“This could be the next Mamma Mia!”
“This should go to the West End!”
“This should play off Broadway, there’s an audience for this!”
These are all the comments writer/composer/performer Amity Dry has been told about her musical Mother Wife and the Complicated Life. They’re huge statements about a musical that first premiered in Adelaide five years ago. After further Adelaide seasons, the show then toured to Melbourne and Sydney to rave reviews.
In 2013, Mother Wife and the Complicated Life was selected to be be performed for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. During her time in New York, Dry was asked if she’d ever produced a show in New York. Produced a show? She’d never even visited New York until this moment!
“It was wonderful and challenging at the same time,” says Dry of this New York production.
The biggest challenge was being there only as the writer of the show and having to watch someone else perform her role, explaining, “It was like watching someone learn to walk or talk. I wanted to say this is how you do it, this is how you hit that note and how you get those laughs.”
Following on from this New York success, the musical was performed at the UN Headquarters as a side event to the Commission for Status of Women Conference in 2014. A concert version was also performed at the renowned New York venue 54 Below.
In January this year, the show had its European debut with a successful large scale production in Norway, where it was titled The Perfect Life. The Norwegian set was a fully functioning cafe: patrons could go on to the stage and order a coffee or a champagne from the “cafe” before the show or during interval – very much like the set of Once with its bar.
Sitting in the audience in Norway, Dry experienced a full scale, large budget production of her musical in a large theatre – something she could only ever dream of in Australia. She admits it was somewhat frustrating to have to travel to the other side of the world to experience her own musical done on such a grand scale.
The other difference in Norway was the media interest. Interviews with newspaper journalists were about women, motherhood and feminism. They were interested in the show and in her as a writer. In Australia, media attention still tends to be fixated on the reality television show The Block.
Amity Dry admits she never imagined all of this would have been possible when she first wrote the musical and she refers to is as being a “beautiful and amazing ride”. She also knows how hard she has worked personally to invest in this show and the challenge of producing musical theatre in Australia.
Dry didn’t need to go overseas to know her musical was a success. The response from audiences is enough to know this is a winner. Women will come up to her after the show, in tears, and say, “I thought I was the only one.”
Mother Wife and the Complicated Life is like a sisterhood of audience experience. Women laugh and cry together and it makes for a fabulous girls night out. Dry sat in the audience in Norway and it was the first time she had really watched the show properly. It was a very carthatic experience and Dry witnessed first hand the incredible engagement with the show by the audience, right from the very start.
However, it’s not just a show for women. There are men that come to the show – usually dads, husbands, boyfriends who arrive with a look of, “Kill me now, why am I here, how did I get dragged here?” Her husband, Phil, will often see them arrive in the theatre and will always try to say hello and make them feel more comfortable. By interval they are saying they’re “enjoying it”, but by the end they comment how much they really loved it.
One man even said, “I learnt more about my wife in that 2 hour show than in the 20 years I’ve been married to her!”
Now, five years after its debut, the original cast have reunited for a tour of Mother Wife and the Complicated Life. A lot has changed for the cast in the past five years. One of the cast was not a mother when the show first opened – she now has two children. One is now living in London – but has returned to reprise her role. It’s clear this show is very dear to them all.
There has also been a few changes to the show since it last appeared in Australia. There is a new opening and a new closing number. While nothing has been taken out, there have been a number of edits to songs, some additional dialogue, new funny moments added and changes through the script to refine it even further. It’s now at its best according to Dry.
A tour means these four women are living their own “complicated life” – juggling family needs with the commitments of a touring show. Dry says it takes a huge amount of support from their husbands and parents. As well as producing and performing in this tour, being a wife and raising two children, Dry is also the site manager and designer of a house they are building – and if that wasn’t enough she is also in the process of writing her second musical! While she regards the success of Mother Wife and the Complicated Life as a “happy accident” she is now aware just what is ahead of her when writing a second musical, which makes the process considerably harder. She knows the hard work involved, the steps to take, the challenge of getting support, the financial costs …
For now, Amity Dry is just enjoying the success of Mother Wife and the Complicated Life and the knowledge that what she has created is a beautiful musical full of laughter and tears about everyday life we can all relate to.
For tour details: http://www.motherwifemusical.com
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