Muriel’s Wedding The Musical.
PJ Hogan has created a faithful adaptation of his endearing and iconic film. His story captures the idiosyncratic Australian no-nonsense essence that sometimes struggles to reconcile ultra-conservative and non-inclusive community attitudes. The account of Muriel’s oppressive and dull small-town existence, which is blighted by sexism and political corruption, is transformed into a tale of the triumph of mateship, individuality and freedom. Muriel (Natalie Abbott) and her best friend, Rhonda (Stefanie Jones), have become incarnations of the quirky style that gives Sydney, and Australia more broadly, a strong sense of good-natured audacity and irreverence.
The stage version lives up to all expectations and places this enterprise in extremely safe hands, both on and off-stage. The music beautifully captures the range of emotions explored in the film and successfully transposes them to the stage. The ABBA music is also delicately incorporated into the score. However, more inclusion of their hit songs, which are so strongly associated with the film, could have provided more opportunity for foot-stomping fun or participation from the audience. The musical numbers “Waterloo” and “Sydney” were, undoubtedly, highlights of the show.
The directorial approach is similar to that adopted with the phenomenally successful stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. There is an even greater attention to detail in this production that is destined to make the Muriel’s Wedding equally successful. The large-scale cast fills the stage with synchronised movement and is more evocative of historical or traditional versions of the musical genre. There is a great willingness to mock both progressive and conservative Australian stereotypes that put the often-contradictory aspects of Australian society on equal footing. No-one is spared the terse, wry nature of Australian humour in this show and the theatricality this offers is fully exploited.
The costumes and the staging are opulent and outlandish, although this does not seem to translate into a specific or particularly identifiable aesthetic. This is more effectively created through the marketing collateral and strategies. The striking off-beat imagery of the logo and the further proliferation and infiltration of expressions such as “You’re terrible, Muriel” into Australian vernacular is part of the great sense of fun this show aims to create. Muriel and Alex’s wedding is treated as an event and the audience as guests. This is achieved by updating the story to include the contemporary use of social media to commodify our personal lives. The stage version exposes marriage as a hyperbolic theatrical production with even greater levels of amusement and shrewdness.
Abbott is astonishing in her professional debut. She captures the quizzical nature of Muriel, and the way she was originally personified in the film, but with her own unique style. The tragicomedy nature of the character is perfectly captured, and her vocal abilities make the musical numbers both captivating and moving. Jones equally captures the rebellious but genuine nature of Rhonda and the depth of the bond they develop is palpable in their performances. Strong performances are provided by the cast as a whole and this allows the production to deliver on a great deal of its promise as a guaranteed fun-filled experience.
Patricia Di Risio.
Photographer: Jeff Busby