Posts Tagged ‘andrew lloyd webber

08
Feb
16

CATS

 

CATS

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins & Base Entertainment Asia

in association with The Really Useful Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

January 29 – February 14 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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WHEN CATS ARE MADDENED BY THE MIDNIGHT DANCE

(Or: When audiences and critics are baffled by a show’s long-running runaway success).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS is one of the most successful musicals ever, and probably one of the the most loathed. If you’ve never seen it before there’s probably still a lot to love but for audiences who have seen one or more earlier productions, this is not the one that surpasses them.

My earliest memories of CATS echo the delights of the children seeing this latest touring production, which comes to us from London Palladium. I think the harshest critics, especially those of us who have had to sit through this show more than once, forget that everything is always new to somebody. I grew up on a steady diet of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim so I’m not actually one of the harshest critics. Nostalgia always counts for something, doesn’t it? When I first saw CATS (I was still in primary school) I was full of wonder and curiousity, intrigued by the ramshackle junkyard setting and the feline beauty of the performers in their costumes and makeup to suit each unique character. We got to traverse the stage during Interval and relived moments from the show for years afterwards. I adored the sass of Mr Macavity, the magic of Mr Mistoffolees, and the abject despair that gives way to a tiny glimmer of hope in Memory. And I loved the dancing. It’s a dance show after all; a dancer’s show.

I remember, as the lights dimmed, the thrill of hearing the first synthesised strains of the music, which we knew from wearing out the double cassette tape of the original London production soundtrack, and sensing before seeing them, cats of all colours and traits slinking through the audience, over seats and over people, purring and snuggling up to us as they made their way to the stage for the opening number. It was fantastic. We saw CATS return to Brisbane in 2010 – Poppy was four years old – and she loved it! I was underwhelmed. This time? We were both underwhelmed. Rather than write about it right away, I took off and did a show at Brisbane Powerhouse for the week before I could even think about assembling any thoughts about this production of CATS.

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CATS remains one of the most rigorous shows in which a performer can be involved, and for dedicated dancers it’s great work if you can get it. (This ensemble is terrific, clear characters, solid dance and vocal parts on point). But for many of us it’s a show that’s become lost in glossy global marketing genius and the popular belief that such a long-running show must be good. This is what’s good about CATS –

  • if you’re a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • the dancing and random acrobatic feats are still impressive, despite the distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • the music, despite being more Flashdance than contemporary dance, is still memorable
  • the individual cats are all unique creatures and if the lack of plot bothers you a good comparative study can be made from carefully observing the behaviour (and costume and makeup) of each
  • the same can be said of the lights. Lots of lights to count…
  • the set is still interesting, spilling out into the audience space.

This is what’s (still) diabolically bad about CATS –

  • if you’re not a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • there is a distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • there is not much of a plot andThe Awful Battle of The Pekes and The Pollicles is still…awful
  • the clunky mechanics of the UFO-looking platform that ascends with Grizabella would be better placed in a high school production. When it grows up this piece of equipment might be seen in a Katy Perry or Pink concert.
  • this time there is no Coca-Cola can in the set. Does anyone else miss the Coca-Cola can? I miss the Coca-Cola can.
  • star casting, complete with contemporary pop voice does not a Grizabella make
  • by far the greatest creative crime, Rum Tum Tugger has been slaughtered and hung out to dry like a crow, warning other ambitious all-singing, all-dancing boys to stay away from this role in this production.

 

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Delta Goodrum is an elegant, once decadently languorous, now legendary Grizabella, shunned by all, and her Memory, although beautifully, powerfully delivered, is marred by her ceaseless distracting wandering and preceded by an interpretative dance that has, unfortunately, missed the kind strike of the red pen. I love Delta (my goodness, she’s so lovely on stage, that smile!), but her Grizabella not so much.

 

And as hard as Daniel Assetta tries to sell his Rastafarian rapping Rum Tum Tugger, my guess is that it will never win over Australian audiences. Did it wow the West End? I wonder. How could anyone possibly imagine that anything would top the sultry, sexy-as-fuck rock star we remember so, er, fondly, from previous productions??? I can’t wait to see Assetta in a role he can get his teeth and…never mind what else…into.

Christopher Favaloro shines as the leaping, twirling Mister Mistoffelees, but somebody has maybe been a little over zealous with the fire pots???

