I'm with Muriel. A review of MURIEL'S WEDDING at QPAC
Directed by Simon Phillips, with an irresistibly catchy soundtrack by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, Muriel's Wedding's is a new Australian musical that will no doubt be playing in theatres for years to come.
A co-production with Sydney Theatre Company and Global Creatures, writer PJ Hogan has made some slight little tweaks to make the story more modern, extending Muriel's character arc. Not only does she just want to be a bride, but she wants to be an insta-famous, a goal literally projected on stage, with each new ridiculous and almost grotesque, selfies that she posts. However, the best addition was including the Nordic Four, ABBA as characters conjured up in Muriel's head. Featuring Jaimes Hadwen as Agnetha, Evan Lever as Benny, Maxwell Simon as Björn and Laura Bunting as Anni-Frid, they're what I imagine a Greek chorus would have been like and pop in and out of the narrative whenever Muriel is seeking advice, which is quite regularly. They add another flavor of humour to the already hilarious script with their exaggerated Swedish accents and their sparkly picturesque white jumpsuits and platform heals. They looked the part, they sounded the part and I only wish they would have been on stage even more.
Stefanie Jones is outstanding as Rhonda and is legit one of the coolest (and bravest) characters you'll know. Jones is gifted with such powerhouse vocals that guide us on a rollercoaster of emotions, not afraid to show the audience her vulnerabilities, her strengths and her charismatic, fearsome nature. Dave Eastgate's commands the stage as Ken; his song Life is a Competition being one of the most infectious numbers of the show. Andew Halsworth's choreography in the number, and in every number, is visually spectacular and features incredibly comic timing. I never knew that choreography and comedy could be intertwined in such an innovative way. The Porpoise Spit Queen Bee Tania Degano is played by Laura Murphy, who is the perfect blend of shallow, egotistical and quite frankly, a bitch. David James is the perfect casting choice for Muriel's crooked Dad Bill Heslop, whose signature song Progress is quite literally, a bulldozer performance. One of my favourite numbers of the show was Jarrod Griffith (Billy) and the male ensemble's rendition of 'Never Stick Your Neck Out' and the Bridal parties' rendition of 'Can't Hang', which is such an earworm. It's been stuck in my head all day and I can't get it out.
Miller-Heidke and Nuttall's songs are very Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande-esque, with a dash of Gwen Stefani that captures the joyful ambience of the show perfectly to which musical director Daniel Puckey adds the most fantastic harmonies. Gabriela Tylesova's set is fabulous, featuring panels that move in and out of the space, framing the action on stage as if we were seeing it from a big screen, filled with a palette of warm and dark colours, and a dash of sparkles. Tylesova's costume design is equally as colourful; sparkling with colour and sequins, representative of the iconic Australian culture that we all know and love.
Phillips' direction was superb; especially the scenes in which Muriel's siblings were watching the tv. Each gesture, vocalization and facial expression was filled with such precision and accuracy, that you couldn't help but laugh at how relatable it was. I admire Phillips for making sure that there was always something happening in the background on stage, whenever select characters were In Focus, strengthening the bridge between the real world and the heightened world on stage.
Dramaturgically what let the script down was how the show skimmed over the character's emotional complexities, making the character of Muriel more whiney than someone we could feel empathetic. It also didn't allow the audience to build strong connections to the characters, including when Muriel's Mother Better (Pippa Grandison) sings a slow rendition of SOS with 'Abba', which I imagine was meant to pull at my heartstrings but instead I just felt lost. It jolted me out of the story and got me questioning
However, it was a bit disappointing that in our contemporary society, playwright's and companies are still creating works which are built upon the Hollywood notion that one can only have a happy ever after if they have a wedding ring on their finger. Wasn't making this modern adaptation a chance to make Muriel's character modern not just in her use of technology but in her ideologies? I was under the impression that we live in a society in which women are free to be whoever they want to be and are no longer defined by their marital status but it seems that this new glamorous Broadway-eque production thinks differently.
It's visually and musically spectacular, but it's time that we changed the ending and let Muriel be happy without a husband. Don't you think?
Rating: 4.5 Stars