Scones and songs

Margaret Fulton – The Musical (Jally Entertainment)

QUT Gardens Theatre

April 13 – 14

Food and cooking writer, journalist and author Margaret Fulton OAM is an Aussie icon. The first of this genre of writers in Australia, she was an instant and international success whose The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, with hundreds of recipes, step-by step instructions, hints, tips and full-colour pictures, taught a generation how to make delicious, economical dishes and be creative with food and international cuisine. We are reminded of this from the outset of “Margaret Fulton – The Musical”, adapted from her book “I Sang for My Supper”, with its initial rousing anthemic musical number ‘The Book’ outlining the pre-Fulton repetition of the same old boring dishes of roast lamb and rissoles et al made in the same old boring ways.

The original Australian musical comedy outlines how the formidable Fulton took Australians through scones and pavlova to new ingredients in celebration of the culinary queen’s professional journey from home cook to household name, but also acquaints the audience with her lesser-known personal life and penchant for ‘decorative, elegant and useless men’. The fiercely independent Margaret’s (Judy Hainsworth) story is a sweeping one that takes shape as she sets out from Glen Innes (where the family moved from Scotland after Margaret’s birth) to Sydney. As she lives as a single mum in the Rocks district, we meet her friends and fellow tenants, a vibrant mixture of actors, artists, writers and musicians (ensemble cast members Conor Ensor, Clancy Enchelmaier, Zoë Harlen and Paige McKay) in Latin chorus number ‘La Vie Boheme’.

The hardworking supporting cast are all vibrant in their performances, which are often exaggerated caricatures in play for laughs. Enchelmaier, in particular, is vivacious in his portrait of despicable men, including Margaret’s philandering Irish second husband Denis. This animated approach is reflected also in the cheerful choreography the features in songs such as ‘Jam’ and ‘Bobby Limb’. In contrast to this jubilant tone, Jessica Kate Ryan cements the emotional backbone of the story as Margaret’s proud Scottish mother Isabella. It’s an emotional core that Hainsworth also captures, particularly in the musical’s later reflective tones. Indeed, Hainsworth easily conveys the journey of the story, from the passionate optimism of a strong-willed 18-year-old Margaret, through her career triumphs and personal defeats to late-in-life contemplations.

Musical Composer Yuri Worontschaks’ score is an accessible one. And as a biographical piece, the show is well written to incorporate nods to passages of time and some song lyrics (book and lyrics by Doug Macleod) are very witty. Similarly, its music spans various periods of history of Margaret’s life, even if frivolously-energetic, unnecessary numbers sometimes drag things along. And while the mixed bag of musical numbers includes no real post-show stand-outs, there are some memorable moments such as when she promotes a new appliance in an Andrews Sisters-style ‘Pressure Cooker’. The show includes a mix of high energy numbers and beautiful ballads, the latter of which allows the ensemble to showcase some lovely harmonies. Ensor’s touching vocals make ‘Beautiful’ a tender reassurance of third husband Michael’s adoration and Hainsworth’s vocal strength endures throughout, especially in occasional a cappella moments.

While much of the show’s entertainment comes from its easy comedy, there is also a strong feminist message to resonate it beyond just its target older demographic. John Bailey’s single-set stage design creates a nostalgic authenticity, appropriately complemented by colourful props including, of course, an orange crock pot. And like “Ladies in Black”, its Australian vernacular often adds to the charm of its humour.

“Margaret Fulton – The Musical” is a delightful musical romp through the life of a national treasure. Whether your knowledge of Fulton comes from her 1968 best seller or her more recent appearances as a judge on the reality television show MasterChef, this tribute to the famed cook will leave you entertained and uplifted.