Posts Tagged ‘kurt phelan

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

 

10
Mar
17

Boys of Sondheim

 

Boys of Sondheim

Brisbane Powerhouse & Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 2 – 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I was a little bemused by the collateral for this one, a highlight of this year’s MELT Festival. Surely Stephen Sondheim is only recently recognised as “one of the most significant gay artists of the 20th Century”? I grew up with his music and have always recognised him as an artist. I don’t have people within my circles for whom this distinction is anything other than a source of pride and solidarity. MELT has a sense of wonderful community about it, which is typical at Brisbane Powerhouse, regardless of the programming; it’s my favourite venue as much for its vibe as its unlimited possibilities for performance and socialising, but during this festival there’s always something a little more electric (and eclectic) than usual. The energy is super charged and the collective pride shared by the artists and patrons during this time each year makes for an even more appreciative audience, and closer connections. The ‘standard’ of the stuff on show seems to be largely inconsequential. What it comes down to is this: we just want to hear our stories.

Sondheim’s music is some of the most intricate and difficult EVER. It’s not just about hitting the notes (nothing ever is), and given the chance to perform it, most artists will leap in the general direction and enthusiastically “perform” the piece. Some will even sell their song and earn heartfelt applause, and even fewer will leave someone in their audience in tears, or breathless and aching for…something that’s perhaps just out of reach.

Sometimes I do a heap of research and read about previous productions, and their creators and directors and artists, I peek at what the critics have noted, I ask friends what they think, I catch up with the artists or message them to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they want us to get out of the work. But this is a brand new work, a world premiere, and there’s no precedent except for every other celebration of Sondheim’s music ever. This is certainly a celebration, a tribute to one of the defining voices of musical theatre and mostly, an interesting and entertaining night out, but it’s not all I’d hoped it would be. After a brief development period, the show lacks the polish it needs to win us over completely. It has some heart and some guts, and it’s a great vehicle for its talented performers, but I’d like to see it again in 6 or 9 months time when it might know better what it wants to be.

A narrative penned by Anthony Nocera offers us mostly amusing fleeting glimpses of some of the joys and pitfalls of gay dating and loving and living. Not unlike Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES, the structure relies heavily on these brief monologues, delivered in turn by the actors, to break up the musical numbers, an assortment of somebody’s favourite songs, loosely stitched together in an it’s-interesting-to-be-gay overarching way. Unfortunately, towards the end, the narrative breaks up one of Sondheim’s greatest accomplishments and Being Alive is brought to a painful death by continual interruptions. This makes it almost impossible for Tim Carroll to build the song and bring it to its bitter sweet soaring end, and makes me wonder, why?

With only a few shows in this short season, the opening number needed to be ready for opening night, and the insecurity or reticence or something of three quarters of the cast members makes the first 8-10 minutes ever so slightly uncomfortable. This is so weird, because they’re all fantastic performers, but the music is challenging and the lesser known songs don’t help to win us over. I love Kurt Phelan’s choreography, utilising the catwalk and the narrow space in front of a gay-mancave-bar, the conceit being that these guys have gathered in someone’s home for a lovely champagne catch up.

Kurt Phelan, Sean Andrews, Stephen Hirst, Alexander Woodward and Tim Carroll certainly go to some lengths to expose the “soulful, masculine underbelly” of Sondheim’s work as well as much of the comedy (Hirst’s (Not) Getting Married Today is sidesplittingly funny), but we know there’s more to this lovely little show and I can’t wait to see it reborn and restaged sometime.

10
Dec
16

Phelan Groovy

Phelan Groovy

Brisbane Powerhouse & Kurt Phelan

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

December 1 – 3 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

– Kurt Phelan

Kurt Phelan is one of those hard-working, long-time-coming “overnight” success stories. You may have heard of him. He’s been in such shows as Kiss Me Kate, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Singin’ In the Rain, Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing. Phelan hails from Townsville and his cabaret show, the fantastically funny Phelan Groovy, is both a tribute and a tongue-in-cheek exposé of what it’s like to come from the tropics and conquer the world of musical theatre.

A natural performer, warm and genuinely welcoming, Phelan demonstrates from the outset perfect comic timing, a flair for rewriting our favourite musical theatre songs and a knack for nailing the sort of impersonations usually left to the drag queens. His delivery of Memory in (broken) Debra Byrne style, with her permission, of course, and complete with enormous dark sunglasses, an oversized martini glass and what could be a wrap or the green room rug thrown across his shoulders, is sidesplittingly funny and painfully accurate. Byrne is just one of the celebs Phelan dishes the dirt on during the show. When the balance is struck between a little bit nasty and a little bit naughty, these moments will land with greater aplomb.

