Posts Tagged ‘Josh Piterman


Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Michael Cassel

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

QPAC Lyric Theatre

July 19 – September 2 2018


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



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


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


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


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



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


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


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



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



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


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


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



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


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





Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins & Base Entertainment Asia

in association with The Really Useful Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

January 29 – February 14 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



(Or: When audiences and critics are baffled by a show’s long-running runaway success).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS is one of the most successful musicals ever, and probably one of the the most loathed. If you’ve never seen it before there’s probably still a lot to love but for audiences who have seen one or more earlier productions, this is not the one that surpasses them.

My earliest memories of CATS echo the delights of the children seeing this latest touring production, which comes to us from London Palladium. I think the harshest critics, especially those of us who have had to sit through this show more than once, forget that everything is always new to somebody. I grew up on a steady diet of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim so I’m not actually one of the harshest critics. Nostalgia always counts for something, doesn’t it? When I first saw CATS (I was still in primary school) I was full of wonder and curiousity, intrigued by the ramshackle junkyard setting and the feline beauty of the performers in their costumes and makeup to suit each unique character. We got to traverse the stage during Interval and relived moments from the show for years afterwards. I adored the sass of Mr Macavity, the magic of Mr Mistoffolees, and the abject despair that gives way to a tiny glimmer of hope in Memory. And I loved the dancing. It’s a dance show after all; a dancer’s show.

I remember, as the lights dimmed, the thrill of hearing the first synthesised strains of the music, which we knew from wearing out the double cassette tape of the original London production soundtrack, and sensing before seeing them, cats of all colours and traits slinking through the audience, over seats and over people, purring and snuggling up to us as they made their way to the stage for the opening number. It was fantastic. We saw CATS return to Brisbane in 2010 – Poppy was four years old – and she loved it! I was underwhelmed. This time? We were both underwhelmed. Rather than write about it right away, I took off and did a show at Brisbane Powerhouse for the week before I could even think about assembling any thoughts about this production of CATS.


CATS remains one of the most rigorous shows in which a performer can be involved, and for dedicated dancers it’s great work if you can get it. (This ensemble is terrific, clear characters, solid dance and vocal parts on point). But for many of us it’s a show that’s become lost in glossy global marketing genius and the popular belief that such a long-running show must be good. This is what’s good about CATS –

  • if you’re a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • the dancing and random acrobatic feats are still impressive, despite the distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • the music, despite being more Flashdance than contemporary dance, is still memorable
  • the individual cats are all unique creatures and if the lack of plot bothers you a good comparative study can be made from carefully observing the behaviour (and costume and makeup) of each
  • the same can be said of the lights. Lots of lights to count…
  • the set is still interesting, spilling out into the audience space.

This is what’s (still) diabolically bad about CATS –

  • if you’re not a cat-lover it’s about cats
  • there is a distinct Rock Eisteddfod feel to ensemble numbers
  • there is not much of a plot andThe Awful Battle of The Pekes and The Pollicles is still…awful
  • the clunky mechanics of the UFO-looking platform that ascends with Grizabella would be better placed in a high school production. When it grows up this piece of equipment might be seen in a Katy Perry or Pink concert.
  • this time there is no Coca-Cola can in the set. Does anyone else miss the Coca-Cola can? I miss the Coca-Cola can.
  • star casting, complete with contemporary pop voice does not a Grizabella make
  • by far the greatest creative crime, Rum Tum Tugger has been slaughtered and hung out to dry like a crow, warning other ambitious all-singing, all-dancing boys to stay away from this role in this production.




Delta Goodrum is an elegant, once decadently languorous, now legendary Grizabella, shunned by all, and her Memory, although beautifully, powerfully delivered, is marred by her ceaseless distracting wandering and preceded by an interpretative dance that has, unfortunately, missed the kind strike of the red pen. I love Delta (my goodness, she’s so lovely on stage, that smile!), but her Grizabella not so much.


And as hard as Daniel Assetta tries to sell his Rastafarian rapping Rum Tum Tugger, my guess is that it will never win over Australian audiences. Did it wow the West End? I wonder. How could anyone possibly imagine that anything would top the sultry, sexy-as-fuck rock star we remember so, er, fondly, from previous productions??? I can’t wait to see Assetta in a role he can get his teeth and…never mind what else…into.

Christopher Favaloro shines as the leaping, twirling Mister Mistoffelees, but somebody has maybe been a little over zealous with the fire pots???


Matt McFarlane – what a gorgeous voice and a commanding presence – does a fine job of narrating the non-existent narrative as Munkastrap (Oh yes, I know, sure, for the sake of the argument, there is a synopsis, which makes vague sense as long as you’re paying attention and bearing in mind the entire concept came from a collection of poems). Josh Piterman is our other standout, in the multiple roles of Bustopher Jones, Gus & Growltiger. As Gus the theatre cat, Piterman offers a beautifully measured, nuanced performance in the tradition of the great storytellers of the British stage. I actually want to give him a hug and find his slippers for him and settle at his feet to hear more. Later, as Growltiger he sells a dramatic Italian moment, one of the highlights of the night.

Despite the few attempts to update the production, CATS stubbornly remains deeply entrenched in an awkward late seventies-early eighties time warp and if you hated it before you’ll be more than a little bemused by this production. But maybe, just maybe, THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Bite your tongue, take the kids and be prepared to suffer a little in your lycra and leg warmers.

As an exercise in suspended disbelief, this show has always been for advanced theatre-goers (or the perfectly naive), but it’s not the worst musical in the world and as a little family outing, CATS is still a bit of fun.   



West Side Story

I wrote in my previous post that there is a place for time-honoured traditional homages to shows that we know and love. Or something like that, anyway. The new touring production of West Side Story, currently playing at QPAC, tried to be just that. And when I say “just” that, I mean only that. It may well have sold out in various venues all over the globe but this was not the West Side Story that I know and love. It was certainly not the West Side Story that it appeared to try to replicate.

Having said that, I’m aware that you may have read one or two rave reviews already. This is not one of them. In fact, I found only one rave review and I read it and deferred posting my own, thinking that perhaps, on this occasion, I might be wrong (I have been known to be wrong on the odd occasion). But then I remembered that I’d read other reviews and I had, in fact, seen the same show as those critics. I was also reminded that a review is merely an opinion. And everybody is entitled to expressing that. It’s just that some of us have a compulsive urge to publish our opinions on the Internet! And oh, how interesting are the differing views and opinions on this particular show! There is a chasm between what I and some others think of this production.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a really generous audience member. Even having read unfavourable reviews from the runs in previous cities, I’ll go in with very few expectations. No, wait. I have a few expectations; especially if it’s a touring professional show AND a classic.

  1. I pay to see the show. I love comps and champagne on opening night as much as the next theatre-goer but I don’t make a habit of asking for tickets and I don’t mind paying for them, knowing that I’m contributing to the growth of our industry. What I expect in return, for the cost of my ticket is a professional show. Perhaps my interpretation of “professional” is different to that of, say, David Atkins Enterprises.
  2. Sometimes I go see a show purely because it is marketed well. I’m a sucker for advertising, the perfect consumer, of shows, skin care products, iPhone apps, glossy mags, alternate medicine (how good is the migrastick?! How perfectly soothed, calmed and totes not crazy with pain does she look?!) See? Barnum Bailey said it (many have sung it. Raul is one of my faves, making me think, inexplicably of Mr Percival. Um. Casting tip, anyone? Time to do Barnum again? Will it ever be time to do Barnum again?!) You get it. If it’s new and exciting, I’ll buy it. But to buy into the story of a classic show, one that I know and love; the version is going to have to live up to its claims.
  3. I expect to see our industry’s best performers. Were they these performers? Well, I’m not sure. I have my doubts, largely, I suspect, because of the way they were directed and allowed to give us a second rate performance on this particular night. I’m also happy, as you would know if you follow this blog, to see and support the industry’s rising stars, our new talent, IF THEY ARE GOOD. I’m not saying that this was a poor ensemble. I’m saying that most of them were cast in the wrong show and left up there to be dancers who can sing and act a little (I also suspect that Action may have been told that he was the “actor” of the company and so decided to really let us know that. Over and over and over-the-top again).

I grew up with, respectfully respectively, my dad and mum, singing and twirling (as a singer, my mum makes a great twirler), to the original soundtrack recording in the kitchen. I always wondered how my dad kept mum (maybe that’s how: singing and twirling), you know, as opposed to the (1961) movie’s other star, George Chakiris, getting her in the end, because God knows, she would have willingly gone! Probably lucky for me and the siblings, she compromised, having One Hand, One Heart played at their wedding. In the movie, this scene is excruciatingly cute and daggy, representing all the joy and innocence of young love and making me cringe even to think about it.

In Brenner and Atkin’s production, this scene stinks. Sorry, I really hope some of you felt differently but I have coached un-WAPPA-ed teenagers who come across as a stronger star-crossed pair of lovers than Josh and Julie managed. In fact, let’s do that shout out, shall we? To Ms Mel White and her creative team at Matthew Flinders Anglican College because, HOLY SHIT THEIR SHOW WAS GOOD. I’m not even being biased. Not one bit. Kudos to the upcoming stars (no, really; look out for them), Charlie Sells and Lauren Lodge-Campbell, who worked with me to get this scene and this song REAL. It took a bit of convincing, that they had to face each other and lock eyes before locking lips but it was just so obvious that THAT is what Josh and Julie needed to be told too! A different sort of connection was missing from the action between members of the rival gangs and there was not a lot of tension throughout the places I wanted to hold my breath. And Anita at Doc’s? ALMOST GOT IT. Again, if you’re going to replicate a classic, please give us opportunities to experience the same roller coaster ride all over again! That’s precisely why some of us are there and you owe us that much.

