After the 1981 opening of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, a show loosely based on what went on behind the scenes of Motown’s girl-group The Supremes, Diana Ross was asked what she thought of the show.
Her reply, delivered in truly diva style, has become infamous in showbiz circles. That’s no show, she is claimed to have snapped. That’s my fucking life!
Toby Allen, Phil Burton or either of the Tierney brothers from Human Nature might be borrowing Ross’s famous reply if they venture to the Seymour Centre in the coming weeks for the premiere season of the musical comedy Boyband, which tells the story of the rise and fall of an all-Australian boy band through the 1990s.
Boyband, opening on Thursday 12 May for a limited season, explores the boy band phenomenon that exploded around the world music scene in the previous decade.
It tells the fictional story of what happens when four singer-dancers are put together to make up a boy band called 4ORCE.
Andrew Threlfall, one of the writers of the show who also stars as Mark in the 4ORCE line-up, says the Human Nature members have nothing to fear -“ Boyband is not about tell their story.
This is hypothetical and we are not representing any one boy band in the show, he says.
It is generic as we thought if we did focus too much on one band, we would be heading either towards a tribute show or a libel suit, he laughs.
The thing about the Boyband story is there is such a universality to them because they were a manufactured phenomenon.
While Human Nature weren’t manufactured and had been working for years before they got their big break, I still wouldn’t be too surprised if one of the Human Nature guys came up to us after the show and said, -˜That’s part of my life up there.’ I am sure there are elements of all the boy band stories that apply to all of the groups, and that’s what our show is about.
Boyband is being directed by Jason Langley and choreographed by the acclaimed William Forsythe, with original music by Andrew Worboys.
The show also stars Richard Brancatisano, Nathan Carter and Nicholas Beech in the roles of the essential boy band line-up -“ the sexy one, the big brother, the bad boy and the could-he-be-gay one.
Threlfall takes on the role of Mark, the na? band member whose discovering of his sexuality is one of the dramatic turning points of the show.
It’s not an uncommon story -“ in 1999, Boyzone singer Stephen Gately came out, telling the world he was in love with Eloy de Jong, a member of Dutch boy band Caught In The Act.
Pop history is littered with cases of boy band singers who protested loudly at the time that they were not gay and then a few years later came out as gay, Threlfall said.
Mark is an amalgam of all those guys. The first time you see him in the show, he is looking at the butt of one of the other guys, and it is that thing we have all experienced in our own lives as gay men that we have no idea why we are doing it. There is just not that connection being made there.
As the show progresses, he has a big wake-up call and later has an epiphany of sorts. He takes a while to get his head around it and then when he does, it is about finding himself.
One of the dramatic scenes of the show is when the marketing machine behind the 4ORCE boy band decides they need to appeal more to the gay audience and so the band is sent to a gay club to perform their hit single, Coming From Behind.
While the appearance is a hit, the success proves to come at a cost.
The story is really about the destructive cycle of the pop music industry, except it is funny, says director Langley.
It is more a comedy with music rather than a musical as the boys are performing the 4ORCE songs, rather than breaking into song to drive the action of the story.
In many ways it is also a comedy fable as the band manager (Danielle Barnes) sells her soul to a record label to create a boy band and make a ton of money, but then finds she has to pay the price for what happens next.
Boyband began life as a five-minute comedy sketch at the Parramatta Big Laugh Comedy Festival and the Old Fitzroy Hotel, sending up the genre of the boy band performance styles.
When the sketch proved to be such a hit with audiences, the creators were asked to expand the idea into a full show.
Three years later, the script has undergone numerous revisions by writers Threlfall, Beech and Carter, and Boyband is finally ready to make its premiere as a fully-fledged show.
I worked with the writers and we have taken all the characters now on a journey from seeing them on their first day of rehearsal of the new band to 10 years later at a reunion show, says Langley.
The writers have worked to turn the boy band stereotypes into real people who you care about and want to know more about -“ and who make you laugh at their experiences along the way.
While Forsythe is internationally acclaimed for his choreography work with such stars as Kylie Minogue, Tina Arena and Cliff Richard, he admits he was attracted to work on Boyband for two reasons.
I like to work on something brand new, but I also like to have the chance to send my own work up, he laughs. This show has very 90s choreography -“ lots of hand gestures and of course lots of pelvic thrusts.
I thought the script was good fun, and the music is so good, so it was hard to say no. I was a little worried that some people might think this is how I have choreographed the show seriously, but my approach is very surreal and just wrong enough to be funny. You get the joke about halfway through. I watched a lot of S Club 7 and Steps clips to get all the right moves.
Boyband is on at the Downstairs Theatre, Seymour Centre, from 12 to 21 May. Tickets cost $25-$33.40. Phone 9351 7940.