Schapelle, Schapelle – The Musical (Brisbane Powerhouse) – theatre review

With a band dressed in tropical holiday garb, behind a XXXX-can perimeter, Brisbane Powerhouse’s Underground Theatre has an immediately relaxed feel. It’s time to pack a rashie and some Reef coconut oil to head off from Brissie to Bali as, after a sell-out season at the 2021 Sydney Comedy Festival, the smash-hit Schapelle, Schapelle – The Musical makes its Brisbane Comedy Festival debut.

The fast-paced musical comedy is a satirical exploration of Australia’s weakness for media sensationalism, as told through the life of Schapelle Corby upon her arrest for drug smuggling in Bali in 2005. Fictionalised, but featuring pivotal actual events and verbatim elements, it’s hyperbolic in its parodies from the outset. Consider a caricature of the Corbys as an archetypal ocker Aussie family, especially ‘bogan Santa’ Mick (Mitch Lourigan), father to young, hot naïve Queenslander Schapelle (Kelsi Boyden).

But first there are the Walkley “Wokley” Press Association awards and the ambition of the Channel 19 news team when the idea of Shapelle’s story of being caught smuggling drugs in her boogie board in Bali is pitched to the editor-in-chief (Mitch Lourigan). At its core, this is what this musical is about and, accordingly, it serves as a reminder of how Australia loves to idolise a criminal … especially a young, white, pretty one.

Schapelle’s divisive 2004 arrest at Denpasar airport and subsequent trial, conviction, incarceration and eventual release is the stimulus to expose the country’s media circus. But, it is her sister Mercedes (Ruby Teys) who is central to so much of this retelling, as she rallies the Australian media while assuring Schapelle that she’s “got this”. Teys never-waning energy and commitment to open mouthed, exaggerated facial contortions make her character a standout. Along with spot-on comic timing, she showcases impressive vocals.

If ever there were roles to overplay, this show revels in them, presenting a series of typical Aussie larrikin figures. Emily Kimpton shows her versatility as mother Roseleigh Corby, as well as Schapelle’s Bali Nine cellmate Renae Lawrence. Alice Litchfield is unstoppable as a ruthless journalist and host of “A Current Debate”.

The ensemble is talented too. The musical’s book was written by Mitch Lourigan, Gareth Thomson, Jack Dodds and Abby Gallaway, with music by Jack Dodds, Gabbi Bolt and Tim Hansen, and Gareth Thompson providing lyrics. Things lag a little mid-way through Act II, but overall things move along quite well.

This is a lively and infectiously-energetic show. The witty, often tongue-in-cheek lyrics, are very clever, especially in inserting early 2000s references. Director Abby Gallaway’s choreography is entertaining in its creativity. The on-stage band is strong and the musical score is catchy.

For all of its over-the-top campness, Schapelle, Schapelle – The Musical is a cleverly crafted and self-aware production. A play on the oft-mentioned “Rochelle, Rochelle the Musical” from Seinfeld, it’s particularly smart in punctuating its fictionalised storytelling with the recreation of key pivotal events. What the show doesn’t do, however, is present a position on her guilt.

Schapelle, Schappelle – The Musical is playing at Brisbane Powerhouse until 4th June, 2022.

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

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