A lot of Jukebox Musicals suffer because of the contrived lengths they go to in order to accommodate popular songs into their plots. There’s a certain thrill of recognition every time characters burst into the beloved tracks of whatever band or genre the musical is based around, but mostly it’s a superficial joy. Abbott! The Musical, while it has its moments, very much feels like a jukebox musical; not because of its songs, which are fun and catchy, but because of just how far out of its way it goes to include every famous Tony Abbott quote, awkwardly constructing dialogue around the stupid things the actual man was prone to saying. It makes for a curiously awkward, lurching experience, and isn’t helped by the flashing “quote” light that constantly tells the audience which lines were real.
Abbott, a man who was singularly unsuited to be Prime Minister but somehow managed it anyway before stumbling his way to an ignominious end, lends himself to parody. The gaffes, the awkwardness, the jerky hand gestures, the onion; selecting Abbott’s most embarrassing moments should be an easy way to make a comedy. Strangely enough however, the strongest moments of Abbott! The Musical are the ones that aren’t stitched together from real events or quotes. Watching Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop plan a coup predominantly through a sexual-innuendo laden song is a delight, as is Joe Hockey’s logic behind his budget (told through a song literally called Fuck ‘Em). It’s in these moments of imagination that Abbott! The Musical really comes to life; the problem is that they are few and far between.
The “quote” light, while initially a little funny and effective in a ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ sort of way, feels superfluous and ultimately a little distracting. After all, it’s hard to imagine that many people going to see this show would be unfamiliar with Abbott’s particular way with words.
The actors across the board are strong and have a lot of fun with the material, but often feel constrained by having to recreate Abbott’s most famous moments verbatim. Nicholas Conway makes for a suitably unsettling and off-putting Abbott, complete with plastered down hair and a fake nose. Daniel Murnane and Lisa Harper Campbell are great as the scheming power couple of Turnbull and Bishop. The same irreverent depictions aren’t really in evidence with Ellis Dolan’s Peter Dutton and Alister McMichael’s Joe Hockey, but both are strong actors who perform their songs with gusto.
Speaking of which, the songs are the highlight of Abbott! The Musical. Energetic and a lot of fun, they liven up proceedings considerably; the only issue is that in a couple of cases the drums and guitars drown out the lyrics, making it almost impossible to pay attention to what they’re saying. Still, the tunes are great, so it’s not the biggest problem in the world.
The polished songs and strong performances seem at odds with the otherwise slapped together feeling of the show. Lighting is perfunctory at best, the costumes don’t seem to fit properly and there’s not much set to speak of. This needn’t be a huge issue, but it doesn’t help distract from the patchy, rough script, which jerks along from moment to moment, never really feeling like a cohesive whole with anything in particular to say about Abbott’s brief and bizarre reign.
Abbott! The Musical certainly doesn’t lack entertainment value, and it has flashes of brilliance that illuminate the potential of this idea, but fun moments and great songs don’t cover the lack of depth and peculiar jerkiness of the script and story. Still, for a chance to have a laugh at the expense of our oddest Prime Minister, you could do worse than this show.