Reviews/Comedy/Fringe World Festival/Musical Theatre

Choose your own musical

26 January 2021

Live polling directs the story and who does what in Undecided, and Claire Coleman says it’s great fun.

Undecided: A Multiple Choice Musical, Showroom Theatre and The Boston Curse ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 25 January, 2021 ·

Leaving the State Theatre Centre after Undecided: A Multiple Choice Musical, I was suddenly struck by the enormousness of the task I was about to undertake. How exactly do I review a musical where the main characters, key plot points, numbers, and denouement from tonight’s performance might not be the same tomorrow?

Described as a “choose your own adventure” musical, Undecided emulates those children’s game books that at the end of every chapter offer readers a choice of two divergent storylines. Undecided brings this concept to the digital age, live-polling audience members via smartphone, and giving them the final say on the direction of the plot.

After choosing Emily Honey over James Marzec to play the lead role of Jamie, we went on to decide our heroine should be motivated by lust for power rather than passion in her work. We decided vicious CEO Tara Berry’s company should be run for profit rather than for the people. We collectively condemned Jamie’s cheating boyfriend, Sam (a surprising choice, since we’d also decided he ought to commit the sin), and picked The Concierge over Tara to take the blame and suffer the consequences (sorry Concierge, but the people have spoken … err … texted?).

The mechanics of the show are a lot of fun. The polling model provides the energy and spontaneity of audience participation without the potential awkwardness that sometimes ensues. The tech ran smoothly, and the phone polling system was intuitive to use.

A downside of the show’s use of characters who can be flipped at the tap of a touchscreen and played by someone of the opposite sex is the difficulty of avoiding gender-based cliches. The caricatures of the sexual predator CEO, the lover tempted to stray, and the protagonist with a good heart but no actual life skills convey unavoidably cringey gender politics, regardless of who plays them.

That said, the performances themselves are all strong. John McPherson’s compositions and piano accompaniment create a lively foundation from which the action springs. Marzec charms as Sam, and Honey’s Jamie is sweet and easy to root for. Rachael Chamberlain as Tara got the most laughs, while Zac Bennett plays a delightfully hammy Concierge.

Undecided is presented by James Palm and company, The Boston Curse, along with Showroom Theatre, a company McPherson and Marzec created after their time in UWA’s University Dramatic Society 15 years ago.

The power of being able to choose our own adventures brings along with it the risk of arriving at a bad ending. At least in a musical there is reassurance to be had in being guided by steady and experienced hands.

Undecided: A Multiple Choice Musical is at the State Theatre Centre until 30 January, 2021.

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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