This hilarious and charmingly lo-fi musical tackles growing up in country Australia
The year is 2004. The place: Yarramadoon, a fictional town in country Australia. The hero: Shelly (Eliza Reilly), a butterfly-clip wearing, backpack-toting teenager. She’s just been kicked out of home for hooking up with Damo (Hannah Reilly) in her backyard, but Shelly isn’t just another “tramp on a trampoline.” She’s got a dream in her pocket and a half-completed Gloria Jeans application – this girl is going to Sydney.
Or at least, she will when the bus finally arrives.
Yarramadoon the Musical is the brainchild of sisters Hannah and Eliza Reilly (ABC’s Growing Up Gracefully), who share writing and directing credits and star in the show (along with co-composer Matthew Predny, a musical theatre actor who serves as musical director and makes a couple of key cameos). It’s an hourlong musical comedy – emphasis on the comedy – that looks at country life, early-2000s culture cringe, a women’s right to be in charge of her own destiny, and, of course, nangs.
Shelly’s long wait at the bus stop is a magical journey through her life and the history of Yarramadoon. Old man Leonard (Hannah Reilly), a bit racist and a bit lecherous, if kindly, sings about the town at length – as well as the perils of being a woman seeking out adventure, and the time a local teen was seduced a Big City Boy (in a genuinely hilarious ‘80s flashback/Springsteen inspired number).
We also duck over to Camp Naughty Boy, where an enthusiastic camp leader (Eliza Reilly) tries to help young boys – mostly illegitimate children created and then abandoned by Kyle Sandilands – to deal with their male rage before it becomes toxic. Shelly’s long-haired, clumsy-rapper flame Damo is his oldest charge; all he wants is his absent father’s love, and also to be an entrepreneur.
There’s also a magical Sydney ibis (Matthew Predny, in a glorious moment), an extended riff on the first season of Australian Idol, keenly observed 2004 details (“it’s a called a dream-catcher, not a dream giver-upper,” croons Shelly’s caftan-clad mother, a walking early 2000s new-age store), a World War II-era love story, and the biggest night of all in a 16 year old’s life: the school formal.
There’s so much going on in Yarramadoon the Musical that it could feel chaotic, but the Reillys keep the action tight – it feels endearingly scrappy, but not messy, and there’s real discipline in the broad characters, musical compositions, and tone. The humour is always sharp but never derisive; there’s real love for the daggiest of country traits, and no class-driven elitism to be found – each insult is delivered with palpable affection.
The music is both smartly referential and painfully-era specific. In one of the best, more subtle moments of musical comedy, Shelly describes to Leonard her first meet-and-pash with Damo, surrounded by a bunch of fellow students and goaded into it. She is dazed with memories of romance; at the keyboard, Predny plays Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’; the lights (by Martin Kinane) evoke the glimmering otherworldliness of the fishtank meet-cute in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (released in 1996, and an essential reference for teens falling into the first blushes of love in the 2000s).
There’s a liberating, irresistible charm to Yarramadoon in all its slang-embracing, feminist-centred, nimbly-performed glory. It’s a comedy-first production (the vocals – with the exception of Predny – aren’t exactly polished from here to Broadway) and the Reillys are highly accomplished comics, with charisma that leaps off the stage and turns every character, no matter how absurd, into someone lovable. Go, and be charmed – but be warned: if you’re sitting in the front row, you might be asked to dance the Nutbush at formal. Start brushing up your moves now.