I confess to a bit of stress sweating in the first ten minutes of MIRACLE CITY. I really felt like I was in the audience of an evangelical television program and this made for very uncomfortable viewing. Just a bit too realistic for a traditional girl like me. I swear if they had passed around a plate I would have been diving into my purse for some change. This is a real time show which purports to happen during the live-to-air broadcast of that specialized Tennessee brand of family preachers and tele-evangelists in the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker mould.
In revival at the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point, MIRACLE CITY gives us the Truswells. Initially presenting as the ideal family of faith, Lora-Lee (Blazey Best) and Ricky (Mike McLeish) are celebrating a 20 year marriage. Witnesses to their love story are their 16 year old daughter, Loretta (Hilary Cole) and her younger brother, Ricky-Bob (Cameron Holmes). Together the family has a vision for place called Miracle City, an amusement park for faith and fun.
Supporting the TV funds drive are the Citadel Singers (Marika Aubrey, Esther Hannaford and Josie Lane) and stage manager and preacher-in-training Billy (Jason Kos). The need for money to build this place for prayer and play is the driver of the story and brings the Rev Millard Sizemore (Peter Kowitz) into their family. His help is conditional though and Ricky has to make a horrible decision. And …well … Ricky is a bastard as far as I’m concerned. See … I’m too involved!
MIRACLE CITY was first produced in Sydney in 1996 and after brief, bright flame of 4 weeks flickered out as the creative forces behind it moved on. Written by the late Nick Enright with music from Max Lambert (who is Musical Director for this revival), the original director was Gale Edwards. That season is spoken of in legendary terms. Luckily we have Darren Yap to direct this renewal. He worked as Enright’s assistant in 1997 when a modified version was produced for WAAPA. Yap’s program notes indicate that this show includes influences from that outing. With this pedigree, there would be a danger of making this a reverent affair but instead of baggage we have an exuberant, entertaining production with a big wow factor for such a small space.
The theatre is stripped to a black box and the set looks like nothing. Just a large act curtain in a cable channel TV studio. Yes, but a curtain that closes to hide, can also be opened to reveal. The costumes too, look simple. 80’s glamour, nice suits, beautifully tailored ecclesiastical uniforms, red and blue or gold and black as the palette. They too, hide and reveal. Especially in the final scene.
And if we are talking about secrets hidden and conversations revealed, rich ambers contrast with glaring white lighting states to, literally, put the hypocrisy into relief. In addition, the choreographer’s hand is not just evident in the movement to music but in the movement into on-camera personas and the donning of the ‘sugar smiles’.
Set Designer Michael Hankin, Lighting Designer Hugh Hamilton, Choreographer Kelly Abbey, Costume Designer Roger Kirk and Wig Designer Ben Moir have created the perfect structure for the cast to tell the story.
Everyone in this show is terrific and each performer brings their own story on with them. The characters travel their arcs with absolute believability. The voices are great and blend beautifully, the emotions are raw and available. As I looked along the line of cast and band members when they took their bows, I was thinking that I couldn’t single out any one performance over another. When they came back for the second bow, this ensemble didn’t form another line. They clumped together on centre stage and that grouping said it all.
All the songs in this show are stand-alone gospel songs in a variety of styles from the rollicking “Raise the Roof” to a superbly rendered ballad, “Moving On”. The proselytization was very well realized and several times during the show my suspension of disbelief threatened to draw an ‘Halleluiah’ to the lips. There was a full house and a well-deserved standing ovation so you should get your tickets as soon as you can. This highly talented group of artists may well move on after this season and another incarnation of MIRACLE CITY will enter the annals of theatre-lore.
MIRACLE CITY is playing at the Hayes Theatre until November 16th.