Review By Cody Fullbrook
Deep in the underground rehearsal room of the State Theatre of WA comes A Boy Wanted To, the new musical by Mumble Productions. With book, lyrics, music and direction by Taylor Broadley, we join six students streaming a sit-in protest, attempting to raise awareness to gun violence in the aftermath of a shooting at their school.
Six actors, six beds and one projector screen fill the stage, with personal effects such as a doll, camera and drumsticks, making it feel lived in and intimate. You would think such a simple set allows for theatrical creativity but, aside from one actor changing to portray the shooter at the very end, everyone and everything stays as what it is. Mattresses never become school walls. Laptops never become guns. Pillows never become bodies. Doonas never symbolize the feeling of crushing anxiety.
Despite having a projector alongside characters streaming video to the internet, it’s only infrequently switched on to display related, if a little needless, footage of political events, establishing text and even just pretty background videos. On top of not seeing much of the outside world, the sitting actors and grounded mattresses are so low to the floor that many scenes hold the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a bunker after an apocalypse.
Thankfully, the choreographer, Jordan D’arcy, uses levels and movement to give energy and direction to what could easily be lazily static performances. Rarely do songs resort to the cast simply standing in a line and singing at the audience (Well, that sometimes happens. But not a lot). Even when actors are just sitting on their beds and chatting, there’s always something going on. Whether it be writing, reading, drinking or even just sleeping, you’ll never catch any actor fidgeting unsurely or waiting for their next line.
A Boy Wanted To doesn’t have a live band, but with the distinct sounds of the pre-recorded music, with beautiful guitar and violin, it never becomes an issue. Massive praise must be given to the actors who all achieve flawless harmonies, and even manage to hold a couple songs together with brief a capella segments. Some need a little more projection, but all hit their musical queues and glide effortlessly through the blocking.
This is where I would reference the forms of the musical’s songs and if any deviate from the standard AABA, but, as it turns out, I was just too caught up in them to even tell. There’s even two reprises. Refreshing to see in a 1 act show. Personal favourites are “Bored” and “Haunted House” which got my foot bouncing and stood out amongst others that switch back and forth from High-Energy-Protest-Song and Bitter-Sweet-Unity-Song.
The music takes up the majority of the show’s duration, with adjacent scenes lasting a shockingly short amount of time. This has clearly forced the conversations to be reduced to quick soundbites like “Death did this” and “We’re leading the new rally” to introduce themes of songs that occur literally seconds later. In fact, with limited dialogue windows and songs acting primarily as messages rather than plot lines, A Boy Wanted To, despite being 80 minutes long, comes close to not having a story at all.
We begin after the inciting incident, and even with a recreation of the shooting at the very end, involving a surprisingly astute monologue from the shooter himself, each character’s pain and motivation comes from an event we never witness until later, when their mission has already wrapped up.
I’m left asking the question, what exactly was at stake? It can’t be lives because the shooting has already happened. It can’t be the characters inner turmoil because the protesters have virtually no disagreements amongst themselves and basically function as one personality split into six people. It can’t be the impact of the stream’s viewer count because there’s no set milestone or goal for it to rise and fall around.
A story’s peak is only as high as it’s deepest trough, and the problem with A Boy Wanted To is that, aside from a quick moment when their viewership increases for seemingly no reason, it’s all trough. This isn’t totally unexpected, given the subject matter, but at least Sweeney Todd did a little dance with Mrs Lovett before tossing her into a furnace.
A Boy Wanted To is a beautifully sounding and well performed musical, made with passion and purpose. I just wish I could say that it wasn’t “Guns Are Bad: The Musical”, but with lines like “Gun-Crazed Hillbillies”, referencing the NRA, and lyrics like “Annoy them until they surrender”, the scope of its message is narrowed to the monolithic mentality of young, middle class, progressive, anti-gun, left leaning westerners. And in case you were wondering, yes, they do start literally screaming.