Schapelle circusry

Schapelle, Schapelle – The Musical (Century & Piano Room)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

May 24 – June 5

With a band dressed in tropical holiday garb, behind a XXXX-can perimeter, there is an immediate relaxed feel to Brisbane Powerhouse’s Underground Theatre. 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 is hyperbolic in its parodies from the very outset, with its 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 boggie board in Bali, is pitched to the editor and chief, played by Mitch Lourigan. For 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. (When Corby’s story is pitched to the editor and chief, his first question is, “is she a looker?”)

While the divisive Schapelle’s 2004 arrest at Denpasar’s airport and subsequent trial, conviction, incarceration and eventual release forms the stimulus for expose of the country’s media circus scramble for the story, it is her sister Mercedes who is central to so much of this retelling as she rallies the Australian media while assuring Schapelle that she’s ‘got this’. And Ruby Teys is simply sensational as the manic, screechy knock-off Juicy Couture connoisseur Mercedes. Her never-waning energy and commitment to all-the-time open mouthed exaggerated facial contortions make her character an absolute standout. And along with some spot-on comic timing, she showcases some impressive vocals, including in her very funny ‘Big Sis, Little Sis’ song routine attempts to reassure Schapelle. A number that sees Mercedes going three rounds in an interview with Jack Dodds’ journalist Raymond, is one of the show’s strongest, featuring as it does, its two standout performers. Dodds does not miss a beat as Raymond and his early moments on stage as Schapelle’s brother and chip off the old man’s block Mick are absolutely hilarious.

If ever there were roles to overplay, this is them and the show not only leans in to but revels in them, presenting typical Aussie larrikin figures with which we are all familiar. Emily Kimpton shows her versatility as mother Roseleigh Corby and also Schapelle’s Bali Nine cellmate Renae Lawrence. Indeed, she gives a dynamic performance, particularly in her Act Two opener duet with Boyden about the panel beater and pageant queen’s friendship (until it wasn’t), which is a real highlight. And Alice Litchfield is unstoppable as a ruthless journalist and host of “A Current Debate”, especially is her switch from mania to amplified unflappable façade as the cameras are switched on.

The ensemble cast is a certainly a talented group. 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 Two as we are jumped into worries about Schapelle’s mental health in a hallucinatory sequence (including appearance of Julia Gillard and Lindy Chamberlain) in one of the show’s most upbeat numbers, 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, and director Abby Gallaway’s choreography is entertaining in its creativity. The on-stage band is banging and the musical score is catchy, featuring a range of genre-riffs from a gospel-like media journalist celebration of having the story and the marketability of its Ganja Queen, to a ballad of regret from Boyden as Schapelle lamenting the passing of her father. And Boyden is a strong protagonist, with the vibrant voice that is especially showcased in Act One’s ‘Bali’.

For all of its over-the-top campness, “Schapelle Schapelle – The Musical” is a cleverly crafted and obviously self-aware production.A play on the oft-mentioned “Rochelle, Rochelle the Musical” from “Seinfeld”, it is particularly clever in its punctuation of its fictionalised storytelling with recreation of some key actual events, such as Schapelle’s physical reaction to hearing the court’s verdict. What the show doesn’t do, however, is present a position on her guilt, focussing instead on lampoon of the exploitative journalism at the core of our country’s fascination with the story, at times, literally tap-dancing around its truth, whatever that may be.