Posts Tagged ‘Jason Robert Brown

13
Oct
17

The Last Five Years

 

The Last Five Years

Wax Lyrical Productions

Visy Theatre Brisbane Powerhouse

October 7 – 14 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Within the first ten minutes of The Last Five Years we know whether or not we’re up for hearing this story and watching heartbreak happen. Wax Lyrical’s production, directed by Zoe Tuffin, and starring Kurt Phelan and Lizzie Moore, is exquisitely sad and beautifully crafted to let some light shine on the perfect imperfections of two people who were once in love.

 

During the opening three minutes we’ve already had our hearts crack irreparably and we realise we’re in for a relentlessly emotional 90-minute ride. If you’re coming in with real, raw, brand new wounds, or savage old ones that you’re not ready to let heal, take a drink or two in; you may feel the need to self-medicate.

 

Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary song cycle boasts a neat structure that sees the two performers share the stage throughout, and yet meet and connect only once, for a moment when they marry (The Next Ten Minutes, ever so delicately crafted and delivered). Despite the clever chronological device, and their continuous comings and goings, these gifted performers retain a deep connection with the material and with each other throughout.

 

 

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it pays to know this much: A novelist, Jamie (Kurt Phelan), shares his story from the start to the finish of a five-year relationship with actress, Cathy (Lizzie Moore), who tells us her side of the same story in reverse, from the end of their relationship to its beginning. The characters are complex, the relationship complicated and it doesn’t end well.

 

 

 

As Phelan and Moore settle into their challenging roles, on opening night of a too-short season in the intimate Visy Theatre, we begin to sense what these two can really do. Phelan (Boys of Sondheim, Dirty Dancing) and Moore (Kiss Me Kate, On a Night Like This) know each other from way back, having met in a bathtub at a surprise party for mutual friend, Lucy Durack. There’s no doubt they’ve attracted attention as individual performers, but if they can perfect Moore’s first couple of numbers (Still Hurting & See I’m Smiling) – and perhaps she’s hit the mark after opening night, letting the emotion drop in, and going to the edge from the outset, as she does a little later – this two-hander will be the smash hit of next year’s national touring circuit.

 

You get to be happy…

 

 

In his most honest and searing work to date, Phelan embraces Jamie’s narcissism, ambition and shifting affection, offering a bold and precise physical performance, buoyed by a deeply committed energy that could be bottled and sold to most undergraduate (and some professional) performers. He’s effervescent, irresistible in this challenging role, which is the perfect vehicle for Phelan, with an impressive vocal range and a cavalry of emotions. From Shiksa Goddess to If I Didn’t believe in You we get the full gamut of emotions. The Shmuel Song – that track that might use a Spotify skip to miss – works so well that I’d happily see Phelan perform it again; he keeps us fully engaged (although the literal aspects, which are mimed, could go). His Nobody Needs to Know is, unsurprisingly, completely devastating. Phelan’s a busy, busy guy, but I hope this role is one he can keep smashing for some time.

 

I open myself one stitch at a time…

 

 

Cathy is one of the more demanding high belt roles for any female vocalist, asking of the performer a massive emotional range, difficult to keep in check, and it’s up to the performer to resist pushing vocally without the inner life to back up the big sound. When Moore settles into the role she nails it, embodying the sweet, insecure Cathy, and able to bring home the big brash open notes (Anna Kendrick doesn’t sell them like that!), as well as more thoughtful, gentle moments. Moore’s comedy is superb, it’s her thing; she’s so funny and cute, and yet, within the world of the show, she gives us reason to understand why Jamie might look the other way. I’d love to see her contain more, especially to begin with, to sit with the shock and immediacy of Jamie’s departure before the hilarity – the Climbing Uphill sequence later, and the little moments and glances that have us giggling during A Summer in Ohio and I Can Do Better Than That. We have to laugh out loud during the multiple failed auditions. We’ve all been there. Fucking shoes. Poor Cathy.

