Review: Muriel’s Wedding

Explosive Australiana in musical wonderland

By Owen James

Sometimes classic films should remain untouched and untainted by a musical adaptation – but luckily this is not the case for Muriel’s Wedding, which places the timeless story on the mainstage in colourful glory. When outcast Muriel impulsively departs Queensland hometown Porpoise Spit in search of a brighter future, she discovers her true self and her place in the world.

Original film writer PJ Hogan has modernised Muriel’s story for 2019, ensuring her flight and plight is relatable for its contemporary audience – social media plays a big part in both her initial belittling and later success. Much of the sarcastic subtlety of the film has been replaced with larger-than-life characters, displaying Hogan’s adept adaptability as a writer across formats and decades. There are big lines from big characters at every turn which ensure these colourful personalities bounce off the back walls of Her Majesty’s Theatre in every scene.

Music and lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall have both strong and weak points, but always boosts Hogan’s exaggerated Australia with punchy energy and vibrance. Miller-Heidke and Nuttall combine a contemporary musical theatre sound with moments of synth-filled pop that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio (such as ‘A True Friend’). Their detailed score also features cleverly reworked ABBA hits that offer many a catchy melody with standout songs including ‘Strangely Perfect Stranger’, ‘Here Comes The Bride’, and ‘Never Stick Your Neck Out’.

Ensemble numbers such as ‘Sydney’ and ‘Progress’ are staged with spectacle through Andrew Hallsworth’s engaging and dynamic choreography. Tight movement in songs like ‘Shared, Viral, Linked, Liked’ is jaw-dropping in its precise execution and numbers like ‘Here Comes The Bride’ demonstrate Hallsworth’s capability and love for large-scale chorey.

Director Simon Phillips has staged a heartwarming extravaganza in Muriel’s Wedding, which delves beneath initially superficial character tropes to find the diamonds waiting inside. It’s a simple and safe production with a lot of heart and colour. Set and costume design by Gabriela Tylesova transports us seamlessly between locations and embellishes the bright, larger-than-life tone set by Phillips.

Natalie Abbott absolutely shines as attention-starved underdog Muriel, never missing a beat in her mainstage debut. This is the perfect role to showcase Abbott’s varied talents, she captivates every audience member with quirky and sincere moments throughout.

Feisty friend Rhonda has been cast perfectly with Stefanie Jones. I could watch her for hours. Hilarious and heartbreaking, Jones is a talent sure to excel in many future productions.

With costumes brighter than Priscilla, more Australian humour than Strictly Ballroom, the sass of Kinky Boots and almost as much ABBA as Mamma Mia, Muriel’s Wedding is a new Australian musical very successful in its mission to entertain. It both celebrates and mocks our admittedly highly mockable culture with stereotypes you absolutely will find on a Queensland beach or a Sydney street.

Big bogans, big bitches and big budgie smugglers galore. Walk down the aisle to Muriel’s Wedding for a colourful and entertaining Australiana parodic, patriotic paradise.

Muriel’s Wedding plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until 16 June. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

Photograph: Jeff Busby