There’s a saying that I learned – you might have heard it said, one has to kiss a lot of frogs to catch a prince. Sadly, in terms of new independent Australian musicals, Butch Masters is no prince.
With book, music and lyrics by Jamie Burgess (not to mention orchestrations, musical direction and probably catering), I’m left with the impression that perhaps there was too little external input into the material. The result is that there are characters who exist for no discernible reason, songs that are just too racist to justify their presence, and a running time that could lose at least twenty minutes, and probably up to an hour.
And then there’s the point that this exact show was done before (and infinitely better) as Zanna, Don’t! in 2002 – another show which was staged for Midsumma Festival, back in 2009.
There are a couple of performances in Butch Masters that rise out of the sea of awkwardness that constantly threatens to overwhelm the stage. Those are by Justin Clausen as Butch’s high school torch-carrier, Trunch Luncheon, and Antony Steadman as the villainous Bea St Lea. Both do much with their limited material.
Everyone else, with the possible exception of Adrian Li Donni (who is just trying to draw as little attention as possible to his involvement), shuffles around the stage desperately trying to get all their lines out and not kick any of the wholly unnecessary furniture.
In the pre-show introduction on opening night, we were told that the previous night’s preview had also served as the dress rehearsal (because who doesn’t want to pay money to watch a dress rehearsal?). But the opening night performance played more like a first preview after which there would be several hours’ worth of notes. And hopefully significant rewrites.
I appreciate that a healthy local theatre ecosystem includes work at all strata of quality, but Butch Masters should never have been allowed to reach the stage.