14 December 2011

Review: Musical Works

Musical Works:
Give My Regards to Broady
and
Housewarming
Theatreworks
2 December
to 10 December
www.theatreworks.org.au


Hooray for Theatre Works. Along with their ongoing support of independent artists, they are supporting the development of new Australian musicals with the inaugural Musical Works season. Two developing shows were selected and working under the artistic mentorship of Aaron Joyner, from Magnormos, they have a season in St Kilda.

Give My Regards to Broady is about four friends, a Fitzroy share house and the dream to get off the couch and stay away from Broadmeadows – and break into the arts. It's been around for four years. I saw an early version. There were some terrific songs, but it lacked a cohesive story, was a wee bit self indulgent and its characters were inseparable from the performers. I wasn't keen to see it in the same form again.

But it's rare for a great musical to be a corker on its first or second outing. Until an audience react, it's hard to know what bits need to go. Lucky for us, Karin Muiznieks (writer, composer, producer) and James Simpson (composer) were happy to dump the "let's put on a show" tone and set about re-creating.

And what a change! With a snappy new cast (Claire Healy, Lauren Murtah, Leigh Jay Booth and Joe Kosky), the characters have developed the dimension that leaves them memorable, and helped by some solid direction by Scott Gooding, the story's getting some stakes and now ends on a well-earned punchline. Some old songs have gone, the best ones stayed (like "North Vs South") and new songs have appeared ("Snackulas" was a favourite), which all feel like they belong and generally add to the story.

Placed so firmly in Melbourne, with songs like "Half-built Ferris Wheel", it may not find a worldwide audience, but there are four million people in Melbourne who can potentially love it and can happily indulge in Muiznieks witty and clever lyrics.

If you've seen Give My Regards to Broady, it's so worth a new visit. There's still room for work, but it's well on its way to becoming a quintessential Melbourne theatre experience.

The second Musical Works piece is House Warming by William Hannagan-McKinna and Belinda Jenkin, which is earlier in its development.

This time we're in a share house in St Kilda, but without reference or relevance to place, it could be anywhere. Tommy (Daniel Benge) is home after a backpack around Europe, his granddad died and left him a house, and five friends (Rachel Rai, Elle Richards, Belinda Jenkin, Dave Barclay and Drew Collet) are moving in with their compulsory sexual tension, comparison of crap parents and revelation of secrets.

Musically, the six strong voices create a rich sound and dramatically, the six interacting characters allow for conflict and intrigue. The story's there, but its telling and plotting need work. It feels like it's establishing characters and their problems then jumping to the end. There's room for a lot more guts, more wrong turns and an extra act.

Too many shows never get past their first productions. Which means our theatre industry misses out on some awesome stuff. Like first drafts, first sex and first anything – shows need more experience, emotional distance and a bit of help to get it right. With the support of Theatre Works, both of these musicals are well on their way.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.



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