Archive for the 'Musical Theatre' Category

13
Oct
17

The Last Five Years

 

The Last Five Years

Wax Lyrical Productions

Visy Theatre Brisbane Powerhouse

October 7 – 14 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Within the first ten minutes of The Last Five Years we know whether or not we’re up for hearing this story and watching heartbreak happen. Wax Lyrical’s production, directed by Zoe Tuffin, and starring Kurt Phelan and Lizzie Moore, is exquisitely sad and beautifully crafted to let some light shine on the perfect imperfections of two people who were once in love.

 

During the opening three minutes we’ve already had our hearts crack irreparably and we realise we’re in for a relentlessly emotional 90-minute ride. If you’re coming in with real, raw, brand new wounds, or savage old ones that you’re not ready to let heal, take a drink or two in; you may feel the need to self-medicate.

 

Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary song cycle boasts a neat structure that sees the two performers share the stage throughout, and yet meet and connect only once, for a moment when they marry (The Next Ten Minutes, ever so delicately crafted and delivered). Despite the clever chronological device, and their continuous comings and goings, these gifted performers retain a deep connection with the material and with each other throughout.

 

 

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it pays to know this much: A novelist, Jamie (Kurt Phelan), shares his story from the start to the finish of a five-year relationship with actress, Cathy (Lizzie Moore), who tells us her side of the same story in reverse, from the end of their relationship to its beginning. The characters are complex, the relationship complicated and it doesn’t end well.

 

 

 

As Phelan and Moore settle into their challenging roles, on opening night of a too-short season in the intimate Visy Theatre, we begin to sense what these two can really do. Phelan (Boys of Sondheim, Dirty Dancing) and Moore (Kiss Me Kate, On a Night Like This) know each other from way back, having met in a bathtub at a surprise party for mutual friend, Lucy Durack. There’s no doubt they’ve attracted attention as individual performers, but if they can perfect Moore’s first couple of numbers (Still Hurting & See I’m Smiling) – and perhaps she’s hit the mark after opening night, letting the emotion drop in, and going to the edge from the outset, as she does a little later – this two-hander will be the smash hit of next year’s national touring circuit.

 

You get to be happy…

 

 

In his most honest and searing work to date, Phelan embraces Jamie’s narcissism, ambition and shifting affection, offering a bold and precise physical performance, buoyed by a deeply committed energy that could be bottled and sold to most undergraduate (and some professional) performers. He’s effervescent, irresistible in this challenging role, which is the perfect vehicle for Phelan, with an impressive vocal range and a cavalry of emotions. From Shiksa Goddess to If I Didn’t believe in You we get the full gamut of emotions. The Shmuel Song – that track that might use a Spotify skip to miss – works so well that I’d happily see Phelan perform it again; he keeps us fully engaged (although the literal aspects, which are mimed, could go). His Nobody Needs to Know is, unsurprisingly, completely devastating. Phelan’s a busy, busy guy, but I hope this role is one he can keep smashing for some time.

 

I open myself one stitch at a time…

 

 

Cathy is one of the more demanding high belt roles for any female vocalist, asking of the performer a massive emotional range, difficult to keep in check, and it’s up to the performer to resist pushing vocally without the inner life to back up the big sound. When Moore settles into the role she nails it, embodying the sweet, insecure Cathy, and able to bring home the big brash open notes (Anna Kendrick doesn’t sell them like that!), as well as more thoughtful, gentle moments. Moore’s comedy is superb, it’s her thing; she’s so funny and cute, and yet, within the world of the show, she gives us reason to understand why Jamie might look the other way. I’d love to see her contain more, especially to begin with, to sit with the shock and immediacy of Jamie’s departure before the hilarity – the Climbing Uphill sequence later, and the little moments and glances that have us giggling during A Summer in Ohio and I Can Do Better Than That. We have to laugh out loud during the multiple failed auditions. We’ve all been there. Fucking shoes. Poor Cathy.

 

I have been waiting…

 

 

Shannon Whitelock (MD and piano), leading guitar (Joel Woods), violin (Ruth Donovan), cello (Wayne Jennings & Ruby Hunter) and bass (Conall O’Neill), plays with conviction and coaxes from his on-stage 5-piece the rich sounds of a much larger assembly of musicians. When I speak to Jennings, with whom I train on Monday nights in Zen Zen Zo’s Dojo, he modestly dismisses what he does so well outside of the training room. But if it were not for the sweet, desperately sad sounds and contrasting upbeat and humorous numbers (and with the hold these musicians have on JRB’s challenging score), our hearts might still be in tact!

