The golden age of original Australian musical theatre is upon us, with the likes of Muriel's Wedding and Fangirls telling authentic stories with a fresh sound on major capital city stages.
Sydney-based writer Jye Bryant has a backlog of work stretching back to 2004, and his one-act musical, The Things I Could Never Tell Steven, having had ten international seasons since its first production in 2015.
It follows four characters - Steven's mother, father, wife, and male lover - as they fight for their share of his attention, never realizing the mess of a life he leads, and coming to regret not being able to be honest with him until it was too late.
We never meet Steven, only discovering his worldview and priorities through the experiences the others have with him.
First thing's first: the score is kind of exhausting.
Bryant pays too much homage to Stephen Sondheim (even parodying his song Company directly at one point), and the jokes in the lyrics are forced into simple rhyme schemes that gut the songs of truly interesting and independent personalities, save for a couple.
The characters are mostly well-crafted, as The Wife reflects on how this man has gotten under her skin, and The Mother chronicles her unconditional but nave love for her boy.
Teya Duncan is the strongest in the cast as the former, having to belt some of the most stratospheric high notes while choking on tears and throwing herself onto a lounge, and I certainly hope this is not the last we see of her.
Joanna Andrew plays The Mother, providing a strong soprano to the overall harmonic balance of the show, but sometimes at the expense of the melody lines.
Weaker characters in general include The Father (Michael King), who bemoans how his father never said "I love you" to him growing up, and how he fears he might be having the same negative influence on his own son, but it never truly does anything groundbreaking with it.
The Ex is dirty double entendres in character form, delivered by Jordie Nicholas with mixed results, but with enough bravery to flagellate himself gently with a whip while shirtless onstage.
The musical culminates with one of the few group numbers, with the characters lamenting how only Steven knows the truth of everything, but I really can't say I got the gist of the man by the end, and nor did I particularly want to based on his silly decisions.
Producer Jody Miller has led a fantastic team through the process, including musical director Bree Young, co-director Dom Lacey, and set construction of a beautifully abstract floor-to-ceiling bookshelf by Andrew Miller.
I do commend the company for daring to present original Australian work to a local audience, as we often miss the chance to see the major tours that favour Sydney, but if there's one thing I could tell Steven, it's to be in a slightly more engaging musical.
Chookas Entertainment's next production is Heathers the musical, opening at the Civic Playhouse in November.
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