Posts Tagged ‘alexander woodward

03
Jun
18

BARE

 

BARE

Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 25 – June 3 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

BARE in Sydney in 2010 was the first time I’d experienced a professional looking and sounding high school production; it was a fast, shocking, moving show, which Kris Stewart included in that year’s Fringe Festival. It featured a well-trained and super talented young cast, including a couple of triple threats who went on to attend WAAPA. Understudy’s production has its moments, and it certainly doesn’t lack talent (when Oscar’s not playing, Alexander Woodward’s Understudy Productions always attracts the best that Brisbane has to offer), but it’s largely Shaun Kohlman’s show. As seen early in the piece, in Role of a Lifetime, as Peter, the co-ed Catholic schoolboy who falls in love with his best friend, Kohlman captures every nuance of a young gay man in love and in turmoil; he’s completely captivating. Playing opposite him as Jason, the popular athlete and charming leading man in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, Jason Bentley, with soapie good looks, strong presence, his genuine connection with both the male and female love interests in the story, and his part in the boys’ beautiful duet (Best Kept Secret) can be forgiven for the apparent anomaly of a singular over-the-top anguished moment. I’d prefer to see this underplayed, or managed slightly differently, perhaps giving us less time to question the authenticity and impulse behind his overwhelming emotion. It’s a choice, a Stella moment, and a tough one to sell. 

 

 

Other than a quick, very much appreciated nod to the social and political climate of New Farm, other additions or amendments to the book go unnoticed. It’s a pretty ordinary book. Despite its dated, flimsy feel, at the core of the show’s universal themes are the current local pangs of real-life wounds, still raw, and the knowledge that so many individuals in our communities fight even now for their right to be accepted by family, friends, colleagues, corporations and institutions, despite the big picture success of the yes vote.

 

Claire, and Ivy, played by ABC weather woman Jenny Woodward and Jordan Malone respectively, are considered by others to be perfectly cast. For me, Woodward’s most affecting work is during the heart-wrenching phone call with her son (See Me). Even so, she doesn’t quite go to the edge, and the first phone call at the end of Auditions gives no indication of her long-held maternal suspicion about her son’s sexual preferences, a missed opportunity. Malone’s Portrait of a Girl rings truer than All Grown Up, which is a little forced and nevertheless appears to leave other hearts aching, those hearts having assured me after the show that for them it was raw and emotional and real. Fair enough. We’re probably in agreement over Melissa Western being a pretty fierce and funny Sister Charlotte, delivering razor-sharp one-liners to bring the house down and at the same time, showing genuine sensitivity and concern for the wellbeing of her students. But the music is written for a voice that doesn’t need to flip into a lighter top soprano, and a misguided wardrobe decision makes a distraction of a pair of black pantyhose and a bodysuit in what would otherwise be a sensational Jesus Christ Superstar/Like A Prayer proper gospel number. While Western is the most accomplished performer on stage and delightful in this role, it’s hard to be a sassy and sophisticated Mother Mary in an 80s inspired blue sequinned bodysuit! (Design Raymond Milner). 

 

Sarah Whalen’s Nadia is sadly, beautifully vulnerable beneath her tough and entertaining exterior, and her singing is spot on. Jonathan Hickey (Matt) and Trent Owers (Lucas) also offer convincing performances with Owers’ rap and his unassuming part in the tragic end to the tale making his character a lighthouse for entrepreneurial kids everywhere.

 

The company largely comprises Queensland Conservatorium graduates and they bring with them their gorgeous contemporary vocal style, which boasts a more naturalistic tone and approach, in case you haven’t gotten out much lately and still expect to hear a big Broadway belt in a Brisbane show. (You can hear it in abundance when Patti LuPone comes to QPAC). It’s a refreshing pop-rock sound, brilliant for our performers, who need to be as versatile as possible in an increasingly competitive industry. In fact, the ensemble’s vocal work is stunning from beginning (Epiphany) to end (No Voice, a stirring, inspiring finish), with precision harmonies and a heartfelt message a joy to hear. 

 

 

Stunningly, simply lit by Daniel Anderson, the action takes place beneath abstract stained glass windows and a white cross, putting us firmly beneath these brightly coloured symbols of the ever-watchful eyes of God. Or is it a cruel joke, as God turns a blind eye? All the questions are asked and painfully, the old-school priest offers only Old Testament answers. James Shaw is rather wasted in this role after his impressive performance in RENT but then who else would do just enough here, just as beautifully?

 

Luke Volker (MD and keys) leads a tight band, hidden from sight but who make their presence felt, particularly with the inspired inclusion of cellist, Kate Robinson. Contemporary pop choreography by Madison Lee makes every company number a Britney Spears’ video, with the angst and frustrated aggression of a couple of these numbers, including Confession, suiting some performers better than others. Variations in tempo and dynamic make the rave scene’s Rolling multi-layered and more visually exciting than anticipated. Director, Sue Rider, manages with more aplomb and sensitivity than at other times, these tricky transitions between music video moments and the continuing drama. 

 

BARE is a polished and emotionally charged production, thanks to the high calibre of artists on stage and off, and it feels like the next stepping stone for this ambitious company. It was an ideal inclusion in this year’s MELT Festival program. The too-brief season concludes tonight with an extra performance due to solid bookings before the show had even opened. We are clearly craving more of this style of work, and happy to embrace the stories selected by savvy young indie producers as our own. I can’t wait to see what Woodward does with his Spring Awakening (we saw Oscar do it best in 2011). Book early for it because going by the general response, Understudy Productions continues to challenge and satisfy both artists and audiences. 

 

 

ONE HEART

ONE LOVE

ONE LOVE, ONE LIGHT

ONE LIGHT, ONE TRUTH

ONE TRUTH, ONE LIFE

ONE VOICE

 

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…

 

 

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.