Posts Tagged ‘kirby burgess

12
Jan
16

Heathers: The Musical

 

Heathers: The Musical

QPAC & Showwork Productions

QPAC Playhouse

January 9 – 17 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

We’re all damaged, we’re all frightened, we’re all freaks but that’s alright.

Eat or be eaten.

Based on the cult film (1988) starring Winona Rider and Christian Slater, Heathers – The Musical received its sold-out developmental premiere in Los Angeles in 2013 after years of development following a concert reading at Joe’s Pub (NYC) in 2010.

Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw! Heathers: The Musical is outstanding, it’s such a fantastic, timely surprise! After last year’s movies-to-musicals Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom failed to exceed expectations, Trevor Ashley’s Heathers: The Musical succeeds mightily on all levels. Book online and be quick about it because this gorgeous, talented company are only here until January 17.

Whether or not you’ve seen the cult film that inspired the Off-Broadway hit, this show demands your attention. With book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness), Heathers: The Musical brings the microcosm of nauseating, alienating high school life to the stage. Nominated for nine Sydney Theatre Awards, this production originated at Hayes Theatre thanks to a golden ticket from Hayes Theatre Co. (Let’s hope Hayes sends some more world class product our way). It sees cabaret and musical theatre performer Trevor Ashley in the director’s chair for the first time and from the look and feel of this stellar effort it won’t be his last. In fact, Ashley may have found his new calling – this wicked show allows him to flex his creative muscles and really play, stretching to the limit the devilish humour he loves so much. 

A1 production values, cheeky comic interpretation and some exceptional Australian talent means Ashley’s production surpasses the original minimalist attempt at New World Stages. See for yourself.

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The book is fast paced and nicely condensed for the stage, more entertaining than horrifying, not a bad thing in musical theatre. The music is fantastic, easily passing the whistle test, much of it memorable days later. Immediately we hear the same chirpiness and witty extrapolation of Legally Blonde, and the punchy yet haunting sound and style of Next To Normal. It’s a neat blend of pop and rock, basic enough to be broadly accessible, that is, if you’re over the age of 14 and can’t be offended by strong language, intense adult themes and references to alcohol, drugs and guns. That’s right. Don’t know the story? Don’t take the kids. Strangely, Heathers: The Musical doesn’t come with a trigger warning. No pun intended. The story stays true to the original film.

In order to get out of the snobby clique that is destroying her good-girl reputation, an intelligent teen teams up with a dark sociopath in a plot to kill the cool kids.

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Kirby Burgess is Heather #1 – the Almighty Heather Chandler (until the show goes to Melbourne in May, when Lucy Maunder returns to the role), and straight from playing the naive Baby in Dirty Dancing, Burgess effortlessly morphs into the wealthiest, wickedest, cutest bitch from hell…er, high school.

Joined by Libby Asciak (Heather Duke) and Erin Clare (Heather McNamara) the three mean girls appear to be impenetrable. Their slick and sassy Candy Store perfectly introduces them and intimidates…everyone else. But beneath their perfectly preened eighties’ exteriors even the Heathers are damaged, and the real story of how tough high school can be comes through in a surprisingly genuine way, not least within the layers of Clare’s standout Lifeboat, stinging long after the final note fades.

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The phenomenal Jaz Flowers embodies social misfit Veronica Sawyer without needing to channel Winona Ryder or Barrett Wilbert Weed, bringing her unique brand of sass to the role, reminding us (in case you needed reminding) that she’s one of our brightest musical theatre stars. Her renditions of Beautiful, Fight For Me and Dead Girl Walking are powerful, informed, lingering things. Flowers’ energy and careful attention to detail, not to mention her powerhouse vocals, drive the show. Paired with the super tall, super talented Stephen Madsen as the trench coat clad sexy sociopath, the richly textured duets (Our Love Is God, Meant To Be Yours and Seventeen) provide the stuff of a love story so believable that the lines between right and wrong become blurred for us too. 

I just want my high school to be a nice place.

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Of course, our investment in the relationship is largely due to Madsen looking just enough like Slater on stage to win us over even before uttering a word. Freeze Your Brain is silly and funny and seductively sung. Where has this guy been?! Next, he’ll be seen as Richard Loeb in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story.

Our love is God. Let’s go get a slushie.

Lauren McKenna shines as Martha – her spotlit solo Kindergarten Boyfriend is tragically, hilariously poignant – but also as Ms Fleming, stealing the show with her all-singing, all-dancing whole school healing session. We’ll see McKenna next in HR’s Hairspray Arena Spectacular in the role that made Flowers famous.

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Vincent Hooper (Ram Sweeney) and Jakob Ambrose (Kurt Kelly) play to the hilt those horny footballers, earning plenty of laughs and little gasps because, well, they’re cute too. N.B. No cows are tipped during this production.

