If laughter really is the best medicine then we overdosed on it last night for the opening of The Summer of our Lives at The Blue Room Theatre. A musical comedy masterpiece from the talents behind one of my favourite Fringe shows of all time (WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU [blah blah] STRONGER). I haven't laughed this hard at the theatre in a long time. 4 STARS
The Summer of Our Lives
A long time in the making, the creative development of The Summer of Our Lives was originally supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and through Black Swan State Theatre Company’s emerging writers group program. Western Sky Projects, a new local company championing music theatre in the state have joined forces with The Blue Room Theatre (TBRT) finally bringing this 100% WA musical to life.
Directed by Katt Osborne and written by some of our favourite award-winning Fringers Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods there’s a whole lot to love about this musical. You’d have to have a screw loose or missing a brain not to enjoy the preposterousness of proceedings.
If the likes of E.T. and Mary Poppins collided with Stephen King’s Carrie and went on a summer vacation with the Men in Black in hot pursuit, you are only just covering the basics. Throw in a dysfunctional family at breaking point, a love interest, together with an 80’s inspired score and you’ve got the perfect recipe for one hell of a fun and fabulous 80’s sci-fi musical spectacular. Just add… that would be telling and I’m not in the business of spoilers.
This summer holiday gone wrong musical comedy promises belly laughs and a whole lot of heart. “Summer is about a family struggling to stay together in a ridiculous and unpredictable situation,” Jones explains. Their idyllic summer holiday is thrown into chaos when anxious 9-year old Penelope discovers an alien. She uses ‘Derek’s’ psychic abilities to wreak revenge on her enemies, only her brother Arthur and a plucky new friend stand between her and the apocalypse.
The Summer of Our Lives showcases some of Perth’s best singing actors accompanied by a live two man band led by musical director Joe Louis Robinson (We Will Rock You, The Boy from Oz), with a completely original score composed by Woods.
It was an interesting decision to place the two musicians in the corner of the stage. I’ve seen similar productions in the same space where the band has been just out of the room. Given this production uses both doors and adjoining rooms as part of the production, I’m guessing logistics didn’t afford that option. Robinson makes light work of proceedings and while I could easily front up just to watch him at play, having the band in the room didn’t distract from the main event.
The powerful musical performances, especially where the entire ensemble comes together was a lot to take in sitting front row. It was hard to hear and look further than the actor standing directly in front of me when the ensemble were performing all at once. Given the small space and such a large production, that at times takes over the entire stage, this is one of those rare, non audience participation shows that I’m going to suggest you head in and grab a seat in the back.
The music is impressively fast paced. The more seasoned performers in this ensemble came into their own in this regard. The younger performers weren’t too far behind with only the occasional fudged line or lyric. Erin Jay Hutchinson delivers an impressive more than believable performance as Penelope’s mother Beth. Having seen Hutchinson perform in other productions, she was hardly recognisable in the mum jeans and haircut.
Emily Semple nails the brief as young Penelope. Although, I had to do a double take at the program at interval to confirm Penelope’s character was in fact just 9. Purely due to the language involved thinking perhaps 12 or 13 was more plausible. But who needs plausibility when aliens are involved. Don’t all kids turn into alien beings in the eyes of their parents at some point?!
As a mother of three now fully grown daughters, the references to one’s child taking on an almost alien unrecognisable form was not lost on me. The dysfunctional family holiday that ends up looking like a crime scene was also reminiscent of times gone by from my own childhood. Just minus the musical.
The rest of the ensemble includes Nick Maclaine as Beth’s aggressive suitor Ned, Elliot Peacock as Penelope’s brother Arthur, Tory Kendrik as neigbour Glance Badgerstaine and Tristan McInnes who mans the alien puppet but also fills the gap taking on the role of the entire group of men with guns.
I must confess, I briefly found myself questioning the choice of outfit for the puppeteer. Initially feeling as if regular jeans paired with a white T-shirt might be too conspicuous. My line of questioning was quashed soon after due to the brilliantly delivered and engaging performance from McInnes, which only added to the comical elements throughout.
Created for and by Western Australians, The Summer of Our Lives, potentially has a global appeal. I could easily see the production touring far and wide. If we are ever allowed to travel far and wide again. Here’s hoping. Personally, I’d really love to see this production on a much bigger stage.
With most remaining nights close to selling out, you’re going to have to move fast if you want to secure a seat for this fun and fabulous ride.
The Summer of Our Lives
The Blue Room Theatre
6 – 22 May, 2021
Tickets available HERE
Following my musings after seeing Playthings (see here), I’ve had numerous emails asking what three productions out of TBRT stood out. For the record… Playthings, Miss Westralia and Floor Thirteen. Interestingly, I believe Miss Westralia has been picked up by Western Sky Projects for a regional tour. I’m hoping that might also mean a revisit or collab with Black Swan here in Perth at some point.