‘Becoming Bill’ was wholesome. It’s not often the world premiere of a new Australian musical comes to town. Let alone for it to blow its audience’s socks off. But ‘Becoming Bill’ did just that. With a stellar cast, touching script, and amazing set and lighting design, this new musical, performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse, was a wholesome production.
Directed by Neil Gooding, the musical touches on themes of ambition, love, and family. It delicately raises questions of whether one can be too close to their kin or love them too much. It also encourages its audience to speculate on where lines should be drawn for their own families.
Based partially on the writer Bradley McCaw’s experience and coming-of-age tale, the play follows Bill (also played by McCaw), a washed-up actor turned writer. Bill narrates his story, inviting the audience to take an insightful peep into his seemingly simple life. However, through the beautiful ballads and humorous musical numbers, it is revealed that Bill’s life is not so simple.
His on-again-off-again girlfriend is questioning their relationship once again, his mum seems to be holding onto something she should have let go of long ago and his young brother hasn’t left the couch in months. On top of all of this, Bill is writing a musical, a task more difficult than one would imagine.
The angular set consisted of three set pieces. The largest set piece made up Bill’s dining room. There were two doors at the back of the set which characters would burst in and out of, giving it an authentic feel. Another set-piece made up his living room. It consisted of a couch, a TV and a whole lot of mess, with beer cans and bottles scattered throughout. This was Bill’s brother, James’ (Oliver Samson) nest. The final set-piece was Bill’s music room. The use of multiple spaces was effective in creating ‘zones’ so that the audience could easily fill in the gaps of what made up the rest of Bill’s apartment.
The lighting design further emphasised the areas created by the set and assisted in telling the emotional story of the musical. Warm and cool lighting beautifully heightens the emotions. For example, during Bill and Kim’s date a soft, warm spotlight was on them.
In James’ solo in ‘View from the Couch’, there was a pulsing spotlight on the couch. James stood, watching it as he questions his life choices. It was a touching moment.
The musical consisted mainly of ballads. Each song was beautifully crafted and reflected the emotions of the characters. Harmonies were spectacular, especially during the opening number, ‘Prologue’. The band was exposed, making them part of the show, which fitted, as the music was integral to the story. This also brought an authenticity to the show, bringing the audience into the world of the musical.
Bradley McCaw as Bill was confident, authentic and lovable. Not only were his vocals amazing, but his performance was oozing with passion. It was clear that this was his story as every line and lyric was delivered with passion and sincerity. The use of direct audience address meant that the audience could really get on Bill’s side and could feel as though they were being taken along on his journey.
Rachel Beck, an icon of Australian musical theatre with a very impressive resume, played the chirpy, talkative and down to earth Jane, Bill’s mother and best friend. Beck proved that she is a force to be reckoned with, possessing a gorgeous stage presence, brilliant acting skills and stunning vocals. Jane and Bill’s mother-son relationship was believable, and Beck was the perfect casting choice.
James’ character was the comedic relief of the show. Oliver Samson’s portrayal was flawless as the ambitionless video gamer. His smooth tenor vocals stole the spotlight whenever he opened his mouth. While he had his funny moments, he also had an incredibly sensitive moment at the end of ‘No Feelings Today’ as Bill exited and the musical was pulled back, the audience gained a touching insight into the life of James.
Steph Long’s vocals stole the show. She was the redoubtable casting choice for Bill’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Kim. Her strong belting and stunning vocals stole the show, leaving the audience with goosebumps every time. Long is a capable and skilled actress who did the ‘complicated girlfriend’ stereotype justice.
‘Becoming Bill’ is sure to take the Australia stage by storm. It was sensitive, fun, heart-wrenching, and had something for everyone. The songs were beautiful, the set and lighting design was effective, and the actors were captivating. It is a personal, yet universal story that will surely make history in Australian musical theatre.
New musicals are a difficult beast to master, but this new Australian work shows promise in its score, book and relatable characters. First time writer/composer Bradley McCaw has written about what he knows – his creative and personal life, and whilst it’s flawed like most of our lives, most of us will relate to the personable problems.
An out-of-work 28-year old actor living on his own, with his brother as a couch potato, sets out to write a musical and we follow his path and his pain of trying to hold together a three-year-old girl-friend relationship, coupled with an allegiance to his single mother.
