A joyous celebration of the life of a great Australian, and the country that grew up with her, Margaret Fulton Queen of the Dessert is ninety minutes of delectable enjoyment, as lightly whipped and deliciously sweet as any of the pavlovas on display.
If Barassi the Stage Show was a pleasant surprise, this is an absolute delight. Equal parts funny, energetic and poignant, the show has a peppy revue-sical style that covers a true blue dinky di nostalgic journey without a hint of mawkishness or cultural cringe.
With little known about the life of Margaret Fulton national-treasure-living-legend, and even less known about this world premiere, audiences enter to be greeted by an immersive experience that soon has them waving Australian flags, munching on Anzac cookies and listening to the band and backup singers.
The action in Doug Macleod’s pacy book begins in Australia’s ‘bicentenary’ year, 1988, in which successfully established institution Fulton receives bad news from the bank about the inclusion of her home in an ill-fated investment. Rewind more than 40 years and we are following a young Margaret as she makes her way from factory worker to kitchen superstar, with a marriage or three along the way. Macleod’s gags may be a little creaky but his zippy and varied exposition is a pleasure, achieving the rare feat, for a musical, of actually making you want a bit more.
With a hard working supporting cast of four playing a range of colourful characters around Fulton, Directors Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes have achieved a zany, almost improvised feel. The action takes hold in the opening minutes and never lets up, leaving the audience smiling even during the more sentimental moments.
Adding significantly to the enjoyment is the catchy, immediately accessible score, with music by Yuri Worontschak and lyrics by Macleod. Comic numbers, up-tempo numbers, and ballads all mix readily with the progress of the script as it jumps about in time and place. Regular Theatre People readers will not be surprised to hear that the all-important sound design is pristine, given that it is handled by the masterful Marcello Lo Ricco of LSS Productions.
Designer Andrew Bellchambers’ real kitchen set is quite lavish given the relatively small scale of the production. A towering collage of tea towels frames the action, with witty use made of kitchen items as props throughout. The cast have one intrinsically Australian costume each, changing characters effectively with the simplest of alterations. Lighting designer Scott Allan paints the single set with a kaleidoscope of colours, also pinpointing faces with accuracy.
What can be said to do full justice of the talents of gorgeous leading lady Amy Lehpamer? A supremely gifted actress and singer, Lehpamer has a magnetic, totally engaging presence. The masterstroke of Ives’ direction and Lehpamer’s characterization is the portrayal of Fulton as a grounded, driven, self-reliant figure. The frivolity of the supporting characters is tempered perfectly by this serious central performance, an inspired touch that avoids any risk of the show descending into camp caricatures. On top of all this, when not featured centre stage Lehpamer even joins the band on her violin. Name me another music theatre diva who can do that!*
Josh Price sets up an impressive array of characters, each with amusingly distinctive accents and body language. Price shows great command of his craft in giving the appearance of impromptu zaniness, and his diction, essential for all those comic lyrics, is excellent.
Rhoda to Lehpamer’s Mary, Laura Burzacott displays finely honed comic chops as best friend Bea, who turns up, Forrest Gump-style, in numerous aspects of Margaret’s journey through the years. Burzacott is a joy to watch, her high energy presence adding significantly to the spontaneous vibe. Watch out for her air hostess impression – what a hoot.
Zoe McDonald matches Lehpamer’s grounded approach as Margaret’s dear departed mother Isabella, while switching to top gear for the company numbers. Zoy Frangos displays his triple threat talents in a range of roles, looking and sounding every bit the classic rom com hero as Margaret’s true love, Michael.
The hard work and sheer talent of these five performers puts to shame some of the lazy work being phoned in by established ‘comedians’ in far higher profile productions.
Margaret Fulton Queen of the Dessert continues at Theatre Works, St Kilda until Saturday 1 December 2012. At $45, it is the best value theatre in town. Attendance is highly recommended.
*Ok, Patti LuPone played her tuba as well as playing Mrs Lovett in John Doyle’s 2005 production of Sweeney Todd, but name me another one!
Photos: Gerard Assi, used with permission
This review published on Theatre People 22 November 2012