Posts Tagged ‘James Gauci

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
Sep
12

Urinetown

Urinetown

Urinetown

Underground Productions

UQ Schonell Theatre

30th August – 8th September 2012

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

WARNING: This review contains excessive toilet puns that may infurinate some readers. 

It’s not everyday your ticket to a musical theatre show comes nested in a neatly folded wad of toilet paper. But then again this is no ordinary musical; this is Urinetown…The Musical.

Presented by Underground Productions, Urinetown tells the story of a community plagued by drought and governed by strict laws that ban the use of private bathrooms; forcing the ever-suffering people to pay for the “privilege to pee” or be banished forever to Urinetown, a place from which ominously, no-one returns. Enter a rebellious latrine manager and a romance or two with a gal from the other side of the urinal and you have an uprising of bladder-busting proportions!

The self- referential style of the work echoes the style of Brecht and Weill, and cheekily titters at musical theatre clichés with some less than subtle references to popular Broadway (West Side Story, Carousel and Les Mis. to name a few). Director Lauren Ware has delivered an engaging, high energy show that despite being high on the giggle-meter flushes…I mean…fleshes out some poignant messages for our consumer-crazy society from the viewpoint of all involved. But don’t get your knickers in too much of a twist, there are enough spirit fingers and poetic melodrama to keep the mood flowing lightly, after all it is a musical…

Speaking of music, Urinetown is bought to life by Musical Director Matthew Samer, (who after being dragged on the scene by police escort) leads an absolutely ‘kickin’ band and vocally strong cast through what is essentially quite a challenging score. This is a challenge met by each of the performers, as they take on their roles with a fierceness and commitment that is entirely infectious.

Vocally, the standouts for me in this production are the richly voiced James Gauci (as love struck and heroic Bobby Strong) and the tinkling… I mean twinkling soprano of Rhiannon Moushall (as our happy hopeful heroine, Hope Caldwell). The two create a wonderfully comic onstage chemistry and manage to balance character and great singing to a wee…I mean tee 😉

I also enjoyed Kieran Davey in the role of Officer Lockstock. His jaunty and dry narration provided a great sense of grounding to the melodrama onstage and showed great sense of comic timing and sincerity.

John Da Conceicao is wonderfully imposing as the tawdry Caldwell B. Caldwell, head of Urine Good Company, and Xanthe Jones brings a great physicality to the role of the Little Sally, her mischievous demeanor reminiscent of Les Miserable’s Gavroche. Alongside, the entire supporting cast are stellar, producing some wonderful comic and musical moments that keep the pace of the show…whiz-zing along and completely engaging from start to finish.

The supporting ensemble appeared varied in experience, some grabbing my attention a …wee-bit more with the skill of their characterisation, physicality and vocal capabilities, nevertheless the cast offered a collective energy that scooped up the less experienced and presented a united force to be reckoned with. The ensemble moments in the show were the highlight of this production for me; I particularly loved the rousing gospel chorus of Run, Freedom Run that saw the young Bobby comically conducting the impromptu choir. Likewise, mention must be made to the great choreography throughout this show, dynamic and complimentary to the varied skill of the cast, it created a sense of seamlessness that kept the energy high.

The creative team and entire cast are to be congratulated for delivering a show that I would place among my favorite musical theatre performances this year. So relieve yourself of your daily worries and plop…I mean pop in to the Schonell Theatre to catch Urinetown while you …can!

Urinetown

30
Aug
12

James Gauci in Urinetown

Urinetown

urinetown

– not the place – the musical –

 

We asked James Gauci to tell us about Urinetown – not the place – the musical!

Look, I have to say that he always reminds me a little bit of Chris Evans Captain America

mercmouth.tumblr.com

…oops, sorry; wrong capture (but thanks mercmouth.tumblr.com for posting that one!).

Captain America Chris Evans

Chris Evans as Captain America in The Avengers

But James Gauci is not out to save the world…just Urinetown.

Urinetown opens tonight!

BOOK HERE

Here we go…

James, for those who don’t make the Schonell Theatre at UQ their regular hangout, can you tell us about Underground Productions’ home and a bit of the company history?

