You might be wondering what Tinder, Married at first sight, eggplant emojis and “DTF?” have to do with Shakespeare and his comedy Dream of a summer nightbut composer-lyricist Laura Murphy will tell you that they are intimately linked.
“As a young woman in 2022 [I have a strong opinion] about romantic love and what it means, and how it fits together [with] or differs from our version of romantic love over the past 400 years,” she says. Large format. “From Bach to Beyoncé, from Botticelli to The single person, what is it in the way we talk about love that still remains? Love is such a human thing, it’s all we want.
Murphy has been fascinated by Shakespeare’s tale of love, magic and mischief ever since she performed it in high school, but it took her many years to find the secret to unlocking what the bard actually said. .
“I remember how intimidated I was by Shakespeare, thinking it was for smart, cultured people and it wasn’t me and I would never understand it,” Murphy says.
A longtime pop music tragic, Murphy spent hours listening to and interpreting the lyrics of Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder before realizing that Shakespeare was no different. “I started enjoying the process of decoding meaning the same way I would interpret the lyrics of a song, because it’s the same process.”
Determined to demystify the undeniably exquisite – and undeniably intimidating – language of Shakespeare for today’s generation, Murphy set out to do so in a way that speaks their language: by adapting Dream of a summer night through pop, rock, hip hop and folk music.
The result is Lovers, a contemporary Australian musical that takes six key players in the Shakespearean tale and explores the play’s overarching theme, love, through a 21st century lens. It’s an addictive, super fun and entertaining ride.
Produced by Shakespeare Bell, Lovers has an enviable set of cast and creatives, including The voice Stellar Perry finalist; The wedding of Muriel the musicaloriginal Muriel, Natalie Abbott; Lease and The Debby Monique Sallé; and awarded Lease and Doll director Shaun Rennie. Acclaimed musical director Andrew Worboys leads the four-piece Fairy Band on stage, which includes bass, guitar and drums.
The pop and rock music genre may be in vogue today – think hamilton, Six the Musical, The wedding of Muriel the musical and Red Mill!but when Murphy started writing Lovers 14 years ago, the concept had not yet emerged.
“I love pop music, it’s my language, I love that it’s so accessible to everyone, and that it can capture huge aspects of the human experience and wrap it up in a catchy chorus. in a way that anyone can relate to. It can connect humans in a way that a lot of other genres can’t,” Murphy says.
Only 15% of Lovers is a Shakespearean text; the show is mostly new, with 28 original songs that tie the story together.
Murphy grew up immersed in the world of musical theatre. His father Stephen “Spud” Murphy was the musical arranger for the Tony- and Olivier-award-winning Priscilla the Musical and Dusty musical comedy; his mother Jennifer Murphy was the original Eva Perón in the Australian debut of Evita – the musical.
For many years Murphy performed and wrote music and lyrics for, Imaginary Tales of William and Sparkles – a children’s series on Nine that ran for eight seasons plus a spin-off – before spending a decade performing in musicals in Australia and overseas, including Fat and The wedding of Muriel the musical.
She continued to tinker Lovers in the background, and also composed the music and lyrics for The dismissal – a musical for the Sydney Theater Company about the impeachment of Gough Whitlam, which was to make its Sydney Opera House debut – as well as Qween Lear for the Sydney Festival. Both suffered Covid cancellations. His latest work, Zombie! Musical comedy debuts at the Hayes Theater in 2023.
Murphy admits that working in the world of new Australian musicals is difficult, especially when you’re a woman, and acknowledges the importance of the support of fellow songwriter-lyricist Yve Blake (Fangirls) and she Zombie co-writer Hannah Reilly (The Deb).
“There’s no plan, we have to drive it,” Murphy says. “We work with a lot of men and we’re lovely young women and as an industry as a whole we’re still getting used to lovely young women being leaders.”
She credits Bell Shakespeare’s support to Lovers as another crucial step for the emerging genre. “For a new Australian musical to debut at the Sydney Opera House it’s a tough time and I hope there will be more. Putting on a new Australian musical is huge, expensive and all-consuming, and Bell Shakespeare fully supported Lovers since the first day. They want to be part of this future of establishing our voice in musical theatre.
by Bell Shakespeare Lovers takes place at the Sydney Opera House from October 23 to November 20.