Cabaret Fringe Festival. La Boehme. 1 June 2014
One should never review a work in progress. So this is not a review. It is reflections.
Price Check is in its second incarnation - being aired as a reading for the Cabaret Fringe Festival.
Is it on its way to being "the great Australian musical"?
Certainly it is one of the treats of the CabFringe, the truly intimate arts experience of being part of a work in development.
As the rain drizzled and dripped outside, the privileged audiences crammed into La Boehme to share what one could describe as a thrill of skill, courage and optimism. If playwriting is the hardest of the literary arts, then musicals are the hardest of the genres in which to score a win. The fails are many.
The idea of a musical about the prosaicism of life in the supermarket is daring - but Sean Weatherly has done deep research on the subject with no less than 14 years in dairy/frozen departments as he supported his way through university and into an entertainment career.
With playwright Cerise de Gelder pitching in on lyrics and libretto, Weatherly has composed a 15-song strong musical about Narelle, the veteran checkout chick, Mr Butler, the mean-spirited store manager, Zayeeb, the clever Indian who loves working in the fruit and veg department plus David, the supermarket stacker with a university arts degree and a young family to support.
Zayeeb's arrival on the scene is catalyst for changes in dynamics among the staff, spurring a little frisson of romance and some challenges of loyalty and ethics. Their world of customers is represented by just one garrulous little old Jewish lady who is a very regular and demanding shopper and a bit of a busy-body.
Weatherly has assembled a fabulous cast of professionals to bring this venture to life, not the least of them being Michael Fuller as director and Peter Johns on piano.
The fabulous Jacqy Philips plays old Mrs Zimmerman, heavily accented and amusingly needy. She gets to sing one song, which is the most difficult song in the show, one which perhaps still needs revision.
Catherine Campbell assumes a veil of utter jadedness as Narelle, the long-term check-out chick. She gives great voice to the theme song, ‘Price Check’, which is catchy enough to have one singing it long after leaving the performance. Campbell not only has a wonderful vocal range but is also an expressive actor so, even in the artifice of a reading, she brings a depth of emotion to her character. She is quite a strength in this presentation. Then again, so is Don Bridges as the small-minded boss and Fahad Farooque is utterly adorable as the very peculiar fruit and veggie fellow. He's the folly character, played up as an Indian cliche and even a song with a Bollywood bent. He's brings some comic banter about language and a little edge on racism which add further layers to the script.
Weatherly has fleshed out the characters quite effectively. Mr Butler has a secret life as a ballroom dancer while Narelle is not a loser but a victim of life. Weatherly plays David who one assumes to be the autobiographical link. He's something of an anti-hero who represents the too-common modern-day predicament of uni grads who get stuck with banal jobs. There's a deep frustration under the skin and Weatherly brings it forth. He is an immensely personable performer and a voice which is a pleasure to the ear, so he is no hardship starring in his own show. One hopes, when it hits the big time, that he will continue to do so along with the rest of this terrific reading cast.
And the show is coming on nicely. The performers, who sit on chairs on the stage when not doing their bits, interject during the scene changes and explain where dance routines are planned when the show gets to full production. At this point, it is one long first act and, after interval, a shorter second act.
The music is pleasant and, for the most part, not too Sondheim tricky for the singing. It swings along as an easy modern musical with the proper range of light and dark. The characters each have a special song. There are some big songs. There's a bit of philosophy, a bit of humour, a touch of love, and even a voyage-of-the-damned song when David contemplates working the Night Fill shift. Who would have thought there were so many dimensions to life behind the scenes in the supermarket?
What it needs is yet more blue pencil, a bit more nip and tuck. Some of the songs have so many verses that they just get tired. There could be a tad more toe tap, too.
It's a great concept for a musical. Weatherly hits the nerve for universality. Who doesn't come across world-weary checkout chicks? Who hasn't asked an aisle stacker for help? Who doesn't get peeved when there are too many Home Brands on the shelves? The supermarket is pretty much the navel of the consumer world.
So, Mr Weatherly, here's one shopper who'll be ready to join the queue to check out your show when it's up on the big stage.
Where: La Boehme