Posts Tagged ‘Dean Bryant

06
Jun
16

Little Shop of Horrors

 

Little Shop of Horrors

Luckiest Productions & Tinderbox Productions

In association with QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

June 1 – 12 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) was a pretty terrible movie; it was largely improvised on a set built for a different movie, but when Howard Ashman (Book & Lyrics) and Alan Menken (Music) penned a musical adaptation for the stage it quickly became a cult classic on Off-Broadway and on screen. This production, by Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions is the best Little Shop we’ve seen; it’s superbly designed and directed, and boasts a stellar cast that brings the original sci-fi story to vibrant life as if for the first time.

Despite the smart commercial decision to put this tiny set and its enormous plant into QPAC’s Playhouse rather than its Cremorne Theatre – and I don’t know the dimensions, I just loathe the empty space around contained, touring sets – it looks fantastic… Imagine though, what it would feeeeeel like to be literally surrounded by the plant! How much more would that cost??? A sophisticated schlock-injected film noir aesthetic draws us into a black and white world, just like Dorothy’s home in Kansas before she’s tossed into the Technicolor of Oz (I remember when we tried to fix the settings on our big enormous twelve-inch screen the first time we were allowed to stay up late to see The Wizard of Oz televised!). And it’s not just the set, it’s the whole of Skid Row, metaphorically grey, drained of all vibrant colour until Audrey II – and money and fame and true love – enter their lives. This is bold and inspired design (Set by Owen Phillips, Lighting by Ross Graham, Costumes by Tim Chappel and the plant, created by Erth Visual & Physical Inc), right down to Audrey’s on-trend grey hair, the black flower heads and stems, newspaper print with which to wrap them, the white plastic crime scene/Psycho shower curtain, and the shadows creeping up the walls of the shop; a creepy pre-cursor of the horrors to come.

The dark themes of Little Shop are heightened here but not dwelt upon and I wouldn’t hesitate to take ten-year old Poppy, however; Opening Night clashed with a school disco so she had to consider her priorities… The school disco won.

In the iconic roles of Audrey and Seymour, made famous in the movie musical (1986) by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, Esther Hannaford and Brent Hill stun us. I’ve never seen a truly original take on either character, but Hannaford and Hill have recreated these two, and in doing so, have also discovered an entirely new perspective on the unlikely relationship; it’s a sweeter, stronger dynamic. We love it. I adored Hannaford in King Kong, and as the vulnerable and self-destructive Audrey it’s as if she’s revisited the very essence of that era of filmmaking and also, the shadow of every domestic violence victim in the world. She’s certainly the tallest, leanest bombshell of all time, but at the same time so fragile… Hannaford finds a way to make every moment genuine; it’s about what’s going on behind the eyes, despite her entire time on stage being all about her gangly presence and OTT posturing. Delightfully awkward.

Hannaford has said she didn’t focus on her singing until age 18 but she’s become one of our best, able to move effortlessly between speaking and singing without the irritating change in tone. I’ve never heard Somewhere That’s Green so beautifully shaped to make us ache and hope and remember to breathe. One of the comments Penny Mullen and I have made, as the judges of the Sunshine Plaza Breakthru comp for schools, is that as the kids get older and sing the same songs, the meaning of the songs will continue to change. I’ve heard Audrey’s song sung by so many young girls whom, thank goodness, have no understanding of it as anything more than a dream of having somewhere pretty to live, but Hannaford finds every bruise and broken bone in it. Heartbreaking.

And Suddenly Seymour is a showstopper. Hill and Hannaford are perfectly matched and clearly enjoy every moment of their duet. But before we stop raving about Hannaford, I love love LOVE her breathy lower register, the European immigrant influenced New York twang, and the precision pause-for-effect tactics that have us in the palm of her hand from the outset. Is Hannaford the most underrated musical comedy performer in the country?