 

Zoe Tuffin’s poised direction hones in on the detail, the specificity of each intimate moment. Her use of the sparsely configured space and contrasting lighting states, designed by Jason Glenwright, draw us into two completely different worlds, which collide for just a little while, for just as long as they need to, to tell the common tale of two people who are just not meant to be together.

 

The Last Five Years is quite a journey, for the cast and for us.

My head spins. My heart hurts. The hawk soars forth from my chest.

 

All I could do was love you hard and let you go…

 

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29
Sep
17

The Last Five Years – a little chat with Kurt Phelan & Lizzie Moore

 

Wax Lyrical Productions Present The Last Five Years

Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

 

Wax Lyrical Productions bring Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed 2001 musical, The Last Five Years, to Brisbane with a duo of music theatre heavy-weights.

 

It’s easy to fall in love with Kurt Phelan (Dirty Dancing) and Lizzie Moore (Kiss Me Kate) in this heart-breaking musical two-hander, as they re-trace their relationship from opposite ends. Jamie (Phelan), an up-and-coming writer, struggles to balance his sudden success with his increasingly tumultuous love life.

 

Meanwhile Cathy (Moore), an aspiring actress, deals with the frustrations of her own career while watching her husband from the sidelines in this story of two twenty-somethings who fall in – and out – of love over the course of a five-year relationship.

 

From the director and company behind the Matilda Award Winning Carrie the Musical, Wax Lyrical’s The Last Five Years is an intensely personal look at the rise and fall of a relationship told from both points of view.

 

Let’s just get this one out of the way…did you like the 2014 film starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick?

Kurt: I liked it a lot. I was worried when I first heard about it and they would destroy it like they did RENT the film. But I thought it translated well and Michelle who re-choreographed Dirty Dancing for us in Australia was the choreographer.

Lizzie: I didn’t see it and by the time we found out we were doing this musical I felt like I shouldn’t. But I have seen clips for it and heard some of the tracks and I thought it was done really well but they have the advantage of being able to show two people together.

 

Tell us what’s a) universal and b) unique about these characters and their stories?

Kurt: everyone has been in love and everyone has had a break up. Everyone has been at fault and everyone has been hurt. And it’s also about who you resonate with and there are two sides to every story.

Lizzie: And Cathy is an actress full of self-doubt so you know…

 

What do you love about this show and about JRB’s work in general?

Lizzie: The music and the musical themes that continue through the show, the musical motifs.

Kurt: The man knows how to write a song. It’s also a beautiful piece that speaks to almost everyone who has ever heard it. And some of the most challenging music I have ever had to learn. So once you master it is such a joy to perform.

 

Any particular reasons for the super traditional wedding promo shots for the show? 

Kurt: It is the only time the show is written with them in the same time and space. But we wanted to choose an image that would resonate with people, intrigue them and encourage them to find out more.

Lizzie: And reflect that it is a show about two people – love! But also, to reflect the reason they got together.

Kurt: A lot of the time when the show is done it focusses on the heartache but actually, sometimes no one is right or wrong, two people just aren’t suited to be together.

 

 

What’s the relevance/significance/urgency of staging this show this year?

Kurt: I’ve wanted to do it since it came to off-Broadway in 2002 and if I didn’t do it soon I would explode.

Lizzie: And then we had a perfect storm of both being in town and available and Zoë being available too.

Kurt: Also, all of Australia is locked into a conversation around marriage and equality and it’s important, even though this is a heterosexual couple, that people realise that love is love and everyone should have the same opportunity, even if it only lasts five years.

 

What do you hope audiences get from this production?

Kurt: A beautiful night in the theatre where they can marvel how simple storytelling can strike you right to the core.

Lizzie: Yeah you don’t need bells and whistles. Musical theatre can and should be really truthful.

 

What’s the connection between you two and how do you work together?

Kurt: Lizzie and I met in a bath tub at Lucy Durack’s surprise birthday party.

Lizzie: Kurt was wearing her novelty shower cap and we were trying to be quiet but we weren’t very good at it.

Kurt: And it’s from that moment on we were friends. It wasn’t until years later doing GAYBIES at MELT Festival, that we worked together and realised our voices blended perfectly.

 

What are your favourite things about working together?

Lizzie: I think it’s a really intense piece and we look after each other, on and off the stage.

 

Are there any infuriating things?

Kurt: Yes, Lizzie’s jaw clicks and that’s my pet hate in any human, but she can’t help it and she’s pretty, so I’m cool with that.

