Archive for the 'Music' Category

25
May
17

Behind Closed Doors

 

Behind Closed Doors

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 19 to May 27 2017

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Each dancer brings passion, dedication, vision and respect. I feel their trust in me and it is empowering. They are brave in the studio and brave in performance.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

Set in an upmarket hotel, Expressions Dance Company’s Behind Closed Doors marries live contemporary jazz and contemporary dance.

If only all dance performances could include live music! It might not always be practicable or even possible, but this work powerfully demonstrates how the two live artforms complement and enrich each other.

Artistic Director/Choreographer Natalie Weir and the EDC dancers have collaborated with contemporary music ensemble Trichotomy: Musical Director Sean Foran (piano), John Parker (drums) and Samuel Vincent (acoustic bass), with guest artists Kristin Berardi (vocals) and Rafael Karlen (saxophone). Compositions by the group have been reworked for Behind Closed Doors, and performances include improvisation.

Behind Closed Doors is a reworking and further development of the 2010 EDC production While Others Sleep, also created and performed with Trichotomy (then called Misinterprotato).

The ‘film noir’ hotel setting (design by Greg Clark, lighting design by David Walters) seems a natural one for a jazz ensemble. At the end of the show, the audience stayed seated for a while, enjoying a final number from Trichotomy – it was as if we were transported into that hotel.

The stage is divided into three spaces: an area for the musicians, with space in front of them that is a foyer or a restaurant, and a revolving set, with doors on one side opening into ‘rooms’ with missing walls on the other, into which the audience can see.

We see glimpses of hotel guests’ stories in vignettes featuring a range of characters. In between these vignettes, people pass through the public spaces of the hotel, carrying luggage, hurrying to meet schedules, and presenting their public personae.

Elise May is very moving in her role as The Lonely Woman, partnered by Benjamin Chapman as the memory or ghost of her lost partner. Their duo in their first appearance is fluid, poignant, and sad, with beautiful complex lifts executed almost in slow motion. The lyrical effect contrasts with the strength and control that the movement needs, but which is completely transcended.

The Lonely Woman’s costumes (design by Greg Clark) are stunning: a filmy black dress strewn with 3D appliqué red poppies; and a full-length cream wraparound dress, reminiscent of 1930s film star Jean Harlow.

In this role and in his solo as The Dark Man, Chapman is strong and compelling. The Dark Man appears to be escaping from life in the outside world. Tormented and desperate, he trashes his hotel room, and is found unconscious by the maid. The acrobatic contortions of Chapman’s solo as he ricochets around the room convey the character’s torment and desperation.

May and Chapman also have a scene in the hotel restaurant as a warring young couple, whose row extends to involve other patrons, as they knock over tables and chairs, and hit the suspended lights. The force of the movement and its representation of disregard for polite behaviour is both liberating and discomforting to watch. They are not people you would want sitting near you in a restaurant.

While The Dark Man appears driven by torment to escape from life in the outside world, The Chameleon (guest artist Xu Yiming) disguises himself to avoid notice. He wears a cherry-red suit that blends in with the curtains and bedspread in his room. His fluid and boneless movements are in peripheral planes: he lies on the floor, flopping along impossibly, hides behind curtains, and sprawls on the bed.

In another story, The Businessman (Richard Causer) appears in a suit, so formal and restricted that he must be hiding something.  Sure enough, when inside his hotel room, he sheds the suit and reveals a struggle between his feminine and masculine personae, posing in front of us as if watching himself in a mirror. Causer projects both vulnerability and strength in this role, engaging our sympathy.

Michelle Barnett and Jake McLarnon join Causer to represent The Female Side (represented by a dramatic and erotic dark-red dress) and the Male Side of the character, struggling with him and each other. Barnett and Causer fly and fling each other through a duo, and all three finish by grappling together. We are left wondering how long The Business Man will be able to endure the struggle.

