Posts Tagged ‘Harvest Rain

10
Apr
16

Hairspray

 

Hairspray
The Big Fat Arena Spectacular
Harvest Rain
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
April 8 – 10 2016

 

Newcastle July 2016 / Adelaide October 2016 / Perth January 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

hairspray1

15th – 16th JULY 2016

NEWCASTLE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE 

 14th – 15th OCTOBER 2016

ADELAIDE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE

20th – 22nd JANUARY 2017

HBF STADIUM PERTH

If you’re a HR Supporter, you will have seen this message (below) from Producer, Tim O’Connor. If not, here it is so you can consider moving on and becoming one. Yes, Brisbane, I’m talking to you. I know you’re reading this. So many of you still have something to say about this company, and I love that that I’m starting to hear some recognition now, for a genius business model and the company’s ongoing commitment to creating opportunities for young artists. Credit where credit’s due, people, regardless of whether or not you, personally, would pay to be in a show.

 

hairspray_ensemble

 

Our arena production of HAIRSPRAY closed not long ago in Brisbane. We were so proud of the production and the fact that it was seen by over 13,000 people across 5 sold out performances, and featured a mass ensemble of 900 young local performers. Being able to create an opportunity where so many young dreamers could connect with and perform alongside some of the country’s biggest stars like Simon Burke, Christine Anu, Tim Campbell, Amanda Muggleton, Wayne Scott Kermond and of course the incredible Lauren McKenna was one of the greatest joys of my career. On closing night, I took time to hang around backstage and chat with the talented members of the mass ensemble and hear their stories about how being part of the show changed their life. So many of them told me about how they are bullied at school for their love of singing, acting and dancing, but when they came to HAIRSPRAY they were shocked because instead of being bullied they were celebrated for their passion. They found like-minded friends, and many of them felt loved and accepted by their peers for the first time in their lives. It was extraordinary to hear their stories, and realise the show was much more than just a piece of entertainment – it was a life affirming and self-esteem building experience for hundreds of teens from all across South East Queensland.

At Harvest Rain, we want to create theatre that is both meaningful and entertaining. We want to be a beacon of hope for young dreamers with a passion for the arts. We want to help these young stars on their journey by connecting them up with professionals who’ve walked their path before them. We want to make a difference.

So, after 31 years of producing high quality musical theatre productions in Queensland, Harvest Rain is spreading its wings and hitting the road, taking its special brand of theatre magic all across the country! Now young performers in capital cities across Australia will have the opportunity to follow their dreams as part of the HAIRSPRAY experience, when we take the show to arenas in Newcastle, Adelaide, Perth and more over the coming months!

At Harvest Rain, we want to create theatre that is both meaningful and entertaining. We want to be a beacon of hope for young dreamers with a passion for the arts. We want to help these young stars on their journey by connecting them up with professionals who’ve walked their path before them. We want to make a difference.

So, after 31 years of producing high quality musical theatre productions in Queensland, Harvest Rain is spreading its wings and hitting the road, taking its special brand of theatre magic all across the country! Now young performers in capital cities across Australia will have the opportunity to follow their dreams as part of the HAIRSPRAY experience, when we take the show to arenas in Newcastle, Adelaide, Perth and more over the coming months!

This is a significant moment for Harvest Rain as we move towards becoming an arts organization with a significant national presence. By the end of this year, over 4,000 young people will have taken part in the amateur mass ensemble ofHAIRSPRAY somewhere in Australia. That’s an extraordinary number of lives being changed through this unique theatre training experience. We’re excited!

A venture like this is a costly exercise, and Harvest Rain still receives no financial support from the government, so we rely on ticket sales and donations to make this incredible experience become a reality.

If you believe that encouraging the dreams of the stars of tomorrow is important…

If you believe that helping young performers follow their dreams is vital…

If you believe that creating opportunities to improve the confidence and self-esteem of young performers is worthwhile…

…then please make a donation today as part of Harvest Rain’s Annual Donations Appeal.

We’re a registered not for profit organization so any donation over $2 is tax deductible. Your gift will change the life of a young Australian who loves the arts by making it possible for them to celebrate their passion with hundreds of other like-minded people across the country.

You can make a difference by donating today. For information on how you can donate, please click here

I appreciate your ongoing support, and thank you in advance for your generosity.

