Posts Tagged ‘esther hannaford

28
Jul
18

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Michael Cassel

In Association With Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner

QPAC Lyric Theatre

July 19 – September 2 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Beautiful tells the inspirational true story of Carole King’s remarkable rise from teenage songwriter to global superstar. She fought her way into the record business as a schoolgirl but it wasn’t until her personal life began to crack that she finally found her true voice and went on to become one of the most successful solo artists in pop music history.

 

Michael Cassel’s production of Beautiful The Carole King Musical is so extraordinary it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s make it as simple as possible: right from the outset Beautiful is an exceptional show, inspiring and life-affirming, its magic largely due to its star, the incredibly intuitive and talented performer, Esther Hannaford

 

I’ve hash-tagged #allthesuperlatives on social media and I mean it. Beautiful is the most structurally sound, entertaining and touching show we’ve seen at QPAC since Tim Minchin’s Matilda. In case you’re still a bit Brisbane-centric, it’s worth noting here that Beautiful’s Musical Director, Daniel Edmonds, joins The Book of Mormon’s Blake Bowden in Noosa tonight, to premiere Bowden’s original cabaret Straight From the Hart. With Edmonds at  the helm, both in Brisbane and here by the sea, we can be sure we’re in good hands.

 

Beautiful has garnered so much attention, won so many accolades since its Broadway beginnings, it’s no surprise that at this year’s Helpmann Awards it took out Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Marc Bruni), Best Female Actor in a Musical (Esther Hannaford) and Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Matt Verevis). 

 

 

The book is witty and funny and at times very moving, with the observations of these wonderful real-life characters laced with intelligent humour and lifting the story out of nostalgia – dangerous territory in a contemporary musical. Written by Douglas McGrath, who notes in an interview that King’s music is infused with her kindness, “marked by forgiveness, compassion and warmth,” the show successfully hones in on the earlier and most essential elements of King’s songwriting story, to give us a glimpse into her world, and the people inhabiting it.

 

As singer-songwriter Carole King, Hannaford is sheer perfection, bringing pure and simple joy, and her own wry humour to the role. Her soaring, stunning vocal work lifts us out of ourselves. Bookended by the title track, the opening and closing scenes reveal either the most convincing acting ever seen on an Australian stage or actually, Hannaford’s whole heart and soul shining through.

 

If you’ve met Hannaford, you’ll know it’s the latter. The woman is that incredible, and honest and humble too. Her higher vibration probably influenced the feeling generally on opening night, with Beautiful premiering in a warm golden glow as opposed to the typical excitable bright white hype that we love…and sometimes love to have a break from. In terms of experiencing live theatre, this is such a soulful night out, I defy anyone to remain unaffected by Beautiful.

 

 

Hannaford skilfully manages the darker aspects of the story too, taking time and at times, allowing a single glistening tear to leave a streak down one cheek as she ponders the deeply troubling aspects of King’s life and the tumultuous relationship with first husband, Gerry Goffin. There’s so much involved here, but for the sake of brevity, as Facebook would suggest, over time the relationship becomes “complicated”. Josh Piterman’s portrayal of Goffin is heartbreaking, encouraging us to consider how much our attitudes towards mental health have changed, if at all. This is another accomplished performance that enamours, challenges and ultimately earns our compassion and understanding.

 

 

Lucy Maunder is a gorgeous, intelligent, sassy Cynthia Weill. She has to be to come up against the brassy confidence and bold advances of Barry Mann (Matt Verevis) and just as quickly fall for him. This pairing is divine casting, creating a completely convincing second songwriting pair who remain together to this day. It seems Maunder can truly turn her hand to anything, and it’s such a joy to see her embody this role with gusto and great comic ability as well as the tenderness of King’s closest friend.

 

Pitch perfect performances also come from Chloe Zuel (Little Eva, the babysitter, gifted Locomotion), Stefanie Caccamo (Betty), and Naomi Price (Marilyn Wald), proving once again that there are no small parts, and in our current musical theatre climate, no small players either. Let’s take a moment to recognise what a thriving, amazing, exciting musical theatre industry we’re enjoying right now!

 

Mike McLeish (Don Kirshner) and Anne Wood (Genie Klein) each bring such attention to detail to their roles, and rounding out the core ensemble, we wish we could see more of them. These are the roles that would be fleshed out for the film version, which – let’s face it – is a no-brainer. Hurry up, Tom Hanks!

 

 

Jason Arrow (Righteous Brother, Neil Sedaka), a recent WAAPA grad in his professional music theatre debut, makes a couple of fantastic and very funny, though all-too-brief appearances, as Neil Sedaka; keep an eye on this one, we’ll be seeing him again and again. As the other, taller Righteous Brother, and also as the lovely Nick, Andrew Cook once again leaves a lasting impression. Some of Nick’s mannerisms seem so familiar that I had to resist asking him after the show if he’d studied our Thomas Larkin in real life, since he was also there and this would have been awkward. Every characterisation is so natural, despite the silliness of some of the songs, testament to the talent on stage and the belief in the story. The Drifters and Little Eva’s Locomotion dancers are hilarious, largely because their every number is a tongue-in-cheek effort to celebrate the music and at the same time, unapologetically laugh in the face of its factory generated bubblegum aftertaste. From the outset, with a fabulous medley of smash hit ditties, we understand that Kirshner was the Stock, Aitken and Waterman, or the Willy Wonka of this musical era, and the Brill Building his chocolate factory. Edmonds’ musical direction takes the accomplished band through the decades, and the design team neatly place us in each location (Set by Derek McLane, Lighting by Peter Kackzorowski, Sound by Brian Ronan, Costumes by Alejo Vietti and not to be overlooked, amazing Wigs & Hair by Charles G. Laponte).

 

Director Marc Bruni has superbly realised McGrath’s take on Carole King’s early career and personal life. The most successful female recording artist of 1971, outselling any album by The Beatles, staying on the charts for six years and selling more than 15 million copies of her award-winning album Tapestry, King’s transformation from an ordinary sixteen year old girl with extraordinary talent, to a successful songwriter and singer in her own right, is an inspiring true tale of destiny, dreams and empowerment. Beautiful is a joyride. We only have to look at Hannaford to see its essence in her smile, and be sure of this show’s lasting impact.

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

little-shop-of-horrors-photo-jeff-busby

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.