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Matt McFarlane – what a gorgeous voice and a commanding presence – does a fine job of narrating the non-existent narrative as Munkastrap (Oh yes, I know, sure, for the sake of the argument, there is a synopsis, which makes vague sense as long as you’re paying attention and bearing in mind the entire concept came from a collection of poems). Josh Piterman is our other standout, in the multiple roles of Bustopher Jones, Gus & Growltiger. As Gus the theatre cat, Piterman offers a beautifully measured, nuanced performance in the tradition of the great storytellers of the British stage. I actually want to give him a hug and find his slippers for him and settle at his feet to hear more. Later, as Growltiger he sells a dramatic Italian moment, one of the highlights of the night.

Despite the few attempts to update the production, CATS stubbornly remains deeply entrenched in an awkward late seventies-early eighties time warp and if you hated it before you’ll be more than a little bemused by this production. But maybe, just maybe, THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Bite your tongue, take the kids and be prepared to suffer a little in your lycra and leg warmers.

As an exercise in suspended disbelief, this show has always been for advanced theatre-goers (or the perfectly naive), but it’s not the worst musical in the world and as a little family outing, CATS is still a bit of fun.   

 

11
Jul
14

CATS – the arena spectacular spectacular

 

I THOUGHT I WOULD FINISH WRITING ABOUT CATS BEFORE THE NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL BEGINS. YOU MIGHT NOT HEAR FROM ME NOW UNTIL AUGUST.

 

ACTUALLY THAT’S NOT TRUE BECAUSE, AS YOU’LL RECALL, WE’RE GONNA’ TWEET AND INSTAGRAM THE HELL OUTTA’ #NLW14

 

COME UP AND SEE US SOMETIME.

 

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The closest I will ever get to playing a cat.

 

CATS

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 4 – 6 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

When CATS first opened in Australia none of the members of this production’s mass ensemble were born. (When it opened in London I *might* have been just born. Alright, I *might* have been in preschool already but let’s not think too long about that).

 

CATS has been performed in over 20 countries and in over 250 cities.

 

The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.

 

1700 meters of lycra and 2000 metres of faux fur were used to create the costumes.

 

Over 3000 pots of Kryolan make-up were used to create the make-up designs.

 

The dance floor comprises over 500 pieces weighing over 10 tonnes.

 

Over 1500 young performers auditioned for the mass ensemble and 800 were chosen.

 

The mass ensemble rehearsed on weekends for 6 months and the professional cast rehearsed for 3 weeks.

 

70 individual body mics were used in this production.

 

There are over 400 lights in the rig and over 400 stage management cues to call.

 

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This is the second largest production of CATS ever! (The largest featured over 3000 cats in London in 2013). That makes it the largest production ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ve finally worked out Harvest Rain’s caper.

 

THEY ARE AFTER THE NEXT OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY GIG

 

They’ve certainly proved with this super-sized production that they have the team to pitch something!

 

With more than #800cats on stage in the Brisbane Convention Centre, including a heap from the Sunshine Coast (and you know I know that drive! Well done, Mums and Dads!). At times it felt like we were caught in a musical epic about the bubonic plague, as hundreds and hundreds of cats swarmed into the space, looking for the first few moments more like rats than cats, upon a ship’s deck, which indeed, seemed to be where we were meant to be. That’s right. No garbage heap here. I actually overheard somebody explaining to his companion that the original had been staged on a rubbish heap and I was suddenly reminded that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVEN’T YET SEEN CATS. I KNOW.

 

I remember the first time I experienced CATS, at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in 1989 (the Australian and New Zealand tour), in which Trevor Green played Skimbleshanks to great acclaim. We were sitting next to Trevor on opening night of Harvest Rain’s CATS and I thought I noticed the same consternation on his face that I too was feeling during Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as the pace began to lag a little. Perhaps it was a trick of the light; Jason Glenwright’s rock star lighting design is a show unto itself! Anyway, what I remember most about that first experience was that the cats actually came through the stalls, purring and climbing all over us! Also, we were allowed on stage at Interval to see the set up close. Unheard of! Years later, Sam played Old Deuteronomy in a local production with Nathanael Cooper as Munkastrap. (Nathanael would probably prefer you didn’t know about that but I’m telling you because he did real GOOD!), and I’ll never forget my first singing teacher, Judy, who wore face paint and cute little cat ears to sing Memory at a closing night party at our place in Buderim. I think it was after a very successful Buderim run of Waltzes From Vienna.

