It’s not often the world premiere of a new Australian musical comes to town. Let alone for it to blow its audience’s socks off. But ‘Becoming Bill’ did just that. With a stellar cast, touching script, and amazing set and lighting design, this new musical, performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse, was a wholesome production.
Directed by Neil Gooding, the musical touches on themes of ambition, love, and family. It delicately raises questions of whether one can be too close to their kin or love them too much. It also encourages its audience to speculate on where lines should be drawn for their own families.
Based partially on the writer Bradley McCaw’s experience and coming-of-age tale, the play follows Bill (also played by McCaw), a washed-up actor turned writer. Bill narrates his story, inviting the audience to take an insightful peep into his seemingly simple life. However, through the beautiful ballads and humorous musical numbers, it is revealed that Bill’s life is not so simple.
His on-again-off-again girlfriend is questioning their relationship once again, his mum seems to be holding onto something she should have let go of long ago and his young brother hasn’t left the couch in months. On top of all of this, Bill is writing a musical, a task more difficult than one would imagine.
The angular set consisted of three set pieces. The largest set piece made up Bill’s dining room. There were two doors at the back of the set which characters would burst in and out of, giving it an authentic feel. Another set-piece made up his living room. It consisted of a couch, a TV and a whole lot of mess, with beer cans and bottles scattered throughout. This was Bill’s brother, James’ (Oliver Samson) nest. The final set-piece was Bill’s music room. The use of multiple spaces was effective in creating ‘zones’ so that the audience could easily fill in the gaps of what made up the rest of Bill’s apartment.
The lighting design further emphasised the areas created by the set and assisted in telling the emotional story of the musical. Warm and cool lighting beautifully heightens the emotions. For example, during Bill and Kim’s date a soft, warm spotlight was on them.
In James’ solo in ‘View from the Couch’, there was a pulsing spotlight on the couch. James stood, watching it as he questions his life choices. It was a touching moment.
The musical consisted mainly of ballads. Each song was beautifully crafted and reflected the emotions of the characters. Harmonies were spectacular, especially during the opening number, ‘Prologue’. The band was exposed, making them part of the show, which fitted, as the music was integral to the story. This also brought an authenticity to the show, bringing the audience into the world of the musical.
Bradley McCaw as Bill was confident, authentic and lovable. Not only were his vocals amazing, but his performance was oozing with passion. It was clear that this was his story as every line and lyric was delivered with passion and sincerity. The use of direct audience address meant that the audience could really get on Bill’s side and could feel as though they were being taken along on his journey.
Rachel Beck, an icon of Australian musical theatre with a very impressive resume, played the chirpy, talkative and down to earth Jane, Bill’s mother and best friend. Beck proved that she is a force to be reckoned with, possessing a gorgeous stage presence, brilliant acting skills and stunning vocals. Jane and Bill’s mother-son relationship was believable, and Beck was the perfect casting choice.
James’ character was the comedic relief of the show. Oliver Samson’s portrayal was flawless as the ambitionless video gamer. His smooth tenor vocals stole the spotlight whenever he opened his mouth. While he had his funny moments, he also had an incredibly sensitive moment at the end of ‘No Feelings Today’ as Bill exited and the musical was pulled back, the audience gained a touching insight into the life of James.
Steph Long’s vocals stole the show. She was the redoubtable casting choice for Bill’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Kim. Her strong belting and stunning vocals stole the show, leaving the audience with goosebumps every time. Long is a capable and skilled actress who did the ‘complicated girlfriend’ stereotype justice.
‘Becoming Bill’ is sure to take the Australia stage by storm. It was sensitive, fun, heart-wrenching, and had something for everyone. The songs were beautiful, the set and lighting design was effective, and the actors were captivating. It is a personal, yet universal story that will surely make history in Australian musical theatre.
‘Becoming Bill’ plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse until Sunday, 25 August 2019. For ticketing and additional information visit Brisbane Powerhouse Website – Becoming Bill.
RUBY SANDERSRuby is a passionate young actor new to Brisbane. Originally from the Toowoomba region, Ruby took up acting, piano and singing lessons from a young age. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama at QUT and is a member of the 2019 Backbone ensemble
“Becoming Bill” is a new musical from first time writer/composer Bradley McCaw. The story centres around the life of struggling 25-year-old actor Bill (McCaw) who can’t seem to get his life together. His years-long relationship with Kimberley (Stephanie Long) is clearly strained, including by Bill’s dedication to his mother Jane (Rachael Beck) and defence of his lay-about younger brother James (Oliver Sampson) whose spends his life gaming on the couch.
When Bill is asked to write a musical, he follows the advice of writing what you know, basing the work on himself and those around him. Although this creates upset of his family and relationship dynamic as his ‘ordinary’ but slightly off-beat family faces the ghosts of their past, it is confrontation without much insight. Indeed, there are some noticeable gaps in backstory and motivation that stand out amongst an otherwise seamless experience. Thankfully, writing what you know isn’t about events so much as emotions and in this regard the show works well. Its soundtrack especially is effortless in its emotional observations, enhanced by the live band’s inclusion of strings to soar the sentiments of McCaw’s orchestrations in numbers like mother Jane’s revealing reminiscence ‘When We Were Younger’.
The titular ‘Becoming Bill’ is paced, shaped and melodied to linger long after the show’s end. Its placement as the opening number is not just appropriate by its contextual establishment, but allows the show’s writer/composer to take the spotlight at the front-of-stage. Unfortunately, it also separates him from the initial action with arrival of his mother, however, once he joins the others, things settle. Similarly, early meta-theatre mentions make for some funny moments, but are perhaps unnecessary given that they only top and tail the work rather than serve as an integral component.
National musical theatre treasure Rachel Beck is perfect as mother Jane, presenting her as realistic blend of quirky, emotional, oblivious and, in musical numbers like ‘Are You Happy’, honestly heartfelt. McCaw is a charming Bill, relatable so that we share his frustration with his not-necessarily likable brother’s lack of application. His vocals have a smooth, comforting quality and his keyboard skills are first-rate. The most outstanding vocals, however, come from Long. ‘Let’s Not Have This Fight’ serves not only as showcase of her effortless vocal range, but is an early highlight. In fact, in all instances Trevor Jones’ vocal arrangements create some wonderful harmonies in full company numbers like ‘What Do I Want?’
There is a lot to like about “Becoming Bill”; the thing I liked best was that it is not dominated by a typical romantic focus, but rather a story about a finding your feet and writing your best life, for the promising new Australian work is quite heart-warming in the everydayness but also thoughtfulness of its themes. Seeing new theatre is often a privilege, especially so when it is as quality as this, because “Becoming Bill” is a strong work whose music never disappoints, well on its way to being its own best self.
New Australian musicals don’t always get a chance to shine. ‘Becoming Bill’ opened at Brisbane Powerhouse this week and gave the audience a breathtaking and joyful performance that has now established its place in the Australian theatre world. The audiences reactions on opening night were so genuine, it was splendid to witness.
This story of ‘Becoming Bill’ is fresh but simultaneously recognisable as an intimate look into a Brisbane family, the heartaches and the little moments that make us unique. The tale follows Bill, an aspiring composer that receives a call to write an original musical and is inspired by his family and the world around him, causing an imbalance in the dynamic of his relationships.
The innovative Bradley McCaw wrote the music, lyrics and book of this touching show. McCaw also embodies the title character of Bill, oozes joy and is very passionate about his show. He captures the audiences heart as Bill moves through the struggles of becoming an artist and holding on to the most important people in his life.
As an actor, Brad finds the everyday flaws all humans possess and turns it into a beautiful message that everyone makes mistakes. This is illustrated so poignantly in the song ‘Maybe we have reached it all’, when Bill’s girlfriend, Kimberley ends their relationship. The ballad is sung with such an emotional charge attached to it, it pulls the viewer in and is gifted with a beautiful array of emotions and range of talent.
During the beginning of the show Bradley’s character has his guard up in front of the people he loves. As a musician in the show and in real life he imitates the moment he pitches his original music to executives. This scene with a singular spotlight is very powerful when he is the most anxious about impressing them with his work. Any artist can connect to this moment in this world of critics.
Bradley’s perfect and raw depiction of Bill is conveyed when he digs to the truth behind his mask of joy, how he is afraid to end up like his dead-beat dad in the airport scene when his mother flys to Ireland. You can hear the audience feel for him at this time as his mother convinces him he is not like him and can choose his own path, that is a very important lesson to teach the youth of today.
The true Australian musical theatre star, Rachael Beck is fantastic in this production as Bill’s mother Jane. Her character is the ultimate caregiver to her two sons James and Bill. She plays a warm, friendly woman that just wants her family to thrive and be happy. Rachael is a perfect fit for this role. All of her little quirks to express how she loves her sons is communicated in the gorgeous song, ‘Are you happy?’ Beck has the most flawless singing voice, as she finds out that Bill is having trouble with his love life.
Rachael discovers her comedic side as she also plays the minor but outrageous personality that is Bill’s agent, Martha. She is very hyperactive, tells it how it is and doesn’t want another ‘Home and Away’ client. You don’t see her in the show but hear her crazy, high-pitched voice over. It provides the audience with a hint of comic relief when mixed with the emotional state of Bill’s character.
Oliver Samson plays the couch potato brother to Bill, James. On the surface his portrayal as Bill’s brother is this incredible depiction of a classic Aussie slob, with crocs on and is addicted to video games. The two boys have a mostly loving relationship and an entertaining tradition of ‘cheers and beers’ (watching the TV show ‘Cheers’ while drinking beers), that James loves to play. James is reluctant to talk about his real issues as they both break out into the creatively pieced together mellow tune, ‘No Feelings today.’
The attachment to his couch could be due to a few lingering father issues perhaps telling him he isn’t good enough to make anything of himself. Oliver conveys this feeling beautifully after Bill and James have an intense fight during the song ‘View from the couch’ as they ask each other what they are doing with their life. At the conclusion of the number the audience discovers his sensitive side as he knows it is time to move on from sponging off his brother.
Up and coming theatre star Stephanie Long, embodies Bill’s artist girlfriend, Kimberley. Long has a gorgeous voice and portrays a character that so desperately wants the attention of her long-term partner. However she isn’t listened to and is worried about their relationship, especially when Bill chooses his family over her majority of the time.
Stephanie is an effervescent performer and pours her heart out in the incredible ballad ‘Let’s not have this fight’, as she finds it in her soul to forgive Bill for being late and not putting her first. By the conclusion of the show Kimberley has had all she can take. It builds to the heartbreaking scene at the park bench when she realises she has to stick up for herself and ends it with Bill in the emotional song, as previously mentioned, ‘Maybe we’ve reached it all.’ Stephanie is truly a triumph as Kimberley as she feels she isn’t seen in Bill’s eyes, with his family at the forefront.
Bradley McCaw writes the most seamless and wondrous lyrics that flow effortlessly with the music to match, especially for this intimate heart-wrenching piece of theatre. Putting him right alongside legends in the entertainment world, Paesk and Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman).
The construction of the music and story struck a chord and feel very similar to the telling of real life moments that the hit Broadway musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ highlights and emotes to the audience. This is especially relevant in the song ‘Are you happy?’, as mentioned earlier, between mother and son.
The show possesses several gorgeous ballads similarly that pulls your heart strings and make you feel something. In contrast there are an array of upbeat numbers in the show to lift your spirits, particularly at their Mum’s birthday dinner as they sarcastically bop into the room in a happy mood as if everything is fine.