A re-worked Dream A Little Dream paints the picture of Phelan’s birth on the laundry steps of his parents’ house up north. I Dreamed A Dream describes his heartbreak upon seeing the woeful film version of Les Miserables. And I’ve Had the Time of My Life is dedicated to the women who groped him during the touring production of Dirty Dancing (during the show!). Whether the entirety of this story – or any story – is truth or fiction we’ll never know, but the question doesn’t keep me from laughing until mascara tears stream down my cheeks.

When Phelan leaves the stage momentarily to slip into “something more comfortable” it’s to lose his dress shoes to flip flops. Only in Australia. And later, we’re certain only Peter Allen could be as comfortable as Phelan appears to be in a garish tropical shorts and shirt combo. Phelan wears it proudly. He’s a gorgeous performer with a cheeky grin that lets him get away with saying the most outrageous things in the most outrageous dress ups. Bare-chested and bold before conceding defeat in the face of Disney, he shares the infuriating discomfort of all the dads whose children are still singing/screeching Frozen’s Let It Go.

The show takes a serious turn when Phelan reflects on the too-soon deaths of some industry friends (Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, stunning in its unadorned delivery) and again, as he shares JRB’s superb song, Someone to Fall Back On. It’s an incredibly difficult number to do, vocally demanding and emotionally complex, but Phelan sells it with a stirring, stinging honesty, just as he did during a masterclass with the composer.

There’s no ceremony about Phelan; he’s the real deal, as frank and honest, and as heartwarming and entertaining as any cabaret performer can ever hope to be. 

Joined by Luke Volker on keys for this Brisbane Wonderland season, Phelan shows us what it is to be human and fallible and funny and loveable and laughable, in that typically Australian, incredibly ironic sense. While the show in its current state is clearly meant for our audiences, and probably the more theatrically inclined among them, with a few tweaks it could travel, and it should. Phelan’s appeal is universal, and talent such as his in this context deserves a larger, broader audience.

24
Nov
16

Wonderland – 10 Top Picks

Wonderland!

 

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Wonderland opens tonight! Get ready for three weeks of high energy entertainment in the intoxicating heat of Brisbane’s Summer nights.

Wonderland is Brisbane’s end-of-year carnival of surprise and delight.

With 31 shows over 14 days, you’re invited to flirt with the unexpected and step into a euphoric world of body bending antics and late night temptations…

 

1. Phelan Groovy

Don’t miss the star of Dirty Dancing in Phelan Groovy, part auto biographical, part celebrity dish and ALL entertainment. For if there’s one thing Kurt Phelan has learned through life, it’s to only say 10% of what he thinks. Now you get the other 90% but only from tonight until Saturday at 8:45pm.

 

 

 

2. Wild Heart

Grand Finalist of The Voice and one of Australia’s most gifted singer/songwriters, Ellen Reed, won the hearts of a nation with her soaring voice and unshakable spirit as the Team Jessie J favourite. In Wild Heart, a one night only concert on Wednesday November 30 with her band, we can experience her national television defining performances live in the Powerhouse Theatre, with soulful renditions of Sia’s Chandelier, Demi Lovato’s Stone Cold, and Pink’s Perfect. Ellen Reed will also debut her new single Wild Heart and perform her upcoming album of original tracks including Ask Me to Stay, Blur and Not Tonight. A special Wonderland treat, not to be missed!

 

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3. Smooth Criminal

Not only is Christopher Wayne one half of the global success story, The Naked Magicians, but he’s also producing some of the hottest shows we’ll see over the next couple of summers. Smooth Criminals brings together the odd couple of Australia’s entertainment industry, Luke Kennedy and Joel Turner. For one show only, on Sunday at 4pm, audiences will get the chance to experience Michael Jackson’s back catalogue as they’ve never heard before, when Kennedy (The Voice, Season 2 runner up, The Ten Tenors) and Turner (world champion beat boxer and platinum selling hip hop artist) join forces to share in their love for the greatest entertainer to ever live, in a musical experience like no other. This is the must-see Smooth Criminals.

 

Remember The Time from Chris Wayne on Vimeo

 

4. More Than A Boy

Starring Tom Oliver, More Than A Boy is a playful rite-of-passage about family and adventure, do-or-die situations and seemingly random events that build character and shape destiny. Featuring an eclectic mix of original songs written by Tom, Andrew McNaughton and Wes Carr (Australian Idol winner), theatre tunes and reworked contemporary hits, More Than A Boy magically weaves together the stories of a Croatian refugee forging a new life and a grandson who follows his dreams. Backed by a live band, get the adrenalin pumping and experience Tom Oliver shoot for the stars in this lively quest journey.

