Posts Tagged ‘schonell theatre


Adding Machine: A Musical


Adding Machine: A Musical

Underground Productions

UQ Schonell Theatre

September 4 – 13 2014


Reviewed by Michelle Bull


Adaptation by Joshua Schmidt. Libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt




Last week I attended Underground Productions’ Australian Premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical at the Schonell Theatre, UQ.


A musical adaptation of Elmer Rice’s 1923 expressionist play, Adding Machine, the musical is a challenging undertaking through which the cast of Underground Productions plummets fearlessly. The score is as difficult as it is surreal.


Adding Machine centres around the devastation of protagonist Mr. Zero when he is replaced by an Adding Machine and ‘let go’ from his job as a Bookkeeper after 25 years dedicated service. A distraught Zero kills his boss in a fit of outrage and consequently, is charged and executed.


This is not a musical that will leave you humming its chorus on the way home, rather my companion and I were left feeling rather pained and exhausted following this show. It is it seems a musical experience more like a contemporary opera, notably poignant, brave and complex but as challenging to the audience and listener as I’m sure it is to the cast.


Not that Adding Machine is a stranger to accolades, as my companion pointed out; it has been awarded multiple Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk awards, and had countless rave reviews.


But this musical is definitely not for everyone. It is refreshing to see a small theatre company tackling something different to the norm, the production obviously cracks the mould of a lot of traditional musical theatre dominating small Australian stages.


The score is the biggest hurdle to pass and is as mechanical as the plot that surrounds it. If you can move past the rhythmic complexity and dissonance, it could be seen almost as a textured nightmarish soundscape, which (from that angle) makes it more digestible. The cacophonous intensity does continuously grate the nerves however, although it is occasionally used to great effect, such as during an office scene in which a chant builds into a polyrhythmic moment that showcases some great ensemble singing and choreography.


The cast itself boasts some strong voices; Chris Kellet in the role of Mr. Zero is the perfect balance of hopeless and hopeful. However frustrating his plight, hints of a fine baritone voice made me yearn for a lyrical moment.


Playing opposite, Gabriella Flowers in the role of wife Mrs. Zero balances the demands of a vocally challenging role with a strong portrayal of the unrelenting socialite. Her soprano flits between ringing and reedy, her unyielding characterisation serving to antagonise her husband and the audience alike.


Taylor Davidson as the lovesick Daisy Devore brings a softer characterisation, her smoky mezzo enjoying some of the more melodic moments.


Mischa Reinthal in multiple roles as the fated Boss, Fixer and Charles is suitably commanding both in voice and physicality, while Louis Peake as Shrdlu adds some comic moments and melodic lines that are welcome changes of pace.


The small ensemble are on the whole strong vocally, although some issues with balance caused a few tuning issues at times. With such a score however, they are to be commended and it is clear Musical Director Benedict Braxton- Smith has put the cast through their paces.


The design elements of the production add a lot of interest and are also worth a mention. A revolving set adds to the mechanical feel of the production and visually mimics the feel of the score.


If I’m completely honest I can’t say I loved this production. While I’m all for theatre that moves beyond traditional conventions (even with some interesting musical moments and strong performers), I have to say I still found Adding Machine indigestible and musically pretentious. Obviously given the accolades the show has received this is not everyone’s opinion but ultimately it’s not for me. Underground Productions is full of talent onstage and off, that much is clear, but next time I’ll take a showtune.




A Give Away – Win a Double Pass to Bat Boy: the Musical!

Batboy Banner


Underground Productions presents the musical comedy hit Bat Boy: The Musical, the hilariously dark tale of a half-boy, half-bat discovered living in a cave, and the obstacles he faces as he tries to integrate into a small, rural town in West Virginia.


It’s an explosively entertaining take on how we fear the strange and unknown, set against a score that mixes rock with contemporary musical theatre.  With elements of satire, comedy-horror, irony and forbidden love, Bat Boy is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining work that has garnered massive critical and public acclaim, including the Outer Critics Circle Award for best off-Broadway musical in 2001.


Because we loved Underground’s Urinetown so much we want you to see Bat Boy: The Musical so we’re giving away a double pass to the opening night performance on Friday August 30 at The Schonell! Just tell us in the comments section below the best thing about Brisbane theatre!