 

I have been waiting…

 

 

Shannon Whitelock (MD and piano), leading guitar (Joel Woods), violin (Ruth Donovan), cello (Wayne Jennings & Ruby Hunter) and bass (Conall O’Neill), plays with conviction and coaxes from his on-stage 5-piece the rich sounds of a much larger assembly of musicians. When I speak to Jennings, with whom I train on Monday nights in Zen Zen Zo’s Dojo, he modestly dismisses what he does so well outside of the training room. But if it were not for the sweet, desperately sad sounds and contrasting upbeat and humorous numbers (and with the hold these musicians have on JRB’s challenging score), our hearts might still be in tact!

 

Zoe Tuffin’s poised direction hones in on the detail, the specificity of each intimate moment. Her use of the sparsely configured space and contrasting lighting states, designed by Jason Glenwright, draw us into two completely different worlds, which collide for just a little while, for just as long as they need to, to tell the common tale of two people who are just not meant to be together.

 

The Last Five Years is quite a journey, for the cast and for us.

My head spins. My heart hurts. The hawk soars forth from my chest.

 

All I could do was love you hard and let you go…

 

29
Sep
17

The Last Five Years – a little chat with Kurt Phelan & Lizzie Moore

 

Wax Lyrical Productions Present The Last Five Years

Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

 

Wax Lyrical Productions bring Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed 2001 musical, The Last Five Years, to Brisbane with a duo of music theatre heavy-weights.

 

It’s easy to fall in love with Kurt Phelan (Dirty Dancing) and Lizzie Moore (Kiss Me Kate) in this heart-breaking musical two-hander, as they re-trace their relationship from opposite ends. Jamie (Phelan), an up-and-coming writer, struggles to balance his sudden success with his increasingly tumultuous love life.

 

Meanwhile Cathy (Moore), an aspiring actress, deals with the frustrations of her own career while watching her husband from the sidelines in this story of two twenty-somethings who fall in – and out – of love over the course of a five-year relationship.

 

From the director and company behind the Matilda Award Winning Carrie the Musical, Wax Lyrical’s The Last Five Years is an intensely personal look at the rise and fall of a relationship told from both points of view.

 

Let’s just get this one out of the way…did you like the 2014 film starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick?

Kurt: I liked it a lot. I was worried when I first heard about it and they would destroy it like they did RENT the film. But I thought it translated well and Michelle who re-choreographed Dirty Dancing for us in Australia was the choreographer.

Lizzie: I didn’t see it and by the time we found out we were doing this musical I felt like I shouldn’t. But I have seen clips for it and heard some of the tracks and I thought it was done really well but they have the advantage of being able to show two people together.

 

Tell us what’s a) universal and b) unique about these characters and their stories?

Kurt: everyone has been in love and everyone has had a break up. Everyone has been at fault and everyone has been hurt. And it’s also about who you resonate with and there are two sides to every story.

Lizzie: And Cathy is an actress full of self-doubt so you know…

 

What do you love about this show and about JRB’s work in general?

Lizzie: The music and the musical themes that continue through the show, the musical motifs.

Kurt: The man knows how to write a song. It’s also a beautiful piece that speaks to almost everyone who has ever heard it. And some of the most challenging music I have ever had to learn. So once you master it is such a joy to perform.

 

Any particular reasons for the super traditional wedding promo shots for the show? 

Kurt: It is the only time the show is written with them in the same time and space. But we wanted to choose an image that would resonate with people, intrigue them and encourage them to find out more.

Lizzie: And reflect that it is a show about two people – love! But also, to reflect the reason they got together.

Kurt: A lot of the time when the show is done it focusses on the heartache but actually, sometimes no one is right or wrong, two people just aren’t suited to be together.

 

 

What’s the relevance/significance/urgency of staging this show this year?

Kurt: I’ve wanted to do it since it came to off-Broadway in 2002 and if I didn’t do it soon I would explode.

