Jay James-Moody really loves dinosaurs.
He loves them so much that he and new spouse Jessica’s honeymoon included Hawaiian locations where Jurassic Park was shot. “My wife Jessica even imitated a raptor during the ceremony,” says the director of Squabbalogic’s new production Triassic Parq. “So I married the right woman.”
James-Moody—in his role as artistic director of Squabbalogic Independent Musical Theatre—confesses that Triassic Parq offered him the irresistible opportunity to combine two of his great interests: dinosaurs and musicals.
But those weren’t the only reasons compelling him to present the Australian première of this award-winning off-Broadway musical in the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Season.
“We’re always looking at pieces that are a little left-of-centre and add something unique to the music theatre genre,” he says. “And when it turned out that the show was actually ridiculously and outrageously hilarious with a really fun score as well, it was a bit of a no-brainer.”
Triassic Parq takes its starting point from Jurassic Park, the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie in which genetically engineered, all-female dinosaurs roam an island theme park, eventually launching a savage attack on trapped and terrified humans.
In Triassic Parq, the dinosaurs tell their side of the story, revealing the dramatic upheavals in the dinosaur community when one of their number spontaneously becomes male—penis and all.The ensuing chaos destabilises all their prior assumptions about gender, identity, and everything, really.
“Triassic Parq is about these interesting interpersonal relationships, and how those relationships change as part of a family dynamic that is interrupted by extraordinary circumstances,” says James-Moody.
“The dinosaur characters in the show are used to living in a very black-and-white world,” he adds. “When some diversity is introduced and their concepts are challenged, there’s a lot of lashing out and interesting behaviour. It really is reflective of what’s happening in contemporary society. The more we work through it, the more we sort of see that it’s not just some fluffy comedy piece. What’s going on underneath all of the comedy is pretty serious stuff, but the way we’re doing it makes it very accessible.”
With its wacky premise, the production demands robust audience suspension of disbelief; well, how else could it work when singing, dancing, angst-ridden dinosaurs are on-stage?
And how do the actors convey the impression that they are gigantic ancient reptiles? “The dinosaurs are pretty anthropomorphized,” says James-Moody. “There’s a lot of claw hands and we’re working out how to walk and things like that. Basically we just tell the audience up-front, ‘We’re playing dinosaurs’, and it’s up to the audience to get on board.”
James-Moody handpicked the cast of Triassic Parq. “We didn’t do an open casting process like we have on other shows,” he says. “I invited certain actors to come and work on the show—people I knew were very funny, very versatile, easy to get along with; who were very bold and not going to have trouble potentially looking very silly—at least in the rehearsal room.”
These experienced music-theatre performers probably never imagined themselves playing these kinds of roles. For example: Monique Sallé plays T-Rex 1, but has previously featured in A Chorus Line and The Drowsy Chaperone. Adèle Parkinson is T-Rex 2, following roles in Legally Blonde and Carrie. Blake Erickson—soon heading for the New York Fringe Festival in Stalker: The Musical—is the Velociraptor of Faith. But wait, there are more raptors: the Velociraptor of Innocence, played by Rob Johnson (Carrie), and Velociraptor of Science, played by Kiera Daley (LadyNerd).
Casting decisions weren’t based solely on matching people to roles. Group dynamics were also crucial. “I have previously worked in some capacity with everyone in this show, and pretty much everyone else has worked with everyone else,” James-Moody says. “Even with a short rehearsal period where these actors are being asked to be very, very silly and put themselves out there, we were able to skip over any sort of self-consciousness. I knew it was going to be important that there was already some sort of rapport amongst the team.”
James-Moody has also previously worked with both musical director Mark Chamberlain (Strictly Ballroom) and choreographer Dean Vince (King Kong). Chamberlain, he says, contributes his musical talent along with a sense of humour that gets him on-stage playing the role of Pianosaurus.
Vince is “a choreographer with an actors’ approach to choreography”—important when not all cast members are trained dancers—and his sense of humour has infused fun into the show’s movement.
In fact, James-Moody says that the style of comedy makes Triassic Parq more “outrageous” than any other production the company has undertaken.
“We like to challenge ourselves,” he says. “It really is something new for us and that’s part of the process. In general terms, music theatre’s kind of written off by a lot of people as purely what they see on a large-scale commercial level. But the work that we do is just so diverse and has a lot of riches to be mined.”
Speaking of Triassic Parq’s serious themes, he says that “people might not consciously identify with what’s happening in the show but I think there’s got to be some subconscious reaction.”
So, sure, go and see Jurassic World, and watch the way things go horrible wrong—again—at the island theme park.
But be warned that, after you experience the Triassic Parq version of events, you may feel that the non-singing, non-dancing, non-angst-ridden Jurassic Park movies miss the point entirely.
Wednesday June 17-Saturday July 4 2015
Audience members have a chance to talk with cast and crew following the 2pm performance on Saturday June 27.
For information/bookings, go to www.seymourcentre.com or call the Seymour Centre (02) 9351 7940.