Let’s make something truly amazing happen together!

 

Tim xx

TIM O’CONNOR
CEO/Artistic Director
Harvest Rain Theatre Company

hairspray2

It’s 1962, and pleasantly plump Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad has only one desire – to be on television dancing on the popular Corny Collins Show. When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star, but she must use her newfound power to vanquish the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob Link Larkin and integrate a television network – all without denting her ‘do!

Holy security, Batman! When you attend a show at BCEC be prepared to present ID at the counter to collect your tickets and then hold onto your tickets. Don’t lose those tickets! You’ll need to show them again at the door after Interval. You’ll either feel super safe, or completely paranoid.

If you’re in Newcastle or Adelaide or Perth you can feel pleased that you haven’t yet missed this fun mega-show. Harvest Rain’s Hairspray (the big fat arena spectacular) is a flurry of smiling faces and joyous voices, and with its mass ensemble of 950 kids, it’s record-breaking; the largest production of Hairspray ever staged, directed and choreographed by Callum Mansfield (he choreographed the company’s 2012 production) with musical direction by Dennett Hudson.

Question: does anyone else care when there are no live musicians in sight at a musical?

The core cast is strong, with delightful, powerful performances from Christine Anu as Motormouth (I Know Where I’ve Been is a showstopper), Simon Burke as a gruff and affecting Edna Turnblad, Wayne Scott Kermond in his best role to date, Edna’s husband Wilbur (in Act 2, their rendition of You’re Timeless to Me make Simon Burke and Wayne Scott Kermond musical theatre meets vaudeville royalty), and Lauren McKenna as Tracy is ideal. We loved McKenna in Heathers and in her dream role here (already? What next then for McKenna?!) she nails the character, and she can mix and belt with the best of them.

Lollipop-sucking, scene-stealing Emily Monsma makes a fabulous, cheeky Penny, and Barry Conrad a sexy, soulful Seaweed. Channelling Cruella de Vil, Amanda Muggleton lavishes her role as Velma Von Tussle, and channelling Buble, Tim Campbell is a smooth, crooning Corny Collins. Dan Venz brings Link Larkin to life and with more consistent work on his vocals, if it’s what he wants, Venz will no doubt land similar roles in the future.

How fortunate for the younger members of this company to have had the privilege to work alongside actual singers, who depend more upon technique, discipline, good pitch and natural vocal quality than on a reality television network for their success. Producer Tim O’Connor told ABC Radio, “The whole heart of the arena spectacular is to create a pathway, a connecting point, between the young dreamers and the doers, the people like Simon Burke and Christine Anu and Tim Campbell”.

 

hairspray_tracy

 

With a multi-level design signifying no particular time or place (unless we are to see, simply, the increasingly concreted city of Baltimore in the sixties, and by extension, every American city), Josh Macintosh has had some fun here, creating ample space for performers to play. Trudy Dalgleish has gone to town with a lighting design of suitably flashy rock concert colour.

Choreography for more than 900 kids of varying levels of ability and experience can’t be easy to create, but the Madison is nearly perfectly in synch and a few impressive Rock Challenge inspired moments delight the audience, including a Mexican Wave sequence that makes dominoes of the dancers.

 

hairspray1

 

An insipid sea of white inflatable fat suits & pink wigs must have seemed like a good idea at the time but this is a horribly misjudged reminder that money can’t buy good taste. It must have been a big fat spend in the budget and even thinking about it now – the memory of it is neither witty not funny – I don’t understand what the purpose could possibly be, other than to elicit a cheap laugh. It’s a flashback to the Harvest Rain of old, when somebody’s sense of humour or a lightbulb moment didn’t quite translate to the stage. It doesn’t fit the new picture of this company. Harvest Rain has grown (and matured) considerably, and recently extremely rapidly; they’ve created a genius production model and opened a hugely successful musical theatre training academy. They’ve been doing mostly amazing work for some time now. But this decision seems out of step with the creative concept for the show and feels like a hilarious late-night alcohol-infused inclusion. For the record, I see others in the audience who are loving it!

The sound is generally too loud for Poppy, who covers her ears at times; the levels are consistent with the rock concert approach and the scale of the production.

optikal bloc’s imposing IMAX screen stretches across the back of the performance space and shows on it animations in the style of the opening credits of Grease. But without a live feed to throw the performers’ faces across the same screen, it seems wasted.

