Home-grown writers Trevor and Laura Thomas have constructed an all new Australia musical titled Decoration Day. Featuring a fresh book and twenty original songs, the show is centred around a British teenager, Sarah (played by Shelley Dunlop), who migrates to America after World War Two. Attempting to fit in and adapt to a new way of life, she becomes quite intrigued by the culture that America post the war. She notes that the American culture involves celebrating the war and those who served, hence the presence of Decoration Day within their calendar. As someone that has experienced the war first hand, Sarah begins to feel excluded from the society. It is only through her relationship with American teen Paul (played by Jye Cannon) that she is able to find solace within this place of unfamiliarity.
The book, written by Laura Thomas was ambitious, but lacked focus. This resulted in the audience becoming confused at what they are supposed to follow. Most sub-plots were rushed and too briefly touched upon.
The music was definitely catchy and tuneful. The lyrics offered great depth and exploration into the motivations of the characters, particularly in the Act 2. Stylistically, there was an inconsistency between the score and the era it was trying to represent. While some songs did indeed exude the 1940s sensibility, others did not, as they brought a more modern feel, which was completely wrong for the context of the show.
Direction by Laura Thomas was intelligent. With better pacing, the show would have flowed with more speed and energy. The limited attention to the pacing translated into the audience becoming less inclined to follow along and pay attention to the story.
For the most part, the band was very together, with no tuning issues to be apparent. However, the positioning of the band on the stage was highly distracting, particularly with band members talking and giggling throughout the show.
Choreography by Felicity Bender was sharp and structured, allowing the dancing to be an effortless extension of the story-telling. Her work particularly with the 1940s Bandstand numbers infused an exciting energy into the narrative.
Shelley Dunlop portrayed the innocent, shy Sarah with sincerity and warmth. She also sang the challenging, rangy score with great efficiency. However, more depth could have been found with the character if Dunlop had brought a less frenetic energy, as it would have allowed for more ease and nuance within her performance.
Jye Cannon handled the difficult score with assurance, but his portrayal of Paul seemed dramatically very one-dimensional. in most scenes, it was apparent that the character did not have a clear objective. Consequently, this left the audience slightly confused by his presence within the story. The limited depth also disabled Cannon from fully transforming into the character.
Other memorable performances included Tayla Muir as the ambitious, free-thinking Joan. Muir possessed a strong stage presence, as well as a powerful set of pipes. Dylan Masurek also stood out as the nerdy Thomas. Mazurek’s strong comedic timing made the audience become completely enamoured with this lovesick, endearing teen.
In all, Decoration Day demonstrated the potential of Australia in developing new original music theatre. Let’s hope this is only the beginning and not the last.