Almost a year in the making, MUSE: New Voices is an inspiring collection of performances by USYD students, bringing up and coming artists together to share the limelight of centre stage. This initiative was launched by 2021 Vice-President Cassie Parke, a composer and student from the Con, who wanted to give fellow writers and lyricists the opportunity and space to create new theatre.
Intended for stage last year, COVID-19 created many issues that instead reshaped the show to an online video series, where each composer chose one song to record over zoom. For Cassie, the project was “a way for us to stay creative during lockdown”. This teaser gave a “sneak-peek” into the live show held at Flight Path Theatre. New Voices was also Amelie Downie’s first director role in a production, which she shared alongside Vanessa Ilavnia-Purnama. For Downie, The Marrickville Community Centre was a performance space that was “so intimate which helped us bring it to life”.
SET 1: Trains
New Voices opens with Riding the Rails, the first song performed from Emma Snellgrove’s set Trains, which brings a myriad of characters aboard a train together on the T4 Line.
Snellgrove takes us through the everyday horror of a cramped train and explores who you could find on the way to your destination. A construction worker, a train guard, a pregnant woman, someone donning party clothes from the night before, a gay couple, and then some.
The lives of these strangers entwine over the course of the train ride, and we follow a gay couple, where one plans to propose while the other is contemplating breaking up. “When will I, when will I, make it to the end of the line?”, the interlude-rap from the train guard’s perspective declares her frustration with the other passengers, concluding with a chorused plea to “get me off of this fucking train”.
Following this, Hayward moves to sing ‘Why Do We Always Sing Sad Songs’, an emotional tune with minor key refrains that bring the set to a slower pace, musing on “what good can it do to dwell on mistakes?”.
SET 2: Traumatic Twenties
Traumatic Twenties is backed by a soundscape that ventures between jazz and contemporary music. It opens with ‘Introduction To My Life’ sung by Jordan Swain (a Covid replacement for Brea Holland), who takes on the role with ease. “But some of my friends have a mortgage and kids / their Tupperware even has lids and then there’s me… struggling with my degree,” Swain sings, rolling her eyes. Despite the initial self-deprecation, the song concludes where she sings of her desire for “my friends by my side / for life’s crazy, constant ride / searching for meaning”.
‘Beaches Forever’ follows, presenting a light-hearted storyline that teases us with the potential for new romances. Observed as ‘Sweetness Brought to Life’, by Downie, Rosie Fleming’s endearing personality gives off a Sandy Olsson quality, drawing parallels to the renowned beach scene between Sandy and Danny in the beloved classic Grease. The lines, “I could walk down the beach with you forever / time could just keep passing by”, are sung against a colourfully free jazz arrangement that charges the musical soundscape with wonder.
SET 3: Three Wishes
Three Wishes is a set composed by Alexandra Moutevelidis, and focuses on three siblings who mourn over the passing of their late mother and is a heartfelt note on the desire to reconnect after having an estranged relationship with one another.
In ‘The Tape’, the piano accompaniment renders an intimate quality, with a recurring melody that holds us to the singer’s wishes, to “start anew”. A short violin tune accompanies the four singers, “if you want to / don’t say it/ just go”, building to a crescendo, before fading out.
‘Once Upon a Time’ launches with a piano and string arrangement with the three performers reflecting on the past, before switching to a more playful, doo-woppy tune with rhythmic drum beats. The “we all know I was better” sung by Hayward is undercut by Moutevelidis’ quipped “honey you were worse”. This tongue-in-cheek jab shows us one way of dealing with grief ; through light-hearted jests.
SET 4: Woodwinked
A fun and satirical take on the quick-to-fall-in-love trope, Nikolas Zielinski and Maxwell Han poke fun at Disney and bring a queer storyline to life, featuring a Prince and his devoted Servant. Woodwinked opens with ‘Stay On The Path’, a frantic tune sung by Jess Tannous who plays an animal sidekick (talking squirrel). This is followed by ‘Big Bad Wolf’, sung by Andrea Ginsberg who has an operatic inflection and feisty personality. Ginsberg’s character chases after the Prince, but her efforts are to no avail (hint: she’s not his type).
Dialogue acts as an interlude within the song where Ginsberg’s character listens to The Prince, played by Martin Everett, a catalyst for the two men to meet and swiftly fall in love. ‘Another Peer’ ends the set, finally bringing the two queer leads together and providing a hearty chuckle at their ‘gay into the woods’ schtick.
New Voices has found a home in MUSE, packaging talent in a vibrant gift box, ready for us to unwrap with giddy pleasure. Many of the original crew had been lost to isolation in the days preceding the show, as such, the last-minute reliefs stepped up, amplifying the stage with fiery vigour. The current President of MUSE, Daniel Baykitch, hopes to commission more student artists and composers to showcase new student talent. Adorned with devoted creatives, MUSE nurtures the song writing craft and is a launchpad for aspiring storytellers. The grooves of New Voices holds our gaze and insists upon viewers to look to the melodies and lyrics in earnest. We are ready to listen.