By Lily Stokes
Historically, Broadway musicals have been associated with a queer male culture. However, in recent performance, more diverse narratives have begun emerging within musical theatre. Pieces such as Chadwick and Gott’s ‘Crush: The Musical’ and Hoemburg’s ‘Victor Victoria’ bring light to a broader queer experience within the genre. Similarly, Moontan Production’s ‘Coming Out On Broadway’ explores the trials and tribulations of Gen, a young woman who moves to Sydney to live her truth. Having read the synopsis, I was excited to see a musical that had a queer-wom*n’s focus (as we are rarely seen as the heroes of the musical genre). Unfortunately, this production was very much how it was described – a work in progress. More unfortunately, the foundational aspects of this work were underdeveloped and require further refinement in almost every sense. Despite this, there is a deeply personal core at the centre of this piece, developed by writers Amelia Gilday and Alex Fenner. However, it was often miscommunicated and lacked vision. I do applaud the production team for their brave efforts in staging alternative narratives to those that are widely circulated. But in order for this work to be further funded and viewed, it needs considerable workshopping.
The primary downfall of this piece was the overall pacing and structure of the book. The music seemed rushed and prematurely ended while dialogue heavy scenes dragged and lacked motivation. The script was unremarkable, with most interaction seemingly improvised. Furthermore, there was absolutely no chemistry between actors making their relationships seem hollow and contrived. This lack of romantic believability did not do service to the magic of first-time queer relationships. Fundamentally LGBT+ experiences such as these (and, most notably, coming out) were trivialised and under-felt. In addition, the script had no explicit reference to any character’s sexuality or gender (in a way that seemed deliberate), dancing awkwardly around the emotional centre of these narratives. The characters were defined entirely by their queerness, yet simultaneously, the show seemed to avoid any notable queer aesthetic. There were references to queer cultures (like Drag Kings and period drama ‘Gentleman Jack’) without a willingness to engage with the complexity of these communities or perform these styles with conviction. Although I acknowledge that the book is a work in progress, it is the basis on which the whole performance was founded and needs a rework by Gilday and Fenner.
Although the script itself needed refinement, there were moments of light brought to life by the cast. One particularly touching moment occurred between Jack (Larissa Turton) and Jules (Collette Estelle) in a conversation regarding the complexities of non-binary relationships. Although their performances were convincing, the content seemed to avoid any acknowledgement of sexualities or identities, obscuring the language that queer Sydneysiders encounter every day. On this note, the relevance of the play being set on Broadway, Sydney was overlooked until the last moment. I only understood the reference in the last few minutes of the performance when it was made clear through the musical finale. Other notable performances include Gen (Laura Anne Campbell) who was endearing at times, but at other times seemed unfeeling. A true immersion in the emotional content was not evident (which could have been due to a lack of direction). Vocal performances by the ensemble were lacking, with Cavanagh’s pieces sitting awkwardly in their registers. Furthermore, cut-offs and unison sections were messy, suggesting under-rehearsal and poor musical direction.
As a final dramaturgical note, the set and lighting of this work left much to be desired. Using ‘lights-up-lights-down’ to determine moments seemed unnatural, with scenes feeling unfinished or needless in some cases. The set utilized basic furnishings with a realistic approach, but the addition of wings and drapes complicated the space. Again, I understand this is a work in progress, but the integration of queer aesthetics into design, lighting and sound could be reconsidered. Another addition that could be interesting would be a political backdrop to the piece – why not frame the story with the 2017 marriage equality plebiscite? It may make a monotonous narrative such as this seem fascinating and urgent.
Although I was excited to see a differently-focussed queer musical, ‘Coming Out On Broadway’ didn’t satisfy my thirst. I believe if the production team reassesses not only the foundational aspects of this work (script, music, etc) but also the casting and aesthetics, this could be a fantastic piece. Unfortunately, the way in which it is being performed at Sydney Fringe lacks heart and vision. However, with enough work, this piece could transform into something that gives queer-wom*n the musical platform we so deserve. It just hasn’t reached that point yet.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.