The five-star studded story of the Elephant in the (Green) Room

With the Green Room Awards – Melbourne’s premiere performing arts industry gongs fast approaching, one musical stands apart from the crowd.

Every year, the Green Room Awards celebrate the brightest and best productions and performers in the Melbourne arts scene. Kip Williams’ iconic one-woman production of The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s interpretation of Yentl dominated the list last year, but 2024 looks very different.

The last 18 months have played witness to the meteoric rise of a genuinely original Australian production, The Marvellous Elephant Man: the Musical. From its week-long debut at the cosy Brunswick Jazz lab during the 2022 Melbourne Comedy Festival, to headlining the glamorous Sydney Spiegeltent at the 2023 Sydney Fringe Festival, the production has come a very long way in a very short time. While the first ever show opened to (a respectable) 93 people, the most recent performance closed to a standing ovation from an audience of well over 600. Theatre students take note.

 

During its multi-city run, Elephant Man has accrued a substantial amount of critical acclaim. Well over 25 x ★★★★★ awards, several features on national television, and the coveted Adelaide Fringe Festival Critics’ Circle Award for ‘Best Show.’ The production has now been nominated for three Green Room Award nominations.

The Marvellous Elephant Man was originally promoted as an ‘irreverent and inaccurate’ retelling of the life of John Merrick, and it’s difficult to argue with that description. The show saunters from genuinely touching storytelling to horribly hilarious gutter comedy with remarkable ease, helped in no-small-park by the original, genre-sweeping score. SBS Italiano described the show as ‘a gothic fairy tale that’s as surreal as it is moving.’

The show certainly represents a refreshing departure from the norm, eschewing the politically correct trends of contemporary productions in favour of a more unorthodox, authentic approach. This willingness to take risks has earned the production countless ultra-dedicated fans, some who’ve re-viewed the show upwards of a dozen times.

Co-director and Producer, Christopher HF Mitchell, reflected on the unexpected cult popularity of the show, noting the trend of audience members crossing state borders to catch another showing: ‘Guy [Masterson] and I started calling them Elephanatics.

Olivier-award winning West End and Broadway director Guy Masterson joined Mitchell as Co-Director during the 2023 second season of the production.

With over 16,000 tickets sold, the Marvellous Elephant Man has firmly established itself as a ‘must-see.’ The show’s nominations include ‘Best Lead’ for an Indie Musical for Ben Clark (John Merrick) and Kanen Breen (Dr TreZes). The show’s creators Marc Lucchesi, Sarah Nanadagopan, and Jayan Nandagopan have also been nominated for ‘Best Writing of a New Musical.’ The trio describe feeling both humbled and excited by the possibility of receiving such recognition.

Reflecting on their journey, the creative team recalls that they’d never intended to make a musical. As Marc recounts:

We started out making songs that made us laugh and we had no realistic plans to ever write a musical. We drank cheap wine in Jay and Sarah’s 2-bedroom apartment, laughing all night. We only started writing stuff down because we thought maybe our friends might laugh at it too.

The production certainly draws inspiration from a diverse range of influences, including 80s Saturday Night Live, Ben Elton and Mel Brooks. The creative team behind Elephant Man has crafted a production that resonates with audiences of all backgrounds. As Patrick McDonald of the Adelaide Advertiser put in his 5-star review.

[it’s] the equal of any top-notch Broadway or West End show! It’s ribald and politically incorrect – and the audience laps that up with every gasp of shock followed by howling laughter and applause.

Multiple commentators have noted the production’s similarity to the cult classic ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Indeed, there’s more than a little Frank-N-Furter in the Elephant Man character Mama Mamushka, a sashaying, cross-dressing seductress who delights in provoking the staid mores of the other characters (and the audience).

Some reviewers have gone so far as to claim

The Marvellous Elephant Man is this generation’s Rocky Horror. As ABC Radio Smart Arts put it, ‘The Book of Mormon meets Beauty and the Beast Rocky Horror Picture Show, seducing Young Frankenstein, as told by Billy Connolly!’

And with its irreverent humour, outrageous characters, and catchy musical numbers, the show captures the same sense of air-crackling excitement and taboo-plumbing subversion that made Rocky Horror a cultural phenomenon.

According to Barry Lenny of Broadway World:

I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before [The Marvellous Elephant Man] becomes a main stage musical in the West End and on Broadway, with tickets costing an arm and a leg and audiences having to book a year or more in advance.’ This sentiment is shared by Sydney Arts Guide who wrote “…when this musical is shown on Broadway, in the West End, and closer to home in our larger theatres, I will be so glad I got to be a part of its humble beginnings.

 With eyes now set on international stages, the team is eager to share their work with the world. The crew are confident that their creation’s blend of wit, storytelling, and musical innovation will continue to captivate audiences far and wide. And given this is a ‘gothic fairy tale,’ they might just be right.

 

For more information about this incredible production click HERE.

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