Matilda Award nominee Alex Feifers jumped at the opportunity to direct this exciting, yet challenging show.  Undaunted by the imposing text, she says “The real challenge is perfectly balancing the dark and dramatic themes with the comedic irony and wit.  But backed by such a strong creative team and crew, not to mention the stellar cast, I have a big feeling this is going to be the highlight of the local Brisbane musical theatre scene this year.”


By the writer of the recent hit Legally Blonde The Musical, Underground Productions couldn’t be more proud and excited to present the Queensland premiere of Bat Boy: The Musical, running from August 29 until September 7.




About Underground Productions:

Underground Productions is the University of Queensland’s resident theatre group.  It has been running (under different names) since the 1970′s, with artists such as Geoffrey Rush and Bille Brown beginning their careers with the company.  Since its venue transition to the wonderful 440 seat Schonell Theatre in 2010, Underground has evolved to produce some of Brisbane’s finest theatre, whilst still maintaining its close-knit and fun-loving attitude.  Along with 4 mainhouse shows a year, Underground Productions provides opportunities for all things theatre, including drama workshops, backstage crew training, arts festivals, and an annual musical.


Underground also strives to showcase original works that the talented Brisbane community has to offer and provides a thorough sense of fun to both members and audiences alike.


N.B. The story deals with many dark and mature themes.  Although respectfully handled and often punctuated with humour, we nevertheless recommend that audience member be at least 15 years of age.  There will also be strobe lighting effects, and loud sound effects and music.


Bat Boy Official Poster 1

Performance Dates:

Thursday – August 29 at 7:30pm – PREVIEW NIGHT1

Friday – August 30 at 7:30pm – OPENING NIGHT*

Saturday – August 31 at 2:30pm

Saturday – August 31 at 7:30pm

Tuesday – September 3 at 7:30pm – STUDENT SPECIALS2

Wednesday – September 4 at 7:30pm

Thursday – September 5 at 7:30pm

Friday – September 6 at 7:30pm

Saturday – September 7 at 2:30pm

Saturday – September 7 at 7:30pm – CLOSING NIGHT

*After the opening night performance, stick around for free food, drinks, live music and a meet-and-greet with the cast and crew


$20 for adults / $18 for students / $15 for Underground Members
Tickets available from July 15 and can be booked online:


1 $18/15/12 tickets for adults/students/members on Preview Night


2Students and members pay only $12 on Student Night


For your chance to win the opening night Double Pass follow this blog, like us on Facebook and tell us in the comments section below what you love about Brisbane theatre! Winner will be notified via email and announced on our Facebook page.






Underground Productions

UQ Schonell Theatre

30th August – 8th September 2012

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

WARNING: This review contains excessive toilet puns that may infurinate some readers. 

It’s not everyday your ticket to a musical theatre show comes nested in a neatly folded wad of toilet paper. But then again this is no ordinary musical; this is Urinetown…The Musical.

Presented by Underground Productions, Urinetown tells the story of a community plagued by drought and governed by strict laws that ban the use of private bathrooms; forcing the ever-suffering people to pay for the “privilege to pee” or be banished forever to Urinetown, a place from which ominously, no-one returns. Enter a rebellious latrine manager and a romance or two with a gal from the other side of the urinal and you have an uprising of bladder-busting proportions!

The self- referential style of the work echoes the style of Brecht and Weill, and cheekily titters at musical theatre clichés with some less than subtle references to popular Broadway (West Side Story, Carousel and Les Mis. to name a few). Director Lauren Ware has delivered an engaging, high energy show that despite being high on the giggle-meter flushes…I mean…fleshes out some poignant messages for our consumer-crazy society from the viewpoint of all involved. But don’t get your knickers in too much of a twist, there are enough spirit fingers and poetic melodrama to keep the mood flowing lightly, after all it is a musical…

Speaking of music, Urinetown is bought to life by Musical Director Matthew Samer, (who after being dragged on the scene by police escort) leads an absolutely ‘kickin’ band and vocally strong cast through what is essentially quite a challenging score. This is a challenge met by each of the performers, as they take on their roles with a fierceness and commitment that is entirely infectious.

Vocally, the standouts for me in this production are the richly voiced James Gauci (as love struck and heroic Bobby Strong) and the tinkling… I mean twinkling soprano of Rhiannon Moushall (as our happy hopeful heroine, Hope Caldwell). The two create a wonderfully comic onstage chemistry and manage to balance character and great singing to a wee…I mean tee 😉

I also enjoyed Kieran Davey in the role of Officer Lockstock. His jaunty and dry narration provided a great sense of grounding to the melodrama onstage and showed great sense of comic timing and sincerity.

