Looking back through our Theatre Works archives you can’t go past a show that really was a treat for everyone, a musical that didn’t just serve up a snack but a full meal, ‘Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert’.
‘Queen of the Dessert’ was written by Doug Mcleod and composed by Yuri Woronstchak, in collaboration with The Present Tense Ensemble, founded by Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes. This musical retelling of the life of Margaret Fulton, Australian National Living Treasure and the woman who weaned an entire country off a diet of ‘meat and three veg’, ran at Theatre Works from the 16th of November to the 1st of December in 2012.
For those unfamiliar with Margaret Fulton’s legacy, she is an Australian food and cooking writer, journalist, author, and you’ve probably eaten a pavlova straight from the pages of one of her many outstanding cookbooks. In 1988 Fulton was made an Australian National Living Treasure. Sadly Fulton passed away in July of 2019, aged 94.
Long before we were introduced to the furrowed brow of Gordon Ramsay and the saccharine finger licking of Nigella Lawson, Margaret Fulton was teaching Australians how to cook.
The scope and depth of Fulton’s influence on Australian culture is often underestimated or forgotten about by younger generations. Cameron Woodhead wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald: “To get the fuss, you have to understand that in the not-too-distant past, Australia was a culinary desert. Anyone subjected to the potential horrors of suburban Aussie dining in the dark days before multiculturalism tends to view Margaret Fulton as sort of a guardian angel. She brought a touch of adventure to the land of meat and three veg and, if the adventure didn’t turn out, ensured enough pavlova, Anzac bikkies, or lemon delicious pudding to hide the mistake.”
The show is heavily based on Fulton’s autobiography, I Sang For My Supper, and begins in 1988, the year of Australia’s bicentenary. A tough year for Fulton, having lost the man she loved and with the bank breathing down her neck after placing her trust, and her investments, in the wrong persons hands. The story quickly takes us back in time to see how it all began, to the 40’s, where a teenage Fulton moves to Sydney with dreams of becoming a cabaret dancer and whisks us through her incredibly colourful life full of love, loss, a short stint as a communist, and a few husbands along the way. Featuring songs about everything from the ambiguity of fame, to love and pressure cookers.
Bringing iconic Australian stories to the stage, especially when the subject is still alive and well loved at the time, is no easy feat. ‘Queen of The Dessert’ was able to do just that, with humour, wit and joy, and was overall very well received.
Anne-Marie Peard wrote for Aussie Theatre that “It’s my favourite musical of the year. It’s as perfectly delicious as the Chocolate Kooglehoupf at Monarch Cakes in Acland Street, as fresh as new season plum from the St Kilda Farmers Market and reminds us that the secret ingredient of success is a often person who’s nothing like the faux fame of their brand.”
Peard doesn’t stop there, also singing praises for writer Doug Mcleod and composer Yuri Woronstchak: “they’ve crafted a story that embraces a fascinating woman who has as many flaws as the rest of us, filled it with nostalgia, told it with love, placed it firmly in the cultural context of now and told it through the emotion capturing magic of music.”
Cameron Woodhead wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald: “The musical has generated enormous goodwill…it’s infectious fun”
However, the success of the show was not just attributed to the writing, but also in large part to the skilled cast who brought it to life.
Led by Amy Lehpamer as Margaret, the cast consisted of Josh Price, Laura Burzacott, Zoy Frangos and Zoe McDonald. As an ensemble they’re described as “scrumptious” and “fantastic” by Peard for Aussie Theatre.
The highest praise is reserved for Lehpamer herself with multiple glowing reviews of her performance.
In a review for Onya Magazine Glenn Dunks writes: “Amy Lehpamer (Rock of Ages) is a bona fide star and has the sass to go along with her incredible voice.”
Simon Pariss writes: “What can be said to do full justice of the talents of gorgeous leading lady Amy Lehpamer? A supremely gifted actress and singer, Lehpamer has a magnetic, totally engaging presence.”
Lehpamer was well aware of the stakes ahead of her with her role as Fulton, in an article for Geelong Today Lehpamer said: “It’s quite daunting but an absolute honour as well. Margaret Fulton has an incredible story and I know people are going to love the way it has been brought to life.”
There is no doubt that Lehpamer rose to the challenge of portraying Fulton with grace and depth, with Cameron Woodhead writing “Amy Lehpamer (star of Rock of Ages) as Margaret is pretty in a pert ’60s way, but also one tough cookie, singing everything from catchy jingles to schmaltzy love duets as we move through Fulton’s culinary triumphs and romantic travails….there’s an irresistibly sardonic edge to the performance that captures the essence of her subject’s unpretentious authority.”
But what tells us more clearly than any review just how much this work shone, is that Margaret Fulton herself, along with her family, attended opening night and then came back for a second helping to see it all again.
Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert Cast & Crew
WRITTEN BY Doug MacLeod
MUSICAL COMPOSITION Yuri Worontschak
ADAPTED FROM THE BOOK: I Sang For My Supper by Margaret Fulton
DIRECTED BY Bryce Ives
PRODUCER Sean Bryan
LIGHTING DESIGN Scott Allen
CHOREOGRAPHY David Harford
DESIGN Andrew Bellchambers
IMAGES BY James Cant
IN COLLABORATION WITH The Present Tense Ensemble
Amy Lehpamer, Josh Price, Laura Burzacott, Zoy Frangos, Zoe McDonald, Jess Palmer, Jazz Miller
Scott Allan, Nicola Andrews, Andrew Bellchambers, Sean Bryan, Laura Burzacott, Nathan Gilkes, David Harford, Jack Howard, Bryce Ives, Marcello LoRicco