Barnett and McLarnon express completely different emotions and physicality in their roles as Young Lovers. Their duo is passionate, playful and joyous, with Barnett memorably taking a flying leap onto McLarnon on the bed.

McLarnon and Causer also perform a ‘young love’ (or maybe ‘young lust’) duo. The two men’s encounter begins when they pop out of their doorways in bathrobes, and continues in a very physical, gymnastic display of muscularity and humour.

The Maid threads her way through the action as the constant among the shifting group of hotel guests. She finds odd things people drop or leave behind, accidentally sees people in vulnerable or compromising situations, fantasises about guests’ lives, and is harassed by guests. In this role, QUT student Tiana Pinnell did an outstanding job of filling in at short notice for the injured Alana Sargent*.

The publicity for Behind Closed Doors invited us to unleash our inner voyeur. I found that I was identifying with the characters instead – a tribute to the power of the performers to inspire our empathy.

It’s hard to write about the EDC dancers without gushing. They perform amazing physical feats which are at the same time evocative and expressive, and they transport us into other worlds.

02
Apr
17

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone In Concert

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone In Concert

J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World & CineConcerts

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

Saturday April 1 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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We’re at Brisbane’s Convention and Exhibition Centre with a crowd that is not your ordinary theatre crowd, although perhaps it’s a new theatre-ish crowd, and we get some interesting looks ourselves, as if we’re the odd ones out. We’ve swept into the venue at the last second, having parked at QPAC because we always park at QPAC (it’s automatic now; the car can magically get itself there), which means that when the show is not there, a graceful-as-a-giraffe little run down Grey Street and across the road is required to get to the right box office. This mixed crowd, in the Convention Centre foyer, is not expecting an evening of live theatre.

They’re here for a movie concert, the first of a new genius series from CineConcerts, featuring your local symphony orchestra playing every note of a Harry Potter film shown on a 40-foot screen.

It may be a movie night but it’s an entirely theatrical event! The vibe is electric and a great number of hard-core fans are proudly wearing Gryffindor shirts, and ties and sweaters and robes. Everybody is so excited to be here.

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We take our seats moments before the house lights go down and when Conductor, QSO’s Sarah Hicks, appears, she is welcomed by appreciative applause. She smiles and asks if there’s anyone who’s never been to a live orchestral performance. Many hands go up, and she smiles encouragingly, inviting everyone to get involved. In true pantomime fashion, we should feel free to cheer for our hero and boo the villains. There’s no question about whether or not we’ve seen the film or read the book… No matter what our individual stories are, we’re in for a treat!

I wonder how the orchestra will precisely match the action, but only for half a second before Hicks raises her baton and the Warner Bros logo appears on screen as we hear the first sounds from the string section. A collective shiver runs through the Great Hall. It’s perfect. It’s actually intense. Every moment of the movie becomes sharper and more vital. The entire underscore, which we might forget is there sometimes, when we see the film at home or originally, in the surround sound cinema, comes alive. Every moment of discovery, joy, anticipation, trepidation, celebration and dread is able to be fully experienced, savoured.

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And unless we glance at the musicians on stage from time to time, or become mesmerised watching them at their craft, as I do while the harp plays to keep three-headed Fluffy asleep (it’s so beautiful, the sound of faerie slumber), or while the percussionists keep up with thousands of magical additions, intellectually, we almost take for granted that the music is live. But at the same time, soulfully, we’re experiencing something very special. Like a festival event, there’s a true communal feeling, a momentary connection with people we’ve never met, because we all just want Harry to defeat Voldemort! We know this is only the very beginning of an epic battle, which represents something for everyone. And it’s delightful to see this film again, so beautifully realised, and it’s so funny, I’d forgotten.

Poppy has been terrified for years by the more frightening moments in the film, and has never actually watched in its entirety, The Philosopher’s Stone or any of the subsequent films. I’d made this event a surprise so she couldn’t back out and offer her seat to someone else, and she was hesitant about it, telling me she might need to hide under my wrap when we know Voldemort is about to appear. Well, she did hide towards the end, but after settling into the first few magical bars of the music I saw a grin spread from ear to ear as Harry celebrated his 11th birthday and took off to Hogwarts with Hagrid. Guess what’s on in the background as I write this? Poppy has taken out the DVD box collection and put on The Philosopher’s Stone, and as we hear the familiar strains of John Williams’ evocative opening bars, she laments, “The music’s not as good!”

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Our Queensland Symphony Orchestra gives The Philosopher’s Stone a new, unique, incredibly magical quality, the full, rich sounds of the live music letting us dive in deeper, remember our original experience of the film and enjoy J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World all over again.

 

Don’t miss the next exciting event in the QSO / Cineconcert series on October 7 Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets 

 

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07
Mar
17

American Idiot

American Idiot

shake & stir and QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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DO YOU HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?

THIS IS THE DAWNING OF THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

In fact, this is the dawning of a whole new age of Aquarius; the new moon in Pisces during the opening week and an auspicious year one, in the first of a cycle of nine. This means we were already craving change; something new, something edgy, something to make us sit bolt upright and inspire us to sow some seeds for the future. We don’t have to be a part of the 24/7 news cycle to appreciate that in the current political climate, much of American Idiot rings as true as it did when the concept album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts in 2004, and when the show smashed onto the Broadway scene in 2009.

The Age of Aquarius is about acknowledging the system is broken…and not waiting for someone else to fix it.

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Green Day’s American Idiot is a new kind of music theatre experience, and unlike the string of political and social rock musicals with which we’ve grown up (West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal), which all have super strong stories, incredibly, this show rides on only the flimsiest excuse for a book (by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, also the show’s original director). In fact, the entire story is probably just the album description. (It’s not, I checked). More like Lloyd Webber’s Superstar in form, also groundbreaking in its time, American Idiot even has a Christ-like figure (or two, if we count the alter ego angel/devil dealer St Jimmy), Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, whose story is told over the course of the song of the same name.

American Idiot relies on its punk rock pop and acoustic sound, its grungy rebel aesthetic and the star power brought to the stage by creators, Green Day, and the contemporary artists who star in it, in this case, The Living End’s Chris Cheney until February 26 and then Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson.

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Michael Mayer told the New York Times in April 2010, “My idea all along was to keep the 13 songs in their original order and to interrupt it at times with other Green Day songs and the sparest of dialogue, because I didn’t want to have any extraneous words”. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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The Australian premiere company is sensational, bringing big voices and rampant energy to QPAC’s Playhouse stage. The look and feel is fantastic, chaotic. It’s shake & stir’s first foray into this more expansive space and with a bold creative team, led by Director, Craig Ilot, to create the terrifying world of an idiotic America, they’re a welcome fit. A massive departure from their previous offerings, although with the same rock star energy and attitude we see applied to the schools’ touring company, this is not the usual shake & stir show. It’s inspired programming, perfect timing, and set to shift the gaze from shake & stir as a tight knit team of contemporaries, to MainStage presenters with a bolder mission to reach newer audiences still, and prove massive success at the box office while other companies continue to, by choice or necessity, play small.