John Da Conceicao is wonderfully imposing as the tawdry Caldwell B. Caldwell, head of Urine Good Company, and Xanthe Jones brings a great physicality to the role of the Little Sally, her mischievous demeanor reminiscent of Les Miserable’s Gavroche. Alongside, the entire supporting cast are stellar, producing some wonderful comic and musical moments that keep the pace of the show…whiz-zing along and completely engaging from start to finish.

The supporting ensemble appeared varied in experience, some grabbing my attention a …wee-bit more with the skill of their characterisation, physicality and vocal capabilities, nevertheless the cast offered a collective energy that scooped up the less experienced and presented a united force to be reckoned with. The ensemble moments in the show were the highlight of this production for me; I particularly loved the rousing gospel chorus of Run, Freedom Run that saw the young Bobby comically conducting the impromptu choir. Likewise, mention must be made to the great choreography throughout this show, dynamic and complimentary to the varied skill of the cast, it created a sense of seamlessness that kept the energy high.

The creative team and entire cast are to be congratulated for delivering a show that I would place among my favorite musical theatre performances this year. So relieve yourself of your daily worries and plop…I mean pop in to the Schonell Theatre to catch Urinetown while you …can!



James Gauci in Urinetown



– not the place – the musical –


We asked James Gauci to tell us about Urinetown – not the place – the musical!

Look, I have to say that he always reminds me a little bit of Chris Evans Captain America

…oops, sorry; wrong capture (but thanks for posting that one!).

Captain America Chris Evans

Chris Evans as Captain America in The Avengers

But James Gauci is not out to save the world…just Urinetown.

Urinetown opens tonight!


Here we go…

James, for those who don’t make the Schonell Theatre at UQ their regular hangout, can you tell us about Underground Productions’ home and a bit of the company history?


Underground recently moved permanently to the Schonell Theatre where they stage limited runs of three shows per year. The Schonell is such a great old theatre… seventies vintage with just over 400 seats and home to some of Brisbane’s best community theatre societies. It also happens to be one of Brisbane’s largest stages – it’s even deeper than QPAC’s Lyric. And it has the famous UQ Pizza Caffe attached. I don’t think casts would eat were it not for that glorious establishment.

Underground Productions is the UQ student theatre company, started in the seventies and run under various names through the years. ‘Underground Productions’ has stuck since 1999. Many famous personalities have come up through their ranks, Bille Brown and Geoffery Rush included. Also, I don’t think there’s been a drama student in Brisbane of the last decade that hasn’t heard of Underground’s (in)famous BUGFest!

I’ve come into contact with the company many times before, with friends appearing in dozens of their shows, but this will be my first time performing with them.


We last saw you on this stage as Anthony in Ignatians’ production of Sweeney Todd. What drew you to return, this time with Underground Productions, for Urinetown: The Musical?


I’ve been extremely lucky this year – Sweeney and Urinetown are two of my all-time favourites. Urinetown is so intelligent, romantic, self-deprecating, self-referential, dry and darkly comic. It runs the gamut of traditional musical theatre musical styles, it’s simultaneously melodramatic and intrinsically human, and it builds up your hope before unexpectedly smashing it to smithereens in a belted full-cast finale. It’s everything I love in theatre.


The last water-wise show we saw in Brisbane was La Boite’s Water Wars. Urinetown is a slightly more satirical look at the extreme end of the spectrum, once the world is depleted of natural resources. Can you tell us about the social messages embedded in Urinetown? How has the company approached them and what are the most poignant messages for us today?


Urinetown came into being when the show’s creators, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, came across a pay-per-use toilet somewhere in France. They took this concept and applied it to the scholar Thomas Robert Malthus’s idea that humanity’s population growth will be checked by famine and disease, eventually reaching a ceiling. A bit of a stretch, yes! But in practical terms, the show’s fictional city has been drought-stricken for twenty years, and this problem has somewhat humourously manifested itself in the central conceit of the show – that it’s a privilege to pee.

Of course, we’re in an age when sustainability is a concept at the forefront of our political and economic discussion – whether it be in terms of the environment, resources, food or water. You’ll come to the realisation that you’re surreptitiously being given a healthy dose of perspective from all angles throughout the show.

However, if you think all that is terribly boring or way over your head, there’s loads of happy music, good versus evil, hilarious comedy and jazz hands everywhere that will make you forget all about it!


