‘Mettle, Moxie & Melody’ was intimate.
Nestled within the vibrancy of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, ‘Concept’ – a small versatile venue seating just 40 is the perfect space for intimate workshops and the incubation of new works. It is always pleasing to see brand new Australian musicals being devised, workshopped and performed in spaces such as these around the country.
Written by local Brisbane composer, Anina-Marie Warrener, ‘Mettle, Moxie & Melody’ tells the trials and tribulations of a trio of strong, independent women through song and spoken word. Wildchild Evie moves away from her religiously conservative mother excited to explore her sexuality. Young mother, Renae is struggling to cope with both her seriously ill baby and online-game addict manchild boyfriend, Josh. Mediocre saleswoman Stella struggles with losing her personality in a brand new marriage and an uninspiring dead-end call-centre job, whilst her friends reach fame and stardom on Broadway.
With salt of the earth, relatable subject matter, this small-scale musical truly has a good foundation on which the show is built upon. As an audience member you willed on each heroine to follow their hearts and do what was right for them. These innate reactions are one of the hardest emotional responses to achieve when writing a new musical, so for this Warrener must be commended.
This being said, there was a feeling of repetition from all 15 original songs. From the similar chord sequences, tempos and modalities of each song to the slightly jarring, non-idiomatic writing for the voices, I hope that Warrener takes this wholesome experience as part of Anywhere Festival to continue to expand, explore and refine the work for a second workshop, varying the pace, tempo and accompaniment.
Walking into the ‘Concept’ studio, the edison-bulbed ceiling created a comfortable atmosphere, even if the hard steel chairs did not. The set, with its simple side table and futon couch allowed for easy transitions between all three separate story arcs and never felt cumbersome. The lighting design was simply on or off, but in this space and for this stripped back style of musical theatre, it worked and added to the intimacy.
However, the sound design was problematic. With such a small chamber musical as this, the backing tracks were a little robotic and MIDI-like, which didn’t allow the performers the flexibility to purvey as much emotion as they would have liked. The placement of the single amplification device at one end of the space gave an aural sense of vertigo, which meant the balance between the singers and the accompaniment was lopsided and detracting.
The overly-synthetic sounds of the piano, violin and drum kit could have been softened by using a more realistic sequencer or even better yet, a real-life pianist. This being said, Juanita Van Wyk’s Musical Direction was clear and the harmonies created were pleasing to hear and generally well balanced. The musical highlight of the show was the closing number, with beautifully written harmonies and an overall well-balanced ensemble sound.
In the lead roles, Merilee E, Zoe Lee-Archer and Courtney Farrar were largely believable, bringing a realistic sense of emotion to each of their curated characters. With such varying voice types and strengths between the trio, balance was sometimes an issue but settled down as the show progressed. It was Lee-Archer, whose story of coming to terms with her sexuality, felt most comfortable and most relatable, with credit to Clarise Ooi for a fun portrayal of her overly confident (and most importantly, out) lover.
Supporting male lead Lawson Schafer’s dual roles of newly-wed Ben and gamer Josh were both successful and his voice was well suited to the material, although lacking the maturity to completely understand the newly-married role, his performance as deadbeat teenage father was extremely well done.
Juanita Van Wyk’s portrayal of Evie’s conservative religious mother was simultaneously beautiful and heart-wrenching, with her final song providing the wholesome conclusion the story arc demanded.
Overall, ‘Mettle, Moxie & Melody’ was an eye-opening night of theatre. With some great ideas and some beautiful individual performances, this show may have some noticeable flaws, but with some curating and further editing this could be a hard-hitting piece of Australian theatre.
‘Mettle, Moxie & Melody’ performed until Sunday, 19 May 2019 at Concept, Fortitude Valley as part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival. For more information visit the Etch Events facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/etchevents/.
Photography by Gemma Lancaster