Director, Dean Bryant, is brilliant. I love his global view; his ability to hone in on the small and truly epic stuff in a single moment; the comedy and real vulnerability in the tragedy (Sweet Charity for Hayes Theatre, Anything Goes for Opera Australia/GFO, I’ll Eat You Last, Priscilla and GAYBIES, anyone? And Christie Whelan Brown’s Britney Spears: The Cabaret, and Michael Griffiths’ In Vogue: Songs By Madonna and Sweet Dreams: Songs By Annie Lennox). Bryant takes a big bite out of what we thought we’d acquired a taste for before spitting it out and plating it up as a new, stunning winning dish. Amazing. And surprising that he hasn’t yet been lured overseas for a bigger bite of the cherry.

Little Shop of Horrors exceeds all expectations. It’s brilliant. Don’t miss it. 

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Hill was an awesome Lonny in Rock of Ages and he doesn’t disappoint as Seymour. A terrific singer and actor, Hill embraces Seymour’s nerdiness without making him pathetic. His tentativeness is endearing and when he finds the strength within to challenge the plant he elevates the character to hero status. He actually voices the plant too, an extraordinary accomplishment, making him a real multi-tasking musical theatre hero. Can you imagine that conversation with Director, Dean Bryant? You want me to do whaaaaaat?! And look, it doesn’t work perfectly – we miss some of the words, which we know are so witty and cheeky and funny, but it’s a very clever device.

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The urchins (Chloe Zuel, Josie Lane & Angelique Cassimatis) are suitably too cool for school and emanate a wonderful Hispanic flava: this from Crystal (Cassimatis) and Chiffon (Lane). As Ronette, Zuel raises the cool stakes through the roof, a magnet for the eyes. Together they are Avenue Q’s West Side Story girls. I missed Cassimatis in her show, Guilty Pleasures recently because TIMING, but after this performance I won’t hesitate to reschedule things to see her the next time she’s in town. Together these girls are quite formidable; powerhouse voices and perfect harmonies, slick chorey by Andrew Hallsworth, and sufficient sass to make any secondary teacher’s stomach turn. Yes, I had a moment of gratitude that there are times I get to work with some of the best kids on the Sunshine Coast!

Tyler Coppin (he was pure evil magic in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), makes Mushnik his Jewish own, easily surpassing all previous efforts I’ve seen to reinvent this role, and Scott Johnson brings us a genuinely dumb dentist (made famous in the film by Steve Martin and on the Sunshine Coast by Sam Coward), drawing on the same level of energy and wit that we saw from Vincent Hooper and Jake Ambrose in Heathers. (American footballers, I’m sorry, but there’s usually a reason a stereotype sticks).

Brisbane’s (and Brisbane’s) Dash Kruck plays multiple characters superbly, and as much as I enjoy Hill’s performance, I can’t resist saying aloud online that I’d LOVE to see Kruck’s Seymour. As Hill’s understudy, if you happen to get him for a matinee or an evening performance at QPAC I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Kuki Tipoki is another enigmatic performer with little stage time, but that’s because he’s a talented musician, and he plays guitar in the band. Under the masterful hand of Noosa’s favourite MD Andrew Worboys, this band is tight and funky and fun. Despite minor issues early on (some vocal distortion, some slow lighting cues, whatevs), the look and sound of the show is terrific.

Bryant is actually brilliant. I love his global view; his ability to hone in on the small and truly epic stuff in a single moment; the comedy in the tragedy (a-hem, Sweet Charity for Hayes Theatre, Anything Goes for Opera Australia/GFO, I’ll Eat You Last, Priscilla and GAYBIES, anyone? And Christie Whelan Brown’s Britney Spears: The Cabaret, and Michael Griffiths’ In Vogue: Songs By Madonna and Sweet Dreams: Songs By Annie Lennox). Bryant is one of our brightest, taking a big bite out of what we thought we’d acquired a taste for before spitting it out and plating it up as a new, stunning winning dish. Amazing.

Bryant’s Little Shop of Horrors exceeds all expectations, setting a new standard in the small scale revivals realm. 

10
Feb
16

GAYBIES

 

GAYBIES

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 3 – 6 2016

 

Reviewed by Simon Denver

 

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Verbatim theatre. Bite sized morsels of humanity whose sum of all parts give a well rounded theatrical presentation based on a particular event or theme. It can work particularly well, as in this case, when the performers let the words lead. The power will always be in the honesty of the words; overt characterisation mustn’t distract. In Verbatim theatre the actors are the backing and the words are the lead. In GAYBIES we heard the stories of growing up with a same sex parents. (Well – same sex parents, surrogate mums and donor dads). The people interviewed ranged from 4 year old to 40 year old. This gave fantastic scope for the ensemble of 18.

 

Statistics may say that children of same sex parents make up such a small fraction of society – but that does not detract from the relevance of this work. As I mentioned earlier – society is the sum of all parts. We, as individuals, have an almost moral duty to research, examine or at least familiarise ourselves with as many of those working parts of life as possible – No matter how the findings might be at odds with our “white bread 2.2 children” view of life. In fact, having same sex marriage as a political issue de jour only amplifies this production’s relevance.

 

For over seventy minutes we were presented with stories. Honest stories and clear memories.

 

Too embarrassed to tell your friends your parents are gay. An awkward scenario. But then again, lots of people have always been embarrassed to tell their friends that their parents were Nudists / Mormons / Swingers / National Party Members etc. The charades of truth (“If anyone asks I sleep in this room and Bob sleeps in that room”). But then again, what family doesn’t play out its charade of little white lies? The more stories that flooded the stage the more you realised that these stories were running a parallel course to most people’s stories. Finding so many touchstones within such a small statistic can only serve to humanise as oppose to demonise. It was a gentle reminder that whether parents are the same sex, (or from different religions, race, creed or colour for that matter), in the end it doesn’t matter. A house of love and laughter can only come from love at its core.

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By default or design the limited two-day rehearsal period meant scripts on stage were going to be a necessity. But a two-day rehearsal period with the calibre of the cast involved was always going to make this a very up-market rehearsed reading. Quite a tough brief really. Find the natural flow and rhythms of the words yet continually have to remind your self what the words are. Personally I thought those almost rhythmic glances at the scripts constantly reinforced the fact that these were someone else’s stories. I suppose its like the subtitles in a foreign film. If the film is good you don’t notice that you are reading. The words are not those of professional writers. They are the words of the average man / woman very creatively “cut and pasted” together by Dean Bryant. It was a great “ensemble” piece. And the ensemble did a mighty job. The direction by Kris Stewart was as much as can be expected from a two day rehearsal. Again, without the time to be flash, complex, personal or brave, the direction seemed to merely be there to set the words free.

 

All in all it was an incredibly feel good journey.

 

The Ensemble itself consisted of professional actors and social / media commentators. With that in mind it’s unfair and impossible to single any individual out .. .. .. .. .. (Damn! Can’t back that up! Margi Brown Ash’s four-year-old on a bike was the show stopper for me. Still chuckling at that little gem days later). They were a unified front and they were all on the same page. For that I say to them all – Thank you. So Barbara Lowing, Bec Zanetti, Blair Martin, Kurt Phelan, Libby Anstis, Lizzie Moore, Brad Rush, Brittany Francis, Christopher Wayne, Margi Brown Ash, Pam Barker, Pat O’Neil, David Berthold, Emily Gilhome, Gordon Hamilton, Rebecca McIntosh, Xanthe Coward, Michael James, Dean Bryant, Kris Stewart, Joseph Simons and Jason Glenwright .. .. when you get a moment, give yourselves a pat on the back. You collectively acheived a great thing.

 

However, (and there are always howevers) .. ..

 

GAYBIES slapped the face of the economic rational of current theatre. It was the first time for a while where I witnessed a professional stage creaking, groaning and crammed with performers. Does this mean if we want quality and quantity we can only expect it from Verbatim Theatre? Is the future for large cast rehearsed readings? It’s sad that the size of the average cast is dwindling. It’s even sadder that the cast size can dictate any artistic process. So thank you Brisbane Powerhouse for giving us a brief respite from the so-called “economic reality”.

