Archive for the 'Musical Theatre' Category

20
Mar
18

HOTA – Home of the Arts Officially Opens with Tim Minchin

HOTA – Home of the Arts officially opens with Tim Minchin in free open-air concert

 

Tim Minchin 2018 HOTA: Lexi Spooner LEXIMAGERY.

 

Australia’s brilliant showman and provocateur, the internationally acclaimed Tim Minchin performed a history-making first concert on HOTA’s spectacular outdoor stage on Saturday evening, to a capacity audience. Saturday’s special free concert – Minchin’s first in Australia for two years – officially launched the HOTA outdoor program for 2018.

 

 

HOTA, Home of the Arts officially came to life on the Gold Coast last month, with the announcement of the new name, introduction of the spectacular new outdoor stage and release of the Outdoor Program featuring big names, collaborations and local talent. Saturday’s concert marked the beginning of an exciting new era for the Gold Coast.

 

 

Tim Minchin 2018 HOTA: Tyronne Fitzgerald LEXIMAGERY.

 

Other standouts in the 2018 program include the Concert for the Planet on Saturday, March 24, and then concerts by Australian music legend Neil Finn, the mighty Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and in a major coup for the region, multi-award winner and pioneer, musician and film director, Laurie Anderson will leave her home in New York to take up residency at HOTA.

 

Tim Minchin 2018 HOTA: Lexi Spooner LEXIMAGERY.

 

Tim Minchin 2018 HOTA: Lexi Spooner LEXIMAGERY.

 

“A new name, a spectacular new venue, and a wonderfully energised new program comes as the result of many years of planning and hard work by multiple teams and a huge commitment from the City of Gold Coast,” said HOTA Chair Robyn Archer AO.

 

 

“The Tim Minchin concert this weekend is the inspirational beginning of a new era for the Gold Coast, for both its residents and its millions of visitors. At last, the sixth largest city in Australia has created a brilliant state-of-the-art platform for the commissioning, producing and presenting of the most exciting artists from the region, the nation and the world,” she said.

 

Tim Minchin 2018 HOTA: Tyronne Fitzgerald LEXIMAGERY.

 

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27
Feb
18

Disney’s Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin

Disney Theatrical Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

February 24 – June 3 2018

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Princess Jasmine & Aladdin. Image by Deen Van Meer.

Aladdin is the multi-Tony Award winning, multi-faceted jewel in Disney’s crown, a decadent feast for the senses – flawless – rich in colour, romance, action, ambition, greed, honour, mischief, magic, glitz and glamour, and losing nothing of its original heartwarming essence. Booked yet?

Based on the 1992 animated film, and even more spectacular on stage, Aladdin’s intricate popup storybook sets are immediately transportive. The skyline alone is an Instagram Influencer’s dream! (Are the presets available for purchase?). Masterfully designed by Bob Crowley and superbly lit by Natasha Katz, with more than 300 lavish costumes on display, glistening with thousands of Swarovski crystals (Gregg Barnes), and gifted with swirling, seamless choreography making a showstopper of every musical number (Casey Nicholaw), AND with its extraordinary talent and automation, this sensational production is the must-see musical theatre event of the year.

Book here.

Princess Jasmine & Aladdin. Image by Deen Van Meer.

We were just discussing the need (or not) for overtures the other week, and this production, directed by Casey Nicholaw with musical direction by Geoffrey Castles, opens both acts with one, celebrating the many moods of the Middle Eastern influenced music composed by Alan Menken and from the first strains, freeing us from the throes of daily life and city traffic for a couple of magical hours. Additional songs have been added back into the stage production after being cut from the film, with lyrics by Disney dream team Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (with book & lyrics by Chad Beguelin). It’s got to be one of the catchiest, most uplifting scores of contemporary musical theatre. One of the reintroduced songs, the poignant Proud of Your Boy, showcases the acting chops and golden voice of Ainsley Melham, who brings the title role to life. This guy is set for superstardom. 

Aladdin (Ainsley Melham). Image by Deen Van Meer.

With effervescent energy, a mischievous grin and Disney leading man chiselled good looks, Melham is one of several WAAPA grads in the company, and a perfect match for this Princess Jasmine, Hiba Elchikhe. Hailing from the UK and Mountview trained, Elchikhe is divine and definitely the strong-vulnerable female role model you’d hoped your own little Princess Jasmine would get to see at stage door after the show for a #twinning pic. 

It was a JOY to see so many excited kids at opening night, lighting up the foyer with their bright eyes and infectious smiles. I only wish our major productions could be made more affordable, allowing even more families to enjoy a night out at the theatre together. Honestly, especially in this case, it can be the life-affirming, life-changing stuff of a happier childhood and a more harmonious household!

WELL, THERE IS NOTHING UPLIFTING OR LIFE-AFFIRMING ABOUT YOUR FOOTY TEAM LOSING, IS THERE? TRY A NIGHT OUT AT THE THEATRE. 