‘Becoming Bill’ is a smashing new Australian work showcasing a musical within a musical about real stories and learning to open up in our important relationships. The show also touches on finding your place in the world and the struggle of realising and fulfilling your true dreams. Bradley McCaw found the superb balance of extraordinary fleshed out characters with melancholy contemporary music. Brisbane you should consider yourself lucky having a home-grown talent producing real Australian stories.
Go and see ‘Becoming Bill’ at Brisbane Powerhouse until 25 August.
Have you ever just sat down and contemplated your life as it has been and how you want to be in the future? Well there’s a new musical in town that explores exactly that and much more. Becoming Bill: A New Musical, written by and starring Bradley McCaw as the titular character, has something for every human that has ever lived a life they loved or didn’t. s let into his life as he tries to write a musical for the first time. We meet the people most important to him and Bills lets us in on his thoughts and secrets. It’s a conversation between friends. But most importantly, it’s a life lesson.
Becoming Bill is a musical that really speaks to creatives, whether that be thespians, visual artists, musos or anywhere in between. It also speaks to people on a human level, answering deep life questions as well as asking them.
So, what does Bill want? He is, generally, a happy-go-lucky guy with a secure teaching job. He has a beautiful and talented girlfriend, a loving mother and couch potato for a brother. However, it soon becomes apparent that neither Bill nor Kim, his girlfriend, played by Stephanie Long his mother – Rachael Beck or his brother James – Oliver Samson – are happy.
The story unfolds as these characters soon begin to realise that what they currently have might not be what they will always want. Of course, there is always drama followed by forgiveness or closure in every life however Becoming Bill seems to hyper-realise ordinary life by making it seem like it isn’t ordinary at all.
There are meta elements to this show as well and it is these little in-jokes that really brought out moments of comedy. What was most enjoyable about this was the frank and human characters – each one loveable in their own way. It didn’t matter whose side you chose, there was a likeable element in each of them.
Most of the musical numbers were strong, with a good mix of typical genres and beautifully blended harmonies. What Do I Want? sung by the full company, Let’s Not Have This Fight sung by Stephanie Long and When We Were Younger sung by Rachael Beck afforded moments of beauty and simplicity within the production and deepened the story.
An especially interesting touch was the inclusion of a live band, which cut through the monotony of using just the one instrument.
So what will Bradley McCaw do next? Becoming Bill was only just the beginning all those years ago and it will be interesting to see where his talent takes us.
New musicals are a difficult beast to master, but this new Australian work shows promise in its score, book and relatable characters. First time writer/composer Bradley McCaw has written about what he knows – his creative and personal life, and whilst it’s flawed like most of our lives, most of us will relate to the personable problems.
An out-of-work 28-year old actor living on his own, with his brother as a couch potato, sets out to write a musical and we follow his path and his pain of trying to hold together a three-year-old girl-friend relationship, coupled with an allegiance to his single mother.
Neil Gooding’s direction is first rate, as are the performances. It’s well-sung, well-lit, and well-produced.
McCaw is the protagonist Bill. He’s personable, relatable, plays an astonishing keyboard, and nails every vocal. But he’s almost overshadowed by Oliver Sampson’ younger brother James, who brings welcome laughs to a world awash with angst. His “No Feelings Today,” when he doesn’t want a conversation about touchy-feely stuff when they’re having a ‘beers and Cheers night’ instantly evokes boys-bonding and hits the button.
Stephanie Long, as the art-gallery girl-friend has some powerhouse vocal chops which were shown to striking effect on “Let’s Not Have This Fight” and “Maybe We’ve Reached It All”.
But the performance of the night was Rachel Beck’s mother Jane. Tender and emotional, she projected the perfect motherly warmth and sang a heartfelt “Are You Happy?”
McCaw’s orchestrations for keyboard, guitar, bass guitar and violin added a ton of colour to the show’s musical palette, whilst Trevor Jones’ vocal arrangements pleased with their harmonies.
The musical worked better when it was exploring the family dynamic or the on-again, off-again girl-friend story strand and would have benefited by more exposition of both. The lyrics were incisive but could have done with more wit, whilst the music had punch and bounce and was agreeable poppy.
July 3rd, Bradley stopped by ABC Radio Brisbane to play two songs live and talk to Kelly Higgins Devine about making musicals! You can hear to the whole conversation and performances below.
To hear Bradley, head to the 2 hr and 40 mins mark. Happy listening!
My play THE GAME will see its UK premiere this November! Excited to share all the details soon! Buy and read today at australianplays.org
#newplays #australianwriters #thegame
I've always loved singing YOU RAISE ME UP, and have only just added it to the new version of FASTEST PIANO IN THE WEST, my show playing as a headline act on cruise ships globally.
We're excited to share a LIVE recording for a performance of the song - just click the link below.
We're hoping to record a Studio Version of the song very soon - so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that!
Thankyou for reading,
“Any Moment a new musical by Bradley McCaw” The Concept Recording, is a new work from award winning writer/performer and emerging composer Bradley McCaw. Set over the course of 24 hours, the work begins at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and moves throughout a single town, hearing stories from various individuals as the clock tumbles toward a New Year. Its inspiration from the famous John Lennon quote, ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’ is clear in this narrative premise and through-line exploration of what a minute in time truly represents.
It starts as we meet four strangers; a young man running away from home, a woman at a party, a truck driver heading home to his family and a new mother with her crying child in the cresendoing ‘Twenty More Till’, which tantalises with suggestion of the spectacle that sets great opening musical numbers apart from the humdrumness of others.
The recording is inspired by hit musicals like “Songs for A New World,” and “Closer Than Ever,” and the musical influence is seen across the familiar feel of its 11-song soundtrack. There is humour too, in, for example, ‘My Phone’, in which two strangers (Judy Hainsworth & Shaun Kohlman) sing about their most prominent personal relationship and Emily Kristopher’s cute rendition of the bright and breezy ‘Rovers Song’, in which she sings as a young girl explaining her parents impending divorce, to her dog.
It is the ‘big’ numbers, however, that are the most memorable especially in their feature of performances by some of the finest performers from our musical theatre stages. Kurt Phelan implores his character to move on, as his ex gets married at the Church across town in ‘A Church on Murphy Street’, a tender, emotional highlight, that is both sentimental and soaring. And Lizzie Moore is exhilarating in sassy Sutton Foster-esque vocal presence in the final song, ‘Hard to Keep a Good Girl Down’, in which a woman unpacks the ending of her marriage.
Across its track listing, “Any Moment a new musical by Bradley McCaw” The Concept Recording features much variety and many musical highlights dependent upon personal preferences. While the recording aims to not showcase a Complete Final Musical Theatre work, it provides us with enough hint as to what “Any Moment” could be, to only want more. Lucky Melbournians will get the exclusive first look at the new work in celebration of its release at Chapel off Chapel this June as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.
April 19th, 2019.
Celebrating the release of the Any Moment ‘Studio Concept Recording’, Melbourne will get the exclusive first look at a new work from award winning writer/performer Bradley McCaw. Featuring an all-star cast including John O’Hara (School of Rock, #VAL) and Helpmann winner Kerrie-Anne Greenland (Les Miserables, Pictures) and the writer himself, Bradley McCaw (Becoming Bill).
Set over the course of 24 hours, the work begins at Midnight on New Years Eve, and moves throughout a single town, hearing stories from various individuals, as the clock tumbles toward Midnight and a New Year. Inspired by hit musicals like ‘Songs for A New World,’ and ‘Closer Than Ever,’ Any Moment is proof of the new generation of Australia writers and artists bringing exciting world class independent works to stage here. Come and see it for yourself! FIRST. Before New York & London.
Musical Direction by Shannon Whitelock.
As part of Melbourne Cabaret Festival.