Review by Taylor Kendal
By now, one had to have been living in an alternate dimension not to have heard of Stranger Things, the sci-fi horror drama series that has taken the world quite deservedly by storm. But while global adoration and countless awards and accolades are one thing, you can’t really say that you’ve made it until someone has created a parody. And luckily for us, that has been the case.
Salty Theatre Company has taken on the huge feat of bringing to life the Australian premiere of Stranger Sings! A Parody Musical, and I can guarantee, it is a feat they have created that has exceeded expectations in every possible way. As a diehard fan, hearing of this performance, I couldn’t contain my excitement, and the wonder of just how something of this magnitude could be pulled off, and myself and the rest of the audience was not left disappointed.
Set in the early 1980s, where hair was big, and parental supervision was at a record low existence, the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana (because nothing bad ever happens in a small town, right?) is thrown into chaos by the disappearance of Will Byers (Gabrielle Ward) into another dimension. What follows is a tale of superhero abilities, friends seeking adventure, monsters, angsty teen love triangles and the lengths a mother can go to save her son. And, perhaps, some justice for a long suffering character too.
Stranger Sings! doesn't hide what it is. It’s an unrelenting love letter to the show and source material, while never shying away at poking fun at it in an adoring and endearing way, as all good parodies do. It highlights the main events of the first season, with a few nods to later seasons of the show, and a sprinkling of nostalgic and nerdy references throughout that have those in the know cackling and cheering in their seats. It is clear from the minute the audience walks in that this is created by fans of the show, lead by Ashley Taylor Tickell’s direction. Every element is well thought out and presented, right down to the smallest, seemingly insignificant detail. From costumed company members to the photo opportunities in the foyer, and that’s just before the show begins.
This show is a huge, cohesive masterpiece in the way that everyone understood the assignment and brought to life this fictional world in such beautiful detail. Co-musical directors Geoffrey Scarlett and Stephen McMahon lead the way with their direction, turning a sci-fi show into a fully-fledged musical without losing that 80s nostalgic feel, and some absolutely insane group harmonies that had me needing to jumpstart my heart over again. The lighting effects, done masterfully by Gabriel Bethune, matched with the perfected soundscape by Edwin Cheah brings Hawkins and the Upside Down to life. Dave Angelico’s set design is simple, but incredibly effective in its creation, and the effortless scene transitions, and shows that you don’t need too much to create the desired effect. The costumes, created masterfully by Emily Busch and Clove Bova are absolute perfection to the very last stitch; every fine detail of these characters had been recreated so wonderfully, it really made the characters come together.
But the main centre of this show, is its cast. Comprised of nine players and taking on multiple roles throughout, this exceptionally talented party is what truly brings this show to life. It is clear that this was a show that allowed the cast to not only submerge themselves in their roles and the music, but to have fun with it, an exercise their right to have fun and truly indulge in their creative abilities. The comedic timing is flawless, the jokes fly and land right where they need to every time, and the ability for this cast to pull the audience in and capture them is something of another world.
The dual casting adds an extra layer to the show, with cast members portraying characters that are so vastly different from the other. Asher Griffith-Jones is such a perfect example of this, with his portrayal of both Steve Harrington and Jonathan Byers, two romantic rivals who could not be any more different and played with such an impressive physical comedy and character progression through song. Jess Riddler portrays Eleven and Nancy Wheeler, the sheltered girl with superpowers turned hero, and perhaps the unwilling villain in someone’s story. A central focus point, as it is in the show, is the Party; Mike, Dustin and Lucas played by Jack Duff, Liam J. Kirkpatrick and Guillaume Gentil respectively. These three channel these beloved characters to the absolute tee and quickly worked their way into the hearts of the audience. Special mention to Gentil’s performance as the Demogorgon – something that I never knew I was missing from my life until that moment. Gabrielle Ward brings sweet Will Byers to life with such effortless ease, which only makes it harder to watch when bad things happen to him. Ian Andrew’s Performance as Police Chief Jim Hopper perfectly captures the essence of the character with incredible delivery of jokes and script, and spectacular reactions to Joyce’s (totally not) crazy ordeal.
The cast as a whole both steals the show and makes it run so smoothly together, but this review cannot be made without special mentions. Stephanie John brings Joyce Byers to life in a way that rivals Winona Ryder herself. The expressions, the voice, the overall ‘I’m not crazy’ aura is so painfully perfect, it was almost too much. And matched with such an incredible vocal range and comedic stylings is on par to no other. Stacey-Louise Camilleri, quite frankly, has become a hero of mine with her performance of long suffering best friend Barb Holland. Camilleri’s unfaltering characterisation, physical comedy and one hell of a set of pipes during THAT number (spoilers!) is nothing short of utter perfection. Camilleri throws herself into the role (quite literally at times) and it is such a joy to see some newfound Justice for a beloved character.
Frankly, I could spend hours and pages talking about how spectacular this show is, how effortlessly perfect the entire cast is – I truly could. But that would take the fun out of you all going to see it. So please, especially if you’re a fan of the show and the 80s, get down to Meat Market in North Melbourne and witness the otherworldly wonder that is Stranger Sings! A Parody Musical. Running until November 19th.