Connected – The Rock Musical.

Connected – The Rock Musical.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Craig Christie. Director: Kim Spargo. Choreographer: Nina Richards. Platform Academy. Adelaide Fringe. Nexus Arts. 7-9 March, 2019.

The impact on schoolchildren of the internet in general, and social media in particular, would appear to make for a potentially terrific stage musical that could combine education with entertainment. The Adelaide premiere of Connected does not quite convince this reviewer of it being a first-rate show, coming off as too uneven in quality, with regard to flaws both in the basic material and some specific elements of this particular production. Nonetheless, there are worthwhile qualities and undeniable highlights to be found here in a package that may well be able to provide a useful perspective to school-age children.

As we follow country girl Emma while she deals with the realities of moving to a new school in the city during her Year 11, and as we witness the difficulties that self-centred students make for her, Billie Russell gives us a very nice portrayal of a sympathetic person who deserves our respect and is not a helpless victim, but who cannot keep from being overwhelmed by the power of negative gossip and undeserved hostility.

Will Richards is another standout as timid nice guy Dylan, good-hearted but lacking the strength to really do right by Emma when she needs him to. Russell and Richards both do very well with the ‘bashful crush’ duet, “Oh Nothing”, while Richards’ lovely delivery on “Somebody Else” gets us very much on his side.

The ensemble of young performers, a number of them in multiple roles, do a generally strong job of propelling the drama forward and maintaining the necessary level of energy for 75 minutes. Throughout the performance reviewed, however, there were far too many moments of dead silence in which we were clearly waiting for dialogue to be recalled, dulling the impact of otherwise solid scenes featuring characterisations of consistency and charisma. At other times sound levels were completely out of proportion, blasting us rudely out of our seats to a degree that was simply excessive.

Connected is a show that opens and closes strongly (the title tune in particular), but it comes and goes in the middle stretch, turning out too many rock songs that sound like generic mediocrity and that don’t allow their performers a lot of opportunity to sparkle or shine.

The canned musical backing and spartan staging accentuate this feeling of being underwhelmed and unimpressed in moments when we ought to be getting swept along and emotionally invested. If the material were sharper, presentation may not have mattered so much, but the script seems rife with scenes that add little to the story and feel repetitive, simply marking time.

Even so, the climax is dramatic, emotional, and credible, going a long way towards making the journey feel justified. If there are young people out there who would do well to know more about just how their peers can be impacted by thoughtless, selfish, cruel behaviour, Connected might well be the tool to teach them.

Anthony Vawser

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