Tse’s amazing voice tackles a wide range of songs. We hear a couple of belters from queer hit Fun House, a great take on online dating from Waitress, and my personal favourite, a pocket-sized heart-breaker from The Bad Years.
In between songs, Tse sprinkles in commentary on musical theatre, including some rather damning statistics on gender diversity on- and off-stage. While women are perhaps overrepresented as performers, very few successful Broadway/West End writers are women.
And that’s why Tse decided to stage this show: to demonstrate the wealth of talent that women and non-binary people bring, and to show how diversity enriches art.
It’s a pretty cerebral reason to stage a show, and you feel that a bit in the first half. Tse (and director James Cain) is too skilful to let the show sink into Drama class presentation mode, but I did find the second half became much more compelling with Tse’s descriptions of her own memories from her childhood and time spent studying in New York. For me, that’s where the sparkly, dorky nonsense of musical theatre finds its power: somewhere in your emotions, suspended in your disbelief.
The stage is left almost empty save for the musicians and a tiny platform with stairs that Tse performs on. She makes great use of the space she has, and ventures into the audience a couple of times. The bare-bones set invokes the plainness of the New York black box theatres Tse refers to in the second half of her set, but for most of the show that’s a bit lost on me. However, it does ensure that the power of these songs is the central focus of the show.
Tse is joined onstage by four musicians: Katie Morton (keys), Jevon Wright (drums), Ellie Stewart (violin and backing vocals), and Rachael Hinds (bass and double bass). Keeping the stage free of cis men was a thoughtful touch, and the musicians all interact Tse in a fun, gentle way. Like many Red Scare productions, you get a real sense of the performers trusting each other and being comfortable in the work.
That’s All She Wrote is not only an homage to women and non-binary artists, but to the music of musical theatre, stripped away from complex dance routines and fancy lighting. It’s also a great star vehicle for Tse, who, in her role as Artistic Director for Red Scare, doesn’t often get the stage time that her talent deserves.
This season of That’s All She Wrote has now been suspended due to the 13 August announcement that moved New Zealand to Alert Level 2. Red Scare have since announced on that they’re looking into ways to film the show - keep an eye on their social media and their website for updates.