Some musicals seem to divide reviewers, and it seems that the new Australian show Midnight: The Cinderella Musical is such a beast. Having read mixed reviews, some bad, some half-hearted, and some glowing, I was curious to see the show and make up my own mind. And Midnight gets resounding praise from me for the music and the uniformly excellent performances.
It’s a reworking of the traditional tale, and this Cinderella (Brianna Bishop) is Ella, a feisty girl with a good brain and a strong sense of social activism. Not for our Cinders the trappings of wealth and privilege unless they can be used to better the lives of the less fortunate.
Our handsome Prince Charming (Thomas McGuane) is caught up in a life of privilege and has little idea that there are people suffering due to the high and mighty attitude of his father the King (Shane Jacobson), but soon has his eyes opened by a Cinderella who initially despises him.
The rest of the story follows the traditional tale to a happy ending, but with quite a few quirks and sidelines along the way, which I found most entertaining. There are so many witty lines to enjoy, and my only gripe would be that there are some plot lines left up in the air, but it doesn’t affect the power of the show.
Musically, it takes influences from an eclectic mix of influences – sometimes reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs, other times I could hear touches of Sondheim and earlier classic music theatre styles.
All the principals claimed their roles with gusto, with Matt Lee giving a hilarious performance as Prince Charming’s sidekick, Andre, and also voicing Ella’s wisecracking talking teddy bear, Mr Abernathy. As the Wicked Stepmother, Verity Hunt-Ballard has enormous fun and gives her usual polished performance. In the supporting role of Ella’s father, Raphael Wong proves that while he is better known as an opera singer, he can bring pathos and warmth to a role that has more acting than singing in it. As the ugly stepsisters, Melanie Bird and Kristie Nguy are a dynamic duo who provide the audience with many laughs. Young Elisha Villa gives a winning performance as juvenile lead Stella, in the role of narrator. Music theatre royalty Lucy Durack enjoys playing not just the daffy fairy godmother but also the witty loving housekeeper in the first act, and she was delightful in both roles.
Of the major roles, Thomas McGuane is a delightful Prince Charming, who combines well with Matt Lee’s Andre, and is a fitting mate for our heroine. It’s a big sing, and towards the end of the show his voice was sounding a tad tired in the upper register.
Shane Jacobson was simply perfect as the King. Obviously he has fine comedic skills and I have enjoyed his performances in straight roles as well as comic ones. And before you say “celebrity casting” it’s pleasing to report that Jacobson has a fine music theatre singing voice.
The undoubted star is Briana Bishop as Ella – totally believable, charismatic and with a powerful voice, she claims the audience whenever she is centre stage, which is often.
The ensemble is one of the hardest working I have seen, and every single one of them gave 100%, which contributed hugely to my enjoyment.
An excellent live band conducted by Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer completed the afternoon’s entertainment. With music and lyrics created by John Foreman, Anthony Costanzo with a contribution from Kate Miller-Heidke, it’s an all-Australian creation. Choreography by Kelly Akers is superb, and director Dean Murphy and musical director Anthony Barnhill can take a bow for their cast’s clear diction – I heard every word, and that is not something I can always say.
The theatre was full, with a mix of adults and children who had one thing in common – they enjoyed a great time at a live musical, a fact that warmed this reviewer’s heart.
Photo credit Pia Johnson.
Julie Houghton reviewed “Midnight: The Cinderella Musical” presented at the Comedy Theatre, July 2023.