Posts Tagged ‘QPAC

17
Jun
19

TOSCA

 

Tosca

Opera Queensland

QPAC Lyric Theatre

June 13 – 22 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon Miller

 

 

Last year within the walls of the historic Italian city of Lucca, I visited the birthplace of Tosca’s composer, Giacomo Puccini who was born in 1858. Once a wealthy apartment overlooking the Piazza Cittadella it is now a museum enshrined with his personal artefacts, costumes from his operas, personal letters and postcards, photographs, and an old baby grand piano said to have been used by the young composer before he departed for Milan where he would undergo his serious musical training. He would go on to eventually write the operas which he has now become so famous for including Tosca, the awe-inspiring production currently part of Opera Queensland’s 2019 season.

 

 

With its themes of police corruption, executive overreach, political terrorism and feminism, it’s not hard to see why Tosca continues to hold relevance for contemporary audiences, despite its first debut more than 100 years ago, in 1900. Program notes co-authored by artistic director, Patrick Nolan and executive director, Sandra Willis make mention of our media recently becoming the focus of the world’s attention due to the raids on our national broadcaster, calling into question the idea of free speech and the integrity of the media – concepts central to Tosca’s verismo melodrama.

 

Originally set against the Napoleonic invasion of Rome in the 1800s, director Nolan sets the scene during Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’: a dark period of great political terrorism and violence spanning the 1960s and 1980s. (*Lead allegedly denoting the shootings and bombings of the time.)

 

As we enter the Lyric Theatre the curtain is already up. We see a church with floors polished to a mirror’s gleam. There are candles to be lit, long minimalist pews, imposing linear structures, and cubic compartments framing the proscenium as if the set will attempt to contain in an orderly fashion what chaos and tragedy will seek to undo. The production design is boastful and foreboding, and the program notes explain that it is the work of Italian modernist architect Pier Luigi Nervi that influenced the design; a conflation of religious iconography and bureaucratic geometry – a tension upon which the plot of Tosca pivots.

 

Angelotti, sung by Sam Hartley, is an escaped political prisoner who takes refuge inside the church and hides as a Sacristan enters to prepare for the evening mass. Joining him is Cavaradossi, sung by Angus Wood, an artist employed to paint a portrait of the Mary Magdalene. The iconic motifs of the strings and woodwind herald the opening of the first main aria Recondita Armonia. Here, we get a real sense of Woods’ bold tenor voice; a resonant and youthful timbre which lilts boldly, but wraps sensitively with a controlled legato around the lyrical phrasing. With the climax of the aria’s closing note, we pinch ourselves as we come to realise, we are indeed listening to one of the world’s most beloved operas, and we’re in expert hands.

 

The Sacristan leaves, Angelotti re-emerges, and after promising to protect him, Angelotti hides as Cavaradossi’s girlfriend arrives, Floria Tosca a famous singer. The titular character, sung by Rachelle Durkin, channels Sophia Loren with wild sunglasses, high-waisted pants, a silk floral blouse and fur, no less. Tosca’s gumption, style and physicality are magnetic as Durkin commands respect, inhabiting the stage with a conspicuous nonchalance, her voice generously picking out the flowers in the music, while gorgeously navigating its churning ocean with a vibrant vocalism and vibrato that lashes but then reigns in to show off a deeper discipline and modesty. She jealously accuses Cavaradossi of cheating on her and also that the painting resembles another woman as the two engage in playful tête-à-têtes. They are in love and we cannot help but fall in love with them.

 

 

After they leave, the Sacristan returns with a congregation, but the celebrations are interrupted by chief of police, Baron Scarpia. Moustached and skivvied, he is followed by his police agents and henchmen hot on the trail of Angelotti. Scarpia, sung richly by baritone Jose Carbo, leads the chorus in the final number of the first act – a rousing Te Deum – which is a more structured piece speaking to the rigidity of the internal demons of process that drive Scarpia; very much in contrast to the musical language of our lovers. The chorus and orchestra fuse together, the melody twisting upward impossibly, divinely, and culminating with a palpable electricity still buzzing amongst the audience during intermission.

