The revival of a musical might involve new sets and costumes, but the addition of new material based on further real life events makes Shane Warne the Musical even more unique than it already is. After making a splash with the original 2008 staging, the production returns for an all too brief concert season with a killer cast, clever staging and sumptuous orchestral accompaniment.
As up to date as the production is, the recent real life outraged tweets and half naked Instagram selfies prove that nothing on stage can be as strange as the real life shenanigans of the title character.
Eddie Perfect again proves his multiple-threat status, not only pulling off the incredibly rare achievement of writing music, lyrics and book, but also starring as the new and improved Warnie. Perfect’s lyrics are an absolute treat, featuring witty rhymes and a plethora of pop culture references to highlight the 1990s setting. He finds clever double-meanings to terms like The Ashes, SMS and Dancing with the Stars. The music is instantly accessible, and songs span the field from rousing choruses to moving ballads and everything in between. There is a virtual hymn to beer, complete with cheeky amber lighting, a Bollywood-esque number and a company number about That Ball, which brings to mind “Something Just Broke” from Sondheim’s Assassins.
Perfect’s book is supremely deft, with songs and situations flowing into each other with sterling clarity. Black humour derives from characters believing their own delusions as their reality. Warne is stripped of the vice-captaincy and yet asks whether he might still be captain. Simone Warne takes international player Shane to the supermarket and mentions they are going to a three-hour kinder parents’ party. Liz Hurley swears Shane’s streamlined new look is not from having work done, it’s love. There is no need for us to feel the cultural cringe in viewing a distinctly Australian story; the characters are already feeling it for us. Genius.
Revisiting his 2008 musical, Perfect has made judicious additions and alterations, opening with a prologue set in 2010, in which Warne’s image is presented as dangerously irrelevant to the upcoming younger generation. Minor incidents have been expunged, such as Warne being caught smoking while working for Quit, and Warne landing in hot water for taking a diuretic pill his mum gave him. An extended new final sequence showcases the latest chapter in Warne’s fanciful life: his relationship with glamorous jetsetting star Liz Hurley.
From 2010, time shifts back to 1988, when suburban Shane and his parochial Mum do not even know the location of Brisbane. After a brief attempt at Australian Rules, Warne moves on to cricket and, with a bit of spit and polish from coach Terry Jenner, unearths his amazing natural ability. Warne’s incredulous thrill at the payment from Women’s Weekly for wedding photos soon spirals into an unwelcome burden of constant attention as familiar incidents such as the sex texting, match fixing and racial vilification scandals play out.
Director Simon Phillips keeps action light and bright, drawing the spectrum of characters clearly and maintaining the consistent deadpan delivery that makes the biting humour of the lyrics and book all the more effective. Also credited for the turf and stadium set, Phillips makes easy work of denoting place and time with no changes to the setting. Geoff Cobham’s lighting is the perfect complement, featuring a sports ground-style lighting bank in the rear, and adding highly effective colour and texture to proceedings.
Iain Grandage’s orchestrations bring a richness to the music that greatly enhances the songs without ever threatening to overshadow or outshine them. The brief riff from “If I were a Rich Man” to enhance the money theme of act one finale “My Name Is John” is an example of the wit and flair involved. Perfect has written ballads, showstoppers, patter songs, anthems and more, and the orchestrations provide colour and variety to all of these. The 21-piece Melbourne Orchestra sound wonderful throughout. Vocal reproduction sounded somewhat harsh initially but was smoothed out as the performance progressed.
The term ‘luxury casting’ can be tossed around at times but having four of Australia’s leading female music theatre stars, all of whom have headlined shows themselves, appearing as featured ensemble is nothing short of incredible. Lisa McCune, Christie Whelan Browne, Verity Hunt-Ballard and Amy Lehpamer prove themselves troopers of the highest order, moving scenery, flipping wigs on and off, and singing and dancing in back up between their moments in the spotlight.
McCune is adorable as the very Australian Simone Warne. Her body-twisting dancing with Perfect in “Dancing with the Stars” is an absolute hoot. Whelan Browne pulls off a delightfully toffy accent as Liz Hurley, capturing Hurley’s conceited mock indignance perfectly. Hunt-Ballard has just the help of a frumpy wig to age herself as Shane’s Mum, and brings a sensitive aspect to the potentially broad character. Lehpamer uses her powerhouse vocal capability to sensational effect in act two’s “Donna Wright.”
Shane Jacobson gives great support as the weary, warm-hearted Terry Jenner. Andy Conaghan, Jolyon James, Mike McLeish and Rohan Nichol round out the hard-working, highly talented ensemble.
Central, of course, to all of these tremendous performances is the towering achievement of Perfect in the title role. Underplaying the comedy to superb effect, Perfect has the audience onside all the way, crafting a layered characterisation that leaves the audience to judge the man being portrayed, and also leaving a healthy dose of mystery as to what makes him tick.
The gift that is Shane Warne the Musical may be shared beyond audiences fortunate enough to have been present this time around as some sort of recording is potentially on the horizon. Perfect’s upcoming MTC play Beast is certainly anticipated all the more after this reminder of the stellar quality of his writing.
20 June 2013 was a proud night for Melbourne theatre, with three of the four musicals playing in major theatres being developed here. Shane Warne the Musical joined Flowerchildren and King Kong for a homegrown hat trick.
Shane Warne the Musical plays one more performance in this current season at Hamer Hall, Friday 21 June 2013.
Photos: Meredith O’Shea