5 Questions with Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte

Bert LaBonte

Marny McQueen: What are the best things about your home town, Geelong?
Bert LaBonte: Being so close to the water, but far enough away from the city.

In what ways do your sons take after you?
Oh look, they’re very sociable and blood cheeky.

Is your wife Amanda happy to be rid of you ¾ of the year while you are on tour?
I can safely say NO! But we make it work when it happens. We call it Team LaBonte!

Which have you been most proud of in your entire performing life?
I’d probably say Foley from An Officer And A Gentleman because I created the role in an original musical. Oh, and I might’ve won a few awards for it too.

What advice would you give other actors regarding working with a diva like me?
Just smile, breathe and think of home time.

Marney McQueen

Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte: Other than me, which other leading man/men have you found inspirational to work with?
Marney McQueen: Tony Sheldon in Priscilla, he never missed a show, and even in rehearsals he always gave it 150%. I loved working with Andrew McFarlane, mostly because I was able to live out a childhood crush developed over many years of Playschool watching, and I learned many lessons about making sure you enjoy yourself while you are working from Bob Hornery. But my most inspirational leading man was the incomparable Garry MacDonald. In my comedy shows I work alongside an exceptional theatrical animal, Mark Jones, who I could not do cabaret without.

What is your favourite role you’ve played in your career to date?
At school, John Proctor in The Crucible. I went to an all girls’ school.

How do you find being a mum with little ones in this industry helps you as a performer?
It certainly helps you focus in your job while you are at work, you become more efficient. Although in this show you can tap into the immense pool of emotions that little people unleash within you.

If you weren’t a performer what would you be doing with your life?
I love this question. I studied commerce at the University of Melbourne, but I don’t think I would’ve pursued a career in that department. I think I’d be a real estate agent, which is basically being an actor, yeah?

What’s your favourite thing to do away from work?
Go swimming at the Coogee Women’s Pool.

Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen can both be seen in Dream Lover the musical.
Dates: from 22 September, 2016
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

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.”


Review: Anything Goes (Opera Australia / Gordon Frost Organisation)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 5 – Oct 11, 2015
Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Book: Guy Bolton & P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, Timothy Crouse, John Weidman
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Carmen Duncan, Bartholomew John, Wayne Scott Kermond, Debora Krizak, Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Caroline O’Connor, Alex Rathgeber
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Cole Porter’s songs are amongst the most familiar in the Western world, and Anything Goes boasts a whole raft of evergreen hits, all taking pride of place in the musical. Originally staged in 1934, the show has been revived many times, along with film versions in 1936 and 1956 and a television special in 1954. Porter’s music is unquestionably delightful and quite irresistible. The wit of his lyrics, and catchiness of his melodies were perfect for stage and screen during his active years from the 1920’s until his final TV score in 1958 for Aladdin. This latest rendering of Anything Goes is a nostalgic gem that brings back all that is wonderful of the era, and adapts it to contemporary tastes. Direction by Dean Bryant is snappy and bold, but the production is always mindful of the conservative American climate that it re-enacts and never allows itself to get vulgar, although moments of bawdy humour are plentiful and extremely well-received. Where there are forbidden fruits, the idea of “anything goes” can take hold anywhere, and Bryant’s less is more approach pays off. By being only slightly naughty, he makes us laugh from beginning to end, tapping into a sense of old-fashioned cheekiness that still works.

Anything Goes features an ensemble cast, with many small (and very lightweight) narratives held together by the conceit of a classic cruise liner setting. We do not usually expect definitive stars for this variety of show, but Caroline O’Connor’s presence clearly dominates. Her skill, energy and seasoned pizazz, together with supreme confidence and splendid comic timing, ensures that her talent is a cut above the rest and that her every appearance jolts the crowd into spasms of irrepressible excitement. Also fantastic are the young lovebirds, Claire Lyon and Alex Rathgeber, both with impeccable voices beautifully suited to the genre, and each with physical disciplines that let the depiction of their characters be believable, charming, and terribly romantic. Their rendition of De-Lovely is a show-stopper with demanding choreography by Andrew Hallsworth executed with tremendous flair and exquisite sentimentality, bringing to the show a sophistication that exceeds all expectations. Supporting players are effective comedians but less gratifying in their respective musical numbers, most of which appear in Act II, and causing an unfortunate dip in energy as the show attempts to reach its climatic conclusion.

Designers of the show must be lauded for a lavish production that looks outstanding in its refinement and elegance. Even though visual elements are probably derivative and significantly inspired by previous incarnations, costumes by Dale Ferguson are a treat to behold and a genuine highlight. Ferguson’s set, along with Matt Scott’s lights, are as dynamic and intelligent as they come. Every movement on stage occurs flawlessly, and our eyes shift effortlessly under the spell of their technical wizardry. Placement of the orchestra in the elevated centre stage is a genius touch that recalls big band formations of the past, and contributes to a wonderful acoustic dimension impressively balanced by Michael Waters on sound design.

The title might be Anything Goes, but nothing is left to chance. There is little logic in the stories and characters we see (and its occasional racial humour will undeniably offend some), but everything on the stage is measured to utmost precision. It is professional theatre at its strongest, and will provide benchmarks on many aspects of performing arts, in Australia and worldwide. Musicals are not the best at advancing a society’s politics and civilisation, and it rarely reveals rare truths of the human condition, but a work of this standard will inspire greatness in many forms. A night of sheer entertainment might not move mountains, but where we can find meaning, is the way it helps us see that mere mortals are the ones to make miracles happen.