 

In act two, Scarpia, in an effort to discover the whereabouts of Angelotti, will manipulate the lovers by torturing and threatening to execute Cavaradossi unless Tosca yields to his sexual advances. In a final plea to God, she sings a heartbreaking Vissi d’arte, followed by Woods’ E lucevan le stelle – arguably Puccini’s best tenor aria outside of Turandot’s Nessun Dorma. Woods’ performance had me so star struck and fangirling that I was flung back to my bedroom floor at thirteen, singing along to a $5 bargain bin compact disc titled Puccini Favourites which I still have to this very day.

 

 

Show stealers maestro, Oliver Von Dohnanyi and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra bring this magnanimous score to life; a demanding musical work of extremist romantic dynamics, sensitivity and vociferous power. The orchestra were generous and rigorous in their efforts to produce the chocolate, velvet and violence necessary for Tosca to leave you breathless and yearning. Opera Queensland’s production of Tosca shouldn’t be missed. With its complex, modern sets and period costumes by Dale Ferguson, contemporary lighting concepts by Mark Howett, and masterful direction by Patrick Nolan, this is an extravaganza; a unique and successful revitalising of one of the world’s most sacrosanct cultural artefacts.

 

15
May
19

The Dinner Party

 

The Dinner Party

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

May 10–18 2019

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Power can be used in many ways and can be misused. I love the famous saying, ‘Power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely’… I invite the audience to decide who really holds the power at this dinner party.

 

Natalie Weir, Choreographer

 

In its first mainstage season this year, Expressions Dance Company is performing The Dinner Party, choreographed by former Artistic Director Natalie Weir. New Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth chose well with this piece, both for its intense theatricality and intricate, breathtaking choreography, and for its gracious tribute to Weir.

 

The Dinner Party is a reworking of Weir’s The Host, performed by EDC in 2015. (Before that, Weir created a version for the Queensland Ballet in 1998.) In the 2015 incarnation, the work had a cast of seven dancers, and four string players of the Southern Cross Soloists performed the music live. The Dinner Party has a cast of six, and the music is recorded.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

Weir sees the dinner party as a setting for complex interactions between its six characters, involving power, manipulation, domination, submission, love, desire—and some love and consolation.

 

The octagonal black dinner table is the key element of the minimal set. In endlessly inventive choreography, the dancers perform on the table, fly over it in gigantic leaps, huddle under it, move it around, and hang off it tipped on its side.

 

As the central figure of the Host, Jake McLarnon is a towering and dominant presence, his long limbs covering impossible distances. His character is upper-class, wealthy and controlling, but he doesn’t have everything his own way.

 

At first, the Host manipulates the hapless drunk Wannabe (Jag Popham) like a puppet, in some of the more humorous moments of the work. Popham uses his strength and athleticism to create a character of spineless subservience.

 

The Rival (Bernhard Knauer) is a more serious threat. Knauer creates a sense of danger and malicious charm in this role. The struggle between the Host and the Rival is fierce and exciting, as they hurl each other into the air and wrestle, their formal clothing now dishevelled.

 

The callous Rival also toys with the Insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise). She tentatively wields her sexual power, but is no match for him. Her movements alternate between expansive allure and protective wrapping of arms and legs around herself. With fearless acrobatic strength, contrasting with her fluffy, girly costume, Weise projects her character’s combination of fearfulness and youthful brashness.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The Host is involved with two women: the Lover (Isabella Hood) and the Hostess (guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis). The Lover seems to be the least troubled of the characters, although a languorous duo with the Host develops into a competitive trio with the Hostess.

 

The Hostess is a pivotal role, reappearing as a highlighted character throughout. She is a mature woman, obviously of high status, like the Host. This is made very obvious at the start, when she literally walks all over the dinner party guests. In an emotionally charged performance, Vilmanis combines arrogance with sober dignity and a feeling of sadness and regret.

 

The partnering in various duos and trios is thrilling to watch in its daring and control, as bodies wind around each other in unexpected ways, or are hurled through the air. Weir’s choreography is always inventive, and full of physical energy, yet with a sense of refinement rather than violence.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The music is appropriately intense and dramatic. The composers are not credited, but include Prokofiev.

The costumes by Brisbane fashion designer Gail Sorronda are various combinations of black and white, and perfect for the characters: formal suits for the men, with black tails for the Host and white for the Rival; elegant long black net and ruffles for the Hostess; a very short ruffled black outfit for the Party Girl; and sophisticated filmy white and black for the Lover.

 

Expressions Dance Company

 

The lighting by Ben Hughes is moody, suitable for a dinner party, with occasional piercing shafts of light illuminating key moments and characters.

Following the Brisbane season, regional audiences will have the chance to see The Dinner Party. It will tour for 6 weeks (from 28 May to 6 July) around Queensland and New South Wales, and to Darwin and Alice Springs.

 

Dinner Party – Trailer from Expressions Dance Company on Vimeo.

29
Mar
19

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

John Frost, Stuart Thompson & Important Musicals

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 20 – May 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

One man’s blasphemy is another man’s scripture. Matt Stone

 

Religious stories are just stories. That’s enough. They don’t need to be more. Bobby Lopez

 

We grew up with Mormons, and their MO is to beat you by being kinder than you and higher than you. Trey Parker

 

 

Is the opening of this musical not the most iconic and adored since we first saw Maria running, twirling and singing across the tops of those hills? (You can’t miss the cheeky nod to her later). In keeping with the new curriculum – not that any school should feel the need to make a group booking; see note below – The Book of Mormon blows musical theatre apart. And raises suit standards for young male Mormons everywhere.

 

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a parent and you’re OK with your kids watching South Park, then use your own judgement about letting them see this. I would add to that, if you would consider that I’ve taken my child to just about everything, and that we talk about just about everything, now that she’s 12-going-on-32 we agree that this content is not what she needs in her life right now. It’s a little like choosing not to have the evening news on in our house. We know stuff is happening to people everywhere, and quite simply, we can better serve those near us. It’s not so much about being blissfully ignorant as it is about retaining our right to make conscious choices. Having skipped the songs marked explicit on the soundtrack for years, we discussed again recently that there is so much else for Poppy at the moment, and she can look forward to experiencing this show in its entirety another time. As an adult, you might decide the same thing. And then you’ll have to decide how you feel about that because when everyone else is seeing it and talking about it, there’s a real risk of FOMO! 

 

HELLO! Hilarious and irreverent beyond belief, and boasting a company of new and engaging triple threat male performers, The Book of Mormon must be the most eagerly awaited show to open at QPAC this year. And it returns next year! It doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve never even listened to the original Broadway cast album (apparently, there are still people who go in cold to a show) you’ll be thrilled to see that it’s been brought to life in the most outrageously musical theatre way imaginable. 

 

Directed by Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, with choreography by Nicholaw, and outstanding full orchestrations from a 9-piece band under MD David Young, The Book of Mormon, for those making a conscious choice, is a must-see. 

 

 

When Elder Price (the ridiculously talented and gorgeous, Guy Smiley channelling Blake Bowden) is paired with Elder Cunningham (his perfect foil and the best import ever, Canadian, Nyk Bielak) at the Mormon mission training centre and they’re assigned their mission destination, Africa is not exactly the place they had in mind. (Two By Two & You and Me). While their pals get to go to Norway and Japan, the mismatched pair are sent to war-ravaged, poverty-stricken, AIDS-infected, maggot-infested, fuck-you-God Uganda.

 

Disappointingly, it’s not a bit like The Lion King. (Hasa Diga Eebowai)

 

 

Despite their best efforts to deliver the word of the Heavenly Father and convert the sinners, the suit clad, little blue book bearing boys make little positive impact on the Ugandan people. In fact, they attract all the wrong sorts of attention, from cynics to local war lords, as well as complicating relationships with their Mormon missionary brothers (Turn It Off & I Am Here For You) and before long, having given preaching a red hot go (All-American Prophet, the first incredible showstopper, harking back to the all-singing, all-dancing, all-grinning numbers of the 1950s-ish Golden Era of all-American musicals), Elder Price walks away from his mission partner and his mission, with the intention of going to Orlando, with its clean streets and theme parks. Without his best little buddy by his side, the version of biblical events offered to the villagers by Elder Cunningham is mostly imagined, but the strange stories appear to make sense to the Africans, who all agree to be nice to people, and to be baptised as Latter Day Saints. (Man Up, Act 2 Prologue, Making Things Up Again). Bielak has so many fantastically funny moments that it’s impossible to pick just one. The secret to his performance, and to the rest of them, is that there’s nothing happening that’s actually outrageous. Everyone is completely genuine and responding just as they might in real life, within the world view created on stage, and therein lies the best kind of comedy and the most convincing kind of theatre, no matter how silly the premise might appear to be.

