Australian cast recordings are a rare beast indeed, so it’s a momentous occasion that last week, the live cast recording of Miracle City was released. Even more momentous: it reached the #8 position on the iTunes Soundtrack chart on its first day available online!
The show was recorded live over the course of its run at the increasingly culturally important Hayes Theatre in Sydney, the show’s first staging in almost twenty years.
Miracle City was once considered the great lost Australian musical. Written by Nick Enright and Max Lambert and debuting to rapturous response at Sydney Theatre Company in 1996, then vanishing into thin air, all the musical theatre community was left with were rumours and memory. It’s only this year that the Nick Enright songbook was released; Australia, much of the time, is not very good at archiving and preserving its musical theatre history.
In its first ten months of existence, Hayes Theatre Co, a new, small and vital designated space for musical theatre and cabaret (now in its second year) demonstrated a commitment to Australian work. It presented the premiere of new Australian jukebox musical Truth, Beauty, and a Picture of You; it revived the Australian song-cycle LOVEBiTES; and it revived Miracle City, the great mythical show rising again like the proverbial phoenix.
Miracle City is an unusual, deeply moving work. It’s set in real time, during the live taping of a family televangical show. The Truswells live in Johnson County, Tennessee, and the patriarch, reformed sinner Ricky, is leading the charge with his family on a religious theme park, Miracle City. “You’ll be paired off two-by-two,” the family trills, “for the ark with you-know-who/Joseph and his coat of colours/sells you doughnuts, cakes, and crullers.” It’s a utopia for deep south bible-worship, and the family is so ardently devoted to the park and everything it stands for.
The problem is that Ricky is deeply in debt, which he’s concealing from his wife, Lora-Lee, his parishioners, and his children. When a powerful preacher seems to come to Ricky’s aid by investing in the park, Ricky is willing to do anything to keep him on side. Even, probably, giving this grizzled, intimidating fundamentalist Christian his sixteen year old daughter’s hand in marriage.
Soon, while the show continues apace onscreen, Ricky and Lora-Lee, and their family and friends, are drawn into a deep crisis of faith.
Beautifully written, the musical draws deep on gospel roots for its sound; the music soars and the cast take us to church, entreating us to “Lay Your Burden Down” and “Raise the Roof” in praise; the musically complex “I’ll Hold On,” arguably Miracle City‘s jewel in the crown, is a song of praise, lightly inflected with a taste of country ballad and folk’s gentle declaration of strength; a song of praise that’s layered, ambitious, and almost unbearably gorgeous.
Enright’s lyrics are on display as clearly as Lambert’s composing; in “Lord of Miracles,” a lightly constructed, lyrically evocative number, Enright manages to extract, present and put voice to a sincere security and serenity at the heart of deep Christian faith, a comforting answer to the terrifying uncertainty of death: “Lord of miracles/you’ll do wonders/and one final miracle/you call your children home.”
Miracle City turns a deeply critical eye on the Christian televangelical industry and its damaging use of a catch-all fix-it solution and justification for unimaginably bad choices, but it never disparages faith, or those who so desperately seek it. There’s a strong kindness in Enright’s lyrics, because kindness and suspicion can indeed co-exist, and it’s this kind of complicated conceptual heart that makes Miracle City so successful.
The album is expertly mixed and sounds electrifying; it’s an essential piece of Australian musical theatre history, and a treat for the ears. Thank goodness it can live again and live on; let’s keep our industry alive.
The live album features the cast of the Hayes revival: Mike McLeish, Blazey Best, Hilary Cole, Cameron Holmes, Jason Kos, Esther Hannaford, Marika Aubrey, Josie Lane, and Peter Kowitz. It’s available on iTunes or as a physical CD at the Hayes Theatre (and will be available more widely soon; visit miraclecitythemusical.com for updates).