Lizzie: And then we had a perfect storm of both being in town and available and Zoë being available too.

Kurt: Also, all of Australia is locked into a conversation around marriage and equality and it’s important, even though this is a heterosexual couple, that people realise that love is love and everyone should have the same opportunity, even if it only lasts five years.

 

What do you hope audiences get from this production?

Kurt: A beautiful night in the theatre where they can marvel how simple storytelling can strike you right to the core.

Lizzie: Yeah you don’t need bells and whistles. Musical theatre can and should be really truthful.

 

What’s the connection between you two and how do you work together?

Kurt: Lizzie and I met in a bath tub at Lucy Durack’s surprise birthday party.

Lizzie: Kurt was wearing her novelty shower cap and we were trying to be quiet but we weren’t very good at it.

Kurt: And it’s from that moment on we were friends. It wasn’t until years later doing GAYBIES at MELT Festival, that we worked together and realised our voices blended perfectly.

 

What are your favourite things about working together?

Lizzie: I think it’s a really intense piece and we look after each other, on and off the stage.

 

Are there any infuriating things?

Kurt: Yes, Lizzie’s jaw clicks and that’s my pet hate in any human, but she can’t help it and she’s pretty, so I’m cool with that.

Lizzie: Kurt has been making out with me with a moustache but apparently he’s going to shave it so that’s OK. And Kurt and I met in a bath tub.

 

Is there a personal connection to the show, with the characters or the situations?

Kurt: I just got out of a five year relationship so yes, I’m equal parts Jamie and Cathy at the moment.

Lizzie: I’ve climbed many a hill before.

Kurt: I mean it’s about love, we’ve all been in situations similar to this. We both come at this show with a great depth of understanding of both sides of the story which is what makes it so interesting to work on.

 

We see this couple trying to mend a broken relationship for so long. What do you think makes them keep trying? What do you feel it’s worth? As a performer, how do you keep the stakes high enough to convincingly tell this story?

Kurt: through our extensive analysis of the characters we found very interesting insights to their romance and being so familiar with the story I thought it was all doom and gloom but when you unpick it, there is actually a beautiful, loving, human relationship worth hanging onto. We’re trying to highlight that as much as possible.

 

 

Away from the theatre, what tends to take you off to Kurt-land / Lizzie-land?

Kurt: I have a huge passion for wine and have been training to be a sommelier, so that helps when working with Lizzie, because she loves to drink it!

Lizzie: (While holding a glass of wine) Mmm hmm… I like cooking and gin, and I’m a small, fluffy dog enthusiast.

 

What made theatre your passion / preferred career?

Lizzie: If I’d be as happy doing anything else, I’d do it.

Kurt: Ditto. It’s the only thing I’m good at.

 

What are your favourite moments on stage so far? (in this and in previous productions)

Kurt: Getting groped by an audience member during a matinee of Dirty Dancing in Brisbane was a definite highlight…

 

What’s next for you two? 

Kurt: I’m headed to New York to observe a few physical theatre companies and write my new cabaret, and to hopefully start the next five years…

Lizzie: I’m on tour in Tasmania and WA next as Patsy Cline in The Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

What would you like to see more of (in local and national theatres and festivals)?

Kurt: New Australian content of a larger scale and the time to create it properly.

Lizzie: Musical theatre with really great acting and directing. We all love spectacle but that isn’t all musical theatre is.

 

Book online for The Last Five Years presented by Wax Lyrical Productions and directed by Zoe Tuffin at Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

09
Jun
14

Tony Award Winners 2014

 

 

Look, I’m just putting this list here for later because we haven’t had a chance to watch the Tony Awards yet! Luckily, my mum records the ceremony every year. Last year we didn’t even get a chance to see it later in the week but this year it’s a short week, with a holiday today and a holiday on Friday, so I’m aiming to catch up and watch the whole thing on FRIDAY. DO NOT CALL ME ON FRIDAY.

 

What was your favourite Tony Awards moment this year?