 

A proper South Park style scene, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream takes the ridiculous to new heights – or depths – as Elder Price laments his decision to leave, hearing from Lucifer, and a couple of Starbucks single-use styrofoam coffee cups, and infamous historical figures, including Ghengis Khan and Hitler. This is a dazzling musical theatre disco zombie showstopper; it’s superbly staged, very Fosse, riotously funny. The design team – Scott Pask (Set), Ann Roth (Costumes), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting) and Brian Ronan (Sound) – create worlds within worlds, keeping each chapter of the story within a proscenium of stained glass, complete with revolving heralding angel, against a backdrop of the entire universe. If you look closely, you’ll see that you have your own planet up there. 

 

The costume design, I would hope, is certainly conscious of what the show is saying about the world. Ann Roth

 

 

The high energy performances from every last member of this company means that there are no weak links. It’s virtually impossible to single out an ensemble member, but the Brisbane audience thrills in seeing our own Alex Woodward (a standout, though we don’t know when he’s had time to learn the show, having been busy recently staging so many of his own), Tom Davis and Billy Bouchier. Sydney’s Joel Granger is a perfectly over-enthusiastic McKinley, and Andrew Broadbent is a groovy and gallant Joseph Smith, among a number of other roles. The bedtime tap number, Turn It Off, is a properly polished and fabulous number, and includes a nifty costume trick to draw gasps and squeals of delight. A new graduate of APO and VCA with beautifully controlled vocals and a smile to brighten even the darkest Ugandan day is Tigist Strode, a light-filled Nabulungi. (Sal Tlay Ka Siti, Baptize Me)

 

 

We went to restaurants and we’d grab one of the wait staff and say, do you know any Mormons who went on missions? They’d say, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. And then we’d say, do you know anyone who was gay, and gay Mormons? And they were like, yeah, me and all of our wait staff. Bobby Lopez

 

 

Blake Bowden smashes the role of Elder Price, and I Believe serves as confirmation, in case we weren’t sure when we heard You and Me, that Bowden is a superstar. On the Sunshine Coast we already knew this, having hosted Bowden in Noosa over the last couple of years. But if you don’t get out much, or you subscribe to the myth that Broadway still boasts the best of musical theatre, it might be difficult to predict how good Bowden’s performance is. You simply have to experience it to believe.

 

 

…there are literally no jokes in that song; it’s just facts. It’s just funny ways to describe Mormon things that they believe in. It’s all directly from The Book of Mormon. Bobby Lopez.

 

 

Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Bobby Lopez use the darkest and most ludicrous comedy to highlight some truly horrific humanitarian issues, including religion, race, gender, power, privilege, politics, violence, sex, discrimination and indoctrination. And just like any issue highlighted or disrupted by an art form, what we do about it after the show, or not, is up to each of us. The Book of Mormon is the most irreverent, the most hilarious, the most surprisingly poignant in parts, and the most polished, energetic and entertaining show we’ll see in Brisbane this year. You better believe it.

 

 

According to its own merch and social media, The Book of Mormon is God’s favourite musical, and it might just be yours too. 

 

 

The Book Of Mormon is the winner of four Olivier Awards (West End, London) and nine Tony Awards (broadway, NYC), including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus); the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album; four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical, and the Drama League Award for Best Musical.

 

The Australian production of The Book of Mormon is the winner of the coveted 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Musical. It has performed for over 500 packed houses since opening on January 17, 2017, and broke the house record for the highest selling on-sale period of any production in the 159-year history of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

27
Feb
19

Death of a Salesman

 

Death of a Salesman

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

February 9 – March 2

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

THE REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM THAT DEFINED THE 20TH CENTURY

 

What is a human life worth?

 

I saw the very first preview performance (this is the first time the play is seen by an audience outside the privacy and security of the rehearsal room) and two and a half weeks later, one of the final performances of the season. Despite my knack for writing really interesting and insightful and particularly generous preview reviews because I can imagine that a show will be exactly where it needs to be by opening night (I keep telling them that!!!) we tend not to write up previews – in fact, we’re asked not to – because at this stage the production is still in its infancy, and things can be a little clunky, or not quite clear. There’s still time before opening night to make changes and tweak things, and this is why you’ll often pay less for a preview ticket…and why it’s often a good idea to make a return visit to experience the show all over again, as the director intends it to look and feel, before closing night.

 

 

And so, in true teacher guise, I experienced Queensland Theatre’s first offering for the year, Death Of A Salesman, not once but twice: the first time, at the end of an excellent and entertaining day of professional development with Andrea Moor, analysing the text and remembering tricks to try with drama students to get realistic scenes on their feet without any fuss or (ironically) theatrics, and the second time, with our senior drama students after a chat with the director in the Playhouse Lounge. As  you can imagine, if you know the play at all or anything of it, there were some strong reactions to the matinee performance on Wednesday February 27, and some tears.

 

 

Arthur Miller’s seminal text from the 1940s remains as disturbingly relevant now as ever. With society’s emphasis on mental health, the worth of a man or woman, our best advice coming to our newsfeeds in the form of funny memes, the #metoo movement, and the somewhat token efforts to overhaul our education and health systems, Jason Klarwein’s faithful production for Queensland Theatre stands firm and strong. This version is a towering warning sign, as we continue to veer towards our own self-destruction as a workaholic, weary society. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? Well, we know there’s not going to be a happy ending. Willy Loman is not a happy man. His failure to attain for himself, and deliver to his family the fabled American Dream sees him broken, unable to celebrate the success of others or relinquish his stranglehold on the past, defeated and eaten up by envy, self-loathing and regret, unable to go on.

 

 

Peter Kowitz lives and breathes every complex, tragic aspect of Willy Loman. Every haunted look comes from somewhere we wish we could see into more clearly so that we might know the ways to help him to see for himself the good that his long-suffering wife, Linda (Angie Milliken), still sees in him, and that we want to believe is at the core of every man. It’s a slow-burning, heartbreaking performance, challenging us to withhold judgement and simply accept that he’s always done only what he’s always felt he had to do. Kowitz has boundless energy in the moments spent in Willy’s mind, literally leaping and dashing about the stage, in stark contrast to his downtrodden state each time he returns to reality. Kevin Hides leaves his indelible mark on this production as the distinguished, rich, dead, older brother, Ben, and what a settle-back-in-your-seat pleasure it is to hear his beautiful, distinctive vocal work again. Likewise, elevating this role into another realm entirely, Charles Allen holds our attention, and in his voice and powerfully still presence, brings both ancient wisdom and boyish joy to the role of the neighbour Charley, the man whom Willy recognises – while Charley does not – as his only friend. “Now, isn’t that remarkable?”

 

 

 

Thomas Larkin’s finely layered performance – perhaps the best we’ve seen from him; certainly it’s the most demanding role he’s been gifted and he rises to every challenge – is just as heartbreaking, the measure of a man made clear to Biff by his father and Biff’s perception in turn made clear to us, that he will forever fall short of expectations. Larkin and Kowitz find something so raw and real in their father-son relationship that even the toughest teenaged boys in the audience are visibly affected, finally shifting in their seats after their perfect stillness throughout the savage shouting, and tears around the kitchen table, and awkward embraces by the sink, and end-of-the-night promises on the stairs.

 

 

Jackson McGovern, the perfect foil for Larkin’s Biff, is his younger brother, Happy (really, this is such superb casting, these two), and for a whole disquieting scene, he is also Willy’s heartless employer, Howard.

The audience reaction to this scene is something else, taking the travesty of Willy’s situation beyond even the mood the actors have established.

Each of Willy’s offers to take a pay cut are met with audible sighs of disappointment, shock, immense sadness. The air in the Playhouse gets heavy. The pauses on stage start to get uncomfortably long and it’s perfect. I’ve never heard or felt anything like it. The energy of the entire audience is with Willy, wanting desperately for him to see his worth and to sell that.

