Posts Tagged ‘Tod Strike

26
Jun
12

Hairspray

Hairspray

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

22nd June – 1st July 2012

QPAC Playhouse 

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

There seem three certainties when it comes to music theatre

1. The hair can never be big enough

2. The costumes can never be bright enough

(And in the words of Tracy Turnblad),

3.”You can’t stop the beat!”.

Well you most definitely could not stop the toes from tapping at the opening night of Hairspray by Harvest Rain Theatre Company on Saturday night as a packed Playhouse Theatre was swept up by the beat and left dancing in the aisles from the moment the curtain rose.

Set in 1962, Hairspray follows the story of plump teenage dreamer Tracy Turnblad as she realises her dream of dancing on the Corny Collins Show. As a consequence she wins the heart of teen idol Link Larkin and causes quite the kafuffle with her ‘hair-brained’ idea of equality and racial acceptance, inadvertently making her the face of integration. Throw in some catchy songs, good ol’ corny comedy and a whole lot of dancing, and you have an uplifting shout out to love, equality and all things good.

For all its catchy melodies and tongue in cheek humor, there are some pretty strong themes embedded in this production. Director Tim O Conner does not shy away from the more serious side of the musical and for that I am grateful, it adds just enough grit to give the production the weight it needs to legitimise its message and remain accessible and entertaining. It is the universal message of love that permeates the heart of this show however and resonates with its widely diverse audience.

The set design (Josh McIntosh) is the first thing that grabs my attention as the show opens with a cartoon-esque bed from which Tracy sings her opening number, a great visual effect and one that is matched tastefully and effectively throughout the show by a simple yet effective lighting design (Jason Glenwright) and theatrical costuming. Choreographer Callum Mansfied is to be praised for creating an engaging visual spectacle that truly maximizes the talents of the cast and provides a high energy and seamless production, allowing the chorus to bring a vibrant energy and demonstrate some great comic characterization. Likewise, Musical Director Maitlohn Drew delivers a musically vibrant score with drive and sensitivity to both the style and pace of the production.

The principal cast handle the demands of this high energy show expertly and with a great sense of ensemble. Casey McCollow as Tracy Turnblad is an engaging performer with a secure vocal sound and innate comic timing that characterizes the role skillfully. Playing opposite as love interest Link Larkin, Dakota Striplin is equally at ease vocally, with a wonderful timbre and energy to his sound. A capable and practiced performer, Striplin’s teenage-crooner look is a perfect match for the role, and overall he delivers a strong and likeable performance.

Simon Gallaher is a predictable crowd favourite as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, and has the audience in stitches with his clever characterisation and sharp comic timing. Vocally, he manages the role with poise and refinement, indulging the audience with Edna’s amusing duet with Husband Wilbur (Gary Jones). Opposite Gallaher, Jones gives an entertaining and likeable performance as Wilbur Turnblad, bringing a comic clownish physicality to the role that is balanced by a comfortable vocal.

The charismatic Heidi Enchelmaier is goofily likeable as Penny Pingleton and quickly becomes a favourite with her wonderful physicality and commitment to the role. Playing opposite William Moyunuu as Seaweed is a capable performer with a rich velvety lower register and great commitment to character, although at times I felt a little more energy was needed in his sound and delivery of text, which became a little hard to understand and muffled over the music. Together they create an onstage chemistry that is natural and wonderfully believable.

Astin Blaik plays the ditsy and mean spirited Amber Von Tussle, and is engaging and consistent in her characterization topped with a wonderfully diva-like vocal tone. Playing Amber’s mother Velma Von Tussle; Liz Buchanan is elegantly snooty and possesses a wonderfully smoky vocal colour that gives the character just a touch of the femme fatale. Tod Strike is as cool as Guy Smiley in the role of Corny Collins, and delivers an elegant and refined characterisation of the popular TV host with a vocal presence that is secure and equally as charming.

For me the standout performance from the night was Rachel Dunham in the role of Motormouth Maybelle. Aside from the Act 2 knockout solo I Know Where I’ve Been that showcased her rich, legitimate and heart-wrenching vocal, Dunham consistently gave an honest and vibrant onstage energy that enlivened each of her scenes. An absolutely captivating performer who made this role her own.

