Stranger Sings! Down Under Review

I must confess, I’ve only ever watched two episodes of Stranger Things on Netflix. I enjoyed both episodes but never finished streaming the series. That said, on with my review of Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical based on the hit series.

“A gate to the Upside Down has been ripped open Down Under”

Stranger Sings arrives in Melbourne via Off-Broadway and is presented at the Meat Market by Salty Theatre. A female-led boutique theatre company. I didn’t know what to expect as I entered the venue to the sound of Cyndi Lauper’s hit song, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. Not only was it my first time at the Meat Market but I was also a Salty Theatre virgin. Yep! The double whammy. We’ve all got to start somewhere I suppose. Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical is set in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. A time when things were simpler, hair was bigger, and unsupervised children were getting snatched by inter-dimensional creatures…and a strange breakdancing monster wearing a onesie. Damn scary! 😧 But the minute the lights went down I felt in safe hands under Ashley Taylor Tickell’s direction and was thoroughly entertained by the shenanigans of the Hawkins gang.

Hawkins Gang

However, I did feel disadvantaged not knowing the Netflix series very well as several jokes went straight over my head particularly in the beginning. It didn’t stop my enjoyment of the show which is littered with pop culture references, Broadway quips, bad wigs and cheap special effects. In fact from the opening number, Welcome to Hawkins, you’re well aware that every cast member on stage is there purely for your entertainment. Produced Off-Broadway by Joanathan Hogue (The Nations) and Nick Flatto (Heart of Rock and Roll) this Melbourne production of Stranger Sings is the Australian premiere.

At Saturday’s performance, I found the whole company in fine voice, but a few performers stood out. Stephanie John plays the role of neurotic Joyce Byers, made famous by Hollywood actress Winona Ryder. John’s comic timing is spot on, and she knows how to belt out a musical number when the spotlight hits her. Ian Andrew holds his own as the bumbling chief of police, Jim Hopper, whose daughter died…something he’s never allowed to lament on stage as he keeps getting interrupted every time he starts to sing. He plays the chief dumber than dumb and is a little bit sexy. He can also really sing and is made of leading man material. Jess Ridler plays Eleven, a rather odd creature with a shaved head and hidden telekinetic powers. Her vocals reminded me of Aussie songstress Missy Higgins. In her big solo number in act one, The Dad I Never Had, I found her voice warm and appealing. I sympathized with her character. Asher Griffith Jones plays several comic roles in the show but the duet he sings, Nice, tickled my fancy and the final note he held was impressive. The standout performance and show-tune of the night, Barb’s Turn, was performed by Stacey Louise Camilleri. She makes a meal of the jazzy torch song (a nod to Rose’s Turn from Gypsy) and stops the show. In fact, I reckon she could sing the 1983 Adelaide telephone book and make it sound scintillating. She’s definitely a performer to keep an eye on.

Welcome to Hawkins

At times the script isn’t as funny as it could be, more improvisational work with Australian audiences kept firmly in mind might have helped to sweeten some of the corny American gags. Audiences love performers referencing their homegrown personalities and local politics. Stranger Sings is the perfect show to do this! While several jokes and references were updated, more could have been added. Also, at 120 minutes running time (plus interval) its 10 minutes too long. But the talented young cast should comfortably shave off several minutes during the run. The set design is functional, but could have done with more stage effects, it is a science fiction story after all. But what would I know anyway? My friend (who watched the entire Netflix series) sat beside me laughing out loud, loving every minute. Special mention to the sound designer, Edwin Cheah. The sound on the night was crystal clear and paired perfectly with the visuals. Salty Theatre was co-founded in 2018, and recently remounted their sold-out Melbourne production of Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody. I look forward to seeing more of their work in 2023.

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical is a rip-roaring and ludicrous love letter to the global phenomenon that is Stranger Things. I mentioned at the start of this review that I was a Salty Theatre virgin. Well, not anymore. Salty Theatre you definitely popped my cherry with this toe-tapping, campy production. Now there’s nothing left for me to do but light up a cigarette and listen to nonstop 80s pop hits! Well done Salty Theatre 😊

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical

Show Details:
Dates: 4 -19 November 2022, 7:30PM Wed – Sat/ 3PM Sat (12 and 19 November)
Cost: Adult $65/ Concession $55/ Preview $45 + Booking Fees
Duration: 120 minutes (1 x 20 min interval) Venue: Meat Market – Flat Floor Pavillion Tickets

Production photos by Angel Leggas 3 fates media

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