Adam Murphy’s Jafar is suitably imposing and delightfully wicked whilst remaining so suave when having to play the perfect gentleman and advisor to the Sultan (George Henare, charming and pleasingly, far more sensitive and intelligent than the bumbling / loveable old fool in the film). Jafar’s sidekick on stage, the parrot of the film, is henchman Iago, played with perfect comic timing and terrific physicality by Aljin Abella. Together these two give Aladdin’s three friends a run for their money in terms of laugh time.

Kassim (Adam-Jon Firorentino – please stay in the country now), Omar (Robert Tripolino) and Babkak (Troy Sussman) replace Abu, Aladdin’s beloved on-screen mate, a monkey, and they share some wonderfully funny moments, as well as getting the chance to shine as individual performers.

Genie (Gareth Jacobs). Image by Jeff Busby.

But it’s the Genie, Melbourne’s Gareth Jacobs who steals the show by a nose, having stepped into the big curly-toed satin shoes of Michael James Scott late last year. Jacobs is relaxed and makes the perfect host; he has us in the palm of his hand from the moment he first appears to welcome us, and later, magically, of course, in the Cave of Wonders. This dazzling set design is up there with the multiple cascading chandeliers of My Fair Lady (in fact, not since My Fair Lady has a musical production looked so good in the Lyric), and the Genie’s famous number here, Friend Like Me, literally stops the show, prompting an enthusiastic standing ovation and real hopes for a reprise. There isn’t one, because the show must go on! But this is so much better than the Super Bowl halftime show, and much more thrilling than the film, with literally something for everyone (the tap sequence is fantastic!). Genie even gives a nod to some other Disney smash hits, sans the R-Rated treatment we’ve enjoyed since 2014 at Oscar’s Boy&Girl

Aladdin. Cave of Wonders. Image by Deen Van Meer.

In this superbly talented ensemble we don’t expect to see any stand outs, and yet Brisbane’s Kimberley Hodgson is just glorious in every moment. I’d love to return to see her play Princess Jasmine. (Jasmine’s second understudy is Heather Manly, whom we recognise from Showwork’s Heathers. And though there are times when it is disappointing to miss out on a star performer, with understudies of this calibre there’s no need to give a second thought as to whether or not you’ll enjoy the show if someone is off for the night! This is a truly sensational cast, the strongest sounding ensemble we’ve heard in this space in a long time, absolutely world class).

Aladdin. Magic Lamp. Image by Deen Van Meer.

Aladdin is a no-brainer, the ideal date night, or an extravagant and entertaining evening with friends or family. If your household makes it to just one mega musical each year, this year make it this one.

Aladdin is beyond splendid. It’s bold, it’s beautifully staged and performed, showcasing some of the country’s most exciting musical theatre talent, and it guarantees the shared experience of a lifetime. Most impressive of all (and let’s face it, it’s largely due to this stellar cast), Disney’s dazzling production puts the heart and soul back into blockbuster musical theatre storytelling… Well, it was time. 

30
Jan
18

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

 

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

Gordon Frost Organisation, GWB Entertainment and Howard Panter Ltd

QPAC Concert Hall

January 19 – February 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Don’t dream it, be it.

 

The message has never been clearer: you can be whatever you want to be. But somewhere along the way, has Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show taken this lesson a little too literally, and lost some sense of self?

 

It’s still a ridiculously fun, kitsch show (a ridiculous, fun, kitsch show) – it’s even retained a little bit of its naughtiness (the bed scene is still hilarious, although, thank Adam, not quite as lewd) – but it seems it’s not only the size of the production that’s been scaled back. With Craig McLachlan’s departure from this slick little mini-production from London and even less time allowed than in 2014 for the double entendres and sight gags to sink in, it’s no longer a wild and untamed thing. Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is practically PG.

 

 

In London, in 1973 the very first Rocky Horror Show genuinely shocked audiences, and with the 1975 release of the film (a dismal failure at first, and let’s not even speak of the appalling remake from 2015), based on the stage production by Richard O’Brien, this strange encounter of virgins and phantoms and aliens quickly became a cult classic. The show has played all over the world non-stop for 45 years, and in case you were unaware, an audience participation ‘script’ informs both screenings and live performances, although the Brisbane Cards 4 Sorrow crowd (if that’s who they were. Incidentally, their next floorshow is in March; check it out here) didn’t get much of a look in this time, the couple of determined callouts deflected without hesitation by Narrator, Cameron Daddo, superbly and very suavely his natural self in this coveted role). Perhaps they felt, after the initial bold outburst, that QPAC’s Concert Hall was not the place for it…

 

Tim Curry remembers the moment he realized that his performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show,” the London stage precursor to the 1975 cult film, was no longer his alone.

 

David Bowie and his wife at the time, Angela, were in the audience that night in 1973. Onstage, Frank, the hypersexual alien mad scientist, was being held at ray-gunpoint by his former servants, Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn). They were about to shoot when Ms. Bowie shouted, ‘‘No, don’t do it!”

