Posts Tagged ‘emily gilhome

12
Oct
16

Boy&Girl

Boy&Girl

Brisbane Powerhouse & Oscar Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

September 23 – October 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Warning: Coarse language, adult themes, nudity, glitter and show tunes

The sexiest show in town just got better. Better see it at Brisbane Powerhouse before it goes global!

Driving through Fortitude Valley after midnight on a Saturday night is enlightening, isn’t it?

Oscar Theatre Co’s third iteration of their smash hit super sexy sell-out up-late cabaret (let’s make it a hashtag), Boy&Girl would have made the perfect prelude to a messy, sexy night best forgotten by morning an intimate and stylish, sophisticated and special date night. Boy&Girl is a whole new world of lycra, lace and latex, (barely) veiled debauchery, and loads of fun for anyone with a sense of humour and the need for late-night actual-entertainment in this town.

Emily Gilhome designed for Oscar Theatre Company a very simple strategy several years ago, staging superior musical productions  Spring Awakening and Next To Normal and [title of show] – and rapidly building a massive local following comprising artists and audiences. For eight years this humble company could do no wrong (still, can do no wrong), and became something like Brisbane’s James Bond: everyone wanted to be in an Oscar show or be at an Oscar show. They (“He” i.e. Oscar) disappeared for a little while but after a bit of travel and NIDA style life experience, Oscar’s back with a vengeance, well, with a brand new version of the hugely successful Boy&Girl brand: a sexy, racy, hugely popular show featuring some of the city’s best talent. The show is a superb stand alone piece and a fantastic festival opener. A scaled down version (or an even bigger, bolder production) could easily be seen, with the right backers, anywhere in the world.

The winning formula consists of several well known big voices within a company of superior singers and dancers, all dressed for sex, delivering a series of slick and sassy musical numbers, some cheeky comedy, and a couple of flashy circus tricks. It’s as simple as it sounds. But unlike Strut & Fret’s substandard Blanc de Blanc at Brisbane Festival this year (there are no excuses good enough to justify that level of lazy, tasteless entertainment), Oscar’s Boy&Girl delivers. Again.

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Pre-show entertainment (and during Interval too for those who can resist making an additional dash to the bar) gets us in the mood and sets expectations high. That’s if they weren’t already sky-high after viewing Joel Devereux’s publicity shots of the black leather and Lycra clad company. I wondered why there was no photo booth for punters to get a pic with their fave sexy star…maybe next time. Outside it’s noisy, chatty, and inside, as the pre-show banter continues, the mood is so relaxed we could be at a swingers’ party. But it would be a Spiegeltent swingers’ party, such is the glitter induced joy and sparkling natural charm of the performers. The front row consists of well-loved sofas, but with a great deal more white light on them than we had sat beneath during the original Visy Theatre season (remembering the second version was staged in the less intimate Powerhouse Theatre). For someone who appreciates audience participation from some distance and under the cover of darkness, the sofas suddenly seem less alluring…

It’s a slick show, opening with The Andrews Sisters (Simon Chamberlain, Lachlan Geraghty, Patrick Dwyer), a tight outfit, in tight outfits, and they offer an entirely new take on Britney Spears (Oops! I Did It Again). The first big company number, taken from La Cage Au Follies, sets the gender-bending tone of the evening (We Are What We Are), and our hosts, Stephen Hirst and Aya Valentine get things off to a rollicking start. The musical arrangements are terrific and to better appreciate the top notch band, we could do with slightly better sight lines and less distance between us and them. 

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To the delight of the Saturday up-late show crowd, Sam Turk struts and whips her way through Sweet Transvestite / Sex Bomb. Followed by a cutesy double entendre laden Disney medley featuring Stevie Bishop, Patrick Dwyer, Monique Bowdler, Kristyn Bilson and Aurelie Roque.

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Josh Daveta dons a dramatic cape and formidable 6-inch heels to become the evil under-the-sea Ursula (Poor Unfortunate Souls) and slays. And while nothing can ever top the original season’s Single Ladies (an encore performance by special invitation was enjoyed at the Matilda Awards), Lady Marmalade and Big Spender come close – ferocious and full of sass. (Garret Lyon, Josh Daveta, Lachlan Geraghty, Matt Bonasia, Stevie Bishop). The girls shine in Grease Lightning and Roxanne, in which the dancing features more strongly than the vocals, which seem not entirely suited to the vocalist, Alana Tierney. (Chloe Rose-Taylor was absent from Saturday night’s performance). As far as vocals go, for this tough little number, it has to be said that an encore performance of Luke Kennedy and Sam Coward’s passionate rendition of Roxanne would give them a run for their money. 

