Presenting a new musical as part of the annual Anywhere Festival is always going to be brace undertaking, especially in the case of a work like Mettle, Moxie & Melody, which from its start is pretty much sung straight through in full musical style for its first 20 minutes or so. Although the varying vocal skill of its performers means that some songs are in competition with the backing soundtrack, this initial section does serve to showcase the work’s potential as much as Merilee E’s standout vocals.
Merilee E is Stella, an overqualified, underemployed phone sales worker who loves to write music. Along with young mother Renae (Courtney Farrar), realising that she can’t rely on her video-game addicted husband and Evie (a dramatically-strong Xoe Lee-Archer), whose budding romance results in family tension, she represents a modern day damsel-in-distress.
Through the show’s opening song, ‘Something More’ we are introduced to each of them, before hearing more of their situations in turn. Fearless Evie is hoping for a ‘New Beginning’, determined that there is something more waiting for her, away from having to reveal her sexuality to her conservative mother. Renae is dealing with a sick baby as well as a distant husband. And Stella is living a half-life of KPIs and competencies in work towards realising the dream of a house on the hill with her husband. There are more complications to follow from their initially-established conflicts, but not until the outset of Act Two, rather than as enticement into interval. However, essentially this show is just their stories, exaggerated as the true experiences are, presented with the help of supporting characters from Clarise Ooi, Taylor Jean Day, Juanita Van Wyk, Anina-Marie Warrrener and Lawson Schafer in double husband duty.
The music and lyrics (and also book), by local Brisbane composer Anina-Marie Warrener, feature a range of styles, from the moving ‘Lullaby’, beautifully delivered by Courtney Farrar to a random song and dance number, ‘Sales Zest’ about Stella’s need to suck up the humdrumness of day-to-day work and show some sales fizz. However, songs often stall around repeat of just one emotional idea, rather than progressing things along narratively, which, cumulatively, feels somewhat repetitive.
Mettle, Moxie & Melody advertises itself as being about three strong young women discovering their inner dragons in a musical traversing marriage, sexuality and careers, and its clear female empowerment message is certainly appealing both in premise and realisation, even if we have to wait until the final number, ‘Once Upon a Time’ for revelation of the meaning of its cumbersome title.
One of the great things about the Anywhere Festival is discovery of different venue locations around the city’s nooks and crannies. For shows like Mettle, Moxie & Melody there is also the benefit of its excellent value for money for a show of substantial length. It’s just unfortunate that its over advertised time run meant that on Thursday, at least, the last three scenes and songs were delivered in competition with the on-time show occurring in the next-door theatre space.
Mettle, Moxie & Melody is playing until May 19.
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the performance on May 16.