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The Marvellous Elephant Man – The Musical - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)

Written and composed by Marc Lucchesi with Jayan and Sarah Nandagopan.


Reviewed by Tessa Miles

Sydney Spiegeltent, Moore Park

1 September 2023 – 1 October 2023


3 Stars


- Audaciously racy in its nature, leave your kids at home for this musical retelling of the Marvellous Elephant Man -


The Marvellous Elephant Man – The Musical comes to Sydney as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. For those seeking an evening filled with mischief, mayhem, and madness, The Marvellous Elephant Man – The Musical is a great choice, but leave the kids at home for this one. While some of the songs are undeniably catchy, and the cast displays impressive talent, be prepared for a satirical and bawdy experience that takes quite a different approach from its film and play counterparts.


The musical offers a loose interpretation of the real-life story of Joseph 'John' Merrick, whose physical deformities earned him the moniker "The Elephant Man." Set against the backdrop of Victorian London, the audience is introduced to Merrick (Ben Clark) as he escapes the confines of the freak-show circus and enters the care of Dr. Frederick Treves (Kanen Breen), a character whose preoccupation with social status paints him as the villain instantly. Merrick's heart, however, falls for the charming Nurse Hope (Annelise Hall), setting the stage for an unconventional tale of love, empowerment, and the journey to self-confidence. Along this whimsical journey, we encounter a colourful cast of characters, including the Ring Master, Mama Mamushka, and the Merchant (all brought to life by the versatile Marc Lucchesi).

Opening night of The Marvellous Elephant Man - The Musical. Images supplied by Creative Team.


Approaching this musical with the expectation of a heart-warming narrative would be a mistake, as "The Marvellous Elephant Man" is pure satirical comedy, often pushing the boundaries of cheekiness, overly done sexual jokes, and often venturing into offensive territory.


The musical's score is a standout feature, boasting a range of memorable tunes that linger after leaving the Spiegeltent. From uplifting ballads, traditional musical theatre numbers and humorously offensive songs that manage to find forgiveness in their audacity, the music adds depth and entertainment value. Clark's performance shines particularly bright, with songs that feel tailor-made for his impressive vocal prowess, often inciting enthusiastic cheers from the audience as he belts out his powerful notes.


Clark’s Merrick delivers a touching performance, conveying vulnerability without relying on extensive makeup, which was confusing at first. Breen's portrayal of the villainous doctor is a standout, and his over-the-top arrogance and ambition are a delight to watch. He did great with the material he was given, and his comedic timing was on point. Hall captivates as Nurse Hope. Her exceptional singing and stage presence was joyful to watch although the show's handling of sexist stereotypes is a drawback.


Lucchesi, steals the spotlight with his multiple-character performances. While several characters did feel very similar, except with a different accent, the humour of each was necessary in moving the plot along. The ensemble, playing multiple roles, were delightful to watch and looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.


The musical's score is a standout feature, boasting a range of memorable tunes that linger.

Performed within the Spiegeltent, the ambiance is immediately entrancing, and directly mimicking a circus, with its intimate and vintage atmosphere setting the stage for an evening of laughs, wonder and risqué moments. However, the venue's seating arrangements leave much to be desired, as the cramped quarters lead to constant knee and shoulder contact with fellow audience members. Sound issues, including crackling audio and delayed microphone switches, occasionally detract from the experience, but hopefully, these kinks will be worked out during the run.


The Marvellous Elephant Man – The Musical is an unconventional choice for a musical adaptation, which likely prompted the creators to take creative liberties, pushing boundaries at every turn. Despite its uneven moments, the show does offer enjoyable moments, with the audience loudly becoming increasingly invested in Merrick's journey towards empowerment as the story unfolds. It's a show that benefits from a few glasses behind you before settling into your uncomfortable seat, allowing you to relish the music and laugh at its audaciously racy nature.

 

The Marvellous Elephant Man – The Musical Spiegeltent Festival Garden, Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney Written and composed by Marc Lucchesi, Sarah Nandagopan and Jayan Nandagopan Co Directors: Chris HF Mitchell and Guy Masterson Music Director: Sarah Nandagopan Choreographer: Eden Read Designer: Roberto Surace Associate Designer: Rachel Nankin Lighting Designer: Matthew Marshal Sound Designer: Wayne Pashley Set and Props Builder: Claudio Mantuano Wardrobe Supervisor: Phoebe Clark Dance Captain: Eleanor MacIntyre Editor: Max Maclean Cast: Ben Clark, Annelise Hall, Kanen Breen, Eleanor MacIntyre, Marc Lucchesi, Rebecca Rolle, Sam Harmon, Krystal Meyer, Lachlan Bartlett, Gavin James, Jayan Nandagopan, Tayman Jamae

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