What were (Director) Lauren Ware’s priorities in the staging and telling of this story?


Lauren is an incredibly gifted young performer in her own right. She’s an accomplished dancer and choreographer, a terribly talented comic actress and can blow your socks off with her natural mezzo belt. The best part about this is that she’s so sensitive to the performers themselves whilst illustrating the concept she has for the show. Her priorities have been clean and professional execution of the music, comedy and choreography (I didn’t know my Achilles Tendons could be sore like that…) while maintaining the grounded and honest storytelling that is necessary for the show.

Urinetown is sometimes melodramatic, bordering on pantomime, but always honest. She’s managed to strike the balance extremely well in my opinion.


What’s your favourite message in the show?


There is so much delightfully meaningful/meaningless rhetoric that comes out of Bobby Strong’s mouth that it’s hard to pin it down to one idea! But I’m a total sap when it comes down to it so I choose ‘follow your heart’. Being true to yourself is all you can really, truly do, and it allows Bobby to live entirely without regret.

Although, as you’ll see, there always consequences to one’s actions… another message that you’ll have to see the show to get!


Will we leave the theatre inspired to finally commit to water-saving habits, like turning off the tap when we brush our teeth?


Oooh, hard to say. Probably not – the message is a little bit more complex, thankfully – but you should be doing that anyway! You’ll certainly never take a free public toilet for granted ever again.


So you turn off the tap when you brush your teeth?


Oh yes, absolutely. A combination of good parenting and many years of Sesame Street brainwashing. Youtube ‘Don’t Waste Water’ if you’re ready for a hit of nostalgia.



The book is pretty wry. At a time when Brisbane is embracing all things meta-theatrical, can you talk about the Brechtian influences of the show and how they have influenced aspects of the show such as design, staging, direction etc? 


It’s funny to think of Brecht when looking at Urinetown. All of the elements are there – the broken fourth wall, the minimalistic functional staging, the sensational themes and preposterous prepositions – but it’s not what I’d consider ‘traditionally’ Brechtian, Dialectical, Epic, or whichever term you prefer. For me, instead of being alienated from the action and remembering that I am in fact sitting in a theatre being told a story, I find that I escape into the world, become vastly more invested in the characters, find the comedy that much more hilarious, and the messages hit home much harder. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower.

Brecht may have used narrators and chorus, but he certainly wasn’t one to stage spectacular melodrama! Having said that, I think he would have (possibly secretly) enjoyed Urinetown. 


What is it that made this show a Broadway hit?


Incredible and deceptively complex music, a spectacularly hilarious and poignant script, and most importantly a totally original idea. Its grassroots origins also helped I think… the show started at an improv group, then went to the New York Theatre Fringe Festival, then Off-Broadway, then Broadway and Tony Awards. It’s the little show that could. And it did!


James Gauci Bobby Strong


Tell us about Bobby Strong.


He’s your textbook hero – a disenfranchised youth, an underdog of society working for ‘the man’ who suddenly has the hopes of an entire community thrust upon him. He loves his family and his friends, but finds it so difficult to reconcile that with his job as an Assistant Custodian of the local Public Amenity where he takes the cash they’ve scraped together just to go to the loo.

His flaw though is his naivety. Sometimes it’s easier to know what’s ‘right’ than what’s ‘best’, but he doesn’t care. Or understand. He’s so adorable.


What drives him? Is it the free toilets or is there something more? 


It’s so simple to him. He cares so much for the people of his community that he has no choice but to rally them to action. He wants the people to pee for free because the people are free!


Have you ever paid to use a toilet in Europe (or do you have a disastrous turnstile-leaping story for us)?


Thankfully my stories of toilet tragedy have been few and far between. I think the closest I can gather would be taking a wee as a little kid while standing in a green ants nest. It was only fair – I peed on them, so they peed on me. Difference being that there were hundreds of them. And they pee acid. Yowch.


Is there anything else we should know about Urinetown, Underground Productions or what you’re up to next?


With Urinetown and Underground fairly covered, next up for me will be Oscar Theatre Company’s Queensland Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, scheduled for the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC next April. I’m very proud to be working with five of Brisbane’s most insanely talented musical theatre performers. I couldn’t resist seeing the original cast twice when I was visiting Broadway a couple of years ago so I’ll be taking great pleasure in re-creating the roles of Dr Madden and Dr Fine.

Funnily, I think it could be the closest I’ll ever get to actually using my psychology degree.


Chookas, James! We hope you enjoy a wonderful season. x




sweeney todd

Josh Rowe (Sweeney Todd)

Sweeney Todd

Ignatians Musical Society

Schonell Theatre

22nd March – 13th April

Ignatians sure know how to put on a show. And boy oh boy have they picked a doozy this time! Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, inspired by Christopher Bond’s 1973 play of the classic story (Bond was the first to show Todd as a man who had been wronged by the law and not motivated entirely by greed), is certainly not the easiest of musical productions. In fact, it could be considered one of the most challenging, with its complex orchestrations, multi-layered ensemble work and dark, difficult story to sell to contemporary audiences with ever-decreasing attention spans, accustomed to being sitcom-spoon-fed.

Director and Musical Director, John Peek, has accomplished something special with this Sweeney Todd. A strong, bold ensemble, filled to overflowing with top-notch part-singers and character actors, a brave creative team, an orchestra fit for a recording studio (led by Conductor, Edgar Chan) and a cast of leading players who include a couple of Brisbane’s best.

Opera singer, Josh Rowe, despite his Russell Crow demeanor (or maybe because of it. Russell Crowe was to have originally starred in the film and was to have been directed by Sam Mendes. Personally, I’m okay with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton having scored the gig), was a little underwhelming on Saturday night (the third performance of the run). Rowe may have the title role but this is Miranda Selwood’s show. Their relationship becomes more interesting and Rowe’s reactions and expressions become more animated in Act 2, by which time I felt he’d really settled into his boots (I don’t mean vocally – the outstanding vocals were there from the outset, exemplified in the sinister song, My Friends, sung to his razor (singular, yes), glinting in the light – I mean that he must have gone out and got his Sweeney shoes on at interval, only fully exploring the range of the character later. I should make mention of Pretty Women; sung with Judge Turpin (Chris Kellett), it used the right mix from both men, of devious and delighted and By The Sea, performed with Selwood (she is an absolute scream in this number; hers is a fearless performance) is made that much more hilarious by Rowe’s facial expressions and in this well-loved song, although he remains seated, we see his ability as an actor start to come through, in addition to the stand-and-deliver-singer we’ve seen thus far). It’s Selwood who is simply superb, as the bustling, busybody, bonny cook of The Worst Pies in London, Mrs Lovett. She is feisty, cheeky, fast, furious and vocally, absolutely glorious. She clearly relishes the role and why not? It’s a plum one and it seems she was born to play it. I’m sure Selwood must have taken a leaf out of Helena Bonham Carter’s book and practiced her baking whilst practicing her singing, in order to perfect the syncopation in her songs, which are surely the most difficult of the show.

James Gauci is also perfectly cast, as the young, romantic lead. He’s a good-looking lad who can hold a note and tell a tale…oh, who am I kidding? He’s just gorgeous and he sings to sweep the ladies off their feet! Please somebody get him in front of Frosty already! His Johanna, Jordana Peek, is suitably lovely – a picture of innocence – though I found her a little pitchy and breathy in the song that should seal the deal for this character, Green Finch and Linnet Bird. She made up for it in the duet with Gauci, Kiss Me, and also, in the Reprise of Kiss Me (the Quartet), demonstrating the confidence we expected to see from the start and a much more polished performance, finally winning me over. Toby (Ben Hickey) is a tough-nut sweetheart and does a truly beautiful job of the often over-sung Not While I’m Around. We expect this to be a poignant moment (it’s the beauty before the full extent of the horror) between Toby and Mrs Lovett and we’re not disappointed. Pirelli (Andrew Scheiwe), whose accents are spot on and Lucy Barker (Sarah Jensen), who manages to make us laugh as well as make our hearts break in the very same instant, get the other honorable mentions, giving us wonderful, multi-faceted characters.

James Gauci (Anthony) and Ben Hickey (Toby)

James Gauci (Anthony), Jordana Peek (Johanna) and Chris Kellet (Judge Turpin)

It’s a highly technical show and there are massive demands placed on the set. This design (Shane Rodwell) is intricate in terms of its levels but there is something at odds here and I feel sure it’s the massive, mechanical revolve trying to upstage everybody. So much emphasis has been placed on the working set that we are lucky to have had such strong performances, avoiding anyone paling into insignificance. I love a revolve as much as anybody but it must serve the purpose and I felt that this one – it was clunky and slow – was out of step with the pace of the show. The Chair, however, is another matter altogether; the mechanism is brilliant and the effect is truly chilling and strangely comical, as things tend to be when they are mildly discomforting… I don’t want to give away all of the effects but if you’ve ever seen a squib sliced, you’ll appreciate that somebody in makeup has done their fair share of research into the fine art of throat slitting. You will squirm, just as you should. The tale is, after all, ghastly.