 

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5. The Lady of the House of Love

If you’ve never seen this show – or this artist – you’re in for a real treat. Performed by award-winning artist Sandro Colarelli, The Lady of the House of Love is a darkly eerie and exotic one-man show exploring the themes of desire and destiny. With original music composed by award winning singer-songwriter Jake Diefenbach, this combination of evocative narrative and stunning songs harks back to the darkest roots of cabaret.

 

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6. Other Women

This is the season’s sexiest circus-cabaret! Starring Lizzie Moore, Eliza Dolly, Rosie Peaches, Freyja Edney with a Chloe-Rose Taylor. Other Women: Temptress or tempting? Fast woman or free-spirited? If a man is a stud, what is a woman? Enter the world of Other Women: a provocative and witty circus-cabaret celebrating female sexuality and exploring sexual double standards. A thrilling live band, circus soloists and burlesque cheek electrify the stage in this World Premiere performance. Featuring an eclectic mix of songs by artists such as Nina Simone, Goldfrapp and Prince; Other Women explores promiscuity, and our contradictory views towards women and their sexual behaviour.

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7. Emma Dean in Concert

Heralded for her captivating vocals by the New York Post, Brisbane’s own Emma Dean is a consummate performer and has released over ten independent original albums/EPs.She has toured the world, performing alongside Jesca Hoop and Kate Miller-Heidke, and in support of Macy Gray, Jinkx Monsoon, Katie Noonan, Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls. Emma will be joined by her brother, Tony Dean to perform an eclectic catalogue of songs exploring love, loss and light. One show only on Saturday December 3 at 4pm.

 

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8. The Chaser’s Australia

Discover The Chaser’s Australia with Charles Firth and James Schloeffel. A very special multi-media presentation of The Chaser’s Australia. Covering politics, culture, religion, sport and jokes about Karl Stefanovic, it includes a special segment on Australian cooking, and why chicken salt is the only ingredient you’ll ever need. It also includes an extra special presentation on the environment entitled “There’s Absolutely Nothing to Worry About”, sponsored by the Minerals Council of Australia. If you only attend one event this year, you should probably go out a bit more often. The Chaser’s Australia; it’s everything you wanted to know about Australia, but were too apathetic to ask. One show only tonight at 7:15pm.

 

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9. Mills and Boom!

Join the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary, a fictitious amateur writers’ group of oddball characters with fake hair, fake lashes, and real passion, for its personally acclaimed stage show. Mills and Boom! is a simply stupendous salon of bosom-heaving, lip-quivering ecstasy during which we regale you with our smouldering romance stories. Featuring Pascalle Burton, Carody Culver, Adam Hadley, Michelle Law, Ian Powne, Tessa Rose, Jackie Ryan, Leah Shelton, Lucas Stibbard, and Neridah Waters. One show only on Sunday December 5 at 5pm.

 

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10. House of Mirrors

The House of Mirrors is a grotesquely fascinating walk-through installation composed of a labyrinth of seemingly endless mirrors. Since the 19th Century, mirror mazes have been trapping and reflecting participants, challenging those that venture into them, both physically and psychologically, resulting in delight, amazement and sometimes, fear. The House of Mirrors includes Kaleidoscopic like chambers, voids, doorways and darkened breaks, the purist and most traditional form of a mirrored maze. No added gimmicks, no special effects, no special lighting, no sound track or soundscape.  The primary ingredients of carefully arranged mirrors, geometry and pure optical illusion.

Please be aware that during busy period, long wait times are possible. We recommend if you pre-book a ticket and plan on experiencing House of Mirrors before another show, to give yourself ample time in case of lines. Your House of Mirrors experience could take anywhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes, depending on how fast you solve the maze.

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10
Feb
16

GAYBIES

 

GAYBIES

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 3 – 6 2016

 

Reviewed by Simon Denver

 

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Verbatim theatre. Bite sized morsels of humanity whose sum of all parts give a well rounded theatrical presentation based on a particular event or theme. It can work particularly well, as in this case, when the performers let the words lead. The power will always be in the honesty of the words; overt characterisation mustn’t distract. In Verbatim theatre the actors are the backing and the words are the lead. In GAYBIES we heard the stories of growing up with a same sex parents. (Well – same sex parents, surrogate mums and donor dads). The people interviewed ranged from 4 year old to 40 year old. This gave fantastic scope for the ensemble of 18.

 

Statistics may say that children of same sex parents make up such a small fraction of society – but that does not detract from the relevance of this work. As I mentioned earlier – society is the sum of all parts. We, as individuals, have an almost moral duty to research, examine or at least familiarise ourselves with as many of those working parts of life as possible – No matter how the findings might be at odds with our “white bread 2.2 children” view of life. In fact, having same sex marriage as a political issue de jour only amplifies this production’s relevance.

 

For over seventy minutes we were presented with stories. Honest stories and clear memories.

 

Too embarrassed to tell your friends your parents are gay. An awkward scenario. But then again, lots of people have always been embarrassed to tell their friends that their parents were Nudists / Mormons / Swingers / National Party Members etc. The charades of truth (“If anyone asks I sleep in this room and Bob sleeps in that room”). But then again, what family doesn’t play out its charade of little white lies? The more stories that flooded the stage the more you realised that these stories were running a parallel course to most people’s stories. Finding so many touchstones within such a small statistic can only serve to humanise as oppose to demonise. It was a gentle reminder that whether parents are the same sex, (or from different religions, race, creed or colour for that matter), in the end it doesn’t matter. A house of love and laughter can only come from love at its core.

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By default or design the limited two-day rehearsal period meant scripts on stage were going to be a necessity. But a two-day rehearsal period with the calibre of the cast involved was always going to make this a very up-market rehearsed reading. Quite a tough brief really. Find the natural flow and rhythms of the words yet continually have to remind your self what the words are. Personally I thought those almost rhythmic glances at the scripts constantly reinforced the fact that these were someone else’s stories. I suppose its like the subtitles in a foreign film. If the film is good you don’t notice that you are reading. The words are not those of professional writers. They are the words of the average man / woman very creatively “cut and pasted” together by Dean Bryant. It was a great “ensemble” piece. And the ensemble did a mighty job. The direction by Kris Stewart was as much as can be expected from a two day rehearsal. Again, without the time to be flash, complex, personal or brave, the direction seemed to merely be there to set the words free.

 

All in all it was an incredibly feel good journey.

 

The Ensemble itself consisted of professional actors and social / media commentators. With that in mind it’s unfair and impossible to single any individual out .. .. .. .. .. (Damn! Can’t back that up! Margi Brown Ash’s four-year-old on a bike was the show stopper for me. Still chuckling at that little gem days later). They were a unified front and they were all on the same page. For that I say to them all – Thank you. So Barbara Lowing, Bec Zanetti, Blair Martin, Kurt Phelan, Libby Anstis, Lizzie Moore, Brad Rush, Brittany Francis, Christopher Wayne, Margi Brown Ash, Pam Barker, Pat O’Neil, David Berthold, Emily Gilhome, Gordon Hamilton, Rebecca McIntosh, Xanthe Coward, Michael James, Dean Bryant, Kris Stewart, Joseph Simons and Jason Glenwright .. .. when you get a moment, give yourselves a pat on the back. You collectively acheived a great thing.

 

However, (and there are always howevers) .. ..

 

GAYBIES slapped the face of the economic rational of current theatre. It was the first time for a while where I witnessed a professional stage creaking, groaning and crammed with performers. Does this mean if we want quality and quantity we can only expect it from Verbatim Theatre? Is the future for large cast rehearsed readings? It’s sad that the size of the average cast is dwindling. It’s even sadder that the cast size can dictate any artistic process. So thank you Brisbane Powerhouse for giving us a brief respite from the so-called “economic reality”.

 

I thought the production was a tad too long and perhaps a couple of performers too many. I thought the music was beautiful and exceptionally well delivered but I had difficulty marrying it to the words and stories. My main criticism was quite simply that it was preaching to the converted. It was a safe option to stage it during the MELT festival (A Celebration of Queer Arts and Culture).

This production needs to jump its rails and be taken to the wider community. It needs to be seen by the detractors not the sympathisers. I feel it is the perfect vehicle to confront those who passively or covertly or overtly demonise anything gay. This plays humanity is undeniable.

Finally I felt it only took or was told good, warm and fuzzy stories. Nothing is perfect, nothing is 100%. I would just liked to have heard one negative experience, as I am sure there are, have been and will be.

 

But the last few comments aside, it was a great night out. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect but I left the Powerhouse smiling .. .. and thinking. Thank you to all concerned. Well worth the 200k return trip from the Sunshine Coast.

 

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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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