‘What Rhymes With Cars And Girls’ is a musical with a difference, with only two performers on stage backed up by a band of three musicians, it is a timely reminder that the best stories are ones in which we can recognise some of our own hopes and struggles.
That is the enduring power of the original album of the same name that inspired it, but Playwright Aidan Fennessy and Director Clare Watson have crafted a love story of their own between a pizza delivery man and a free-spirited musician.
Johnno (Johnny Carr) is getting to the tail end of his 20s, holding down a mundane job and looking out for an ailing father. When he meets Tash (Sophie Ross), a romance blooms between them but this is at a critical juncture of their lives where the decisions they make now will have lasting impact. Yet what could be more critical than making sure you have love in your life?
Johnny Carr and Sophie Ross both have star presence but the true gift of their performances is that of intimacy. The script is written like a recollection of the past told to the audience like they are confidants. When together on stage, Johnny and Sophie nail the body language of a couple’s familiarity whether it be playful or intense. The chemistry between the two performers is so strong you can’t tell if some things are off the cuff or just so well-rehearsed that they appear to be. They’re that good.
Andrew Bailey’s set is great, visually dynamic with little sight gags sprinkled everywhere, evoking the look of a living room and a recording studio allowing it to become many things as Johnno and Tash take us through different memories. Musical Director Tim Rogers plays in the three-member band (joined by Ben Franz and Xani Kolac) remaining on stage throughout. There are some cute meta-jokes between him and the performers about the fact that the songs are his. As singers Johnny and Sophie bring the goods, with the three musicians they fill the Powerhouse Theatre with sound and evoke every emotion of these classic lyrics. Sophie Ross in particular while singing a song of lament at one point is both technically impressive and gut-wrenchingly emotional. Johnny never fails to be affecting when discussing his dad.
The dialogue, like the lyrics that inspired them, evokes the familiar of the everyday. The fears and doubts, the hopes and dreams, the love and despair these characters feel convey such things felt by many of us. Yet there is a real poetry to it – clever, funny and moving – that most couldn’t articulate. This is a different type of musical pared-down to only five individuals on stage in a small, intimate theatre singing their hearts out telling a love story… Isn’t that everything?