Lizzie: Kurt has been making out with me with a moustache but apparently he’s going to shave it so that’s OK. And Kurt and I met in a bath tub.

 

Is there a personal connection to the show, with the characters or the situations?

Kurt: I just got out of a five year relationship so yes, I’m equal parts Jamie and Cathy at the moment.

Lizzie: I’ve climbed many a hill before.

Kurt: I mean it’s about love, we’ve all been in situations similar to this. We both come at this show with a great depth of understanding of both sides of the story which is what makes it so interesting to work on.

 

We see this couple trying to mend a broken relationship for so long. What do you think makes them keep trying? What do you feel it’s worth? As a performer, how do you keep the stakes high enough to convincingly tell this story?

Kurt: through our extensive analysis of the characters we found very interesting insights to their romance and being so familiar with the story I thought it was all doom and gloom but when you unpick it, there is actually a beautiful, loving, human relationship worth hanging onto. We’re trying to highlight that as much as possible.

 

 

Away from the theatre, what tends to take you off to Kurt-land / Lizzie-land?

Kurt: I have a huge passion for wine and have been training to be a sommelier, so that helps when working with Lizzie, because she loves to drink it!

Lizzie: (While holding a glass of wine) Mmm hmm… I like cooking and gin, and I’m a small, fluffy dog enthusiast.

 

What made theatre your passion / preferred career?

Lizzie: If I’d be as happy doing anything else, I’d do it.

Kurt: Ditto. It’s the only thing I’m good at.

 

What are your favourite moments on stage so far? (in this and in previous productions)

Kurt: Getting groped by an audience member during a matinee of Dirty Dancing in Brisbane was a definite highlight…

 

What’s next for you two? 

Kurt: I’m headed to New York to observe a few physical theatre companies and write my new cabaret, and to hopefully start the next five years…

Lizzie: I’m on tour in Tasmania and WA next as Patsy Cline in The Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

What would you like to see more of (in local and national theatres and festivals)?

Kurt: New Australian content of a larger scale and the time to create it properly.

Lizzie: Musical theatre with really great acting and directing. We all love spectacle but that isn’t all musical theatre is.

 

Book online for The Last Five Years presented by Wax Lyrical Productions and directed by Zoe Tuffin at Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

27
Sep
17

Kinky Boots

 

Kinky Boots

Michael Cassel Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

August 26 – October 22 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

The most beautiful thing in the world…

 

You realise we’re talking about shoes, don’t you? Callum Francis, completely gorgeous, is unequivocally the SUPERSTAR of this show. Admittedly, Kinky Boots is written to make a star of any performer who lands the role of Lola, but I doubt that just any performer can play the role – own it – the way Callum Francis does. 

 

Of course it’s the right show for right now, when we must continue to challenge everyone in our circles and on the outskirts, to accept a person for who they are. A true celebration of the individual, inspired by real life events, Kinky Boots is honest, uplifting and utterly heartwarming.

 

The medium is the message, with a fabulously talented and diverse cast directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, sharing the story of a failed guy made good through Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics, and a lively book with a stack of priceless one-liners (mostly Lola’s) by Harvey Fierstein. It feels like there are too many songs in the show, but who would dare cut anything from a celebrity penned award winning piece?

 

 

Charlie Price is struggling to save the family shoe business and live up to his father’s expectations. Determined to keep the factory from bankruptcy, Charlie meets a fashionable new friend who gives him an outrageous idea that could change both of their destinies.

 

The message couldn’t be clearer. A change of mind can change the world.

 

It’s refreshing to get a complete story unfolding on stage with enough early detail to add colour and depth to the factory setting of Act 1. Otherwise, it’s dimly lit and a bit dull, as befits the daily grind of the family owned business, until Lola’s Angels appear (and we close Act 1 with a fabulous conveyor belt finale), but it’s a space that’s cleverly designed around a central stairway leading to a platform, which oversees the factory floor. This structure also serves as the backdrop to Lola’s more colourful up-late cabaret performances and the bathroom cubicle in which she hides at one stage, when she feels she is at her most vulnerable.

