By Carly Fisher
There’s nothing Australians love more than the story of the underdog and Muriel Heslop is certainly that – you can’t really say she is down on her luck because it implies that at some point it has been better, nor can you assume its going to get better for her any time soon either…Muriel Heslop is the bottom of the Porpoise Spit food chain and yet, since the 1994 cult-classic film came out, Aussies have just loved to love good ole’ ‘useless’ Muriel. With no prospects – romantic, career, or otherwise – no friends, and certainly no respect, especially from herself, it takes a little bit of ABBA magic (and credit card fraud) to get our unlikely heroine on track to make something of her life…or at least to get out of bed each day.
It may not sound like the plot for Australia’s next musical hit, and yet, here it is, and it’s every bit as loud, colourful and fabulous as our last couple major hits – Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Boy from Oz – before it. Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall’s music breathes a new life into PJ Hojan’s script that will reintroduce Muriel to entire new generations of Aussies to come. His original story – starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths – has been revitalized and revamped to offer a new complexity and rawness that one may not have expected the musical theatre form to be able to provide – remember, much of the original Muriel’s mystique was her silence and yet now, it is her voice and her exaggerated facial expressions that define the new (and dare I say it) improved Muriel.
So who can prove up to the task of taking on an Aussie icon made famous by, another Aussie icon (Collette)? How about an absolute new-comer to the scene, Natalie Abbott who it seems was born to play Muriel and absolutely shines through every scene she is on that stage. Abbott’s freshness is blissful – everything looks exciting to her both as Muriel but also as Natalie – and as an audience member I rooted for her from start to finish with tears in my eyes watching a true talent living her dream. There is nothing more refreshing to watch – or empowering – and I am truly thrilled for Abbott – may we see her go from success to success from here!
And speaking of refreshing, flicking through the program, it was FABULOUS to see how many performers are making their professional debuts with this show – how wonderful to see a homegrown musical providing such opportunities to grow our industry and make a significant and much needed contribution to the Australian musical theatre scene and canon.
Stefanie Jones as Rhonda is wonderful! This girl can do anything and it was great to see her in a starring role last night that not only once again showed off her stunning vocal range, but also called on a more challenging acting role as well, which she mastered. For a performer who is so often looked to for her incredibly mastering of dance and especially ballet, it was very impressive to see her excel in a character in which that is stripped away and yet her talent still shines. Congratulations!!
This is one of the hardest working ensembles on the circuit at the moment – they do not sit down for a moment and when they aren’t on stage for a hot second, they are quickly transforming into yet ANOTHER gorgeous costume and wig change (seriously, how many wigs are in this production?! Wow!). They must each take on a minimum of 10 characters and transition throughout effortlessly. They are athletic yet fun, engaging throughout and deeply committed to this incredibly fun show.
The costumes and set, both designed by Gabriela Tylesova, are clever, effective somehow at once totally over the top whilst simultaneously refined. Tylesova is one of the best in the business and has been well awarded for her creations in the past on all forms of arts – the design behind Muriel’s is a true credit to her extraordinary command of design.
The show is great and for so many reasons, I absolutely loved my night at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, but one of the main reasons was simply that it was just so beautiful to see a show where friendship was the driving force and females were at the centre through it all. It’s awesome to see an Australian story – an Australian musical at that – that has put two women at the centre and let them tell the story of strength, of overcoming obstacles and of being there for each other.
Can’t sing this one’s praises enough! You’re anything but terrible Muriel!!
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.