Neil Gooding’s direction is first rate, as are the performances. It’s well-sung, well-lit, and well-produced.
McCaw is the protagonist Bill. He’s personable, relatable, plays an astonishing keyboard, and nails every vocal. But he’s almost overshadowed by Oliver Sampson’ younger brother James, who brings welcome laughs to a world awash with angst. His “No Feelings Today,” when he doesn’t want a conversation about touchy-feely stuff when they’re having a ‘beers and Cheers night’ instantly evokes boys-bonding and hits the button.
Stephanie Long, as the art-gallery girl-friend has some powerhouse vocal chops which were shown to striking effect on “Let’s Not Have This Fight” and “Maybe We’ve Reached It All”.
But the performance of the night was Rachel Beck’s mother Jane. Tender and emotional, she projected the perfect motherly warmth and sang a heartfelt “Are You Happy?”
McCaw’s orchestrations for keyboard, guitar, bass guitar and violin added a ton of colour to the show’s musical palette, whilst Trevor Jones’ vocal arrangements pleased with their harmonies.
The musical worked better when it was exploring the family dynamic or the on-again, off-again girl-friend story strand and would have benefited by more exposition of both. The lyrics were incisive but could have done with more wit, whilst the music had punch and bounce and was agreeable poppy.
Have you ever just sat down and contemplated your life as it has been and how you want to be in the future? Well there’s a new musical in town that explores exactly that and much more. Becoming Bill: A New Musical, written by and starring Bradley McCaw as the titular character, has something for every human that has ever lived a life they loved or didn’t. s let into his life as he tries to write a musical for the first time. We meet the people most important to him and Bills lets us in on his thoughts and secrets. It’s a conversation between friends. But most importantly, it’s a life lesson.
Becoming Bill is a musical that really speaks to creatives, whether that be thespians, visual artists, musos or anywhere in between. It also speaks to people on a human level, answering deep life questions as well as asking them.
So, what does Bill want? He is, generally, a happy-go-lucky guy with a secure teaching job. He has a beautiful and talented girlfriend, a loving mother and couch potato for a brother. However, it soon becomes apparent that neither Bill nor Kim, his girlfriend, played by Stephanie Long his mother – Rachael Beck or his brother James – Oliver Samson – are happy.
The story unfolds as these characters soon begin to realise that what they currently have might not be what they will always want. Of course, there is always drama followed by forgiveness or closure in every life however Becoming Bill seems to hyper-realise ordinary life by making it seem like it isn’t ordinary at all.
There are meta elements to this show as well and it is these little in-jokes that really brought out moments of comedy. What was most enjoyable about this was the frank and human characters – each one loveable in their own way. It didn’t matter whose side you chose, there was a likeable element in each of them.
Most of the musical numbers were strong, with a good mix of typical genres and beautifully blended harmonies. What Do I Want? sung by the full company, Let’s Not Have This Fight sung by Stephanie Long and When We Were Younger sung by Rachael Beck afforded moments of beauty and simplicity within the production and deepened the story.
An especially interesting touch was the inclusion of a live band, which cut through the monotony of using just the one instrument.
So what will Bradley McCaw do next? Becoming Bill was only just the beginning all those years ago and it will be interesting to see where his talent takes us.
TO THE SINGER/ACTORS of QUEENSLAND!?!
Old Fashioned Production Company and Brisbane Powerhouse are presenting the Premiere season of 'Becoming Bill' a new musical by Bradley McCaw.
Auditions March 18th
Directed by Neil Gooding
Musical Direction by Trevor Jones
Performance Season August 14th-25th
Rehearsals begin July 22nd
Performers will be asked to present a song of their own choice - we suggest contemporary musical theatre in the style of the show sung with an Australian accent.
Expression of interest can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org including:
• Vocal Range
• Preferred times on Monday 18th March**
**We will do our best to accomodate these but can’t guarantee you will be offered them.
Video auditions will also be accepted, though we strongly recommend attending in person.
About the show:
Becoming Bill is an award winning new Australian musical about a family turned upside down. When Bill an out of work actor is asked to write a musical, he foolishly bases it on himself and those around him, upsetting the delicate balance in their family home, unburdening truths they had each hidden.
Studio Recordings from the musical can be found here: