BY BLAIR JACKSON | FROM THE WINTER 2021 ISSUE OF UKULELE
In June 2019 a new stage show called Uked!, which bills itself “the first play-along ukulele musical,” premiered and sold out a series of shows in the small Australian town of Guildford, in the southeastern state of Victoria, “followed by another sell-out season in the even tinier town of Newham, near Macedon [Victoria],” says the musical comedy/drama’s creator and producer, Jane Cafarella.
Now, if that sounds like an obscure bit of trivia about events thousands of miles from nearly every reader of Ukulele, you should also know that the show has been licensed by Sydney-based David Spicer Productions for others to produce, and there has been considerable interest in putting it on in other parts of Australia and New Zealand. After that… well, never underestimate the power of ukemania!
“I am a former journalist turned playwright, and I wrote the musical in 2018 when I moved to Singapore and took up the ukulele,” Cafarella says. “I have a medical condition that was exacerbated by the humidity, so I had to stay indoors most of the time, which gave me a lot of time to learn ukulele via YouTube.”
The show’s main character, Karla, is a middle-aged woman trying to deal with ageing, loneliness, and finding her own identity after being unceremoniously dumped by her violin-playing boyfriend (for a cellist, no less!) on her 50th birthday. Karla takes up the ukulele and joins a dating site (with hilarious results) and eventually finds happiness and meaning through her involvement in the caring ukulele community. Along the way, there are 16 songs—nearly all popular numbers in the uke world—and many opportunities for uke-toting audience members to play along with chords and lyrics projected on a screen, uke workshop-style, and for some to even appear as part of an onstage uke club.
“Although Karla—whom I named after Kala Brand Music in California, which kindly supplied her ukulele for the show—has her ups and downs,” Cafarella comments, “Uked! is such a fun and happy show that I think it’s the perfect antidote to the COVID blues. It helps people reclaim their musicality, connects communities, and highlights the ukulele as an instrument of social change.
“In fact, that’s what first inspired me to write the show. I was a failed guitar player, and buying a ukulele helped me find my musical soul again. My own joy in learning from YouTube led me to think about how the ukulele brings joy to others.”
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has seriously curtailed the show’s growth and momentum, forcing the cancellation of a few productions, but the upbeat Cafarella remains optimistic about the show’s potential. “I am hoping that after the coronavirus is under control and theater revives, people will be keen to see a show that really lifts their spirits and which showcases the most humble and accessible of instruments—the ukulele.”