 

hairspray_cast

 

If you want intimacy, and an up close and personal experience, there is probably no arena show on earth that will meet your expectations, but if you’re after a loud, large, fast and fun mega smash-hit show featuring a stellar core cast and hundreds of your local kids, you’ll LOVE this Hairspray.

See it in Newcastle (15 – 16 July), Adelaide (14 – 15 October) and Perth (20 – 22 January 2017)

 

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03
Oct
15

Into the Woods

 

Into the Woods

Harvest Rain

QPAC Concert Hall

October 1 – 4 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

intothewoods_nickmorrissey

 

I met my husband during a production of Into the Woods. Have I told you this story? Probably. Poppy delights in the delivery, repeating it with a straight face precisely the way Sam tells it, and telling it proudly on Harvest Rain’s opening night to a random woman pre-show. “Daddy was the handsome prince and mummy was the witch and apparently, he says, nothing’s changed.” (You’ll have to wait to read the rest of the story. It’s not all Poppy-appropriate).

 

Harvest Rain uses the tagline, “You’ve seen the film, now experience the magic live on stage” to promote their production of the Sondheim-Lapine favourite. I was one of the eighties children to whom Michael Schulman referred in The New Yorker last year (although I was never too good for Lloyd Webber!), who felt excited and scared about the release of Disney’s movie version of Into the Woods, and then felt disappointed after finally seeing it. HR’s production, produced and directed by Tim O’Connor, doesn’t stray too far from the original Broadway version, which you can still find online. This is a good thing. When I was growing up we wore out a VHS tape of the first television broadcast of this brilliant PBS American Playhouse performance.

 

In 1989, from Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25 the full original Broadway cast (with the exception of Cindy Robinson as Snow White instead of Jean Kelly) reunited for only three performances for the taping of the musical in its entirety for the Season 10 premiere episode of PBS’s American Playhouse and first aired on March 15, 1991. The show was filmed professionally with seven cameras on the set of the Martin Beck Theater in front of an audience with the with certain elements changed from its original nightly counterpart only slightly for the recording in order to better fit the screen rather than the stage such as the lighting, minor costume differences, and others. There were also pick up shots not filmed in front of an audience for various purposes. This video has since been released on Tape and DVD and on occasion, remastered and re-released. This video is considered to be the original Into The Woods. 

 

In defiance of previous, more lavish productions though, O’Connor makes a point of doing a couple of things very differently, depending largely on our imaginations and the skill of the actors, particularly in terms of the props used. Into the Woods is still one of the most challenging musicals to get right, with a complex score and a deeply nuanced book full of familiar fairytale characters making not-so-familiar decisions and changing the course of those well-known tales forever.

 

intothewoods_narrator_nickmorrissey

 

In a masterstroke (and a great improvement on the use of the same milling and seething and dressing device used in Jesus Christ Superstar), O’Connor establishes old-school storytelling in the style of Shakespeare’s mechanicals and retains, in the tradition of Pippin’s Leading Player, the use of the Narrator (the likeable Dean Vince) not only as storyteller, but also as a sort of master of ceremonies, seeking and presenting props, and gently persuading characters to act within the narrative bounds. He never leaves the stage…until he is pushed. The Baker (Eddie Perfect) and the Baker’s Wife (Rachael Beck) respond to the detail of his tale as he introduces it, Jack (Tom Oliver) takes from him a bicycle for a cow, Little Red Riding Hood (Kimberley Hodgson) loads him up with armfuls of bread, and Cinderella (Georgina Hopson) looks to him for reassurance as she goes to the tree in which her mother’s spirit resides (Natalie Greer). Vince is integral; he’s the golden thread weaving all characters together and should he find a little more Ben Vereen-ness by the end of the season (it’s a short one – one weekend!), he’ll serve as the perfect anchor too.

 

I wonder when we’ll see HR’s Pippin? I’d love to see that!

