Musicals have notoriously long gestation periods. It takes a lot of chutzpah, then, to think that you can create (and stage) a musical from scratch in one hundred days. Or is that hubris? But that’s the challenge The Other People team (writer/director Adam Spedding, composer Brayden Jeffrey, producer Hadley Taylor) set themselves, and the result, Schlunted, was first presented at TAPAC in November last year. It has returned for an encore season.
You can still catch a sense of what must have been an all-consuming writing and composing effort. The initial idea – three high-school friends reunite post-uni for a camping trip – has been spun out with a series of what ifs. What if one of the friends didn’t gain UE and resents the other two? What if we add extra interlopers on the trip? What if there’s an accident on the road? What if they try to cover this up? What if someone else comes along? What if we make these two characters kiss? What if there are no toilets and they have to dig a poo pit?
That’s about enough for plot teases; part of the appeal of Schlunted is its shock value, as bad decisions and bad reactions pile up. It has a deliciously dark sensibility and wants to get some WTF’s out of us as the plot journeys into some wild places.
The other appeal of Schlunted is the music. They have a soundtrack worthy of being sold in the foyer (which, with cheeky voiceovers during the show, they are very eager for you to do so). Brayden Jeffrey’s score is lively and lyrically fun, and when the full cast come together, there are some genuine show-stoppers.
Sally Brady and Hadley Taylor make capable leading players. Sinead Fitzgerald is a riot as the off-the-wall, what-will-she-say-next Fi. Jocelyn Scott brings heart to the show with her mock-Disney tunes. Bernie Voice’s uptight boyfriend Wally is the character that keeps on giving. Fin McLaughlan is compelling with his Jason Robert Brown style story-song. And Brady Peeti is Act Two’s secret weapon.
There’s a happy marriage between live band and vocals, and the sound design is a very slick affair.
While their solution of how to depict a car onstage is clever, the rest of the scaffold set seems entirely arbitrary. A second stage level is unnecessary and randomly utilised.
I did not see the debut season, but it appears little progress has been made since, as the current show has the same flaws that my colleague Rachael Longshaw Park identified in her review. It is still 2.5 hours and fatally overstays its welcome (though that ending is terrific). That pace needs looking at – when they need continue upping the ante, too often they stop to set up the tent, so to speak.
Tonally, it is all over the place. The earnestness and faltering attempts at character complexity are not earned. The whole thing could do with a radical restructure, especially the second half. In those one hundred days the team actually created a surplus of material, and they really need to let go of some of the songs and kill some darlings. If there is to be a third season, they need to get ruthless.
With Fringe’s Infectious, and the Auckland Festival showing of Shortland Street the Musical, there are encouraging signs of life for local Musical Theatre comedy. The Schlunted team have an incredible amount of promise. The genre is there’s for the taking. Just give them time.
Schlunted is presented by The Other People and plays until 25 March. Details see TAPAC.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Leigh Sykes