What a pleasure it is to be offered an original Australian musical. Original Australian musicals are still something of a rarity in Australian theatres so it seems remarkable that when Fangirls opens in the Canberra Theatre later this week, Canberra audiences will have the opportunity to see two of them in the same week.
When this musical first surfaced in 2012 as Margaret Fulton Queen of the Desert, it received excellent reviews. With book and lyrics by Doug McLeod and music by Yuri Worontschak, and now retitled Margaret Fulton The Musical, it is now being presented by Jally Entertainment for an eight performance season in The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre as part of an extensive regional tour.
Tracing the story of how an enterprising young cook embraced the opportunities offered by the emergence of television to change Australia’s eating habits through her enthusiastic promotion of crockpots, pressure cookers and a best-selling cook book, and in doing so became a National Living Treasure, the musical draws on Margaret Fulton’s autobiography I sang For My Supper.
However as presented in this touring production, Margaret Fulton the Musical seems to have lost something in translation.
The dot-points to Fulton’s rise to fame are presented in a revue-style presentation in which, her talents for cooking, her salesmanship, her relationships with her first two husbands and others who influenced her growing fame are represented by a talented ensemble of six actors, three of whom play multiple roles.
All these characters are portrayed in over-the-top, cartoon-like characterisations with catchy songs, snappy lyrics and flashy choreography. As entertaining as these segments are however, the playing is so broad that it is difficult to connect with any of the characters, and very little of what is depicted explains Fulton’s huge popularity.
A scene early in the show in which Fulton duets with her dead mother and another duet with her third husband towards the end of the show seem intended to add some depth, but sit uncomfortably out of style with the rest of the show, suggesting that the authors were undecided about whether the show should be a satirical comment on the times or a melodrama about Fulton’s life.
This impression is further exacerbated by John Bailey’s realistic kitchen/dining room setting. Attractive at first viewing, the dining room side of the set quickly becomes superfluous, even intrusive for those scenes set in other locations including Kings Cross, London hotels, offices and lobbies, resulting in the cast playing those scenes in front of the set rather than in it. The static lighting design did little to overcome this problem.
One felt for the cast, which included Judy Hainsworth as Margaret Fulton, supported by Jessica Kate Ryan and Zoe Harlen with Paige McKay, Conor Ensor and Clancy Enchelmaier playing a myriad of other characters.
They all worked hard to breathe life into the show, but their efforts were constantly stymied by the harsh, poorly recorded soundtrack that featured abrupt endings to many of the songs which left the audience in confusion as to whether or not to applaud.
Margaret Fulton The Musical still has a long tour ahead of it. Perhaps the season in Queanbeyan will provide the opportunity for the producers to rectify some of the problems inherent in the production.
Margaret Fulton The Musical
The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Tuesday 23 March 2021
Season continues to 27 March 2021
For more information and touring schedule, visit: www.jallyentertainment.com.au for details.
Image: Paige McKay, Clancy Enchelmaier, Jessica Kate Ryan, Conor Ensor, Judy Hainsworth and Zoe Harlen in Margaret Fulton The Musical (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM