You won’t have heard of her but Maggie McKenna is a name you’re about to get to know, as the terrible Muriel. From November, the 20-year-old Melbourne actress will take to the Sydney stage in the role of Porpoise Spit’s most famous export, Muriel Heslop, in a new musical adaptation of one of Australia’s best-loved films, Muriel’s Wedding.
Muriel’s Wedding the Musical may mark McKenna’s professional stage debut, but if genes are anything to go by we’re in for a treat: her mother is Kath & Kim’s Gina Riley, one of Australia’s most accomplished comic actors. Recently returned from Los Angeles where she trained at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, McKenna says Muriel is a role everyone can relate to.
“Everyone at some time in their life feels like the outsider, and Muriel is definitely that. But also she’s a bit of a dork, likes to have a bit of a laugh; I think people can really relate to that. And she’s not the typical leading lady.”
Casting Muriel, a role so deeply ingrained in people’s memories by the irrepressible Toni Collette, was no easy task. “Who the hell is going to play Muriel? We thought that for some 11 months and then suddenly a tape arrived from LA, where this young woman was pretentiously studying,” director Simon Phillips quips. “And we thought, ‘By George, we’ve got her’.”
Also announced in the 28-strong cast are Justine Clarke as Muriel’s mother Betty Heslop, the emotional heart of the story; Legally Blonde and Wicked star Helen Dallimore as beauty consultant Deidre Chambers; and Stephen Madsen (Rent, Heathers at the Hayes Theatre) who plays the Olympic swimming hopeful Alexander Shkuratov.
There are high hopes for this world premiere, particularly given the impressive creative team behind it. Joining Phillips is the film’s writer-director PJ Hogan, who has updated his story of the awkward social misfit to contemporary Australia, complete with a Twitter account and would-be Facebook presence. “It’s essentially about a young woman who wants to be famous to prove her detractors wrong, but she has no discernible talent for anything. And I thought, ‘Muriel would be a YouTube star now’,” Hogan says.
Creative and life partners Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall have composed original music and songs; while Ladies in Black and Love Never Dies designer Gabriela Tylesova will create sets and costumes. There will of course be some songs by a few Swedes called Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson (originally written for ABBA, natch). In addition to the STC, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical has the impressive clout of Global Creatures (King Kong, Walking With Dinosaurs) as co-producers.
Muriel’s Wedding the Musical previews from November 6 and plays until January 27 at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Tickets are on sale now.