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Josh McIntosh’s set design, utilising scaffolding and stairs, a hidden bed and eight enormous in-built television screens, provides the perfect anarchic playground for the cast of angry characters and also, for optikal bloc’s vivid AV design, which includes a barrage of chaotic images and lyrics – we get a taste of what’s to come in the opening minutes with the 24-hour news cycle popping up, as it does if we let it, on each screen – and a clever representation of that sacred ground, 7-Eleven. Matthew Marshall’s rock concert lighting states offer exactly the right mix of chaos and abandon, although we are blinded frequently and for some sensitive types this will not be a happy memory of the show. Lucas Newland’s choreography is edgy and angsty, sharply conceived and executed. Melanie Knight’s costumes capture a perfectly punk style, incorporating leather, tartan, torn denim, black hosiery and boots. It’s actually refreshing to see army fatigues, and Dirty Dancing’s Kurt Phelan cutting a fine figure in an officer’s uniform, despite the negative connotations of war at this point (at any point) in the not-quite-a-narrative. The look and feel and gritty sound will attract a whole new generation of theatregoers, but at the same time another set may well stay away. And that’s entertainment. At the first show on opening night – I can only assume the oldies and those having to travel from farther afield because we’ve never built our Instagram numbers to 10K and struck a deal with any of the nearby accomodation options (I’m counting myself in the latter category), were invited to the early show – the sound was muddy and the band overbearing. I thought it might be a punk thing? But no, and it will have been rectified by now. Under the musical direction of music industry stalwart Glenn Moorhouse (also on guitar), the on-stage band could easily sell a national tour without the rest of the show happening around them. These are some freakishly talented, dynamic performers.

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Ben Bennett, in his professional stage debut, leads a uniformly excellent cast, as a convincing Johnny, Jesus of Suburbia, styled to look alarmingly like Billie Joe Armstrong (the original Broadway Johnny). The Living End’s charismatic Chris Cheney gives St Jimmy a wicked Machiavellian grin and legit Green Day frontman movements like a snake, making it easy for us to believe in the simple allure of spending hard won cash on the drugs he magically procures from his pocket. Bringing the hyperactivity down a notch, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends capture the melancholy that underpins the show’s inherent angst. 

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Rowena Vilar’s dream sequence aerial is accomplished and delightful to watch while we question what the hell is it doing in there? We can forgive this very poor excuse to throw in a super sexy number because she’s mesmerising. Likewise, Strictly Ballroom’s Phoebe Panaretos (Whatshername) and Ashleigh Barlow (Heather, the only female character granted an actual name), do their best with embarrassingly underwritten roles that continue to perpetuate the myths of (Vilar) the sexy nurse/slave to men, (Panaretos) the girlfriend/good fuck/slave to men and (Barlow) the doting mother and desperate wife/slave to men. Definitely a theme there. While there are some shoddy attempts to lift these women out of their boxes, even when Heather ups and leaves the hopeless, useless Will (a stereotypical sofa slob, played by Alex Jeans, a performer who could do so much more given half a chance), it’s at the insistence of a friend. Likewise, Cameron MacDonald does what he can with the role of Tunny, similarly thinly veiled as representative of a vast section of the population (because we all dream of that extraordinary girl in dazzling white and crystal embellishments performing aerial acts for our viewing pleasure during a stint in hospital).

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In case we haven’t felt affected along the way (or in case we’ve felt more affected than we had expected to), the show closes with an overly sincere and unnecessarily sentimental, full company acoustic rendition of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which would have been better left as the play out music. It undoes much of the hard work, apologising in a way that feels very Robin Goodfellow, too earnestly hoping we can all still be friends by the end! But that’s okay because otherwise, of course we might leave and kick over a trash can, or shout impatiently at somebody waiting for their Uber. As it turns out, we have a delightful conversation for the next hour while one of the friends is waiting for her Uber, so perhaps it is, after all, the perfect note on which to end.

The contemporary collective voice of several generations, American Idiot is Brisbane’s biggest, loudest, funnest, most offensive premiere of the year. You’d be an idiot to miss it.

16
Jan
17

Rumour Has It

Rumour Has It

The Little Red Company

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

January 13 – 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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If you were around a few years ago, you might recall a random little cabaret space above a Swedish restaurant in Albion named Stockholm Syndrome. Sadly, the venue disappeared, but The Little Red Company’s Rumour Has It: Sixty Minutes Inside Adele has continued to evolve since its short stint there, in front of sixty people per night during Queensland Cabaret Festival, leaping from stage to stage, and reaching a loyal band of followers as well as bringing brand new audiences to Cabaret, and to the world of sassy superstar singer-songwriter, Adele.

