Posts Tagged ‘the last five years

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…

 

02
Oct
17

MUSE

 

MUSE

Suncoast Repertory Theatre

Black Box Theatre, Old Ambulance Station

September 29 – October 8 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

MUSE is the best new Australian indie work we’ve seen this year. Written and directed on the Sunshine Coast by Simon Denver after XS Entertainment’s Sam Coward challenged the playwright at the poker table one night to write something new and irresistibly real, this darkly comical piece dives deeply and unapologetically into human nature, hook-ups, marriage, lies, loyalty and the world of live theatre, capturing our imaginations and clenching its fist around our hearts. Honest, unsettling and a catalyst for some of the most interesting conversations you’ll ever have with your lover, MUSE is the very best sort of provocative performing arts.

 

Upcoming at Brisbane Powerhouse is Wax Lyrical’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, which also looks at the dissolve of a relationship. And there are many other good works that explore the jealousy, resentment and resignation leading to the end – or not – of a relationship. Where MUSE differs from what we’ve seen before is that it’s violently articulate and neatly structured, offering a balanced view of the issues, inviting us to join these individuals on their journeys and at the same time, reflect on our own lives and loves.

An unexpected theatrical device is cleverly incorporated to make us consider how much of what we tell ourselves and our partner is actually reality and how much is fantasy. So much of what might seem like a good idea at the time is complicated and also, outside of society’s norms.

Denver’s text questions why we do what we do, juxtaposing human nature and free will against a traditional view of marriage and monogamous relationships. Set within a theatrical context, two weeks before a classic play goes up and the leading players become entangled in an illicit affair, MUSE avoids cliche and draws on truth. Denver is a keen study of human behaviour; in this work you’re sure to recognise aspects of yourself or someone you know.

 

Refreshingly, Denver presents all sides of the story and also, fully drawn female characters – the actor-turned-academic wife, Jemma (Mel Myers) and the free-spirited leading lady, Ngaire (Rachel Fentiman) – rather than the token women we’re so used to seeing, still, on our stages and screens.

 

While Jemma flails alone at home beneath a stack of undergraduate essays and an endless supply of red wine, her husband, Kris (Brett Klease), is enjoying post-rehearsal drinks with his free-spirited millennial leading lady, Ngaire. When things come to a head, Jemma confronts Kris and then Ngaire, and the terms of engagement are settled over a couple of unsettling scenes. Kris turns to his geeky gamer/coder brother, Julian (Howard Tampling), only to hear from him the voice of reason and the loyalty line he wishes he could tow too. Meanwhile, the director of the play within the play (Adam Flower), just wants to put on a good show.

Sans production values (we know it’s been produced on the smell of an oily rag) the work speaks for itself. While there’s some effort to make in terms of taking it to the next level (some of the musical choices to bookend scenes are a little too obvious and a design aesthetic is less so), MUSE is the most intriguing and moving night at the theatre this year on the Sunshine Coast. SRT must be encouraged to seek further support for a return season next year, or a move sideways in the ecology, which will allow a broader audience to experience the beauty, tragedy, hope and truth of MUSE.

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

 

15
Jun
15

Rob Mills Is…Surprisingly Good

 

Rob Mills Is…Surprisingly Good

Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland Cabaret Festival

& Mackay Entertainment And Convention Centre

Powerhouse Theatre

Sunday June 14 2015

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

BPH_QCF_Rob_Mills_1_2015-1178x663

 

Rob Mills Is…Surprisingly Good. It’s a humble, slightly bemused premise on which to base a show (they’re the words of critics of course), and it works. Mills is sensational, surprising East Coast audiences with his self-deprecating humour, natural musical ability and charisma. Anyone who has seen Mills in a musical theatre production, as Jamie (The Last Five Years), Fiyero (Wicked), Warner (Legally Blonde) or Danny (Grease), won’t be nearly as surprised as the rest. Again, this time within the challenging realm of cabaret, Mills shows his mettle.

 

I loved how they put the word grease in the hair of the logo. It made it exciting as soon as we sat down. The direction was beautiful and the song Sandy almost made me cry in Mum’s lap. Sandy is a beautiful song and Rob Mills sang it perfectly. I’m sure I saw the movie, but I thought this version was much better than the movie.

 

– Poppy Eponine

 

robmillsparishiltonThe “not really a Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of guy” clearly has a ball sharing his personal stories, which stem from a childhood of singing and playing guitar, and a heap of pub gigs followed by his 15 minutes thanks to Australian Idol, and an eclectic assortment of rock songs and musical theatre faves. The show is loosely based around notions of Dancing Through Life (Wicked), [He] Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor Swift) and finding one’s Purpose (Avenue Q).

 

We’ve seen and heard a lot from Mills via TV and THOSE headlines, and he doesn’t shy away from any of it, in fact he relishes all of it (even a boy band medley moment, which is GOLD); he reminisces and laughs with us.

 

 

He’s unashamed and beyond reproach. He’s dancing through life, and why not?

 

Striking the perfect note, Mills opens with Live in Living Colour (Catch Me If You Can). He is at once disarmingly cute, irresistibly charismatic…although he takes a few minutes to comfortably settle into the space.

 

The Powerhouse Theatre is a good deal bigger than the intimate surrounds of RACV Noosa Resort for example, which is where you’ll catch him next, in a Supper Club version of the show during Noosa Long Weekend Festival after a final performance this weekend in Melbourne.

