30 November, 2020

Misfits School of Arts // Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre

By Anina-Marie Warrener

In the midst of a deep, dark 2020 with the coronavirus lockdown in full swing something bright and beautiful sparks. With touring and concerts on hold due to the pandemic, two creatives found themselves with nothing but time on their hands. And so, Tim O’Connor and Dennett Hudson set out to accomplish a dream – to write a musical. Out of this fateful collaboration of creative minds emerges Misfits School of Arts – a musical that celebrates the eccentrics and oddballs of the theatre world. Drawing from their own personal experiences in the arts, O’Connor and Hudson conjure a world that captures the imagination, lifts the spirits and takes the audience on a truly magical coming-of-age journey. A rag-tag bunch of thespians studying under the ever-present care and guidance of their mentor – Miss Eglentine Fitzgerald – discover that they can fly if they dare to try.

Presented at Harvest Rain’s Hayward Street Studio by the students of Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre, the world premiere of this new original musical is something truly spectacular. From the moment the music starts, and the Misfits emerge singing with full energy in brightly coloured costumes, the audience can’t help but be hooked. Misfits School of Arts is the perfect antidote to remedy all 2020 blues.

Visually, Misfits School of Arts is a burst of colour from beginning to end. The Misfits explode onto stage, pure energy, each dressed head to toe in their own unique colour. The costuming is particularly splendid and connects the Misfits together. The two romantic leads, Olivia and Jackson, intertwine from the very beginning in matching indigo-blue costumes.  The same technique connects each character group in a similar way. The resident mean girl, Skylar, adorns bright pink with her three minions in varying shades of light pink.  

The coloured theme expands from costumes into props with Olivia carrying a matching indigo-blue suitcase and binder. A marvellous little extra touch is the matching of the colour of each Misfit’s outfit to the colour of their Sharpie pens that they use during the song “Midway Ball”. This is such a small detail that if you blink you might miss it, but it shows the great care and attention to detail that went into the visual design of the show.

The lighting design by Maegan Micola Von Furstenrecht serves the show’s purpose well through clever coloured lighting that clearly signals mood changes throughout. In particular, the sudden lighting change to a red wash during Skylar’s song “I Get What I Want” is fabulous and really heightens the sense of melodrama.

The set design is quite simple, pink-striped walls with painted windows on stage flats serve as the backdrop for all the action. In the centre is the Misfits School of Arts logo proclaiming: “You can fly, dare to try”. Three steps and a grand piano on wheels completes the set. It is very minimal but perfect and just what the show needs.

The choreography is certainly one of the highlights of Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre’s production of Misfits School of Arts. Callum Mansfield – with the help of Kurt Myhill and Caitlyn O’Brien as Assistant Choreographers – creates something truly wonderful through the movement of this production. The energy throughout the show is very high and the choreography plays a major role in setting the mood. With such a large ensemble cast, there is often a lot of movement happening on stage at any one time. But the beauty of the choreography is that even with a large cast, nothing is lost. Particularly, the clever incorporation of childlike “clapping games” into the choreography is excellent in the duet between Clint and Olivia, “I Can Wait”. It is so playful, joyful and wonderfully childlike that the audience is entirely swept away.

John Taylor’s sound design is effective and allows the original music to shine through. The music is another of the highlights of the show. Music direction by the composer, Dennett Hudson (with the help of Luca Camuglia-May as Assistant Music Director), is inspirational. Every song is delivered with purpose and extreme vocal skill. Hudson’s vision behind the music emerges as we experience every high and every low throughout the show. The dynamic choices are clear, deliberate and create distinctive moments throughout the show that demonstrate the range of emotions of the characters. Bravo!

One of the many perks of working on the world premier of an original musical is of course that the cast has the privilege of being directed by the writer. Tim O’Connor’s direction of Misfits School of Arts is flawless. There is no doubt that his clear vision for the show is informed by his deep understanding of the journey of each character. Without the vision of the director (and Assistant Director, Pheobe Lovel) Misfits School of Arts may have been an entirely different show.

Of course, the showstopping performance of a group of extremely talented musical theatre students from Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre is the most unforgettable element of Misfits.  Nathan Wheeler as Jackson Jones portrays what can only be described as the perfect romantic lead. The onstage chemistry between Jackson (Wheeler) and Olivia (Victoria Roberts) is undeniable. Roberts’ portrayal of Olivia is relatable and down-to-earth, but she blew the audience away in the finale with her sensational singing.

As Skylar, Emma Buckman is menacing and terrifying. Her performance as the villain is one of the standouts of the show. Buckman is a particularly skilful vocalist who shows immense control and range. Other standout performances include Claire Sutton as Miss Fitzgerald, Cristian Robba-Colley as Luke Kristmas, Annabelle Weaver as Heidi Punch, Kurt Myhill as Clint Eastward and the hilariously morose Madison (Kelsey Todd).

Misfits School of Arts is a wonderfully uplifting explosion of colour and music that captures the imagination of the audience from beginning to end. The story is simple but universal and there is something magical about this group of misfits that evokes a sense of childlike joy. It is beyond excellent!

Misfits School of Arts performs at the Hayward Street Studios from 25 November for 3 weeks only. For tickets, visit www.haywardstreet.com.au