‘Misfits School of Arts’ was vibrant.
Theatre lovers young and old were welcomed into Harvest Rain’s Hayward Street Studios this week for the world premiere of ‘Misfits School of Arts’, a show that accepts the eccentric, creative, and jubilant heart that lives inside us all. “You can fly if you dare to try,” echoed from the Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre students (BAMT) in a feel-good production written and produced right here in Brisbane.
“The story was inspired by many of our own experiences in the theatre, and in some cases based loosely on theatrical folk we had met over the years,” explained writers Tim O’Connor and Dennett Hudson in their programme note. ‘Misfits School of Arts’ follows the creative individuals studying at a performing arts school of the same name under the care of Miss Fitz. While the world may see the students as outsiders, they find friendship and comradery as they come together to dance, sing and act their way through the year.
Dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, the BAMT performance students gave boundless energy and life to the new work, leaving audiences grinning and singing long after the final bow. O’Connor and Hudson clearly created the script as an ensemble production, which allowed each student to shine. While it was wonderful to see the full breadth of talent on offer at BAMT, the sheer volume of separate storylines meant that audiences were not able to fully invest in the characters and their relationships with one another. Narratives resolved quickly and, while the overall story was heartfelt and uplifting, further audience investment could be achieved by limiting the number of storylines and focussing on developing a smaller number of key characters.
‘Misfits School of Arts’ is largely rooted in a fictional reality, reflected by the simplistic yet effective lighting design by Maegan Micola Von Fursentrecht. A general wash was used in most scenes alongside spot focusses, which drew the audience’s eye. Miss Fitz’s backstory monologue, however, rooted the audience in the dreamlike sequence playing out on stage. As Miss Fitz dramatically fell in an ensemble of arms, the stage exploded in flashing lights that supported the humour of the moment and separated the monologue from real-time. The lighting quickly flashed back to Miss Fitz being surrounded by her charges in a moment of effective comedy. In another powerful scene, the red lighting design accompanying mean girl Skylar’s solo ‘I Get What I Want Reprise’ added to the menace of the character.
Sound design by John Taylor and operation by Emily Douglass delivered a clean, full sound which highlighted the intricate harmonies and polyrhythms. Some top notes peaked in the sound system, however, the richness of the talented singers and well-constructed backing tracks were able to shine. While the piano on stage left was not a working instrument, the stereo audio pushed out of the left speaker made it sound as if the characters were playing in real-time. It was a simple yet effective design choice that added to the nuance on stage.
O’Connor and Hudson were clever in their setting of the show, which allowed for a simplistic set and limited props, making ample room for the 23 performers on stage. The neutral colour palette in the set allowed for the block-coloured costumes, managed by Kelsey Todd, to truly pop. Each pair of characters had their own colour that remained consistent in every costume piece, making it clear who would end up as a couple. This leant into the predictability of the script and created a vibrant movement on stage.
‘Misfits School of Arts’ gave the message that we are better when we are together and this positivity radiated through the entire production. There is beauty in diversity and it was clear that O’Connor and Hudson aimed to create a show that celebrated the uniqueness found in the students of BAMT and every other creative soul. While the script allowed for a variety of personalities and idiosyncrasies, the majority of characters were archetypal and lacked depth. It would be nice to see the script move further away from stereotypes and celebrate the breadth of character that can be found in artists. Every person on stage was entertaining to watch, however, if the script moved through further iterations, it would continue to flesh out these charming characters and allow their complexity to drive the narrative.
Hudson went from strength to strength in the original music composition of ‘Misfits School of Arts’. Virtually every song is a thespian’s anthem, leaving audiences singing the catchy melodies on the way home. The cast excelled in tackling the challenging arrangements under music direction by Hudson and assistant, Luca Camuglia-May. A particular highlight was when the entire ensemble took the classic warm-up exercises every theatre kid loves to hate and created a conglomerate of them all! The cast blended perfectly and the composition of this section was sublime.
A few songs were largely similar to others that are already known and loved within the theatre world. The ‘Hand Jive’ from ‘Grease’ was hinted to within the Midway Ball, Skylar’s ‘I Get What I Want’ had very strong ‘World Burn’ vibes from ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Slide Into My DM’ had fractions of ‘Shared, Viral, Linked, Liked’ from ‘Muriel’s Wedding’. It’s unclear whether these strong similarities were intended as a nod to classic tunes or whether they were simply inspired by the songs we have all been jamming to over the past years.
Every song was supported by effective choreography by Callum Mansfield that perfectly suited the cast’s capabilities. Dance sequences were high energy, however, allowed the cast to sing without becoming breathless, and maintained visual interest on stage. It is difficult to strike the correct balance in this arena, but Mansfield certainly succeeded.
Every single BAMT student should be congratulated on breathing life into ‘Misfits School of Arts’. It is no small task to originate a character, and each student excelled in creating personalities that were energised and entertaining to watch. Particular highlights included Claire Sutton as the hilarious Miss Fitz. Sutton displayed perfect comic timing and physicality, which allowed Miss Fitz to become a quick favourite on stage. No opportunity for physical or vocal comedy was missed and every movement was rooted in truth, allowing the full hilarity of the character to be unleashed.
Leading lady Victoria Roberts as Olivia Munrow left audiences wanting more. Every note was perfect and Roberts played the reserved Olivia with nuance and sensitivity. Roberts approached high notes with finesse, exemplifying her vocal ability and bringing audiences on board with her plight for acceptance. Nathan Wheeler as Jackson Jones complimented Roberts as their voices joined in harmony. Wheeler fully committed to his performance and delivered his solo ‘My Love is a Song’ with conviction.
Pheobe Lovel as Phylis Splodge and Kelsey Todd as Madison Davies were not extensively featured, but were the perfect example of “there are no small parts”. Both attracted audiences with their incredible physical comedy and well-defined characterisation. Lovel was an absolute hoot on the piano and never missed a moment to milk the musically passionate Phylis. Todd’s facial expressions were spot on and never failed to make the audience giggle.
Sharpay Evans met Regina George in Emma Buckman’s portrayal of Skylar Grubbly-Smithe. She quickly became the character everyone loved to hate, and Buckman skillfully found the humour in Skylar’s unpleasant and perhaps misunderstood personality. Buckman’s physicality could be slightly toned down to find the truth of the character, however, her vocals soared and she handled the challenge with skill.
Cristian Robba-Colley as Luke Kristmas and Annabelle Weaver as Heidi Punch were a sublime duo who effectively bounced off each other. Robba-Colley fully transformed into his bumbling and unsure character, displayed great physical comedy and tackled his uptempo songs with skill. Weaver complimented and contrasted, finding the believability in Heidi Punch and her aggressive personality. Both performers handled the challenging duet ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ with adeptness and created a touching moment on stage.
‘Misfits School of Arts’ delivered a feel-good, heartwarming, vibrant, wholesome and joyful night out at the theatre. It was exciting to see the strong potential that lies within this original Brisbane work. Congratulations to BAMT 2020 students and the production, creative and writing teams on a successful opening season and kudos for teaching Brisbane audiences that we are all misfits in our own special way.
‘Misfits School of Arts’ performs until 12 December 2020 at Hayward Street Studios. For more information visit, BAMT’s website.
Photography Let Me Wander Studio.