Presented by: City of Stonnington in association with Magnormos, Stella Entertainment & RL Productions
It’s always exciting to see an all too rare original Australian musical make its way out onto the stage for the first time. Numerous workshops and rewrites behind it, along with all the difficulties it takes to fund and produce a show, the newborn piece of art must stand on its merits against all the other musicals that have come before it, as for much of the audience all these growing pains are unknown.
For Director Tyran Parke and the creators of CROSSxROADS there is inherent goodwill from all of us music theatre fans who want to see home-grown work succeed. It’s evident that the team have poured a great deal of care and love into this production and the dedication is apparent on stage. This is far from a perfect piece of work, but the potential for something great is certainly here.
CROSSxROADS starts its story at a university graduation where overconfident graduate Rick (Stephen Mahy) boldly asks out uptight music major Amy (Alinta Chidzey), to join him and his mates in the traditional prank of painting a collegiate statue – a lark that goes awry. Shortly after, the various students find themselves travelling the world on voyages of youthful discovery, and Rick tracks down Amy to her flat her Berlin where she has gone to further her studies in music. This leads the pair to taking a romantic camping holiday in Turkey – one which seems to mean more to Amy than it does to Rick, as its some years after the trip that the estranged pair are reunited again, via a chance encounter at an art gallery back in Melbourne.
Despite their differences, there is always a flicker of passion between the couple, yet life conspires against them as their romance is a difficult one, affected by work, their friends, their family and other romantic partners who all go some way towards putting a twig in the spokes of their chances of getting together. Book writer Peter Fitzpatrick explores these issues through “sliding doors” moments, as they’re described in the show’s synopsis – the titular ‘crossroads’. Essentially a time loop mechanic is employed at various key moments in the story where we get to see the same scene play out three times, with the first two being ‘what if’ moments and the third being the actual result that the story moves on with. The first time this happens it’s completely confusing – why are we seeing the same thing over and over again? Has the Groundhog Day musical come early? But then the technique becomes familiar and it soon feels like an unnecessary gimmick.
‘Parallel Universe’ narratives are common enough nowadays that those who are familiar with the genre would also be quite aware of its conventions – that is, as each alternative scene plays out and then loops back on itself, something within the scene needs to change so as to create a different outcome – the whole basis of the concept of the film Sliding Doors; if only she’d caught that train, look how different things would have been. However, Fitzpatrick’s time looped scenes see his characters simply behave differently each time around without reason, meaning that they often behave in a manner that seems out of character, at least until the third, true reading of the scene plays out, making the preceding two scenes seem pointless. It’s possible this technique has been applied to bring significance to a love story that otherwise seems a bit inconsequential, but it’s not enough to enliven the plot the way this method could and frankly should.
Anthony Costanzo’s appealing score embraces the ‘sliding doors’ concept and makes its own attempts at creating parallels, with tracks such as ‘Paint the Town Green’ (when the kids go to paint the university statue) to ‘Paint the Town Red’ when Rick and Amy reunite at his artist girlfriend’s exhibition and end up spending the night together. Every number in Costanzo’s score is tuneful and easy on the ear, and with thanks to some expert assistance in the area of orchestrations from Musical Director David Wisken, they transition beautifully through scenes and dialogue. Though few of the numbers stick with you after you leave the theatre, ‘That’s my Shit’, a song thankfully not about faecal examination, is one of the most memorable tunes in the show, along with the comedy track ‘M.E.N.’ Lyrically, Costanzo’s work is a bit patchy, with some songs full of brisk, impactful and witty lines, while others are truly cringe inducing, such as ‘Eyeful of the Eiffel’ and the clichéd ‘always the bridesmaid’ theme of ‘Take Me Away’.
Despite, clichés abounding in both the script and libretto, the cast make the most of the material, often elevating corny lyrics and concepts to formidable planes. Stephen Mahy, as Rick, demonstrates this particularly well in his outstanding delivery of the familiar sounding ‘Yellow Brick Road’, giving the number every absolute ounce of his being. Rick is a difficult character to like, written to be egotistical and self-serving for the most part, yet Mahy has enough charisma to bring likability to the role and certainly creates great chemistry with his leading lady. Alinta Chidzey oozes warmth and charm as the straight-laced Amy, in a thoroughly appealing performance. Sounding pristinely melodic throughout all her numbers, Chidzey’s vocals are perfectly executed.
Supporting leads Fem Belling and Joe Kosky as Rick and Amy’s best friends Hannah and ‘Barrel’ give heartfelt, engaging performances and do an excellent job of the comedy heavy lifting. While the ensemble of four (Bianca Baykara, Edward Grey, Bronte Florian and Ryan Gonzalez) often take Costanzo’s score to greater heights through immaculate choral work. Each get their chance to excel in smaller roles and do so without exception. Baykara and Gonzalez also get a nice chance to shine in some contemporary choreography from Michael Ralph, whose work here otherwise is understated and functional.
The sets for CROSSxROADS are quite minimalist, in the form of a few boxes on castors and some ‘sliding doors’ terylene curtains – something that can be an absolute nightmare to light around, so it’s just as well that the Set and Lighting designers are one and the same team, Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen. While the curtains don’t always perfectly cover up performers in the way they’re intended to, on the whole this work is effectual and visually pleasing. Sound design from Marcello Lo Ricco does suffer from excessive reverb at times, but on the whole is expertly balanced.
So while there are a lot of reservations to be had over the story and structure of CROSSxROADS, there’s certainly a number of very admirable elements on display here, not the least of which are a cast that are putting their all behind it. Here’s hoping the show’s creators don’t rest on their laurels as the path to greater heights for their baby will no doubt be a long one that might call for a ‘rinse and repeat’ on the process already undertaken. With a bit more work, this confident “world premiere” could even be the first of many stagings, both here and dare I say it, overseas.
CROSSxROADS is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel www.chapeloffchapel.com.au