 

Indeed, the Concert Hall feels like the least likely space in which to experience Rocky Horror, but Mamma Mia! continues to claim the Lyric until February 4. According to one of the venue’s producers, we’ll likely see more of this use of the Concert Hall, which has historically been home to artists and acts of a slightly different ilk. Perhaps the precedent was set by Harvest Rain, with their full-scale musicals in this space before a move across the road, or had it been set already? It’s truly magnificent to have so much coming to Brisbane that QPAC (booked ahead for years you understand), must utilise every space, but by the same token, it’s a firm reminder that we are in desperate need of another performing arts venue in Brisbane that doesn’t also serve as a convention centre or conference location.

 

In exciting news for independent artists, presenters and producers seeking a brand new and intimate performance space, XS Entertainment is issuing an invitation to come play with us on the Sunshine Coast. 

Email xanthe@xsentertainment.com.au for available dates and details. 

 

It could be said that this version of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show continues to suffer from its smaller scale, although probably not if you’ve never seen it live on stage before…

 

 

A couple of Rocky Horror virgins joined me on opening night, and despite some confusion surrounding the story and some horror/mock horror moments – cold blooded murder and beneath-the-bed-sheet sight gags – they enjoyed the show and the performances from a cast rocked by allegations against the previous leading man, made before the Brisbane season commenced, by Christie Whelan Brown, Erika Heynatz and Angela Scundi, cast members from the 2014 production and, for the record, as far as I can see, all without reason to fabricate anything against anyone to further their careers. (Honestly. The things people say). Regardless of our understanding of the facts, the women experienced something that negatively affected them.

 

It doesn’t matter if we would not be affected in the same way. What happens to a person happens to them in a way that no one else can ever fully appreciate. It is a person’s right to feel the way they feel about a situation. 

 

The producers had told us in the early press, “this is sure to be an even wilder and sexier night out than ever before…” and perhaps it is, if you don’t get out much. The reward this time, if you’ve seen the show before, is in the night out itself, the whole event of going to the theatre with friends, a bit of fun, and also, thankfully, in solid performances across the board.

 

 

The standout, however, is Kristian Lavercombe, with more than a thousand performances to his name as Riff Raff. Again, he’s absolutely sensational, building vocally on the work we’d heard previously and deceiving us into thinking we’re witnessing Richard O’Brien’s soul take up residence in another body. Amanda Harrison holds her own as the Usherette and Magenta. (It’s a really tough gig to keep us enthralled throughout that opening number of obscure sci-fi references and plot points!)

 

 

It seems appropriate to note that one of the best ever in this dual role, Jayde Westaby, can be seen across the hall until February 4 as Tanya in Mamma Mia!

 

 

Brendan Irving is, once again, just beautiful as the all-singing, all-posing, all-glittering and glistening Rocky, bringing to life a scene that threatens to slow the bull-in-a-china-shop pace if it were not for his impressive posturing. The hand mic, used inexplicably by both Rocky and Frank-N-Furter for this scene and the following, loses its potency after about three seconds, becoming a distraction. I’ve never understood its inclusion. Also, Irving’s an aerialist and I’m still confounded as to why his considerable skill in the air hasn’t been incorporated by Director, Christopher Luscombe. The bizarre interruption of Eddie (James Bryers) also lightens the mood before it turns gruesome, with Frank’s response to the appearance of this unwelcome guest. Unfortunately, Hot Patootie is turned into an untidy non-event rather than featuring as the fully choreographed showstopper it might be (and wasn’t it, in 1992?). This time the morbid game of chainsaw cat and mouse played out across the stage is chaotic, but doesn’t add to the excitement of the show. This oddity, common in blockbuster smash hits demanding more of the marketing and publicity teams than of the touring company, occurs across the entirety of the show, with the exception of Lavercombe’s Riff Raff and Rob Mallet’s (adorable) Brad. The ensemble is rounded out by Michelle Smitheram as Janet, Nadia Komazec as Columbia and Phantoms, Bianca Baykara, Ross Chisari, Hayley Martin and Stephen McDowell. The on-stage band is ably led to light speed by MD Dave Skelton.

 

As for Australia’s newest superstar, Adam Rennie turns the role on its head to become the sweetest transvestite we’ve ever seen. It’s true, he’s missing some specificity and physical extravagance (Tim Curry speaks about creating the character here), at least on opening night, although he may have spiced things up and nailed more precise movement (and electrifying stillness) towards the end of the season, but he’s gorgeous and he makes it his own. His is a thoroughly entertaining performance, marked especially by sensational singing and his unique sweet and cheeky take on the role. In fact, whether or not he means to, Rennie comes across as just about the antithesis of McLachlan’s leering hyper sexual alien scientist. And despite being at odds with the character’s placement and purpose in the story, it’s refreshing, perfectly non-threatening, and perfect for this (political climate) light, fun, smash-hit re-staging, which really does appear to assume we’ve seen it all before, and also, that its audiences will continue to get younger and younger… (The film retained its R-Rating in some countries for the single silhouetted sex scene). QPAC advises: This show has rude parts…parental guidance recommended.