Speaking of Sam, he either enjoyed Boom Boom more than he’d like to admit, or he’s scarred for life and has expertly hidden the damage behind a diplomatic, “Yeah, that happened” expression.

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It’s unfortunate that, once again, we have dancers and vocalists competing for attention. They probably don’t feel they’re competing but I always love to see a good singer sing without having the distraction of a dancer on the floor. (Sam says hide the band and hide the singer, a la Cirque du Soleil; i.e. bring out the singers for one number and after, wave them off again!). Quite simply, when you’ve got Garret Lyon just give us Garret Lyon.

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Even Ellen Reed, a star singer with a powerhouse voice and stage presence so powerful she deserves her own line of superhero merch in the foyer, gets a little lost behind so much action on stage. Act 2’s pole dancing sequence (Earned It featuring Reed) needs slightly less fire, fewer Pippin tricks, and a bit more pizazz, however; Matthew Bonasia’s strength and grace is indeed impressive and his flesh, ink adorned, is itself a work of art. This is the sequence with the least polish. With a little more focus on the big picture effect it could be the beat change that brings about the finale.

His choreography is still sharp, snappy and oh so sexy but we miss seeing Dan Venz on stage (he’s busy again with Hairspray). Likewise, I’ve always loved Chris Kellett’s cheeky reading of the emcee role but Stephen Hirst’s brazen performance as Emcee/Uncle gives us the gift that is Long John Blues. It’s hysterical and could easily earn him billing beneath Catherine Alcorn in the next tour of The Divine Miss Bette if she was ready to cast boys as her back up singers. This happened once, when she and Tom Sharah were up for the Noosa Long Weekend Festival on the same night. But I digress. Let’s bring it back to Boy&Girl. I’d love to see Tom Sharah featured in the next Boy&Girl…

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The modifications, as much as the style of the show, its talented artists and its savvy, glossy marketing collateral keep us coming back to this show. It’s a complete package, sizzling hot, fresh and bold, surprising, sweaty, sassy, classy and all over much too soon. On another level it challenges the way we see the world, calling us to action in its rousing final ensemble numbers One Voice and Born This Way.

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to Boy&Girl – it’s the hottest, strongest, longest running/most often returning political campaign cabaret we’ve seen in this state.

01
Mar
15

I Might Take My Shirt Off

 

I Might Take My Shirt Off

Brisbane Powerhouse & Sharpened Axe

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Platform

February 13 – 14 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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Dash Kruck is an absolute starry star. A dead set legend. A really funny, talented guy.

 

His debut cabaret show, I Might Take My Shirt Off, is by far the best we’ve seen for a loooong time on the scene, which you might be forgiven for feeling, is a little flooded at the moment. Let’s face it. CABARET IS STILL THE NEW BLACK. We see so much of it, and so much of it is raved about that when a particularly well written, tightly structured and superbly delivered show hits our stages it’s noted. Not only duly noted, but already returning to Brisbane Powerhouse later this year it seems, if the Facebook comments are anything to go by…

 

 

“I wanna bring your show back, yo.”

Kris Stewart

 

 

TRANSPARENCY. SO IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW #teamgooding #illridewithneil

 

Directed by Emily Gilhome, I Might Take My Shirt Off, shares Lionel’s struggles in love and life, as he pens and performs an original cabaret show at the advice of his hilariously OTT German Nazi-therapist. FACE THE FEAR. Everyone knows cabaret is terrifying, and this is a thrilling show because THERE IS REAL FEAR THERE. Or so it seems. Dash is so convincing in the role that there are times throughout the evening when we actually hold our collective breath and think, “God I hope he’ll get it!”

 

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Stories of sex, booze, boys and mythical beasts abound. Original songs by Dash and Chris Perren are diverse in style and consistent in quality. There’s not a dull number among them, each has its place and purpose. THERE’S EVEN A HIT SINGLE BALLADY TYPE NUMBER. YES, BALLADY IS A WORD. (I expect to see this soundtrack available for purchase on iTunes next year. Yes, I do). Dash is well respected as an actor and singer (we loved him in A Tribute of Sorts, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, Jesus Christ Superstar, [Title of Show] and the Matilda Awards named him Best Emerging Artist in 2007 and Best Actor in 2012). This show is the perfect vehicle to take him to the next level, put him on the circuit, and get him into the elusive, illustrious INNER CIRCLE OF CABARET.

