Australia doesn’t have a great reputation with successful homegrown musicals, but the stage adaptation of the famous film version of Muriel’s Wedding can now join the stable of successful Aussie musicals like The Boy From Oz and Strictly Ballroom.
With book by P.J. Hogan, and music and lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical is a complex show that flies from hilarious bogan humour to the dark side of human behaviour in an instant.
It follows the story of the nerdy unemployed Muriel, who just wants to fit in with the cool kids of her backwater country town, Porpoise Spit. Of course the cool girls are also the mean girls, and it isn’t always comfortable for the audience to watch the wholesale bullying of Muriel by these nasty cats.
The casting of the two leads is the pinnacle on which the show succeeds or fails, with Natalie Abbott as Muriel and Stefanie Jones (Liesl in The Sound of Music a few years ago!) as the best friend she finally finds: Rhonda. Director Simon Phillips got it just right. Abbott and Jones are simply perfect as the two protagonists and the onstage chemistry between them is wonderful to watch. Abbott in particular has one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen, and totally inhabits the lead role.
My only criticism of the show is that the first half is so frenetic with activity that you can be rather grateful for interval, when you don’t have to work so hard trying to take in everything presented on the stage.
But the second act is where the drama is, with the rocky road of friendship and the traumas affecting many of the principal players. I love it when you can hear a pin drop in the theatre, and you certainly could during the second half in some lovely tender moments between Muriel and Rhonda.
The show doesn’t shy away from the negative themes of bullying and exclusion, and the anti-hero Muriel is every one of us, at some time during our lives. The great message of Muriel’s Wedding is that by the end our anti-hero of the opening scene has become the hero of the final scene, and that is most satisfying.
Choreography is slick and effective, and David James is a great fit as the egotistical politically driven father who eventually gets his comeuppance, but not before a family tragedy.
Abba original songs work brilliantly in the production and are well complemented by new numbers from the Australian creative pair of Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall. The four performers playing the Abba quartet, who float in and out of Muriel’s consciousness, were superb and brought the finishing polish to the musical.
While the show is still very much set in the time of the original film, Phillips has updated it a little by using mobile phones to excellent effect.
This is a musical for its time – 50 years ago the vice squad would have descended on opening night with charges of indecent language, but it’s all appropriate and it works in this show.
If you loved the film, you will love the musical, and I anticipate that the younger generation, especially those who enjoyed School of Rock, will be blown away by this exciting night in the theatre. And getting the backsides of the next generation into a theatre is always something to celebrate! Like a wedding, perhaps?
Julie Houghton reviewed the performance of “Muriel’s Wedding the Musical” given at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, on March 23, 2019.