Review by Tatum Stafford
There was a palpable buzz as the audience filled the theatre for the unofficial Perth ‘opening night’ of ‘Miss Westralia’. This musical isn’t brand new to Perth audiences, as it has floated around, undergone development and been restaged a few times over the past five years – but given the calibre of this professional production, it’s clear the audience were anticipating an impressive performance – which they definitely received.
Set after the First World War, the show tells the story of 19-year-old Beryl Mills, a farm girl from Geraldton who is enrolled in the Miss Australia pageant, and wins. She is whisked from her small country town to the ‘big smoke’ in the USA, chaperoned by her mother Kitty and media mogul Frank Packer. As the show progresses, the glitter fades and the tour becomes relentless. Beryl has a tough decision to make; to be a typical Australian housewife slash ambassador, or stick to her guns and stay true to what she believes in.
The four-person cast is absolutely formidable. No stranger to Perth’s theatre scene, Amy Fortnum (Beryl) takes to this role with incredible poise, a gorgeous voice and plenty of heart. Morgan Cowling plays her mother, Kitty, among other roles, and is another standout. Her cheeky song in Act 2 is a clear highlight, but she carries a tremendous authenticity throughout the entire performance that was difficult to tear your eyes away from.
Ruby Voss gives a sensational performance as Beryl’s Miss America counterpart, exhibiting strong comedic chops and remarkable stamina as she navigated a hilarious number about her patriotism and pride for her beloved country. Cal Silberstein, the fourth cast member, carried multiple roles with ease and conviction, and was convincingly sly as Frank Packer.
All cast members were incredible vocalists, and carried the show’s many songs and sung sequences with a strong technical ability and plenty of charm. Accompanist Joshua Haines (who spent his first night as the show’s pianist at this performance) did a fantastic job carrying the show’s score as the sole ‘orchestra’ member. A shout-out to his trusty page-turner also, who was efficient and helped create a seamless sound throughout!
The majority of this show’s success is attributed to its witty and powerful book, music and lyrics. The creative team of Madeline Clouston, Jake Nielsen and Matthew Predny (with concept and story support from Amelia Burke, also) have done remarkable work in bringing Beryl’s story not only to life, but into the 21st century with such grace. The lyrics, in particular, are inspired and so creatively written. Bravo to Jake Nielsen’s fantastic and thoughtful direction, the incredible production and lighting design by Kelly Fregon and Mai Han respectively, and musical direction from Ashlee Clapp.
It’s fitting that a musical profiling one of Western Australia’s earliest Miss Australia winners is written, performed and toured by a formidable Western Australian theatre troupe. Western Sky Projects should be commended on such a wonderful performance, and what’s more, that they were able to tour this production into WA’s regions for many theatre lovers across the state to enjoy.
It felt poignant watching Beryl’s dreams of travelling the world to inspire others come true, as I imagine there may have been a few budding performers sitting in those regional WA audiences, whose dreams of hitting the stage may soon be as real as Beryl’s became.
A massive congratulations to the entire cast, crew and creatives. I certainly hope this isn’t the last time we’ll see this show staged in WA, or even, in Australia as a whole.