Posts Tagged ‘Julie Goodwin

14
Apr
12

ANNIE

Annie

Gordon Frost Organisation

QPAC Lyric Theatre

14th April – 13th May

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Sugar and Spice and all things nice. That’s what little girls are made of, right?

From the excited young voices being shushed by their mothers to the bobbing heads as far back as the eye can see, it seems most definitely so. That’s right folks, ‘Annie’ is back and “Aw Gee-ing” her way across the Lyric Theatre stage and right back into our plucky little hearts.

At the premiere of  the musical’s Brisbane season, the curtain rises to a scene reminiscent of the grit and grandeur so candidly etched into our memories from the 1982 hit movie. The set design (Kenneth Foy), captures expertly the squalor of the Municipal Girls Orphanage, which is later contrasted starkly with the opulence of Warbuck’s mansion. The visuals of this show are crafted beautifully, and set up the audience for a visual treat.

Directed by Karen Johnson Mortimer, the production relishes in recapturing the essence of a time gone by. All our old favourites are there, and are delivered just the way we remember them. And while even I was quite happily toe-tapping my way through the familiar numbers, a nagging little voice inside kept whispering that while fun, familiar and comfortable, there was a sense that theatrically, something was amiss.

Having grown up watching the 1982 film adaptation of Annie with blatant devotion, admittedly I have strong images and expectations wedged firmly in my heart as to what I should feel seeing these characters live before me onstage, expecting the subtleties of each scene and each character to once again charm their way into my heart and knock me flat. Obviously this is an ambitious expectation given the limitations of a proscenium stage show. However, despite some outstanding contributions from the cast, I do feel this seasons Annie fails to consistently reach beyond the great musical score and script and expose the humanity of the story in a way that excites me as much as my childhood memories of the show do. But it does have its redeeming moments, particularly in the talents of its cast.

Sharing the title role of little Orphan Annie are newcomers Xanthe Dunning, Anita Munro and Chloe Thiel, with Thiel playing the role of Annie at the Brisbane premiere on Thursday night. With a strong, commanding voice that has a natural freedom and youthful charm, Theil’s portrayal of the spirited young Annie is measured, professional and mature in its approach. I would have liked to see a little more emotional connection to the text come through in her performance, as giving us a sneak peek at the vulnerabilities and emotional growth of Annie’s character could have made a very good performance into a great one. It will be exciting to watch the progress of this talented young performer as she grows throughout this production.

A strong cast of misfit orphans support Thiel. Although at times their varying levels of stage experience shows, their combined musicality and enthusiasm for their individual roles was infectious. It’s the Hard Knock Life was a highlight of the show, and allowed each girl a moment to shine. Worth special mention was youngest orphan, Molly (Kennedy Foley), who stole the hearts of the audience with her comic delivery and infectious stage presence.

Quietly commanding is the talent of Anthony Warlow in the role of Oliver Warbucks. Bringing a sense of warmth and vulnerability to the role of the authoritative Warbucks, Warlow’s voice and artistry shines in the role, and gives the air of a generous performer.

Julie Goodwin plays opposite Warlow, as an entrancing and practically perfect Grace. She too brings warmth and quiet elegance to her role, embodying the youthfulness of the efficient, kind hearted Grace through an intuitive and experienced approach. Goodwin’s vocal delivery is a major strength of her performance, embodying a beautiful sense of musicality and composure that is highly compatible with her character.

Likewise, Nancy Hayes in the role of Miss Hannigan gives an outstanding and dedicated performance. Courageously, she does not mimic the noted archetype known to many from the 1982 film, but rather, gives Hannigan a disordered drunken charm that audiences love-to-hate. Theatrically she is a joy to watch, however I felt more could have been made of her solo moment Little Girls, which seemed to only skim the surface of Hayes innate comic timing and theatricality.

Todd McKenney as the swindling Rooster and Chloe Dallimore as his leggy limpet ‘Lily St Regis’, make an impressive entrance in Easy Street. They have a sizzling presence onstage that commands your attention, albeit sometimes to the detriment of the other performers in the centre of the action, however, I enjoyed their energy and found them an engaging duo.

Alan Jones in the role of F.D.R is an interesting choice. Vocally he holds his own but although enthusiastic and well directed, areas of the characterisation are in need of refinement. The slipping in and out of accent was noticeably an issue and distracted from what was effectively a well-mannered performance.

The ensemble of Annie was a highlight of this production. With a collective energy that kept the energy of each scene flowing seamlessly, they are to be commended for their contribution to this show. Each is clearly an accomplished performer in their own right and together form a strong ensemble that is musically and theatrically dynamic. Likewise the musical direction of the show (Peter Casey) was a true asset, and gave justice to this well loved score. My congratulations to the instrumentalists who created a sensitive and spirited accompaniment to this show.

I have to say that while I found the direction of this production a little stagnant, it is not without it’s musical and theatrical charms. The show closed to rapturous applause and it is clear that Annie’s optimistic and feel-good message is one that resonates with audiences young and old. Sometimes it’s just nice to go and see a nice musical; after all is said and sung, I found it quite a nice end to a ‘Hard Knock’ week.

15
Nov
10

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:

with

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!