To borrow a backhanded compliment from the great Mel Brooks, Sexercise the Musical is, in my opinion, “surprisingly good.”
Written and produced on a scale of Off-Broadway musicals, Sexercise has a few flaws, but these are gradually overcome by the charm and energy of the cast and the solid concept for the show.
Taking advice from a couple’s counsellor, Sam and her husband Joe attempt to cure their relationship slump by indulging in a healthy bit of sexercise. The relationship lens is expanded to include subplots for counsellor Rhonda and friends Tania, Andy and Shane. While this is a boon for the talented supporting actors, it also contributes to a bloated running time of 140 minutes (including interval).
Set in present day Melbourne, Sexercise employs a knowing wink to avoid the cultural cringe. In a world of kikki.K, Foxtel and Mount Waverley Secondary College graduates, writer Derek Rowe creates characters that are recognisable yet not overly stereotyped. The temptation could have been to write a segmented revuesical, but the inclusion of a storyline is a wise choice for maintaining interest.
Also contributing the music and lyrics, Rowe goes a very long towards redeeming his involvement in that-other-show-with-sex-in-its-title. Songs are enjoyable, if not entirely hummable, on first listen, with a fresh sound that is not derivative of other sources. Individual songs are mainly set apart by the concept being covered, from online dating to tedious sex to aging gracefully.
Director Sara Grenfell deserves great credit for not only inspiring energetic performances from the cast, but for earning their trust so as to adopt all manner of intimate, close physical contact and sexual representation. It is all good, clean fun, but the cast’s camaraderie and familiarity allows the audience to relax and enjoy a show that could potentially be uncomfortable in lesser hands.
Dana Jolly’s choreography is similarly peppy, and benefits immensely from the impressive dance skills of the cast.
Musical Director Trevor Jones leads a confident presentation of the all-new score, also deftly completing the under-appreciated job of orchestrations and arrangements. The number of musicians is not clear (as the band is not listed in the program) but the musical accompaniment does seem a little slight overall. Sound quality on opening night was affected by the raw sound design of Your Show Pty Ltd, with too many crackles and pops heard throughout the night.
Adrienne Chisholm’s uncluttered stage design keeps action brisk and clean. Chisholm’s costumes are varied, modern and colourful. Her choice to present the counsellor Rhonda as a buttoned up professional when the character has many new age traits and practices is an odd one. (Similarly, it is odd that we learn of Rhonda’s shady past after we have already seen her let her hair down.)
Nicole Melloy anchors the show with a strong, poised performance as Sam, the restless, devoted Mum who casts aside yoga to rediscover sex with her husband. In an upbeat show, Melloy sells her downbeat ballad “Don’t Need I’m Sorry” thanks to her soaring vocals. Lyall Brooks has a charismatic presence as Sam’s schlubby husband Joe. Melloy and Brooks are terrific in two sex-related numbers: “Are We Done Yet,” as they re-enact their tepid, intermittent sex life for the counsellor, and “Work Out With Each Other,” as Joe and Sam throw themselves into sexercise. Melloy and Brooks also show themselves to be team players when they perform as ensemble members in boy band parody “Planet Earth.”
Fem Belling, as counsellor Rhonda, and Kristin Holland, as buff friend Shane, also throw themselves into their bedroom number “Love or Lust or Whatever.” Belling provides an act one highlight with “Computer Dating Man,” a number that is enhanced with fun video accompaniment.
Comic energy lifts palpably with each stage appearance of Lulu McClatchy as despondent lesbian Tania. Channeling her best Rebel Wilson vibe, coloured with her own inimitable flair, McClatchy scores plenty of laughs. Masculine, young actor Cameron MacDonald proves his acting versatility by convincingly playing an indecisive, middle-aged man. McClatchy and MacDonald offer strong support throughout, and enjoy their moment in the spotlight in “It Might Be Different This Time.” McClatchy also charms the audience, especially one lucky woman, in “Want What I Got.”
Don’t go along expecting Sondheim or spectacle, but for a diverting laugh, Sexercise is pleasant entertainment.
Sexercise the Musical plays at Alex Theatre, St Kilda until 15 March 2015
PS It would be remiss not to mention the brand new Melbourne venue Alex Theatre. A spectacular Broadway wall collage sets the scene in the foyer. The 500 seat theatre, with moderate-sized mezzanine, enjoys uninterrupted sightlines and comfortable seats. Being a step up in size from Chapel off Chapel, this is a welcome addition to the Melbourne theatre scene. Now if they could just magically conjure some easy parking.