 

Best Play
Act One
All the Way – WINNER
Casa Valentina
Mothers and Sons
Outside Mullingar

Best Musical
After Midnight
Aladdin
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — WINNER

Best Revival of a Play
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Glass Menagerie
A Raisin in the Sun — WINNER
Twelfth Night

Best Revival of a Musical
Hedwig and the Angry Inch — WINNER
Les Misérables
Violet

Best Book of a Musical
Aladdin
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Bullets Over Broadway
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — WINNER

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Aladdin
The Bridges of Madison County — WINNER
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
If/Then

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
Bryan Cranston, All the Way  — WINNER
Chris O’Dowd, Of Mice and Men
Mark Rylance, Richard III
Tony Shalhoub, Act One

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill — WINNER
Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — WINNER
Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
Andy Karl, Rocky
Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Mary Bridget Davies, A Night With Janis Joplin
Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — WINNER
Kelli O’Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night — WINNER
Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun — WINNER
Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Danny Burstein, Cabaret
Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway
Joshua Henry, Violet
James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin — WINNER
Jarrod Spector, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Linda Emond, Cabaret
Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — WINNER
Anika Larsen, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt, Act One — WINNER
Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
Es Devlin, Machinal
Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Christopher Barreca, Rocky — WINNER
Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Act One
Michael Krass, Machinal
Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night — WINNER

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — WINNER
William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway
Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Jane Cox, Machinal
Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie — WINNER
Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — WINNER
Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
Howell Binkley, After Midnight
Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Sound Design of a Play
Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill — WINNER
Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
Matt Tierney, Machinal

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
Tim O’Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mick Potter, Les Misérables
Brian Ronan, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — WINNER

Best Direction of a Play
Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun — WINNER
John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie

Best Direction of a Musical
Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Leigh Silverman, Violet
Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — WINNER

Best Choreography
Warren Carlyle, After Midnight — WINNER
Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway
Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County — WINNER
Steve Sidwell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

 

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18
Jul
13

Songs For a New World: Sunshine Coast Premiere Tonight

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Songs For a New World opens at The Lind Tonight!

 

How excitement! The Tipokis have teamed up, synched calendars and produced Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World for the Sunshine Coast! Actually, I suspect it’s for a national tour, but we’re happy here being the outta’ town try-out audience. I hope it will go everywhere so you get to experience it too!

 

The show opens tonight at The Lind in Nambour, and Sam and I will see it tomorrow night.

 

In the meantime, I’ve been reading what Scott Miller had to say about the show.

 

One of the characters in Songs for a New World says “I don’t want to philosophize. I just want to tell a story.” And that line describes Songs for a New World perfectly; in fact, it tells a whole collection of stories. It’s not a book musical – there is no over-arching plot and no consistent characters throughout the evening. In its construction, it owes much toJacques Brel is Alive and Well and living in Paris and the theatre experiments of the 1960s. It’s a collection of independent scene-songs but it’s also more than that. In a 1998 review in St. Louis’ Riverfront Times, Mike Isaacson wrote, “Songs for a New World is that very rare beast: an abstract musical. There is no specific location other than the natural ambiguity of the human heart and mind.” And yet it has a very strong sense of unity about it. Even though many of these songs were actually written for other projects over the span of several years, this show feels like it was planned as a unified whole from the beginning.

 

It accomplishes this mainly because every song in the show is essentially about the same thing: those moments in life when everything seems perfect and then suddenly disaster strikes, in the form of the loss of a job, an unexpected pregnancy, the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, imprisonment, even suicide. But it’s even more about surviving those moments. It’s about the way we regroup and figure out how to survive in a new set of circumstances – a new world – even against seemingly overwhelming odds. These are songs about that new world, a world in which the definitions of family, distance, money, technology, the very nature of human contact is changing every day, a world in which the rules don’t apply as often as they do, a world in which the solutions our parents found don’t work for us, and a world in which today’s answers probably won’t apply tomorrow. For someone who has lost his job or lost a spouse, our everyday world becomes just as frightening, just as dangerous, just as uncharted as the New World was to Columbus.