 

I think I said this about his performance in [Title of Show] –

“On stage, Dash Kruck totes stole the show for me, with his endearingly cheeky, naughty approach to, well, everything in life. His Broadway moves and his ability to connect with those on stage and off. I’m confident I can recommend you go see anything at all that Dash appears in. This includes his kitchen when he is washing the dishes and IGA when he is doing the grocery shopping. Dash is bound to make any event just as entertaining.”

 

NO PRESSURE, DASH.

 

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As tender and wonder filled as it is funny, and as skillfully built as any headline act that might come to us with far more fanfare, I Might Take My Shirt Off is a real contender for the bigger festivals, and could do with a return tour after a stint somewhere like, oh I don’t know, OFF-BROADWAY. If you experienced it you know that’s not too far-fetched. It’s so meta too, that theatre and cabaret students (and their teachers) should be in the back row taking notes at every performance. As Lionel ticks off all the elements of the genre, using his devastating break up tale to pull us through the ringer with him, I hear a whispered comment behind me that signals hope for the masses: “So this is cabaret… It’s great! I like it!” HOORAY!

 

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My favourite parts of the show involve a martini and a dragon. Not at the same time. But I love the implicit 007ness of one and I’m swept away by the mythos of the other, not to mention impressed by Dash’s command of the vocals. I think of Anthony Warlow’s performance in The Secret Garden of Race You To the Top of the Morning (just go to the link and let it play while you read on, because there is no I Might Take My Shirt Off Live at Brisbane Powerhouse recording…yet). Like Elise McCann as Lucille Ball, Dash is confident enough to take his time and allow us to suffer vicariously through him. We believe every word…and every strategically placed awkward pause. N.B. Sitting towards the back of the crowd doesn’t mean Dash won’t see you and invite you to be…involved.

 

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Dash demonstrates complete trust in the genre and in his wide-ranging ability. A great director will help a performer to realise the possibility of success from the outset. These two – Dash Kruck and Emily Gilhome – are a good match of talent, intellect and guts. To pull off a first attempt at cabaret so convincingly, is a pretty clear indicator that Dash Kruck is here to stay. But perhaps not here here to stay. Dash can take this show anywhere, and like Rumour Has It, Wrecking Ball, and The Divine Miss Bette, I’ll happily see it again and again. There is substance here, and a magical alchemy, which turns crazy late-night gin-conceptualised ideas into theatrical GOLD. I do hope Dash enjoys performing this show as much as we enjoy seeing it, because we’re going to keep demanding it!

 

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For more outrageously funny stuff at Brisbane Powerhouse check out the Brisbane Comedy Festival! Until March 22 2015.

 

24
Jan
15

BOY&GIRL2 – Mercury Rising

 

boy&girl2 – Mercury Rising

Powerhouse Theatre

January 15 – 24 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

STILL THE SEXIEST SHOW IN TOWN

 

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The return of this highly anticipated production was too much for Sam to resist. Even with his 3:30am wake up, he wasn’t going to miss it! Our friend, Shae, didn’t miss the opportunity to come along either. Testament to the reputation of Emily Gilhome’s Oscar Theatre Co, and the level of respect the company has earned by consistently presenting impressively staged works showcasing Brisbane’s top talent, EVERY SHOW SOLD OUT. AGAIN.

 

Gilhome knows better than anyone in Brisbane, how to make “sexy” sophisticated and fun, for everyone. It’s never tacky, and a lot of it is so luscious that you might wonder why you’re not already enjoying the benefits of both male and female friends. JUST SAYING. Gender and sexuality become irrelevant; we get the message that we are all equal. AND ALL SEXY. Also, the publicity shots are spot on (Photographer Joel Devereux), featuring barely clad beautiful boys and girls, clearly targeting anyone with blood running through their veins and fifty dollars in their pocket.

 

Sexy is sexy, regardless of who you are…or who you do.

 

boy&girl2 – Mercury Rising is a new version of the gender bending cabaret, which we saw in April last year in the Visy. I preferred the intimacy of that smaller space but for others it’s appropriately (much, MUCH!) bigger, and better than ever in the Powerhouse Theatre. BOOM BOOM! With the addition of a mesmerising aerial tissu act and a few subtle changes in the casting and running order, it’s a super sexy, slightly naughty show that could easily be enjoyed every week in the right venue…anyone?

 

This show is hot, hot, HOT with lots of laughs, svelte bodies and fine voices.

