Talented songwriter Jamie Burgess has managed the impressive feat of penning the book, music and lyrics for this new, full-length musical. Burgess also took on musical director duties, and laid down the recorded instrumental backing tracks for the performances.
The songs are quite enjoyable, and the comedic focus is balanced with the inclusion of a couple of gentler ballads. The book and lyrics are heavy on pop culture references, innuendo and smutty wordplay, scoring plenty of laughs from the opening night audience. The fairly basic sound design (by Evan Drill) interfered with delivery of some lyrics; this issue may well be smoothed out as the season continues.
Burgess’ book is not as strong as his songs, and perhaps needed the input of a second pair of eyes or dramaturge. The second act deviates from the central storyline before eventually returning to our hero, Butch. The structure of the book, however, is not really all that important for the outlandish, frothy fun that is the aim of the show.
The story takes place in a world where everyone is gay. Butch Masters is the odd boy out, growing up heterosexual. Villainous Bea St. Lea strives to kill Butch so that her invention will remain the only way for women to become pregnant.
One odd aspect to the storytelling is that for an ostensibly gay-themed show, a very large proportion of the show is spent on heterosexual male-female relations. Also, the fear and disdain the characters have for heterosexuality seems out of line with the current gradual diminishing of homophobia in the real world. Overall, this context seemed more fully explored in 2002 off-Broadway musical Zanna, Don’t!.
Director Dirk Hoult keeps energy sky high, which is great for selling the over the top characters. Comedy tends to work better, however, when played straight. The variety of accents is also an odd choice.
Choreography by Jason Teasdale is well served by the high-energy vibe. Teasdale has drilled the ensemble cast well, and makes good use of the tight stage space.
Jason Bovaird’s colourful lighting design is a solid feature of the production, making abundant use of moving lights in line with the nightclub feel. The lighting is so effective, in fact, that set designer Daniel P Moulds really should not have bothered with the very basic folding panels that are moved into place to make a small contribution to the various settings. Colin McLean’s costumes are a riot of camp colour; nary a square inch of fabric goes without dazzling sequins.
Tall, handsome music theatre actor Mitch Ralston is convincing and engaging as confused straight boy Butch. Isabella Valette shines as his equally attractive co-star Pussy Powers.
Antony Steadman channels the great Divine in an amusing characterisation as dastardly Bea St. Lea. One of the most experienced actors in the cast, Adrian Li Donni demonstrates his accomplished performance skills in the key featured role of Randy. Justin Clausen impresses with his character Trunch’s big number, “Strong Hard Love.”
This is a show to enjoy with some friends after a drink or two to get into the festive Midsumma spirit.
Butch Masters: Man of Destiny plays at Alex Theatre St Kilda, Melbourne until 6 February 2016.
Categories: Music Theatre