A musical comedy dubbed “Australia’s Book of Mormon” is never going to be a show for the prudish or those easily offended.
So audience members attending the opening night of DreamSong at St Kilda’s Alex Theatre had some indication of what to expect. Judging by their enthusiastic reaction, the show lived up to expectations.
DreamSong tells the story of Pastor Richard Sunday (Nelson Gardner), who runs the Mega-Church of DreamSong, along with his wife, Australia’s leading Christian pop artist Whitney Sunday (Annie Aitken) and his daughter April Sunday (Nicola Bowman).
The church has lost millions of dollars as a result of some bad business decisions. At the same time the Australian Prime Minister, Darren Cunningham (Jarrod Griffiths), has lost favour with the public. With the help of Cunningham’s all powerful adviser Clarice (Kate Schmidli), Pastor Sunday concocts a plan to bring his church back into financial health and at the same time win the upcoming election for Cunningham. And what better way to win public support than with the return of Christ (Maxwell Simon)?
The musical is the brainchild of writer Hugo Chiarella and musician Robert Tripolino while students at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in 2010. It was a time when evangelism, money, politics and scandals abounded. It was first produced by the VCA in 2011.
This show, from the independent production company Ebbflow Theatre Co., is an updated version with Chiarella explaining he felt the show needed some reworking given the times we live in now. He believes while many of the issues are the same as 10 years ago, there is a more hopeful feel in 2019. This is reflected in the last song of the show.
At the same time, the show is still all about the relationship between religion and politics, corruption, the manipulation of those who `rule’ us and our fascination with celebrities.
The dialogue also reflects 2019 Australia with many modern references. In addition it sees the `real’ Jesus played by a woman – Olivia Charalambous.
Gardner confidently plays the sleazy Pastor Sunday which is no surprise considering he played the role in the very first workshops and presentations of the show when he was a student at VCA. Large parts of the role were written around his rhythms and sense of humour.
Aitken perfectly illustrates why she is regarded as one of the fastest rising stars of the Australian music theatre scene . Both her acting and singing are excellent.
Bowman is believable as the sweet and innocent April Sunday while the `real’ and the` fake’ Jesus — Charalambous and Simon are entertaining to watch.
One of the joys of DreamSong is watching the young and enthusiastic supporting cast bring the show’s Christian pop songs and ballads to life. All expertly navigate some very demanding choreography. Many also get a chance to show their singing and acting talents. Their enthusiasm is contagious and helps ensures this irreverent and satirical comedy produces a number of `guilty laughs’.
DreamSong is playing at the Alex Theatre until November 30. Visit the Ebbflow Theatre Co. website for more information and tickets.
*Photo credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of DreamSong as a guest of Ebbflow.
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