News, Reviews, Theatre

Beauty from the bush a musical delight

Review: Blonde Moment Theatre, Miss Westralia ·
Blue Room Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

For purposes of clarity, Miss Westralia could have been called 1926 Miss Westralia goes to America. The renaming would allow theatre-goers to know exactly what to expect of this cute and sweet-tempered bio-musical about Australia’s first beauty queen.

In telling the incredible tale of Beryl Mills, the young woman from a sheep station outside Geraldton who scaled the heights of  national celebrity, this unabashed archetypal musical comedy celebrates pre-war Australian parochialism to a tee, while reflecting on the changing role of women over the decades.

First seen at Fringe World 2018, Miss Westralia comes from a talented team led by writer-producer Madeline Clouston and musical duo of  composer Matthew Predny and lyricist Jake Nielsen, who also directs.

It traces all 15 minutes of Beryl Mills fame: from winning the West Australian beauty contest to first place in Miss Australia 1926 and finally to the pièce de résistance and her prize – a promotional tour of America chaperoned by the young newspaper proprietor Frank Packer.

Like any biopic, this quaint little musical rejoices in the spirit of its protagonist, played by a genial and immensely likable Helena Cielak, and moderates its saccharine tendencies with a deep human spirit under the engaging directorial flair of Nielson.

Cielak’s accomplished performance is well supported by Rachael Chamberlain as Beryl’s starstruck mother, Thomas Dimmick as the dynastic powerhouse Frank Packer (grandfather to James) and Grace Johnson as Miss USA. The three supports also busily play a range of other minor characters and all four actors succeed as triple threats in the most difficult artform of all – to perform precision-tool dancing, to sing in key and tread the stage as a tribute to a different time.

The music is excellent – the tone providing enough emotional depth and dramatic heft to balance the performance and the lyrics are charming, corny and quietly funny. Technically, Miss Westralia is admirable and Kelly Fregon’s set design and lighting by Mai Han mesh assuredly into the Blue Room’s small space.

Miss Westralia is a revitalizing portrait of a bygone era and of a woman who was once a national role model but is now remembered only in her home town. We are fortunate to have such a talented creative team prepared to bring her story to the stage.

Miss Westralia runs until June 8.

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