Presented by Segue Productions
Reviewed 14th February, 2020
Staged ingeniously on the open stage of Theatre One at the Parks, Shane Warne: The Musical oozes loveable larrikin charm. With more musicians than actors (10 musos, 9 actors), the story of Warnie leaps into energetic life, maaate. It’s unabashed Ocker ratbaggery; even the voiceover ‘turn off your phones’ message at the start warns audience members that this show will be what my aunt would have called ‘fruity’. Eddie Perfect, Australian composer, lyricist, playwright and musician , wrote the music, lyrics and book for this show. Those of us who remember (and love) those sharply merciless satirical songs Perfect sang in his solo shows will not be surprised at the rambunctious full-frontal energy of this hymn to fame, fun, failure and fulfillment. And other ‘F’ words too.
The writing of this gem of a musical is both theatrically sound and musically quixotic. You never get bored. The story is mostly through-sung, with shreds of spoken text to whisk us through Shane Warne’s life, from abject failure as a footballer, to half-hearted tryout for a cricketing institute, to fame, international acclaim, the fall from grace, the comeback, the Ashes, and onwards. Because every song tells a story, the show never flags. The narrative in each song feeds the tension and energy of the whole story arc, making the show ideal for actor/singers. Brian Godfrey’s canny direction makes the most of each segment of the story, varying the look and feel of each scene, and rarely flagging.
Musical styles abound. There’s rock, blues, a 6/4 soul number, Bollywood, gospel, Motown, and, Lord help me, a “Bon Jovi Power Ballad”. It’s even marked thus. Perfect’s score has wonderful indications, which Musical Director Ben Stefanoff must have relished. Stefanoff drives from his keyboard, keeping his 9 band members reasonably coherent throughout. Instrumentation is 2 reeds, 3 brass, guitar, bass, percussion and drums. On opening night, there were acoustic balance problems in the first half of the show, causing the band to over-play and drown the actors’ voices. My guess is that the very acoustically ‘live’ nature of the theatre had not been fully appreciated by the sound technician, who probably bumped up the vocal lines in the band’s foldback, thinking that it was helpful. Someone must have said something to someone during the interval, because the sound was appreciably better in the second act. And in Act 2, once we could hear the performers’ voices more clearly, it became evident that some performers’ voices lacked clarity, articulation and accuracy of intonation.
Star of the whole show is the ensemble; the nine performers who, between them play 44 different characters with rapid versatility. They sing, dance, act and move furniture with untiring zeal all night. The company dance work is particularly snappy. A word about the choreography: wow. Mark Stefanoff (part of Segue Productions’ family firm) has set sharp, witty, economical and lively dance numbers which regularly spice up the action.
On stage for all but about ten minutes of the show is Shane Warne, here played with laid-back Aussie cheek by Buddy Dawson. His cheerful, open face reminds you of every naughty boy who ever stared, wide-eyed, murmuring, “I never done it, mum.” Dawson has a formidable load to carry in this show, with more solo and lead numbers than anyone else. We need to be in love with him and infuriated by him in equal parts. Dawson, by sheer hard work, manages to achieve this. Although vocally equal to the full range of his role, his warmer baritone voice is displayed beautifully in We’re Going There, the hymn to beer. If Dawson can maintain Ockerness while improving his articulation, we’ll get all of Eddie Perfect’s jokes.
Standout actor and singer Michael Butler plays Terry Jenner as well as a swag of other roles. Butler inhabits his character with warmth and fluency, constantly giving Dawson energy and focus. Butler has two contrasting solo numbers Piss It All Away and Pick Up, Shane. He sings both beautifully, with sincerity of acting, economy of effort and immense focus. As Simone, Shane Warne’s first wife, Kristin Stefanoff is excellent. Her acting ensures that we warm to Simone throughout the show, and her elegantly undersung Is The Sun The Moon is just right. She gets full marks for articulatory clarity too. Sarah Jane Whiteley works hard all evening, doing four different characters, but near the end of the piece, her role as Elizabeth Hurley demonstrates what a formidable powerhouse of a performer she is. She sings It’s Love as if her life depends on it. Tony, marketing smartarse, is Blake Ascione’s major role; his vocal quality, physical energy and sharpness are an excellent foil for Dawson’s Shane Warne. In addition, his dance work is great. Just naming the rest of the ensemble – Nic Equid, Shane Huang, Kelsey McCormack and Ashleigh Rathjen – in no way minimises their fine collaborative work.
The joy of this musical is that it doesn’t need big sets, sequinned costumes and lavish settings to tell its story with punch and pizazz. The thoughtful simplicity of costuming and props serve this story very well indeed. Without cheap parody or self-conscious nationalisms, Director Godfrey, MD Stefanoff, Choreographer Stefanoff, cast and crew have together delivered a dynamic love-letter to Australian musical theatre.
Review by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 4½ stars – Bouncy, bright chin music
Venue: The Parks Theatres – Theatre One
Season: 14th – 21st February, 2020
Duration: 2.5 hrs
Tickets: $35:00 / $30:00
Photo credit: Daniel Salmond
Disclaimer: Brian Godfrey is the Arts Editor for Glam Adelaide and Ben Stefanoff is a reviewer for Glam