 

 

 

It takes time to establish this charming story though, and the entire first act to reveal the kinky boots! The pace slows each time we come to a ballad and there are several; they make fantastic big sings for the performers but they’re not the most memorable musical theatre numbers of recent years. Fortunately, it’s a talented company with terrific voices (and legs!). Highlights include the showstoppers Sex Is In the Heel, Everybody Says Yeah and Raise You Up/Just Be (with its cheeky Too Funky type vibe). Not My Father’s Son is beautifully, sensitively sung and becomes a poignant turning point in the tale. On the other hand, Lola’s epic Hold Me In Your Heart appears to be included solely so we may enjoy a Whitney Houston moment. And we do, perhaps even more so than during The Bodyguard

 

 

 

Toby Francis as Charlie, gives his heart and soul to the role, his first commercial lead role. He’s in fine voice and despite the plot requiring him to stack it on the catwalk, he wears the two and a half feet of irresistible sex very well! It’s worth noting that the friendship between Charlie and Lola is actually a little like the cheeky, loveable picture book siblings of the same names created by Lauren Child, with the same tenderness and special bond between them, so it is strange that there’s a moment between them involving raised voices and an obstinate decision that takes them in different directions for a bit. This is not anything lacking in the performances or direction, but in the book. No one seems to have stepped up during creative developments or rehearsals to say aloud, that doesn’t seem right. Let’s change it.

 

 

Sophie Wright is hilariously OTT as Lauren; her solo (The History of Wrong Guys) demonstrating superb comic timing and her ability to read the crowd, taking the joke well beyond where others might. The little we see from Tegan Wouters is great, but she’s stuck with one of those underwritten girlfriend roles that doesn’t give her much to do, when we know she’s capable of much more.

 

 

When the music is upbeat and totally sexy you won’t be able to resist clapping along, and you may shed a tear during more sensitive moments.

Kinky Boots has a big heart and it’s a big hit! It’s a fantastic, current, funny and moving family friendly celebration of life in all corners. With a whole lot of glitter and glam and soul to nourish (and decorate) us by the end of it, the message is abundantly clear: the whole world changes when we accept people as they are

 

 

 

 

09
Sep
17

[title of show]

 

[title of show]

Understudy Productions

Hayward Street Studios

August 31 – September 10 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers with nothing to lose, have decided to put everything on the line and create a show for New York Musical Theatre Festival. With the deadline for submissions a mere three weeks away, Jeff and Hunter decide to follow the old adage, “write what you know,” and set off on a unique musical adventure: writing a musical about writing a musical. With the help of their friends Susan, Heidi, and Larry on keys, they make a pact to write up until the festival’s deadline and dream about the show changing their lives.

 

[title of show] is one of the funniest productions to have been staged in Brisbane in a long time. I don’t know if this company saw Oscar Theatre Company’s production, directed by Emily Gilhome, in Brisbane in 2010 and Noosa in 2011 but this cast, directed by Ian Good, can hold their own.

 

 

Alexander Woodward’s Understudy Productions threw into the MELT Festival mix at Brisbane Powerhouse earlier this year an original cabaret (Boys of Sondheim), and now with Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s [title of show] the company continues to provide professional work for local, Australian-based talent in another production that is LGBT and gender friendly. In the current political climate, a show about two gay guys writing a show about what matters to them and stuff that happens to them couldn’t be better placed.

 

Jackson McGovern plays an adorably goofy Hunter and Woodward is the perfect foil, an unassuming, charming Jeff. Together they go through the tumults of a working relationship and the closest kind of friendship, earning wide smiles, lots of laughter and our genuine affection.

 

 

 

Aurelie Roque is a wry, self-effacing Susan and Lauren McKenna a bold, bright and bubbly Heidi. Joel Curtis on keys is MD and an appropriately pacified Larry, and once again I feel like Larry should have more to say! Some of the best moments are in fact when the characters have nothing “scripted” to say. The girls soak up the spotlight during Secondary Characters during which they discuss what happens when the writers leave the room.

 

 

 

Die Vampire Die is still the best song of the show, possibly because it rings so true for artists, and Roque knows how to sell it. She easily elicits plenty of laughs and pathos within this number’s satisfying harmonies and hilarious lyrics. Curtis has ensured that each musical number is tight and while the pace lagged at times during the opening weekend, it will have picked up during the too-short season. It’s an exceptional cast; there’s no weak link and everyone has their turn to shine.

 

From Untitled Opening Number to Nine People’s Favorite Thing, this heartfelt, upbeat show is fun, irreverent and intelligent, and the perfect vehicle for these super talented triple threats. If you’re new to this musical, or to musicals in general, it’s likely you’ll miss some of the references to exisiting shows and Broadway stars, but that’s okay. While there’s nothing actually new happening here and the Hayward Street Studios’ space is a little unkind to such an intimate production, this [title of show] features five of our brightest. It’s highly entertaining and worth stealing a ticket to see tonight’s final performance; you’ll laugh out loud and leave grinning.

