When: 18 - 20 October 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Book, music and lyrics by: Drew Downing
Directed by: Clary Riven
Musical direction by: Tyson Legg
Performed by: Frank Kerr, Tyson Legg, Peter Nguyen, Aaron Syrjanen and Conrad Tracey
Design by: Betty Auhl
Stage managed by: Janel Gibson
Beginning it's life as a cabaret show in 2014, Downing recently had a burst of inspiration which has allowed him to expand the story and music into a full two act show. I don't know if purists would call this a real musical because there is no dancing and has a character cast of 1, but it certainly is of the ilk of historical figure musicals which frequent venues such as The Palms at Crown and The Athenaeum.
The story revolves around the life and loves of David (Kerr) who comes to also be known as Rebel. His family hits hard times and moves to Texas to live on his uncle Randy's farm. Yes, this musical is unapologetically targeting the American audience...
Anyway, Randy has a farm hand, Jimmy Ray, and the twinkle in their eyes gives away the true depth of their 'friendship'. It turns out that Rebel has the same inclinations as his uncle and after a violent incidence with his father after coming out Rebel takes the guitar Randy bought him and hits the road for California in search of rock and roll.
There are a lot of references to rock and roll in this show and this might be confusing for some until you realise that rock and roll came from the country and western genre in the 60s. In fact, the time period for this musical is very important and to be honest had me confused until the very end.
To clear things up, the 'concert' Rebel is giving is the day after the Stonewall riots in 1969 and by that time he is in New York City. Therefore, most of the story goes back to a much earlier era - unspecified although we are told it is before "The King" was a thing. Kerr gives an amazing performance and has all of the sexiness and insouciance of Elvis Presley but his youth is a bit confusing in this particular regard.
Homosexuality was most definitely behind closed doors in that era, but Rebel is a surprisingly gentle and beautiful homage to the Daisies and Jimmy Rays of that era. Most of the emotional violence actually comes from the hidden gays as we learn in the power rock anthem 'That's What The Stars Told Me (Hollywood)' in act 2.
I wouldn't say Rebel led a charmed life, but he had more than his fair share of brushes with fame before garnering his own. James Dean, Rock Hudson... need I say more? The most beautiful and touching love story is the one with his sister who he leaves behind on the farm though.
The music is the real strength of this story and if this was America it would get airplay and there would be some huge hits. 'Just Off The Road' and 'Ordinary Cowboy' would be on everybody's tongue and 'Western Bar' would be the iconic pub song for sure. The ballad 'I'm Not Coming Home' is enough to bring tears to your eyes. If 'Jimmy Ray' doesn't become a Joy FM frequent play hit then what the hell is going on Melbourne????
Perhaps the biggest flaw with this show is the beginnings of both acts. They are clumsy and messy and it is a combination of poor direction (Riven) and bad stage management (Gibson). If there is one thing American's know, it is how to make an entrance. If there is one thing this musical doesn't do, it is make an entrance. Also, whilst I love 'Say What You Know', I don't think it is strong enough as an opener.
The show has been on for 3 nights now, and there is a lot of smoke in the room (although it is appropriate and well done for a change), and Kerr's voice is starting to show the strain a bit. Having said that, he is right on pitch for most of it and he is so god damn lovable and sexy I would sit there and watch him and listen to him even if he couldn't sing a note. Believe me, though, this man can sing!
With cabaret seating and a bowl of pretzels at every table, The MC Showroom is the perfect place for this hoe down. Auhl's wooden barn house set and really intelligent use of space is perfect and the band is sublime. Legg's musical direction is superb and you will be completely blown away by Syrjanen on the slide guitar, the banjo, and his very impressive use of the wah wah bar.
For something a bit different and a whole lot of fun get on down to The MC Showroom. Grab an ale and whoop along with your friends for Downing's latest shindig.