Most people are familiar with the world of 'Broadway' and what that generally entails. Big theatres that host big lavish productions with large sets and all sorts of fandangle things that descend from the flies above. What may not be as familiar to a Melbourne audience is the world of Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, workshops and theatre festivals. This is primarily due to the fact that staging lesser known or new shows is often such a huge financial risk, combined with the fact that they are often more difficult to sell and harder to fund. In New York, it's quite easy to find yourself walking into a black-box theatre to watch a simple staging of a new work with a small cast of actors - perhaps you know somebody who happened to see the original New York Theatre Workshop production of Rent back in 1995.
In Melbourne, opportunities to see lesser known musicals in a good theatre with a solid cast and production values are not as frequent as somewhere like NYC. That was until Salty Theatre came onto the scene. 10 months ago, Salty Theatre made its company debut with an Australian premiere production of People Suck.Continuing on the 'musicals you've never heard of but totally should know exist' trajectory, Salty Theatre has now brought Denis McGrath's Top Gun! The Musical to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. And just like they did with People Suck, Salty Theatre have once again proven that just because you may never have heard of it, does not mean that it's not worthy of a wider audience.
Top Gun! The Musical debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2002. Book and lyrics by McGrath and music score by Scott White, this musical satire serves as a pastiche of the new-work musical rehearsal process. The drama, the romances, the ego-trips, the constant changes to the script, the debates and the tears. Centred around a crazy idea that the 1986 Tom Cruise action-flick should become a stage musical, Top Gun! The Musical takes place in the rehearsal room, where egos are flying (no pun intended) and literally nothing is going to plan. Opening night of Salty Theatre's Australian premiere was packed with non-stop humour, relentless wit and so much energy it could have powered a small village.
A true ensemble effort, the cast is faultless. In this ill-fated show-within-a-show, the 'starring' roles of Maverick and Goose are played by Robbie Smith (The Worst Little Whorehouse in London), and Belinda Jenkin (Summer Heights High, Motor-Mouth Loves Suckface). Both possess the perfect blend of charismatic charm and downright dork. As Charlie, Eilannin Harris-Black (Nine) is a smoking hot diva with powerhouse pipes. Charlie as a character serves as a refreshing take on the typical sleep-your-way-to-the-top-schtick. Yes, she's a woman who owns her exuberant sexuality and knows how to use it, but she also makes some sobering points about the pressures placed on women in show business when it comes to age and physicality.
Cofounder of Salty Theatre; Ashley Taylor (The Sound Music, Beauty and the Beast) is a complete delight in the role of the jaded stage manger Wendy. Canadian-born Guillermo Urra ([title of show]. You're a Good Man Charlie Brown) gives a very honest and humbling performance as director; Billy. Ashley Weider (Cloudstreet, Witches in Britches) and Joti Gore (West Side Story, I Get So Caught Up) round off this perfect casting with equally matched talent.
Direction and choreography by cofounder of Salty Theatre; Sarahlouise Younger is sublime. Every moment is delivered with such clear attention to detail and the choreography is sharp. Considerable commendations to musical director David Youings - who's performance extends far beyond accompanying the show, and sees him playing an active role in the world of the 'rehearsal room' before us.
The season of the Australian premiere of Top Gun! The Musical is horribly short, running for only two evenings. This is a production that deserves to split the sides of many more audiences for many more curtains to come.
For more information about the company: https://www.saltytheatre.com.au/
Photo Credit: Ben Fon