 

 

There is more movement than necessary in this production (not least during the Witch’s lament – somebody tell those stepsisters to stay perfectly still! #focus101), however; it’s without the usual impressive choreography from Callum Mansfield. This can almost be forgiven for there’s very little space on stage, in fact, barely enough for the happy couples at the end of Act 1 to gallop across it. Josh McIntosh’s multi-level design forces the action downstage, with several steps leading to an upper level (above an underutilised cavern partially concealed by a hessian curtain) taking centre stage and claiming much of the space. The only characters that use the steps to good effect (and without inducing barely audible gasps of the “don’t fall!” variety) are The Baker, Cinderella and Cinderella’s Prince (Steve Hirst). With the orchestra hidden behind “the woods” (though we barely glimpse them they sound sensational under the competent hand of Jason Barry-Smith), ultimately the darker subtext of the setting is lost, as all are pushed forward into Andrew Meadows’ brighter, whiter lights.

 

intothewoods_cinderella_prince_nickmorrissey

 

Obviously I’m partial to the Handsome Prince archetype – I married one after all – but it’s not only this bias (and a slight resemblance to Russell Crowe in one of his better roles, in Master and Commander – must be the wig) that makes Hirst memorable. He nails it, and does a decent job of the Wolf as well, losing none of the original dark intent of this role, a flicker of the other, particularly in the physicality, and presenting a fine match for Hodgson’s spunky Little Red. Hirst’s sonorous vocals and confidant comedy (tongue placed firmly in cheek) are reminiscent of his Sir Galahad, of course, and are perfectly suited here. Despite being glossed over (for the sake of the children, just as Jack’s song seems to be?), his moment in the woods with Beck is delightful, and predictable in every arrogant male conquest sense of the word (insert eye roll here). By making a little a lot more of his princely entrances and exits he might have an award nom worthy body of work. Just saying.

 

intothewoods_littlered_nickmorrissey

 

It’s true that Hodgson has the plum role and in it she too is a stand out, absolutely gorgeous and genuinely hilarious, landing on every one-liner, providing much of Sondheim’s carefully placed light relief and witty wickedness in the only truly original take on a character in this production. Hodgson brings the moral tale intact but it’s repackaged for a new audience, fresh and funny and poignant. A graduate in 2013, Hodgson represents the bright talent and intuitive approach to performance that the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is nurturing under the guidance of Paul Sabey and co.

 

intothewoods_cinderella_bakerswife_nickmorrissey

 

Another Qld Con grad (2014) and a finalist for this year’s Rob Guest Endowment Award, the disarmingly lovely Hopson effortlessly carries the Cinderella story and gives us one of the most insightful and mature readings ever of On the Steps of the Palace, which is no mean feat! Hopson, both vocally and emotionally, handles one of Sondheim’s greater musical challenges with care and consideration for this character’s decision making process. As well as some sweet moments between she and Beck (A Very Nice Prince), Hopson sets up Cinderella’s part in the relationship with the Prince, preparing us nicely for their inevitable (agreeable) decision to go their separate ways, as some of us must.

 

intothewoods_milkywhite_nickmorrissey

 

Eddie Perfect, Rachael Beck (these two really are lovely together), Penny Farrow and Tom Oliver also work just beyond stereotypes to bring us the reality of being childless and penniless, although Oliver would do well to drop the accent and give us the Australian voiced adult version of Giants In the Sky, which might give us a greater arc between the initial wonder and final realisation (and satisfaction) of Jack…and a valid reason to view him as Dash Kruck’s only real competition for the title role if there were to be a professional production of Pippin in the future. JUST SAYING.

 

intothewoods_witch1_nickmorrissey

 

Now, will we talk about the tall, leggy, sparkly elephant in the room? I love Rhonda Burchmore, but not in this role. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time of casting, but perhaps more through misdirection than any of her own choices (who ever really knows?), a commedia-esque mask in Act 1 (concealing desperately needed complex emotions) and too-too-too-high heels in Act 2 (making a comedy of each entrance and exit) make it difficult for Burchmore to really sell the nuances of this role. So many moments fall flat and there is no wide-eyed, amazed applause after her part in the Prologue or Last Midnight, which should retain an element of surprise, just as the transformation should, regardless of the number of times we’ve seen the show. Despite Natalie Greer’s work as Rapunzel, even Stay With Me somehow misses the mark. The role, rather than being approached as an extension or manifestation of some aspect of the performer, is treated as a star vehicle and the show is the poorer for it.