 

 

26
Aug
17

Understudy Productions do [title of show]

 

A chat with the cast of Understudy Productions’ [title of show]

Hayward Street Studios August 31 – September 10 2017

 

We haven’t seen anyone tackle the hilarious cult hit [title of show] since Oscar in 2010 so it’s about time we saw it again. Ahead of Understudy Productions’ season, which opens next week, we chatted with the company’s founder and AD Alexander Woodward, and let the other cast members chime in…

 

We love [title of show]! Can you talk about the creative process, from the idea to bring a humble YouTube-Broadway surprise smash hit to Brisbane, to your independent company securing the rights to the show, to finding space and casting incredible talent, and preparing to put on a show? 

Alex: Directing is Ian Good, from the UK. We originally met when he came over while I was at the Con. He’s an outstanding director who’s fallen in love with the country and I trust him more than words can express. I’m a big believer that if i’ve put somebody in a position its for a reason, and after I’ve brought somebody in I just trust and believe in that persons judgement. This is the company’s third production and so far so good, so I’m going to stick with this attitude.

Rehearsals are amazing, better than could be expected. We’ve had such a quick process I thought it would be a scramble to the line but we are a week out and still have so much time to play so I’m beyond happy.

The process? Well I’m constantly on the search for theatre to put on. I heard about title while at uni and loved the concept; it’s such a theatre lovers’ show.

Putting on theatre is HARD. It’s expensive, and risky and really hard to get right, but I love doing it. Origin Theatrical are amazing and I love dealing with Kim there. She’s a theatre lover and is always so helpful getting us independents off and running.

 

Tell us about Understudy Productions.

So basically Understudy Productions was formed because I thought it was crazy that people thought they had to move cities in order to be involved in professional quality work. I also thought we have so much music theatre and acting talent coming out of Brisbane, let’s use it and create some shit hot theatre. There’s no reason Brisbane can’t have an independent theatre scene like what’s seen at the Hayes, or Chapel off Chapel.

 

Tell us about each cast member (or they can tell us about themselves!). What drew each of you to this show?

Alex: Jackson is a stupidly good actor. I remember being at uni and thinking, yeah, this guy is going places.

 

 

Jackson: Well it’s a bloody funny show, for a start. I didn’t actually know it before I started looking up stuff when I saw the audition brief for this production, but I remember listening to the soundtrack for the first time and laughing my tits off. It’s completely ridiculous, but has a real heart to it.

 

 

Lauren: My name is Lauren McKenna. I’m a Sydney based music theatre gal who has worked in Brisbane a lot in the past couple of years. I played the double of Martha/Ms. Fleming in the smash hit Heathers which played at QPAC and have been in Harvest Rain’s latest touring Arena productions of Hairspray (Tracy) and Grease (Jan). My nine favourite things are picnics, fresh flowers, tall humans, new stationary, sleep-ins, high belt, snail mail, edamame beans and salon manicures. I was drawn to this project because some friends told me I’d love [title of show]. They were right! Also, I have a massive crush on Brisbane so any excuse to work up here I jump at!

 

Joel: I’m Joel and I am the Musical Director and play Larry (the unfortunate forgotten pianist) in the show.

 

Will you tell us your real-life vampires?

Alex: Not being good enough, not getting work, letting people down from family to friends to ticket buyers. I always think its funny that performers are often highly strung/stressed/emotional types and here we get on stage and basically say, “Please like me, and please let me invoke some form of emotion on you”. Plus being poor…god, theatre makes you poor! Haha!

Joel: I’m terrified of not being good enough. That’s actually something that Jeff says in the number. One of these days someone is going to work out that I’m a fraud and I can’t do all the things that I’m employed to do/say I can do and then they’ll tell everyone and I’ll be fired, never work again, all my friends will hate me and I’ll end up penniless, lonely and miserable. Or something…

 

Will you share with us that show idea you’ve stashed in the bottom drawer?

Alex: Well, I’m pretty excited to putting on an Adults Only Christmas Show later this year at Brisbane Powerhouse. Every year of my adult life I’ve done “friends’ christmas” where we drink and dance, and be merry. I wanted to recreate that kind of idea for theatre. I think it sucks that the only option at Christmas is to go to church! I want to do the polar opposite of that.

 

Will you each share how you came to be a performer and what it is that keeps you in the industry?

Lauren: I’ve been doing musicals since I was 10 years old. There’s no other industry for me.