 

Underground recently moved permanently to the Schonell Theatre where they stage limited runs of three shows per year. The Schonell is such a great old theatre… seventies vintage with just over 400 seats and home to some of Brisbane’s best community theatre societies. It also happens to be one of Brisbane’s largest stages – it’s even deeper than QPAC’s Lyric. And it has the famous UQ Pizza Caffe attached. I don’t think casts would eat were it not for that glorious establishment.

Underground Productions is the UQ student theatre company, started in the seventies and run under various names through the years. ‘Underground Productions’ has stuck since 1999. Many famous personalities have come up through their ranks, Bille Brown and Geoffery Rush included. Also, I don’t think there’s been a drama student in Brisbane of the last decade that hasn’t heard of Underground’s (in)famous BUGFest!

I’ve come into contact with the company many times before, with friends appearing in dozens of their shows, but this will be my first time performing with them.

 

We last saw you on this stage as Anthony in Ignatians’ production of Sweeney Todd. What drew you to return, this time with Underground Productions, for Urinetown: The Musical?

 

I’ve been extremely lucky this year – Sweeney and Urinetown are two of my all-time favourites. Urinetown is so intelligent, romantic, self-deprecating, self-referential, dry and darkly comic. It runs the gamut of traditional musical theatre musical styles, it’s simultaneously melodramatic and intrinsically human, and it builds up your hope before unexpectedly smashing it to smithereens in a belted full-cast finale. It’s everything I love in theatre.

 

The last water-wise show we saw in Brisbane was La Boite’s Water Wars. Urinetown is a slightly more satirical look at the extreme end of the spectrum, once the world is depleted of natural resources. Can you tell us about the social messages embedded in Urinetown? How has the company approached them and what are the most poignant messages for us today?

 

Urinetown came into being when the show’s creators, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, came across a pay-per-use toilet somewhere in France. They took this concept and applied it to the scholar Thomas Robert Malthus’s idea that humanity’s population growth will be checked by famine and disease, eventually reaching a ceiling. A bit of a stretch, yes! But in practical terms, the show’s fictional city has been drought-stricken for twenty years, and this problem has somewhat humourously manifested itself in the central conceit of the show – that it’s a privilege to pee.

Of course, we’re in an age when sustainability is a concept at the forefront of our political and economic discussion – whether it be in terms of the environment, resources, food or water. You’ll come to the realisation that you’re surreptitiously being given a healthy dose of perspective from all angles throughout the show.

However, if you think all that is terribly boring or way over your head, there’s loads of happy music, good versus evil, hilarious comedy and jazz hands everywhere that will make you forget all about it!

 

What were (Director) Lauren Ware’s priorities in the staging and telling of this story?

 

Lauren is an incredibly gifted young performer in her own right. She’s an accomplished dancer and choreographer, a terribly talented comic actress and can blow your socks off with her natural mezzo belt. The best part about this is that she’s so sensitive to the performers themselves whilst illustrating the concept she has for the show. Her priorities have been clean and professional execution of the music, comedy and choreography (I didn’t know my Achilles Tendons could be sore like that…) while maintaining the grounded and honest storytelling that is necessary for the show.

Urinetown is sometimes melodramatic, bordering on pantomime, but always honest. She’s managed to strike the balance extremely well in my opinion.

 

What’s your favourite message in the show?

 

There is so much delightfully meaningful/meaningless rhetoric that comes out of Bobby Strong’s mouth that it’s hard to pin it down to one idea! But I’m a total sap when it comes down to it so I choose ‘follow your heart’. Being true to yourself is all you can really, truly do, and it allows Bobby to live entirely without regret.

Although, as you’ll see, there always consequences to one’s actions… another message that you’ll have to see the show to get!

 

Will we leave the theatre inspired to finally commit to water-saving habits, like turning off the tap when we brush our teeth?

 

Oooh, hard to say. Probably not – the message is a little bit more complex, thankfully – but you should be doing that anyway! You’ll certainly never take a free public toilet for granted ever again.

 

So you turn off the tap when you brush your teeth?

 

Oh yes, absolutely. A combination of good parenting and many years of Sesame Street brainwashing. Youtube ‘Don’t Waste Water’ if you’re ready for a hit of nostalgia.

