Dorian Gray has broken free of the confines of Oscar Wilde’s story and he fully intends to settle any discrepancies, right wrongs, and gain control over his legacy. In a clever new meta musical from librettist Melvyn Morrow and composer Dion Condack, the unspoken sexuality of the Picture of Dorian Gray is laid bare while the eternal youth’s hopes and desires are given life out from under his creator’s thumb.
Dorian (Blake Appelqvist) welcomes the audience into his intimate boudoir with plush embroidered seats, gilt-framed mirrors, and velvet panel from which to seductively change costume. Oh, and also a grand piano for some drama. Dorian is taking this opportunity to confront his creator, Oscar, and reveal the truth of his novel life within and without Oscar’s recording of it.
Dorian Gray has been a symbol of young, flamboyant male sexuality for decades. Used as both a metaphor for Wilde’s own sexuality and self-identity and as a representation of the curse of homosexuality, depending on the reader, Dorian is a character with a queer reputation. Morrow’s reimagining of Dorian locks on to this virility and mines it for the large part of this production, hyper-sexualising the character as someone up for anything at anytime. It’s part a jab at the conservative facade of the late 19th century and a playing up of the hedonistic atmosphere applied to many representations of LGBTQI+ cultures.
That being said, the latter parts of Dorian Gray Naked opened up to a layered exploration of Dorian’s troubled relationship with his father, his creator, and his son. He truly grapples with his position as of Oscar’s mind, trapped in the roles of either lover or metaphor, when what he really wants is to be loved as a son. At this point Dorian is given much greater reign over his story and the complexity of his analysis of his sense of self is compelling.
The crescendo to his ultimate offing of the great creator is a conventional ending for this kind of journey, finding and defining one’s own god, but perhaps a tad dramatic here. Oscar’s presence as a dressed up coat rack was a juvenile solution to a relatively non-existent problem. If Dorian can speak to imagined audiences and sing duets with his alter-ego, then Oscar certainly doesn’t require a physical representation on stage to sustain the suspension of disbelief. And, in its final moments, this is a show that could have done without blood.
Appelqvist is a cheeky, lively, and sometimes pouty Dorian. His vocal skill is phenomenal and added a solidity to the lyrics of this new musical. His trajectory of Dorian from centred, confident flirt to a scattered and unravelling man-boy was convincing in its fragility. Dorian’s opposite, his alter-ego, played by Condack on the piano, was less convincing in his limited interaction with the narrative. Other than a sounding board for Dorian’s thoughts or a harmonising voice, his presence seemed both superfluous and convenient.
As a new musical, the book and lyrics were clever and engaging with regular gems of literary puns or references. Similarly, Condack’s music was original and unusual but has the makings of a special addition to Australia’s musical canon. The premise of Dorian Gray Naked may be unusual and a lot of the story silly but it is well constructed and is an entertaining analysis of two prominent queer literary icons.
Dorian Gray Naked is running at Limelight on Oxford from February 1st – 16th