‘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.