 

 

The book is pretty wry. At a time when Brisbane is embracing all things meta-theatrical, can you talk about the Brechtian influences of the show and how they have influenced aspects of the show such as design, staging, direction etc? 

 

It’s funny to think of Brecht when looking at Urinetown. All of the elements are there – the broken fourth wall, the minimalistic functional staging, the sensational themes and preposterous prepositions – but it’s not what I’d consider ‘traditionally’ Brechtian, Dialectical, Epic, or whichever term you prefer. For me, instead of being alienated from the action and remembering that I am in fact sitting in a theatre being told a story, I find that I escape into the world, become vastly more invested in the characters, find the comedy that much more hilarious, and the messages hit home much harder. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower.

Brecht may have used narrators and chorus, but he certainly wasn’t one to stage spectacular melodrama! Having said that, I think he would have (possibly secretly) enjoyed Urinetown. 

 

What is it that made this show a Broadway hit?

 

Incredible and deceptively complex music, a spectacularly hilarious and poignant script, and most importantly a totally original idea. Its grassroots origins also helped I think… the show started at an improv group, then went to the New York Theatre Fringe Festival, then Off-Broadway, then Broadway and Tony Awards. It’s the little show that could. And it did!

 

James Gauci Bobby Strong

 

Tell us about Bobby Strong.

 

He’s your textbook hero – a disenfranchised youth, an underdog of society working for ‘the man’ who suddenly has the hopes of an entire community thrust upon him. He loves his family and his friends, but finds it so difficult to reconcile that with his job as an Assistant Custodian of the local Public Amenity where he takes the cash they’ve scraped together just to go to the loo.

His flaw though is his naivety. Sometimes it’s easier to know what’s ‘right’ than what’s ‘best’, but he doesn’t care. Or understand. He’s so adorable.

 

What drives him? Is it the free toilets or is there something more? 

 

It’s so simple to him. He cares so much for the people of his community that he has no choice but to rally them to action. He wants the people to pee for free because the people are free!

 

Have you ever paid to use a toilet in Europe (or do you have a disastrous turnstile-leaping story for us)?

 

Thankfully my stories of toilet tragedy have been few and far between. I think the closest I can gather would be taking a wee as a little kid while standing in a green ants nest. It was only fair – I peed on them, so they peed on me. Difference being that there were hundreds of them. And they pee acid. Yowch.

 

Is there anything else we should know about Urinetown, Underground Productions or what you’re up to next?

 

With Urinetown and Underground fairly covered, next up for me will be Oscar Theatre Company’s Queensland Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, scheduled for the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC next April. I’m very proud to be working with five of Brisbane’s most insanely talented musical theatre performers. I couldn’t resist seeing the original cast twice when I was visiting Broadway a couple of years ago so I’ll be taking great pleasure in re-creating the roles of Dr Madden and Dr Fine.

Funnily, I think it could be the closest I’ll ever get to actually using my psychology degree.

 

Chookas, James! We hope you enjoy a wonderful season. x

 

Urinetown

26
Mar
12

sweeney todd

Josh Rowe (Sweeney Todd)

Sweeney Todd

Ignatians Musical Society

Schonell Theatre

22nd March – 13th April

Ignatians sure know how to put on a show. And boy oh boy have they picked a doozy this time! Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, inspired by Christopher Bond’s 1973 play of the classic story (Bond was the first to show Todd as a man who had been wronged by the law and not motivated entirely by greed), is certainly not the easiest of musical productions. In fact, it could be considered one of the most challenging, with its complex orchestrations, multi-layered ensemble work and dark, difficult story to sell to contemporary audiences with ever-decreasing attention spans, accustomed to being sitcom-spoon-fed.

Director and Musical Director, John Peek, has accomplished something special with this Sweeney Todd. A strong, bold ensemble, filled to overflowing with top-notch part-singers and character actors, a brave creative team, an orchestra fit for a recording studio (led by Conductor, Edgar Chan) and a cast of leading players who include a couple of Brisbane’s best.

