SPUNK DADDY: Musical Theatre Review

WHAT: Spunk Daddy
WHEN: 16 - 22 October 2023
WHERE: The Butterfly Club (Upstairs)
CREATED & PERFORMED BY: Darby James
DIRECTED BY: Casey Gould

Darby James

With a name like Spunk Daddy it is easy to assume this Melbourne Fringe Festival offering by Darby James is going to be a laugh a minute, lewd hour of traditional cabaret.  In this show you do get all those jizz jokes, but James has something to tell us about sperm donation and the end of the world. This little piece of theatre is not just a cabaret. It is a fully formed mini-musical.

I first came across James last year when he presented his comedy show Protein. After seeing both shows I get the impression James had a bit of difficulty finding his centre after coming out of lockdown. I know I did, and there is something oddly comforting in seeing that other people were struggling too.

In Spunk Daddy James is a salty seaman negotiating the stormy sea of sperm donation. James is a cis gay man who doesn't really want a family. What he wants is time to write his musicals and money to pay for food. An ad pops up on Facebook. He has something the world wants to buy. After talking with family and friends he signs up. What follows is a tale of apathy which becomes ignited into social conscience with each fill of the cup.

I said Spunk Daddy is a mini-musical and by that I mean he tells his tale with more song (all original work!) than spoken narrative. The repertoire includes power ballads, recitative, and there was even a sea shanty. Who can resist joining in with a sea shanty? We all certainly couldn't!

I've always assumed sperm donation is an uncomfortable act - as evinced by the song 'Vulnerable' - which then disappears into a void of done, dusted and forgotten. For James this assumed meaningless act becomes the catalyst for an existential crisis for him and the world. 

Questions about whether he wants to meet the people who use this seaman's semen to procreate, and finding out that when the child turns 18 they can access his information get James thinking about the moral conundrums he has started by selling his viscous sexual by-product. Will the child want to be in this world and will the planet cope with more humans populating the planet? 

This all sounds very deep and it is, but Spunk Daddy is funny and heartwarming. James brings his trademark soft and silky performance style, and his songs are great fun. And yes, there are lots of double and triple entendre which will make you giggle through the whole 50 minutes.

Unfortunately on opening night James was recovering from a lurgy, so we didn't get the full vocal power and range he is capable of, but as the show went on his voice warmed up and I was swept away with the revelation of a beautiful tenor range. I reckon later audiences are going to have an even better experience than I.

The program says the show was directed by Casey Gould, but I find myself wondering if that really happened. I say that because my one criticism of Spunk Daddy is that James didn't really use the stage or his body well. The set dressing of a big ship wheel, ropes, treasure chest, etc were very pretty indeed, But beyond standing and sitting on a crate, not much happened. I do think nerves were in play on opening night, which is pretty normal.

Having said that, who cares? The story is wonderful, meaty, and funny and the man can sing. What you get with Spunk Daddy is a very funny mini-musical for the price of a cabaret show and you will talk about the ideas in this show for days.

4 Stars


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