I do I do I do I do love Muriel’s Wedding the Musical.
This musical is for all of us who have ever dreamed that our lives could be as good as an Abba song.
Premiering at the Sydney Theatre Company last year, this years production is hosted at the Lyric Theatre but it feels very similar. Several of those cast members have joined the new production – and it’s great to see them again. As the Russian swimmer Alexander Shkuratov, Stephen Madsen is so handsomely chiselled he is perfect as Muriel’s dream groom and it’s hard to imagine another in that role.
Playing Muriel Heslop this year is Natalie Abbott, and best friend Rhonda is played by Stefanie Jones. This is 23-year-old Abbott’s first professional role. Abbott, inhabits the role of Muriel very effectively and for a character that has been played by several actresses now, she makes it her own. Jones is also new and shines as Rhonda – hers is a standout performance.
The original music and lyrics written by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall are clever and apt. Their songs are generally memorable with real substance. The motif given to the Porpoise Spit mean girls is clever from the Can’t Hang With Us number where each of the mean girls tries to out-mean the one before her, that it is reprised later.
From the opening number Sunshine State of Mind, this is a uniquely Australian experience. Surfboards, blondes and beach bodies could be many places but the lyrics have that Australian irreverence “Sun, sand, surf, no worries, suntan, sexy bodies. The men are men, we dress like proper men…The girls are trim, we have no pubic hair.” Where else but down under would you come across lyrics like that? There is much wit, and there is also some heart. The musical mercilessly sends up small-town Australia with its culture of bullying in crowds, corruption, and lies. Muriel’s father, Bill Heslop (David James), is the mayor – busy trying to line his pockets by schmoozing developers and taking advantage of those he has done favours for in the past. Her mother, Betty, is the discarded wife and sad reality of the faded dreams of so many women of her generation. Betty is played by Pippa Grandison, who was Nicole in the original movie – the mean girl who cheated with her best friend’s new husband.
Weddings are certainly the theme – and there is a sadness to the idea of a wedding being the pinnacle of a woman’s life. So much of the musical seems to be in sharp contrast to the happiness of marriage. A wedding is not marriage – but a big frothy dress, badly dressed bridesmaids and bouquet throwing. The film was an indictment to the idea of marriage as an end goal – and the musical continues that theme but it is a little less brutal. Yes, musicals do make everything better.
The Sydney song is a homage to Sydney as being a tolerant, anything-goes city where people come to reinvent themselves. It’s a lovely idea and one of the musical’s best numbers – and not just for the glimpses of Dave Eastgate’s derriere in chaps. In fact, it’s in spite of his derriere. It’s a clever number: “Welcome to the city of self, everybody here’s from somewhere else. Nobody cares who you were, why you’re here, who your enemies are. Anything goes in Sydney town.” It is our New York.
Other highlights for me are the swimming pool scene where Muriel meets her husband-to-be. The company has some slick dance moves and actions and the sullen Alexander’s eventual acceptance of his new bride is a joy to watch.
I also love the scenes where Muriel is lured by Abba to a bridal shop to try on dresses. This is definitely more fun in a musical. The company again has great moves in these scenes.
Miller-Heidke’s and Nuttal’s score shares the stage with several Abba numbers – including Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, and Waterloo. There is a good combination and meld well together.
Muriel the Musical is much more fun than the movie. While the movie was actually quite sad, the musical lifts those moments, mainly with Abba. And the Abba songs almost made me clap with glee, just as much for the absurdity of their ghostly presence.
It’s a musical well worth seeing to observe how Australia can compete on the world stage of creativity and cast. This would be a very difficult musical to take offshore; the Brits might understand it with a few subtle tweaks but for a U.S. audience there is too much that would be lost in translation. But for those who do understand it, it’s a great insight to Australians – our humour and our culture. Bring your overseas visitors.
There’s also a special ticket you can purchase to be one of the wedding guests onstage. These lucky few guests are taken from the back of the stalls to their pews in the church, where they remain for the ceremony.