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Shane Warne The Musical
Written by Jack Teiwes   
Friday, 22 May 2009 23:51
Shane Warne The MusicalPhotos - Neil Bennett

Having already enjoyed success in Melbourne and Perth, it is now Sydney’s turn to be bowled out by Shane Warne the Musical. You certainly don’t have to be a cricket lover to enjoy the show, indeed there are surprisingly few moments that directly address the sport itself. In fact, you don’t even have to be intimately familiar with Warne’s biography – it’s all broad strokes here. Rather, we are presented with a kind of life and times of Our Shane, a fast-forward through the adulthood and career of one of our most famous and bemusing public figures of the last two decades.

This is another in a recent trend of semi-satirical musicals based on improbable real-life subjects, for which the very audacity of the titles themselves (like the recent Jerry Springer: the Opera) and the apparent disjunction between medium and subject matter seems to be justification enough for their creation. In fact, it is essentially the conceit of the show that we acknowledge what a bizarre topic this is for a musical, opening with a deliberately over-the-top song and dance routine by what appear to be escapees from a production of Fame, only to be interrupted and soundly rubbished by the star of the show, Eddie Perfect as Shane Warne.

Perfect has his cake and eats it too, metatheatricaly speaking. On the one hand Shane repeatedly comments on the fact that he is being roped into performing in a musical, an endeavour in which he has little interest (at one point memorably bemoaning “Fuck, I hate music theatre!”), and yet he never breaks character until the final curtain, maintaining that he is in fact Shane Warne and that this show is taking place with his begrudging participation. This device allows the show to either use or dispense with conventions of the medium as it sees fit, as well as affording Shane plenty of opportunities to comment wryly on the absurdities of both his own life in the limelight and the potential for silliness in this most theatrical form of storytelling.

All that said, it is a little surprising that Perfect does not attempt to mimic Warne’s well-known persona. Which is not to say that his performance is lacking as a result – far from it – merely that he appears to have consciously chosen not to do an impression of Warne himself, so much as to put himself in Warne’s shoes. Indeed, Perfect’s Shane is far more verbose, witty and popculturally-obsessed than one would imagine of the cricketer himself, and yet somehow an interesting fusion between performer and role takes place, especially given that Perfect also wrote and composed the whole thing as well. The result is a kind of strange hybrid of the crass, lovable roguishness of Shane Warne with the sardonic, hard-rocking charm of Eddie Perfect. It is a winning combination, which is fortunate since Shane appears in virtually every moment of the musical.

As to the show itself, it is most definitely a rollicking good time, packed with song after song, clever humour, striking visuals and boiling over with an energy that carries you along. Perfect’s sharp writing and Neil Armfield’s versatile staging (ably complemented by Casey Bennetto’s dramaturgy and Gideon Obarzanek’s choreography) combine very naturally, and the musical quickly takes on a rather irrepressible life of its own. Rippling with laughs and unexpectedly elaborate routines, the production also has its serious side – as they say early on, this is not a spoof. Rather, it is an exploration of someone who is at once superstar and everyman, brilliant and average, lovable and infuriating. Without ever misstepping into pretension, the show deals in large part with the ups and downs of fame when thrust upon someone of simple tastes and little forethought, with no real wickedness but precious little self-control. It is a highly engaging journey and you may be surprised how well it manages to shift between its comedic highs and unexpectedly heartfelt moments of pathos.

However, as unfair as it may seem, it is almost impossible not to compare the show to its indirect predecessor, the mega-hit Keating! Given the crossover of having a similar “Aussie biopic” topic, the same director, the involvement of Keating! writer Bennetto, both shows being backed by a small onstage band and notably featuring two of the same stars (in addition to Perfect, Paul “rockstar” Keating himself Mike McLeish is in this ensemble), the comparison is inevitable. Of course, to be even-handed, the shows actually are not all that alike in many respects. Keating! was not so much a true musical as a collection of songs that touched on the key personalities and events of a political era without a particularly strong narrative and using an assortment of genres of popular music, whereas Shane Warne The Musical is much closer to being a standard “book” musical with a more definite storyline, a lot more dialogue and a somewhat more traditional music theatre score (albeit a very rock and roll one), and with a much larger cast and more complex staging.

For all this though, Shane Warne The Musical doesn’t quite possess that special magic that infused Keating! It may be the audacity of subject matter, capturing a moment of retro-zeitgeist at the end of the Howard era, or perhaps more likely just that the brilliance of Bennetto’s lyrics somewhat eclipse Pefect’s. Indeed, while each song in Shane Warne grabs you well enough at the time, there really are only a few that are truly memorable in and of themselves, for all their snap and crackle. Also, although it has a more complete narrative, Shane Warne seems to gloss over what would seem to be some significant points, such as how Warne got into cricket and was discovered as a prodigious talent prior to his recruitment by the AIS, or how the man actually feels about the sport that has made him a star.

Quibbles aside, this is an enormously fun production. The large supporting cast is excellent, playing their multiple roles with tremendous showmanship. Particular standouts were Brett Swain as (amongst others) Shane’s mentor Terry Jenner, Jolyon James in his showstopper as Indian John the bookie, and especially the lovely Rosemarie Harris bringing out both the bogan humour and heartache of Simone Warne with equal aplomb. However this is, first and foremost, Shane’s show and Perfect is a dynamic star in this central role, more than up to the task of carrying the show.

Shane Warne The Musical is a highly enjoyable show, and as such it is very unfortunate to hear that its Sydney run has been cut short with further touring in doubt, reportedly due to the economic downturn. It would be a great shame for wider audiences to miss out on the opportunity to enjoy it, and what better cure for the credit crunch blues than a night of laughs with Shane? I’m sure Warnie would agree.


SHANE WARNE THE MUSICAL
Written & Composed by Eddie Perfect

Director Neil Armfield

Venue: Enmore Theatre, 130 Enmore Road, Newtown
Season: From Friday 15 May 2009
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au Enmore Theatre Box Office on (02) 9550 3666 or any Ticketet outlet
Visit: www.shanewarnethemusical.com.au
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