love between Karl and Slawa, two Viennese artists, it is also the story of one woman’s ingenuity, invention and adaptability.

Driftwood captures the universal narrative of seeking safety for yourself and your family and the lingering effects of intergenerational trauma.

The plight of refugees during wartime and the themes of loss, escape, migration, internment and resettlement remain relevant in modern Australia. They are dramatically illustrated through this uplifting true story of survival and add to its universal appeal. As we recover from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the themes also mirror today’s growing global dislocation, division, uncertainty, fear and isolation, increased surveillance and censorship, as well as the loss of community and connection that threatens our social fabric and, ultimately, our humanity.

This musical production is based off of Jane Bodie’s stage play. How much of that original play sits within this version?

We originally commissioned Jane to create the play and there is a significant amount of her writing in the musical. She initially spent a lot of time with Mum working out the most suitable scenes of a 400-page book to develop into a compelling stage performance.

What do you feel made it suitable to transform into a musical production?

The drama and stories within the story lend themselves beautifully to a musical presentation. Music was always a huge part of our family’s life and very important through the 1920s and 1930s in Vienna and then helped many people get through the Depression and War Years.

What were the reference points for the music arrangements? What can we expect from the show’s music?

The music of Driftwood, composed by the wunderkind Anthony Barnhill, weaves together songs, musical sequences, underscore, and moments of chamber opera. Anthony has created a musical language that is both highly thematic and unique to the piece. The sound of the score is influenced by the Jewish spiritual music relevant to these characters, the classical music that permeated pre-war Vienna, and the narrative driven theatrical styles popularised by Sondheim and Guettel. Quite simply, the music is haunting and magical. There are magnificent harmonies and Anthony also wrote nearly all the lyrics. He is also the Musical Director.

This is indeed a global story, but given its Australian connection – what does it mean to you to have it premiere in Australia?

Well, its very important that we develop high calibre Australian musicals with great originality and substance, especially those based on true stories. We can then share these stories with the world. It’s very difficult presenting new works in Australia because we have a shortage of venues and also do not have the massive audiences who are used to going to the theatre, like for example New York or London. We need to provide many more resources and support to develop new, compelling works in Australia and also develop audiences who support local content as much as the branded productions from overseas. We have set up a new charity called the Umbrella Foundation to tell stories that matter through musical theatre and support Australian creative talents.

We understand there are plans to take this to the rest of the world, what can you tell us about the move to NYC? 

Yes, we are taking the work to New York later this year and our Director Gary Abrahams and Composer And Musical Director Anthony Barnhill will be directing American performers because there are 13 Unions there which prevent Aussies from performing! Read more HERE.

And finally, if there’s one thing audience members take away from Driftwood The Musical, what do you hope that is?

Art and creativity help us to survive the hardest of times and teach us so much about life, ourselves and others. And we know this story will inspire many more people to tell and share their stories.

I believe that we can help one another and communities everywhere to find greater meaning, purpose, harmony and love in times of increasing disruption, division, uncertainty and fear. This is a time for transcending and raising our collective consciousness and building bridges of understanding, not walls between us. Together we can decide what sort of world we want to live in and the future we want for our children and grandchildren. Are we going to find the courage to shine light into the darkness, speak truth to power, rise from victim to victor, and place hope above hate and love before fear?

If we are ever to transform conflict and bring peace to this wounded world, we will need to address collective and intergenerational trauma. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can create what happens next.


Driftwood The Musical returns for an encore season in Melbourne on May 3rd, before heading to Sydney. Dates below!

Chapel Off Chapel
3 May – 20 May 2023

Glen Street Theatre
24 May – 28 May 2023

Riverside Parramatta
31 May – 4 June 2023

Eternity Playhouse
7 June – 18 June 2023

For tickets and more information head to the official Driftwood The Musical website

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.