MD Bev Kennedy leads a sensational sounding band (a pity about the opening night mix) and the ensemble shines in The Me Inside of Me, a surprise reprise of the boys’ hilarious number Blue and an even more surprising gospel number, Dead Gay Son. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography throughout is first class. With a beat change and a break up,Yo Girl successfully builds the tension needed during a tricky, speedy denouement. It’s a tough ending to pull off and this production almost succeeds in creating the same level of horror and humour in the original movie scenes before its upbeat Broadway-worthy finale and extended curtain call. Emma Vine’s inspired set design, Gavan Swift’s lighting and Angela White’s cute costumes contribute vivid colour and distinct style.

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I don’t know how Trevor Ashley made this show happen whilst playing Master of the House Thenadier in Les Mis but he’s done it and he’s done it in the same masterful way. If you miss Heathers here you’ll have to catch it in Melbourne in May, and if you miss it there you should see what you can do to help get it to Broadway. It would be a shame to see Fickman’s underwhelming production go there before Ashley’s does. The red scrunchie should go to Trevor Ashley next. This show wins everything.

05
Jun
15

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage

 

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage

John Frost, Karl Sydow, Martin McCallum & Joye Entertainment

in association with Lionsgate & Magic Hour Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

May 28 – July 19 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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If you haven’t heard anything around the traps like, “WELL THE LAST TIME I SAW DIRTY DANCING…” or “I THINK I PREFERRED THE ORIGINAL BECAUSE…” you’ll love this production. It’s the scaled back touring version but look; all over the world there are people who haven’t eaten today. So how much you gonna’ complain? We’ve been seeing more and more mega musical theatre and dance productions stop by Brisbane (this one’s unashamedly a dance production), largely due to the concerted efforts of John Frost and those who would follow in his footsteps, and this is certainly not the worst of them, although it could be much, much better.

 

 

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It’s literally “the classic story on stage”, the famous movie brought to life, and people LOVE IT!

 

 

I enjoyed this Dirty Dancing, I really did, it’s lots of fun, but there are some things that miss the mark. Firstly, there is the obvious casting issue of Kurt Phelan as Johnny Castle, the sexy Kellerman’s dance instructor. Phelan’s a terrific dancer and he’s got a cool Kenickie style swagger, but Patrick Swayze he is not. Every other character has been created in the likeness of their movie counterpart and for the best effect, this approach should be consistent.

 

 

Kirby Burgess, the shining light of this show, presents a beautifully measured genuinely naïve Baby-who-becomes-a-woman; she’s possibly been asked to channel Jennifer Grey on stage (whilst retaining her own vibe, the mark of a natural performer), whereas Phelan must have been advised to forget Swayze’s portrayal and make the role his own. This he does and it only vaguely works, despite his prowess as a dancer. There’s nowhere near the same level of charisma, nor the depth of emotion in his interactions with Baby. BUT I CAN SEE THE YOUNGER PUNTERS ADORE HIM.

 

 

 

 

Some of the best moments from these two? The steamy end of Act 1 is as sexy as this show gets AND IT’S HOT – you’ll def want another daiquiri during Interval – and this is where we finally see a connection between our two leads. ABOUT TIME. We LOVE Baby’s secret solo dance practice in the Wipeout montage (even Rocky had a montage), and the gorgeous Love Is Strange “lover boy” scene in which the pitiful son of the owner of Kellermans, Neil (Gabriel Brown, either too young for the role or he’s playing it too young), interrupts Baby and Johnny in the studio. Burgess steals the scene with her parody of the parody of Johnny’s teaching style.

 

 

Secondly, the pace is super fast and sometimes the short scenes are so slickly delivered and abruptly finished that I feel we’re being cheated. Yes! Cheated! I want everybody to SLOW DOWN and indulge in some of the major moments, so that we can indulge in those moments – there are so many wonderful moments – and relive our delight and surprise of seeing the film for the first (or seven hundredth time)! It’s like watching the movie trailer but not the movie, and I feel there should be more…everything; more songs, more scenes, and more detail in order to fully develop the story because the story, as it’s told on stage, is lacking. Apparently, there is 40% more new material! But I want smooth transitions too.

 

 

And I’ll tell you something else. You’ll laugh out loud. Because I hadn’t read the reviews from Sydney and Melbourne (ain’t nobody got time for that!), I DIDN’T REALISE IT WASN’T A MUSICAL. I KNOW. I’M AN IDIOT. OF COURSE IT’S A DANCE SHOW. DIRTY DANCING. RIGHT? RIGHT.

 

 

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I was genuinely surprised when none of the leading characters broke into song!

