Review: Jersey Boys (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Aug 29
Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast: Ryan Gonzalez, Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane, Glaston Toft, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler, Cristina D’Agostino, Sage Douglas, Mackenzie Dunn, Glenn Hill, Luigi Lucente, Enrico Mammarella, Scott McConnell, Joshua Mulheran, Jack O’Riley, Matthew Prime, Daniel Raso, Rutene Spooner
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The Four Seasons have sold an estimated 100 million records, a figure virtually unheard of in the industry today. Jersey Boys takes place in the 1960s, when young American talents were able to think of the music industry as a realistic means of striking rich. A highly effective jukebox musical, filled with colourful characters and an infallible inventory of songs, the show is the proverbial, and predictable, rollicking ride, designed for sheer entertainment.

This Australian revival features an exceptional cast, with Ryan Gonzalez particularly mesmerising as Frankie Valli, complete with that trademark falsetto, celestial and ineffable. Gonzalez’s vocal abilities are a sublime joy from start to end, and his stage presence proves astonishingly compelling, despite his slight stature. He gives his all to the performance, leaving us thrilled and wanting more.

Cameron MacDonald too, is wonderful as Tommy DeVito, founding member of the group and charming villain of the piece. Brilliantly wicked, and quite alluring, MacDonald impresses with flawless timing, proving himself indispensable to the production’s dramatic effectiveness. Also noteworthy is supporting player Rutene Spooner, who sparkles in all his guises, and has us flummoxed by the incredibly nimble athleticism of his voice, whenever he is given an opportunity to sing.

We can easily tire of rags to riches stories; they rarely deviate from structures that are rigidly conventional. The magic of live musical performance however, is boundlessly and fantastically uplifting. Singers and musicians have the potential to move us in profound ways, and on this occasion, their renditions of these half-century old songs, have certainly hit the mark.

www.jerseyboys.com.au

Review: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), May 13 – Jul 19, 2018
Book: Stephan Elliott, Allan Scott
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Lena Cruz, Euan Doidge, Robert Grubb, George Holahan-Cantwell, David Harris, Adèle Parkinson, Emma Powell, Tony Sheldon
Images by Ben Symons

Theatre review
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert is an iconic work about homophobia, or more accurately, the resilience of LGBT people in Australia, who have managed to grow from strength to strength against all odds, in the face of pervasive, persistent and severe prejudice. The bus takes our three protagonists across the breadth of half the continent, encountering abuse and humiliation at every stop. To watch spirited people triumph over obstacles and injustice, is always gratifying, but to see it all happen in a musical with shiny twentieth-century pop tunes, is quite the sensation.

There is much to love about the show. Brian Thomson’s production design, Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s costumes and Ben Moir’s wigs, are all spectacular and unabashedly flamboyant, a real feast for the eyes, in a theatrical moment that provides an escape from our beige humdrum. The central story that reunites a gay man with his young son, is thoroughly moving, a soulful addition to the already poignant and universal narrative, of having to live out one’s own truth. The original film, on which the musical is based, is however, well over two decades old, and the baggage of its sexist and racist dimensions have only become more pronounced with time. Theatre, unlike the format of the motion picture, is capable of endless evolution. It is understandable that the biggest gags of the film have to be retained, but their political incorrectness require a degree of modulation or better yet, radical revisions, which the production conveniently disregards.

One can think of many women, bankable stars of the stage, who would be perfect for the role of Bernadette, but Tony Sheldon is once again cast as the Sydney local trans legend. He is precise and polished, an incandescent presence, but we are now in a new age of trans identities, and misgendering of this nature, is distracting, and certainly no longer acceptable. Euan Doidge is interminably effervescent, and breathtakingly beautiful, as Felicia the younger drag queen who learns things the hard way. His abilities as singer and dancer are thrilling to witness, and there is no denying the relief in seeing a person of colour as a lead, in a show known for its history of excruciating ethnic representations. The infamous ping pong scene is kept intact, but Lena Cruz’s feisty performance as Cynthia has us cheering for the character’s sense of liberated and vibrant autonomy.

David Harris cuts through the noisy glitz as Tick, impressive in his ability to convey emotional intensity, for several scenes that help prevent the show from disintegrating into meaningless froth. The father-son chemistry in later sequences are unforgettable, with fabulous child performer George Holahan-Cantwell offering the perfect balance, especially moving in the “Always On My Mind / I Say A Little Prayer” number, delivering a genuine instance of delicacy, in the midst of all things bold and brassy.

