Performer Michelle Brasier says she created her hit show Comedians on Stage Auditioning for Musicals primarily to provide a platform for comedians to show off their singing skills.

In the process, however, she has devised an hilarious, unpredictable and clever comedy show that was a smash at the 2023 Adelaide Cabaret Festival and this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The premise is that a divorced couple who are amateur theatre directors have teamed up to run an open audition process for their annual regional musical production. The pair (played by Brasier and her co-star Ben Russell) are joined on stage by the pianist Gillian Cosgriff, who is directed by Brasier and Russell to only play the piano without singing or speaking.

Well-known comedians are then brought up on stage to “audition” for the amateur production, singing a song they have pre-prepared but with little idea of what Brasier and Russell have in store for them. So begins the unscripted, improvised fun.

Michelle Brasier and Ben Russell in character. Photo: Claudio Raschella / supplied

“I created this show because there are so many comedians who can sing and I wanted to make a show where they could have the chance to show off that skill and surprise everybody,” Brasier says.

“I also think lots of people adore a good musical and a good laugh, and I wanted to make a show for them that they can’t buy the soundtrack for, they can’t stream, it has to be live. It happens once, it is never the same night to night and you just have to be there for it. I think that makes it special.

“I brought Ben Russell and Gillian Cosgriff on board because they are both excellent improvisers who can stay in character and go wherever the show takes them.”

When the show was performed as part of the last year’s Cabaret Festival, some of the famous faces who were pulled up on stage included 2024 Cabaret Festival artistic director Virginia Gay.

“Last year we also put Eddie Perfect through the audition paces and surprised everyone with Aunty Donna’s Zachary Ruane’s stunning rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’,” Brasier says. “This year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival we had about 30 New Zealanders storm the stage for a performance of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’. It’s madness and we love it.”

Michelle Brasier wanted to create a show where comedians could show off their singing skills. Photo: Nick Robinson

While the show played for one night only in 2023, Gay has programmed it over a weekend this year due to its popularity.

“This show became a cult hit almost immediately, which has been so humbling, as well as proof that people love musicals – even the people who hate musicals,” Brasier says.

“It brings the best of the two worlds together. We don’t take it too seriously and we also take it incredibly seriously.”

Audiences will know Brasier from TV shows such as How to Stay Married, Utopia and Mad As Hell, while Russell began his comedy career in Perth before moving to the United States. He graduated from The Second City and iO theatres in Chicago and his TV appearances include Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun on Netflix and Home Alone Together on the ABC. He won the 2024 Director’s Choice Award at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Brasier says what she loves about performing in Comedians on Stage Auditioning for Musicals is watching people who aren’t usually singers “get up and smash it”.

“Or sometimes absolutely fail but really enjoy doing it. It’s a vulnerable thing to do and the audience is so supportive.”

Gay describes the show  as “one of the most charming, wild, chaotic, brilliant and hilarious evenings”, and Brasier says she and Gay are “cooking up something very special” for audiences this year.

“If you ask any comedian from Melbourne International Comedy Festival what show they enjoyed the most or wished they could be on – it’s this one. This is your favourite comedian’s favourite night,” Brasier says.

Comedians on Stage Auditioning for Musicals is at the Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre,  on June 21 and 22. It is part of the 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which runs from June 7-22.

Read more Cabaret Festival coverage here.

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