Review: Howard The Musical
Howard The Musical
Starring: Chris Maitland, Will Maitland, Nadine Levy
Appearing at: Bluestone Restaurant, for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Back in the long-forgotten mists of the Keating years, my year 9 history teacher got us to present our Australian history group assignments in the form of little plays, in order to demonstrate our research in an entertaining manner. I remember one group had a Depression-era landlord whose name was Mr Dobalina. Mr Bob Dobalina.
Reeling out of the Bluestone Restaurant, I mused that the absolute schemozzle I had just witnessed had about the same level of wit, political insight and stagecraft.
I really don’t want to be needlessly cruel about the group of Adelaide University students who’ve produced Howard The Musical – everyone who gets off their arses to stage a festival show should be congratulated for the hard work and effort that takes. But it’s astounding to think that a show as comprehensively inept as Howard The Musical could have already enjoyed a sell-out run at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, or that the Independent Weekly could have written: “If television producers are looking to fund a new show, the cast of Howard The Musical would be contenders for Australia’s next successful skit show.”
Things began badly when I arrived at the venue to discover no front-of-house staff taking or selling tickets. The venue had arranged the seating in long tables so that half the audience needed to turn their heads sideways to see the stage, while the remaining punters sat in tight, pew-like rows at the back of the room. The stage was not elevated and sightlines were poor. And the show began 20 minutes late, 15 of which we spent in darkness listening to the hits of Michael Bublé.
Despite its name, Howard The Musical is not really a musical. I counted four songs in the entire one-hour show; three of these I could identify as well-known songs that had just had the lyrics changed. All the music was played by a guy on an electric piano who seemed to be sight-reading, as if he’d never played these songs before. There’s a razzle-dazzle GST song that somehow manages to include Alexander Downer without putting him in fishnets. Peter Costello sings ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ from the musical The Lion King; Tony Abbott sings ‘Hymens Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ while Howard laments his imminent electoral defeat to the tune of ‘Tears In Heaven’.
The show proper is a loose series of non-chronological and only incidentally humorous sketches vaguely related to Howard’s life and prime ministership. We got “bush poetry” from an unnamed “Leader Of The National Party” (was this meant to be Tim Fischer? John Anderson? Mark Vaile?), and an impersonation of SBS news presenter Lee Lin Chin that was borderline racist and pretty much an excuse to make lame puns about cheese. By far the wittiest skit in the show was also one of its first, in which Howard proposes to Janette as if he’s in Question Time.
Throughout, the show was plagued by agonisingly slow scene changes and technical stuff-ups. I don’t think a director has ever taken Howard The Musical in hand, because we witnessed things like cast members casting shadows in front of the AV projector, plenty of AV segments early in the show then none at all later, Howard showing up on stage with his glasses, then without his glasses, then with the glasses but without his eyebrows, and sound and lighting cues being repeatedly missed.
Things only got more farcical in the finale. The three actors stomped on the spot, wearing Howard-style Australian tracksuits, to Empire Of The Sun’s ‘Walking On A Dream’, while the hapless tech guy attempted to shout their names over the music, seeing as he couldn’t get his microphone to work. Then everyone left the stage and Michael Bublé came back on, but not the house lights. At this point I actually turned to the person behind me and whispered, “Was that that end?”
Quite frankly, Howard The Musical doesn’t deserve to be considered a professional production. It displays precious little insight into Australian politics, its acting and staging could most charitably be described as undergraduate, and it produced only small chuckles even from an audience that appeared liberally (Liberally?) larded with the cast’s family and friends.
Indeed, Howard The Musical appears calculated to capitalise on the public goodwill built up by Casey Bennetto’s genuinely clever and complex Keating!, and anyone who goes to see it hoping for another such romp through the conservative side of Australian politics will emerge sorely disappointed.