Maggie McKenna and Madeleine Jones in STC's Muriel's Wedding The Musical. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti.
If the nine women clad in faux leopard print and feather boas, seated alongside me were anything to go by, Muriel’s Wedding is the next musical set to take over the world. It’s not game changing like Hamilton, or as edgy as The Book of Mormon, but by gosh it’s a whopper.
Muriel is a story for anyone who has ever felt ugly, outcast, downtrodden or hard done by, so automatically, a strong following seems likely. This is a classic Aussie tale of trading others’ misfortune to build one’s own self-worth. The truth is ugly, but it’s still the truth.
Muriel’s Wedding as a movie was big, but the musical will pin you to the floor and tickle you until you scream for mercy from the sweet hilarity. It’s brash, it’s in your face and is full of characters, lines, puns and tunes that will undoubtedly be compared to every musical you see in the future, and Muriel will win most times. This is a musical for the masses. It’s cheeky, crass and colourful in every sense.
It’s not perfect, but given this is its world premier season, it will be tweaked and condensed until it damn near is. The movie was of course heartfelt and quirky, but painted a merciless picture of provincial Australian society, and had heavy melancholic undertones. Muriel’s Wedding The Musical deals with the story’s substance, but essentially ‘Hollywoodises’ the outcomes, as is the general law of the musical.
Australia’s own alternative pop rock princess Kate Miller-Heidke and fellow band member and husband Keir Nuttall have created a superb soundtrack that sits comfortably within PJ Hogan’s updated screenplay. Tracks are heavily reminiscent of Miller-Heidke’s back catalogue, which is actually perfect as they have always been highly theatrical by nature, so bringing their music to the stage seems a natural progression. The songs get more confident as the story goes on, and there are two or three tunes bound to become future staples at talent shows and dance recitals Australia wide.
Gabriela Tylesova, NIDA trained set and costume designer, has outdone herself in this production. Porpoise Spit, Hibiscus Island and Sydney are stylised to perfection to highlight the bizarre elements of middle class Australian life in all its overtly colourful glory. While true movie aficionados may be upset that iconic elements of costume and place setting have been adapted to bring the story into modern times, the pointed sense of fun and sheer horrendousness of both fashion and physical surroundings/architecture remains, and is celebrated.
A long time ABBA hater, I must admit to having forgotten the prevalence of the Swedish troupe throughout the original storyline, but the clever use of what can only be described as ‘ABBAritions’ won me over, completely. Taking on almost Fairy Godmother-like duties, they do far more than simply comfort Muriel’s character with their dulcet tones, and the four of them steal the show in several moments.
It seems like an opportunity was missed to bring one or two of the famous faces that graced the film to the stage version; nonetheless this casting cannot be faulted.
Drawcards Gary Sweet and Justine Clarke play the difficult parts of Bill and Betty Heslop solidly. Madeleine Jones as Muriel’s saucy bestie Rhonda is a joy to watch, and from now on whatever show she is in I would travel to hear her incredible voice. Mean girl ringleader Tania Degano is perfectly revolting, and Christie Whelan Browne plays this and every other bitchy character beyond perfectly.
New kid on the block Maggie McKenna as Muriel is nothing short of magical. At just 21, McKenna has the unfathomable job of stepping in to the shoes of one of Australia’s greats, and in short, she nails it. From the moment she is thrust onstage and the audience bears witness to the first awkwardly excited look that Muriel is so well known for, our hearts are won and McKenna is now the only Muriel we care about.
In its current format Muriel’s Wedding remains 20 minutes too long to be embraced completely by the masses; there’s a nagging sense of extraneous material. The ending was abrupt, and there is yet to be one song that shines through the others and becomes the obvious showstopper, but this does not distract from the brilliance and fun of the rest of the show.
Muriel’s Wedding is a seamlessly updated and playful version of an Aussie favourite. Battlers and besties across the world will be clamouring to see a show where friendship wins at every turn, as does the misfit, and there is nothing we love more.
4 ½ stars
Muriel’s Wedding The Musical
A Sydney Theatre Company production
Original Writer & Director of the Movie; Book of Muriel's Wedding The Musical: PJ Hogan
Music & Lyrics: Kate Miller-Heidke
Music & Lyrics: Keir Nuttall
Director: Simon Phillips
Choreographer: Andrew Hallsworth
Set & Costume Designer: Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest
Sound Designer: Michael Waters
Orchestrations, Arrangements and Additional Music: Isaac Hayward
Music Supervisor: Guy Simpson
Musical Director: Isaac Hayward
Video Designer: David Bergman
Cast: Annie Aitken, Prue Bell, Ben Bennett, Kaeng Chan, Briallen Clarke, Justine Clarke, Hilary Cole, Tony Cogin, Helen Dallimore, Dave Eastgate, Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Jaime Hadwen, Sheridan Harbridge, Mark Hill, Madeleine Jones, Caroline Kaspar, Adrian Li Donni, Luigi Lucente, Stephen Madsen, Maggie McKenna, Kenneth Moraleda, Laura Murphy, David Ouch, Tom Sharah, Connor Sweeney, Gary Sweet, Aaron Tsindos, Michael Whalley and Christie Whelan Browne
Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
6 November 2017 – 27 January 2018