B.ell Shakespeare is Australia’s nationwide theater firm devoted to performing the works of the Bard and his contemporaries. Their productions are assorted in method – they’ve set Henry V in a bunker throughout the London Blitz and positioned The Comedy of Errors in a disco-driven Seventies – and the corporate has reworked a few of the world’s most well-known performs by making use of new genres, tones and types. Nonetheless, in its 32 years, the corporate has by no means produced a musical – till now.
At first look, The Lovers appears like an ideal match for Bell. Written and composed by Laura Murphy, the musical is predicated on A Midsummer Evening’s Dream. Subplots and characters have been trimmed right down to concentrate on the play’s 4 younger lovers, who’re enchanted into romantic misadventure. Oberon and Puck, the one two different characters who stay from the unique textual content, are styled right here as fairies who like to spark love as a lot as Cupid does. However the essence of the unique work stays alive and effectively. Murphy has even retained the play’s Elizabethan-era dialogue, up to some extent: when the music begins, we hear the characters’ inside voices utilizing up to date cadences and expressions; after they sing, they communicate the language of pop music.
The joy on opening evening was plain. Murphy’s pop melodies are infectiously interesting and remarkably assured. Musical director Andrew Worboys and his four-piece band flip every quantity into a celebration. And the forged – Natalie Abbott as Helena, Blake Appelqvist as Demetrius, Stellar Perry as Oberon, Monique Sallé as Puck, Brittanie Shipway as Hemia and Jerrod Smith as Lysander – comprises a few of the most enjoyable musical theater artists within the nation, relishing each riff and catchy refrain.
However by the point we attain the second act, it turns into clear that this musical wanted extra assist to actually soar. Musical storytelling strikes otherwise than performs; central theses and subversions on theme have to play out throughout the spoken and sung textual content at completely different occasions and utilizing completely different instruments throughout every – motif, metaphor, confession, dialogue, discovery – to construct to a conclusion. Conflicts that spill from scenes into music have to be fastidiously balanced in each of those narrative worlds, to raise and broaden on every.
In The Lovers, the songs do not fairly sustain with the characters’ evolving ideas. It would not assist that the manufacturing, beneath the big-hearted route of Shaun Rennie, is sometimes self-conscious about its pop vernacular, signaling rhymes and riffs with comedic gestures or too-broad supply.
With The Lovers, Murphy is questioning what it actually means to fall in love and the way we handle ourselves inside it, however her characters come to the abrupt realization that they’ve already discovered the one – themselves – within the final 5 minutes. In a musical, the place we now have direct entry to their inside worlds, the characters’ shift in considering ought to play out musically and lyrically, constructing and rising alongside their journeys by way of the plot. It is a developmental, dramaturgical concern that ought to have been addressed within the manufacturing course of. However Bell is not a musical theater firm.
It is exhausting to look at The Lovers with out wishing it had acquired extra assist: there’s a lot potential within the work. Ella’s Murphy’s musical instincts are thrilling, and her sometimes spinoff lyrics sit alongside some surprising gems, all written with an interesting and near-irresistible heat and humour. She might be forgiven a hacky repeat quantity about love in a time earlier than “swiping proper”, that asks if the children are DTL (down to like) in a world that is DTF, when she additionally offers us Chasing My Tail, a near-perfect tune about Helena’s unrequited love. (Abbott, who performed Muriel Heslop within the return season of Muriel’s Marriage ceremony the Musical, is The Lovers’ standout performer).
Nonetheless, the viewers response on opening evening was close to ecstatic. There’s at all times going to be a spot for good pop and a way of enjoyable onstage, and sound designer David Bergman ensures the forged and the band attain out to the viewers with the readability required to attach. Marg Horwell’s playful set turns into a wonderland delight within the second act, and the corporate’s limitless power and collective attraction typically smooths over the occasional clunkiness.
If you happen to do not assume too exhausting about it, The Lovers is a good time. I hope for a return season, simply to see the way it may develop and alter with the advantage of time and a bit extra distance from the writing course of. One factor, nevertheless, is obvious: Murphy is a author and composer to look at.