 

I thought the production was a tad too long and perhaps a couple of performers too many. I thought the music was beautiful and exceptionally well delivered but I had difficulty marrying it to the words and stories. My main criticism was quite simply that it was preaching to the converted. It was a safe option to stage it during the MELT festival (A Celebration of Queer Arts and Culture).

This production needs to jump its rails and be taken to the wider community. It needs to be seen by the detractors not the sympathisers. I feel it is the perfect vehicle to confront those who passively or covertly or overtly demonise anything gay. This plays humanity is undeniable.

Finally I felt it only took or was told good, warm and fuzzy stories. Nothing is perfect, nothing is 100%. I would just liked to have heard one negative experience, as I am sure there are, have been and will be.

 

But the last few comments aside, it was a great night out. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect but I left the Powerhouse smiling .. .. and thinking. Thank you to all concerned. Well worth the 200k return trip from the Sunshine Coast.

 

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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

 

09
Sep
13

In Vogue: Songs by Madonna

 

In Vogue: Songs By Madonna

Brisbane Powerhouse

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

5 – 7 September 2013

 

Reviewed by Jenn Jay

 

We adored him as the effervescent Bob Crewe in Jersey Boys and now Brisbane has seen cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, very comfortable in his own skin and it seems, in that of Pop Diva Madonna’s, “the most famous bitch on the planet!”

 

 

A capacity crowd at the Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre were entertained by Michael Griffiths in his one man cabaret show, In Vogue: Songs by Madonna. The moment he stepped onto the stage, Michael slipped into his Madonna persona, opening the evening with a brilliant rendition of Vogue. Michael’s confident and sassy character immediately consumed the room.

 

For the next hour, Griffiths played the grand piano, serenading the audience with his unique versions of Madonna’s songs, broken often by humorous, crude banter. There is nothing like listening to a performer who really knows how to hold a tune, but who makes you laugh as well. Camp humour flowed freely to great effect.

 

As a fan of Madonna’s music (hard not to be a fan, growing up in the 80’s), I was keen to observe how a male would portray Madonna.  No costumes, wigs, American accent or cone-style bras in sight, just Michael dressed immaculately as himself, impersonating Madonna.

 

Michael uses his smooth and sexy voice to confidently belt out a selection of her most recognisable songs. His expert pianist skills lifted the entertainment level another notch. The Visy theatre provided the perfect intimate atmosphere for this kind of show.  You felt welcome in Michael’s Madonna’s living room.

 

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In character, Madonna laments that no-one buys music anymore – it’s all pirated and she no longer receives any royalties. (Like that’s going to hurt her billion dollar empire!) Many quips flow throughout the show, including a few digs towards Madonna’s best buddy, Lady Gaga. She is “probably going through my back catalogue right now.”

 

The question, “Was I a virgin or a whore?” leads into a highly entertaining version of Like a Virgin.

 

Michael introduces us to the song with the click of the fingers providing the beat, the ivories the melody and his powerful voice, the song. There are many references to Madonna’s diva ways, how she eats people up, then spits them out after she has got what she wanted. The show is peppered with camp, dry humour and bitchy, rude interpretations of Madonna’s life.

 

The audience loves it.

 

The show is slick, fast paced, hilariously clever and the music is top class. Written and directed by Dean Bryant, the script showcases his satirical genius and is interwoven smoothly with the music provided by the very talented Griffiths. The audience was taken on a paradoxical version of Madonna’s life journey.

 

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Michael, who wrote all the musical arrangements himself, has performed the show overseas, including sold out shows at the Edinburgh Festival. His New York performances – Madge’s home town – failed to draw a large crowd, “due mostly to the small back-street venue, that could hold only about 10 people”, Michael revealed in our post-show chat.

 

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If you are familiar with Madonna’s persona and music you will more easily relate to the show and the humour, but even if you are not, Michael is an accomplished performer. The only complaint I have is it was over too quickly – 65 minutes felt more like 30.

