Music / “Muriel’s Wedding – The Musical”, directed by Simon Phillips. At Lyric Theatre Sydney until September 8. Sydney opening night review by BILL STEPHENS.
ORIGINALLY premiered in Sydney in 2017, this Australian stage version of the popular 1994 film of the same name, garnered a host of awards for its stars and creatives during its premiere season.
The book for “Muriel’s Wedding – The Musical” is by PJ Hogan, who wrote and directed the original film, and closely follows the storyline of the movie, focusing on the plight of social misfit, Muriel Heslop, who spends her life in Porpoise Spit listening to ABBA songs and planning her glamorous wedding.
Masterfully directed by Simon Phillips, with dazzling over-the-top sets and costumes by Gabriela Tylesova, and witty, effervescent choreography by Andrew Hallsworth, the musical retains the songs originally written for ABBA by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson woven through a terrific new score by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, which provides an inner voice for Muriel and the pulse for the show.
The role of Muriel is a star-maker. It made a star of Toni Collette who played her in the film. Maggie McKenna, who played Muriel in the original Sydney production, is now touring the US in “Dear Evan Hansen”.
Newcomer Natalie Abbott is making her professional debut as Muriel, this time around, and if the reaction of the Sydney first-night audience to her performance is any gauge, we’ll be hearing a lot more from Ms Abbott in the future.
Her voice and smile fills the theatre. Funny, heartbreaking and completely believable, she manages to keep the audience rooting for her happy ending despite her unfortunate propensity for lying and stealing. Stephanie Jones, as her tragic bestie, Rhonda, also makes a strong impression. Both have already received nominations for their performances in this year’s Helpmann awards.
While some of the original cast from the Sydney premiere season remain, most of the principal roles have been recast. David James is excellent as Muriel’s overbearing father, Bill Heslop. Pippa Grandison, playing Muriel’s loyal down-trodden mother, Betty gives a well-judged, moving performance, especially in the second half, and Chelsea Plumley is a stand-out as Bill Heslop’s drop-dead glamorous mistress, Deidre Chambers. Laura Murphy, recently seen at the Q, in Queanbeyan, as Princess Fiona in Free Rain theatre’s production of “Shrek – The Musical”, gives an eye-catching performance as Muriel’s hilariously malicious nemesis, Tania Degano.
However, despite all its colour and razzle dazzle, it is the graceful, perhaps subversive, handling of the scenes involving issues of suicide, depression and inclusivity, that surprises most by staying in the memory long after the curtain has gone down.