Musicals always seem to be about epic adventures that most ‘normal’ people will never experience or fully understand: heroic journeys, forbidden love, life changing achievements, and other incredible quests that are entertaining and inspiring, but ultimately unrelatable. Reception: The Musical is a musical for the everyday employee. It is a positive showcase of upbeat tunes and amusing anecdotes about working an ordinary day job and all the mundane tasks it entails. But rather than describing them as such, the musical finds the excitement in working an office job, and suddenly day-to-day duties don’t seem quite so monotonous.
Bethany Simons and Peter de Jager have created a hilarious homage to the daily office slog in a cabaret form. Based on Simons’ own experiences manning the reception at the Australian National Academy of Music (where she met co-creator Peter, a piano student who attended the school), the production follows the bright receptionist as she dreams of a life where she isn’t chained to her desk, while growing more and more attached to the comfortable consistency and vast variety of an administrative work environment.
As someone who works a 9-5 office job, I certainly appreciate the concept of a musical that addresses the challenges and eccentric normalities of working behind a desk and helping customers with their requests (no matter how strange they sometimes may be). Simons is the epitome of well-trained customer service; from her excellent telephone manner to her enthusiasm for directing patrons to the bathroom, not to mention her excitement about getting a brand-new, state-of-the-art photocopier. (I shared a similar, sad excitement for the exact reason several months ago.) She is an on-stage delight with her wide smile and floral frock, and her energy is wonderfully contagious.
Performance-wise, Simons is impressive right from the opening number. Her singing voice is clear and uplifting, and the accompanying music provided by de Jager and his piano certainly maintains the musical theatre quality of this small-scale, big-hearted cabaret. My Name is Bethany is a perfect song to begin with; it introduces us to Bethany and her relationship with her job very quickly, and sets the tone and expectation for the entire production. Other song highlights include the hilarious They Ring My Bell, the love story that is Dave the Telstra Man and I Can’t Help But Help, which involved an unexpected but highly comical rap. The song entitled Everybody is possibly one of the weaker tunes and it had two reprises, which did begin to drag on towards the end, however this is just one minor critique. Overall, the music is clever, creative and has the ability to cater to a wide, corporate audience.
Not only can Simons sing like a cabaret star, her acting abilities are equally remarkable. She manages to transform from the perky office receptionist to an elderly classical music showcase patron, and then to to an upper-class socialite with ease and hilarity, her over-the-top facial expressions creating ongoing laughter from the eager crowd. The short interactions that Simons has with de Jager, amidst his constant piano-playing, were also nicely incorporated into the production. His onstage presence, despite not being the main focus of the show, definitely adds another layer to the fun, slightly cheeky feel to this musical success. Choreography by Joseph Simons is minimal but effective, with some sporadic cabaret-style movement involved in every song.
Original, hilarious and wonderfully honest, Reception: The Musical is a lovely little musical that puts a delightful spin on menial office goings-on. Corporate jobs have the potential to be boring places that workers dread waking up for each morning, but Simons’ sweet enthusiasm made me (and the rest of the audience, I’m sure) actually look forward to going to work the following day.
This run of Reception: The Musical has finished.