 

 

I always feel when I read this play on the page as if not enough attention is paid to Linda, who chooses her suffering and enters graciously into a life of it. (Imagine the contemporary sequel! Again I say, Bubnic it!). She can get a bit lost, but attention must be paid to Milliken, whose magic is in her seemingly effortless embodiment of the woman behind the man and the mother of their two hopeless, lovely boys. Her attempts to gently influence, and interrupt and disrupt the train wreck of family events / non-events are well measured, and her outbursts are as magnificent as her quieter, more nuanced, more devastating moments. We feel kids and adults alike, all around, cringing and squirming, and the couple in front include me in their parenting discussion during interval (they’d seen on the news that our College has banned mobile phones on campus).

 

Meanwhile, Miller’s words out of Milliken’s mouth have never been truer. 

 

 

The slightly jarring, suddenly changing lighting states to signify Willy’s altered state of mind happen seamlessly now, making what has always been a little confusing in the text abundantly clear on stage. The new wave design team here include: Verity Hampson (Lighting Designer), Justin Harrison (Composer/Sound & Projection Designer), Anthony Spinaze (Associate Designer/Costume Designer) and Richard Roberts (Set Designer). No, no one is new to their job but there might be a lovely new combination of aesthetic and abilities right there.

 

If I could, I would even see this production a third time. The play is a masterpiece. By leading us into their world and onwards to the crescendo of their lives, we recognise something of ourselves in these characters – these humans – and in their choices, and in the story they tell. It’s actually our story and there is medicine in its darker aspects, its shadows, if we are willing to look beyond what we are led to believe is best and real and right.

 

16
Jan
19

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

 

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, Andrew Spencer & Alexandra Hirst

QPAC Concert Hall

January 11 – 19 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Why do people continue to come in droves to experience The Illusionists? It’s a mystery. The magic of the theatre…and savvy marketing.

 

Paul Dabeck, enigmatic and entertaining host and emcee of the latest incarnation of The Illusionists, direct from Broadway, is the highlight of the show, with magic tricks to amaze and lively, witty banter to amuse. I adore him. A natural entertainer of the highest calibre, Dabeck is the most down to earth of the group, with the genuine charm and good humour lacked by the others. His style is sophisticated and super relaxed, with just the right amount of spice; he’s a crowd favourite and the highlight of opening night in Brisbane. 

 

 

Every other act comes with a super-size-me serving of spray-on cheddar jack cheese, nope, not even pepper jack, just that old-school schmaltzy, sickening, pausing-for-effect, praise-me style that we thought had died out just as the rest of the circus and burlesque worlds continued to evolve, keeping only the very best aspects of vaudeville and real showmanship, as demonstrated by Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman, and Todd McKenney – I anticipate – in Barnum.

 

Not everyone is immune and there are just a few who leap to their feet at the conclusion of the show, having clapped and cheered at each trick much louder than anyone else – in the Concert Hall it’s more obvious than it is anywhere else – and perhaps they’re all the mates of our Aussie escapologist poster boy, Sam Powers…or perhaps they really love this strangely halting show. The American cheese bookending each act has a different impact upon most though, slowing the pace and flow of the show, and distancing us from the entertainers and their art, putting it all on a very high pedestal instead of inviting us in, seducing us, bringing us anywhere near any sort of mystery surrounding each performance, except that we’re actually so physically close to the action to notice the glitches from the outset. I seem to recall this being a disappointment last time (2015) and like the anti-climax that comes with yet another close-up magic card trick rather than a magical spectacular full company finale, I wonder why there hasn’t been since then, an assistant director or one of the producers or publicists, making the same observations aloud. These clumsy errors are quick to happen and just as quickly glossed over, swept into the shadows in an instant – if you blink you miss them – but if you catch them, it’s hard to un-see such imperfections. As is the case with any disappointment in life, our high expectations are mostly to blame, and as much as we go in ready for anything, it’s a general expectation that anything of this calibre will be fairly flawless. 

 

 

Mark Kalin (The Showman) and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) perform an old ring trick, using jewellery taken from the hands of audience members, and it appears to be the real deal, but like disappearing and reappearing people, we don’t look too closely at the detail. Eliciting gasps and warm applause from the audience, these illusions are a couple of the best. Leigh’s manipulation of a glowing sphere is less convincing, especially when we see it disappear beneath a black cloth, despite her showgirl eyes and smile alluding to the magical powers of the cloth she triumphantly wields in the foreground.  

