Prepare yourself to laugh and learn, as James Wenley aka ‘Dr. Drama’, takes you on a historical and personal journey through the world of musical theatre, all gift-wrapped within his very own musical—how meta!
Accompanied by composer, Phoebe Caldeiro on the piano, the pair unpack many aspects of musical theatre such as the hits, flops (Spider-Man musical I swear I’m not talking about you!) and stereotypes within the industry. During this show, I found myself on a ride full of song and dance, with the set structure mimicking a classic musical theatre production. This meant musical numbers depicting the highs and lows of a show—including my notable favourite being ‘The Villain Song!’
As someone who has been to a few musicals but was more a ‘drama kid’ than a ‘musical theatre kid’, I was surprised to learn a lot about the musical theatre industry through Dr. Drama Makes a Musical. Having interwoven excerpts from his own experiences in the industry as a kid to preteen with academic references, James provided a sense of informativity and excitement to audience members. I felt as if I was sitting in a lecture with the ‘cool teacher’ I wish I had when I did drama at school.
An important note I have to address in Dr. Drama Makes a Musical is the level of accessibility. The use of surtitles (live subtitles shown which match what is spoken in the live performance) as well as vivid descriptions of the props on the set, costumes of those on stage and actions taken by them was very well executed. While I myself do not have visual or audio impairments, for those who struggle to experience live performance, I believe you will find Dr. Drama Makes a Musical enjoyable thanks to the descriptions and surtitles put in place.
Throughout the show, there are moments of interactivity for the audience, as members are encouraged to use their phones to answer questions live via QR code, which get discussed promptly afterwards. (This initiative was inspired by the show Yes Yes Yes.) Although I found this slightly disruptive in terms of keeping a natural flow of performance, as a viewer, I did enjoy seeing other audience members’ answers while providing my own as well. By the end of the show, I was provided with many musical theatre recommendations to watch. I honestly felt like I might be quizzed on my newfound musical theatre knowledge at the end of the show!
While much of the set is fun and games, there are times when Dr. Drama Makes a Musical does take more serious turns. The discussion of the lack of representation beyond heteronormative couples in musicals and James’s journey with asexuality provide a moment of vulnerability, which I am very grateful for. The acknowledgement of certain stereotypes within the musical theatre was eye-opening at times and made me desire to seek out more queer-inclusive musicals—specifically those without the often visible tacky stereotypes aligned with them.
In addition, the audience asked an important question: “Where are the New Zealand musicals?” At this moment, I’m shocked to have realised that none of the previously mentioned musicals within Dr Drama Makes a Musical are made in Aotearoa. James then takes us through a few of the musicals made in our country (shout out to Shortland Street – The Musical), and sets a firm foot forward as he calls out the mayor for the proposed arts and culture funding cuts. (1)
Dr. Drama Makes a Musical started with the audience being prompted with the question: “What’s really worth making a song and dance about?” After viewing, I think the show is an answer to the question itself. Through James’s own intimate relationship with the art form and extensive knowledge of the subject as a whole, I left the performance being educated on musical theatre’s past, present and future, both within Aotearoa and beyond. Whether you’re a musical theatre nerd or the friend of one who often gets dragged along with them, I believe you’ll find Dr. Drama Makes a Musical a spark of inspiration to get you writing your own script. I sure am feeling that way!
1. Auckland Council. (2023, March). Auckland Mayor unpacks proposed arts and culture funding cuts. Our Auckland. https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/news/2023/03/auckland-mayor-unpacks-proposed-arts-and-culture-funding-cuts/
Featured image courtesy of Q Theatre.