I first reviewed Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life when it came to Melbourne two years ago. What I discovered was a beautiful new musical that laid bare the reality of being a wife and mother these days as women try to achieve it all, but with the right balance of hilarity and warmth. At the time, I said, “This show is a true gem.” Indeed it is and the musical has now proven to be an international success.
Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life started as a cabaret show at the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Festival. Applauded by critics, the show was extended further into a full scale musical. In June 2012 the musical was nominated for best professional musical in the Adelaide Theatre Guide Awards. It was selected as one of just 30 worldwide shows to be performed by Broadway performers as part of the New York Music Theatre Festival. It was then performed at the UN Headquarters in New York and as a concert version at New York’s 54 Below. Earlier this year a full commercial production opened in Norway under the title of Det Perfekte Liv (The Perfect Life). It is now in the final stretches of a tour through Australia.
Written by Amity Dry, Mother Wife and the Complicated Life explores the lives of four friends, each at different stages of the marriage and motherhood journey. Kate (Amity Dry) is an ambitious career woman in total control of her life until she discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant to her boyfriend of just six months. Bec (Nikki Aitken) is the opposite extreme. Bec is a stay at home mum of three young children all under the age of three, willing to do whatever it takes for some quiet time and sleep. Jessie (Rachel McCall) is the young idealist who dreams of the perfect wedding and of course with no children or her own, knows everything there is to being the perfect mother. The final member of the group is Lily (Susan Ferguson). Lily, it seems, lives the perfect life. She is married, runs a successful business and has two growing children. Lily seems to be the solid rock in the group – always there with the right words of advice and encouragement and nothing to complain about it … and then it all begins to crumble; to the shock of her friends. The cast members have an obvious chemistry between them, giving a strong but balanced performance; each having their moments within the show to really shine.
This beautifully written musical explores the reality of marriage and motherhood. Dry wrote much of the story while pregnant or breastfeeding her second child and this authenticity really comes through in the story line. Where Dry has succeeded is in writing an endearing story that moves between lighter and darker moments seamlessly. The contrast of styles from one moment to the next helps to unpack the story further. The hilarious song ‘Baby Come To Bed’ by Jessie and Bec about their vastly different sex lives – with Jessie wanting to ramp it up and keep the honeymoon alive, while Bec just wanting it over and get a good night’s sleep – was immediately followed by the marriage strife facing Lily as her perfect life began to fall apart. It prompts the thought of “how do couples start out in a marriage like Jessie and end up like Lily?” – with Bec providing some of the answer. There is a lot to consider in this story but much of it subtle and this allows the audience to determine their own depth of pondering and reflection on an issue. It is certainly worth seeing again to really unpack the depth in the story line beyond the obvious entertainment. Not surprisingly, in Adelaide where the show first originated Mother, Wife and the Complicated Wife has a very loyal fan base of women who have seen this show many times.
It was interesting to review this show again after its recent overseas success and see just how the show has evolved and developed in that time. The most obvious change to the show is the addition of more dialogue which helps with the character development and storytelling. Songs have been edited and refined and there is a new number to open the show. What impressed me the most in all the changes to this musical was the new closing number. ‘What Is Perfect’ beautifully sums up the show – adding some touching sentiment to the reality that being a mother and wife is not an easy juggle but it is worth the effort. There are some very powerful and thought-provoking lyrics through this musical but particularly in this final song. In ‘What Is Perfect’, Dry has now found the perfect ending for her debut musical.
This is a show that will strike a chord with a wide range of age groups, but it’s not simply about the entertainment factor. There was a lot of laughter and a even a few tears, but what makes this musical so special is the sisterhood within the audience. It’s not simply about laughing at a funny moment in the story, but the identification with something in real-life that the audience can truly relate to and the turning to each other with a laugh and nod that says, “I can so relate to that.”
Dry has written a story that most women will be able to readily identify with. The story is real. It aims to take away the sugar coating of marriage and motherhood, but still leave the audience with the very real sense that despite all these challenges it is worth it in the end. There is a sense of hope but not necessarily resolution.
Director David Lampard has delivered a show that carefully balances hilarity with poignancy. The funnier moments are appropriately over-the-top, while the darker moments are handled with tenderness and sincerity. Amity Dry’s performance of ‘The Day I Was Chosen’ is just beautiful and will tug on many a mother’s heartstrings.
David Lampard has designed a very clever set of surprisingly high production quality, which also includes a considerable part of the lighting. The lighting design (Daniel Barber) is effective in creating the appropriate mood and helps to establish the scene. The cast capably move the set resulting in a very smooth show that transitions easily from one scene to the next.
Lyrics are written by Amity Dry, with music written by both Dry and Mark Simeon Ferguson, who is also the musical director for the show. The music is wonderfully written and arranged with crisp, melodic and intricate four part harmonies. A diverse range of songs certainly showcase the vocal range and skills of the four performers. It is definitely worth purchasing the cast recording to really appreciate the truly beautiful songs and depth of the lyrics within this musical.
Women will come away from this show with different feelings dependent on their own journey of marriage and motherhood, some will have a good laugh, some will shed some tears and many will do both. It will cause some to reflect on what went wrong, and others to celebrate the journey they’ve survived and what they’ve achieved.
Mother Wife and the Complicated Life is a musical that Australia should be proud to claim as being home-grown, that has also succeeded on the international stage and Amity Dry has proven to be a truly talented composer, writer and performer. Let’s hope there’s much more to come.
Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel before the final stages of its tour. Don’t miss it.
For tickets to the Melbourne season: http://www.chapeloffchapel.com.au/
For more information: http://www.motherwifemusical.com/Home.html