So what are my final thoughts? Hairspray is the embodiment of a fun yet socially significant musical. From the spine-tingling moments of sincerity to the sugary sweet and boppy tunes that will be stuck in your head for days on end, it’s a lot of meaningful fun and Harvest Rain do it complete justice. And while driving home I did feel a little nauseous and in need of some heavy metal music or hard core indie art to balance the equilibrium, the closing number kept ringing in my ears and bringing a little smile to my lips…apparently you really can’t stop the beat!

05
Mar
11

John Bucchino, Georgia Stitt & Friends in Concert

Lazy post disclaimer: in case you didn’t catch it over there, this is my Briz Tix review over here…


Featuring Marika Aubrey, Tod Strike, Andy Conaghan,

Angela Harding, Luke Kennedy and Madeline Cain

QLD Conservatorium Wednesday March 3rd

Your Management International and Harvest Rain Theatre Company

It’s shaping up to be a big year for Brisbane’s musical theatre scene, especially for those ambitious (some might say crazy) souls whose only desire is to join the industry as a “triple-threat” performer. Finally, I can see that there are real opportunities beginning to be presented, for aspiring artists to train and acquire work (in their preferred industry) in Queensland. Finally – dare I say it – we seem to be approaching a phase of development and commitment from some of the major stakeholders, which means our talent can choose to stay here, make their base here, find work here and then choose to play here, there and everywhere! Now, I didn’t say it’s happened yet. But now I see that it will.

For example, by the end of their third busy day, Griffith’s Queensland Conservatorium’s first ever intake of Musical Theatre students, thanks to the enigmatic Paul Sabey, had worked with Lucy Durack, John Bucchino and Georgia Stitt. Next week, they have Jason Robert Brown and Rachael Beck in their midst. Before the end of their second week of tertiary study, these students will have rubbed shoulders with some of the very best in the industry, within the re-vamped Con. The once dowdy foyer space has been completely transformed and now looks the part, providing a world-class venue, befitting of acclaimed artists such as Stitt, Bucchino and Brown. Incredible! How lucky these students are!

And how lucky we are, to have been given a taste of the best in the business already, with Harvest Rain’s Broadway to Brisvegas series last year bringing to The Powerhouse, Scott Alan, James Sampliner and Shoshana Bean. This year, in association with the dynamic Jeremy Youett, of Your Management International, we are truly blessed to have, again, a little bit of Broadway magic come to Brisbane.

Having attended the master class on Tuesday night, I was looking forward to hearing some of the songs performed again, this time by seasoned performers, accompanied by the composers themselves, in a recital setting. Most were familiar faces and voices: Luke Kennedy, Angela Harding, Tod Strike, Madeline Cain, Andy Conaghan and Marika Aubrey.

The format of the evening was very simply a stand and deliver concert, with John Bucchino’s work showcased in the first half and Georgia Stitt’s in the second.

John Bucchino casts an imposing presence and reveals a gentle soul. He plays (and composes) by ear. Knowing this makes his talent all the more extraordinary. His music is complex, multi-layered; it is beautiful and joyous and delicious…and fierce and cheeky and fun! It is real and it reminds us that life is supposed to be fun. And challenging. And confusing. And in life, we will have happiness and hurt and forgiveness and love and laughter and therapy and tears and hope. It is sophisticated stuff. Bucchino’s songs are about such simple things but they demand the deep emotional reservoirs and excellent technique of singers who are comfortable enough in their own skins to make sense of the context, make the personal connections and then tell the stories simply, confidently and above all, truthfully.

Georgia Stitt is gorgeous, vibrant, exuding infectious energy and offering the warmth of her generous heart in every smile. There’s also something cheeky and lovely and relaxed about her performance style, opting to sing a couple of her own songs – these are obviously closest to her heart at the moment – and it was endearing to hear from her, “Susan (Egan) sings it better than me but I enjoy it!” Stitt is an amazing talent, comfortable and confident, exactly as she sings in The Me of the Moment. Is it any wonder that she found her bashert in the witty, crazy-talented Jason Robert Brown?! Talk about a Power Couple!