 

The frenetic energy of Chris Cox (The Mentalist) does not endear him to everyone, but apparently the success of his act is largely due to his “side-splitting, confident, silly, charismatic and mischievous sense of magic”. It’s all very well to admit to reading behaviour not minds as the basis for a potentially entertaining and highly amusing act, but make it entertaining. And amusing. And foolproof. This act was foiled on opening night by the father who had to remind his son exactly what costume Cox had told them before the show, was what he’d be wearing beneath his suit. 

 

Florian Sainvet (The Manipulator) is too ridiculously good looking to be human, and this is the most intriguing part of his act. Both he and Leonardo Bruno (The Alchemist) are less than convincing. This is a shame, both for the audience and the award-winning Berlin male model types. We won’t mention the pretty female assistants at all because included in the company, are the pretty male assistants also. More clothing. Less lighting. Fewer sexy moves. Whatever. 

 

 

Luckily for our Sam Powers (The Enigma), his life or death world-first suspended escape act is a success. He even has time, twice, to pause and pose, hanging upside down by his boot straps during the 2-minute race to remove himself from a straitjacket, and then from the hooks that hold him upside down, before a burning bear trap collapses on where he would otherwise have fallen to his death. THE NEW ELEMENT BEING A BURNING BEAR TRAP. There is at least some comedy in the ridiculous.

 

 

In 2015 we saw The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin) hoisted upside down and left to hang by his boots too, while a fuse was lit and flames crept towards his trousers, leaving him just sixty seconds in which to get free and put out that fire. Has Powers even raised the stakes? Again, chiselled good looks saves this entertainer from too much criticism. But as part of his persona, he’s almost too relaxed, nonchalant, so that we don’t actually care very much about him while he’s dangling from a rope, apparently struggling…we’re actually confident that he’ll be fine. All in all the scene lacks tension. This is typical of each act, with a grandiose buildup doing more harm than good, and causing those around me to snicker at times, and others to yawn. You won’t see that in the pull quotes. BUT YES ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT A DOUBT SOME PEOPLE LOVE IT. And it comes as no surprise because our reality television shows are still rating highly too.

 

Let’s just note that the particular performance style perhaps preferred by Australian audiences within the magical realm now, or always, is less about the grandiose and more abut the genuine entertainment value. This may be about to change with all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas (we hope not), or it may depend on which aspect of their show we’re referring to…anyway, the Americans will get a run for their play money when Brisbane’s infamous duo The Naked Magicians take up a strictly limited MGM Grand run, opening February 13 at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Now THAT’S entertainment!

 

A big, safe, shiny, eternally touring show, The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway likely won’t exceed expectations, but it’s a fun night out for the family and friends – let’s say three stars – and the shared experience will probably provide some entertaining fodder for a few days of dinner table conversation. It might even inspire a new generation of entertainers. But if you’re the type who won’t have the television on during dinner, and can’t name even one of our latest “celebrities” to find themselves stuck somewhere in Africa, you’ll agree that this impressive franchise also continues to glitter, but it isn’t gold. 

08
Jan
19

Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys

Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG Dainty

QPAC Lyric Theatre

 

January 5  – February 16 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

You sell a hundred million records. See how you handle it.

Nick Massi

 

You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.

Tommy DeVito

 

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Of all the jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys is the best (And I ‘reckon SHOUT! The Legend of the Wild One comes a close second), and this production, unless you saw the original touring production (2009-2012) is the best! A sizzling, slick retelling of the real life story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, featuring their original much-loved music, and flamboyant characters and events to shape the era that saw the blue-collar boy band become one of America’s biggest pop sensations of all time, selling 175 million records worldwide. A little dramatic license allows time to move swiftly by, and almost all perspectives to be taken into account, as Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Tommy DeVito (Cameron MacDonald) and Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) take turns to narrate, and manoeuvre themselves through fame, fortune, misfortune and finally, to land a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, back when a place in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was hard won. Like, when top of the class and good behaviour awards actually went not to the next name listed in the roll, but to the kids who were top of the class and well behaved. Like, when five stars and superlatives actually went not to every show under the sun, but to the productions that could blow your mind and change your life. There’s a bigger picture here…

 

For an entertaining and highly energetic musical production with a strong story and a smash hit, chart-topping, finger-snapping score performed by one of the tightest little musical outfits in the country (MD Luke Hunter), I mean it; Jersey Boys is the best. I know you’ll love it. You’ll actually love. this. show. You already love the music.