 

These cats did not disappoint either, settling into various reposes upon the floor and on the stairs at points throughout the show when not dancing, keeping character all the while and delighting patrons with their cheeky grins and fabulously feline characters, upheld by all within my scope at least. Paired with the synchronised moggie moves of over 800 performers, including fifteen or more legit tap dancers, it’s a totes impressive effort!

 

MD Maitlohn Drew leads a confident lot of cat wig clad musos, and the music, which is usually easy to get sick to death of – c’mon, be real, it is – was actually really enjoyable. I even loved lots of little moments largely because of the music. Mostly, if I’m completely honest, I ACTUALLY LOVE CATS. I love CATS because of Sarah Brightman, Elaine Paige, Macavity the Mystery Cat and RUM TUM TUGGER. Unfortunately, HR’s Rum Tum (Ethan Jones) gave us more Ty Noonan than Mick Jagger and you know I’m a big fan of Ty’s stuff but it has its place, and it’s place is not in Lloyd Webber’s CATS. (WE LOVE YOU, TY!). That’s not to say that Jones disappointed anybody else on opening night – he was a hit! Mungojerrie (Callan Warner) and Rumpleteaser (Hannah Crowther), though a bit breathless, wowed us with their acrobatic song and dance routine and it’s testament to Harvest Rain’s training program that these two – two of the strongest of the core ensemble, along with Munkastrap (Dean Vince), Mr Mistoffelees (Stevie Bishop) and Jennyanydots (Astin Blaik) – are stand outs in terms of their performance flair, energy and vocal and physical prowess. (It should be noted that I felt Jones redeemed himself in his rich contribution to Magical Mr Mistoffelees). CATS is considered a dancers’ show, sure, but it’s a much more entertaining dancers’ show when the dancers can hold a tune and convey character.

 

Steven Tandy makes a delightful Bustopher Jones and a lovable Gus. Our leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is an apt choice for Grizabella, giving the famous role a beautiful blend of fragility and fallen grace, not to mention making a pristine appearance in her Wheels & Dollbaby at the after party.

 

 

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Choreographer and Director, Callum Mansfield has always worked meticulously and he had his work cut out for him on this one – we know that CATS is really the choreographer’s show – and word is that Mansfield started work on this production a year ago. Actually, Mansfield choreographed Harvest Rain’s 2007 production of CATS, at their teeny tiny Sydney Street theatre in New Farm, with Designer Josh McIntosh and Producer, Tim O’Connor. Mansfield was 17 years old. During that original run he’d said, “For a choreographer and dancer, Cats is THE dream gig. It’s athletic, energetic and joyful and it’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography reflects the feline movements of the characters while also communicating with the audience.” He also played Mr Mistoffelees in that production. We can only imagine his horror delight when O’Connor suggested staging the show again but this time, on a much larger scale! This time Mansfield says (and this I LOVE), “…here was my chance to provide 800 young performers with the same kind of opportunity that was given to me. Whether they were eight or eighteen years old, I set out to make this experience an enjoyable journey of music, dance and storytelling that would solidify their passion for performing and help them on their way.”

 

Mansfield has BOOKS of choreography – I’d love to see those – and this time he engaged two assistant choreographers (Jennifer Miller& Courtney Underhill), and thirty-nine dance captains to lead the mass ensemble in “tribes” of different colours. Wow! And yikes! And it’s because of these sorts of logistical nightmares that no one else comes close to even attempting anything of the size and scale of this production. I’m not even joking about the Olympics’ bid.

 

I’m actually convinced now that Harvest Rain can (and will) do anything.

 

Look, if you hate CATS you would still have hated it after seeing this production – just face it, you’re a Hater and not even Harvest Rain’s eight million cute kids in furry costumes can cure you – it’s still a whimsical non-story using the poems by T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, about a bunch of cats with human qualities who come together for the Jellicle Ball, the cat event of the year, akin to Damien Rossi’s Oscars’ party, obviously, during which (the Jellicle Ball, not the Oscars’ party), one cat will be chosen to become elevated to somewhere vaguely above us. Of course that cat is Grizabella, an outcast and set up beautifully to be the underdog who comes out on top, literally, disappearing via smoky scaffolding into the mystical realm of the Heaviside Layer. The tales within the tale are beautifully realised, allowing for the most plot-like non-plot I’ve seen in a production of CATS.

 

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Apparently, without Marina Prior signing on as the Glamour Cat, this production would never have gone ahead, and whether or not her star power has attracted just as many audience members as family members of the kids involved, what it does do is this – it reaffirms Harvest Rain as one of our premiere performing arts companies, giving them the sort of street cred that only Prior’s sort of star power can buy (check out the cast of Spamalot!), and it gives the younger members of the company a legit role model and mentor. Just as those of us who are *slightly older* looked to Sarah Brightman before her crazy-ass experimental pop chart electronica era (I saw her live on stage, y’all. She sang off key), these aspiring performers look to Marina and her industry peers. It’s obviously been such an awesome opportunity, on so many levels, to be part of Harvest Rain’s Wakakirri Creative Generation Arena Spectacular Spectacular Rock Challenge CATS! Congrats, all! I’m looking forward to seeing all your lovely new faces, although perhaps not all at once, on a stage somewhere again soon!

 

 

13
Jun
13

Jesus Christ Superstar: Australian Arena Tour

 

Jesus Christ Superstar: Australian Arena


Tour
Brisbane Entertainment Centre

 
11th, 12th & 18th June 2013

 
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CONSUME THIS

 

 

JCS-minchin-300x0Let me just get this out of the way. I adore Tim Minchin and I don’t think I’m the only one. The legion of followers on Twitter, and the fans overheard at Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Tuesday night planning their post-show stage door strategy for meeting the stars (a decent way to wait for the carpark to clear, let’s face it, although personally, prefer a glass of something at the bar these days, having spent too many hours at stage doors in another life), as well as the standing ovation for this Judas Iscariot, indicate that the infamous atheist Minchin is the real superstar of this massive
new production. Judas has always been the plum role, in what was the first officially recognised “rock musical”, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice after the success of their high school musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I grew up with these shows playing at maximum volume (on scratchy albums, kids. RECORDS. PLAYED ON A RECORD PLAYER).

 

Through the eyes of Judas, we see the events of the last days and nights of Jesus Christ, including the crucifixion (and not, to the slight distress of staunch Christians over the years, the resurrection). If we don’t feel the anguish and self-loathing of Judas there’s something very wrong with the production. In this role, Minchin gives generously so much anguish, self-loathing, confusion and disbelief that there are a couple of moments to bring us to tears if we are so inclined. His Heaven On Their Minds sets up for a faultless performance; it’s a gutsy and unforgiving opening, and Damned For All Time/Blood Money and Judas’s Death set Minchin well apart from the other strong leads, including my (other) favourite, Jon Stevens, whose performance is exceptional despite some unusual directorial decisions having been applied to his character, Pontius Pilate. He nevertheless commands the stage at every moment. These two performers are in a calibre of their own and will have you completely captivated.

 

I saw Stevens as a bare-chested, black-leather-pants-clad certified Rock God Judas in the last arena tour (in the round) in 1992, with John Farnham as Jesus, Kate Ceberano as Mary Magdalene, Angry Anderson as Herod, and John Waters as Pilate. Incidentally, going by the evidence kindly provided by the form-fitting black Nike gear he wears so well, Stevens is in better shape now than he was then. Just saying. By leaping into both demanding roles, Stevens has well and truly proven his versatility and his prowess as a stage performer (and look, in 1992 certified Rock Gods making their musical theatre debut could get away with taking a breath in the middle of a phrase), not to mention his commitment to basic stagecraft, which is not to be undervalued even (or especially) at this level.

 

 

Ben Forster, who won the title role in the British Superstar comp, can’t help but head into overly dramatic territory, where his vocals suffer slightly when there’s no need to push it; clearly, he has the necessary vocal range and depth of emotion. Despite his obvious talent and earnest efforts, he seemed slightly fatigued and his Gethsemane failed to move me, with his best moments happening in tandem with Minchin. The kiss from Judas, and the embrace that follows it, is heart wrenching. I defy you to sit unmoved during this small, spectacular moment. The devil is in the detail.

