Moonshadow - Mid Season Review
Combine We Will Rock You, Pippin, Into the Woods, Romeo and Juliet and Beauty and the Beast, add a Queen from Alice in Wonderland, some hippies from Hair, a Carousel-esque mini dream ballet and a mask from Anthony Warlow’s Phantom shrine and you’ll get something not unlike Moonshadow, a brand new musical currently showing at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.
Co-written by Yusuf (the artist formerly known at Cat Stevens), Moonshadow uses his impressive catalogue of music to create a fantastical musical about star-crossed lovers and the quest for light and enlightenment.
The show transports us to the planet of Alaylia where the sun never shines. People struggle to buy embers to ward off the darkness and it’s all quite grim. Enter our hero, the white-haired Stormy who dreams of a world filled with light and happiness. Inspired by a literal Moonshadow, Stormy decides to embark on a spiritual quest. He leaves behind his struggling parents and childhood sweetheart, Lisa who is being relentlessly pursued by the self-absorbed Pat. Along the way, Stormy encounters rough terrain when the evil Princess Zeena seduces him (and makes him wear orange pyjamas), but Stormy forges ahead on the road to discover his destiny.
The narrative style of the music lends itself well to musical theatre and the songs are sensitively performed by the talented cast. The quality of the music and lyrics along with the spectacular sets and projections are without a doubt the highlights of the show.
Even from my restricted view seat at the back of the stalls, I was entranced by Doğan Ür’s illustrations, Adam Gardnir’s set designs, Nimrod Weiss’ projections and Trudy Dalgliesh’s lighting design. I did, however, miss some of the action due to where I was seated, for example, I could only see the kneecaps of the three shadow characters. If you are yet to book your tickets, I would recommend that you cough up the extra dosh and avoid the back of the stalls - that will ensure that you are able to see the panels above and on each side of the stage and you’ll no doubt feel more immersed in the action.
Moonshadow has an admirable score, a strong cast and is visually splendid, but I have to agree with an earlier review on this site by theatre aficionado Simon Parris, that “the storyline and script are not on par with the quality of the music”. The book felt like an early draft and needs to be refined for this musical to become a more satisfying and moving experience for the audience. The storyline never realises its full potential and some unnecessary scenes and awkward dialogue slow the action. Many of the characters felt one-dimensional and I wasn’t clear on their motivation, while some characters felt more suited to a kids show (like the short annoying shadow character). I was left with a series of unanswered questions - Why did Stormy and Lisa’s parents hate each other so much? (Even they didn’t know) Why wasn’t Pat even mildly perturbed when his wedding was called off? Why did Princess Zeena want Lisa’s locket? In fact, what happened to the Princess? Apparently she was stuffed in a box at some point, but I missed it. Perhaps I am a few Oreos short of a McFlurry but I just didn’t get it. Any subliminal messages about caring for the environment, if intended, weren’t clear.
What were clear were the overarching themes of love overcoming adversity, good overcoming evil and light emerging from the shadows of life. These are powerful themes to base a musical on and I am certain that with some refinement of the details, this show could work.
Director Anders Albien and Musical Director Stephen Amos were blessed with a talented and versatile cast. Gareth Keegan stars as Stormy opposite Gemma-Ashley Kaplan in the role of Lisa. Keegan has a powerful voice and strong stage presence but I felt that his vocals could have benefitted from more light and shade in both tone and volume. Light and shade is something that Kaplan managed beautifully in her portrayal of Lisa. The purity of Kaplan’s voice was at its best in the First Cut is the Deepest and it was wonderful to see a legit musical theatre singer in a lead role in contrast to the popularity of pop-style belters in recent years.
Fine-voiced Blake Bowden provided some comic relief as the self-absorbed Pat, the audience lapping up his boy band dance moves. My only criticism of Yvette Lee’s choreography is that I wish there was more of it.
The cast was rounded out by a triple threat ensemble and solid supporting cast, albeit with a variety of accents. Musical highlights included the energetic ensemble number Matthew and Sons, Sad Lisa performed by Jolyon James in the role of Moonshadow and Wild World sung with just the right amount of maternal emotion by Sally Bourne in the role of Layla, Stormy’s mother.
Melbournians should be proud to be hosting this world premiere. While I believe that the storyline needs a lot of work, the performances, visuals and beautiful music should encourage you to get down to the Princess Theatre and immerse yourselves in the world of Alaylia.