 

I know my sharp intake of breath was heard (because I got a raised eyebrow from a woman nearby like, “I KNOW, RIGHT?!”) when Johnny didn’t even start singing She’s Like the Wind, the track Swayze wrote and recorded for the soundtrack of Grandview, USA (when it wasn’t used for Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Swayze pitched it to the Dirty Dancing team). WHAT THE? I’m truly disappointed that the show’s creators thought this unnecessary.

 

GUYS. LISTEN. WRITE THE SCENES. WRITE THE ADDITIONAL SONGS. LET THE LEADS SING THE SONGS. IT’S NECESSARY.

 

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I love Mark Vincent as Billy, who gets to sing a bit and does so beautifully. In the Still of the Night is a highlight and it’s a shame that a number of little moments involving him are glossed over because as a “non-actor” (I don’t know why we say that about singers, or let them say it about themselves. I take it back!), he brings a natural warmth to the stage, and we need more of it. I enjoy Eric Rasmussen’s musical numbers and you know I LOVE seeing the band on stage, and in this case I’m thinking that with such a slick outfit available it’s even more ridiculous to deny the other artists the vocal lines in the songs.

 

 

BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT I THINK. THE SHOW WILL SELL OUT.

 

 

It’s clear on opening night that the audience is comprised of many serious fans that know the film inside out and back to front. They pre-empt each iconic scene and all the classic lines.

 

 

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My German homestay student, Nici, is one of the more obsessive ones. She joined us in January to attend one of the local high schools. The first film we all watched together at home was Dirty Dancing. SHE LOVES THE MOVIE AND LOVES THIS PRODUCTION. SO I BOUGHT HER THE SHIRT AND PROBS SHOULD HAVE ASKED HER TO WRITE THE REVIEW.

 

 

While I was at another opening night on the company’s night off this week she messaged me to let me know

 

 

BABY IS IN THE HOUSE!

 

 

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HA! OBSESSED.

 

 

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The ensemble is excellent and full of energy. There doesn’t appear to be many of them on stage but they clearly relish their roles and given any opportunity to do so, dance up a storm. Adam Murphy is a stand out as Baby’s daddy, Dr Jake Houseman, because JUST LIKE THE MOVIE ONLY YOUNGER. AND MORE SUAVE, IN THAT OLD FASHIONED MISOGYNISTIC MUST-CHANGE-FOR-THE-SAKE-OF-MY-WIFE-AND-DAUGHTERS SORTA’ WAY. Chris Ostrenski is a suitably shallow, callous, gorgeous Robbie and Teagan Wouters OWNS the role of Baby’s sister, Lisa, although you’ll have to decide to love or loathe her carefully produced speaking voice. Maddie Peat is not my ideal Penny but I had expected any Penny to gradually let us get closer and closer as she breaks and begins to heal again, and not just high-kick her way through the show. Penny’s got a hell of an arc; hers is the toughest sub-plot to pull off and I just wasn’t convinced. BUT LEGS! YES! SHE’S GOT ’EM!

 

Now here’s a weird one. While most of the design elements work surprisingly well, the iconic let’s-get-outta-here field and lake scenes projected across a scrim really DON’T (are they supposed to? Really? Is it a joke?), AND there is a strange amused/bemused ripple of laughter as the splash of the sound effects are added. I think it feels, by this stage of the show, that we’ve accepted the questionable creative choices, shrugged them off and decided WHAT OF IT. IT’S STILL GOOD. This comes after a LOT of cheesy mime, which is well executed but IT’S WEIRD. WHERE’S THE CAR?

 

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When it comes to the final scene and THE LIFT the crowd goes crazy and I decide WHATEVS. GET THOSE BUMS ON SEATS. What a great show to see and for its duration, not have a care in the world. How lucky are we?

 

 

There’s not a lot of deeper meaning here. Every opportunity to bring us the story we love in a new light is missed. (I’m not sure why we get a racial tolerance lesson towards the end either; we know when and within what context the story takes place, but perhaps it’s just as well, considering the timing of ABSINTHE opening across the bridge in King George Square, currently enjoying a similarly deliriously happy customer base despite its appalling spoken content… We shall overcome? Shall we? Really? Does anyone tell the truth anymore about what they’re seeing?

 

 

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage seems to be a simple case of GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT WE TELL THEM THEY WANT. And clearly, what we want is a frozen watermelon & rum daiquiri (it was delicious), a glittery merch shirt (I wore it to school yesterday), and an energetic, shiny show overflowing with nostalgic nods to its source material, reaffirming where we are as a nation in terms of popular entertainment. And where are we?

 

STUCK ON REPLAY, HAVING THE TIME OF OUR LIVES. AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. IS THERE?

 

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