The show opens in Sydney officially, and auspiciously, on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2018. This year, same-sex couples in Australia are finally able to marry, and the gay rights movement finds itself approaching the culmination of its objectives. In Priscilla, the prejudices on display that are most agonising, are no longer about gay men. It is time to look at the behaviour on the Australian stage, towards trans people and ethnic minorities. These may just be unintended sub-plots of a show that bears our national pride, but the passage of time can turn things from well-meaning to wilful neglect. We all wish to belong, and those who are no longer the pariah, should know to work for a bigger expanse of inclusivity and unity.

www.priscillathemusical.com.au

Review: Mamma Mia! (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 11 – May 6, 2018
Music and Lyrics: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson
Book: Catherine Johnson (originally conceived by Judy Craymer)
Director: Gary Young
Cast: Josef Ber, Jessica Di Costa, Alicia Gardiner, Alex Gibson-Giorgio, Sam Hooper, Phillip Lowe, Stephen Mahy, Sarah Morrison, Natalie O’Donnell, Monique Sallé, Ian Stenlake, Jayde Westaby
Image by James D. Morgan

Theatre review
The Mamma Mia! musical is approaching twenty years old, and although not particularly advanced in age, the work could benefit from a major refresh. The downside from having success on such a major scale, is the show’s inability to provide any surprises to a crowd waiting to be entertained. It delivers what it promises, and nothing else.

Every facet of this production feels no more than adequate, with safe artistic choices evident in every corner. In spite of all the predictability, it is unlikely that anyone would leave disappointed, although a hint of underwhelm might linger afterwards. The familiarity of Mamma Mia! is perhaps comforting, for those who come to the theatre seeking something slightly old-fashioned.

It is a well-rehearsed cast, uniform in skill and likeability. Leading ladies Sarah Morrison and Natalie O’Donnell are charming enough as the immortal mother-daughter pairing, both bringing a nice glowing warmth to the stage. There is accomplished but unremarkable singing by all, but the funnier performers make good use of comedic moments to leave an impression. Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby are fun, flirty and glamorous as middle age besties who unleash a sense of vibrancy onto the sleepy town of Kalokairi. Ian Stenlake, Phillip Lowe and Josef Ber are suitably handsome and mischievous, playing the three potential fathers just how we have come to expect.

A wonderful thing about Mamma Mia! is the positive light in which all its characters are portrayed. There are no villains, no rivalries, and no one has to face punishment in order that its story of happily ever after can proceed. It is a perfect picture of the sisterhood, with good men providing colour and support; a strangely rare occurrence on any stage. No wonder it refuses to go away.

www.mammamiathemusical.com.au

Review: Aladdin (Capitol Theatre)

aladdinVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Aug 3 – Oct 23, 2016
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Chad Beguelin
Book: Chad Beguelin
Director: Casey Nicholaw
Cast: Aljin Abella, Adam Jon Fiorentino, George Henare, Arielle Jacobs, Ainsley Melham, Adam Murphy, Michael James Scott, Troy Sussman, Robert Tripolino

Theatre review
Based on their own 1992 film, Disney’s musical version of Aladdin is everything one could hope for in an adaptation of a much loved family classic. Fondly remembered for Robin Williams’ hilarious interpretation of Genie, and the chart-topping song “A Whole New World”, this theatrical rendering first appeared in 2011, and is now a well-oiled machine that delivers every bell and whistle expected of the format, including jaw-dropping state-of-the-art stagecraft, along with genuinely effective comedy, that provide sensational entertainment for young and old alike.

The show’s visual design is lavish and inexhaustibly dynamic. Costumes, sets and lights are a real treat, fascinating our senses at every moment like a kaleidoscope that constantly amazes. The manifestation of an actual magic carpet that literally flies around the stage is a gimmick that will captivate any viewer, including the very seasoned theatregoer.

Performances are strong, and the cast will likely grow in chemistry as the Australian season progresses. Michael James Scott’s work as Genie is particularly likeable. Although his energy levels do appear to falter after vigorous sequences, Scott impresses with charisma, sharp humour and a brilliant singing voice, making the larger than life character as commanding a presence as we wish for him to be. Ainsley Melham and Arielle Jacobs are the extraordinarily attractive leads, both delightful in their respective roles, and perfectly charming as the saccharine lovebirds.

