Music: Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, William Dreskin, Joel Philip Friedman, Seth Friedman, Michael Skloff. Book & Lyrics: David Crane, Seth Friedman, Marta Kauffman. Griffith 3rd Year Musical Theatre Students. Director: Jason Langley. Musical Director: Heidi Loveland. Choreographer: Joseph Simons. Burke Street Studio, Brisbane, 12-16 March 2019/Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne, 21-23 March 2019.

Personals has an impressive pedigree, with book and lyrics by the writers of Friends (before it became a worldwide phenomenon) and Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz amongst the songwriters.

Written in 1985, when people placed ads looked for partners in the free street press of the day, 34 years on director Jason Langley has given the dating concept a clever IT spin with the use of mobile phones and computers.

Basically a series of sketches and songs about looking for Mr or Ms Right with a twist, like the high-school virgin whose post for a person to teach him ‘extra curricular activities’ gets over 100 replies, to the couple who develop a ménage a trois with a dwarf. Not all the punch lines land, but the performers continually make us believe they’re working with the greatest material ever thanks to Langley’s astute and detailed direction.

What’s impressive is the music – highly melodic and showbizzy, and performed with great flair. Best number of the night was Schwartz’s “Moving in with Linda”, where a guy moving in with a new lover discovers his luggage contains psychological baggage when old girlfriends keep popping up out of boxes and a suitcase. As performed by Jackson Head, Lauren Kingham, Jordanna Moradin and Maddison Price it was a perceptive character study and the highlight of the show.

Schwartz also added some wit to the opening (“Nothing to do with Love”) and closing (“Some Things Don’t End”) numbers. Tom Collins as an anguished nerd watching a self-help video on how to attract partners was very funny, especially as the video was performed live by Jack Biggs and Gabrielle Parkin. It became even funnier when Collins played it on fast-forward and Biggs and Parkin started spouting gibberish.

Maddison Coleman brought some genuine pathos and a stunning vocal to “Michael”, a song about a girl who’d found a guy, pushed him away, and now wanted him back.

Originally written for a cast of six, Langley seamlessly augmented the piece using all 24 of the 3rd year students whose choral harmonies continually added lustre. Joseph Simmons’ choreography was showy and well executed, whilst Heidi Loveland’s keyboard ripples added tons of colour.

Peter Pinne         

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