Hayes Theatre, October 17
She’s a star. Loren Hunter takes the role of Evelyn May Murphy and, just as the character becomes a star within the story, Hunter proves herself one in realising it. She grips us with her absolute commitment to the truth of her character, the even beauty of tone across her singing range, her compelling dancing and her natural grace and charisma.
To say that Hunter makes this new show, written by Naomi Livingston (music and lyrics) and Hugo Chiarella (book and lyrics,) would be unfair, but without her you’d certainly have a much weaker production.
Elements of the complex beast that is musical theatre are certainly working – most often when Hunter is centre stage. The narrative structure is functioning, some songs are memorable, the actors mostly have characters worthy of their skills, and there are innovative moments in the intersection of music, dialogue and staging. In fact, were it all as good as the best bits, this could be a five-star show.
By using a showbiz setting (the Tivoli in Sydney’s vaudeville heyday) ranging from the 1930s to the 1960s, Chiarella and Livingston create a context for credibly incorporating diverse musical idioms. To hear Hunter sing Great Australian Digger makes for captivating musical theatre, as do the harmonies between the three women on They Say I Am Too Young.
That it mostly drops away from this level has less to do with the rest of the cast (Amanda Harrison, Tim Draxl, Bishanyia Vincent, Jo Turner and Keegan Joyce) or Kate Champion’s direction and choreography, and more to do with the writing itself (and partially Steven Kreamer’s quintet arrangements).
Some dialogue lines that might work as lyrics are just lamely cliched without music. Among the songs Here I Am (sung by Harrison) is anthemic where it should be ruminative. Too often lyrics and melodies don’t dance hip-to-hip, but jar against one another, and subtext becomes extant lyrics, so melodrama and sentimentality are easy substitutes for seeking deeper emotional veracities. The most telling moments can be the most understated, not the most overwrought. The writers have forgotten the power of what is left unsaid.
Yet when they hit us with a Hunter/Harrison duet like And It Turns, you’re left thinking about what have been – and what could still be, if the authors are prepared to address the flaws.
Until November 10.