Created by Adam Brunes and Naomi Price on a patio one night over a bottle of gin, as all the best works are, the multi-award winning Rumour Has It was immediately a brilliant and poignant, hilarious and highly entertaining show. Each reincarnation has proved hugely satisfying and in its current form, the most impressive yet, Rumour Has It is more sophisticated and more memorable than ever. It’s ready to tour the world…but first, a national tour, beginning with the highly anticipated three-shows-only season at THE HOUSE OF POWER.

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For the first time, by popular demand, Little Red offered an all-ages version of Rumour Has It. Based on the success of their recent sell-out season in Kuala Lumpur – no (swearing) and thank you please, Madam – giving the youth a chance to see for themselves what all the fuss is about, however; it wasn’t the show Poppy and I wanted to see. My ten-going-on-thirty-year-old had patiently waited for her father to give up his +1 status and accepted there’d be a fuckload of swearing on Friday night, which was “in the context of the show”.

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In role as Adele, frocked up again in Leigh Buchanan’s sensational original designs (and delightedly, barefoot before the final number), Price shares delicious home truths about growing up in Tottenham, surviving/thriving after break-ups and gives us her cheeky, self-satisfied account of her meteoric rise to fame. The story segments, political references and razor sharp responses to audience input are fast, fresh and funny. Price is more adept in front of a live audience than most, the old patter landing as squarely as when we first heard it in 2012 and the new material testament to the bold wit of this writing duo, who have wisely updated the set list too, to include Adele’s latest hits. Hello is a stirring finish before the final encore, and the Adele Megamix 3000 created especially to give credit to the amazing musicians and vocalists with whom Price shares the stage.

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For the first time, the Camerata, Brisbane’s chamber orchestra, are featured throughout, adding depth to a Spice Girls medley (who would’ve thought!?), and rich layers to Adele’s catalogue of songs. The original string arrangements by Andrew Johnson are most notable after Interval (Sound by Jamie Taylor), taking Skyfall into the stratosphere while silver confetti rains down onto the stage. At the other end of the spectrum, during the acoustic Daydreamer, we’re not so much surrounded by bubbles (visually spectacular in a previous season), as witness to a gentle reminder that this is a show so good it insists on returning to us time and time again despite the challenges faced by Australian artists generally, i.e. coming up with dollars for special effects and spaces…

The band, comprising Michael Manikus (keys), Jason McGregor (guitar), Scotty French (bass) and Mik Easterman (drums) is the slickest, and if you’ve supported the artists by taking home a CD of the show, recorded live at the Judith Wright Centre, you’ll also hear Brett Fowler on keys and Andrew Johnson on bass as well as Tom Oliver singing vocals (he’s currently touring in Velvet). On vocals this time, the incomparable Luke Kennedy returns to join sensational husband and wife team, Lai Utovou and Rachel Everett-Jones. Until you’ve seen this trio perform, you ain’t seen or heard backing vocals. They’re dynamic and disciplined, and they each shine, Price rightly giving them a moment in the spotlight before the night is over. (Previously, we’ve seen them in brighter light from the start and I’d love to see more of them again next time, rather than straining to see them against the black tabs. The same can be said of Manikus, disappearing at times into the shadows on the opposite side of the stage). I’ve always adored Jason Glenwright’s design featuring vintage lampshades and in THE HOUSE OF POWER the warm, glowing effect is not lost. Even in this spacious venue, we feel warmth and intimacy (and splintering pain during Someone Like You), and the genuine affection Price feels for her Brisbane audience, even those from Woodridge…

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The sound is heavenly (largely due to Price bravely investing as much of her personal story in the songs as her reading of Adele’s; it’s there in the intimacy and connection she creates with her audience with a superb voice, stronger than ever, and a great big open heart). Not to be discounted or taken for granted, it’s incredibly rare to get the same level of energy and commitment at the same time from such a large number of performers on stage (it’s what’s often missing from so many sold-out smash-hit mega musicals and why we come away from them satisfied but without minds blown), but this company radiates joy; it’s impossible to leave the show feeling anything less than rapture. Really. (Let’s add to the Little Red Must Write List, a Blondie show).