 

“Why was I so successful, dressed like a slut?”

 

Why indeed?

 

 

Notes from the ed:

 

Michael also has his superb Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox. It’s a MUST-SEE! X

 

bryantandfrank.wordpress.com is a must-follow for fans of cabaret, music and musical theatre. One of the better theatre blogs out there, it gives great insight into the machinations (and minds) behind the works. I have to include this extract from a fascinating blog post from Dean Bryant, which gives you a good idea of how Madonna followed on from Britney Spears: The Cabaret, which I loved so much! In fact, they were already well and truly onto it (no surprises there, with Lisa Campbell on board!), when I noted The creative team behind Britney Spears: The Cabaret could be onto something. There is a new genre here, not only a reinvention of cabaret during massive cabaret resurgence but also a fresh approach to telling the story – real or imagined – behind the star. Imagine Christina: The Cabaret, Robbie Williams: The Cabaret, Lady GaGa: The Cabaret. What about Whitney: The Cabaret? Too soon? The format is deftly crafted cabaret and it has a sizable audience. x

 

Here’s what Dean Bryant noted:

 

Then came Madonna.  I really didn’t want to write this show.  The only reason I did is because it was my best friend Michael’s idea (the Michael who introduced me to Britney).  Michael and I studied together at WAAPA and have been best friends ever since.  He’s one of the most employable actors in musical theatre because he can sing, act, is tall and dance enough to get by.  He’s also happy to do ensemble and cover, which is a dream for any producer.  During our stint together on the original cast of Priscilla, he started doing ten-minute slots of cabaret at various functions.  And he was brilliant.  Not “I’m supporting my friend because he’s having a go” brilliant but actually comedically amazing, musically brilliant and exactly what cabaret should be.  So I started pushing him to do something for himself.  Instead he did chorus in Jersey Boys.  Well, it’s a wage.

 

But then after I’d done a few Adelaide Cabaret Festivals he said, I wanna do a show.  About Madonna.  Because Britney had already had a few seasons, I was loathe to tread that ground.  But he had a unique take – Christie impersonates Britney, it’s like an Alan Bennett monologue with songs about her life.  But Michael was going to do Madge without any attempt at accent, costume or wig.  Just say, I am her, so let’s get going.  Lisa Campbell was intrigued, but only if Michael would accompany himself at the piano.  Which he can do, luckily.  This was the stroke of genius because it turned his show into something very specific, a recital, essentially, of Madonna’s music.  I said from the start I didn’t want to biopic the script, because I’d done that on Britney, Newley and Liza.  Michael started sending me arrangements of the songs he was interested in, and they started sending ideas into my head of how they could fit.  In a biopic.  So I wrote a biopic script.  We were getting together to work the script for a few days, and Michael, who had professed to love my draft, spent the day rewriting the script.  So when I turned up at his house to begin the rehearsal process, there was an entirely new script waiting for me.  This led to the only real fight we’ve ever had in our friendship.  But the outcome of this (apart from a trip to Stonewall) was that we made a show that was original and unique.

 

Michael really wanted to push the idea that Madonna is an unsaluted songwriter.  So we went through all her lyrics and found key quotes, and then shaped the story around the idea that she was giving a masterclass from the piano of how to use your life to write pop.  Once we’d shaped that, thrown in a guest appearance from Justin Timberlake and a trip through the infamous “Sex” book, we had a show…

 

Michael is even better with an audience than I thought he would be.  Apart from the truly virtuoustic skill of being able to accompany yourself, sing and do dialogue, he can improvise hilarious dialogue on a moment’s notice.  Whenever I watch him do the show I am ridiculously proud of his talent and gratified that I had a part in making sure the world has seen it now.

 

Read more here.

 

 

13
Feb
12

Britney Spears: The Cabaret

Britney Spears: The Cabaret

Brisbane Powerhouse

08.02.12 – 12.02.12

Christie Whelan is a goddess. She’s the girl-next-door goddess and, as Britney Spears, she is everything we recognise in the pap’s (that’s paparazzi’s) portrayal of the poor girl who did it again…oops.

