The names Pasek and Paul are often met with a knowing grin. The songwriting duo are a household name with successful credits such as La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and Dear Evan Hansen. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are on a winning streak and Irregular Productions is about to take patrons back to chapter one of their success story, Edges.
Formed in 2010 by Peter Johns, Irregular Productions is an Adelaide-based production company whose aim is to produce ‘unique and high-quality performances featuring local performers.’
This production is part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival programme and will be staged in The Parks Theatres. Featuring a cast of four highly-regarded performers, a well-respected musical director, and a recent NIDA graduate as director, it has all the right ingredients for a successful season.
I spoke with the cast and creatives to gauge their feelings about their imminent opening night. The close-knit cast features Casmira Hambledon, Millicent Sarre, Mitchell Smith, and Scott Reynolds. Peter Johns is musical director and producer, and Ellis Dolan makes his debut as director.
A Chat With the Edges Cast / Creatives
Why produce Edges? And, why this show during Fringe season when you are competing with so many other productions?
Peter: Fringe time is a great chance to draw in new audiences. I adore Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight and Dear Evan Hansen so had a listen and did some research and realised it was a really good fit for my company, and for Fringe.
Ellis: Not only are Pasek and Paul in the forefront of the public consciousness – with their multiple Tony and Oscar wins/nominations – but it serves as a great chance to introduce people to a show that really speaks to the youth or ‘millennial’ generation.
Irregular Productions had a successful 2015 season with [Title of Show]. Do you feel pressured to top that with this production?
Peter: I believe you have to approach each production in a unique way that reflects the chosen show. My aim is to always keep the same high production standards, so if that dropped I’d obviously be disappointed. We are telling stories. Not everyone will resonate or love every story we tell, and that’s okay, it’s all part of the art form. I’m pretty confident there is something for everyone in this show though! Would I like to have a second sellout season? Totally! Is it likely? Who knows…
What message do you hope that your patrons will take away from your show?
Peter: That they aren’t alone and we don’t have to feel like we have our life completely together.
Ellis: Edges is about accepting who you are and not changing yourself into something you are not to fit into society’s expectations. It’s about relationships, friendships and, ultimately, your relationship with yourself; which is, of course, the most important relationship you could have with anyone.
Ellis, are you daunted by your directorial debut after graduating from NIDA?
Ellis: I’ve honestly been loving every second of it. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew to work with, and I’ve felt that we’ve been able to reach a good sense of collaboration. Rehearsals will usually start with me asking the actors a lot of questions and together we find which answers we feel suit the show or the scene the best.
Given their recent success, why do you think Pasek and Paul’s music resonates with people?
Mitchell: One thing I think Pasek and Paul do really well, particularly in their scores for the theatre, is the blend of comedy and emotion, and Edges is no exception to that.
Casmira: I think covering some taboo issues people really want to be able to talk more about i.e depression, social anxiety, isolation and loneliness, but ultimately resolving with an uplifting message of hope, redemption and support, is what resonated with so many.
Millicent: Something that I love about their music is their articulation of universal experiences, which is why I think everyone can find something that resonates with them in their gorgeous body of work. My favourite example of this is the song “Coasting” in Edges, a song discussing the menial conversations we have without ever scratching the surface and getting to something deeper.
Describe your character
Millicent: Although we’re not bound by set characters due to the nature of a song cycle, there is a tangible link between the two solo songs that I sing and we’ve interpreted them as being sung by the same person. To begin with, we see her at a very vulnerable point; she is at the end of an abusive relationship, but is trying to hold onto it for fear of being alone. When we see her next, however, she is has bounced back from the situation and found her self-worth and empowerment.
Casmira: Edges doesn’t really have a narrative thread. We’ve worked out that we each have a core character but also dip into playing different characters throughout the show. [My core character] oscillates between deep insecurity and fierce independence and her journey is one of making peace with her complexity and uncertainty.
Mitchell: A lot of my material has a real coming-of-age element. I play the youngest character in the show, someone in that late teens/early 20s area where you are living between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, wanting all of the freedoms that come with getting older, but without losing the safety net of home.
The composers have developed a loyal following known as ‘Edge-Heads’, do you consider yourself an Edge Head?
Casmira: Haha sure. I would. I have loved this show for a long time and I’m so excited I get to be a part of it. It’s pretty astounding they were 19 when they wrote it.
Mitchell: While I don’t necessarily feel the need to strap a label to myself, I have been a huge fan of Pasek and Paul for ages. Their score for the musical Dogfight is one of my absolute favourites and their whole canon of work is so diverse.
Millicent: I definitely love their work without being a hard-core fan girl.
What is it like to work in a small cast when people may associate Music Theatre with a spectacle of large ensembles, orchestra, and big sets?
Mitchell: I absolutely love doing small chamber shows like this, as it allows for much more intimate storytelling.
Casmira: It’s wonderful working with a small cast. An audience will have to shift their expectations of a musical in a lot of ways for this show. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative thread and it’s not a big spectacle. It’s intimate and insular instead. I think it helps pull focus down to the words and the music and really tell individual stories.
Millicent: I love that the level of trust and rapport we have with one another allows us to dig to a deeper level without any trepidation or self-consciousness. While I also love big shows with their big ensembles and big sound and grandeur, I think there’s something really special and intimate about a small cast, for audience and performers alike.
What’s your favourite song in the show and why does it speak to you?
Millicent: “In Short” was one of my favourite songs in my repertoire to perform, but there were many songs I didn’t know. I love the comic element, I love getting to belt my heart out, and the new interpretation we’ve given it now that I’m performing it in the context of the show rather than as a stand-alone piece gives it a fresh feel. I also love “Coasting”, “Like Breathing” and “I Once Knew” – Mitch sings it like a dream.
Mitchell: I get to sing my favourite song in the show, “I Once Knew”. One of the threads that comes out of the song is how, as children, we often perceive our parents as these all-knowing beings, and think that there will come a time that we have all the answers, which I am discovering doesn’t turn out to be true. The song is also a tribute to the character’s mother so I connect very strongly with that, as my own mum has always been such a source of support and strength in my life.
Casmira: My favourite song that I get to sing is called “Better” and is about two people at a high school reunion deciding that everyone they thought was cool at school is now pathetic and sad. Initially it make me feel a bit sick because it is SO MEAN and (I hope) so far from anything I would ever say in real life, but like any villain song, it’s just so fun to jump around the stage being such a completely terrible person.
Edges opens on 7 March and runs until 11 March as part of Adelaide Fringe 2018. For more information about the show visit: adelaidefringe.com.au