 

Why go back again and again to Rocky Horror? It makes little to no sense, neither its costumes (Sue Blane) nor its fluid sexuality are particularly shocking anymore, and we can watch the original film, which is arguably the best version anyway, whenever we like. But there’s something irresistible, isn’t there, about the electric energy of a live glam rock infused performance, and the permission to relinquish judgment and inhibitions, as well as the fleeting connection with strangers in a dark space, lost in time, and lost in space. And meaning.

 

 

Enjoy the ride and take what you will, again, from Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show.

21
Jan
18

Matilda Award Nominations 2017

 

2017 Matilda Awards

 

I’m thrilled to have seen across social media, the overwhelmingly positive response to the announcement of the 2017 Matilda Award nominations.

 

Dash Kruck and Emily Burton: A Tribute of Sorts to the Matilda Awards in 2014

 

Tuesday 6th February, 2018 at 6:30pm for a 7pm start at Brisbane Powerhouse. Hosted by Bridget Boyle & Bryan Probets. Directed by Kris Stewart. Dress Code: After Five. Use #matildas17

 

Arts awards are always funny things – I feel like the Matildas, our long-standing performing arts awards in Brisbane, have been criticised more than most and yet, by the winners and nominees they are cited just as often as any other (very funny, that!) – and when we hear and see delight rather than gripes running through our community of artists, it makes it that much more worthwhile to be a part of the process.

 

As well as keeping up (sometimes barely) with our real lives outside of the theatres, we saw 64 eligible productions in 2017. On Tuesday February 6 we’ll find out which of those won the votes from our panel of ten hard-working and highly qualified judges.

 

I have mixed feelings about some dramatic changes to the configuration this year, as applications for all committee positions were welcomed and considered by the Executive Committee before Christmas. I hope it’s understood that the current committee had not been invited to vote or to comment on potential / incoming committee members’ applications (we actually don’t know, unless you’ve told us, who has been up for discussion); the decision is that of the Executive Committee, as per changes made in the interests of transparency, and to see an unbiased changing of the guards, which some industry friends had felt was overdue. However, I’m not sure what the issue with the previous method was, when we had recently welcomed the newest judges, Elise and Anna, after careful consideration as a committee of all applicants (and I think, before I came on board, that this was an invitation-only process, so I’m glad to have been a part of this necessary revision). But it certainly was not the recommendation of the active committee to take this new appointment process completely out of our hands, and it remains to be seen whether or not it’s the most effective means of “refreshing” the judging panel. Having said that, I’m no less excited to see the announcement – any day now, surely – of the 2018 committee members.

 

 

The committee has continued to respond to industry and Arts Queensland feedback in our efforts to add value and share as much as possible about the voting process and also, in our continued efforts to expand the reach of the awards, before the results are announced each year. Here’s a rundown by Deb Wilks of what’s been happening for the last couple of years to ensure the Matilda Awards continue to evolve and to serve the industry they’re designed to support.

 

I’ve adored working with the current panel of judges. Because I have this space in which to do so, I want to thank each of them for making it an absolute joy to attend productions with them over the last few years, and be involved in the highly rigorous voting process, involving lengthy discussions and lots of late nights! What a privilege it’s been to come to know and respect this panel of judges: Elise Greig, James Harper, Annette Kerwitz, Baz McAlister, Troy Ollerenshaw, Cameron Pegg, Olivia Stewart, Rosemary Walker and Anna Yen.

 

 

Nominations

 

One Gold Matilda Award honouring an individual, organisation or creative team for an outstanding contribution to Brisbane Theatre will be announced on the evening of 6th February, 2017.

Silver Matilda Awards will be presented to an artist or company for commendable work in each of the following categories.

 


Best Mainstage Production

American Idiot (shake & stir theatre co and QPAC)
Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)
An Octoroon (Queensland Theatre & Brisbane Festival)
Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse (Opera Queensland)

 

 

Best Independent Production

Boys of Sondheim (Understudy Productions & Brisbane Powerhouse)
England (Nathan Booth & Matt Seery at Metro Arts)
Swallow (EG & Metro Arts)
I Just Came to Say Goodbye (The Good Room & Brisbane Festival)
The Forwards (Shock Therapy Productions, Zeal & Brisbane Powerhouse)

 

 

Best Musical or Cabaret

American Idiot (shake & stir theatre co and QPAC)
Boys of Sondheim (Understudy Productions & Brisbane Powerhouse)
Briefs: Close Encounters (Briefs Factory & Brisbane Powerhouse)
Joh for PM (Jute Theatre Company & Brisbane Powerhouse, in association with QLD Music Festival)