Dark, gothic lighting – not too much and not too little – casting shadows and drawing our eyes towards the most minimal action is just right. Andrew ‘Panda’ Haden has done well to achieve such an evocative and intimate lighting design within the large-scale Schonell Theatre. Gutter colours dominate the structures and the costumes, all trash and no treasure, except for Pirelli’s carnival suit (but he’s not around for long), Johanna’s pretty blue frock and Mrs Lovettt’s sassy petticoat of delicious pink under, which we catch glimpses of, just as we see the brighter shades of each character from time to time – but only for a moment.

The staging of the prologue seems unnecessary, an anti-climatic opening; a solitary figure (a dishevelled man) crossing the apron of the stage to pull a rope, in the action of ringing a bell and at the same time, opening the curtain onto a scene of madness – the streets of London. A bold directorial choice, it was probably not ideal. Far more effective would be the first sounds of Sondheim’s strangely seductive score and the curtain opening upon the ensemble standing, imploring us (really very At the End of the Day and there’s no doubt it works), to “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd”…

Another unusual moment, wasted; we missed, “At last, my right arm is complete again!” It’s the definitive Demon Barber character line and it was thrown to the wings, dismissed during an exit, rather than used to achieve the climax of the Prologue. Whether by actor or director, I thought this an odd choice.

"At last, my right arm is complete again!" Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's film.

I cannot stress enough how good this company is in terms of their ensemble singing. Like any company, they have their “stars”, though none seem aligned or affiliated with this or another company, we see them everywhere, and Ignatians always work really hard on producing an exceptional ensemble, as we saw (heard) in RENT and as we see (and hear) in Sweeney Todd. I’m always in awe of a good choir master/MD (our local Oriana Choir is off on their European tour soon, led by the extremely capable and super confident Daniel Calder) and if you’ve ever considered joining a terrific no-pressure-no-audition choir, Ignatians provides another Brisbane option. Check the website for details.

As far as Brisbane theatre goes, there is a huge amount on at the moment and this production must be one of the hot ticket items. On Saturday night, I noticed UQ uni life was alive and well (clearly, it was pizza and red wine night) and a horde of younger audience members filled the Schonell theatre foyer at least 20 minutes before the Box Office opened. These are some keen kids! How wonderful that the theatre rather than the cinema is where they choose to spend some of their money! I would not recommend taking children to see this show. I would wonder at its appeal for those to whom Sondheim’s score is largely unknown and at the same time, I would encourage all and sundry to go see Peek’s Sweeney Todd and support Ignatians’ mammoth effort and their solid commitment to the growth of the Brisbane musical theatre scene. Really, you’d be silly to miss this production – there’s too much to like about it!


attend the tale of sweeney todd: a quick chat with josh rowe

Josh Rowe is playing one of the most gruesome, most remorseless murderers in the history of musical theatre. Attend the tale of the man behind Ignatian’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

What led you to Sweeney Todd at Ignatians and what attracted you to this challenging role? 

I studied my Bachelor of music in Classical Performance from 2004 – 2008.  I began my professional career with Opera Queensland in 2006. I was also an Opera Queensland developing Artist in 2008, which was a wonderful opportunity to study a number of operatic roles under the guidance of industry greats such as Anna Sweeney (her name is purely coincidence) and Narelle French.  I had my solo debut with the company in the Male Ensemble of Richard Mills’ ‘Love of the Nightingale’ in 2007.  Sweeney Todd is my 40th production (my 13th professionally) since taking to the stage in 2001.

After my Bachelor of music, I had been working away in Western Australia’s North West for a few of years in Mining Construction and decided to return home to spend more time with my growing family. Within a few months of my return I found out on Facebook that Ignatians was auditioning for Sweeney. It seemed like the ideal segue back into singing.  As to the role itself… I have always known it to be one of the most challenging roles in music theatre: requiring solid musicianship and an emotional sensibility in order to portray this character as a human being going on an emotional journey rather than just a one dimensional murderous madman. This appealed to me.