Rumour Has It has come of age; it’s the best it’s ever been. With all the pieces in place, this Rumour Has It is ready for Royal Albert Hall. Naomi Price is as good as Adele – better, because she’s ours – and this production is surely the country’s most accomplished showcase of the sort of humble, sensational Australian talent that’s consistently wowing overseas presenters and punters. And all this from a little Queensland company that could.

This is not the end. Rumour Has It is coming to a venue near you

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16
Dec
16

Smooth Criminals: The Songs of Michael Jackson

Smooth Criminals: The Songs of Michael Jackson

Brisbane Powerhouse & Christopher Wayne

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

December 4 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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It’s the music of Michael Jackson but not as we know it.

The odd couple of the entertainment industry, Joel Turner (world champion beat boxer and platinum selling hip hop artist) and Luke Kennedy (The Voice & The Ten Tenors), make a perfect pair on stage in a celebration of the music and the memory of the King of Pop. Who would have thought this unlikely combination would bring any sort of success? Producer, Chris Wayne, that’s who, and together with Turner and Kennedy, his gamble paid off with a single sold-out show at Brisbane Powerhouse during Wonderland, and subsequent talks to take this universally appealing show on the road.

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The magic of Smooth Criminals – n.b. there’s no nakedness or actual magic tricks – is a unique take on Michael Jackson’s discography, taking us on a journey through his unenviable life, from boy to man to immortal. It’s not a succession of greatest hits but rather, a poignant and personal account, seen mainly through Kennedy’s eyes, as he shares his encounters with the man’s music, reimagined and thrillingly remixed in collaboration with Turner and talented musos, Michael Manikus and Scotty French.

Smooth Criminals offers to a new generation a truly original take on MJ’s classic pop sound, but it caters to the die-hard fans first.

 

732a0363Kennedy, front and centre, demands our full attention. He’s as relaxed as we’ve ever seen him, gracious and respectful to the living memory of Michael Jackson, and confident, cute and actually flirtatious, inviting one guest to join him on the edge of the stage as he serenades her. This is a perfectly orchestrated crowd pleasing moment – we might think it’s a gimmick (she’s surely a plant!) – but Kennedy retains an ease that’s impossible to fake. We believe. He has us in the palm of his hand. AND he has this gorgeous Heath Ledger thing going on, as if he’s ready to bound through the tiered seating, singing……

 

You’re singing it now, aren’t you?

 

Kennedy emits the same sort of abandon, irresistible. Despite his protestations, he retains a crooner core, but Kennedy boasts a much broader vocal range and emotional spectrum than most, and he has the technical precision to sing just about anything. If you were privy to his Gethsemane several years ago (or anything since, really, let’s face it, even his National Anthem is nothing less than spectacular), you can imagine the power and control rendered behind even the simplest pop song. Yet, he remains humble and grateful.

Ben is a bittersweet treat, and Kennedy brings to it a sense of such simplicity and purity that we might imagine it’s the first time we’ve ever heard it, and for the very youngest audience members, it might be so. How lucky are they?! The Girl is Mine bounces beautifully between the artists, demonstrating an easy camaraderie and a great sense of cheeky comedy.

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Smooth Criminal and Dirty Diana delve a little deeper and darker, although not once is there anything that goes into shadowy controversy, nor does there need to be. The crowd is on side from the outset (Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Remember the Time) and we need no reminders of anything other than the genius and the music of the man. The genius of these new arrangements is in Turner’s work, providing depth and soul beneath Kennedy’s vocal line, and on the odd occasion, the perfect harmony as well. The guy can sing. 