It is an innocent romance that blossoms between Aladdin and Jasmine, but the show is a sophisticated one with its naive conceits kept in check. The world is a dangerous place in Aladdin, and its people must access their sense of morality to make the right choices. Themes of slavery, feminism and poverty are only lightly touched upon, but they provide the story with a meaningful foundation on which it discusses the eternal struggle between good and evil. This Disney musical has all the froth and frivolity that fans spend their money on, but at its heart is an ancient folk tale from the legendary One Thousand And One Nights, where the human condition is scrutinised, to reach an understanding of how we are, on our very best days.

www.disney.com.au

Review: Fiddler On The Roof (Capitol Theatre)

fiddlerjeffbusbyVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 24 – May 6, 2016
Music: Jerry Brock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Book: Joseph Stein
Director: Roger Hodgman
Cast: Blake Bowden, Sara Grenfell, Glen Hogstrom, Andrew Kroenert, Lior, Mark Mitchell, Jensen Overend, Anthony Pepe, Annie Stanford, Monica Swayne, Derek Taylor, Sigrid Thornton, Jessica Vickers, Anthony Warlow, Nicki Wendt, David Whitney, Teagan Wouters
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Stories of diaspora never seem to lose their relevance. Fiddler On The Roof is over 50 years of age, but its story of religious persecution consists of an authenticity that every generation will find poignant. As the problem of refugees escalates and takes over our airwaves, themes in the musical hold a deep resonance that relate directly to big issues of the day that all of us are made to face. Tevye and his family are charming folk that, although culturally different from contemporary Australians, endear to us with familiar and admirable qualities, representing the best of our shared humanity. Tevye is an honourable and humble man, with little to his name except for a loving family, and the respect of his community. The songs are similarly heart-warming, with an integrity found in its folk and traditional style, that sets it apart from the tried, tested and very tired styles of music in many other shows of the Broadway genre.

Anthony Warlow’s performance as Tevye is truly remarkable. From physicality and voice, to humour and spirit, Warlow is exemplary on the stage, with impressive star power coupled with indisputable talent, eclipsing every other element of this production. He is a grand presence who is able to convey subtleties. He entertains but keeps us conscious of the higher stakes at play. His generosity extends not only to his audience, but also to his colleagues, whom he offers strong support for their individual shining moments. Monica Swayne and Blake Bowden play Hodel and Perchik, one of the story’s romantic couples, with beautiful chemistry and moving passion. Swayne’s solo rendition of “Far From The Home I Love” is a tearjerker executed without overblown sentimentality, only pristine honesty accompanying a sensational voice able to portray a sublime vulnerability in spite of its palpable strength.

The show is at its best when scenes are tender, deep and meaningful. Sequences of exuberance are less consistent, with many of its early moments seeming to lack energy and spontaneity. Fortunately Act II, although shorter in length, becomes much more dramatically engaging, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion orchestrated with outstanding sensitivity and elegance. It is not often that a big musical touches us beyond the superficial, but the message of peace that it conveys from beginning to end, in different guises, speaks profoundly, and we can only respond accordingly.

www.fiddlerontherooftour.com

Review: The Sound Of Music (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 13 – Jan 17, 2015
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Book: Russel Crouse, Howard Lindsay
Director: Jeremy Sams
Cast: Johanna Allen, Lorraine Bayly, Eleanor Blythman, Du Toit Bredenkamp, Nakita Clarke, Savannah Clarke, Cameron Daddo, Jacqueline Dark, Philip Dodd, Louis Fontaine, Erica Giles, David James, Stefanie Jones, Amy Lehpamer, Dominica Matthews, Jude Padden-Row, Marina Prior, Madison Russo
Images by James Morgan

Theatre review
The Sound Of Music premièred on Broadway in 1959, which makes it a reasonable assumption that most of us had grown up with songs from the iconic musical, figuring prominently in each of our own musical education. Maria brought music to the Von Trapps, and also to lives of millions. Our familiarity with the songs in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece is quite unparalleled, and although some of the show’s dialogue has long become archaic, its power over our cultural consciousness is second to none.

This manifestation for an Australian touring production is a straightforward one that presents no surprises. The text is unchanged, and all the trappings of a commercial musical are delivered efficiently. Sets transform with military precision, lighting evolves endlessly to take us through every mood change, and the last note to every song decides whether or not its audience should applaud. Everything is thoroughly refined, and the experience is orchestrated to a measured and mechanical perfection, but a cast in live theatre of course, will always be susceptible to some variation, even in the most immovable of productions like this one.