 

A friend commented after the show about Into the Woods being such a great ensemble piece, and with so many on stage there’s not really one who shines…but the Witch should shine and her presence should be felt even after she’s gone. We should be moved beyond words, horrified and full of feeling for the woman who fails so miserably at motherhood. Burchmore has the hardness but not the vulnerability or tenderness that even the wickedest witches among us must feel. Perhaps this Witch would have felt more comfortable on stage – and on those steps – in her Camilla kaftan and flat gold sandals, which were donned for the after party.

 

intothewoods_witch2_nickmorrissey

 

Outside of some of the performances, there’s little magic in Harvest Rain’s production, though the “simple and rudimentary” approach to the storytelling is a far cry from explaining it. After the light and breezy feel of Act 1 we’re left with the darker aspects of the story – of life – but not in any real, raw sense. When it comes to Harvest Rain I can never quite put my finger on what’s missing but here’s another example. The Mysterious Man (Ron Kelly) employs an inexplicable nasal tone throughout (and sports a blanket?! I can’t even…) until he reveals who he really is, a moment that becomes a missed opportunity between father and son while they are separated by physical distance, destroying any chance of a tangible connection for us to tap into (No More). Similar proximity between Jack and The Baker separates them at the very moment they need to be drawn together, as Cinderella and Little Red are (No One Is Alone). These are the inconsistencies now commonplace in O’Connor’s productions. For some unknown reason, he continues to miss vital moments in storytelling and relationships, as if the intimacy is too much. And yet, once again, this is an entertaining, enjoyable show, boasting considerable talent and perfectly suitable for the whole family. Who am I to question odd staging decisions?

 

There’s no denying the awesome effort that has gone into building the company, from its humble church hall beginnings to its current status as a formidable professional presenting brand, incredibly, without government assistance (though not for much longer, I’m sure), but let’s see casting challenges met and the bar continue to be raised. Cheers and here’s to the upcoming (Spectacular Spectacular) Hairspray!

 

Two midnights gone! And just 4 more shows – today at 2pm & 7:30pm and tomorrow at 1pm & 6:30pm.

 

07
Oct
14

Monty Python’s Spamalot

 

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Harvest Rain

QPAC Concert Hall

October 2 – 5 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Right. Look, every company has a sacred cow and Spamalot is probably Harvest Rain’s.

 

It’s a very silly, very funny, very popular award winning show and it will not do anyone any good to say anything that is not rave, rave, rave about this production. In fact, to say anything critical is simply missing the point, right? This show is fun, fun, fun! And I love Monty Python! And look! Jon English and Simon Gallaher together again on stage at QPAC! Harvest Rain are so good now at giving their audiences what they want that really, it’s a bit ridiculous for me to post anything at all, and I haven’t done for a few days, genuinely unsure about whether or not it’s worth calling out a company that does so much GOOD.

 

I was so bemused confused impressed by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic and very forgiving opening night reception that some lyrics of my own popped into my head when The Song That Goes Like This refused to leave it! This is a silly review for a silly show that was obviously a heap of fun to create and for the vast majority, a heap of fun to watch. The highlights for me were in the performances by Dash Kruck, Chris Kellett, Julie Anthony, Frank Woodley, and in the one highly polished full production number, which cleverly updated and relocated, You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz. You might not recall Eric Idle’s version of The Mikado’s I’ve Got a Little List (we grew up with this production on VHS!), but you may have enjoyed more recently, Mitchell Butel’s brilliant performance (2011). I enjoyed less than others, obviously, the awkward moments; pauses and LOL that seemed to indicate we were a little lost along the way to finding our grail. Also, can I say Dan Venz is the Cassie of every chorus? This is not actually a bad thing. I can’t wait to see what he choreographs for Footloose.

 

If you didn’t see it – it was another short season over one weekend at QPAC’s Concert Hall – you can take my word for it; Monty Python’s Spamalot is another official Harvest Rain Smash Hit! Really! What do I know? Everybody (else) LOVED it!

 

 

 The Show That Goes Like This

 

At least once every year

There comes a show like this

The main cast is paid loads

And think they’ll take the piss

Where is the show that goes like this?

Where is it? Where? Where? Here it is! Here!

 

A Monty Python show

Accolades where’re it goes

The punters sing along

They know every silly song

For this is the show they love like this

Yes it is! Yes it is!

 

Now the cast should know their job

And remember why they’re here

Is Julie Anthony the only one who cares?