Opera singer, Josh Rowe, despite his Russell Crow demeanor (or maybe because of it. Russell Crowe was to have originally starred in the film and was to have been directed by Sam Mendes. Personally, I’m okay with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton having scored the gig), was a little underwhelming on Saturday night (the third performance of the run). Rowe may have the title role but this is Miranda Selwood’s show. Their relationship becomes more interesting and Rowe’s reactions and expressions become more animated in Act 2, by which time I felt he’d really settled into his boots (I don’t mean vocally – the outstanding vocals were there from the outset, exemplified in the sinister song, My Friends, sung to his razor (singular, yes), glinting in the light – I mean that he must have gone out and got his Sweeney shoes on at interval, only fully exploring the range of the character later. I should make mention of Pretty Women; sung with Judge Turpin (Chris Kellett), it used the right mix from both men, of devious and delighted and By The Sea, performed with Selwood (she is an absolute scream in this number; hers is a fearless performance) is made that much more hilarious by Rowe’s facial expressions and in this well-loved song, although he remains seated, we see his ability as an actor start to come through, in addition to the stand-and-deliver-singer we’ve seen thus far). It’s Selwood who is simply superb, as the bustling, busybody, bonny cook of The Worst Pies in London, Mrs Lovett. She is feisty, cheeky, fast, furious and vocally, absolutely glorious. She clearly relishes the role and why not? It’s a plum one and it seems she was born to play it. I’m sure Selwood must have taken a leaf out of Helena Bonham Carter’s book and practiced her baking whilst practicing her singing, in order to perfect the syncopation in her songs, which are surely the most difficult of the show.

James Gauci is also perfectly cast, as the young, romantic lead. He’s a good-looking lad who can hold a note and tell a tale…oh, who am I kidding? He’s just gorgeous and he sings to sweep the ladies off their feet! Please somebody get him in front of Frosty already! His Johanna, Jordana Peek, is suitably lovely – a picture of innocence – though I found her a little pitchy and breathy in the song that should seal the deal for this character, Green Finch and Linnet Bird. She made up for it in the duet with Gauci, Kiss Me, and also, in the Reprise of Kiss Me (the Quartet), demonstrating the confidence we expected to see from the start and a much more polished performance, finally winning me over. Toby (Ben Hickey) is a tough-nut sweetheart and does a truly beautiful job of the often over-sung Not While I’m Around. We expect this to be a poignant moment (it’s the beauty before the full extent of the horror) between Toby and Mrs Lovett and we’re not disappointed. Pirelli (Andrew Scheiwe), whose accents are spot on and Lucy Barker (Sarah Jensen), who manages to make us laugh as well as make our hearts break in the very same instant, get the other honorable mentions, giving us wonderful, multi-faceted characters.

James Gauci (Anthony) and Ben Hickey (Toby)

James Gauci (Anthony), Jordana Peek (Johanna) and Chris Kellet (Judge Turpin)

It’s a highly technical show and there are massive demands placed on the set. This design (Shane Rodwell) is intricate in terms of its levels but there is something at odds here and I feel sure it’s the massive, mechanical revolve trying to upstage everybody. So much emphasis has been placed on the working set that we are lucky to have had such strong performances, avoiding anyone paling into insignificance. I love a revolve as much as anybody but it must serve the purpose and I felt that this one – it was clunky and slow – was out of step with the pace of the show. The Chair, however, is another matter altogether; the mechanism is brilliant and the effect is truly chilling and strangely comical, as things tend to be when they are mildly discomforting… I don’t want to give away all of the effects but if you’ve ever seen a squib sliced, you’ll appreciate that somebody in makeup has done their fair share of research into the fine art of throat slitting. You will squirm, just as you should. The tale is, after all, ghastly.

Dark, gothic lighting – not too much and not too little – casting shadows and drawing our eyes towards the most minimal action is just right. Andrew ‘Panda’ Haden has done well to achieve such an evocative and intimate lighting design within the large-scale Schonell Theatre. Gutter colours dominate the structures and the costumes, all trash and no treasure, except for Pirelli’s carnival suit (but he’s not around for long), Johanna’s pretty blue frock and Mrs Lovettt’s sassy petticoat of delicious pink under, which we catch glimpses of, just as we see the brighter shades of each character from time to time – but only for a moment.

