I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
"Go on, get lost there up a ways"
You Am I frontman Tim Rogers' much loved first solo album 'What Rhymes With Cars and Girls 'is a much celebrated musical journey that has been lovingly caressed into a new Australian musical by playwright Aiden Fennessy. Playing at the gorgeous Riverside Theatres in Parramatta for an incredibly limited season (11-14th October only), this gorgeous show beautifully breathes new life into Rogers' iconic album with the man himself providing musical accompaniment for the show onstage alongside two other extremely skilled musicians.
This production is a remount of this play's debut at Melbourne Theatre Company in 2015, assembling the original cast, director and production team from that acclaimed season. The set by Andrew Bailey has all the retro feel of a casual recording studio in the Inner West with the musicians set up like session musicians on the stage, a vintage couch surrounded by beer bottles and a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine that is used to delicious effect.
The story linking Rogers' songs together is a love story between free spirit Tash (Sophie Ross) and pizza delivery guy Johnno (Johnny Carr). They meet by chance when Johnno delivers a pizza and Tash can't pay for it, she invites him to see her play at a gig and a great and deep love is born. Like all great loves, the relationship is volatile as the two young lovers struggle to retain their sense of self within their union and Tash's secret not-so-free-spirit past is revealed.
Where this play triumphs is in the poetry of Aidan Fennessy's language that merges beautifully and unjoltingly into Rogers' songs. The decision to cast actors rather than traditional "musical theatre" performers pays off beautifully, with the two actors being able to deliver vulnerable and nuanced performances that come across as raw, genuine and moving. Director Clare Watson has put together a simple and smart show that lets the beauty in Fennessy's book and Rogers' music do the talking. Tim Rogers' musical direction is delightfully loose and casual and perfectly suits the show, allowing the performers enough leash to relax into the tunes.
Costumes by Kate Davis are simple and effectively communicate the personalities of Tash and Johnno. Sound design by Russel Goldsmith is stellar; exactly what a musical requires. The onstage band with Rogers' at the helm is rounded out by Ben Franz and Xani Kolac and the music produced by the trio is gorgeous – they also have a lovely stage presence and their interactions with the actors are lovely to see.
Johnny Carr is completely relatable and empathetic as pizza delivery guy Johnno. His singing voice is untrained and can be pitchy at times, but that's almost part of the appeal. He perfectly captures Johnno's struggle to fit in with Tash's world whilst looking after his father who is living with asbestos poisoning.
Sophie Ross' performance as Tash cements her place as one of Australia's finest actors. She exudes warmth as the bubbly creative spirit and at her most vulnerable she is beautifully unguarded and open. Her performance in What Rhymes with Cars and Girls is a powerhouse turn that delivers poignancy, joy and a fully realised emotional life.
Carr and Ross' chemistry is undeniable onstage and they comfortably manage to capture the audience for the full 90 minute, no interval production. Their ability to make Tash and Johnno's story so grounded in reality is the main reason that this show works so well.
What Rhymes with Cars and Girls 'is much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane to celebrate one of Australia's most prolific singer/songwriters. It's a snapshot of the human condition, accompanied by songs that feel all at once familiar and as if they're being played for the first time.