Jack: Storytelling is such a primal part of being human, and live theatre to me is one of the most rewarding ways of being part of that, either as a performer or audience member. Live theatre is different every time. I honestly can’t think of anything cooler than 5, 10, 200 or 1000 people going into a room together and having a storytelling experience that is completely unique to that group.

Alex: I used to play in bands and – long story short – went to visit my brother living in London, saw a show in the West End and went, “Wow, music theatre can be amazing,” and then knew I wanted to get involved. I came home and started doing courses and then I scored an amazing first gig with STC.

 

Joel: To be honest, I rarely perform anymore. I prefer my day job as a singing teacher, with the occasional MD gig.

 

Favourite / challenging / exciting roles thus far?

Alex: My first job ever was also the first thing I ever auditioned for. Spring Awakening with Sydney Theatre Company, it was like being thrown into a pool and it was sink or swim…. But I loved it. The most challenging role would have to have been Mickey in Blood Brothers, emotionally such a draining and in-depth role. You basically have to put yourself though a rollercoaster every show.

Lauren: Playing two characters in Heathers was incredible- an actors dream! Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray was so challenging stamina wise (especially in arena style) but ridiculously fun! Heidi in [title of show] is definitely up there with my favourites!

 

Roles you covet and would kill for?

Alex: Cliff in Cabaret, Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, Anything in Book of Mormon. Plus any role that has the power to invoke thought and change in people.

 

Other jobs? Your first job (perhaps it wasn’t in the performing arts industry)?

Alex: Professional Uber Driver and drink slinger.

 

What did mum and dad want you to do? What did teachers think you would do?

Alex: My parents are incredible and always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. My mum has been working with the ABC for 30 years now, and my parents met while my mum did drama and Dad studied photography, so the arts was pretty much always engrained in them.

 

 

What else do you want to do?

Alex: I want to help create an independent theatre scene in Brisbane. I want there to be a Brisbane Hayes. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be.

 

How does everyone keep fit and maintain healthy voices?

Alex: the show for me is a huge sing. Basically, 10 years of practice and semi-okay technique. (Still a long way to go!).

 

Why do we wanna’ see this show (again)?

Alex: Because it’s fun, it’s moving, and it speaks to everyone who’s ever been involved in performing. It’s just very music theatre.

 

Jack: [title of show] speaks to anyone with even the tiniest creative bone in their body. Rehearsing this has been an experience in uncovering relatable quality after relatable quality within all four of these beautiful, twisted, genius characters. Whether you are a musical theatre fan, a theatre fan, or you’ve never even stepped foot in a theatre, you will love it as much for its relatable charm as its ridiculous comedy.

 

Lauren: Because it’s awesome and I have to take my top off for the first time onstage… so you don’t wanna miss that!

 

What’s next?

Alex: After this I go full steam into producing A Very Adult Christmas…

 

 

02
Apr
17

Chicago

Chicago

Mad About Theatre

The J, Noosa

March 31 – April 02 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

chicago-sneak-previews002

Who can forget Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger in the 2002 movie of the smash hit Broadway musical? Kander & Ebb’s Chicago is the classic roaring twenties’ tale of booze, jazz, liquor, chorus girls, lovers and the law. I love it. I loved the Australian revival touring productions (the original in 1998), starring Caroline O’Connor as Velma Kelly and the Sunshine Coast’s Chelsea Gibb, straight out of WAAPA, as Roxie Hart. Hand-picked by Director, Walter Bobbie, and Choreographer, Anne Reinking, Chelsea is still my favourite Roxie. Notably, both Caroline and the sensational Sharon Millerchip have played both Velma and Roxie – amazing – and as Velma Kelly, Caroline enjoyed an acclaimed and extended Broadway season (2002). So these are very tough acts to follow, and to even consider staging the show with less experienced performers is ambitious to say the least.

Director/Choreographer Madison Thew-Keyworth’s Mad About Theatre is one of the Sunshine Coast’s few professional companies (I can vouch for another two: SRT & XS Entertainment), which we’ll just take a moment to clarify, is a company that pays everybody involved, and not just the director, the musical director, the techies and the band. I was impressed to see Mad About Theatre’s debut professional production last year, My Brilliant Divorce, starring Blossom Goodchild, who returns here as Mama Morton. She’s Mama alright, but not as you know her.

The most seasoned performers will invariably look the most comfortable on stage and so it is with Goodchild, who embodies a sassy, flashy (Bob) Fosse inspired Mama Morton, in all-black-everything: pants, jacket, hat and boots. And it’s so refreshing to see this styling rather than try to forgive a poor attempt to imitate the Mamas who have preceded her. Without the powerhouse vocals we might expect to hear in this role, Goodchild sells it, and with a natural instinct for the comedy within the social and moral codes explored throughout the show, this consummate performer provides many of the night’s lighter moments.

