Review by Hannah Fredriksson
Grey Lantern Productions have once again stolen the hearts of Perth Fringe Festival goers, this time with the debut of their own original production What Makes A Musical A Musical. With lyrics by Cassie Skinner and music by Lachlan Obst and Josh Haines, this is a homegrown show that doesn't trade humour for quality - it delivers both in spades.
Performed in The Studio at Subiaco Arts Centre with black curtains and parquet flooring, the set is so minimal that it feels like a high school drama class, but this is probably the one show where this makes perfect sense for the context. Wearing all black, the cast remains on stage at all times, seated along either side so they are ready to leap up and become part of the narrative at any given moment. The neutral costumes and staging provide a blank slate, allowing for the rapidly shifting genres and settings that are about to unfold.
Matthew Manning plays 'The Author' of the musical within a musical, assisted by the effervescent and usually British 'Narrator' (Mitch Lawrence). Tasked with preparing a musical for his creative writing class, The Author struggles to piece together all the necessary elements that make a good production.
As he invents characters and composes standard musical parts such as the 'Opening Number', the rest of the cast jumps in to fill in as your standard musical archetypes – male and female leads, sidekicks, the villain, and 'the ensemble'. The cast has insane chemistry having worked together in various other productions, they are able to match each others energy and bring the audience along with them for the ride. Every joke lands with impeccable flair and timing.
It's a silly show that doesn't take itself too seriously, poking fun at the nature of the creative performance industry, but at the same time it is a love letter to it. The ridiculousness, the repetition, the frustration and the joy are all expressed throughout the show in truly meta fashion.
If Grey Lantern has a strength, it's shining a light on the problematic aspects of society and delivering its critique with a wink and aesthetic riffing. The show touches on the outdated aspects of traditional storytelling, looking at them through 2020-coloured glasses. Gender roles, heteronormative relationships and cultural appropriation are all addressed tastefully and hilariously but not at anybody's expense.
Possibly the only negative is that with the seating in tiers that rose from the parquet flooring, it made it hard to see what was going on at the front of the stage at times. Also when the actors came near the sides of the front of the stage the lighting didn't quite reach them.
Having debuted with a bang, What Makes A Musical A Musical shows that Grey Lantern are capable of creating their own original productions that bring an updated perspective on familiar topics. Director Lorna Mackie has lead the well-oiled team to another winning production and I can't wait to see what they do next.