Hannah Reilly’s catchy new musical wins over the crowd

The cast of "The Deb" together on stage. Photo: Tracey Schramm/supplied.

Review: The Deb, Rebel Theatre, Australian Theatre for Young People, Walsh Bay – Friday, 22 April, 2022. Reviewed by arts and entertainment editor Tahli Blackman.

★★★★

Creating audience-wide laughter within its first two minutes, The Deb is sure to be one of this year’s most popular new Aussie musicals.

The parting of the curtain reveals a classic bush shack set, where Taylah (Katelin Koprivec) is dreaming of making her debut. She dreams of following in her mother’s footsteps and wearing a glamorous white dress to the debutante ball, which leads her down a path of conflict and self-discovery. The first musical number, ‘Coming Out’, highlights Katelin’s vocal talents and sets the scene for the rest of the production.

We soon start to meet the many other unique characters that have been created by Hannah Reilly for this production. In the fictional small town of Dunburn, everyone seems to know their place, never revealing any true emotions.

Katelin Koprivec (Taylah) sings her solo Coming Out’ in The Deb promo. Video: ATYP/YouTube.

When Taylah’s inner-city cousin Maeve (Charlotte MacInnes) enters the stage, she instantly shakes up the drought-stricken town of Dunburn with her feminist ideals and passion for justice. After a political protest gone wrong at her elite private school, Maeve was sent packing. Annoyed that she has been sent to live with her relatives after being ‘cancelled’, Maeve looks to Taylah as someone to take her issues out on.

After ridiculing Taylah’s precious deb ball, Maeve is soon roped into going to the deb with the intention of making a podcast about outdated traditions in a small town. These very different cousins soon learn to understand each other and eventually form a strong friendship that makes for some exquisite, emotion-filled duets. Taylah and Maeve’s duet ‘In the Spotlight’ tugged at the audience’s heartstrings and was followed by a touching performance from MacInnes.

We see a lot of new talent in this show, but we also get to see some of Australia’s favourite performers work the stage. Jay Laga’aia plays Jason, the caring mayor of Dunburn, whose goal is to bring the community together and gain drought relief funding from Canberra. Tara Morice is the traditionalist bridal shop owner, Shell, who wishes she had a more glamorous life but is stuck in the bush. A slow-burning romance between Jason and Shell ensues. Everyone was shipping them.

The first act of the two-hour-long show ended with a bang. Taylah and Maeve go to a party thrown by the popular teens of Dunburn – the cheerleaders and the footy boys. There were many laughs as the crowd watched Taylah’s looks of disgust when she tried her first alcoholic drink, before the mood became more serious. This musical is highly comedic but also deals with many relevant teenage issues. Taylah ends up on a downward spiral as we go to intermission.

Taylah (Katelin Koprivec) and the accompanying cast perform one of the many powerful songs written by Megan Washington for The Deb. Photo: Tracey Schramm/supplied.

Katelin Koprivec and Charlotte MacInnes have been perfectly cast in their roles. Seeing their on-screen chemistry and hearing the combination of both angelic singing voices were highlights of the production.

Emma White has used the stage space of the Rebel Theatre effectively in designing the set and props for this production. Being on a smaller stage, the set has been designed to fit in as much as possible, while still leaving room for the actors to play. Mason Browne’s choice of costumes are simple, yet effective in mirroring the irony of a glamorous debutante ball in a bush town. Sally Dashwood’s choreography is fitting for every character. It allows for the actors to showcase their talents and embraces the dance moves of teenagers in a world of TikTok trends and fame chasing.

The choreography by Sally Dashwood for The Deb embraces modern hip-hop dance moves seen in TikTok dances. Photo: Tracey Schramm/supplied.

In act two of a play, there is usually a conflict and resolution, and so it is in The Deb. Without giving too much away, Taylah begins to blame her misfortunes on Maeve and an argument leads to Maeve getting ready to leave town. Still wanting to go ahead with the deb ball, the town must band together to organise something different from the original plan.

Taylah’s final number ‘My Own Kind of Me’ holds a resolution for every character and brings The Deb home. The second act is softer and more emotional than the first. However, the audience was no longer downhearted when ‘Scott Morrison’, looking fresh from his Hawaiian holiday, appeared at the deb ball, once again late to fight the fire. This was a very funny addition to the closing of the show.

The Deb had the audience on their feet for a standing ovation. It is a celebration of weird, with a women-centred cast and bold musical numbers. Although the storyline was a little too clichéd and predictable at times, The Deb is a relatable coming-of-age story about community and the values of modern teenagers.

This production is certainly worthy of its status of being the first musical held in the new, multi-million dollar Rebel Theatre.

The Deb plays the Rebel Theatre, Australian Theatre for Young People, Walsh Bay until Sunday, May 22, 2022. For tickets and further information, visit https://atyp.com.au/ATYP-productions/the-deb/.

Tahli Blackman is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.