More of these sorts of opportunities might encourage young performers to question their approach to their craft and set higher expectations for themselves and the productions they are involved in. I wonder if Josh or Julia ever asked of the director, Joey McKNeeley, “Um…hey Joey? Why are we not looking at each other for this most poignant and beautiful moment in what will otherwise remain a corny, daggy, cute, kitsch scene?”

I could write about this West Side Story and all its associated issues for days. It’s fascinating to me that something with so much money behind it could go so wrong. I guess we add it to the list. What list is that? You may well ask. I’ve asked Sam to elaborate on this little theory so, very simply, I will say this: we have our Cheeseburger Theatre list. On it, are more and more of what should be the newest, most fabulous, spectacular, mind-blowing, blah blah blah shows. Sadly, a few of the shows we’ve seen lately were billed as such and didn’t live up to our expectations. They are mass-produced, look fancy in the posters and don’t taste quite the way you’ve been led to believe they will.

Quite simply, this production of West Side Story did nothing for me. It left me cold. I was prepared to take out the kleenex and do my usual stiletto run to the ladies after the heart-wrenching conclusion, to check my makeup, before moving on to Drinks and Debrief (this time at our good friend Mia’s new groovy joint, The Junk Bar. You MUST check it out and tell her we sent you)! But I didn’t shed a tear. Some would say that is because I am a cold, callous, over-critical chick with a black heart. I say it’s because the combined elements of this production failed to move me.

Seriously, I had such high hopes and they were all dashed, not least of all because we missed seeing Rohan Browne as Riff. Clearly, we made it into town before he did and unfortunately, for us and now for his understudy, we saw his understudy, with his Australian accent and all (friends who saw Rohan said he was the absolute highlight of the show). I’m happy to give the understudy another go, in another show; perhaps it was a poor casting choice. But in a professional production, your understudies should be up to the task at hand.

The same can be said of every performer in the show.

Let’s not pick on the young, vibrant, mainly-appropriately-dance-trained, largely-recently-graduated ensemble; they too were told they up to the task. But dancers unable to hold their poses (and in bare feet, girls?! Shame! There are no excuses for wobbles at this level! Who decided to have them dance without shoes and stockings in the first place? It’s part of the sex appeal. It’s a little thing but it matters.) Dance pairs who didn’t have that wild, sexy chemistry whilst dancing at the gym? Ensemble members whose looks totes threw the older couple sitting next to me: “Aren’t they meant to be Puerto Rican?” etc. Mind you, these here are crazy times, when you don’t have to cast a single Asian-looking performer to be able to put on Miss Saigon. And if you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about, think back to when Miss Saigon almost didn’t make Broadway.

As I write this, another rave review has gone up online and I wonder again DID I SEE THE SAME SHOW?

To summarise and to partly respond IMHO, to a couple of points made by Katherine Lyall-Watson and Pepa Wolfe:

  • West Side Story was not a fantastic night at the theatre, nor a winner in any way, except perhaps to appeal to a new audience who have never seen any other theatrical production. Wow. I can’t believe I just typed that. That is too kind. And it is ludicrous. Is this the standard of professional production with which we want to seduce new audiences? The cast announcement coincided with the Australia Council survey ”More Bums on Seats: Australian Participation in the Arts”, which found that musical theatre/cabaret was second in popularity to pop and rock concerts. It says that young people aged between 15 and 24 were engaging with the arts, as participants and spectators, more than any other age group. Scary…the power of well-promoted and supported-from-the-inside mediocrity. Isn’t it?
  • I have no doubt that Rohan Browne stole the show. I also loved Alinta Chidzey as Anita, though poor Bernardo was no match for her and I didn’t buy into his leadership of The Sharks. I’m glad my mum will not get to this production, being between India to see my brother and Adelaide to see Leonard Cohen.
  • The costumes looked as if they had come straight out of the packets and off the hangers and onto the performers. Seriously. Did you ever see such clean, brawling teens?
  • The set was laughable, like an enormous barricade that was designed to be re-used next time as a dolls house. Or something. I thought, if only they had stuck to steel and scaffolding, this enormous, over-bearing structure might have been the star of the show. It looked misplaced and the performers were lost within it. Literally. The girls placed strategically throughout it for the quartet of Tonight looked messy.
  • The real winners and stars of this production were Vanessa Scammell and her musicians. They were superb. As they should have been. Thank you.
  • I KNOW ONLY THE GIRLS ORIGINALLY SANG AMERICA. This sucked. This is a big production number and was made famous in the film because the boys were such a gorgeous, cheeky, strong part of it, reaffirming the importance at the time of the gender roles, the real racial tension and reigniting that sexual spark between guys and girls, which is really, I mean, c’mon, what’s at the core of this little, universal Romeo and Juliet plot. Just having the girls perform this number always dilutes it. Compare:


If you’ve seen this production, or you’re a part of it, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below and tell me what you thought. What did you think of The Ten Tenors’  Josh Piterman as Tony? What did you think of the rumble? The end of the show? You may completely disagree with me on every count and I’d love to hear why! If this is the type of theatre you love and want more of, let me know. I won’t be making it – not like this – but I’ll keep going to see it and questioning the motives of those who do!

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