Standing on the stage at the majestic Princess Theatre in Melbourne is a daunting experience. It looks like the seats are going to eat you. The cast of Strange Bedfellows – A New Musical don't seem to notice this, though, as they gather on stage for the first time to face the media. Peter Cousens, John Wood, Lucy Durack and Melissa Langton are relaxed and excited about the premiere later this year.
Dean Murphy (director/writer of the 2004 film, and book writer on the musical) says the film "always felt like a musical", and "there were moments where it felt like the characters should break into a song". The musical idea was suggested to Murphy while the film was being made by Pete Postlethwaite, who wanted to star in it on the Westend with Bob Hoskins. So over the last seven years, creatives and cast have been assembled to bring this show to the stage. Murphy, along with lyricist Jon Stephens set to work on the book. They then sent a selection of songs to various composers to see how their interpretation of the show would sit with their vision. According to producer Spencer McLaren, one composer's songs stood far and above the others, and that composer was John Foreman. Foreman has from all accounts written an astonishing score, with music that "lives within the book" (Cousens). Lucy Durack, who is joining the cast after a reworking of the Collette Mann character from the Albury season, says that she would have signed on without hearing the music, just knowing the Foreman was involved. Whilst this interview is taking place there is a small band in the background going through music from the show for a rehearsal later in the day with Musical Director Kellie Dickerson, and I walked out humming the tunes. So I guess it has passed the first test.
In bringing this show to our Melbourne stage, producers took the interesting and unusual step of trying Strange Bedfellows out in Albury (close to the show's Yackandandah setting) for a short season last year. The cast reflect on this fondly, with Melissa Langton telling of the hastily erected dressing rooms (shipping containers according to Peter Cousins, and site offices according to John Wood), and having to trek through rain to get to the stage. "I went on stage one night with wet stockings up to my knees!" says Langton. The season in Albury was performed in "a beautiful old cinema" (Langton) which was specially modified and renovated to accommodate the sets and requirements of a production of this scale.
The overwhelming feeling you get from the cast is that they are passionate and committed to Strange Bedfellows. Wood speaks of a "really simple story, really well told", and Cousens "[has] never been in something where we had to stop, and wait for the audience to stop laughing". It's an ordinary story, without the dressing up, and the spectacle that you may expect from a story such as this. At it's core, according to Wood, it's a story about "mates, who will never be gay, finding out they love each other, and have all their lives". That is the overall feeling one gets from this team; they are here to tell a story. Durack says (and I paraphrase) that is refreshing to work on a production where there are no benchmarks and no overseas creatives coming in to tell you it has to be done a certain way. It is this reporter's hope that audiences will find that refreshing as well.
With rehearsals starting early September, it is clear Melbourne audiences have something special to look forward to with Strange Bedfellows – A New Musical. I guess the only thing to do now is keep an eye on Broadway for I Now Pronounce you Chuck & Larry – The Musical……….