Musical theatre doesn’t have to be purely escapist says Joshua James Webb, director of new contemporary musical Kiss, which will make its world premiere at Fringe World 2020.
Currently completing the Victorian College of the Arts’ Masters of Directing course, Webb couldn’t resist coming home to WA to stage Kiss: A New Musical for Western Sky Projects. Seesaw caught up with him to find out more.
Seesaw: Tell us about your career path to date.
Joshua James Webb: I grew up in Mandurah and learnt piano all through my childhood. My first show was Jesus Christ Superstar, as one of the disciples. I caught the bug in that show and went on to work in amateur theatre as a performer, pianist and musical director until getting into the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, to study classical piano performance. Whilst navigating Rachmaninov and Chopin I played on shows such as A Chorus Line, Assassins, Bring It On and Legally Blonde, much to some of the classical teachers’ dismay! But musical theatre is my primary passion.
After uni I began music directing on locally produced shows like Spring Awakening and Sweeney Todd and then played in the pit for Disney’s The Lion King and Cats at Crown. Soon after I packed up and drove across the country to set up in Melbourne. To keep myself busy between professional gigs, I started a production company to mount the beautiful William Finn work, Elegies, at the Butterfly Club. That was my first director role and I began to fall in love with the art of directing.
After an inspiring trip to New York at the end of 2018, seeing the best Broadway shows and mooning Manhattan from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge at 4am, I applied for the Masters of Directing at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Now at the end of an intensive first year, I’m directing Kiss, written by VCA writing graduate Greg Lavell.
I hope to continue directing productions around the country, focusing on new, challenging, and ground-breaking Australian work. I would love to continue to come home for productions and the wonderful Fringe Festival! It’s great that a company like Western Sky is working to create more opportunities for musical theatre artists and audiences in WA to see new and exciting work like Kiss.
S: What differentiates your 2020 Fringe World show Kiss: A New Musical from the 700 or so other shows on offer at the Festival?
JJW: Kiss is not like many other Fringe Shows in that it is quite a mature, dramatic work. It is certainly not void of some laughs but I think it will be a memorable piece because of how real and relatable the characters are and because of the quality of the music.
A lot of theatre today, especially in the musical theatre realm, seems to focus on escapism – stealing their audiences from reality and taking them somewhere idealistic – Kiss is more about looking reality in the face and putting difficult decisions and grey area morality in the spotlight. It is thought provoking and emotionally charged and I am so proud of the cast for their bravery in taking on the themes of this show head on. What a treat!
S: What inspired you to stage Kiss?
JJW: I saw a staged reading of the show in Melbourne and I fell in love with it! It’s a beautifully touching and real piece of theatre with gorgeous original songs. The writing is sophisticated but never feels elitist which is a really hard balance to strike. The show will make you laugh and cry and think “God, I’ve been there.” I relate personally with all three characters. All of them flawed and inconsistent just like all of us. It’s rare to see this kind of writing in this genre and I just had to put it on – and here we are!
S: This isn’t your first time at Fringe World. What made you decide to come back?
JJW: The lamb shanks in the Budgie Smuggler [artists’ club] to be truly honest… I’ve never had another lamb shank that can live up to them
S: What is your favourite part of the playground?
JJW: Well, fun fact – I’m six-foot-four, which is not very playground friendly… monkey bars become headaches and slides become stands. Giant problems, am I right? Who doesn’t love a good swing and chat with friends though?
“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!
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