 

There are some static moments, easily fixed by a deep breath, a bolt of confidence and consistent pace (the show picks up after the whole Paris tryst bit), and I feel like the more intimate venues, which allow a closer connection with the audience, will serve Mills well. It’s as if this show has come too soon and also, at precisely the right time for Mills. His gorgeous larrikin characters from musical theatre are somehow at odds with the Rob Mills he professes he wants to be seen as. So there’s clearly another show in this, but it will need to be revealed through the execution of this one.

 

 

robmills

 

 

Penned by Mills and Natalie Garonzi, and directed by Tyran Parke, Mills and his hot band (hello, Kuki Tipoki!), led by MD Andrew Worboys, impress and delight the Queensland Cabaret Festival crowd.

 

A final cheeky appearance in the tight white pants of Fiyero seals the deal, in case we weren’t already, er, enamoured. The audacity and cheek of this increasingly confident performer even wins over sceptical Sam, who’s relinquished his +1 role many times, missing some previous performances about which Poppy and I have raved. After the show too, handing out “Surprisingly Good” buttons and posing for selfies by the bar, Mills proves he has the goods to stay at the top of the entertainment tree. So I think it’s time we dropped the “surprisingly good” and acknowledged that Rob Mills is sensational! I’ll look forward to seeing this show again, and whatever it is that must come after it.

 

 

robmills_surprisinglygood_dates

26
Jun
12

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Ignatians Musical Society

20th – 23rd June 2012

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Chances are that unless you are a die-hard musical fan, you may not have heard of The Last Five Years. From its initial premiere in Chicago in 2001, this unusual and demanding song cycle written by Jason Robert Brown has had somewhat of a cult following amongst musical theatre circles. Since discovering it about five years ago, I have been a big fan of both the cycle and its composer and so it was with excitement that last Saturday night, I joined an intimate audience at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre to see it’s latest Brisbane revival, presented by Ignations Musical Society.

The Last Five Years follows the five-year relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hyatt and emerging writer Jamie Wellerstein, as they juggle their emerging careers with the ups and downs of their relationship.

What makes this show so ultimately heartbreaking is the structure of its narrative. The show opens with Cathy (Bethan Ellsmore) beginning at the end; the demise of the relationship, and continuing through to conclude with the dizzy beginnings of their burgeoning romance. This is contrasted by Jamie (Tim Dashwood), who tells the story from the start of giddy young love to the heartbreak of a bitter divorce. The couple collide and interact directly only once in the middle of the production, before separating once again to continue on their opposite journeys.

It’s a tricky structure to wrap your head around and one, which I’m sure, was initially confusing for a few audience members. That’s why from the outset I have to say I was surprised by the lack of a program. Later I found there was a digital copy available online but for a production that’s composition is quite non-traditional, it would’ve been nice to have something more tactile and immediate to reference. The structure became more obvious gradually but a short description of the narrative would’ve been a welcome accommodation to give a little context and background for those audience members not as familiar with the story as some.

This being said, the challenge of a non-traditional narrative is well realised by director, Travis Dowling, whose clever use of staging mirrors the progression of the relationship from each of the characters perspective along their journey as well as providing a sense of intimacy and fragility.

The set itself is simple, with minimal props and lighting used to convey changes in time and place. Resisting the temptation to over clutter, the set design (Tim Wallace) is functional and intimate, adding to the contemporary feel of the production.

Despite each character moving in opposite directions, the accessibility of the setting (along with repetitive motives in the score) provides a steady connection between both characters despite their emotional journeying in opposite directions.

Musically, the score is rich with moments for the audience to indulge as one characters excitement is faintly echoed with a musical reminder of the others heartbreak and this seesaw effect carries on throughout the production leaving the audience in a quasi limbo land of emotions by the end.

Led by Musical Director, Ben Murray, the score is delivered live with sensitivity and wonderful sense of duet with the performers, seeming to exist almost as another voice at times. Contemporary in nature, with the popular catchy feel characteristic of a Jason Robert Brown score, the music helps to facilitate a heartfelt connection to the narrative, tugging at the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever been in love.

Bethan Ellsmore as struggling actress, Cathy Hyatt, is gutsy and fearless in this vocally demanding role. The challenges that present themselves in starting the show from such an emotionally charged place do nothing to distract Ellsmore from balancing a legitimate vocal with an honest and courageous approach to the text.

Likewise Tim Dashwood as up-and-coming writer, Jamie Wellerstein, is authentic in his characterization and also vocally secure. Despite occasionally losing vocal presence through some energetic staging, Dashwoods’s commitment to unraveling the dimensions of this character made for a compelling performance.

Despite the challenges of finding a connection through what are essentially two individual journeys, Ellsmore and Dashwood establish an onstage chemistry that seems to communicate even when they are not, a credit to both the direction and artistic investment by the performers.

It is refreshing to see a small Brisbane Theatre Company like Ignations embracing a challenging and relatively unknown theatre production, and doing so to great artistic success. Within a musical theatre scene that is often saturated by predictable and large, elaborate productions, it is exciting and inspiring to see a stripped back, contemporary work that relates to its audience and unapologetically reflects the raw, gritty and beautiful underbelly of love.