Review: Fugitive Songs

Fugitives, runaways and a sublime musical score

By Owen James

Sonder Theatre Company have produced an extraordinary production of this rarely performed musical. Both this company and this director, Dirk Hoult, are clearly ones to watch in the Melbourne theatre scene.

Fugitive Songs rotates characters and settings around the theme of running away – although not in the same sense as other “fugitive musicals” such as Bonnie and Clyde or Thrill Me. These are regular people pushed to their limits, they are victims of circumstance, avoiding or escaping their past or future. Each song gives us a new moment, a new perspective or intrinsic human value such as fear, resilience or recovery to consider.

Composers Nathan Tysen (music) and Chris Miller (lyrics) (a team also known for musicals Tuck Everlasting and The Burnt Part Boys) have shaped these unique stories with a folky score reminiscent of early works of Pasek & Paul or of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, packed with humour and warmth. Musical Director Caleb Garfinkel has brought this difficult score to life with love, precision, and a team of electrifying voices and musicians – proving Garfinkel’s consistently impressive musical direction.

Director Dirk Hoult has done an extraordinary job physicalising this score, creating ensemble movement that elevates every lyric without ever becoming distracting. He has ensured that in this intimate world of diatribes and confessions each song has a distinctly unique flavour. I’d rush out to see any productions Hoult has a part in.

Every member of this six-person ensemble brings their all to this fugitive world and by portraying their numerous characters with realistic humour and pain, they keep us engaged in every new chapter. This show is the perfect vehicle for each of them, giving every performer a chance to shine. Though, special mentions are due to Bailey Dunnage and Luisa Scrofani who both have a magical stage presence that induces laughter and heartache at every new turn.

Lighting by Jason Crick is sharp and precise, embracing each song and character with a personalised glow. His work is sublime, transforming this small black box theatre into dozens of locations both large and small.

Fugitive Songs likely won’t be seen in Melbourne again for a long time. It is a credit to this emerging company that they have chosen this rarely-presented piece and pulled it off close to perfection. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Sonder.

Fugitive Songs was performed at Chapel Off Chapel 27 August – 2 September. See here for more information about Sonder Theatre Company.

Photograph: Lissa & Laz Photography