Britney’s journey has been a public one but in Dean Bryant’s brilliant comi-tragedy cabaret, with musical arrangements by Matthew Frank, Whelan lets us into the private world of the pop star. It’s imagined, though the anecdotes are mostly true versions of every situation we’ve ever seen plastered across the print media and shared across social media – and the truth hurts.

This is a role that fits Whelan as well as her tank bandage LBD (very Herve Leger). With spray-tanned legs up to HERE and her shiny silvery-pink nails and blonde, blow-dried hair, Whelan looks and sounds enough like Spears for us to suspend disbelief.

She isn’t trying to look just like Britney and she isn’t trying to sound just like Britney but, just as any A-class actress can do, she’s able to convince us that she IS, just for an hour, Britney Spears. The mannerisms are unstudied and real, the movement is the character’s show of bravado constantly foiled by faltering self-confidence. This Britney is more real than the real Britney. This is the Britney Spears who stumbles – even in the spotlight – and is okay to talk about it barefoot.

The creative team behind Britney Spears: The Cabaret could be onto something. There is a new genre here, not only a reinvention of cabaret during massive cabaret resurgence but also a fresh approach to telling the story – real or imagined – behind the star. Imagine Christina: The Cabaret, Robbie Williams: The Cabaret, Lady GaGa: The Cabaret. What about Whitney: The Cabaret? Too soon? The format is deftly crafted cabaret and it has a sizable audience.

The real tragedy of Britney’s story is that her original vulnerability, her genuine innocence, was so early questioned and wrapped clumsily in tabloid pages for sale to the masses. News today, trash tomorrow. We are drawn into Britney’s journey because we are so familiar with it; not through our own similar experiences (though I can’t speak for everyone) but through the unforgiving eyes of the media. We feel like we know her, we feel comfortable judging her and now we feel compelled to join her for what we know will be a tumultuous ride. We almost feel guilty that this total train wreck of a life is a source of amusement and entertainment. And yet we continue to read about it, talk about it, laugh about it, tweet about it. We feel some sort of despair, some strange pity, for a creature made entirely by the media. It’s not a circus in which Britney stars but a freak show.

The pain, the terror and later, the shame, is almost tangible; the audiences’ laughter reflecting our discomfort with the bizarre truth, rather than hilarity at the situation (you can’t laugh at that)! The tales are told and the songs are sung as if through the eyes of an older, wiser Britney to the eight, ten, sixteen, twenty year old girl. Dear Me. Dear Sixteen year old me…

Whelan has returned to this role after stepping off the STC stage as Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. Before that, she was the roller-skating star of the short-lived Xanadu. She says that performing cabaret is a stepping-stone and she feels that vocally, this is her most comfortable gig to date. Little wonder, with arrangements written for her, by talented composer and accompanist, Matthew Frank. Whelan’s talent is such that she sings Britney’s hits better than Britney does. Even Britney’s worst efforts, live and sweaty, sans auto-tune, are made bearable – and absolutely hysterical – in Whelan’s hands.

Whelan scintillates, Michelle Pfeiffer Fabulous Baker Boys style, singing Toxic on the piano top. Slave to You becomes a disturbing pageant number, complete with baton twirling, tapping and the biggest little Miss America smile we’ve seen since JonBenet Ramsey’s and it changes the entire tone of the show, setting a much darker course. We’ve had dark moments before this point but all of a sudden, Bryant’s story takes us down into the grim, dark depths of Hollywood childhood. We’re in subterranean levels now and the edges are sharper. It’s Whelan’s razor-sharp rendition of Womaniser that is testament to her empathy and skill as a performer. Between Brisbane and Sydney appearances, Whelan won over a whole new audience, gifting viewers of Channel Ten’s The Circle with the final number of the show, Baby One More Time.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret, much like the real story, doesn’t have a happy ending, it just has an ending for now.

And since this act has left town, I can only advise that, in future, you see anything that any of these artists have touched! It’s guaranteed quality.