Muriel’s Wedding – the new musical’s creatives say ‘I do!’ to UK premiere

The musical runs in Leicester next Spring

Andrew Hallsworth and Simon Phillips
Andrew Hallsworth and Simon Phillips

Picture a woman wearing a white wedding dress complete with a veil. She’s smiling widely, looking deliriously happy. Which musical comes to mind? It might be Mamma Mia! or it could be Muriel’s Wedding – the Australian comedy drama that pre-dates the ABBA jukebox hit by four years.

First adapted into a stage play in 2017, PJ Hogan’s musical has booked a venue and will enjoy its UK premiere next year at Curve in Leicester. “It’s been updated to the present day,” explains director Simon Phillips (Love Never Dies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) when we sit down in the theatre’s 968-seater auditorium. We’re joined by choreographer Andrew Hallsworth (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), who adds “It is a show for our times… the sensibility of Muriel is a great show for the UK. There’s a shared sense of humour.”

Muriel’s Wedding follows our anti-hero on a “quest for celebrity”. She’s lonely, she’s down on her luck, and ultimately, she’s an outcast. Her one true desire is to feel loved by thousands, and for her that is synonymous with a big white wedding.

“In this era, people more than ever are doing that. There are social media ways of becoming a celebrity in your own frame of reference,” Says Phillips. “It can feel good, then you can be destroyed by exactly the same medium.”

Whilst the spine of the story is still the same: for those unfamiliar – outsider Muriel embezzles money from her family to run away and escape her dead-end town on a holiday. It’s there she meets her best friend Rhonda (formerly an ignored classmate) and convinces herself that all she needs is a groom. She really is saying yes to the dress, rather than to the man.

The stage adaptation has been updated to the 21st century and the characters have access to social media and mobile phones. Hogan, who wrote and directed the movie and now lends himself to the musical book, has “always felt that Muriel would’ve been happier now than ever.” As Phillips confirms, “The world is so insincere now that she’d feel right at home.”

Just like Mean Girls marketed with its recent musical movie – there’s a sense that this production isn’t ‘your mum’s Muriel’s Wedding’. It’s easy to conspire whether Muriel would share her engagement on TikTok, to imagine what her dating profile bio would read, and whether she’d sign off every Whatsapp with a bridal emoji.

That’s because on the surface, Muriel’s Wedding is full of fun, frothy material making for a feel-good musical. It even uses ABBA songs. But there’s a dark undertone underpinning the piece. That’s not to say there aren’t any mean girl zingers or laugh out loud comedy moments. There are. But Muriel’s Wedding also touches on violent relationships, illness, and death.

As Hallsworth explains, “I think when the film was out and people remember the funny side of it, it’s because we didn’t talk about the darker things back then.

“Now we talk about suicide and mental health and depression more than we ever used to.”

Phillips adds, “I actually think that it’s a really great thing about the story, that it goes to that place.”

That’s aided by the original music used throughout the show. Songwriters Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall are pop song writers and performers, and as a result, the music from the couple is “very vibey.”

“I think the more tragic elements of the movie get, in a way, more airtime [in the stage show] because you get to sing about it,” says Phillips, “One of the absolute snotty sob-fests of the show is when Muriel sings at her mother’s funeral.”

The songs sit beside and “hold their own” against famed ABBA tunes. As a superfan, Muriel uses the Swedish band to soundtrack her daydreams.

“We always say it’s a show about feeling like an outsider and wanting to fit in,” Phillips explains, “Muriel feels fat and ugly and unloved, and her father has made sure of it. But you could talk to a runway model who could say ‘I felt exactly like Muriel’…

“Everybody has a sense of insecurity about them. There are very few people who don’t have an insecurity about their identity. You can speak to anybody across any generation.”

With the film now 30 years old, they acknowledge that audiences may be coming in fresh. Plus, there’s a real chance that original viewers could be watching it anew with a more grown perspective. Potentially with friends that they didn’t realise they had until later in life – just like Muriel and Rhonda.

“There’s a beautiful story about learning real values and Muriel goes on a long journey to come to the realisation of what really matters and what really makes her a whole person. It’s not what she thought. So, it’s a sweet fable too,” Says Hallsworth.

“It’s kind of a humble show,” they say confirming that they aren’t married to the original production, and in Leicester they’re refreshing the show. “We’ve been re-working it and re-writing it since its premiere, so we have a significantly new structure and new songs,” Phillips hints.

As we’ve learnt in Mamma Mia!, I Should Be So Lucky and now Muriel’s Wedding, the answer isn’t always yes. But if we were asked whether we want to see the show, we’d say ‘I do!’