After the success of the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Muriel’s Wedding in 2017, the musical went national earlier this year, opening in Melbourne in March and again in Sydney this month.
With songs by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (as well as the requisite ABBA hits), kitsch costumes and sets exploding with palm trees, cocktails and surf bods, the stage adaptation is truly spectacular, doing ample justice to the beloved 1994 film.
The revamp lifts Porpoise Spit into the 21st century but some things don’t change. Muriel is just as daggy as ever, seeking validation through marriage — and later social media — and retreats into a state of denial when things go wrong, egged on by ABBA. The quartet are a brilliant addition as actual characters who pop up throughout, tempting Muriel to steal her parents’ ‘Money Money Money’ and convincing her she’s a ‘Dancing Queen’.
Other elements that made the film such a hit are still present. The bitchy clique are deliciously horrible and their song ‘Can’t Hang’ is a poignant reminder for anyone who’s lived through high school feeling like an outsider. The friendship between Muriel and Rhonda is heartwarming and the iconic Australian touches, such as the broad accents and casual racism ramp up the humour.
Ultimately, though, it’s Muriel’s doggedness and spunk that make this a true zero-to-hero story. There’s no external transformation here; rather, her self-realisation and determination to live life honestly are what make the audience clap and cheer for her.
Newcomer Natalie Abbott nails the role of Muriel — her boisterous enthusiasm and stunning voice offset the cheesy laugh and frumpy clothes. Other standouts include Pippa Grandison (Betty Heslop), Laura Murphy (Tania Degano) and David James as the sleazy lowlife Bill Heslop. Stephen Madsen also warrants a mention as Olympic swimmer and husband-to-be Alexander Shkuratov, with abs and cheekbones so sharp you could cut a steak with them.
Muriel’s Wedding is a stunning, slick production, yes, but it’s also heartfelt, exhilarating and utterly Australian.