New Australian musicals don’t always get a chance to shine. ‘Becoming Bill’ opened at Brisbane Powerhouse this week and gave the audience a breathtaking and joyful performance that has now established its place in the Australian theatre world. The audiences reactions on opening night were so genuine, it was splendid to witness.
This story of ‘Becoming Bill’ is fresh but simultaneously recognisable as an intimate look into a Brisbane family, the heartaches and the little moments that make us unique. The tale follows Bill, an aspiring composer that receives a call to write an original musical and is inspired by his family and the world around him, causing an imbalance in the dynamic of his relationships.
The innovative Bradley McCaw wrote the music, lyrics and book of this touching show. McCaw also embodies the title character of Bill, oozes joy and is very passionate about his show. He captures the audiences heart as Bill moves through the struggles of becoming an artist and holding on to the most important people in his life.
As an actor, Brad finds the everyday flaws all humans possess and turns it into a beautiful message that everyone makes mistakes. This is illustrated so poignantly in the song ‘Maybe we have reached it all’, when Bill’s girlfriend, Kimberley ends their relationship. The ballad is sung with such an emotional charge attached to it, it pulls the viewer in and is gifted with a beautiful array of emotions and range of talent.
During the beginning of the show Bradley’s character has his guard up in front of the people he loves. As a musician in the show and in real life he imitates the moment he pitches his original music to executives. This scene with a singular spotlight is very powerful when he is the most anxious about impressing them with his work. Any artist can connect to this moment in this world of critics.
Bradley’s perfect and raw depiction of Bill is conveyed when he digs to the truth behind his mask of joy, how he is afraid to end up like his dead-beat dad in the airport scene when his mother flys to Ireland. You can hear the audience feel for him at this time as his mother convinces him he is not like him and can choose his own path, that is a very important lesson to teach the youth of today.
The true Australian musical theatre star, Rachael Beck is fantastic in this production as Bill’s mother Jane. Her character is the ultimate caregiver to her two sons James and Bill. She plays a warm, friendly woman that just wants her family to thrive and be happy. Rachael is a perfect fit for this role. All of her little quirks to express how she loves her sons is communicated in the gorgeous song, ‘Are you happy?’ Beck has the most flawless singing voice, as she finds out that Bill is having trouble with his love life.
Rachael discovers her comedic side as she also plays the minor but outrageous personality that is Bill’s agent, Martha. She is very hyperactive, tells it how it is and doesn’t want another ‘Home and Away’ client. You don’t see her in the show but hear her crazy, high-pitched voice over. It provides the audience with a hint of comic relief when mixed with the emotional state of Bill’s character.
Oliver Samson plays the couch potato brother to Bill, James. On the surface his portrayal as Bill’s brother is this incredible depiction of a classic Aussie slob, with crocs on and is addicted to video games. The two boys have a mostly loving relationship and an entertaining tradition of ‘cheers and beers’ (watching the TV show ‘Cheers’ while drinking beers), that James loves to play. James is reluctant to talk about his real issues as they both break out into the creatively pieced together mellow tune, ‘No Feelings today.’
The attachment to his couch could be due to a few lingering father issues perhaps telling him he isn’t good enough to make anything of himself. Oliver conveys this feeling beautifully after Bill and James have an intense fight during the song ‘View from the couch’ as they ask each other what they are doing with their life. At the conclusion of the number the audience discovers his sensitive side as he knows it is time to move on from sponging off his brother.
Up and coming theatre star Stephanie Long, embodies Bill’s artist girlfriend, Kimberley. Long has a gorgeous voice and portrays a character that so desperately wants the attention of her long-term partner. However she isn’t listened to and is worried about their relationship, especially when Bill chooses his family over her majority of the time.
Stephanie is an effervescent performer and pours her heart out in the incredible ballad ‘Let’s not have this fight’, as she finds it in her soul to forgive Bill for being late and not putting her first. By the conclusion of the show Kimberley has had all she can take. It builds to the heartbreaking scene at the park bench when she realises she has to stick up for herself and ends it with Bill in the emotional song, as previously mentioned, ‘Maybe we’ve reached it all.’ Stephanie is truly a triumph as Kimberley as she feels she isn’t seen in Bill’s eyes, with his family at the forefront.
Bradley McCaw writes the most seamless and wondrous lyrics that flow effortlessly with the music to match, especially for this intimate heart-wrenching piece of theatre. Putting him right alongside legends in the entertainment world, Paesk and Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman).
The construction of the music and story struck a chord and feel very similar to the telling of real life moments that the hit Broadway musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ highlights and emotes to the audience. This is especially relevant in the song ‘Are you happy?’, as mentioned earlier, between mother and son.
The show possesses several gorgeous ballads similarly that pulls your heart strings and make you feel something. In contrast there are an array of upbeat numbers in the show to lift your spirits, particularly at their Mum’s birthday dinner as they sarcastically bop into the room in a happy mood as if everything is fine.
‘Becoming Bill’ is a smashing new Australian work showcasing a musical within a musical about real stories and learning to open up in our important relationships. The show also touches on finding your place in the world and the struggle of realising and fulfilling your true dreams. Bradley McCaw found the superb balance of extraordinary fleshed out characters with melancholy contemporary music. Brisbane you should consider yourself lucky having a home-grown talent producing real Australian stories.
Go and see ‘Becoming Bill’ at Brisbane Powerhouse until 25 August.