Miracle City

HTC_Miracle City_Kurt SneddonThere seems to be a resurgence of interest in the work of Nick Enright. For a couple of weeks this month it was possible to see two of his works, Miracle City and Daylight Saving, running simultaneously in professional productions on stage in Sydney. The most intriguing is the musical Miracle City, perhaps the most famous Australian musical we’ve never seen – that is until now.

Miracle City was originally given a development season by Sydney Theatre Company in 1996, directed by Gale Edwards. It received an enthusiastic reception at the time, but apart from a modified version, directed by Enright himself for WAAPA, it has not been seen again until resurrected by Luckiest Productions for this season at The Hayes Theatre.

Set in the 1990’s and inspired by the careers of televangelists, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, all the action in Miracle City takes place in a cable television studio, on a Sunday morning, before, during and after the televising of the Truswell family’s weekly television show.

Mike McLeish gives a superb performance as the evangelist, Ricky Truswell, using his winning smile, silver tongue and apple-pie-fresh family to convince viewers to part with their savings to finance Miracle City – his religious theme park. How far Truswell will go to achieve his aim becomes shockingly clear as the show progresses.

Hilary Cole is delightfully convincing as Truswell’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Loretta, and Cameron Holmes as her young brother, Ricky-Bob is heartbreaking as he registers the realisation of the fate of his sister.

However it is Truswell’s charismatic wife, Lora-Lee, who is the linchpin of the family business and the family, and in this role Blazey Best is simply mesmerising. Whether exhorting the viewers to support her husband, leading the choir in inspirational songs, comforting her staff, or crumbling under the weight of her husband’s deception, her performance is as charismatic and masterful as the character she plays. Her final scene in which she discards her make-up and pride to plead with her husband is a gut-wrenching tour-de force.

As the Truswell’s three back-up singers, Marika Aubrey, Esther Hannaford and Josie Lane, not only sing up a storm but also manage to create three distinctly interesting characters. Esther Hannaford, as struggling drug-addict Bonnie-Mae, gets the best opportunities and the best song in the show, the soaring ballad I’ll Hold On.

Peter Kowitz is flesh-crawlingly creepy as the self-serving sleazy guest televangelist, Millard Sizemore, and Jason Kos brings notable presence to the role of Billy Trengrove, the stage-manager whose job it is to keep the show on track amid the chaos threatening around him.

Michael Hankin’s set design of a moveable semi-transparent gold curtain, moved around the stage by the cast, is a lesson in economical stage design. It allows us to see the action happening behind the scenes, while creating the correct atmosphere for what is happening in front, and is used to maximum effect by director Darren Yap who moves the show along at a cracking pace for its 90 minute duration, performed without an interval.

Choreography, costumes and lighting by Kelley Abbey, Roger Kirk and Hugh Hamilton serve the production well by capturing the feel of the early 1990’s. Max Lambert’s music is tuneful, appropriate and accessible while Nick Enright’s book and lyrics remain as powerful and fresh as when they were written.

The good news is that this production has been recorded for CD release. If you see it, get yourself a copy. Luckiest Productions have done music theatre enthusiasts a great service by rescuing this important Australian music theatre gem from obscurity with this excellent production.

Director: Darren Yap  Musical Director: Max Lambert  Choreographer: Kelly Abbey  Set Designer: Michael Hankin  Costume Designer: Roger Kirk  Lighting Designer: Hugh Hamilton

Miracle City
Hayes Theatre, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Season: 17 October – 16 November 2014
Information: www.hayestheatre.com.au

Image: Josie Lane, Marika Aubrey and Esther Hannaford in Miracle City – photo by Kurt Sneddon

Review: Bill Stephens

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