By Lali Gill
The Sydney University Music Theatre Ensemble (MUSE) opened its latest production this week, and I was there to enjoy it. Pasek and Paul’s Edges is a song cycle that explores your classic music theatre topics: coming of age, love, and personal growth. Traditionally performed by four actors, it is written with intimacy in mind. MUSE’s production showcased eleven cast members, all with a differing range of experience and skill level.
A song cycle is a difficult format to get right, because although many seem to think it’s about showcasing impressive vocals, a successful song cycle is actually all about storytelling, as any good theatre is. For MUSE’s Edges, there were some misses and some hits, though overall it proved a very enjoyable night at the theatre. Pasek and Paul’s music in the show is modern and enjoyable to listen to, though often humorously reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World and The Last 5 Years. Edges is a very American story, which often doesn’t quite sit comfortably on an Australian stage, but most of the cast were able to pull it off.
The show opens with a number many music theatre fans would probably recognise in Become, which included the entire cast, but focused more on Brendan McRae, Caitlin Rose, Callum Piotr Byrne, and Elizabeth Gunther. During this number and throughout the show, cast members would sing from within the audience or on the sides of the stage, which at times worked and was immersive, whiles at other times sounded vocally unbalanced when mixed with the singers who were on stage and using microphones. The next few numbers were solos, with a beautiful vocal performance of Boy with Dreams from McRae charming the audience. The show switches between solos and duets until the end of act one - Coasting - which showcased Christopher Shanko, Konrad Ryzak, Rebecca Wewege, and Lucy Allen. Though the pacing of the night as a whole felt good, I would have loved to see some arrangements with more than two people woven throughout the acts.
A standout for me was Katelin Koprivec, who is a brilliant actress on top of her powerful singing voice. In every number she was in, Koprivec was authentic, detailed, and present - things which are vital for any performance, but especially in a song cycle. Another standout was Caitlin Rose in her solo Perfect, a beautifully moving performance that was so genuine, vulnerable, and committed, she was totally captivating the audience from start to finish. Piotr Byrne was a personal favourite too, with his truthful and simple storytelling through song moving me in his solo Part of a Painting, as well as in his other numbers. He reminded the audience that theatre is about being honest, and to do that, sometimes less is more.
Other enjoyable performances were Shanko in Along the Way - his charismatic and likeable stage presence mixed with his clean vocals made for an uplifting and entertaining number. Allen also impressed in her rendition of Man of my Dreams, playing the comedy perfectly whilst still showing off her beautiful voice.
The show finished with Like Breathing, performed by the whole cast though showcasing a few, as mentioned earlier. Vocally, this number was absolutely stunning - the harmonies and cutoffs by music director Lauren McNamara were clean and beautiful, and choreography by Anna-May Parnell was effective and added depth to the performance. I only wished to see all the cast on stage, standing still and singing simply, to finish off a great night.
Ultimately, a song cycle relies almost solely on the on the performers, and the mixed levels of experience in the cast lead to a somewhat inconsistent show. In saying that, there were a ton of beautiful (and funny!) moments, and McNamara did a wonderful job when it came to group numbers. I congratulate the cast and creative team on a wonderful show!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.