The premiere of a new Australian musical is one to celebrate, as they are far and few between. To take a show from its initial thought to a fully-fledged staging, requires commitment with plenty of blood, sweat and tears.
In recent times, there has been a tendency to present shows prematurely, with a number of shows not quite ready. Sexercise The Musical and NED immediately come to mind, particularly when compared to the terrific and well-executed MTC / QTC production, Ladies in Black.
When the critically-acclaimed writing team, Peter Fitzpatrick and Anthony Costanzo, who delivered the stunning Life’s a Circus a few years back, announced their highly anticipated new musical, CROSSxROADS – there was much hope for a celebration.
With a book by Fitzpatrick, and music and lyrics by Costanzo, CROSSxROADS follows the relationship of Amy (Alinta Chidzey) and Rick (Stephen Mahy), from their graduation at the start of the new millennium, to a tumultuous day in Paris ten years later. In between, ‘sliding door’ moments are explored, where the choices one makes, can easily take a very different turn.
Drawing its influences from a raft of sources including St. Elmo’s Fire, Sliding Doors and If/Then (with a little bit of Groundhog Day thrown in for good measure), Fitzpatrick’s book is structurally weak, with characters that appear to lack any emotional connectivity. One questions what dramaturgical process took place in its three-year development, as the over-arching narrative, is fairly humdrum and uninspiring, that allows a number of key points to simply go unexplained.
Featuring a contemporary music-theatre sound, Constanzo’s compositions could easily find a home off-Broadway. Repetitively simple, the music lacks a distinctively Australian tone. Some of the songs simply defy explanation, such as the woeful The Difference Between and Eyeful of Eiffel which do nothing to advance the story, except to elicit a few misplaced laughs.
That being said, we do fleetingly hear Constanzo’s true potential, notably Amy’s Moving On, Floating on Cloud Nine and Yellow Brick Road. Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound design is well-balanced and supports David Wisken’s tight and tuneful five-piece band.
Minimally staged and complimented by some stunning atmospheric lighting, Rob Sowinski & Bryn Cullen’s design features a series of white sliding curtains that offer plenty of scope and flexibility in moving through the number of scene changes.
It is a pity director Tyran Parke did not take advantage of this design, as scene changes came across as clunky, compounded by the cast unnecessarily introducing many of the scenes – especially when those same details have just been projected onto the curtains. Disappointingly, Parke’s direction is prosaic, and relies on broad humour and clichéd moments to get it over the line.
The Australian musical theatre sector is widely recognised as being one of best in the world, and the calibre of performers assembled is the definite highlight of this show. While Chidzey and Mahy may lack the emotional chemistry of a couple falling in and out of love – they do deliver vocally. Notably Chidzey in Act One in Amy’s Moving On, and Mahy in Yellow Brick Road.
Joe Kosky provides the laughs as Rick’s comedic sidekick, Barrel – more so in Floating On Cloud Nine (with Mahy), while Fem Belling’s Hannah is an absolute delight as Amy’s ‘boho’ mate. Her rendition of M.E.N. (with Chidzey) is one of the show’s highlights. Bianca Baykara, Bronte Florian, Edward Grey, and Ryan Gonzalez round out the cast in their own special way, however, their talents are often left under utilised.
Even with the show going up 15 minutes late on opening night, the work still sits at an ambitious 130 minutes, and it would be of benefit if it was reduced to an ideal 80 – 90 minutes one-act musical. In its current form it is simply not ready. Story and character arcs need revisiting, as well those songs that are superfluous to the narrative.
Amongst the bones of CROSSxROADS, there lies the makings of a good, perhaps great, Australian musical. I hope the creative team treats this season as a professional workshop, and takes the opportunity to reflect on what does and doesn’t work. With a great irony the creative team now sit at their own ‘cross road’, and whether this show is able to become one of Australia’s great musicals – is now entirely up to them!
Director: Tyran Parke Featuring: Bianca Baykara, Fem Belling, Alinta Chidzey, Bronte Florian, Edward Grey, Ryan Gonzalez, Joe Kosky, Stephen Mahy Choreography: Michael Ralph Musical Direction: David Wisken Costume Design: Kim Bishop Set & Lighting Design: Rob Sowinski & Bryn Cullen Sound Design: Marcello Lo Ricco
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Saturday 16 April 2016 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 30 April 2016
Bookings: (03) 8290 7000 or online at: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
For more information, visit: www.rlproductions.com.au for details.
Image: Stephen Mahy (Rick) and Alinta Chidzey (Amy) in CROSSxROADS – photo by James Terry
Review: Rohan Shearn