In the role of Maria is Amy Lehpamer, who delivers an impossibly flawless rendition of one of the most popular musical characters of all time. There is no denying the fact that viewers will gauge any actor taking on the part against the legendary film version, but Lehpamer easily meets our expectations, with deeply impressive technical abilities and a presence so warm that every last punter in the nosebleed section cannot help but be won over. She is glorious from prologue to curtain call, with an effortlessness that only a true star of the stage can portray. Similarly fabulous is Jacqueline Dark, whose Mother Abbess is simultaneously commanding and endearing, memorable for her astoundingly powerful singing in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. Cameron Daddo’s vocals are thankfully adequate, and while not a scene-stealing performance, his work as Captain Georg von Trapp is often believable and surprisingly moving, aided by a cast of enchanting youngsters who play his children with irresistible cuteness and brilliant conviction.

The anti-Nazi story in The Sound Of Music provides a gravity that helps set it apart from the often excessively frivolous quality of its genre. It is ironic that the entirety of its very large cast is of Caucasian appearance, but the show’s message is unambiguous. We think about the meaning of freedom, and its primary importance in any life. We think about the magic that comes from great music and great art, and how our humanity cannot be divorced from the wonderful capacity of song that brings hope to the darkest of days. When things are not going well, we can find ourselves caged in by fear, but it is our human ability to imagine something better that gives us resilience and ingenuity. In our weakest moments, the simplest of lyrics will lift us up; “Follow ev’ry rainbow till you find your dream.”

www.soundofmusictour.com

Review: Cats (The Really Useful Group / Capitol Theatre)

catsVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Oct 30 – Nov 29, 2015
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe
Book: T.S. Eliot
Director: Trevor Nunn
Resident Director: Stephen Morgante
Cast: Daniel Assetta, Amy Berrisford, Madeline Cain, Jade Hui-Wen Coutts, Christopher Favaloro, Keanu Gonzalez, Delta Goodrem, Dominique Hamilton, Ross Hannaford, Ashleigh Hauschild, Sam Hooper, Thomas Johannson, Emily Keane, Sarah Kate Landy, Bree Langridge, Tobias Madden, Matt McFarlane, Holly Meegan, Samantha Morley, Brent Osborne, Josh Piterman, Taylor Scanlan, Stephanie Silcock, Jason Wasley, Patrick Whitbread

Theatre review
Cats first appeared in London in 1981, and remains one of the world’s longest running musicals. This Australian tour is based on last year’s West End revival by its original team, with minor updates that preserve its familiar charm, while taking the show into the twenty-first century. Cats has a distinct quietness that sets it apart from the bold and brash shows of today, where humour tends to be obvious and songs are unsubtle. We are transported back to the theatrical age of Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey, rediscovering that lost sophistication in sound and movement.

The emphasis on dance is its most glorious feature, and this energetic Australian cast executes all the show’s feline frolic with impressive athleticism, discipline, accuracy and flair. Christopher Favaloro’s turn as Mr. Mistoffelees is delightfully memorable, exceeding expectations by delivering technical excellence along with a superbly effervescent characterisation of the magical cat.

It is an exceptionally well rehearsed cast, and although vocal abilities can vary quite starkly depending on the level of dance required in roles, each performer is accomplished in their own right. Matt McFarlane as Munkustrap, the narrator and second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe, is the strongest all-rounder of the production, with a voice and physicality that has the necessary power to direct our attention at will, and a sex appeal that seems to transcend boundaries of species. The mainstream hit song “Memory” is a significant motif in the show, sung by Delta Goodrem, whose indisputable commitment to her role of Grizabella, complete with suitably raspy tones, almost delivers the goods. Goodrem’s portrayal of age and faded glory is not quite up to scratch, and her trouble with the lower registers of her song are clearly audible in spite of the pronounced reverb effect appearing quite abruptly. Nonetheless, her louder belting sections are crowd pleasing, and help make the production an unforgettable musical theatre debut for the pop star.

Frivolity will always be big business in entertainment. Masses go to musicals to forget their troubles, and for a short time, be transported and filled with wonderment. Cats is entirely fantasy, but its approach is dignified and at times, aloof. Some people will prefer dogs, but art must never aim to please everyone.

www.catsthemusical.com