Review: Legends! (Gordon Frost / Theatre Royal)

781198-f461dc9e-0993-11e5-8dc7-b0c4f7af3b6c[1]Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Jun 18 – Jul 5, 2015
Playwright: James Kirkwood
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Cast: Maxwell Caulfield, David Denis, Leah Howard, Phillip Lowe, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills

Theatre review
James Kirkwood’s 1987 comedy Legends! is about screen sirens wrestling with the fact that time can be unkind, and that parts of us are considered over-the-hill before we are ready to acknowledge their demise. The script is only 28 years old, but it feels more dated than the characters it portrays. Many of the jokes are tired, and its inclusion of African-Americans only as servants and strippers is clearly inappropriate for today’s milieu. All the personalities are simplistic, and although we recognise them on the level of stereotypes, they are not affecting beyond anything archaic and predictable.

Direction of the work by Christopher Renshaw does not seek to invent a new sense of humour in order to update the tone and feel of the text, but his show is nevertheless, tightly paced and energetic. The plot is relayed with clarity and enthusiasm, but its lack of wit is unable to be disguised. It must be noted though, that Justin Nardella’s achievements as designer on the production is remarkable, with set and costumes in particular, conveying a striking glamour that is quite captivating.

Performances by the show’s stars, Hayley and Juliet Mills, are polished and engaging. Their interpretation of dueling has-beens at the centre of the play is not wicked enough for the show to be much more than amusing, but we are impressed by the thoroughness of their professionalism in what is evidently a very well-rehearsed performance. The Mills sisters have gestures and voices that demonstrate their admirable stage expertise, and even though the story being told is not filled with passion, the duo’s dedication and enjoyment of their art are lovely to behold. Also exuberant are supporting actors Leah Howard and David Denis, who contribute significant luster to a very conventional production. Their impulsive and lively approach provides buoyancy to an otherwise contrived style of presentation.

Legends! is an old-fashioned comedy, which is not to say that it will not find an audience. It holds appeal for certain cultural segments, but is perhaps not a popular choice for the rest of us. What is it that makes people laugh is never a certainty, and the rules are never stable. Time and space, along with humour, are constantly in flux, and what was once hilarious can now be tedious. Sylvia and Leatrice might no longer be relevant to today’s movie-going public, but their voice should still persist, even just to tide with the sands of time in anticipation of trends and tastes to return.


Review: Once (The Gordon Frost Organisation / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Princess Theatre (Melbourne VIC), from Oct 1, 2014
Playwright: Enda Walsh (based on film by John Carney)
Music & Lyrics: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Director: John Tiffany
Cast: Tom Parsons, Madeleine Jones, Anton Berezin, Ben Brown, Gerard Carroll, Colin Dean, Brent Hill, Keegan Joyce, Amy Lehpamer, Jane Patterson, Greg Stone, Susan-ann Walker,
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Once is probably not the first musical that makes understatement its central intention, but it is certainly the most celebrated of the kind. Enda Walsh’s quietly sentimental work is not ambitious in a conventional sense. There are no stunning set changes or breathtaking costumes, nobody dies and no predictable resurrections occur. Instead, it is determined to find poignancy and emotional resonance through story, characters and songs. There is a distinct and appealing simplicity to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s musical compositions that make an impact in the absence of ostentatious spectacle, and Walsh’s ability to create affable yet colourful personalities make for a show that is powerfully endearing.

Direction by John Tiffany is sensitive to the melancholic sensibilities of the work, although the presentation of a large scale production in muted tones is sometimes clearly challenging, especially in the few, but important, scenes where music acquiesces to dialogue. An inordinate amount of versatility is required of the performers, including the ability to play instruments (accompaniment is provided by the cast itself) and in the case of leading man Tom Parsons who is a highly impressive vocalist, but a less compelling actor, several crucial sequences of emotional gravity tend to feel weaker when he communicates without the aid of music. His counterpart Madeleine Jones is more evenly talented, and she executes comedic aspects with an elegant flair. Tiffany handles lighthearted moments brilliantly, allowing an intimate connection with its audience that elevates the musical to something quite visceral, and spiritual.

The humorous role of Billy is played by Colin Dean who has the kind of eclipsing presence that wins our hearts with minimum effort. His authenticity is compelling to watch, and the confidence he displays gives his work an uplifting quality. Also memorable is Amy Lehpamer as the fiery Czech, Reza. Lehpamer is a quadruple threat who inspires with proficiencies in singing, dancing, acting and on the violin. Her comic timing is a marvel, and even though the supporting role is a small one, the vibrant performer finds opportunities to steal the limelight with delightful results.

The production is finely balanced, relying heavily on the shifting elements of live performance on each night to make the experience rewarding, leaving little room for complacency. The silences in the show mean that imperfections can become glaring, even if they are few and far between. Choreography by Steven Hoggett is effective and beautiful at times, but also awkward and overdone in certain numbers. The cast moves well, but when gestures become elaborate, the performers tend to appear uncomfortable. The story of Once talks about art and aspiration, dreams and conviction, and the way life can be designed by one’s own imagination. It swims against the tide with an unusual determinedness and audacity, to create something original, moving and thoroughly surprising.