Stitt’s music, like Bucchino’s, offers many unexpected gifts to singers, leading them through the whole gamut of emotions (and quite often back again), allowing plenty of opportunity to play. How lucky these singers are, to have been given the opportunity to play with two amazing artists of this caliber!

Testament to this was Marika Aubrey’s gorgeous rendition of I Get to Show You the Ocean, which Stitt wrote for her eldest daughter and which, by the end of the first chorus, had me in tears because, clearly, really, she wrote this song for my daughter and I! And so says every mother after every show, I’m sure. In Stitt’s Big Wings, Aubrey let loose her big ol’ country belt voice that further demonstrated her ability to sell a strong character.

Madeline Cain treated us to two contrasting numbers from Stitt’s Alphabet City Cycle and The Song with the Violins (Bucchino) but my favourite was This Moment (Bucchino). Cain nailed it.

Brisbane has a true songbird in Angela Harding. Her interpretations seem genuine, she is present in every moment and her voice soars. Her comical ability comes through in the lighter numbers. I enjoyed a more mature interpretation of My Lifelong Love (Stitt) but for me, It Feels Like Home (Bucchino) was perfect.

Todd Strike took on the unenviable task of singing These Two, the song Stitt wrote as a wedding gift for her husband, giving it due respect and letting us in for half a moment, to catch the tiniest glimpse of the real, raw artist that likes to take refuge under that star quality exterior of his. I’m certain Strike has more to give.

Luke Kennedy is a bit of a darling on our Brisbane stages and I’m happy to say he did nothing to dent his reputation. Kennedy has an impressive vocal range and Bucchino’s Unexpressed was the perfect opening number. Stitt’s One Day More, no doubt won Kennedy a few new fans; these songs make it easy to fall in love with the singer and Kennedy plays the audience beautifully. Even as the married man of somewhat questionable behaviour (or perhaps because of it) in Platonic Affair (Stitt), he is irresistible.

Andy Conaghan is the consummate performer and in my opinion, brought to the stage a level of professionalism and self-confidence that put the final polish on the evening. His voice is superb and his easy manner completely charming. Bucchino’s Taking the Wheel and Grateful showed us two sides to Conaghan, while Stitt’s Air, if we were not already convinced, proved his technical ability and roguish, earnest appeal. I don’t mind making a big call and predicting that Andy Conaghan is going to be the Next Big Thing.

Until recently, it would have been unimaginable for Brisbane to be up to delivering anything like the Australian Concert and Master Class Series. The fact that it’s happening here, now, is testament to Brisbane’s determination to become a leading arts city in this country and indeed, its capacity to do so. What an exciting time to be a part of the performing arts industry here, when we are graced by the presence of the likes of Georgia Stitt and John Bucchino.

I can’t wait until next week. Bring on Jason Robert Brown and Rachael Beck!

10
Nov
10

The Second Coming

That’s right. Jesus Christ Superstar is returning. To QPAC. In February. The extended promo (below) is super cool and certainly has the desired effect – it makes even me want to see it again – it is just so super COOL, you know? Who wouldn’t want to see it (whether for the first or second time and indulge – again – in the discussions about it afterwards)?!

If I can be sure that Harvest Rain will rock it up another notch or two, rough up (do I mean rough up? Not really, I mean…complicate) a few of the relationships, sort out Judas’s death and smooth over the story-within-a-story glitch, I might just do that. I love seeing STUFF at all stages of the creative process and this stuff is no different. While there is a place for (and a huge responsibility in) honouring original productions and giving the people more of what they love (hmmm…I’m lookin’  at YOU West Side Story), Harvest Rain are well aware that there is a large percentage of the population who want to see them continue to raise the bar as a leader in Brisbane’s musical theatre scene and I feel sure, with their triple-threat training and bringing-in-the-big-guns roll call (no pun intended so close your mouths, fans of Mr Strike’s big guns) they are up to the challenge!

You’d better book early, folks, for this season (3rd-13th February 2011); the groupies and skeptics alike will be back to see this one!