Can you tell us about the audition process? How did you prepare? 

I am an Operatic Baritone primarily and this was my first musical theatre audition in over ten years.  Musical theatre is quite different from opera in that it is much more physical. Opera auditioning is mostly ‘Stand and Sing’. The Sweeney Todd rehearsal included a dance audition, some acting/stagecraft as well as the singing. Lauren, the movement/dance coach absolutely flogged us in audition. It was hilarious! I went home afterwards and slept for 12 hours.

You worked in the mines? Was there any drama attached to that job? Tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing when not on stage. 

Haha. There is an element of drama in any environment where humans are involved I guess.  When you’re, for example, working on a 200 tonne crane lifting a building module the size of an average two bedroom house into position on top of another building module 4 meters up in the air, its very dangerous and difficult work.  Tempers get frayed.  These days back in Brisbane the work isn’t so challenging. I specialise in restoring and renovating old Queenslanders.  It’s fairly casual work and I can fit it in with music and being a dad fairly successfully 

Do you get to see much theatre? What was the last show you saw? 

I have not been out to the theatre in a long time. There’s not a lot of theatre in the Pilbara. I think the last thing I saw was ‘Spem in Alium’ by Thomas Tallis, conducted by Emily Cox late last year.

Where do you chill out in Brisbane? 

Anywhere my family is. I have three beautiful boys, ranging from 16 all the way down to 20 months and another on the way. When we’re together we like to just watch movies and hang out. If we’re out in Brisbane the boys love to eat at ‘Sushi Train’. It’s always been one of our special things. My wife Emma and I also love to just jump in the car and drive. Anywhere.  Get lost and just find our way back. Just for fun.

Do you have any special talents that this show doesn’t uncover? You’re not a tap dancer or an aerialist too? 

Besides being a carpenter, a painter and hopefully a pretty good husband and dad? No! For my next project I will be singing the bass solo for ‘A Sea symphony’ by Vaughan Williams In association with Brisbane Chorale and Brisbane Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Emily Cox.

We’re expecting big things from the Ignatians design team, with regard to set and working pieces in order to make this show happen. We won’t be disappointed, will we? 

What an amazing set this is. The Ignatians team should be proud of what they have achieved. It’s a big, heaving, flowing set with lots of moving parts to excite the eye. I am personally looking forward to my ‘Big Reveal’ at the beginning of act one.  That’s all I will say on that. I don’t want to give it away.

Can you talk about working with John Peek, who has many new fans after bringing us Ignatian’s fabulous production of RENT

John and I began working together professionally in 2006 on the set of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ for Opera Queensland. Even then I could see he was a force to be reckoned with.  His strong stage presence and his understanding of the voice were an inspiration to me.  When I found out that John was heading towards more of a leadership role in his musical journey, I decided that one day I had to be directed by him.  Sweeney has been such a heavy emotional journey for me… As you know my mother has been very ill with cancer during this production. John has really helped me to push through my overwhelming sadness and find my voice through the tough times.

Can you tell us about your Mrs Lovett? What has it been like to work with Miranda on that odd relationship? 

Miranda is just wonderful. She has a fantastic voice, which is made for the role. Her fiery but down to earth nature, her understanding of comic timing and her background in dance make for a Lovett that leaps off the stage with vibrancy.  I am glad that my Lovett is such a consummate professional. It makes my job easy and our bond on stage real but exciting.

Is Sweeney Todd just a messed up killer of men or is there more to him? Did you have to find some empathy for him? If so, how did you do that? And why would we side with a murderer? 

There is always more to the story when good men turn bad and it’s amazing just how quickly deep passion can turn into hate and a desire for revenge. My question to you is what would you do to protect your family? If an evil person wanted to inflict harm on your husband, wife, father or child would you do everything you could to protect them? Would you want that person to pay for what they did? How far would you go to make them pay? These questions cause real emotions to well up in the best of us. As a husband and father, I know that it would take surprisingly little to engage my rage if my family was in trouble. What Sweeney does is not right, but I can understand how he got there.

It’s a gory show, lots of blood, Tim Burton’s film actually makes me physically ill; are we going to experience quite that much blood? I need to know so I can psyche up. 

There is not as much blood in this show. A lot of the staging is still quite confronting and not always easy to deal with emotionally, but not exactly a hack em up horror.

What else can we expect?

A great night out at the theatre!




Josh Rowe is Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street