 

 

If you want the breakdown from a comparative point of view, read on.

Let’s just quickly note that as per the book (Marshall Brickman & Rik Elice), the girls play second fiddle; it’s the band’s story but even so, in a range of support roles Cristina D’Agostino, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler and Mackenzie Dunne seem even less a part of the story than in the earlier production. Even given the chance to prove that there’s more to the woman, D’Agostino is an extremely bitter and angry Mary Delgado – and perhaps, to the male writers and director, award-winning though they may be, she is reasonably so – but in each moment, particularly those fragile moments after the fury, leading into My Eyes Adored You, which is delivered beautifully and delicately, it would be far more interesting to see the full gamut of emotion, and I’m afraid we don’t. Imagine, just for fun, for half a second, what Paige Rattray might ask of her within the same limited timeframe? As The Angels, the trio is vocally precise and the harmonies just gorgeous. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear more from them during the road trip / tour scenes. But, not their story, y’know? 

 

 

Another missed opportunity is in the role of Tommy Devito, with Cameron MacDonald coming across at times as overly aggressive, however; others see this as the ideal interpretation of the character. My guess is that he’s overcompensating and that he’ll settle as the season continues. At the moment, if there’s any sense of vulnerability, guilt, shame or softness it’s a case of too little too late. Originally, MacDonald had understudied the role, and now he misses the opportunity to strip away Devito’s many layers, as Anthony Harkin did, without having built this character from the core, though of course the actor – and director – and coach – would say that he did exactly that. But as performer, the trick is to have done all the work, allowing us to catch glimpses of the degrees of shade without letting us in on the work it takes to get to that place night after night. These subtleties, or lack thereof, are inconsequential if you’ve never seen someone else embody the role.

 

Thomas McGuane doesn’t let memories of Declan Egan’s Bob Gaudio cloud his own captivating performance. With Egan taking on the UK touring contract after our Sydney season ended, it must have been thrilling for everyone involved to see McGuane step into his shoes. He’s a standout, a proper superstar, with the voice, and energy and charisma to slow-burn for days.

 

Who can forget the wit and sass of Helpmann Award winning cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, as Bob Crewe? Unfortunately, Glenn Hill doesn’t appear to, and he is allowed to overplay to the hilt. Again, if you’re a Jersey Boys virgin you might be amused by his particularly camp posturing, but I miss Griffiths’ stylish and sophisticated take on what must have been just as challenging a role in real life at the time. It’s a pleasure to see Enrico Mammarella return as Gyp, and always a pleasure to see in any guise, Luigi Lucente.

 

 

Ryan Gonzalez opens as Frankie Valli, and perhaps we’ll get less aggression as he settles into the season, or perhaps we’ll get a better sense that this is Valli’s fierce determination (we’ll see yet another interpretation of the role with Daniel Raso at alternate performances). It seems ridiculous to confirm that he can hit the notes – if he couldn’t he wouldn’t be here – but there’s a bit to settle into yet. Having done it all before, Glaston Toft hits his stride early, and of course he’s vocally splendid, and this time he’s also fitter and finer, more relaxed, in the role of Nick Massi.

 

 

The staging is slicker, the television studio scenes are snazzier, and though the production overall looks and feels less casually confident than before, the vocals and harmonies are spot on, and the story’s a good one. It’s a perfectly finished and polished jukebox production, and the crowd does indeed go wild! Believe it! Because this Jersey Boys is just as glossy as its new-look souvenir program.

 

With just a few Brisbane shows remaining, there’s no reason to miss Jersey Boys; certainly not because you’ve already seen it! We know that we love to return again and again to the stories that resonate with us, and if this is one – if one of these versions of the story is the one – that resonates with you, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. There. That’s Jersey Boys

 

They ask you, what was the high point?

…when everything dropped away and all there was, was the music – that was the best.

 

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee.