FUNNY AND LIVELY WITH A KEEN COMIC EDGE
Society Slump Superstars
A musical by Joshua Hopton Stewart
Director: Joshua Stewart
Choreographer: Sam McLeod
at BATS, Wellington
From 10 Apr 2012 to 14 Apr 2012
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist, 13 Apr 2012
In an assured opening number the scene is set: the Prime Minister of New Zealand, one Hugh Potts, announces that he has a brilliant plan to lift the country out of its depression. He will turn real life, in its entirety, into a musical.
That's because everyone is happy in musicals – except those who are not blessed with a god given desire to sing and dance their way to fame and fortune. A shadowy fate is reserved for such as these, the sinister Men in White having the job of “disappearing” them.
The news of this unusual new regime is greeted with mixed feelings by a class of college students. However, led by star in the making, Kristen, who sees it as the perfect opportunity to shine, most of this motley crew pull together to negotiate the twin perils of terrorism and overacting and make their way through to the climactic event, the ultimate national talent quest.
Thematically, the show is depression era musical meets Glee and well, if that Prime Minister's name rings any bells, perhaps it's because there is a bit of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang thrown in as well. Mostly, though, it is a chance for some comic exploration of college age characters in an increasingly Americanised local environment of cheesy pop music and the desperate need to impress. Stardom appears as the only real career option available in the midst of a collapsing, post-democratic, consumerist economy.
Expounding this scenario takes much too long at the start of the show, however, as we wait for the Prime Minister's plan to take effect and the music to actually start. Once the characters begin to express themselves through song rather than in some repetitive dialogue, things rapidly improve.
From the outset, too, there is good comic work by the actors, especially Imogen Thirwall in the lead role of Kristen who also sings strongly. Jeff Bell as Duncan displays a very pleasant tenor. Jared Palleson also deserves mention for some great Jerry Lewis style clowning as Eugene and Angela Fitzharris as school drool Holly has some good moments.
The music very competently satirises generic pop, distinguished by some fine harmonies and deft choruses - and it is uniformly well sung. The choreography by Sam McLeod is well judged, allowing the cast/chorus do a very polished job of keeping harmonies, melodies and movements nicely synchronised.
Again, it takes a while to move through the stardom-as-redemption theme and have the songs reflect the specific feelings and fortunes of the characters in the action of the play. But as the play progresses the songs become more distinctive and original. The best come toward the end with Nebraska Jones (whose real identity remains a mystery) doing a stand-out soul pastiche and the penultimate number showing a keen comic edge in the lyrics. Piano accompanist Hayden Taylor is exemplary throughout.
Written, composed, directed and produced by Joshua Stewart, Society Slump Superstars represents a remarkable effort by this young composer. Together with twenty very talented young performers and a very proficient production team he has produced a funny, lively and at times impressive show that was much enjoyed by the capacity audience on the night I attended.
Let's hope Stewart and the others in Fresh Dada go on to create more original work, gaining the resources to do more development and to spread the workload involved in such substantial projects as this. There's plenty in this debut to show they deserve that support.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.