 

Jon English is a star

But he’s taken it too far

Impro

visation

fail!

 

Frank Woodley’s comedy

Is perfect for this show

But the French scene goes too long

For jokes we’re scraping low

For this is the show that goes like this!

 

I’m feeling slightly gypped

Although they’re well equipped

to put on a polished show

this really isn’t it

For this is their show to take the piss!

 

I can’t believe there’s more

Did they not learn before?

Dash, Chris and Shaun are gold

But this show’s been oversold

Will we accept more shows that go like this?

Yes we will! Of course we will!

 

Harvest Rain have got some gall

It’s true, they have a ball

We need the upbeat shows

But at what price we go?

The company comes out on top like this!

 

 

11
Jul
14

CATS – the arena spectacular spectacular

 

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

 

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

 

COME UP AND SEE US SOMETIME.

 

meowmeow_april2014

The closest I will ever get to playing a cat.

 

CATS

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 4 – 6 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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

 

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

 

The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

70 individual body mics were used in this production.

 

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

 

cats_harvestrain

 

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

 

THEY ARE AFTER THE NEXT OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY GIG

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

poppy_marinaprior_cats_july2014

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

30
Mar
14

Guys and Dolls

 

Guys and Dolls

Harvest Rain Theatre Co

QPAC Concert Hall

March 20 – 23 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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I love Guys and Dolls. I love the show, I love the music and I still love the movie. I love the iconic 40s fashion and I love the language, the strangely natural formal Runyonese. Along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers it may be an odd contemporary choice for a big-budget show, but despite the archaic sentiments, there is much to enjoy. Tim O’Connor’s Guys and Dolls for Harvest Rain, their first fully professional production, is suitably bright in terms of its costumes and lively characters, but something is missing and it might just be the same clarity and sincerity I’ve longed to see for years from this company. Who IS Harvest Rain, anyway? Has anybody cracked them yet? For the life of me, I can’t put my finger on what is is that leaves me hanging after each production, despite the impressive individual elements and collective talent we see in their shows.

 

The audience at the Sunday matinee last week was subdued to say the least, though I could see there were many who enjoyed the show, most notably a heap of young theatregoers, including a group of MFAC senior students and their mums, who had organised themselves to see the show; they said they enjoyed it very much. I have no doubt that it was a very different vibe to that of opening night, which I was unable to attend due to my commitment to A Little Night of Music – Songs From the Silver Screen, starring some of Australia’s most accomplished musical theatre stars, and which I only mention for the sake of saying that Angela Harding, who played the proud “missionary doll” Miss Sarah Brown, may very well have felt right at home on that stage too, such is the calibre of her performance in this Guys and Dolls.

 

Harding adds her own jazz baby cabaret gold to the role, giving the character a little less saccharine sweetness than we’ve seen historically, and a little more spunk. There are times when she and Skye Masterson (Ian Stenlake) have a lovely connection but it’s not often, which is simply not enough for a show built around that unlikely relationship. Chemistry? Yeah, not so much. Stenlake is charming on stage though, and styles up his singing just enough to deliver a great performance overall so we’ll forgive them and the casting process.

 

 

Speaking of casting, Liz Buchanan is just gorgeous as Miss Adelaide, and I’m sure her Hotbox girls must be too, only we don’t get more than a strained glimpse of them because somebody forgot to turn up the lights.

 

 

This is the darkest production I’ve ever seen Jason Glenwright light away from shake & stir and in many places it’s too dark. We lose energy and pace when we lose colour and the characters’ faces, including during the Hotbox scenes, which are playfully choreographed and snappily executed, if only we could see them! I think I get the concept – it’s very Dick Tracy (I LOVE Dick Tracy!) – we see the star in the spotlight and the secondary characters inhabiting the shadows around them, but it’s not cinema and it doesn’t do it for me. Is it just me? Josh McIntosh’s design allows big, open performance spaces across a couple of levels and it’s a shame to lose so much action amongst the shadows.

 

Daryl Somers, as Nicely Nicely Johnson, does indeed do the job nicely; he’s a true blue triple threat and Sit Down Your Rocking the Boat is, as it should be, a highlight. In the same breath, I’ll mention our good friend, Dale Pengelly (Benny), who sings and dances and caricatures up a storm. In this comical secondary role, Pengelly reveals yet another box of tricks to add to his extensive performance repertoire, shining brightly and at the same time resisting stealing any of the limelight. Pengelly might just as easily have played either major male role.

