Left – Johnny Carr & Tim Rogers. Cover – Tim Rogers, Sophie Carr, Xani Kolac, Ben Franz. Photos – Jeff Busby
What Rhymes with Cars and Girls is an homage to an album of the same name by Tim Rogers. Playwright/director Aidan Fennessy wrote the play because he’s been in love with Rogers’s first solo album since it came out in 1999, playing it practically every day, apparently. Set in Sydney, What Rhymes with Cars and Girls is a boy meets girl story which shouts the word ‘class’ out loud (in strine: ‘Fords and Holdens, mate!’).
Monologue mashes up with song and action where the two leads, Johnno (Johnny Carr) and Tash (Sophie Ross) break the 4th wall and speak to the audience, and happily deliver those wonderfully astringent and tender songs. These two are just terrific; she has a fabulous voice and there’s a warm chemistry between them.
The support band comprises The Twoks’ violinist/frontwoman Xani Kolac and bassist Ben Franz with Tim Rogers on acoustic guitar, a magnetic presence on stage despite trying not to draw attention to himself. Well, the man can’t help his charisma and having him there creates an even deeper sense of poignancy to his songs. Fennessy’s text veers between lovely original language and some rather tired phrases – consistent with the character of Johnno, perhaps, but a contrast to the brevity and freshness of Rogers’s lyrics.
Direction engages with intimate moments between the lovers and tiny telling gestures, unpredictable and poignant. Director Clare Watson has benefitted from the MTC’s Women Directors Program begun last year. Her directorial style for this production creates a sense of closeness and uniqueness yet throws regular glances towards the style of telling big love stories of history and to traditional musicals of days past. You get to feel the pain, feel the love, and come away (nearly) teary.
The characters grow nicely and there’s real joy in the performances by everybody. As well, there’s gorgeous music and a set design with an upper level/ mezzanine balcony put to good use. Gotta love a spiral staircase on stage. The story is neatly woven in with the music; this sweet, relentlessly Aussie work of musical theatre skips lightly along stepping stones sunk in the mainstream, without making you feel manipulated. Nor does it feel clichéd, despite the familiarity of the narrative.
The opening night audience gave it a standing ovation, a testimony to the skill and joy of the production as well as an enduring affection for Rogers’s album.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
What Rhymes with Cars and Girls
by Aidan Fennessy | music and lyrics by Tim Rogers
Director Clare Watson
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Dates: 13 February – 28 March 2015
Tickets: From $73; Under 30s $36
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au