“Brash and brassy and done for laughs,” writes Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore in The Guardian of the opening night performance of Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, “a night that pulsates with high-spirited fun.”
And so says Diana Simmonds at Stage Noise: “The team behind that most dangerous beast – a new Australian musical – has done it: Muriel’s Wedding – the Musical is spectacular and spectacularly good in almost every way that counts.”
Four and more-star reviews lined up for this Simon Phillips-directed production that features original songs by Keir Nuttall and Kate Miller-Heidke, a handful of ABBA’s finest, and stars the remarkable newcomer Maggie McKenzie as Muriel.
The songs? “Irresistibly catchy and, at times, memorably affecting,” writes Sebag-Montefiore.
“Miller-Heidke and Nuttall are equally at home writing intimate, conversational numbers for their characters (their compositions for Muriel and Rhonda are, to borrow a phrase, fucking amazing) as the big ensemble numbers,” says Ben Neutze, who goes out on a high in his final review for The Daily Review (he’s moving on to Time Out).
“It’s no easy thing to put new songs up against evergreen ABBA tunes,” writes Audrey editor Jason Blake in his review for The Sydney Morning Herald, “but at no point do you detect any sizeable gap in appeal between the likes of Dancing Queen, Waterloo and, SOS and its original elements.”
Screenwriter PJ Hogan has updated story into the present day. Everyone has mobile and uses it frequently. Muriel no longer wants to be just a bride, writes Sebag-Montefiore, “she wants to be Insta-famous, a goal drummed home by giant smartphones that hang from the stage, lit up periodically by her online posts and a series of grotesque, pantomimish selfies.”
“The omnipresence of smart phones is more than token,” writes Jason. “It adds a sharp point to the insecurity and ugliness Muriel feels, brings into focus the wretchedness of her Porpoise Spit peer group, and gives her a new benchmark of success (Facebook likes and Twitter followers) to strive for and, ultimately, reject.”
Phillips cast is judged to be first-rate. “Madeleine Jones’ Rhonda is strong, likeable and vulnerable. Gary Sweet as Bill Heslop succeeds in making your skin crawl,” says Sebag-Montefiore.
Simmonds loved Muriel’s bone-idle siblings – at much as you can that is: “Perry (Michael Whalley), Malcolm (Connor Sweeney) and Joanie (Briallen Clarke) … add to the richness of the ensemble. Their “Meet the Heslops” song of glottal stops, grunts and minimal sentiments is moronically scintillating, as is the way Clarke delivers the much-anticipated ‘You’re terryble, Muriel’ line – almost as tricky as ‘a handbag?’ or ‘to be or not to be’ and she nails it.”
Christie Whelan-Browne’s Tania Whelan-Browne’s Tania is “the distilled essence of princess bitchface,” writes Jason.
And McKenna? It’s hard to imagine anything other than that a star has been born: “Muriel is all hers from the second she steps forward,” Jason adds. “At 21, she has a commanding set of pipes too.”
Neutze praises McKenna for carrying a “massive load with ease and integrity. She’s endearingly goofy, a great comic talent … and a strong and distinctive singer.”
Some writers had reservations. In her review in The Australian, Deborah Jones says “McKenna doesn’t quite access the deep well of sadness at Muriel’s core.”
Sebag-Montefiore amplifies: “[McKenna] never entirely feels like the girl, however, who puts herself down as ‘stupid, fat and useless’; she’s far too cutesy.”
All said and done, a count up of review stars suggests the STC has hit on its hands and one that may be attractive to overseas producers who don’t mind a bit of salty Aussie humour and an anthem that sends you out singing “fucken amazing”.