 

I love Oscar’s sass, but this is a large cast and some performers naturally bring more energy and vibrancy than others can muster. It’s a tight band (Daniel Robbins, Gene Stevens, Justin Bliss and MD Dale Lingwood). They’re settled on stage even when not involved in a musical number, and busy themselves taking iPhone photos of the audience. I don’t know why, when on stage there is THIS:

 

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Thrilling, funny moments come when the performers move through the audience and leap onto cabaret tables to strike a suggestive pose. BRACE POSITION! There are some standout performances once again, including those by Aya Valentine, Garret Lyon, Josh Daveta and Chris Kellett, superbly unsubtle; his best form to date. We see the return of the Disney parody, Helga’s hilarious Avenue Q number (this is when Valentine shines), the rebirth of Beyonce (Lyon’s transformation from ensemble member to superstar), a tantalising tango, and Cell Block Tango from Chicago featuring the boys in the cast.

 

Choreography by Dan Venz is as impressive as ever; it’s slick, sharp and oh-so-sensual. The bigger numbers, including Cell Block Tango, lose none of their original impact in the much larger space, which looks fabulously shabby and dingy thanks to Falco Fox (Set Designer) and Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer).

 

All of this and more (the all-girl boy band is a hit!) after a sassy opening number involving an ensemble strip, boldly led by Chloe Rose Taylor, out of cute flight attendant outfits to reveal strategically worn strips of elastic, straps, bodysuits, bodices and stockings. The suggestion that we are starting out with just a little bit of naughtiness is suddenly shattered! The Hellfire Club effect is achieved largely by allowing individual wardrobe choices, assembled and coordinated under the keen eye of Designer, Joel Devereux.

 

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It’s my hope that she stays here – that we find a way to keep her here – but it goes without saying that Gilhome would not be out of place directing one of the country’s major cabaret festivals, the opening number for the Tony Awards, or Vivienne Westwood’s runway show. She deftly creates top entertainment, Brisbane’s best night out, every time she puts on a production. So it’s no surprise to see the audience lapping it up, almost desperate by the end of it for more, more MORE!

 

boy&girl2 – Mercury Rising is the sexy sensory overload you might not have realised you needed this year. What better way to begin it than with a bang and a BOOM BOOM?!

 

 

11
Apr
14

boy&girl

 

boy&girl

Oscar Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse

April 3 – 19 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Trust Oscar to put on the sexiest show in town! Their girls are hot and their boys are hotter, regardless of your preferences. But what makes this show spectacular spectacular is a lot more than the eye candy – these kids can sing and dance y’all! And they always have done – you’ll remember Spring Awakening and Next To Normal – and this show, which evolved as the Lightspace Cabaret Series, is the next logical step, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Oscar is here to stay. And thank Adonis for that!

 

There’s a blatant message behind this show, and that’s SAME (SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR) SAME. I hope to all the Greek Gods that you’re not still struggling with the notion of same-sex relationships (if you’re reading this blog, let’s face it, probs not!), but if you are, you sad, sad excuse for a human being, all the more reason to climb into an old sofa in the front row and HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN!

 

While some are still insisting on trying to fit cabaret into a neat little box, Oscar goes beyond definition to create a gender-bending, mind-blowing phenomenon that you’ll experience and want to experience again, immediately. It’s not often we see something with the awesome, powerful, positive sexual energy to lift us out of our seats shouting, “Again! Again!” And look, no, it wasn’t just me. A packed house roared their appreciation at the end of the show, already having clapped and squealed throughout it in pure delight. Being able to bring drinks into the space is obviously essential to the atmosphere, but actually, during Interval, Adam and I lounged – literally – and chatted away, taking in the high-voltage vibe and wondering aloud, “Where does Emily FIND these performers?” Or do they find her?

 

In Chris Kellet we have an Emcee in true Cabaret tradition. To open with Wilkommen makes perfect sense, setting the ambience with ease (helped already, before we even begin by the band, led by MD Dale Lingwood and cast members strategically placed posed amongst the punters), and allowing us – especially those of us right under the, er, noses of the performers, admire an entirely new perspective on the number, choreographed by Dan Venz. The impact of the full company is felt at once, and not again until an extraordinary homage to West Side Story, ringing out that core message loud and clear, to bring the evening to a close. The voices are rich and full, befitting the well-loved score, and we are convinced. There is indeed a place for us, no matter who (or what) we are. In between, of course there is naughtiness! And some standout performances, including a gorgeous Andrew Sisters style arrangement of Call Me Maybe (Conor, Dakota & Dan), Conor Ensor’s touching Sandra Dee/There Are Worse Things I Could Do, Aya Valentine’s riotous take on My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada, the expertly executed Cell Block Tango (all the boys), and Single Ladies (Garret, Adwan & Andy). Oscar’s very own Bath Girl seems an odd – but  not – inclusion and I hope there’s another show for her (and her South Pacific cum Rubby Ducky parodying boy chorus); it’s as if this one couldn’t NOT go into the final mix, but there might be a better fit within a future vision. And there are moments of contemporary dance that almost take away from the vocalists’ work, but I let those moments slide because the dancers are good; precise and emotionally present, earning their place in the shared space. THIS TIME.

