By Guy Webster
It has been quite a year for Stranger Things fans. When Season 4 premiered in May it immediately broke binge-watching records, launching the series – and a certain Kate Bush banger – back into pop culture relevance with a vengeance. It seems there’s no better time for the Australian premier of Stranger Sings, a parody musical based on the much-loved series and coming to our shores in November.
Spear-headed by independent darlings, Salty Theatre, the show arrives at North Melbourne’s Meat Market on November 4th. Winner of seven Off-Broadway awards including Best New Musical, the parody show features everything audiences know and love about the series – monstrous Demogorgons, Upside Down dystopias and high school love triangles wrapped in plenty of 80s nostalgia.
For Director Ashley Taylor Tickell (she/her), putting on the show has been a labour of love:
‘I am admittedly a massive fan of the Stranger Things franchise,’ she tells us, ‘the 80s references…[the] horror and sci-fi, in particular Stephen King, that exist in the series as well as the musical, really get me giddy. And of course, musical theatre has been in my blood since I was a child, so to be able to combine all of these things that I love in one show has been a ridiculous gift and an absolute joy.”
It has been a big year for Salty Theatre, too. After a business partnership suddenly dissolved, Tickell found herself heading the company alone. On top of running things as CEO, she is producing, directing, managing and marketing Stranger Sings herself.
‘It’s been a whole lot of fingers in a whole lot of pies’, she says, ‘…When Salty [Theatre] shifted gears in August and I took over ownership of the company, there was a point in time when I was conflicted and unsure as to whether or not I should continue on this journey, including whether or not I could take on Stranger Sings “on my own”.’
Thankfully, Tickell has assembled a stellar cast and crew to help bring the show to horrifying life. Emily Busch has combined iconic outfits from the series with plenty of ‘bits and pieces that are [as] musical theatre camp’ as they are period-accurate. While Set Designer David Angelico from Pirate Cat Productions and Lighting Designer Gabriel Buthane have created an immersive experience that’ll transport the eager Stranger Things fan to ‘the dark and moody world of the Upside Down’ as well as countless ‘familiar locations within Hawkins.’ The set, as Tickell describes, ‘feels a little bit a part of the cast,’
And the cast, for that matter, are already feeling like a part of the Stranger Things universe. Ian Andrews (he/him, @_ian_andrew_) plays fan favourite, Jim Hopper. Donning the iconic Sheriff’s outfit and boasting a controversial hot take (‘I’m team Steve-Nancy, always will be. Sorry Johnathon.’) he describes the show as ‘Season 1 of Stranger Things as you’ve never seen it before – including a singing Steve, a dancing Demogorgon…and just maybe some justice for Barb!’
Jess Ridler (she/they), who plays both Eleven and Nancy Wheeler, shares his sentiment (if not his ‘Johnathon’ sympathies), describing the show as a combination of ‘Huge wigs, waffles, Guillaume Gentil voguing, [and] overdue justice for Barb.’ Though a newcomer to the show when she joined the cast, Ridler quickly became obsessed. And soon after ‘reading through the material for Stranger Sings’, they describe being ‘in hysterics’; ‘there is a LOT of poking fun but it’s done with such love. The cast recording has become my go-to shower playlist. There are some unnecessarily good bops for a parody musical!’
Melbourne isn’t the only city to be hosting this parody spectacular in the coming months, with productions in London and New York currently also in rehearsal. Tickell and the Australian cast are in close-contact with both teams, and writer Jonathan Hogue.
‘It’s perfect timing’, notes Andrews, ‘to bring this show to the Australian stage after its successful off-Broadway run. The show has received some rewrites in light of the events in Season 4 of the series and Salty Theatre is mounting the Australian premiere…at the same time as the London premiere season (which has already sold out) and the off-Broadway revival, so the show will be hitting the stage at the same time all over the globe!’
Tickets are already on sale for this Australian premier. Running until the 19th of November, it’s sure to capture die-hard fans, newcomers and 80s obsessives alike. As for the future of Salty Theatre, Tickell has big plans:
‘Next year my show selection will include more Australian premieres quite different from the world of parody musical, but equally enticing for lovers of theatre and the general public. You can also expect [Salty Theatre] to expand further into Australian new works development, masterclasses, workshops and coaching/mentorship. A major part of Salty Theatre’s mission is to nurture not only creative skills and talent of creatives here in Australia, but support their general wellbeing (I/Salty Theatre are also a member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective) as artists and people….I really want to help grow a community of creatively firing, joyful, inspired and healthy artists, you know?’
As Andrews rightly observes, ‘I have a feeling that bigger things are on the horizon for Salty Theatre.’
Starting with a trip to the Upside Down of course!