 

The other thing that lends unity to this show is composer Jason Robert Brown’s musical habits. There are a handful of rhythmic, melodic, and accompaniment patterns that he obviously likes and that he uses frequently throughout the show. And because he wrote the opening number last, most of these patterns are gathered together in the opening to provide a nice musical framework for the evening. Also, the melody and sometimes the lyric of the opening are used throughout the show as transition pieces and even occasionally show up within other songs.

 

This is one of my fave songs from the show. I can’t wait to hear all of these incredible songs performed live by this awesome cast!

 

 

 

 

And how did the show come to be? Mr Miller can tell us.

 

Composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown came to New York City at age twenty, determined to write Broadway musicals. Because he had no contacts or connections, he decided to do a cabaret show of songs he had written for various past projects. He had the good fortune to run into Daisy Prince, daughter of the legendary Broadway director/producer Hal Prince, at a piano bar where Brown was working. Out of the blue, Brown asked Daisy Prince to direct this show he was putting together, having no idea if she had ever directed anything before in her life. She agreed immediately. They worked on the material for three years but still had no opening number and no clear idea what the show was about. As they discarded existing songs, Brown wrote new ones. Finally it hit him. In his own words,

 

“It’s about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.”

 

They did a workshop of the show in Toronto, and then it was brought to the WPA Theatre in New York where it played a limited run of twenty-eight performances. The score was recorded in 1996 by RCA and released commercially. In 1998, Brown was given his first Big Time assignment – writing the score for the new musicalParade, opening at Lincoln Center in the fall of 1998, with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and directed by Daisy’s dad, the legendary Hal Prince. Up until this point, Brown had done a lot of work writing orchestrations and vocal arrangements for other people’s musicals (including William Finn’s A New Brain) but now it was time for him to get the spotlight and no doubt he will become one of the strongest new musical theatre writers of this generation.

 

Starring Patrice Tipoki Arkins, Kuki Tipoki, Jennifer Vuletic and Mark Doggett, and Musically Directed by Laura Tipoki Songs For a New World runs for a strictly limited season July 18th – July 20th 7pm and a matinee on Saturday July 20th 2pm.

Book online or call 07 54411 814

 

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01
Jun
13

The Boat & Big Rig Casanova

 

The Boat & Big Rig Casanova

Lind Lane Theatre

24th May – 1st June 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

The Boat

by Jill Shearer

 

Directed by Anne Grant

Featuring Ray Paine, Denise Hauville, Sean McBride & Kathryn Barnes

 

Confident direction and a decent exploration of Jill Shearer’s affecting text about a family man who is retrenched isn’t enough to send it skimming across the waves to us, but The Boat drifts along nicely for a while, and reveals a new creative force in Director, Anne Grant.

 

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In the little Lind Lane Theatre foyer, Grant provides terrific detail about absurdist theatre, for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, and a copy of the heartfelt tribute to Shearer, which David Berthold wrote at the time of her passing in 2012. It’s lovely to know that the production will be re-staged in the Seaside Museum on Bribie Island, where Shearer originally imagined the play, in a twilight performance on June 9th.

 

Sel (Ray Paine) sets up his reality confidently, without question, and the wife (Denise Hauville) and son (Sean McBride) support him in it just long enough to make sure we’ve invested too. A neat theatrical convention – an excellent choice – allows us time to process the unlikely image before us, which is a boat in the middle of a living room. Shearer’s is poignant, perfect writing, beautifully realised, and losing nothing until the introduction of the son’s girlfriend (Kathryn Barnes), which leads to a climax that seems undermined by some awkward moments. The naturalistic delivery style gets a little lost in the water at this stage, but on a special note; for his theatrical debut, Paine shines in this production.


