The young and up-and-coming musical theatre authors of tomorrow are rising high and fast, and, for better or for worse, the days of yore are on their way out. Theatre People saw three original Australian shows recently, all differing in their styles, strengths and weaknesses, and found that they are particularly telling of how the pioneering nature of our home-grown talent is shining through, destined to shape the future of our creative and cultural landscape.
Firstly, we saw The Essence of Passion, a fully-realised, professional workshop of a complete musical, clearly the lovechild of its writer and star, Bernadette Mirabelli. The Essence of Passion attempted to take the intertwining lives of three twenty-somethings, all somehow stuck in their own ways, and shake them up with an injected sense of passion. Of course, there are always high hopes for home-made, original musical theatre, because there never seems to be enough of it; so when there is some, it’s rather exciting. Unfortunately, though, Passion fell a bit flat. The show’s confused concept and flatly-written characters, together with the bland storyline and mediocre songs, resulted in a lacklustre piece of musical theatre. Which was a shame. There was a great element of talent present, and the show had some great production elements and the obvious dedication of many, which often shone brightly through Passion's cracks. Moments with the two central women in particular were at times very funny and poignant, and their songs were too, most of the time. However, the whole piece was anchored in its tired apex of origin. The creative and conceptual flaws, as well as some strange song and performance choices by the character of the embodiment of Passion, ruined the potential of The Essence of Passion. It needed more – ironically enough – passion.
Above: One of the aforementioned scenes in which the female stars of The Essence of Passion connect with the audience. (x)
Secondly, we saw Tres Mis, a musical sketch comedy. This popular fringe show by Seemingly Evil Productions (also behind the other popular fringe festival sketch comedy show Office Party) was a musical comedy parody of, of course, Les Miserables. It seems such an obvious concept, but perhaps the Seemingly Evil crew were the only ones who had the guts to go through with such a task. And boy did it pay off. The fresh, tongue-in-cheek, sketch-like comedy that drove the show had the audience in roarous throes of hilarity. The lyrics of the iconic Les Mis score were creatively re-written to great comedic effect – think “on my own, pretending he’s inside me”-level wrong-but-so-right-ness. The vocal abilities of the cast were impressive, too, particularly for a comedy sketch-focused show, and their honed comedic timing and cartoonish facial expressions gave the performance a definitive style. The amount of talent available in the pool of enthusiastic, passion-filled youth in this country is bursting through every creative pore imaginable, and the Seemingly Evil crew have it in droves. Tres Mis has enjoyed sold-out runs at the Comedy and Fringe festivals.
Above: A promotional image of the Seemingly Evil team during their production of Tres Mis. (x)
Lastly, we saw Hook Up, a self-described “mini musical”. The cast were thrown into various complicated relationship situations through song, resulting in funny, catchy, understated musical theatre. Hedger & Nicholson’s Hook Up is possibly foreboding of the future of musical theatre in this country – hopefully, in ten years (even more hopefully, less than that), we will be seeing fully-realised, professional productions at a major theatre by these two. The catchy, well-written, well thought-out and well-performed songs, as well as the on-point comedy, truly inspires something in its audience. Hook Up inspires a hope for the future of musical theatre from an increasingly apathetic Australian and worldwide public. Traditional musical theatre campness is blended seamlessly with sketch comedy and great songwriting in this wonderful thearical experience. With a bit of time, and a lot of hard work, the artists behind Hook Up could become brilliant storytellers with soaring songs, wordy witticisms, and elegantly creative concepts. It was fourth-wall-breaking and daring; two things that the emerging musical theatre audiences often need a good dollop of in order to swallow a dose of musical theatre. The themes, perhaps a bit too obsessed with relevancy, need not be so self-consciously angst-ridden – the harrowing and confusing experiences of love and relationships have been experienced by every generation before our own. Sometimes it’s hard to see past one’s own generation to learn that every era has shared many of its own isolating burdens, but it’s definitely not a bad thing to be attuned intensely to this generation. This is musical theatre written by the young for the young, which is seldom witnessed in fully professional productions here or abroad. We need more musicals like this.
Above: A promotional image of the cast of Hedger & Nicholson's Hook Up. (x)
The Essence of Passion had everything that Tres Mis and Hook Up didn’t. Money, space, resources, literal professionalism… But the modest fringe shows Tres Mis and Hook Up had many things that Passion didn’t. Hook Up even had a quite similar premise to Passion, but it was taken in a completely different direction to completely different effect. The future of the Australian musical is in the control of the truly passionate, fresh-faced artists of today, in tune with their world and striving to shape its future. New Australian productions, with the right attitude, youthful outlook, cynical and aware comedy, finely attuned to its time, place, and medium, are to breathe life into a frequently tired and stale environment. Funny songs and moving characters that today’s audiences know and recognise can be our voices for the coming age; an age we, with trepidation and excitement, positivity and irony, will attempt to forge. The new voice of musical theatre in this country is young, and uniquely Australian – and the emerging voice for this country’s youth is in the subversive, endearing, edgy, and youthful art of musical theatre.