Meggan Hickey is our Velma Kelly, complete with shiny black bobbed hair and the same slightly affected Liza-with-a-Z-esque speech as Mama. She’s a con grad and the new and improved Madison-from-Noosa in Judy Hains’ comedy cabaret First World White Girls. She was fabulously funny earlier this year in their Botox Party and we see a bit of the same level of mischief in Velma, however; it’s very staged, almost at odds with the glimpses we get of her darkly delicious haughtiness and nastiness. The character is there, but not always convincingly so. When she settles into the role she’ll put in the solid performance we know she’s got stashed just beneath the surface.

As much a rookie error in the direction, the awkward opening of Act 2 sees poor Velma/poor Meg standing and leaning about on the walkway above the band (Set Design by Goody), “smoking” a cigarette. Except she’s clearly a non-smoker (isn’t everyone now?), probably hates the taste and smell of the (herbal) cigarette (don’t we all?), and seems unsure about how to do that up there for so long. As actors, it’s not until we have a clear intention, a singular focus and our own inner monologue going on that such a seemingly inane action is made as fascinating as it needs to be on stage (or why are we doing it?). If something is not holding our attention it’s usually distracting us, taking us out of the moment, and away from the world of the show.

Courtney Underhill’s Roxie Hart has all the sweet-and-sour we expect to see in this demanding role. A graduate of Harvest Rain’s Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre (BAMT), Underhill has a terrific presence on stage and a singing voice that soars. It’s no wonder she was asked to understudy Lauren McKenna’s Tracy Turnblad in HR’s Hairspray. This girl will do just fine in music theatre.

Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer, a fantastic, fun role made famous in the film by Richard Gere, is almost fully realised by Jens Radda, one of the most beautiful singers to have come through Buderim’s BYTES and then WAAPA. Radda still sings superbly and wears a suit well, but at times he appears to be slightly insecure on stage, particularly in his big courtroom number, Razzle Dazzle, amidst a swirling, fan-dancing chorus of lovely girls (Costumes by Sarah Grandison). This is when we must remember that the leads are not entirely supported by the production elements, and that we’ll look forward to Mad About Theatre’s next musical production, when the depth of the stage might be made available, and lighting and sound will be precise, and the direction will allow for staging that is just as interesting but which brings the action forward so we don’t miss what little nuance the performers have to offer.

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You know I love to see the band, but in this case, under Noel Bowden’s baton, the musicians are a distraction and an unfortunate use of the available space. I know, it’s The J – where else would we put them?! (Insert yet another plea for a purpose built beautiful theatre here). It would have been great to see them in a semblance of costume, watching the action as the story plays out around them, but my guess is that this would have been too much to ask. If the pace and precision has improved by the end of the first short season, you’ll enjoy a much sharper, slicker show when it moves to The Events Centre, Caloundra.

Andy Hanrahan makes a fine Mr Cellophane, AKA Amos Hart, Roxie’s unfortunate husband, forlorn and fixed on feeling sorry for himself. This is a classic sad clown role, which I expected Hanrahan to more fully embrace, and to use to deeply connect with his audience, but they adore what he does with it and we do feel a wave of empathy as he exits for the final time…without his exit music. Poor Amos.

Nick Eynaud, another WAAPA grad making his professional Queensland debut, has come from a European touring season of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and MTC’s The Last Man Standing. In the role of Mary Sunshine he makes me feel as if I should warn our mate, Helpmann Award winner, James Millar (Miss Trunchbull in Matilda) to watch his back. These two must be WAAPA’s tallest and most talented male triple threats since Hugh (Jackman) finished. Eynaud’s performance is so sure and detailed that my friend doesn’t realise he’s a he and not a she until he is revealed by Billy Flynn!

Eli Cooper (Dance Captain) shines in the ensemble. A precision performer with a lovely resonant voice and a strong sense of character even in the smallest, most thankless roles, Cooper is an absolute joy to watch. The male ensemble is rounded out by Brendan Kydd, Ricky Borg and Mark Smith. You may recognise any number of the girls, all consistent triple threats with lots to prove. Cell Block Tango is a highlight, yes, but it requires much more room for the girls to really move; as the showstopper it’s intended to be, it lacks impact. Having said that, this is the only number in which we see the lighting concept work as it was intended. (The female ensemble comprises Demi Phillips, Kirra Johnson, Sarah Wrobel, Meghan Lucken, Rachael Russell & Lucy Clough).

