Mudfest 2011: “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical” by Matilda Dixon-Smith

Posted on August 20, 2011

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I didn’t want to review a show on Friday evening. Instead, I’d been hoping to attend a friend’s “N”-themed house party. Lucky for me, I take my reviewing duties very seriously. As the first Mudfest 2011 show I’ve seen, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical certainly did not disappoint. In fact it entirely exceeded my expectations.

Directors and co-producers Scott Dunsdon and Emma J Leaver did a fantastic job of transforming the sometimes vacuous Union Theatre, giving it a more intimate—sort-of cabaret—vibe. I was struck, upon entering the space, by the simplistic set (all black, with a piano stage right and a small rostrum stage left) and the cool instrumental jazz cooing over the speakers. My only criticism of the show is that it might thrive in a smaller space.

The musical with the plot so perfect you'll want to see it five times!

TMOM:TM is basically a piece of musical theatre written to (affectionately) rag on musical theatre. The show is five short pieces (satirising/paying tribute to different musical styles from the past century) with the same basic plot: “I cannot pay the rent”. Each story is told by five archetypal characters: the ingénue (Emma Hoy), the hero (Jack Brown), the villain (Josiah Lulham), the confidante (Bianca Bruce) and the ensemble (Michael Leaver). Each piece respectively parodies the work of Rogers and Hammerstein (in Corn!), Stephen Sondheim (A Little Bit Complex), Jerry Herman (Dear Abby), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Aspects of Junita) and Kander and Ebb (Speakeasy).

As a lover of snark, I was surprised to find there was nothing to snark about in TMOM:TM. The show itself is wonderful, filled with broad humour and sharp insider jokes (yet never losing its wit and cool). Leaver and Dunsdon have opted for a simple vision. This ultimately enhances the show as it allows the concept, and the fabulous actors, to shine. The aforementioned set design is clean and effective. Dunsdon and Leaver are clearly great directors who know how to construct sharp, aesthetically-pleasing blocking. Some scenes (most of A Little Bit Complex and Speakeasy, for example) are concomitantly inspired and referential, giving the show that magical mixture of familiarity and freshness.

The lighting design was one of my favourite aspects. For something that looks so easy to pull off, it’s perfectly obvious when a lighting designer doesn’t know what they’re doing. TMOM:TM’s lighting, designed by Nick Liley, captured the essence of the show perfectly, while also lifting it from its simple surrounds. It was just totally classy. The simple costume design matched that class, predominately blacks and whites. Another outstanding aspect was the exceptional effort from Simon Bruckard, the show’s musical director and sole instrumentalist. Bruckard (on piano) held the show together with an emphatic and impudent performance.

L-R: Michael Leaver, Bianca Bruce, Jack Brown, Emma Hoy and Josiah Lulham.

Now, to the actors, who undeniably made the show. Brown, Bruce, Hoy, Leaver and Lulham are clearly all accomplished performers – there wasn’t a botched line or bung voice between them. However, there was so much more than ‘accomplished’ in their performances. Each actor had impeccable comic timing, an extensive vocal range (and appealing, commanding voices), and a wonderful affinity with the stage. Jack Brown made an interesting, engaging ‘hero’. He has a fabulous rich vocal timbre and an easy physicality onstage. Michael Leaver (who voiced the ‘ensemble’) was a stand-out; he shone in Dear Abby and Speakeasy and his comfortable manner (and sweet physical comedy) held the five pieces together. Emma Hoy, whose comedic style has impressed me before, was predictably spectacular. She melds sweetness and maturity brilliantly and makes a complex, charming damsel. She also has some wonderful facial expressions.

Bianca Bruce was an absolute knockout. It’s worth attending the show just to see her performance. She is a gracious, hysterical comedienne with a truly magnificent voice. Her Merman/Lansbury/Channing was particularly on-the-nose. Josiah Lulham was fabulous. He is just totally smooth (and has wonderful physicality) onstage. He made an excellent faux-Emcee in Speakeasy, an absolutely outstanding villain in Corn!, and was just a complete joy to watch. I found that my eye always wandered to him, as he was always doing something fascinating. Another joy was the ingenious Leslie (the “talking program”). As Mudfest is a ‘paper-free’ event, the TMOM:TM team keep you informed during the show via a lucid voice-over (I’m assuming, an un-credited Scott Dunsdon). A couple of stand-out Leslie moments were a soliloquy on apples, and a wonderful crack about Rent.

TMOM:TM will appeal to musical theatre-lovers (like me) and the general public alike. There are jokes for the masses, and some for those who know the genre inside and out. I attended TMOM:TM on opening night with some 25 other enthusiastic audience-members. TMOM:TM has 4 more performances during the Mudfest period, and I would highly recommend attending one of them. This show is a treasure, and deserves a much larger audience than the one it had on opening night!

The Musical of Musicals: The Musicals is showing at the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne from 19-25th August (as part of the University of Melbourne’s biennial Arts Festival, Mudfest 2011). Dates, times and prices for the performances can be found here. Don’t miss out on this one folks; it’s truly a fab experience!

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical was reviewed by Matilda on its Friday 19 August performance. 

Matilda Dixon-Smith is You’re Dripping Egg’s Editor-in-chief and co-creator. For more on student theatre, click here

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