ENTERTAINMENT

From Screen To Stage: A New Documentary Explores How 'Muriel's Wedding' Became A Musical

Not so terrible, Muriel.

15/11/2017 8:00 AM AEDT | Updated 15/11/2017 8:05 AM AEDT

As terrible as she may have been, there are very few cinematic figures who have endured the test of time like Muriel Heslop.

The tragic, unwittingly hilarious hero of her own story, 'Muriel's Wedding' has a place in the heart of most Aussies and now the story is taking on a new life as 'Muriel's Wedding: The Musical' opens this month in Sydney, the city that made her life as good as 'Dancing Queen'.

As the curtains get set to officially open a documentary following the creation of the musical from its inception, through casting all the way to opening night: 'Making Muriel'.

The musical sees the return of 'Muriel's Wedding' writer and director P.J. Hogan as he transformed his first film into an all-singing all-dancing sensation. There's an underlying tension in Hogan as he wrestles with 'Muriel', with his baby, and is forced to hand it over to others in the process of making the musical.

Director and producer of 'Making Muriel', Nel Minchin told HuffPost Australia, "He's bringing his baby to life, it's fair enough that he's freaking out about the legacy around the film, but it goes a bit deeper and that was a surprise to everyone, including him probably".

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Minchin got up close and personal with every aspect of the production as it went from concept to creation.

Minchin is no stranger to mini-docos about musicals having also directed and produced 'Matilda And Me', a documentary that looked at her big brother Tim Minchin's role in creating 'Matilda the Musical', and the journey bringing it from the U.K. and U.S. back home to Australia.

"With 'Muriel' I was there from the beginning, it's a brand new work," Nel said to HuffPost, "whereas with 'Matilda' coming to Australia it had already been made internationally.

"To actually sit there and be part of something that's coming together and changing, people are battling with what songs to write where, and the cast have a responsibility.

"It's interesting with musicals because they do go around the world, if you're the first person who plays that role then the next actors who play it on the West End or Broadway or whatever are taking on your interpretation. So that's a big responsibility for the cast."

Behind the scenes there was also a huge responsibility for those responsible for expanding Hogan's script into a musical extravaganza.

The musical takes what we as a nation love about Muriel and dives into it even deeper, adding an entire new score around the ABBA hits we've come to expect from the show. The musical pairing of Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall created a soundtrack inspired by Muriel's story.

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Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall were tasked with broadening the script out into a musical masterpiece.

"The last thing we want is for people to go, 'What were those shit songs in between the ABBA songs?'" Miller-Heidke can be heard saying in the documentary.

Minchin's documentary is there every step of the way as Miller-Heidke and Nuttall learn the ropes of writing a musical score, see Hogan grapple with letting others get their fingers on his baby as well as the search for the perfect star.

"The casting of Muriel was a surprise that it didn't happen straight away," Minchin said, "that it was someone who was really starting out, but it's not that dissimilar to Toni Collette who was just starting out.

"When I talked to Toni Collette about it she felt that the naivete of being new to the stage actually helps with a character like Muriel. I think she felt the truth that you can access when you're maybe younger or newer is a different thing to when you're an older, more experienced actress."

Minchin spoke to Collette about her experience in making the film as well as her co-star Rachel Griffiths, who can be seen throughout the documentary. The pair reminisce about making the film, while handing over the baton to the cast of the stage show.

The production opens with Maggie McKenna as the leading lady, Muriel Heslop herself. McKenna is no stranger to the stage, the daughter of 'Kath and Kim's Gina Riley.

"Maggie has just been amazing, she's grown, you can see a physical transformation in the doco of how grown up she gets and how brilliant she becomes," Minchin said.

Muriel transcends generations, embedded in Australian culture, the film has even inspired art shows.

There's something to say about P.J. Hogan's creation, the ABBA routine, the iconic, quotable moments but there's something that has to be said about the underlying tragedy of Muriel.

For all the laughs Hogan created, there's pain and sadness quietly bubbling away. Perhaps that's part of the secret to the film's ongoing success and place in so many Aussie's hearts.

"I think a lot of people who watch it again don't realise how sad it was. I haven't watched the film again since starting the documentary but even watching the stage show, knowing what I know now it has a lot more weight. I think in the stage show they explore that a lot more than in the film."

'Muriel's Wedding The Musical' opens on November 20 with preview tickets available now, 'Making Muriel' airs on ABC & iView on 26 November at 7:40 pm.

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