The collective energy is palpable during an earth medley, linking Heal the World, We Are the World and Man in the Mirror. (When was the last time you heard these numbers straight up, unparodied, with feeling?). It’s almost an anti-climax to hear the sensitive Gone Too Soon. A bigger, bolder finish would leave this show at Man in the Mirror, and make an encore of Billie Jean, bringing Turner out front too, with both amazing artists wearing one white glove. It seems remiss to keep Turner behind his mixing table, sans iconic symbol. Perhaps that’s as he wished. Let’s hope he wishes for more of the spotlight next time.

With Kennedy’s talent and a natural flair for performance, and Turner’s uncanny vocal and technical ability making each number an exciting and unique immersive musical experience for all ages, these two are not as unlikely a pair as they first appear to be.

Smooth Criminals is a sure hit, a thrilling tribute to Michael Jackson – the man and his music – and if you missed it in 2016 I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before you’ll see it at a venue near you.

Remember The Time from Chris Wayne on Vimeo.

10
Dec
16

Phelan Groovy

Phelan Groovy

Brisbane Powerhouse & Kurt Phelan

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

December 1 – 3 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

– Kurt Phelan

Kurt Phelan is one of those hard-working, long-time-coming “overnight” success stories. You may have heard of him. He’s been in such shows as Kiss Me Kate, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Singin’ In the Rain, Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing. Phelan hails from Townsville and his cabaret show, the fantastically funny Phelan Groovy, is both a tribute and a tongue-in-cheek exposé of what it’s like to come from the tropics and conquer the world of musical theatre.

A natural performer, warm and genuinely welcoming, Phelan demonstrates from the outset perfect comic timing, a flair for rewriting our favourite musical theatre songs and a knack for nailing the sort of impersonations usually left to the drag queens. His delivery of Memory in (broken) Debra Byrne style, with her permission, of course, and complete with enormous dark sunglasses, an oversized martini glass and what could be a wrap or the green room rug thrown across his shoulders, is sidesplittingly funny and painfully accurate. Byrne is just one of the celebs Phelan dishes the dirt on during the show. When the balance is struck between a little bit nasty and a little bit naughty, these moments will land with greater aplomb.

A re-worked Dream A Little Dream paints the picture of Phelan’s birth on the laundry steps of his parents’ house up north. I Dreamed A Dream describes his heartbreak upon seeing the woeful film version of Les Miserables. And I’ve Had the Time of My Life is dedicated to the women who groped him during the touring production of Dirty Dancing (during the show!). Whether the entirety of this story – or any story – is truth or fiction we’ll never know, but the question doesn’t keep me from laughing until mascara tears stream down my cheeks.

When Phelan leaves the stage momentarily to slip into “something more comfortable” it’s to lose his dress shoes to flip flops. Only in Australia. And later, we’re certain only Peter Allen could be as comfortable as Phelan appears to be in a garish tropical shorts and shirt combo. Phelan wears it proudly. He’s a gorgeous performer with a cheeky grin that lets him get away with saying the most outrageous things in the most outrageous dress ups. Bare-chested and bold before conceding defeat in the face of Disney, he shares the infuriating discomfort of all the dads whose children are still singing/screeching Frozen’s Let It Go.

The show takes a serious turn when Phelan reflects on the too-soon deaths of some industry friends (Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, stunning in its unadorned delivery) and again, as he shares JRB’s superb song, Someone to Fall Back On. It’s an incredibly difficult number to do, vocally demanding and emotionally complex, but Phelan sells it with a stirring, stinging honesty, just as he did during a masterclass with the composer.

There’s no ceremony about Phelan; he’s the real deal, as frank and honest, and as heartwarming and entertaining as any cabaret performer can ever hope to be. 

Joined by Luke Volker on keys for this Brisbane Wonderland season, Phelan shows us what it is to be human and fallible and funny and loveable and laughable, in that typically Australian, incredibly ironic sense. While the show in its current state is clearly meant for our audiences, and probably the more theatrically inclined among them, with a few tweaks it could travel, and it should. Phelan’s appeal is universal, and talent such as his in this context deserves a larger, broader audience.

