Leave your political correctness at the door when you step into the Alex Theatre for Butch Masters: Man of Destiny.
With jokes on sexuality, race, BDSM, gender, necrophilia – and others that probably went over my head – Butch Masters leaves the audience howling with laughter.
Pitched as ‘The New Rocky Horror’, it’s naughty, it’s brave and is unapologetic in its story. Based in a world where the population is overwhelmingly gay, it follows what it would be like to ‘come out’ as straight. Not only does it cover the social aspects, it also delves into what this means for fertility, as Bea St. Lea has made men’s part in procreation redundant with her sperm-extractor, ‘The Extracula’.
References to other musicals and pop culture are throughout – including flag waving from Les Miserables, mentions of the ‘Time Warp’ and similar story arch to The Rocky Horror Show and a line from Sound of Music sung – making it all the more enjoyable for the audience to pick up on these tidbits.
Despite a delayed start, the cast carries this story with ease and can handle any mishap that comes their way. Leading the cast is Butch Masters himself played by Mitch Ralston. His strong voice and comedic timing keeps the show fresh in a Book of Mormon style. Pussy Powers, Butch’s love interest, is played by Isabella Valette who flaunts her feminine sexuality in a refreshing way not often seen on stage. Valette delivers the role with a well-rounded voice and performance, letting Butch and Pussy make a formidable lead couple.
Under Dirk Hoult’s direction, the massive cast of 25 – a deliberate choice by the show’s creator Jamie Burgess – has a strength that is outstanding. As an ensemble in pieces like H.B.J the cast compliments each other wonderfully. Despite initial concerns the cast may make the relatively small stage seem crowded, they move seamlessly around and with each other, even delivering what could become their iconic dance number.
The Desperettes as FAG – Female Appreciation Guild – Hags, Hagisha (Tash York), Hagatha (Natasha Guzel) and Hagella (Belinda Hanne-Reid) are simply divine. Lead by the impressive Tash York, the trio have an extensive history together and their comfort with each other adds a lovely touch to these characters who keep the story moving and add dynamic vocals and choreography.
Bea St. Lea (Antony Steadman) draws similarities to We Will Rock You’s Killer Queen in her over the top command and presence. Cat Commander and Cariad Wallace play her minions, called Beavers. The two of them have impeccable comedic timing and humour, working together to deliver a hilarious duo. Randy, Bea St. Lea’s perfect man, is held captive for over a century for his seed and while the role isn’t on stage very long, Adrian LiDonni does the absolute most with his time on stage, garnering hearty laughter from the audience.
Dr Lucretia Smears is Butch’s single mother – another point of difference for Butch given everyone else has two dads or two mums – and delightfully takes the audience through the journey of a parent who loves their child unconditionally. Amanda Buckley carries this role with ease and humour, creating a relatable character for the audience.
The range of songs covers many genres and allows for characters to develop. Burgess has managed to keep a balanced humour in even the more serious songs, letting the audience always smile. It can be a tricky balance to meet, but the humour enhances each scene rather than detracting from the story.
The set changes are occasionally too long and clunky. With bulky set pieces being moved largely by ensemble members, it left a dimly lit stage for an uncomfortable amount of time. However, my plus one took to calling the set movers ‘set angels’ and didn’t mind their costumes, of lack thereof (let’s say it is cost-cutting?).
It’s important that cast members and those backstage in the wings realise where they can stand so audience members can’t see them. From time to time, cast members waiting to enter the stage could be seen waiting, but luckily this is an easy one to fix. Put a little marker on the floor to let everyone know to stay behind certain lines.
Otherwise, the movement on stage is well executed and employs a highly effective use of the space they have, even incorporating the raised side of stage areas at times.
While Daniel P Moulds’ sets are pleasant with gender-neutral but bright colours, they are simplistic for the largeness of the show. Understandably, this may come from a limited budget, however, the main set piece seemed to be quite delicate and difficult to move.
Jason Bovaird’s lighting is consistently brilliant. It adds atmosphere and mood without ever overpowering or detracting from what is happening on stage and in the story.
Sound is the area that could have the biggest improvement. From microphones making noises, backstage microphones being on and hearing ‘good luck’ before someone came on, and not being able to hear some lines over the music, there were a number of issues on opening night. These are all issues that can be fixed with more practice, so it’ll just be up from here and I look forward to Evan Drill delivering the sound mix he is looking for. The music is always at the right level and despite the sound issues, the cast members keep the show going.
Jason Teasdale’s choreography is always suited to the scene and adds humour where needed, but is always mindful not to outshine the cast or story.
Glitter, colour, leather and sequins would be the best four words to describe the majority of the show’s costumes, successfully pieced together by Colin McLean. Beige is clearly frowned upon in this gay world though, and these muted tones are effective in segregating Butch Masters after he joins the FAGs.
The performances in Butch Masters: Man of Destiny are consistently good. Stand out performances are by Justin Clausen as Trunch Luncheon, Liam J O’Byrne as Bradchad and Eden Swan as Mitzi. They each deliver their characters with humour and talent, leaving the audience in fits of laughter. Clausen nails his role’s flamboyance and vulnerability, with a familiarity to his character as if from Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. O’Byrne’s daggy and sassy delivery leaves the audience wanting more. Swan has one of the more controversial parts in the show, but succeeds with an incredible voice and intimidating stage presence.
Underneath the sequins and bright flashy colours though, the show holds a sincere message: to love yourself and others for who they are.
It’s a special thing witnessing the world premiere of an original Australian musical that is loved by the crowd. The unique set of circumstances surrounding Butch Masters and its creation have come together at the right time for Jamie Burgess and leaves audiences wondering when the show will tour, gain funding for fantastic sets and let us laugh at things we usually hold taboo.
Full of earworms, laughter and heart, Butch Masters: Man of Destiny is a must see for fun-loving theatregoers. Photo credit:
Butch Masters: Man of Destiny is playing at Alex Theatre St Kilda, Victoria from January 28 – 6 February. Remaining shows include Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th at 8pm.
Available through Ticketek: https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BUTCHMAS16
Pics courtesy of Dean Arcuri