It is quite common for musicals, plays and works designed specifically for live theatre, to be reimagined for film or the small screen. In recent years, however, there has been a rising trend to do the reverse. That is, by taking existing motion pictures and television shows, and transposing them for the stage.
Such examples include The Addams Family, The SpongeBob Musical, A Very Brady Musical, and Gilligan’s Island – The Musical.
Decades before reality television phenomena like Survivor and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here dominated the airwaves, Gilligan’s Island was one of the first prime-time efforts set outside the traditional family home or the office. Like Daniel Dafoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe, the series also took place on an unchartered desert island.
Its open-ended premise saw seven unlikely shipwreck survivors of varying wealth and social standings, doing their best to handle the daily obstacles thrown at them. Meanwhile, each episode centred around their countless and yes, failed, attempts to be rescued.
The popular situation comedy ran for three seasons from 1964 to 1966, or ninety – eight episodes in total. But that’s not all.
Gilligan’s Island also spawned three feature-length specials, (Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways On Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island) as well as a pair of animated cartoons (The New Adventures Of Gilligan and Gilligan’s Planet).
Thanks to constant reruns and repeats, Gilligan’s Island’s global reach has increased with every new generation of television viewership.
In this latest iteration, Gilligan’s Island – The Musical, is unusual in that its book was co-authored by the TV show’s founding creator, Sherwood Schwartz. Teaming up with his son, Lloyd J. Schwartz, together, they have written a brand new piece which will satisfy and delight devoted fans and followers alike. Meaning, they not only keep alive the original sitcom’s quirky charm, the pair expand on and update that appeal with modern pop cultural references, an adult sensibility, and gentle self-parody.
Will the castaways make their escape back to civilization? You’ll have to attend in person to find out.
James Cutler directs with energetic pace, and a keen, knowing sense of fun. Xavier McGettigan’s musical direction, Jayla McLennan’s assistant musical direction and Kai Mann-Robertson’s choreography, all combine to give the lively production numbers emotional depth and comic purpose.
Excellent physical casting is matched by the seven-strong acting team’s focused understanding of their individual journeys and shared geographical plight.
Riley Nottingham (as Gilligan), Sam Marzden (as the Skipper), Joshua Monaghan (as Thurston), Lauren Jimmieson (as Lovey), Alexia Brinsley (as Ginger), Kaya Byrne (as the Professor), and Molly Fisher (as Mary Ann), are an accomplished group of rising triple threats, working their magic together as a team.
In the title role, Nottingham has a special gift for physical comedy, Byrne’s Professor would give MacGyver a run for his money, and Brinsley injects her bombshell movie star, with moments of unexpected and hilarious gravitas. Fisher is appropriately sweet as Mary Ann, Marzden is goofy and bumbling as the Skipper, and as Mr and Mrs Howell, Monaghan and Jimmieson nail the pair’s upper – class entitlement.
Without giving too much away, a special guest appearance late in the piece, hands the final outcome wicked political ammunition as well.
(It should also be noted that Frank Kerr and Belinda Jenkin are listed as swing / ensemble cast members.)
Gilligan’s Island – The Musical is structured like a revue within a show. For example, as patrons enter the auditorium and locate their seats, cast members mingle with the audience and each other. That spontaneous, madcap energy is maintained for the entire ninety-minute, two act running-time.
Furthermore, all of the performers are given moments to shine and play off one another. Like the series, the musical takes full advantage of its potential for romantic pairings and interludes, too.
Neatly intertwined into the engaging plot, Gilligan’s Island – The Musical features more than twenty original songs. With words and music by Hope and Laurence Juber, each tune skilfully drives character development, as well as the show’s multiple narrative arcs.
Some of the many musical stand-outs include the ensemble piece, ‘Though Winds May Blow’ (which has strong allusions to ‘Bring Him Home’ from Boublil’s & Schönberg’s Les Miserables), ‘The Professor’s Lament’ (similar to the tongue-twisting patter song, ‘I am the very model of a modern Major – General’ from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance), and of course, the familiar title number, ‘The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island’, which bookends the show.
Adam Powers’ static, raised set is enhanced with a solid collection of props and other devices. Exuding a legitimate indoor/outdoor feel, his work also has painstaking attention to detail. Drawing on the original series for inspiration, everything has been cleverly constructed to reflect the show’s tropical point of view. Meaning, Powers’ vision implies that the castaways themselves have build each piece by hand.
Bold and colourful, pitch-perfect costume design by Jodi Hope informs and supports each character’s motivation. Hope also gives her extensive collection, particularly for Ginger, Thurston and Lovey, a cheeky sense of irony. Though it was never directly addressed in either the series or the musical, how many clothing changes does one really pack for a three-hour boat ride?
Neatly positioned under the stadium-style seating, the five-strong band is led by McGettigan on reeds, with Peter Nguyen on piano, Caleb Garkinkel on guitar, Garrick Van Der Schoot on bass guitar, and William Conway on drums.
Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco creates solid balance between the cast and the backing musicians.
Rob Sowinski’s sharp lighting design is integral to the show’s overall mood, while Jayson Fry’s production and stage management keeps the action fluid and seamless at all times.
Produced by Humdrum Comedy & Left Bauer Productions (in association with The Yarraville Club), Gilligan’s Island – The Musical provides excellent value as a live entertainment option.
Playing until March 4 at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran, it is one of the surprise highlights of this or any season. Catch it while you can.