Posts Tagged ‘caroline o’connor

30
Jul
15

Anything Goes

 

Anything Goes

Opera Australia & John Frost

QPAC Lyric Theatre

July 25 – August 16 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

ANYTHING GOES has captivated millions with its delightful story of madcap antics aboard the S.S. American. When the ocean liner sets sail from New York to London, etiquette and convention get tossed out the portholes as two unlikely couples set off to find true love… proving that sometimes destiny needs a little help from a crew of singing sailors, an exotic disguise and some good old-fashioned blackmail. 

 

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With three Helpmann Awards announced the previous night, opening night of Anything Goes in Brisbane was always going to be an exciting affair. I wore sparkles, creating a major dress dilemma for the week because LA BOITE’S BIRTHDAY BASH! That’s right. Two of the shiniest occasions in Queensland’s theatrical calendar occur in one week and I’ve already been seen in my (more-twenties-than-thirties, let’s face it) sparkles. I’m not above being seen in the same frock twice but…

 

It’s times like these I have to ask myself

WHAT WOULD OUR CATE DO?

 

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02: Actress Cate Blanchett arrives at the 86th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 02: Actress Cate Blanchett arrives at the 86th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

 

Well, there’s no Armani here yet, but it’s okay, don’t panic, I have more white in the wardrobe now, thanks to a fortune fortnight spent on Hastings Street during Noosa Long Weekend Festival and the smiling, sophisticated ladies at KOOKAI. Admittedly, all they had to do was to bag a couple of cute frocks, which I’d spotted on the rack and decided to purchase without even trying on (because KOOKAI), but still; they are lovely there. Go visit them if ever you find yourself in similar strife.

 

This dazzling production of Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is indeed almost too de-lightful, too de-licious and too, too de-lovely for words. It’s not my favourite clever, convoluted, old-fashioned, funny because it’s so unlikely excuse for a plot – misadventure and mistaken identities on the high seas with enough theatrical evangelical shenanigans to create another show entirely – but the music is timeless and the comedy is pitched at a broad audience of loyal Porter fans and musical theatre newbies. Everyone will enjoy this one.

 

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Musical theatre queen, Caroline O’Connor, is superb as Reno Sweeney, as we knew she would be. In this demanding role, O’Connor earned the Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. She barely pauses for breath – unless there’s a laugh to be had (and there are plenty, with her knack for physical comedy most obvious in Friendship with Wayne Scott Kermond) – and with her suitably Ethel Merman styled powerhouse vocals, polished dance and comedic finesse, O’Connor steals the show. But only just because this is the strongest company we’ve seen in Frosty’s trilogy with Opera Australia.

 

Reno’s girls are standouts – hot, glam goddesses who get to strut and shimmy their stuff in a red-lit and racy Blow, Gabriel, Blow (Annie Aitkin, Bridgette Hancock, Hayley Martin & Samantha Leigh Dodemaide).

 

And the ensemble are all gorgeous, great, true triple-threats, with an abundance of very young-looking sailors on board… didn’t Fleet Street happen already?! The title number, reprised for the Finale, is the highlight of the show – precision tap at its best to leave you, unlike the company of #fitspo performers, gasping for breath! Helpmann Award winning choreography by Andrew Hallsworth is simply spectacular, brilliantly executed.

 

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Todd McKenney, perfect in the role of English fop, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, reminds me of Eric Idle in The English National Opera’s The Mikado (1997), which was watched and re-watched for years in our house, thanks to the miracle of VHS. We see this sort of silliness in a role attempted so often but it’s very rarely achieved. Todd McKenney nails it. And of course, he can dance! Act Two’s The Gypsy In Me showcases McKenney’s triple-threat skill set and has us in stitches. (N.B. McKenney doesn’t do the Sunday show). Wouldn’t you just love to sign up for a Todd’s Tour with Evelyn?!

 

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Alex Rathgeber’s Billy Crocker won him the Helpmann Award for Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical. A legit leading man, Rathgeber brings warmth, charm and natural comedy to Crocker, making the character seem more present than ever in the ludicrous plot, and giving Hope Harcourt (Claire Lyon) much to consider in her will-I-or-won’t-I-marry-him throes. In Act One, You’re The Top (with O’Connor) and Easy To Love (with Lyon) carry old-world, swoon-worthy charm. Lyon is lovely, elegant and perfectly matched.