 

 

Steven Tandy brings warmth and Santa Claus kindness to Abernathy. I can imagine no better reading of this role. I even enjoy his song, More I Cannot Wish You, which is the one I would usually skip on the DVD.

 

 

I enjoyed the show, it’s true that I loved lots of it, including Wayne Scott Kermond’s Nathan Detroit and the orchestra on stage (or above it), led by Maitlohn Drew. Strangely though, there is something not quite…enough about this production of Guys and Dolls. It’s all there, sure, in fact it’s not even heart that’s missing, but something is still not able to penetrate Harvest Rain’s shiny, happy high school musical walls. If you know what it is I’d love you to enlighten me. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing the greatest number of unpaid ensemble members in a fully professional production, in July, in CATS.

 

 


 

23
Nov
13

The Stars Shine Bright in Brisbane: Harvest Rain Season Launch 2014

 

Harvest Rain Theatre 2014 season launch

QPAC Playhouse

18th  November 2013

Attended by Meredith Walker

 

Harvest Rain stars shine in 2014

 

After 18 days of social media clues, Harvest Rain Theatre Company revealed its 2014 season in an all-singing, all-dancing launch at QPAC’s Playhouse. For the company’s 2014 season, its first as a fully professional company*, Harvest Rain will be continuing what it does best, presenting a trio of big musicals featuring an impressive list of Australian stars. The season features a golden oldie, a modern Broadway classic and a Broadway hit musical, ranging from the sublime to the silly, but all with promise of maximum entertainment.

 

Harvest Rain is fast developing a reputation for effectively reviving and recreating the classics.

 

The company’s 2013 Oklahoma proves that classic musicals can still be popular and the company aims to recapture the magic when it reintroduces the delightful musical Guys and Dolls to a modern audience in March.  After their acclaimed performances in Oklahoma, Ian Stenlake and Angela Harding will reteam in the show and the audience was reminded of their vocal talents, including through Stenalke’s dynamic performance of Luck be a Lady. The really big news, however, was that the company has recently signed Gold Logie winner Daryl Somers to play Nicely Nicely Johnson, a role made famous on the Australian stage by the late Ricky May. And Somers was in full schick mode as he hammed it up about his preparation for the weighty role. Auditions for professional ensemble roles are to be held in December.

 

Image by Nick Morrissey

 

Everyone is invited to the Jellicle Ball when the company presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in an arena spectacular style show at the Brisbane Convention Centre for five performances in May. With over 500 performers taking to the stage, Cats promises to be a glorious production of immense scale. Indeed, it will be the largest production of Cats ever staged in the southern hemisphere. While the whimsical cats shone both on stage and as they slinked about the post-launch function, the highlight was undoubtedly headliner Marina Prior’s goosebumpy performance of Memory, the show’s haunting anthem.

 

Audiences are guaranteed a good time when Simon Gallaher and Jon English reunite thirty years after their Pirates of Penzance romp for the Tony Award winning Monty Python musical Spamalot, based on the cult 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After rousing renditions of Knights of the Round Table and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Lady of the Lake Julie Anthony revealed how she was coaxed out of retirement for the show, which will be staged in QPAC’s Concert Hall in October.

 

Harvest Rain has not only earned its place at QPAC, but its energetic approach to theatre making makes its works valuable resources for school groups. Indeed, shows such as Cats, provide an exciting access point to for school students to engage with a classic text, wether that text be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical or its genesis, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot, in a welcoming context. Not only this, but the company offers students the opportunity to engage with the arts on a practical level though their musical theatre internship program, in keeping with its aim to nurture young artists in their passion for the performing arts. Harvest Rain will also be conducting auditions for the Cats youth ensemble in early December.

 

The Arts in Australian schools is at a turning point; Australian students now all have an entitlement to education in the five art forms – dance, drama, media arts, music and visual art.

 

Companies such as Harvest Rain, should be commended for the manner in which they encourage young people to participate in the Arts more fully and to understand how the arts provide unique and valuable ways of making meaning.