 

 

Andrew O’Keefe as Herod in a flashy red velvet suit, manages to pull off an appropriately cheesy reality television game show, complete with faux audience participation, our host pandering to the cameras, and a bevvy of beautiful Deal or No Deal (well, they’re really “Lord or Fraud”) girls in gold. The girls return later, as SMASH style angels, in frilly knickers and corsets, and help leather-bound Minchin to make Superstar the showstopper. In one foul swoop, there it is, exactly what we came to experience; the Superstar Arena Spectacular!

 

Mel C – who is being raved about by other critics so, you know, don’t take my word for it – forgot, I think, that she was here to play the role of Mary Magdalene and after her perfectly measured part in Everything’s Alright, insisted on reverting to Sporty Spice style, shouting more than singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him. (I’m sorry, but you got nothin’ on our Naomi Price, girlfriend!), and Could We Start Again Please (poor, poor Peter – the talented Tom Parsons – didn’t stand a chance!). Suffice to say, after her first number, Mel C failed to impress me. AND I WAS READY TO BE IMPRESSED. After all, each and every lead role in this show is so, so, SO covetable, and we (quite rightly) expect the best. It’s not just a matter of getting up and making your mark as one of these characters. We need to see more than the star on stage. To be cast in any iconic show demands a step away from the ego and a back to basics approach in terms of discovering and developing characters and relationships. It’s the difference between recognising an actor like Robert De Niro or Daniel Day Lewis in a role, and not seeing anyone other than Keanu Reeves in a role. JUST SAYING.

 
gal-land-Renee-20Melides_A0C0739-620x414 Director, Lawrence Connor, has drawn on the global Occupy Movement to perfectly recontextualise this adaptation, dragging even the most reluctant of the original 1970s fan base into Big Brother’s digital age, with news updates, headlines and tweets (and hashtags, including #RomeLies and #FollowTheTwelve – of course I loved it!) embedded on the massive screen before us in between live-streamed footage of the performers and the changes in surroundings. It’s more like a rock concert than a musical, with camera operators sharing the steps and stage space with the cast and band, and a lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe worthy of a Freddie Mercury Resurrection Tour.

 

Speaking of the band, I don’t often list an entire collective but these guys, placed in full view on the scaffold at either side of the steps/stage space are outstanding, and if you faked a standing ovation in order to surreptitiously take your leave and get out to your car during the play-out music SHAME ON YOU. You missed the final fantastic notes from Louise Hunt (Musical Director/keys), Peter Adams (keys), Lewis Osborne (guitar), Frissi Karlson (guitar), Phil Mulford (bass), Andy McGlasson (drums), John Clark (percussion), Nicole Dixon (French horn), Kate Robertson (sax & wind instruments), and Greg Spence (trumpet). Regardless of your final thoughts about this production, you can’t fail to appreciate the expertise of the musos involved. The same applies to th ensemble, which gives this story much of its energy, excitement and contemporary urban grunge. Their vocals are superb.   GHMinchineJCSSAW-20130608151017170064-620x349

 

There are some clunky scene transitions – there usually are in Superstar and the set is perhaps less visually arresting than expected, although Minchin’s last entrance from – literally – “the gods” up above us, and the lighting bars used for the cross worked well. I’m surprised I didn’t get shivers upon hearing the opening strains of the guitar (it didn’t seem LOUD enough!), or in the final moments (it didn’t seem to MATTER enough!), and I’m disappointed that I didn’t feel completely awestruck by this…impressive production.

 

I love Jesus Christ Superstar – our Sunshine Coast production, directed by Cirque’s Mark Bromilow and staged in a warehouse in Kawana in 1999, retains the record for the largest audience numbers in a season on the Sunshine Coast – and the majority will love this Arena Spectacular, which is everything its tag suggests it should be. But there’s a big-budget-big-ego issue overshadowing a few of the elements, which is keeping me from really LOVING it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy seeing Tim Minchin the show again!

 

I was impressed enough to get online and book two more tickets for the third and final Brisbane performance – for my husband, the producer of that unforgettable local production in ‘99, and for my dad, singing at the top of his voice and playing the original scratchy cast recording since 1970.
 

Jesus Christ Superstar should be experienced at least once in a lifetime and the Arena Spectacular is a terrific, high-voltage version so book your last-minute tickets and chalk it up!