To deliver a full-length musical, with 27 original songs, is an admirable achievement and Hamilton composer Chris Williams has upped the ante by crafting musical theatre out of the desolation of a family break-up and a battle with depression.
The story of State Highway 48 follows a bleak downward spiral as a successful salesman's mid-life crisis is turbo-charged by redundancy, marital separation and a bout of clinical depression. The situations, skilfully dramatised with minimal dialogue, all ring true and the story movingly captures the quiet desperation behind the suburban Kiwi dream.
A five-piece band kicks the action along with a pop-rock score and musical director Mark Dennison adds some delicate instrumental touches along with the occasional country and western inflection that is well suited to the melancholy tone of the drama.
Director Geoff Turkington has assembled a terrific cast, who hone in on the emotional heart of songs.
Steve O'Reilly neatly captures the stoicism of a Kiwi bloke who struggles to voice his feelings while Delia Hannah's assured vocal performance carries us through the anguish of a long-suffering wife.
Chris Tempest establishes a suave and sinister presence representing the Black Dog of depression and Jenn Shelton injects a welcome jolt of upbeat soul as a ruthlessly ambitious executive implementing a corporate restructure.
The most powerful emotional punch comes from the youngest cast members, with 8-year-old Rupert Archer and 12-year-old Tia Ormsby giving wonderfully natural performances which express the heart-rending confusion of children blaming themselves for their parents' break-up.
The production by the aptly named Old Rockers Inc exudes the robust confidence of a Kiwi DIY job and it is heartening to see the lives of everyday New Zealanders given the glitz and glamour of a full-scale musical.
What: State Highway 48
Where & When: Bruce Mason Centre, until Saturday
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton