Hayes Theatre, October 22
These days it could be set in Sydney’s Hills district, but back when Max Lambert (music, concept) and Nick Enright (book, lyrics) created Miracle City in the mid-’90s it had to be set in America’s heartland. Somewhere like Tennessee, where bearing arms goes hand in hand with loving Jesus, and praising the Lord need not impede fleecing the gullible flock.
This is the name of the game for TV evangelist Reverend Ricky Truswell (Mike McLeish), who each Sunday unleashes his family’s Colgate smiles to incite viewers to buy their way closer to their Maker, while helping him build his mythical Miracle City.
But behind the sugar-and-spice niceness, prayers, promises, exhortations and rousing gospel songs all is not quite as God intended on the financial front. Enter the even more reverend Millard Sizemore (Peter Kowitz), whose Dickensian name reflects a ministry with such an exalted bottom line that he flies the heavens in his own plane, and can save Truswell’s bacon for the Faustian price of his daughter. That would be his 16-year-old daughter, Loretta (Hilary Cole), while the saintly Millard is pushing 60. Truswell’s wife, Lora-Lee (Blazey Best), is less than thrilled, and therein lies the rub that turns satire into drama.
The songs are built into TV show’s God-praising, so each tends to bring the story to a grinding halt, which shines a fierce light on the quality of the song-writing and singing. Happily the gospel-generic songs are superbly crafted and the singing is generally excellent. To aid momentum some are faded down to allow crucial snatches of dialogue to continue.
Director Darren Yap (for Luckiest Productions) has assembled an ideal cast, completed by Cameron Holmes (young Ricky-Bob Truswell, who wants to be either preacher or fighter pilot), Esther Hannaford, Josie Lane and Marika Aubrey (the storming Citadel Singers), and Jason Kos as the TV stage manager. It is Best who must rise to the challenge of becoming the dramatic pivot, and she does so brilliantly and bravely.
Lambert leads the backing band himself, and such experts as Kelley Abbey (choreography), Michael Hankin (the simple set), Roger Kirk (costumes) and Hugh Hamilton (lighting) ensure the polish extends beyond the teeth. This born-again piece of musical theatre is dazzlingly entertaining, and many will find its ending surprisingly raw and achingly sad.
Until November 16.