BWW REVIEW: The Brilliant MURIEL'S WEDDING THE MUSICAL Returns For A Bigger And Even Better Sydney Encore Season
Thursday 4th July 2019, 7pm, Lyric Theatre
Following on from a successful season in the summer of 2017/2018, the Multi Helpmann Award winning MURIEL'S WEDDING THE MUSICAL returns to Sydney for an encore season. In a bigger theatre with a predominantly new cast including an additional 4 ensemble members, PJ Hogan's adaptation of the iconic Australian movie with music by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, is even more fabulous a second time around.
Possibly the most significant change that had Sydney audiences waiting to see are the new casting of Muriel Heslop given that newcomer Maggie McKenna wowed audiences and received a Helpman Award Nomination when she originated the role in 2017. Natalie Abbott took over the role for the Melbourne season and reprises her performance for the Sydney season and she is possibly an even more perfect fit for Muriel. Director PJ Hogan seems to have allowed Abbott to draw on more of Toni Collette's AFI Award Winning characterisation to create her modern day Muriel and she seems to be able to more authentically tap into conveying the sense of being an outcast who so desperately wants to be popular and what Muriel, and her social circles, considers successful. Her vocals are strong while capturing the emotion perfectly. There is an honesty in the whole performance so that everything feels fresh, intuitive and not in the slightest bit forced or contrived from her dialogue, singing and physicality.
Muriel's best friend Rhonda Epinstall has also changed since the premiere season. Stefanie Jones has taken over from Madeline Jones and as with Abbott, Stefanie delivers an even stronger performance than her predecessor. Stefanie gives the straight talking down to earth Rhonda a more grounded and natural feeling with a subtle gravitas. She captures Rhonda's playful and free nature wonderfully with a brilliant comic timing and an easy physicality that feels more like impulse than direction. She is more convincing as a bad-ass chick unaffected by societies expectations but rather someone who enjoys life and will enjoying how she wants.
For this season, it feels like Hogan has amplified everything just enough to push the emotional highs and lows while still retaining a realness and believability to the characters. This could be influenced by the increase in scale of the work to suite the larger lyric theatre but either way, the show definitely benefits. Pippa Grandison takes over as Betty Heslop, the frazzled housewife looking after ungrateful adult children and turning a blind eye to her husband's affair. Her struggle with depression is built up more obviously in this season making her waltz in SOS even more poignant. Thankfully useless father/husband Bill Heslop has also been recast with David James stepping in to the role to show how the role should be presented by someone who knows how to act, sing and dance as he creates a delightfully vile corrupt politician.
The departure of at the end of the Melbourne season of Christie Whelan Brown as Muriel's frenemy Tania Degano sees the role shift from a towering glamorous queen bee as Laura Murphy creates the character as the other type of lead bitch, the feistier pocket rocket who, though lacking the supermodel stature still manages to have minions, an men, eating out of her hand. Similarly the role of Diedre Chambers feels as if it has been shifted as Chelsea Plumley steps into the Image consultant's shoes with more emphasis put on her 'coincidental' appearances which are accented by operatic tones.
Other aspects that seem amplified this time around is a shift in the influence ABBA have on Muriel and Betty's actions. Before it felt that they were Muriel's escape that just encouraged her to have trust in herself but for this viewing it felt as if they were actually more of a bad influence, the little devils or, in Avenue Q terms, the Bad Idea Bears, that encourage the dark thoughts to win over despite Muriel and Betty both knowing that what they are telling them to do is wrong.
It may be memory playing tricks but it also feels like there is more technology employed in the return season. The petal and electronic device screen proscenium has been retained but there seems to be more use of projections. As a reminder that the appearances of ABBA (Jaime Hadwen, Laura Bunting, Evan Lever and Maxwell Simon) are punctuated with projections of shooting stars. The wedding scene, which audience members can buy tickets to participate in, also utilises Sydney Theatre Company's Artistic Director Kip William's favoured live video feed, filmed on stage and projected above the stage.
Regardless of whether you saw MURIELS WEDDING THE MUSICAL when it premiered or if you have never seen it, secure a ticket. For first timers, this is a wonderful modern take on the fabulous Australian movie of friendship, independence, confidence, placing the right importance on people and understanding the more important ways to view self worth and success. For those that saw the original season, see this season as it is even more powerful a second time and getting to listen to Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall's music again and see Gabriela Tylesova's design is definitely worth the price of a ticket.
Photos: Jeff Busby