 

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Wayne Scott Kermond and Deborah Krizak – Moonface Martin and the sexy, haughty Erma – bring hilarity to new heights; Krizak’s mercury-like moves in the constrictive cabin space and her Madonna attitude in Buddie Beware make her my new fave what-else-have-ya-got-for-us female. (She has in fact, got CABBARET, an ABBA biopic).

 

MD/Conductor, Peter Casey, leads a slick outfit – there are no disappointing horns here – and Dale Ferguson’s simple set adaptation (lit by Matt Scott) and sublime costumes (to make up for the simple set?) complete the look and feel of what is really a magnificent production, astutely directed by Dean Bryant.

 

Credited with the New Book Co-Author credit is Timothy Crouse, son of one of the original authors, Russell Crouse, but it seems there hasn’t been much of a re-write, which is a shame because contemporary audiences are looking for more than a name change for the Chinese. Aren’t we? Bryant’s production for Opera Australia and John Frost is glamorous, gorgeous and hilarious, and it won’t make a difference to box office sales to find fault with a slightly outdated book, but it’s worth noting that once this one is done there might be more to consider than star vehicles boasting terrific song and dance numbers that gloss over obvious racist undercurrents, which so many of the older, much-loved shows perpetuate within their stories. Of course, each reflects the popular themes and attitudes of its time. But does that deem them untouchable? South Pacific somehow seemed more relevant and The King and I not so much. The London Palladium Production of The Sound of Music certainly seems a stronger choice (and you can book for that now. Amy Lehpamer is going to be amazing).

 

Anything Goes is a lavish production with a stellar cast. It would be a crime to miss Caroline O’Connor in this iconic role, in a riotous show that doesn’t claim to be anything it’s not. It’s pure entertainment and it’s honestly the most fun you’ll have at the theatre before you have your mind blown at Brisbane Festival.

 

Anything Goes must finish August 16 so be quick and book tix and dress nicely, and go and have some fun on board the S.S. American!

 

 

Production pics by Jeff Busby

 

22
Mar
12

bombshells

Bombshells

Queensland Theatre Company

Featuring Christen O’Leary

Directed by Wesley Enoch

17th March – 21st April

 

“A one person show is an act of endurance for a performer and a true showcase of their skills.”

Director, Wesley Enoch

From Australia’s foremost female playwright, Johanna Murray-Smith, who brought us the phenomenal Songs for Nobodies (currently pitching to the Broadway gods), comes this neat little show, which Murray-Smith wrote for award-winning, just-about-to-return-to-Broadway powerhouse performer, Caroline O’Connor. I think it’s fair to say that there is not a performer anywhere in the world, quite like Caroline O’Connor and despite her having teensy, tiny feet; O’Connor’s are big shoes to fill. Of course, there was never any intention to recreate the original production but it’s hard to forget it, isn’t it?

Luckily, Christen O’Leary won us over on Monday night – within seconds, in fact – with her first character, my absolute favourite, Meryl Louise Davenport, the inadequate mother, frantic with school day preparation, distraction and procrastination, continuously despairing over her unsuccessful attempts to “connect” with her children, her husband, herself as well as her inability to complete even the most menial tasks for the household when she’s “not even working”. Every mother must recognise this mother! In abject horror, we see in Meryl our own failings in every area – even sleep – and we have to laugh. But it’s from a place that is so uncomfortably familiar; we squirm and silently wonder, “Oh wow… was that really my day today?” And the louder inner voice, in the same rapid-fire delivery as O’Leary’s, which we feel sure everybody around us can hear, with its cruel judgment and damnation replies, “YES. Yes, it was, you hopeless, ambitionless, pathetic excuse for a child-rearing, formally-completely-capable, desirable woman, wife and mother.” Oh. Yes. Well, fuck.

O’Leary’s performance during this opening out-loud-inner monologue is absolutely superb. With heightened energy and frenetic business, her voice supports her thrown-together school-run persona (“lipstick, that’ll do it, whack it on; that way the other mothers will think I’m in control!”) and it’s funny because it’s true; we all have those days.