 

Harvest Rain’s motto for 2014 is ‘the stars shine bright in Brisbane’ and if the 2014 launch is any indication, this is indeed the case, as the company adds to their list of the acclaimed artists who have trodden the boards in a Harvest Rain show over the past three decades.

 

*In 2014, Harvest Rain is giving young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland the opportunity to take part in a large-scale arena presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, the largest production of the classic musical ever staged in the southern hemisphere.

 

Australia’s leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, will star as Grizabella in this record breaking production, along with a core cast of professional musical theatre performers (auditions for the professional adult cast will be held in January 2014). Surrounding this cast will be a large youth ensemble made up of over 500 young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland.

 

If you want to be one of those young performers, then apply to audition today!

 

25
Mar
13

Tell Me On a Sunday

Tell Me On a Sunday

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Mina Parade Warehouse

Wednesday March 21st – Saturday March 23rd 2013

 

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

 

Tell Me On a Sunday has been performed by the likes of Sarah Brightman, Marti Webb (the original “the girl”), Bernadette PetersDenise Van Outen, and many more great performers. You can read a really interesting early history of the show over at Wiki.

 

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Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday explores the story of Emma; a young English girl from Muswell Hill, tumbling headfirst into a journey towards love and heartache, and discovering self worth and more about her own identity on the way. Directed by Meg Ham, Harvest Rain have packed out the theatre with this latest production and I’m sure will have enjoyed a sold out season.

 

Taking the lead role of Emma is Erika Naddei, a fresh face on the musical theatre scene with a swag of successful performances already under her belt, and it is clear this is one performer to watch.

 

There are singers who are led by the notes on a page, who rely on the ‘money-notes’ to sell a song and equate feeling with nothing other than a good old ‘belt’… and then there are singers who are led by subtleties of text, an honesty of sound and the story they are telling; in Harvest Rain’s production, hot talent Erika Naddei definitely falls into the latter category.

 

With a clear light soprano, Naddei delivers this 50min 1 woman song cycle with vocal finesse and poise, no mean feat seeing as for the majority of the show the character remains in a state of serious lovelorn angst.

 

The opening of the show was played at a highly charged emotional level, and this I felt was a challenging place to begin for the audience. We were given little to no time to get to know ‘Emma’ before watching her unravel, this made it harder to develop empathy for her and restricted the characters growth as the production progressed. I also felt this in evidently caused the journey to plateau in a pretty raw emotional place. This was somewhat alienating, however the demands of this choice were managed well by Naddei whose energy and commitment to character remained strong throughout.

 

I did however find myself wishing for a greater degree of subtlety overall so that the characters journey could be explored with more honesty.

 

Naddei displayed a wonderful ability to engage with the text, skillfully uncovering layers of her character through a delicate and balanced vocal delivery. I really wanted this ‘less is more’ approach taken in the transitions between songs, where the characters ongoing torment/indecision/reflection lacked the integrity of the musical moments. Here I found the delivery to be rather one dimensional, a stark contrast to the honesty present in the songs. The production moved with a steady momentum however, and this made these slightly awkward moments quickly forgiven as Naddei’s vocal continuously brought us back to a sense of truth. Favorites were the beautiful Unexpected Song and the rousing Take That Look off Your Face.

 

The warehouse is such a great space and the theatre had a great sense of intimacy. Set to a backdrop of handwritten letters, packing boxes and a stately staircase alluding to a ‘half empty’ apartment, David Lawrence’s design echoed the sense of transition we see the character living through. Some elements lacked finesse, (hand painted props bug me every time!) Although the ‘wall of letters’ was a great contemporary aesthetic that could have easy been a medium with which the character could engage. An opportunity missed perhaps?

 

Tell Me on a Sunday is a legitimate offering of a classic and widely known work that offers all your favorites packaged just the way you like them. I didn’t feel overly challenged by this production and feel that while seamless, it remained in a nice but very ‘safe’ place. Given the talent of its lead and jam-packed libretto; a smidgeon of grit in the delivery and direction could have taken this production beyond the traditional ‘music theatre mold’ and into something more engaging on a different level. It occasionally falls victim to excess at the price of integrity, but offers up this wholeheartedly and with just enough musical truth to be forgiven.

 

The biggest discovery of the night was the beautiful voice of Erika Naddei and her moments of great musical honesty make me sure of this young performers undoubted future success within the Industry.

 

 

 




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