The Boat
sets out from the shore strongly, and suffers a little as it suddenly loses the wind from its sails, but I did enjoy it, and I can imagine it will feel just perfect in the Seaside Museum. If you can catch it there, on June 9th, go see Grant’s production of Jill Shearer’s The Boat for yourself.

 

 

Big Rig Casanova

by David Haviland

 

Directed by David Haviland

featuring Michael Healy, David Haviland, Kirsty White, Julian White & Rex Halverson

 

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As with any new, unheralded thing, one goes in slightly wary, but there was no need for any misgivings about David Haviland’s Big Rig Casanova; it’s an entertaining, amusing and mysterious plot-driven piece that gives us a unique Australian story, a couple of good outback characters, and an upbeat song to boot! It feels like it wants to be a bigger show, something on the scale of Bob Cat Dancing perhaps?! Just imagine!

 

With projected images of a painted sunburnt country scene – picture an army of anthills and a windmill under various shades of blazing sun and sunsets – and minimal set pieces, we settle into an empty, eerie, outback out-station that hides away an artistic soul and his alter ego (some might say “muse”) from the harsh reality of the exterior, the “real world”. Colin Grevett  and Josh Wilson (Lighting & Sound) have contributed a distinct, almost hollow ambience to this production. It’s just right. With an odd assortment of additional characters to lead us, eventually, in the right direction, we see the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and start to understand the man…and a little bit about what it must be like to live alone in an ancient sacred place. I’d love to hear more about the spiritual aspects of the setting; the Indigenous aspect of the tale is so alluring and could easily help to raise the stakes when developed further. It seems a stronger character piece than perhaps first intended (or at least, advertised), but there’s a high-stakes sub-plot begging to be explored.

 

I look forward to seeing more from Haviland, and whether or not anything more is done with his Big Rig Casanova.

 

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Tonight is the final performance of the two one-act plays at Lind Lane Theatre but there’s certainly some must-sees coming up, among them, JRB’s superb Songs for a New World, produced by The Tipokis and starring Patrice Tipoki Arkins, Kuki Arkins, Jennifer Vuletic and Mark Doggett, together with Musical Director Laura Tipoki. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am about this production!

 

Book early because SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD WILL SELL OUT!

 

26
Jun
12

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Ignatians Musical Society

20th – 23rd June 2012

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Chances are that unless you are a die-hard musical fan, you may not have heard of The Last Five Years. From its initial premiere in Chicago in 2001, this unusual and demanding song cycle written by Jason Robert Brown has had somewhat of a cult following amongst musical theatre circles. Since discovering it about five years ago, I have been a big fan of both the cycle and its composer and so it was with excitement that last Saturday night, I joined an intimate audience at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre to see it’s latest Brisbane revival, presented by Ignations Musical Society.

The Last Five Years follows the five-year relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hyatt and emerging writer Jamie Wellerstein, as they juggle their emerging careers with the ups and downs of their relationship.

What makes this show so ultimately heartbreaking is the structure of its narrative. The show opens with Cathy (Bethan Ellsmore) beginning at the end; the demise of the relationship, and continuing through to conclude with the dizzy beginnings of their burgeoning romance. This is contrasted by Jamie (Tim Dashwood), who tells the story from the start of giddy young love to the heartbreak of a bitter divorce. The couple collide and interact directly only once in the middle of the production, before separating once again to continue on their opposite journeys.

It’s a tricky structure to wrap your head around and one, which I’m sure, was initially confusing for a few audience members. That’s why from the outset I have to say I was surprised by the lack of a program. Later I found there was a digital copy available online but for a production that’s composition is quite non-traditional, it would’ve been nice to have something more tactile and immediate to reference. The structure became more obvious gradually but a short description of the narrative would’ve been a welcome accommodation to give a little context and background for those audience members not as familiar with the story as some.

This being said, the challenge of a non-traditional narrative is well realised by director, Travis Dowling, whose clever use of staging mirrors the progression of the relationship from each of the characters perspective along their journey as well as providing a sense of intimacy and fragility.