Next, we meet her neighbor, Tiggy, a succulent lover. That is, a lover of succulents who has recently lost a lover. Her anguish is almost palpable and we feel for this woman, with such well laid plans that have come well unstuck. She is comforted by the success of her enormous cactus, ridiculously phallic, making us feel sorry for the poor bugger to which she likens it, whom she suddenly spots in the audience, thereafter directing every insult to him! Nicely staged. Meryl and Tiggy, along with the beautiful widowed soul, Winsome, who we meet later, at sixty-eight allowing the label afforded her, determine who she is. An unexpected erotic encounter changes Winsome when she – and we – presumed nothing of the sort would ever happen to her again. Those of us older than twittering age (and I’m not referring to social media) appreciate her gentle, stately grace, her benevolence, her life of new routine to fit in with “the widows”, while students, too young to see past the imagery conjured by mummy porn and O’Leary’s facial expressions as she reads it aloud, giggle at the comical, clever writing. O’Leary’s commitment to the woman’s story is assisted in this piece by the exquisite execution of pause. Giggling students take note and do see this play again in a few years.

Mary O’Donnell is the character I like least. I’ve seen all manner of interpretations – this monologue is popular for auditions and senior assessment – and her inflated ego and misguided ambition is the tragi-comedy of another familiar situation; that of the high school talent show. (Cue Mr G style approach to performance.) The character prepares Lloyd Webber’s Macavity, in full drama class cat regalia (ie leotard, tail and ears), only to find her nemesis performs the same song, leaving O’Donnell with no option but to perform an impromptu, interpretive Shaft number. It falls flat. I must say, I prefer all lip-synching (drag queens) or all singing (everybody but drag queens), rather than hear a combination of the two. It was during Macavity that I felt O’Leary’s voice started to tire and she appeared to work much harder at this point, to harness the massive amount of energy needed to go on with the show. The Shaft sequence is simply too long, albeit hilarious at first.

Next, the sister of O’Donnell’s trophy-touting, triple- threat nemesis, Theresa McTerry, is getting married and we get the sense that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DRESS. This is one story I don’t relate to but I’m sure, from the number of reality TV shows built on the same premise, that other brides must. O’Leary sips pink sparkling while dressing and freaking out, knowing she’s about to make a huge mistake.

Cabaret star, Liza Zoe, is hardened and fabulously drunk, though she lays claim to sobriety and leaves us with our own lingering thoughts on the conflicts associated with celebrity and fortune, forcing the question, what is it all for? This final piece is the one which truly showcases Simone Romaniuk’s ingenious revolving set, all mirrors on this side (we’ve seen the practical reverse of cupboards and doorways, which house dozens of props and wardrobe items), taking over for a moment as the star of the show and providing a glittering backdrop to O’Leary’s final story, told largely in song (Composer/Sound Designer Phil Slade). Daniel Anderson’s lighting design (Lighting Consultant David Walters) is exemplary in the first and final scenes. O’Leary is stunning in a distinctive silver gown, featured in The Courier Mail’s interview with O’Leary on Saturday). The words were perhaps a little too slurred – I wanted to discern what she was singing about – and although I felt her vocals had recovered somewhat, I would like to hear O’Leary sing again. Something outside of this show, something that is ideal for her. I didn’t see Voice Coach, Melissa Agnew (my own, incidentally, back in the QUT days and it’s always a delight to run into her in foyers now) but I would be interested to hear what sort of tips she has for vocal health and stamina during the run of such a demanding show.

In each character we see the high level of commitment and subtext that can only come from a skilled actress and director, working in close partnership during the creative process. For students of the craft, there is more where that came from at QPAC this week. Not only O’Leary but also, Miriam Margoyles is this week at the venue. Margoyles attended the Bombshells preview on Monday night and stayed to sit in on director’s notes after the show (after being stopped for photographs with Matthew Flinders Anglican College students, who were kindly and most generously advised by the doyenne, “Always, always go to your light, girls”. A pointed note and a beautiful moment, which I’m sure they’ll remember for many years to come). Keep an eye out for Michelle’s review of Margoyles’ Dickens’ Women, which also opens tonight, when QPAC will be awash with pink and bling (the dress advice for Bombshells attendees).

I feel that the slightly older bombshells are sitting with O’Leary very comfortably. We see their ticks and take in their nuances. We feel for them and whether or not we are ready to see the harsh truth, the women become our mirrors, just as Murray-Smith intended.

So often, six women rather than one perform this show and it is little wonder; this is one of the toughest gigs in town to pull off. I’m sure the opening night audience tonight will find that Christen O’Leary does just that.