Best Circus or Physical Theatre Work

Landscape with Monsters (Circa with Merrigong Theatre Co at Brisbane Powerhouse)
Plunge (Seeing Place Productions in association with Bleach*)
Monsteria (presented by GUSH and Vulcana Women’s Circus in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Humans (Circa & QPAC)

The Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work

Blue Bones, by Merlynn Tong
Joh for PM, by Stephen Carleton & Paul Hodge
My Name is Jimi, based on a story by Dimple Bani, Jimi Bani & co-created by Jason Klarwein
Spectate, by Nathan Sibthorpe
Laser Beak Man, by David Morton, Nicholas Paine & Tim Sharp

 

 

Best Director

Daniel Evans, I Just Came to Say Goodbye (The Good Room & Brisbane Festival)
Lindy Hume, Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse (Opera Queensland)
Ian Lawson, Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Paige Rattray, Scenes from a Marriage (Queensland Theatre)

Bille Brown Award for Best Emerging Artist

Meg Bowden, The Winter’s Tale (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)
Derek Draper, The Lonesome West (Troop Productions at JWCoCA)
Patrick Jhanur, Single Asian Female (La Boite Theatre Company)
Matt Seery, England (Nathan Booth & Matt Seery at Metro Arts)

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Ellen Bailey, The Forwards (Shock Therapy Productions, Zeal & Brisbane Powerhouse)
Margi Brown Ash, He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance & Nest Ensemble with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Merlynn Tong, Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Barbara Lowing, England (Nathan Booth & Matt Seery at Metro Arts)

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Sam Foster, The Forwards (Shock Therapy Productions, Zeal & Brisbane Powerhouse)
Bryan Probets, Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse (Opera Queensland)
Colin Smith, An Octoroon (Queensland Theatre & Brisbane Festival)
Steven Tandy, England (Nathan Booth & Matt Seery at Metro Arts)

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Christine Johnston, Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse (Opera Queensland)
Elise Greig, Swallow (EG & Metro Arts)
Helen O’Leary, Swallow (EG & Metro Arts)
Barb Lowing, Joh for PM (Jute Theatre Company & Brisbane Powerhouse, in association with QLD Music Festival)

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Kurt Phelan, American Idiot (shake & stir theatre co and QPAC)
Travis Ash, He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance & Nest Ensemble with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Kurt Phelan, Joh for PM (Jute Theatre Company & Brisbane Powerhouse, in association with QLD Music Festival)
Anthony Standish, An Octoroon (Queensland Theatre & Brisbane Festival)

Best Set Design

Georgina Greenhill, The Lonesome West (Troop Productions at JWCoCA)
Josh McIntosh, American Idiot (shake & stir theatre co & QPAC)
Jonathon Oxlade & David Morton, Laser Beak Man (Dead Puppet Society, Brisbane Festival & La Boite)
Simona Cosentini & Simone Tesorieri, My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)

 

 

Best Costume Design

Anthony Spinaze, Rent (Matt Ward Entertainment at Brisbane Powerhouse)
GUSH, Monsteria (GUSH, Vulcana Women’s Circus & Brisbane Powerhouse)
Jessica Haack & Kaylee Gannaway, The Winter’s Tale (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)
Anthony Spinaze, Joh for PM (Jute Theatre Company & Brisbane Powerhouse, in association with QLD Music Festival)

Best Lighting Design

Jason Glenwright, Lady Beatle (La Boite & The Little Red Company)
Andrew Meadows, Ruddigore (Opera Queensland)
Geoff Squires, He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance & Nest Ensemble with Brisbane Powerhouse)
David Walters, Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best Sound Design

Dane Alexander, I Just Came to Say Goodbye (The Good Room & Brisbane Festival)
Travis Ash, He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance & Nest Ensemble with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Tony Brumpton & Sam Cromack (Ball Park Music), Laser Beak Man (Dead Puppet Society, Brisbane Festival & La Boite)
Guy Webster, Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best Audio Visual Design

Justin Harrison, Laser Beak Man (Dead Puppet Society, Brisbane Festival & La Boite)
Justin Harrison, My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)
Nevin Howell & Nathan Sibthorpe, Spectate (Counterpilot & Metro Arts)
Nathan Sibthorpe, Blue Bones (Playlab in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)
Nathan Sibthorpe & Ben Knapton, He Dreamed a Train (Force of Circumstance & Nest Ensemble with Brisbane Powerhouse)

 

 

11
Jan
18

Mamma Mia!

 

Mamma Mia!

Louise Withers, Linda Bewick & Michael Coppel Entertainment

QPAC Lyric Theatre

January 28 – February 4 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

There’s not a better night out in Brisbane to begin the year, especially for mothers and daughters, or a gaggle of girlfriends, than Mamma Mia!

 

A celebration of love, laughter, family and friendship, MAMMA MIA! brings the fun and joy the world needs right now. Set on a Greek island paradise and inspired by the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs, writer Catherine Johnson’s heart-warming tale centres around Sophie, a young bride-to-be. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago.