The set itself is simple, with minimal props and lighting used to convey changes in time and place. Resisting the temptation to over clutter, the set design (Tim Wallace) is functional and intimate, adding to the contemporary feel of the production.

Despite each character moving in opposite directions, the accessibility of the setting (along with repetitive motives in the score) provides a steady connection between both characters despite their emotional journeying in opposite directions.

Musically, the score is rich with moments for the audience to indulge as one characters excitement is faintly echoed with a musical reminder of the others heartbreak and this seesaw effect carries on throughout the production leaving the audience in a quasi limbo land of emotions by the end.

Led by Musical Director, Ben Murray, the score is delivered live with sensitivity and wonderful sense of duet with the performers, seeming to exist almost as another voice at times. Contemporary in nature, with the popular catchy feel characteristic of a Jason Robert Brown score, the music helps to facilitate a heartfelt connection to the narrative, tugging at the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever been in love.

Bethan Ellsmore as struggling actress, Cathy Hyatt, is gutsy and fearless in this vocally demanding role. The challenges that present themselves in starting the show from such an emotionally charged place do nothing to distract Ellsmore from balancing a legitimate vocal with an honest and courageous approach to the text.

Likewise Tim Dashwood as up-and-coming writer, Jamie Wellerstein, is authentic in his characterization and also vocally secure. Despite occasionally losing vocal presence through some energetic staging, Dashwoods’s commitment to unraveling the dimensions of this character made for a compelling performance.

Despite the challenges of finding a connection through what are essentially two individual journeys, Ellsmore and Dashwood establish an onstage chemistry that seems to communicate even when they are not, a credit to both the direction and artistic investment by the performers.

It is refreshing to see a small Brisbane Theatre Company like Ignations embracing a challenging and relatively unknown theatre production, and doing so to great artistic success. Within a musical theatre scene that is often saturated by predictable and large, elaborate productions, it is exciting and inspiring to see a stripped back, contemporary work that relates to its audience and unapologetically reflects the raw, gritty and beautiful underbelly of love.


24
May
11

The Last 5 Years & The Young Ones

So. As well as recovering from the flu and throwing a great big party in the park for my four-turning-five year old, I saw two local community theatre productions on the weekend. One delivered on all of its promises. The other did not.

As far as I can see, for about the last five years, some of our community theatres have struggled with identity, committee structure and processes, programming, membership, marketing and dwindling audience numbers. On the Sunshine Coast, we currently have 9 groups operating and the potential for about 12.

People are involved in community theatre for all sorts of reasons. People attend community theatre productions for all sorts of reasons. When a community theatre group actually goes ahead and, on the strength of its conviction and collective ambition and determination, delivers the great, fun show that it said it would, it is refreshing to say the least! I’m referring to the Australian Premiere of The Young Ones, which is in the middle of a three week run in Coolum.

The Coolum Theatre Players have had new life breathed into them, by newcomer, Julia Loaney. I met Julia before the matinee on Sunday. What an absolute delight this woman is! When her long-term friend, Helen Rimanic (Director), approached her about staging this brand new (British, obviously) jukebox musical, Julia’s immediate thoughts were to do with enticing new, young people to their theatre. And it’s worked. Having worked, in various capacities, with just a few of the performers, it was terrific to see so many new faces on stage. And they look great! Some of those minis are undoubtedly the real thing; vintage PVC specimens! There is definitely some talent there. The trick will be to lure it all back for the next one!

The ensemble sound was good; the parts were solid (Musical Director Vivienne Ellis), though, I will admit, it was extremely disappointing to see The Shadows mime playing their instruments as we listened to backing tracks, rather than enjoy a live band play on stage. Apparently, finding musicians who’ll give up their weekend gigs for the love of community theatre is proving just as difficult as it has always been. I guess I’ll have to keep putting off our plans to stage The Existents!

