Posts Tagged ‘zoe tuffin


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…



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



Carrie The Musical


Carrie the Musical

Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 22 – 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Carrie” opened on Broadway on May 12, 1988, and closed three days later, losing a record-breaking seven million dollars.

Michael Schulman. The New Yorker


You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna’ be a night we’ll never forget.

Carrie White’s teen angst bullshit bodycount trumps Veronica Sawyer’s doesn’t it?!

Stephen King almost didn’t write Carrie. After he threw out the first three pages of the first draft, his wife found the pages, smoothed them out, read them and demanded to know the rest of the story. Carrie was his fourth novel; his first to be published (1964). Since then we’ve seen two famous film versions and the musical, infamous, earmarked by critics as one of the worst musicals of all time.

Zoe Tuffin’s production brings compassionate storytelling and mostly relatable characters to a stage that is strewn with prom night confetti from the outset and soaked in symbolic blood by the end. Tuffin’s production is uniquely imagined, deftly handled and boasts the very best of Brisbane talent, both onstage and off. The company comprises mostly Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium graduates, testament once again to the extraordinary amount of talent in this state, and to the quality of Paul Sabey’s Musical Theatre course content and high calibre of his teaching team. These graduates have rehearsed Carrie in between callbacks for the next round of Australian professional touring productions. No surprises there. The real surprise is the uniformity of triple-threat talent on stage, and the commitment of the cast to bring such deeply flawed, complex characters to life in such an authentic way, despite the flaky writing. The only over-acting comes from Tori Bailey as Chris the total bitch and Thomas Davis as her boyfriend, Billy, but others in the audience adore them. I might have enjoyed Bailey’s performance more if I could discern the words during her cute little rock pop solo, which is certainly energetically executed. Usually the Visy is spot on with the sound but the mix was an issue on opening night, just as it was recently in QPAC’s Playhouse (right up until closing night!), giving Sound Designer Ben Murray a few things to think about this week.

Dominic Woodhead leads a fantastic sounding band (we can’t see them through the haze in the dark out the back) but I’d love to hear them again in this space sans so much crashing percussion. In 1999 we built a soundproof room for the band and multi-cored to the PA for a warehouse production of Jesus Christ Superstar and I’m thinking Brisbane could do with some similarly innovative solutions, or a new breed of designer/engineer or something because the frequent problems with the mix in a couple of our top venues are old news and still unforgivable.

Most of the cast are as real as the mean girls and boys you might remember (or might have tried to forget) from your own high school days and nights, and it’s this focus, on the horror of high school that holds the original supernatural horror of the story at arm’s length until Act 2.


Sophie Perkins makes the title role one to remember. An uninformed, misunderstood social misfit on the brink of womanhood, betrayed by her mother’s mismanagement, Carrie doesn’t like being “tricked” and she finds her power in the darkest revenge. (Remember, it’s not a happy ending!). Perkins has a powerhouse voice and a fantastic palette of emotions. I’d love to see how her nuance translates to the screen.

As Carrie’s mother, the formidable, fanatical Margaret White, Jacqui Devereux dishes out the vocal power and imposing physical presence to knock the poor girl to her knees without any contact at all and I’d like to have seen this dynamic explored, although the shock of seeing her push and pull her daughter across the stage certainly has the desired effect, making her a monster in our eyes. The role is generous – the show could almost be Mother’s story – and in it Devereux offers her most credible performance to date, never less so than in Act 2’s moving When There’s No One. 


Georgina Hopson, a joy to behold and this time in a slightly less saccharine role than usual, manages even so to encompass the sweetness of Carrie’s unlikely friend, Sue, as well as her strength. Hopson’s vocal mastery, superior in every aspect, reveals the best aspect of a skill set akin to our current leading ladies of musical theatre. She’s a stand-out on stage – there must be local performers who wish they could discover the secret to Hopson’s easy presence – and she holds her own right up until the final tragic moment.

Alex Woodward as the jock boyfriend, Tommy, sings beautifully and brings sensitivity to the role, leaving no doubt in our minds that he genuinely adores Sue and for reasons he can’t quite fathom either, wants the best for her freaky friend.


Chloe-Rose Taylor and Stephen Hirst resist the temptation to present us with cardboard cutouts of boring caring teachers and offer naturally confident, competent performances. Hirst makes the most of his little moment in yet another underwritten role and Taylor takes her time to establish the maternal connection that Carrie misses out on at home. In this supporting role she shines, connecting beautifully, believably with Perkins’ Carrie. Surprisingly, the song that least fits the show, Unsuspecting Hearts, is lovely, providing much needed relief from the heavy themes throughout.

Tuffin’s success lies in her pragmatic approach, her acknowledgment of the limitations of the theatre and her determination to create magic with so little. Set & Costume Designer, Patrick James Howe employs imaginative design solutions to fit perfectly into the intimate space and bring us disturbingly close to the action. Jason Glenwright’s cellar style lighting features a dramatically spare par can wall, which successfully shocks us into submission with its blinding white light before fading and making way for a special on Sue, centrestage, with her version of the story. This image bookends the show, the narration being one of the revisions after the monumental flop of the original production and it works well here. Importantly, the wall of light also serves to separate the “backstage” space from the stage, key to the shape and flow of the show. Unfortunately, its lights also flash unnecessarily to indicate Carrie’s telekinesis. It’s a bit kitsch when Tuffin has managed to avoid this sort of 80s’ mark elsewhere.

While there is very little telekinesis on display what we see is convincing enough so it’s clearly a matter of quality over quantity.


Prom night is the ultimate test of our willingness to suspend disbelief, not only in terms of the massacre that must follow but in terms of its orchestration. Wisely avoiding the problem of not-enough-blood, Tuffin has Carrie kill in another dramatic way (no spoilers here but has Dan Venz choreographed the sequence?). This is undoubtedly more effective for those seeing the show without any knowledge of the previous versions of the story’s grisly end. Satisfyingly, the pig’s blood bucket hits its mark and covers Perkins from head to toe in real, really disgusting, dripping red something-that-will-have-to-be-washed-outta-that-little-white-frock-every-night. I mean, c’mon! There are globules slipping slowly down her skirt! No wonder she freaks out and wreaks havoc on the town.

In less capable hands, Carrie the Musical would be a dreary disaster, but Tuffin has successfully resurrected a show that many believed would stay dead and buried.

With greater attention given to some secondary characters (twice as many in the ensemble would be terrific and also, should the question of diversity not be applied here too?) and costume design, which is woeful with not a “prom” dress in sight, Howe clearly having concentrated on the look of the space and not on the way those who fill it would look, this Carrie could live again. How about a bigger budget and a sneaky return season in a bigger space? Can you imagine the bucket of blood tipping from a much greater height with litres and litres of the sticky substance spilling and pooling all over the Powerhouse stage?! With the appropriate resources at Tuffin’s disposal is that the Carrie this company might offer? 

Wax Lyrical Productions is the most interesting company to come along since Emily Gilhome’s Oscar, and certainly deserve a bigger audience for this production, the Queensland premiere of Carrie the Muscial.

Particularly if you go in clean, without too much prior knowledge, you’ll love coming out of Carrie a little bit dirty. And if you’ve seen it or read it, regardless of how much time has passed, you’ll enjoy this ambitious reimagining and the vibrant discussion that’s sure to follow. Until January 30 at Brisbane Powerhouse.

Production pics by Joel Devereux