 

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It’s with surprise and delight that I take on board the gender-bending vocals and physicality of the cast (who knew Rizzo could be such a sensitive guy?), and so it’s with some surprise also, that I realise later Bring on the Men is performed entirely by the girls, as per its original context from Jekyll and Hyde. And would that not have been an interesting piece for the boys to explore?

 

If for no other reason, you should probs see this show before we lose Venz to Vegas; surely that’s his destiny, or at least within his sights. Not only a hot, sharp mover and shaker, he’s choreographed the whole thing, beautifully lit by Jason Glenwright. Now THAT’S more like it, Mister! Light up those guys and dolls! Very clever, the way Ms Gilhome gets people together to create a little somethin’ somethin’…

 

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This little somethin’ somethin’ is absolutely sizzling so see it before it sells out! Or… Perhaps it’s already too late and you will only have everybody else’s party stories to go by. That’s sad. For you. This fun fiasco finishes next weekend. Get on it, get a ticket and get to it!

 

 

Aaand roll credits…

 

 

Director: Emily Gilhome

Choreographer: Dan Venz

Music Director: Dale Lingwood

Lighting Designer: Jason Glenwright

Designer: Falco Fox

Assistant Director: Jack Kelly

Photography Design: Joel Devereux

 

Band: Dale Lingwood, Gene Stevens, Justin Bliss, Daniel Robbins

 

Company: Adwan Dickson, Aimee Butterworth, Andrew Kanofski, Ash McCready, Aya Valentine, Chris Kellett, Claire Walters, Conor Ensor, Dakota Striplin, Dan Venz, Danny Lazar, Ellen Reed, Garret Lyon, Jack Kelly, Jacqui Devereus, Jakob Evelyn, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Michael Hogan, Shannon Metzeling, Shelley Marshall, Vanessa Friscia, Josh Daveta

 

25
Oct
13

Connect Four – a new musical

 

Connect Four

Alanya Bridge

Metro Arts The Studio

24 October – 26  October 2013

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

Connect Four

 

Featuring

 

Lara Boyle
Wade Colbran-Thomas
Matt Crowley
Judy Hainsworth
Nick Hollamby
Julie McCoy
Erika Naddei
Ethan Samuel Jones
 

From the beginning, Connect Four is an interesting experience. The stage is stuffed with photo frames, and picture frames sit up against the walls of the stalls. It is only once the show begins that it is apparent…many of the frames are empty, perhaps as metaphors of the essential ‘any man’ nature of the interwoven stories about to be presented.

 

And there are many stories to be shared in this new musical by Alanya Bridge; each of its 16 characters is harbouring a secret.

 

Under the direction of Emily Gilhome (title of show, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal), the narrative is deliberately fragmented into four, but connected in terms of its characters’ commonality as they deal with the love and loss of everyday life.

 

The idea that we are all connected in some way is reassuring. Indeed, connection is the most cherished thing anybody can have. And a musical is the perfect platform from which to examine this. Musicals have a way of expressing emotion to which audiences can relate. The musical compositions allow us to soar with the singers, lifting us to a new height of experience. And this is what epitomises Connect Four, for it is very much a show of light and shade, as it crescendos towards a memorable ensemble finale Here We Are.

 

The talented cast does an admirable job in conveying the show’s perky to poignant moments. Connect Four asks a lot of them and they are committed to giving their all. Of particular note is the work of Matt Crowley, who, it is hard to believe, only made his stage debut early this year as Gabe Goodman in Oscar Theatre Company’s Next to Normal. His on-stage charisma and powerful vocals alone make for a memorable theatre experience.

 

As a new musical by a local composer, featuring eight local performers, there is much to be celebrated about Connect Four. Its exploration of the simultaneous humour and tragedy of contemporary human interactions engenders audience affinity and as such, it is an experience to be cherished. This one will come around again so if you won’t get to it before it closes on Saturday, be sure to watch for its return.

 

20
Apr
13

Next To Normal

Next to Normal

Music by Tom Kitt and Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Oscar Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

18th April – 4th May 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

It’s got to be one of our greatest fears, up there with shark attacks, road accidents, plane crashes and public speaking; the prospect of losing our mental faculties has got to be one of the most terrifying things in a lifetime. I’m already terrified of losing my memory. Maybe it’s why I write. Maybe it’s why I Instagram. Maybe it’s why I married Sam (Mr XS has a memory like an elephant, which makes up for mine, which is more comparable to a butterfly with an average life span of seven or so days). Maybe it’s why The Notebook feels so personal and I’m unable to watch it without crying my eyes out and leaving a pot of tea to go cold. EVERY TIME. And we’re not even going to mention Silver Linings Playbook.

 

Theatre is a mirror. And what I see in Next to Normal is a woman who lost control a long time ago. And nothing anybody can do will help her regain it. That’s terrifying.

 

In Australia we know that one in four people suffer from a diagnosed mental health condition. I know; I’ve linked to a source that states it’s one in five (the 2007 ABS figure) but did you know that Sam has a day job in the upper echelons of STEPS Group Australia? He says it’s now one in four. And I believe him. Think about that. That’s somebody you know (or several people you know). Or…it’s you.

 

We also know that the statistics are usually the last we hear of it. Chronic depression and mental illnesses, more often than not, just don’t rate a mention. In fact, there’s an awful lot of discussion about discussing mental illness. We’ve all shared the Facebook meme or re-tweeted somebody’s sensitive plea for greater tolerance, support and understanding of mental illness (R U OK?). Terrific! Great job! Now, where’s our greater tolerance, support and understanding of mental illness?

 

Standing in this room,

Well I wonder what comes now.

I know I have to help her,

But hell if I know how.

And all the times that I’ve been told

The way her illness goes.

The truth of it is no one really knows.

 

– Dan Goodman, Next to Normal

 

The Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal boasts an intelligent book, which gives us a glimpse into the simple horrors of living every day in an unstable way, and great insight into what it must feel like to live with a mentally unstable person. The impact on loved ones is horrendous, and the end result of long-term mental illness can be disastrous on several levels.

 

549701_10151373546983379_1584428554_nIf you happened to come across, as I did (nerd alert), the reviews of the original Off-Broadway production in 2008, you might have noticed among them, the Observer’s John Heilpern’s reflection on the show as being “kitschy, twitchy, depressing”. And perhaps it was, in its second life, Off-Broadway before a few (more) rewrites. The greatest challenge of staging any theatrical piece is surely to bring it into a place of relevance for the actors and audience and in this director Emily Gilhome has outdone herself. Resisting the temptation to take certain characters and scenarios completely off the scale of believability, as may have been the case in earlier productions elsewhere, Gilhome gives us a beautifully realised vision. This Next to Normal is astutely directed and unflinchingly lays bare the bones of depression, the breakdown of the family unit, the medical and pharmaceutical shenanigans along the way, and suicide. Mr Heilpern should see this production. It’s disturbing.

 

The bitter brilliance of Next to Normal is that it doesn’t answer any of our questions about mental illness or about the wide range of treatment options available. In fact, it sees us walking away with even more questions. This theatrical piece is in fact a shattered mirror. Can you see something of yourself? Terrifying.

 

On opening night, the opening number (Just Another Day) suffered from a couple of sound and pitch issues, and for me, what came across as unusually (for an opening night) low energy. However, to anyone unfamiliar with the show it was probably fine; a gentle start, as if we had the support band on stage (and the band actually IS on stage and you know I love seeing the band on stage!) to psyche us up and help ease us into a plot that then puts us through the wringer. A tip for anybody who hasn’t yet watched the YouTube clips of other productions of Next to Normal… don’t. See this production first. I’m sure that my early disappointment was only due to my obsession, which I have mentioned in a previous post, with the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions.

 

Magically, the sound improved after interval, as it so often does at QPAC.

 

Let’s talk about this wonderful, spirited, talented cast. I love the people Oscar is able to bring out of the woodwork. Actually, of course we’ve seen most of them somewhere before but in Oscar’s hands, I suspect we’re seeing much more of that which they’re capable. You’ll notice I have a couple of bones to pick but don’t worry, there’s nothing that takes away from the overall impact of the show; it’s exceptional. Every performer here has taken their role by the throat and given it a good shake before stepping inside the skin of it, almost like the demon in the underrated, unnerving movie Fallen *shivers*

 

Anyway, I have to tell you that my new favourite performer in Brisbane is the insightful Siobhan Kranz, who we saw as Wendla in Oscar’s 2011 production of  Spring Awakening, another Queensland premiere. Unfathomably, Kranz mentions in her bio a desire to forge a career BEHIND THE SCENES in the music industry but I hope this ambition remains unrealised for a good while yet. Sorry, Siobhan. Her Natalie is petulant, resistant and finally forgiving and supportive, the last man standing so to speak, necessarily becoming her father’s rock. A faultless performer in this instance, Kranz is a keeper.

 

Tom Oliver (whose hilarious performance as Ron Weasley in A Very Potter Musical was just SO GOOD) beautifully underplays Natalie’s stoner boyfriend, Henry. These two are perfectly matched and together they proffer a true sense of optimism and the importance of keeping hold of hope, which I’ll come back to later. I know. Bear with me. Make a coffee if you must. Henry was Sam’s favourite character. Or, Oliver was Sam’s favourite performer. He’s not sure and the fact that he is unsure about how to phrase that tells me that Oliver is going to be a fave for many more patrons. I should also mention that his appearance in Next to Normal is in between international engagements so we are lucky to have him for this strictly limited Brisbane season. With his (Hey) duets with Kranz – there are three of them – Oliver takes us safely each time into the relative calm of the eye of the storm, while chaos continues to swirl all around them.

 

 

James Gauci, in a beautifully gauged act of confidence and charisma (we expect nothing less from this performer now) plays both Diana’s doctors. Gauci gets it just right, giving us the perfect blend of scary rock star and genuinely concerned medical professional. There’s a lovely, gentle moment towards the end of the show, when he connects with Dan Goodman, and we see how well he fits the shoes of this second character particularly. And look, I’m just putting it out there; as much as I love to see Brisbane talent stay in Brisbane…what is Gauci still doing in Brisbane?! Let’s hope we see one of my favourite overachievers in front of larger audiences in a bigger city sometime soon. Sure, of course, if that’s what HE wants.

 

Matt Crowley makes an admirable stage debut in the shoes of Gabe Goodman. Crowley’s brightest moments match the bold as brass lighting levels during I’m Alive, his superb duet with Natalie (one of the best numbers of the night, Superman and the Invisible Girl), and in more silvery (ghostly?) tones during Catch Me I’m Falling. His connection with Dan in the final dramatic moments finally brought reluctant tears to my eyes, and it was with Dan that I sympathised most. Chris Kellet’s sensitive, stoic Dan Goodman, the long-suffering husband, is quietly impressive. In the end, it’s his part in I Am the One (Reprise) that should be enough to bring even the toughest husbands and daddies to tears. (I do hope they go, the husbands and daddies…). To see this side of Kellet is a wonderful surprise, and to give due credit to the newcomer, Crowley plays right alongside him, right up to the devastating conclusion. It’s a cruel end, isn’t it? I HATE IT! I HATE THE END! I sobbed uncontrollably the first eight thousand times I listened to the original soundtrack on loop in my car. Let There Be Light is supposed to be the optimistic, uplifting final reminder that “it gets better”. It’s hope. I hope that works for you.

 

Unexpectedly, Alice Barbery’s Diana Goodman, the woman around whose life the story revolves, left me mostly cold. Gilhome mentions in her program notes that casting is 90% of the director’s job and as a director, of course you work with what you have. If this Diana was the best for the role we have to take Gilhome’s word for it. Barbery’s voice is beautiful, and in its lower register, and the quieter moments of contemplation or concern, absolutely perfect for the role. It’s when we get into the middle range that there are just a couple of problems with the placement, pitch and power of delivery. It’s just that it’s a thinner, more classical sound than one might expect to hear in the context, both in terms of the hardcore content and the soft-rock style of the show.

 

In spite of my harsh assessment, Barbery has an incredibly clear sense of character and she works hard to give us plenty of insight into Diana’s crippling inner battle. Hers is a frantic, busy, utterly confused and eternally wounded woman, and considering the scale and complexity of the role, Barbery gives an awesome performance. To be too critical seems unfair.

 

547534_10152771545950118_7075640_nThe production is nicely staged – it looks sublime – but the design consists of an upper level that lies too far above us and away from us, distancing me more than I would have liked from the intensity of the action and emotion. I was prepared to be in the room with these desperate people, yes indeed, with Gabe in his Off-Broadway-referenced shirtless bathroom moment (of course you know that when the show moved to Broadway Aaron Tveit inexplicably kept his shirt on. Perhaps the producers feared a storming of the stage). Overall, I liked the solid design (Timothy Wallace) but it felt like it wanted more space, and seemed better suited to a venue such as the Playhouse, while the show itself rightly belongs in the intimacy of a space like the Cremorne.

 

It’s hard work to sit through this show (and possibly to read to the end of this review!); it’s emotionally draining. But it’s worth it. Act 1 boasts so many lovely, funny, quirky moments; they are mostly Natalie’s acerbic observations, thanks to Kranz’s characterisation and comic timing, and Diana’s one-liners, delivered deadpan by Barbery and clearly tickling the fancy of not just this housewife and mother. On opening night the giggles abounded!

 

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With Emily Integrity and Humility Gilhome at the helm, Oscar Theatre Company always put on a slick show (she does slick so well). In Next to Normal we see the bar raised once again with superb staging, exquisite attention to detail (check out the medicine bottle labels!), a lighting design that completely supports the story and the characters’ journeys, AND manages to rival that of the Broadway production (Jason Glenwright), a top notch band and MD (David Law), and a combined creative effort that must make a number of aspiring theatre makers think, “THAT is the kind of theatre I want to make!” …or run for the hills. Just saying.

 

There have been times when we’ve worried that maybe we wouldn’t see Oscar again but I think we can safely say now that this dynamic, determined company is here to stay, thanks to the dedicated creative team at its core, the crowd of loyal followers and investors, and the support of QPAC.

 

If you love good theatre it’s easy to follow suit and support them. Buy the tickets. See the show. Tell your friends, tell your family and tell your friendly local barista that they can’t afford to miss Oscar’s Next to Normal. Its impact is long lasting, and the unanswered questions will keep you thinking, talking and feeling deeply for a lifetime, but it’s a short season so be super quick to book because social media is already well on the way to making this show a sell-out!

 

A Social Media Note Courtesy of our good friend Wiki:

 

Twitter (2009)

 

In May 2009, about six weeks into the Broadway Production, Next to Normal began publishing an adapted version of the show over Twitter, a social media network. Over 35 days, the serialized version of the show was published in the form of tweets, short messages utilized by Twitter, a single line from a character at a time. The Twitter performance ended the morning of June 7, 2009, the morning of the 2009 Tony Awards. The initiative earned the musical the 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

 

03
Apr
13

Valium is my favorite color

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DIE ALIVE?

Special Offer. No, not to die alive, but to book cheap seats for this phenomenal show! Only until Monday so be quick!

 
Take advantage of this special offer and purchase tickets to Next to Normal for just $30.
This offer is only valid for performances on Thursday 18 April 7.30pm and Saturday 20 April 2.00pm and 7.30pm – hurry, offer expires on Monday 8 April.

 

 

Alice Barbery

This is not Alice Ripley. This is Alice Barbery.

I can’t believe I’ll finally be taking a deep breath, gritting my teeth and sitting through a live production of Next to Normal in just two weeks. In 2009 – 2011 this raw new rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt took over Broadway, the Tonys and YouTube. And my place. I became slightly completely obsessed, with the show, with the story, with the woman grappling bipolar disorder, Diana Goodman, created on stage by the incomparable Alice Ripley.

 

 

Largely rewritten after its Off-Broadway debut in 1988 (critics had issues originally with the way the book looked at mental illness and treatment options), Next to Normal opened on Broadway in April 2009, winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (previously won by RENT, also directed by Michael Greif), and three (of eleven nominated) Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

 

 

The Goodman Family

This is the Goodman family. They look normal, don’t they?

Now, from the creative team behind Oscar Theatre Company’s sellout production of Spring Awakening comes the Queensland premiere of Broadway’s Next to Normal.

 

 

Next to Normal is an unflinching insight into the humour and turmoil of an ordinary family grappling with the effects of mental illness. With provocative lyrics and a thrilling rock score, Next to Normal is one of the most ground-breaking new musicals and was chosen as ‘one of the year’s ten best shows’ by critics including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

 

 

Director, Emily Gilhome, describes Next To Normal as her most important show to date. “This is a new kind of musical theatre. It‘s real, raw and explores some incredibly important issues”.

 

 

Recently, the issues surrounding mental health have been thrust into the public spotlight following the success of the film Silver Linings Playbook and television show Homeland. Next to Normal explores similar themes and centres its story around the experiences of one family. “It’s not just a show about mental illness,” says Gilhome, “but a story that we hope will resonate far beyond the theatre walls and open up conversations between friends, families, partners and colleagues about a number of issues once considered taboo.”

 

 

A brave and breathtaking show, Next to Normal plays Brisbane for a strictly limited season. Next To Normal plays QPAC from 18th April – 4th May 2013.

 

 

“A work of muscular grace and power. It is much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” – The New York Times

 

 

Director: Emily Gilhome
Music Director: David Law
Lighting Designer: Jason Glenwright
Cast: Alice Barbery, Chris Kellett, Matt Crowley, Siobhan Kranz, Tom Oliver and James Gauci