It’s Karla’s 50th birthday and she’s just been dumped by her violin-playing boyfriend, Brian, who has left Karla for the more musical Kylie, the cellist who couldn’t keep her legs crossed. Inspired by Helen Garner’s book, ‘Everywhere I Look’, Karla buys a ukulele and joins a dating site, and soon learns that love and ukulele have a lot in common.

Karla is the central character of Uked! a new musical, written by Jane Cafarella. It’s a funny and poignant story about an eccentric and vulnerable middle-aged woman who is seeking to find her place in a changing world.

Jane Cafarella is a former journalist whose plays have been performed both nationally and internationally, including in the UK, USA and Singapore, and have even been translated into Turkish and Tamil.

Her play e-baby opened to rave reviews in 2015 at Chapel Off Chapel and has had a production every year ever since, with another already planned in the UK next year. Its companion play d-baby was a finalist in the 2018 New Works of Merit International Playwriting Competition and is published by Australian Plays.

Cafarella’s latest work, Uked! was inspired by the writer’s own ukulele journey.

“In 2012, I moved to Singapore with my husband for his work. However, I was affected by the humidity and kept getting sick, so I had to spend most of my days indoors in our apartment, which was known to my friends as The Fridge. While in the Fridge, I wrote plays and took up the ukulele, learning on YouTube, just like Karla,” explained Cafarella.

“Eventually, I took some classes – me and all the other eight-year-olds – and when I returned to live in Castlemaine, I joined some clubs. There I discovered how powerful the humble ukulele is in helping communities connect and encouraging people to reclaim the musicality. So I wrote a show about it.”

I asked Jane Cafarella why she thinks this ukuleles have become a very popular in recent years.

“You mean how come everyone’s getting Uked!? Here’s my theory. Everything today is a competition – including music. We sit back and watch “experts” tear aspiring singers and musicians to shreds as they compete with each other on TV, which makes making music look like something only the experts should or can do. But this changes when people pick up a ukulele. You see them light up when they realise they, too, can make music. You can play most songs on it with just three or four chords, and some with only one or two. It sounds sweet – even when you play a bum note – it’s small, portable and easy and fun to play and sing with – alone or with others – which is good for the soul. Combine this sense of mastery with a sense of community, and you have a winner,” explained Cafarella.

When Jane Cafarella told people about the show she was writing, they responded with comments such as, “I know a Karla” or “That’s me!”. Some also asked of they could be in the show.

“So I thought, why not? Musical theatre fans often have to suppress the urge to sing along – but in this show, it’s encouraged,” said Cafarella.

The audience follow Karla through her dating journey and learning to play her ukulele – and this is where the audience can choose to participate! Pre-registered ukulele players will even get a discounted ticket to the show. (Email: [email protected])

“As she learns a song, it is projected on the screen and the audience can play and sing-along if they choose,” explained Jane Cafarella.

“The show features songs that are popular with ukulele groups all over Melbourne, plus one original – ‘The Kooky Ukey Song’ – our theme song. The songs cover a broad range of styles, and are cleverly stitched together to tell Karla’s story,” said Cafarella.

However, there is a more serious element to the musical.

“You you don’t have to be a ukulele fan or player to enjoy the show. It’s also a serious piece of theatre with a very timely and relevant story. Uked! addresses themes of loneliness, isolation and social change in an entertaining and innovative way,” said Cafarella.

Karla is played by Rebecca Morton, from Castlemaine. Morton is well known to Melbourne musical theatre audiences, but now adds playing ukulele to her skill set, as she has learnt the instrument for the role. And Pete Gavin, a popular Bendigo performer and real life ukulele teacher, is playing all Karla’s YouTube teachers and dating interests. With cameo appearances from Guildford’s Tex and Fi Chant, who also play drums and ukulele in the band, and local musicians Nicolas Lyon and Rae Moran also playing ukulele in the band, it’s a truly local affair.

Uked! will have it’s premiere in Guildford – just a 10 minute scenic drive from the historic gold-fields town of Castlemaine, an hour and a half from Melbourne and 50 minutes from Bendigo.

“Guildford is best known for the Guildford Family Hotel, (aka The Guillie), which hosts many music events each weekend, and is fast becoming a ukulele hub. The licensee, Alan Joyce, is a huge supporter of local music, and the pub is also the home of the Guilly Uke Group run by Fi Chant, which meets there every Wednesday at 4pm, and at the Stables behind the General Store on Thursdays. For the past 15 years, the Guillie has hosted the hugely popular annual Guildford Banjo Jamboree, with events also held at the Public Hall, the Stables, and the Music Hall. The Music Hall, next to the pub, where our show will premiere, was built around 1863 – with a stable for 50 horses and a long room fitted out as a theatre.”

“There are many cafes, wineries, art galleries, bars and bed and breakfasts in the area that make it a mecca for tourists every weekend. There are several great B & Bs very close to the hall, including Tara and Celestine House,” said Cafarella.

The premiere at Guildford is just the start for Uked!

“We are planning to tour, starting with one show at the Newham Mechanics Institute in Macedon on August 24. The ultimate plan is to licence the play to local theatre and ukulele groups to perform themselves, as it is suitable for large casts. I’m hoping uke groups can use it as a local fund-raiser,” Caferella explained.

Uked! is a two act musical with a run time of close to two hours. Patrons can arrive early for a meal at the Guildford Hotel before the show, and even purchase Uked! Merchandise.

“You can buy a Uked! t-shirt, badge or a sticker for your gig bag! Get Uked! now!”

This “kooky ukey love story” opens on June 20th in Guildford.

Uked! will appeal to theatre lovers, musical theatre lovers, passionate ukulele players and anyone seeking to escape the misery of the news and have an uplifting and affirming experience. It’s an original and relatable love story that explores timely themes of ageing, loneliness and social isolation in an innovative and fun way.

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