The staging of the prologue seems unnecessary, an anti-climatic opening; a solitary figure (a dishevelled man) crossing the apron of the stage to pull a rope, in the action of ringing a bell and at the same time, opening the curtain onto a scene of madness – the streets of London. A bold directorial choice, it was probably not ideal. Far more effective would be the first sounds of Sondheim’s strangely seductive score and the curtain opening upon the ensemble standing, imploring us (really very At the End of the Day and there’s no doubt it works), to “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd”…

Another unusual moment, wasted; we missed, “At last, my right arm is complete again!” It’s the definitive Demon Barber character line and it was thrown to the wings, dismissed during an exit, rather than used to achieve the climax of the Prologue. Whether by actor or director, I thought this an odd choice.

"At last, my right arm is complete again!" Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's film.

I cannot stress enough how good this company is in terms of their ensemble singing. Like any company, they have their “stars”, though none seem aligned or affiliated with this or another company, we see them everywhere, and Ignatians always work really hard on producing an exceptional ensemble, as we saw (heard) in RENT and as we see (and hear) in Sweeney Todd. I’m always in awe of a good choir master/MD (our local Oriana Choir is off on their European tour soon, led by the extremely capable and super confident Daniel Calder) and if you’ve ever considered joining a terrific no-pressure-no-audition choir, Ignatians provides another Brisbane option. Check the website for details.

As far as Brisbane theatre goes, there is a huge amount on at the moment and this production must be one of the hot ticket items. On Saturday night, I noticed UQ uni life was alive and well (clearly, it was pizza and red wine night) and a horde of younger audience members filled the Schonell theatre foyer at least 20 minutes before the Box Office opened. These are some keen kids! How wonderful that the theatre rather than the cinema is where they choose to spend some of their money! I would not recommend taking children to see this show. I would wonder at its appeal for those to whom Sondheim’s score is largely unknown and at the same time, I would encourage all and sundry to go see Peek’s Sweeney Todd and support Ignatians’ mammoth effort and their solid commitment to the growth of the Brisbane musical theatre scene. Really, you’d be silly to miss this production – there’s too much to like about it!

30
Nov
11

storm the stage results 2011

Rotary and IGA Supermarkets are keeping the arts alive!

When the major sponsors and supporters of a national young performers’ competition are Rotary and an independent supermarket, you have to wonder at the state of performing arts in this country. It’s the question I most often ask. What IS the current state of theatre in this country? Apparently, if you go back and read my recent briztix.com interviews with Australian working musical theatre performers, IT’S ALL GOOD. Phew. That’s a relief. Personally, I have no qualms about where the money comes from, not really, however; where was any level of government on this one? Perhaps they weren’t asked to contribute but with the previous sponsor (an offshore philanthropist) devastated by the natural disasters in his own country, unable to continue with his financial support this year, only Rotary and IGA stepped in to ensure the event continued. I’m glad they did because this event gives young performers (16 – 19 years of age) a platform to present their best impression of themselves…before anybody else tells them who they should be.

Without the grooming along the way by prominent industry personalities, this competition is like a kinder, smaller, live version of The X-Factor. And like The X-Factor, the trick is to find those finalists with that elusive special something that will set them apart. What IS it that sets a performer apart? What makes them a winner in the subjective world of The Arts? What makes “good” art? “Good” theatre? What does good theatre look like anyway? Does anybody know anymore? If you’ve got a blog you’re a critic (hell, if you’ve got a Facebook or a Twitter profile you’re a critic)! BUT “Does anybody know what we are looking for?” Maybe not until we see it and then, once we’ve seen it, experienced it, we want to see it, experience it again. Does it really matter anyway? The show must go on! Most of our high profile performing arts awards are the same popularity contests we see on our screens, decided on by votes from friends and fans of those involved, who login, click to vote and go about their day. One particular Storm the Stage award intrigued me greatly: the Briggs and Gibbs Award for Audience Appeal…decided on by the judges. Because just like the TV audiences who listen to the propaganda created by the publicity departments and executives of the commercial television stations (and recording companies) in this country, we need somebody to tell us what will appeal to us, what’s good… I’m not saying I disagree with the judges’ decision – Queenslander, Mitchell Page was, without appearing on any promotional material, the obvious pin-up boy of this year’s competition…or perhaps, of next year’s competition. Just saying.