 

 

Australia hasn’t seen Mamma Mia! since 2001, when Natalie O’Donnell, Donna in this production, played Sophie. How strange it must be, to be singing Slipping Through My Fingers instead of stepping into a wedding gown during it. O’Donnell is one of the highlights of this production, with a beautiful soulful musical theatre voice and the acting chops to match. She’s a delight, and so is Sarah Morrison (Sophie), whom we remember fondly from Queensland Theatre’s Ladies In Black. Perfectly cast as mother and daughter, there is genuine affection between them. Poppy had asked me before the show whether or not I’d cry during this scene, when mother helps daughter prepare for her wedding day and imminent departure from the idyllic Greek island she’s always called home, and I told her I didn’t know, it would depend on the delivery. That’s a standard response, but it’s not always entirely true. With nothing to fault in the delivery, others might have shed a tear, but there are times when it’s hard to take off the reviewer hat and stay fully immersed in the story, suspending disbelief rather than keeping some distance from the action and emotion. It’s a safe place to be, but not a very vulnerable one, and so I’ve had to admit that this scene didn’t move me to tears after all. What did though, was O’Donnell’s gritty and bitterly accepting reading of The Winner Takes It All. With such a basic book, it’s ultimately up to the actors to sell every moment in a jukebox show and with one exception (not their fault that the opening of the second act was likely staged under the influence of ABBA era hallucinogenic drugs…other likely explanations follow, see below), this stellar cast nails it, earning in turn, our affection, and fuelling our hopes that each of them (and by association and the magic of theatre, that we too) will see their (our) dreams fulfilled.

 

It’s worth noting, at least for other performing artists, directors and obsessors of the genre, that on opening night at least, the gentle, whimsical song that opens the show (I Have A Dream), didn’t particularly serve the show or Sophie as well as the following upbeat number did. (And look, other than to set the scene for Jesus Christ Superstar, do we ever need an overture anymore? Really?). The real start of the show, Thank You For the Music, saw Morrison light up, and leap into brilliant, connected and wholehearted storytelling mode.

 

 

Mamma Mia! – like so many of the jukebox blockbusters – is a perfectly polished production, one of the “precision musicals”, that simply can’t fail, with a spectacularly fun score comprising entirely of ABBA songs written by Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus (and some with Stig Anderson), a tight and light little book written by Catherine Johnson, a beautifully designed and functional set (Linda Bewick), and a stellar cast, featuring O’Donnell and Morrison, Alicia Gardner (a hysterical Rosie), Jayde Westaby (a fabulously sexy Tanya, making Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out one of the showstoppers of the year, closely followed by the high impact full company Act 1 finale Voulez-Vous), the wonderful possible fathers – each of them a class act – Ian Stenlake (Sam), Phillip Lowe (Harry) and Josef Ber (Bill), and Stephen Mahy, an undeniably gorgeous and sensitive Sky, however; the jury is still out on whether or not he was the perfect choice for this role – perhaps it’s just the musical theatre tables turned on a secondary male role (rather than a typically flimsily written female role) getting through to the final edit without being further developed, but it seemed as though Mahy never got his moment to really shine. Did I miss it? Unlikely, with a vantage point from the second row, which I don’t recommend actually, unless you’re into counting abs and inhaling additional haze.

 

The supporting cast is terrific, comprising Monique Salle (Ali), Jessica Di Costa (Lisa), Sam Hooper (as Pepper he’s a standout) and Alex Gibson-Giorgio (Eddie). A strong ensemble brings to life the people of the neighbourhood.

 

 

Donna’s taverna is a little too pristine to be the run-down setting demanded by the story, but Bewick can be forgiven for bringing such beauty and functionality together. Transitions happen seamlessly, largely due to the multi-talented ensemble moving things about, helping the pace to race along. At least until we come to the awkward and clumsily choreographed Act 2 opening number, which for some reason is played out as if Fruma Sarah has visited from beyond the grave to join Dairakudakan’s Daiichiro, and Zen Zen Zo in their butoh bends and twirls around a double bed in the hope of scoring a cameo in The Greatest Showman… Whose nightmare is this?! What was it that Director, Gary Young (Resident Director Jacinta John), was thinking in the staging of this piece? Was it

 

  1. the writers’ work is sacred and cannot be changed
  2. the fine print states that the writers’ work is sacred and cannot be changed
  3. cutting it will mean we see less of the chorus and require the running time to be amended
  4. every musical needs a dream sequence (even Rocky had a montage)

 

It’s completely at odds with the overall look and feel of this production, but if we can move beyond it (and we must!), Young’s direction hits every other mark, and Tom Hodgson’s choreography (Resident Choreographer Danielle Bilios) is otherwise cute and fun and funky.

 

 

MD Michael Azzopardi leads a bright band, diving into the score as if it’s the playlist to the party of the year, which was the claim after all! And having taken an evening off from Woodford Folk Festival to attend opening night, we’d have to agree. We can never celebrate enough, the love, laughter, family and friendship that makes every ABBA song at any given moment still a favourite of someone’s, somewhere in the world, and Mamma Mia! all over the world, an unashamedly shiny sequinned and spandex’d smash hit!

15
Nov
17

Powerful Female-led La Boite Season in 2018

Powerful Female-led La Boite Season in 2018

 

 

La Boite Theatre Company has unveiled a trailblazing 2018 season, putting vital female voices at the heart of a season of new Australian works.

 

“It is no surprise that our 2018 season has a vital and strong group of female artists leading the charge,” La Boite Artistic Director and CEO Todd MacDonald said. “Throughout its 90+ year history, La Boite has been heavily influenced by formidable and talented women, from Barbara Sisley and Babette Stephens to Jennifer Blocksidge and Sue Rider. “In 2018, our season tackles global issues, personal narratives, innovative forms, and a host of exciting new collaborations, including four world premiere productions.”

 

 

La Boite’s 2018 season opens with The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek (10 February – 3 March); a new dark-comedy by acclaimed Queensland actor and playwright Kathryn Marquet (Pale Blue Dot), co-produced by Playlab. Set in the isolated wilds of Tasmania and described as “McDonagh meets Tarantino”, The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek stars John Batchelor, Julian Curtis, Kimie Tsukakoshi and Emily Weir (pictured), directed by PlayLab’s Artistic Director and CEO, Ian Lawson.

 

 

La Boite 2018 also sees the return of La Boite and MDA’s sell-out, participatory verbatim work The Village (30 April – 5 May), based on the real-life stories of refugees and asylum seekers. Featuring a fearless company of six sharing their life-changing true stories of survival in the face of adversity, The Village stars Cieavash Arean, Arwin Arwin, Silva Asal, Joyce Taylor, Lili Sanchez and Ngoc Phan.

 

Long-time La Boite collaborator Suzie Miller (Snow White; Medea) returns in 2018 with her highly-anticipated new work The Mathematics of Longing (2 – 23 June); a collaboration with internationally acclaimed Gold Coast based dance-theatre company The Farm. Also premiering is a contemporary feminist response to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, by 2016 Text Prize winner Claire Christian, set on 21 January 2017 when women all over the world amassed to protest a Trump-led free world. Led by a fierce female chorus of women including Brisbane’s own Amy Ingram and Hsiao-Ling Tang, Lysa and the Freeborn Dames (21 July – 11 August) features some of Queensland’s brightest emerging talents, with QUT Bachelor of Fine Arts Final Year Acting students completing the QUT Creative Industries co-production.

 

 

Rounding out the main stage season is Neon Tiger (27 October – 17 November); a roaring new Australian play with songs by Julia-Rose Lewis (Samson), composed by Gillian Cosgriff (pictured). Directed by Kat Henry, this world premiere production, in association with Brisbane Powerhouse, stars Courtney Stewart, fresh from her star-turn in 2017’s runaway hit Single Asian Female.

 

 

La Boite’s 2018 offering also sees two of the company’s most-loved works from recent years on tour around the country, including Future D. Fidel’s smash hit Prize Fighter, which returns to south-east Queensland in a special presentation at Logan Entertainment Centre in September. Michelle Law’s Single Asian Female, which premiered to universal acclaim at La Boite in 2017, receives its interstate premiere at Belvoir in February. Also returning is La Boite’s popular HWY (12 – 24 March); an annual festival of readings, showing, workshops, masterclasses, conversations and pitches. Since its inception in 2016, HWY has proven a vital pathway for countless artists and championed several acclaimed new works including Single Asian Female and The Mathematics of Longing.

 

MacDonald said the 2018 program continued La Boite’s ongoing commitment to the development of new work and artists. “2018 is the year of extraordinary collaborations and brilliant local talent,” MacDonald said. “We hold a special responsibility to not just entertain and challenge but to listen and make space, so we will continue to do just that in 2018.”

 

Playwright Suzie Miller said she was proud to be part of this pioneering season of new work. “To be part of a season that’s led by female writers is such an incredible experience,” Miller said. “I remember when I first started my career in 2000 noting that there were very few women playwrights in main stage seasons, so to have come this full circle where that’s the predominant voice in the season is incredibly exciting.”

 

SEASON TICKET PACKAGES ARE ON SALE NOW

12
Nov
17

The Wizard of Oz

 

The Wizard of Oz

John Frost & Suzanne Jones

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 10 – December 3 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.

– Marilyn Monroe

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz hits the right glittering rainbow tone for its Australian premiere in Brisbane. L Frank Baum’s beloved story, enjoyed by generations since 1900, is brought back to life in a revel of colour and rich scenery. While it seems remiss to miss making more of the famous field of poppies and the flying monkeys, particularly with such talented aerialists amongst the cast, we’ll remain focused on the otherwise visually arresting aesthetic and enduring appeal of the show!