08
Dec
16

More Than A Boy

More Than A Boy

Brisbane Powerhouse with Two&Co

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

November 24 – 27 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Brisbane’s darling, Tom Oliver, in his fearless debut cabaret directed by David Bell, shares an epic family story, told to him countless times by his mother. We know it’s often the true stories that make the best cabaret shows. We also know cabaret is a genre we grow into, and it’s not for everyone. But Tom Oliver is made for cabaret and he comes of age in More Than A Boy

The 60-minute show feels like it’s got some settling to do and this will happen over time. Comprising a surprisingly eclectic mix of musical numbers, it’s a treat to hear original songs penned by Oliver, Andrew McNaughton and Wes Carr, alongside a few reimagined gems, each neatly placed to punctuate or advance the true tale of a young Croatian who flees a terror stricken Yugoslavia. Have you ever even heard Where Do I Go performed away from a production of Hair? Oliver sings this with the candour and longing of a refugee prepared to flee one life and cross unknown territory to find another, in this case in New Zealand. We go on a long, strange sea journey (More Than A Boy and McNaughton’s The Search and Tears in My Throat) before the shock and surprise of the clever, comical Swear Song, which reminds me of Briony Kimmings’ The Fanny Song.

The title track is a standout, a stunning songwriting achievement for McNaughton and for Oliver a terrific showcase. Could it be Oliver’s next new release? It’s a chair turner. It belongs on an EP with Carr’s Hey Brother and the sure-hit These Are the Times. Will somebody make that happen?

I sort of want the start of the show to let us know more clearly where we are headed – on one level we need earlier, clearer contextualisation – but then it’s such a lovely not-really-a-surprise-at-all to learn by the end of the journey that everything Oliver’s shared is about a family member and probably actually really happened that way.

Oliver succeeds in juxtaposing You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Toy Story) against I Won’t Grow Up (Peter Pan / American Idiot) followed by Queen’s Under Pressure and The Beatles’ beautiful Blackbird, and these are the transitions that will need to be a little smoother in the next incarnation of the show. Very smooth – we knew it would be – is Sondheim’s There Are Giants In the Sky (Into the Woods) and the deceptively gentle opening number Nature Boy cut short to good effect. These early numbers and later, literally shifting gears once more, a lilting Every Now and Then (Thirsty Merc), as well as a New Zealand accent and a gorgeous Colin Farrell/Colin Fassnidge winking Irish brogue, spot on, are delivered in Oliver’s signature style, his vocal work strong and sweet. He’s a young, wide-eyed sage, wisdom beyond this lifetime locked away behind a baby face, and able to bring out a powerful rock persona when things need to be taken up a notch.

But a one-man show is never simply that. Beneath the melody of many of the musical numbers, Oliver’s three-piece band offers a subversive late-night/all-night underground jazz vibe. At times this threatens to fray a song’s narrative thread but the essence remains, like messing with the Christmas Pudding. Everyone can see something funky has happened in the kitchen – perhaps the chef has enjoyed more brandy than the batter – and the flavour and foodie photos will be just as satisfying, of course, but it’s not what Mum used to make. This is both shocking and refreshing, a proper cabaret shake up in terms of what we’ve seen recently jumping from the bandwagon. Oliver tells me the sure, solid sound comes from the musicians having worked together before. And with just one rehearsal for this Brisbane Powerhouse Wonderland season, the result is impressive.

More Than a Boy will undoubtedly tour and deservedly so. It’s a highly engaging all-new-ancient universal coming-of-age tale. One of our most versatile and adaptable and adorable performers, Oliver genuinely connects with his audience, gives us his all and leaves us wanting more, much more.

If you missed it this time, look out for More Than A Boy’s return season somewhere, sometime…

In the meantime, there is VELVET