While a slightly lagging pace and careful direction has at times let the production down, and as a result the show didn’t sizzle enough for me, I doubt that anyone else will be bothered by the occasional anomalies, which we’ll simply put down to the need to see more and do more (directing). This applies to every single Sunshine Coast director we know at the moment. If you’re making stuff you must see stuff – good and bad – and learn to distinguish between what has real impact and what leaves you (us) unaffected. Learn what works and what doesn’t, and learn how to coax it from your performers to give us scintillating, electrifying performances. All the elements are there. The talent is abundant. It’s a great, entertaining show.

Mad About Theatre is to be commended because this company is far ahead of the community pack in terms of its professionalism (and now we’re talking about the discipline, dedication and resourcefulness required to get a show like this on, as well as the pay packets), and that’s the idea. We talk about this often: community theatre is for everyone, but to level up requires something extra special. Mad About Theatre offers the more ambitious artists an opportunity to step up and see what they’re made of, and invites audiences to an evening of local theatrical entertainment that’s actually worth the asking price. 

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10
Mar
17

Boys of Sondheim

 

Boys of Sondheim

Brisbane Powerhouse & Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 2 – 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I was a little bemused by the collateral for this one, a highlight of this year’s MELT Festival. Surely Stephen Sondheim is only recently recognised as “one of the most significant gay artists of the 20th Century”? I grew up with his music and have always recognised him as an artist. I don’t have people within my circles for whom this distinction is anything other than a source of pride and solidarity. MELT has a sense of wonderful community about it, which is typical at Brisbane Powerhouse, regardless of the programming; it’s my favourite venue as much for its vibe as its unlimited possibilities for performance and socialising, but during this festival there’s always something a little more electric (and eclectic) than usual. The energy is super charged and the collective pride shared by the artists and patrons during this time each year makes for an even more appreciative audience, and closer connections. The ‘standard’ of the stuff on show seems to be largely inconsequential. What it comes down to is this: we just want to hear our stories.

Sondheim’s music is some of the most intricate and difficult EVER. It’s not just about hitting the notes (nothing ever is), and given the chance to perform it, most artists will leap in the general direction and enthusiastically “perform” the piece. Some will even sell their song and earn heartfelt applause, and even fewer will leave someone in their audience in tears, or breathless and aching for…something that’s perhaps just out of reach.

Sometimes I do a heap of research and read about previous productions, and their creators and directors and artists, I peek at what the critics have noted, I ask friends what they think, I catch up with the artists or message them to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they want us to get out of the work. But this is a brand new work, a world premiere, and there’s no precedent except for every other celebration of Sondheim’s music ever. This is certainly a celebration, a tribute to one of the defining voices of musical theatre and mostly, an interesting and entertaining night out, but it’s not all I’d hoped it would be. After a brief development period, the show lacks the polish it needs to win us over completely. It has some heart and some guts, and it’s a great vehicle for its talented performers, but I’d like to see it again in 6 or 9 months time when it might know better what it wants to be.

A narrative penned by Anthony Nocera offers us mostly amusing fleeting glimpses of some of the joys and pitfalls of gay dating and loving and living. Not unlike Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES, the structure relies heavily on these brief monologues, delivered in turn by the actors, to break up the musical numbers, an assortment of somebody’s favourite songs, loosely stitched together in an it’s-interesting-to-be-gay overarching way. Unfortunately, towards the end, the narrative breaks up one of Sondheim’s greatest accomplishments and Being Alive is brought to a painful death by continual interruptions. This makes it almost impossible for Tim Carroll to build the song and bring it to its bitter sweet soaring end, and makes me wonder, why?

With only a few shows in this short season, the opening number needed to be ready for opening night, and the insecurity or reticence or something of three quarters of the cast members makes the first 8-10 minutes ever so slightly uncomfortable. This is so weird, because they’re all fantastic performers, but the music is challenging and the lesser known songs don’t help to win us over. I love Kurt Phelan’s choreography, utilising the catwalk and the narrow space in front of a gay-mancave-bar, the conceit being that these guys have gathered in someone’s home for a lovely champagne catch up.

Kurt Phelan, Sean Andrews, Stephen Hirst, Alexander Woodward and Tim Carroll certainly go to some lengths to expose the “soulful, masculine underbelly” of Sondheim’s work as well as much of the comedy (Hirst’s (Not) Getting Married Today is sidesplittingly funny), but we know there’s more to this lovely little show and I can’t wait to see it reborn and restaged sometime.