 

 

However, we’ll also just take a moment to note that some of Jon Driscoll’s digital design appears to be used in lieu of  – or in front of – old-school scene changes during blackouts, which others love but by which I’m unconvinced. Without having the same effect as the original film’s black-&-white-to-Technicolor wow moment (remember when you thought the TV must be broken?), it lacks the edgy sophistication to put it at the same level as the rest of the design. The visual impact of both the Emerald City and the witch’s tower for example, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is more lasting. Perhaps, like a lot of things Lloyd Webber, it seemed like a good idea at the time and even just a few years later – this version of the show premiered in the West End in 2011 – the projections, including the pre-show scrim design – feel dated. Fortunately, none of these quibbles detract from the overall effect, which is supported by Hugh Vanstone’s cinematic lighting design.

 

 

Director and Co-Adapter Jeremy Sams has worked with Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring the YES vote boldly to the stage, which in and of itself is nothing new, The Wizard of Oz (1939) having been claimed long ago as a gay fave film, and Judy Garland the global gay community’s kween. The updates are witty and funny and apt. When the Lion (John Xintavelonis) declares, “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy,” he earns heartfelt applause from Brisbane’s loud and proud opening night audience. For some reason the Lion has become that camp character, and Xintavelonis gets the balance just right, without us feeling we’re being beaten over the head with a blunt object.

 

 

He’s an adorable, loveable Lion and with Alex Rathberger as the tap-dancing Tinman, and Eli Cooper as the vague, scrappy, very funny Scarecrow, these three make the iconic characters their own. The very definition of ensemble, they generously support Samantha Dodemaide in her breakout role. (Yes, you might argue that her breakout role was Kathy Seldon in Singing’ in the Rain but I’d maintain that more people will see and retain a lasting memory of her beautifully realised Dorothy).

 

 

Dodemaide is sweet enough and strong enough vocally to make this iconic role her own; she represents all the misunderstood little girls who run away from home and grow up into their big, full, open hearts along the way to their Emerald City. Somewhere Over the Rainbow is sincerely, superbly delivered to us in the most beautifully measured mix, to us and to Toto (this coveted role shared by the most well behaved and affectionate Australian Terriors we’ve ever seen, Trouble and Flick, trained by Luke Hura).

 

To sell a song that’s been over-sung for decades is a tough gig and Dodemaide, with perfect optimism, nails it.

 

 

The indomitable Jemma Rix reprises the green skin and ghastly cackle of Wicked’s Elphie, but this Wicked Witch is the original, and she’s comic book kind of nasty rather than really vulnerable and vengeful, her unforgettable lines delivered with fresh, fun, mischievous energy, and without a spit of sarcasm. In anyone else’s hands this could be the less meatier role and while it’s lacking depth on the page, Rix gives the Witch multiple dimensions and emotions, making her a proper James Bond movie worthy megalomaniac. Her black feathered gown is the fantastic creation of Scenic and Costume Designer, Robert Jones, reminiscent of Maleficent’s high fashion look, and with her conical high hairdo rather than the black peaked witches’ hat of old, this is a savvy and stylish design choice.

 

 

And is there a better fit in all the world for a good witch other than our beloved Lucy Durack? She’s as Glinda as Glinda gets, and again, reminiscent of the role in Wicked, Durack is just as sweet, but without being saccharine, and gentler and kinder from the outset. This role too contains less depth on the page and as testament to the skill sets of both these leading ladies, the characters are made just as relatable as their contemporary counterparts.

 

Also, Durack’s spectacular sparkling gown allows her to enter from above, in full flight, descending like some glorious faery queen, and then the length of skirt, part of the scenery only seconds before, is whipped away to allow her to step into Munchinland. It’s a dazzling effect, but then Durack’s appearance always is.

 

 

Anthony Warlow is in top form as both Professor Marvel and The Wizard, bringing us an original wizened man of many tricks, with a genuine attitude of concern and care for Dorothy’s wellbeing (and, eventually, for her friends). Warlow emanates a warmth that makes both Marvel and The Wizard absolutely loveable.

 

 

The company includes the Sunshine Coast’s Rachael Ward, which is not the only reason she gets a special mention (although we’ll continue to claim her!), but also because our eyes are drawn to her every time she appears on stage. This is an exceptional ensemble – every performer looking and sounding sharp – so it’s no easy task to be a standout amongst them and yet, the statuesque Ward shines.

 

John Frost continues to bring the biggest and best looking musical productions to our venues, and I’ll be genuinely surprised if there’s anyone who is left unmoved by The Wizard of Oz this time around, with its updates and upscaled set (obviously, such a sap is in need of a heart). It’s retained a sense of nostalgia and allowed a whole new generation to see the land beyond the rainbow, and the love that – we have to hope – surrounds them at home.

 




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