There were some great dance sequences throughout (Choreography Mandy Masterson) and it was good to see so many boys dancing confidently and competently. Whilst the look of the show is a little underdone, in terms of staging and managing people (particularly in the busy ensemble scenes and the transitions between them), the pace a little lacklustre and only the slightest attempt made to create genuine characters and relationships (luckily, the characters are written pretty thinly), overall, this is a terribly penned show done pretty well! Really! The book is terrible! And you thought Summer Holiday was corny?!

Actually, I’m pretty sure my mum (and we kids) always loved this film and what’s more, I’m pretty sure she still has a major crush on Sir Cliff! Despite its flaws, just like the original film was able to do, this show had us smiling and clapping along. I was pleased to observe that most of the matinee audience enjoyed it too (incidentally, the houses have been great, averaging 150 per performance, which must be a reflection of a number of factors, which Coolum Theatre Players have addressed recently, in order to pick up the ball again). Had the cast given us a whole lot more energy, I’m sure we would have been up and dancing too, to hits such as Livin’ Doll and Do You Wanna Dance? Unfortunately, there has been some illness and just like in any community theatre group, these are ordinary people, who can’t take time off to recover while the understudy steps in. Everybody involved in community theatre either works or studies and the theatrical ventures must fit into their already busy lives.

This is a group with enormous potential in its midst and I’m glad to see the community supporting them by attending in droves. The Young Ones is not a show that will challenge you on any level but you will, quite simply, be entertained by fresh, new, young, enthusiastic performers who have found, in Coolum Theatre Players, a stepping stone that will lead, for a good number of them, to a more serious playing field…if that is what they seek. If not, then may they continue having fun and meeting new friends in colourful musical productions that are genuinely appreciated by local audiences. All sorts. So many reasons. There is certainly a place for fun, entertaining theatre that brings new people to the stage and new audiences through the doors.

There is also a place for the more ambitious performing artists to continuously work on developing their skills and their repertoire if that is what they desire…currently, that place is not Lind Lane Theatre. Without going into the petty politics, which unfortunately seem rife in community theatre (and in any community group, sure), this production of The Last 5 Years was never going to work. Well, let’s qualify that because I – unlike others I know – was prepared to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.

If Jason Robert Brown had written The Last 5 Years as a one-man show, it might have worked superbly, due to the hard work and talent of Rowan Howard. However, as a two-hander, this production hasn’t been given a chance; as opposed to the inspired casting of Howard, a newcomer to Lind Lane Theatre, the role of Cathy is the result of completely misguided casting. And therein lays the penultimate problem of this production. I’m sorry to say I predicted it and I was desperately hoping, even up to the first strains of the opening song, that I would be proved wrong. Sadly – for all involved – during the first 16 bars we had already realised that we were in for a long night. In a much-loved, highly anticipated one-act musical! Seriously, it’s one of my favourite shows ever; how dare they get it so wrong! What we have in this production is the result of a self-indulgent decision made by slightly deluded committee members and in that, a missed opportunity and a real shame for at least one of the directors, who had good intentions from the outset…as well as some notion of what it is to be a director. Further to that, if you insist on staging JRB in a community context, do the man the courtesy of practising those songs on that piano until your fingers BLEED.

I look forward to seeing what Co-Director, Russell Morgan, chooses to get involved with after this experience and also, what Howard decides to tackle next, after giving us a convincing portrayal of Jamie Wellerstein. His renditions of Moving Too Fast, A Miracle Would Happen and Nobody Needs to Know showed us that he is a perceptive and intelligent performer with a much broader scope than one would have imagined. There are many more performers like him, who (unlike him) are all too familiar with the recent history (and histrionics) and will wait for the changing of the guard before setting foot in that lovely little theatre space again. What a great loss for so many theatre enthusiasts on the Sunshine Coast.

I look forward to seeing what they – and other community theatre groups – have programmed for 2012, at the inaugural Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance Season Launch Soiree! That’s right! How excitement! Details to come…