Some of the Storm the Stage talent was impressive. Musical Theatre performer, Madeline Crofts, certainly had the voice but lost the story as she focused on switching between the different vocal styles in the challenging number, The Girl in 14G (from the musical of the same name) and Romy Vuksan showed us she is a wonderful dancer in Show Off from The Drowsy Chaperone (that number is up there with Ulla’s in The Producers, in terms of the “deceptively easy to sell” stakes)! Lachlan Graeme and Matty Johnstondemonstrated their comic capabilities in I Really, Really Love You (Sorta Love Songs) and The Ballad of Farquaad (Shrek – The Musical) respectively. Taylah Jarrett – the judges’ choice in the Musical Theatre category – sang beautifully but in neglecting to don a blonde wig, looked nothing like her character, Audrey or Donna Reed, of whom she sings, making Somewhere That’s Greena strange choice for this one-off performance in the finals of a national musical theatre competition. What does good theatre look like? Sound like? Song choice. Attention to detail. Let us into the world of your character and imagine their world is yours.

But art is not a science! Take a bit of the technique and precision out of it. As vocal coach and musical director, Todd Schroeder teaches, “First, serve the lyric.” Tell the story. Special guest performer from NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art) in New Zealand, Ashleigh Stove, delivered a superb monologue from Skintight, demonstrating her natural ability to feel the rhythm of the language, the discipline of her training and the confidence she possesses at this point in her career, to let it all go and simply be Elizabeth, who shares her story with us. This was, in my opinion, the best performance of the evening but as a special guest performer, of course Ashleigh was ineligible for an award. I’m sure we’ll see her on the professional stage or on our screens sometime soon.

There is immense value in a competition that awards competitors with honest, constructive feedback, giving them the opportunity to hone their craft a little, which allow them to rehearse and perform in a commercial venue with a professional technical team, in front of a supportive audience. As our Emcee,Drew Jarvis and National Producer, James Gauci, pointed out, young performers in Storm the Stage are undoubtedly gaining confidence and building a valuable network of like-minded creative people. So, like the eisteddfods and in preparation for the awards systems already in place in our Performing Arts Industry, I maintain that this competition is invaluable. It must continue. I will say though, that alternate drama & musical theatre – mostly comedy – is certainly an interesting mix and doesn’t make the most entertaining evening for an audience. If this competition is to grow – and, as I’ve stated, despite my misgivings about the subjective parameters of performing arts awards – it should be allowed to grow, perhaps the drama and musical theatre components can be kept apart.

In the meantime, young (and old) performers still need to see more theatre! That’s key. I hope most of it’s good but some of it might be bad. And that’s okay. If you’re not seeing and experiencing any of it, how can you expect to work out what “good” is? So see more theatre. Seek new teachers. Take a master class. Engage a vocal coach. Engage an acting coach. Appreciate your training and then be prepared to let it go. Prepare. Compete if that’s your thing (and even if it’s not, remember every audition is a competition) and know that winning doesn’t mean you’ll make it. A lot of hard work, great mentors, good networks, self-belief and a little bit of luck means you might make it.

Congratulations to all the finalists and CHOOKAS!

Judges: 

Paul SabeyJohn Peek and Simone de Haas

 

Best Performance – Drama Category: Camilla Best (Tasmania) – Rose – The Seed by Kate Mulvany

Runner-up: May Grehan (QLD) – Rae – Rae’s Story by Don Zolidis

Best Performance – Musical Theatre Category: Tayla Jarrett (NSW) – Audrey – Somewhere That’s Green, Little Shop of Horrors, Music by Alan Menken, Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman

Runner Up:  Lachlan Graham (Vic) – I Really, Really Love You – (Sorta) Love Songs, Music by Paul Loesel, Book and Lyrics by Scott Burkell

Briggs and Gibbs Award: Mitchell Page (QLD) (Drama) – The Writer – Oh! You’re a Writer, They Say! (compilation of excerpts), by Neil Simon, William Shakespeare and Anonymous

This review published originally on briztix.com