Muriel’s Wedding The Musical
Book by PJ Hogan
Music & Lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall
Directed by Simon Phillips
Photos by Lisa Tomasetti
Roslyn Packer Theatre
Review by Ron Lee, CSP
Can one of Australia’s most-loved films be translated to a stage musical twenty-three years later and not look dated? Actually, Muriel’s Wedding the film could be shown today and still be current.
We’ll assume that you’re already familiar with the story of the oppressed Muriel Heslop whose father, Bill, rules the family with an iron fist. The four Heslop kids haven’t had jobs in years and their mother, Betty, is emotionally abused by Bill who is Mayor of the council. The location is a coastal Queensland township called Porpoise Spit, and the show opens like a 1960s teen beach movie. Typical Queensland surfers with mullets and broad Australian drawls set the scene. To indicate how Australian this story is, there’s Cheryl, Deidre, Chook, and the token Asian stereotype is Charlie Chan, a Chinese restaurant owner.
Muriel is limited, but she has hopes and dreams of becoming popular and having the ideal wedding with a tall, dark, handsome man, and she’s prepared to exaggerate her way to getting what she wants. Her decisions are inspired by her imaginary friends, ABBA, who talk to her, sing to her and watch over her. As you would expect, there are many more songs in this production compared with the film.
The script has been contemporised to include a very funny scene involving selfies, and Muriel works in a souvenir photography studio rather than in a video shop when she goes to Sydney.
In any large cast there are experienced actors on whom you can always rely to bring solid performances with flair and skill. Gary Sweet plays Bill Heslop, Helen Dallimore is Deidre Chambers and it’s interesting to see Justine Clarke as Betty Heslop. Has time passed so quickly that I was surprised that Clarke is playing a middle-aged woman? This trio provides the backbone of the fine cast.
Along with Betty Heslop, Madeleine Jones brings balance through pathos as Rhonda Epinstall, Muriel’s best friend and ABBA co-singer. Rachel Griffiths’ screen interpretation was going to be hard to match, and Jones brings her own beautiful interpretation to the stage. Briallen Clarke is Joanie Heslop who holds the responsibility of saying those three words that were made part of the Australian vernacular by Gabby Millgate in the film, and Clarke repeatedly milks it to within an inch of its life. Christie Whelan Browne is superbly bogan-glam as Tania Degano, the role played by Sophie Lee in the film.
So how was the controversial and critical casting of Maggie McKenna as Muriel? McKenna at twenty-one, has the chops to do well as a triple threat and in this production she makes the role her own. My only reservation was that I had to see past the fact that she looks twelve years-old. That aside, McKenna evokes the range of emotions in the audience and has a sweet and strong singing voice. She delivers a fine performance.
On the production side, Gabriela Tylesova flies in the sets and uses the revolve to good effect to change scenes, and our first exposure the Sydney set is breathtaking. The audience reaction was similar to the helicopter effect in Miss Saigon.
Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography is quirky, interesting and eccentric and Isaac Hayward makes the most of his nine-person orchestra; it sounds bigger than it is.
Sydney has hosted some excellent musicals in the past couple of years, and Muriel’s Wedding The Musical is up there with them. If you like the genre, you would do well to put it high on your list. In the unlikely event that you haven’t seen the film, this stage version will stand on its own merits. Experience it and you’ll have a great time.