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Review: Dr Drama Makes a Musical

I am a huge fan of musical theatre and so is the star of Dr Drama Makes a Musical, a 75 minute homage to the genre. The doctor himself is also known as, James Wenley, a university lecturer in theatre studies at Victoria University.  

Wearing a purple costume, he strides on stage with purposeful energy, a broad smile and great charm. Seated at a piano to his right is his partner in crime, Phoebe Caldeiro who wrote the music and provides someone for Wenley to bounce off. 

It’s a high energy production which explores the inner workings of musical theatre, explanations of the types of songs as well as story arcs and archetypes which are typical in the industry.

A large part of the show is also autobiographical where Wenley shares his own relationship to the art form he loves. In his youth, he performed in many a show and his reminiscences are funny and at times very moving. 

He has a large stage presence and is a great story teller with plenty of verve and personality. The show feels like a very theatrical and entertaining lecture, the type of ‘lesson’ that if delivered in a lecture hall would certainly grab the attention of jaded students. 

It’s also a clarion call for the value of art and especially musicals even though they are often seen as crass and cheesy and denigrated as not being ‘real’ art. As he states, “things that are popular, are devalued”. He also rightly points out, that musicals are well crafted stories that have been phenomenally successful and outsold their movie equivalents. The biggest of them all, The Lion King musical, has grossed over $8 billion worldwide.

An emotional and timely part of this show is the thought provoking way Wenley acknowledges how musical theatre has entrenched racist tropes and embedded heteronormative ideals into so many shows over decades. He does this with such sincerity and genuine emotion that the effect is uplifting and inspiring. 

All of these elements I’ve described make this a very entertaining night, but ultimately this is a musical paying homage to musical theatre. While it is part narrative there are also a number of songs written specifically for the production which Wenley performs himself. 

At his own admission, Wenley’s performing career was stymied by the limits of his own voice and in Dr Drama Makes a Musical, this is also true. Towards the end of the evening, as the big finale arrives, he graciously acknowledges that he “doesn’t think he can do it,” and instead invites the accomplished singer Amanda Grace Leo to come on and sing it. She delivered the song beautifully and her sassy persona was a delight to watch.  

Dr Drama Makes a Musical, has some amazingly brilliant moments and Wenley’s telling of the story was masterly done and incredibly engaging. But, while he clearly enjoys singing and it is his baby, I do wonder how much more powerful and impactful it might be if professional artists such as Leo sang all the musical numbers, and Wenley concentrated on what he does best, conjuring up a superb showman and story teller who narrates the production. 

DR DRAMA MAKES A MUSICAL 

2-4 November 2023

Q Theatre

Tickets and information 

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