Review: Love And Death And An American Guitar (Highway Run Productions)

highwayrunVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jun 4 – 6, 2014
Playwright: Toby Francis
Director: Neil Gooding
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Toby Francis, Noni McCallum, Andrew Worboys

Theatre review
Jim Steinman is a living American rock legend. Best known for power ballads made famous by the likes of Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply and Celine Dion, his music is deeply ingrained into pop culture the world over. Like many song writers responsible for the most popular music ever recorded, his fame has never matched those who are centre stage. Toby Francis’ new script is mainly a monologue that incorporates the cabaret format. He performs it with an accompanist, along with a support vocalist who provides a female voice for several numbers. The story gives us some background into Steinman’s work and subsequent estrangement with Meatloaf, then goes on to an imagined depiction of Steinman pitching to us, an idea for a rock opera. Neverland was the precursor to Steinman’s seminal Bat Out Of Hell, but Francis’ vision is assembled like a concerto of greatest hits.

The song list is selected wisely, with many of Steinman’s crowd-pleasers included. Francis is on stage, dressed in denim, wielding a guitar and a microphone stand. On his right is musical director Andrew Worboys on a grand piano. It seems an awkward arrangement, but the rock cabaret works. The glam quality in Steinman’s songs provide a romantic flamboyance that makes sense for the context. Pre-programmed backing tracks give the songs their arena style volume, but all vocals are sung live. There is no doubt that the strongest element of Love And Death And An American Guitar is its standard of singing. The notes that emerge from Francis and his female counterpart Noni McCallum’s voices are astounding. One of the great joys of live performance is to be in the presence of superhuman talent, and these singers’ abilities are beyond what any combination of iPod and earphones can encapsulate. Also accomplished is Francis’ storytelling and the script he has prepared for the show. There is a beautiful lyricism to his writing, although the story does lack vividness at times. His skills as an actor are persuasive enough for the production, but the command over his physicality requires training.

Much as Steinman is one of the greatest song writers ever to surface, he does not have the makings of a rock god. Successful rock stars lend style, attitude and personality to the stage. They need to resonate sexuality, danger, confidence and power. In his show, Francis is positioned somewhere between cabaret, musical theatre and rock. He has a vulnerability that is alluring, but there is a politeness that belongs to the more formal world of musicals. The songs belong to stadiums that seat thousands, but Love And Death And An American Guitar translates them for a much smaller venue, and an entirely different genre of show. Francis sheds new light on these classic tunes, allowing their many fans to fall in love all over again. To borrow from the man himself, “it’s so hard to resist and it’s all coming back…” |

5 Questions with Toby Francis

tobyfrancisWhat is your favourite swear word?
The one I use the most is “fuck” so I should probably say that’s my favourite by default but because I get to choose I’d say my favourites are “dickhead” and “some bastard” because they always make me laugh. Especially when used like this, “Why don’t you like Bill?” “He’s a fuckin’ dickhead.” And, “Who stole your car Grandma?” “Some bastard.” Cracks me the fuck up.

What are you wearing?
A white t-shirt with Johnny Cash on it that my sister-in-law got me from Bear Hug and blue denim jeans that I got for myself from Jeans West because they were on sale. I’m so white.

What is love?
Work. I’ve been with my partner for 9 years and it’s been my experience that love is work. And not in a bad way. In a totally good way, in the way love is not only an attraction or need to be around someone and care for them but it’s also a commitment to them that says even when we are at our worst, when we are really at each other because of whatever reason, I will work and try to make it better. I will still be here and I’m not going to walk away because it’s tough right now. I think that once that feeling goes, that’s when the love is gone.

Also, I have a question for you Suzy Goes See, how many people answer this question with “baby, don’t hurt me”? I’m hoping it’s a million percent of people. (Thanks for asking this Toby, because it isn’t far from a million percent. Not all creative people are original thinkers, just quietly. – Suzy x)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
David Campbell sings John Bucchino at The Hayes. I’m incredibly biased but I give it 5 stars. The whole show is fabulous, the music, the vocals, the everything. The conversation has a real ease to it, you get comfortable in that room very quickly then it’s just a matter of sitting back and enjoying it. It’s really quite special.

Is your new show going to be any good?
No. It’s mostly just me describing photos of Jim Steinman I’ve seen on the internet. Don’t see it… But actually, I’m really proud of it. It’s different to anything I done before in that I’m playing the character of Jim, I’m not just being myself. I’ve spent more time with this script than I have on any of my previous shows really working through it with loads of input from Neil Gooding, Lauren Peters, and Andrew Worboys. And everyone is so good at what they are doing on this show, Lauren’s design is incredible, she basically said to me, “I know what this show should look like so I’m going to go away and create some stuff and don’t bother me, ok?” And then she did and it was perfect. Neil’s really got a strong grasp of the show I wanted to create and he’s helped keep everything on track and shape it into a cohesive show. And, of course, Andrew Worboy’s arrangements and Musical Direction is incomparable. He has such a distinct style but at the same time, he can take the music anywhere. The work he is doing on this show, and that he did on Sweet Charity and Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You, is mind-blowing to me. I feel incredibly lucky to have these people want to work on this show with me. But yes, I think it’s going to be good. More than I’m probably allowed to admit in public.

Toby Francis is starring in Love And Death And An American Guitar, part of Hayes Theatre’s Cabaret Season 2014.
Show dates: 4, 5, 6 Jul 2014
Show venue: Hayes Theatre Co

Review: O.C. Diva (Hayes Theatre Co)

hilarycole1Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jun 15 – 29, 2014
Directors: Hilary Cole, Jay James-Moody
Musical Director: Steven Kreamer
Cast: Hilary Cole

Theatre review
Hilary Cole’s cabaret show takes on the familiar structure of a singer with a microphone, and her musical director on piano. The format works well for Cole, whose voice is an absolute delight, and her ability to convey clear stories and emotions through song demonstrates real talent. As is customary, the song list is composed mostly of familiar standards, but unexpected twists are introduced for added dimension as well as comic effect. Blondie’s 1979 hit “One Way Or Another” gets a surprising mash up treatment with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phanton Of The Opera”, delivering laughs as well as an impressive opportunity to showcase Cole’s musical flair and her musical director Steven Kreamer’s prowess as an accompanist. There is also a one-woman “duet” with Cole being joined by her own impersonation of Bernadette Peters, that illustrates her admiration for the Broadway superstar, and reveals an unexpected versatility.

Direction of Cole’s performance is effective in the comic sections. Her punchlines are subtle but defined, and the jokes are well written. The young performer’s level of confidence is still in teething stages, but she manages to connect well in the venue’s intimate setting. Cole does fidget and stroll around excessively, and her eyes often withdraw into an introspective downward glance, but her passion for the stage is vibrant and infectious. There is a significant portion of the show that looks back at Cole’s experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. The performance becomes vulnerable and truthful, but also overly dark and depressing. Balance is lost here, and one is reminded of the work of Sandra Bernhard and Liza Minnelli where melancholic humour is retained when dealing with bleaker subject matter. Sadness does have a place in the cabaret, but a greater sense of show needs to be applied.

Cole is a beautiful performer, both physically and vocally. She is also a quirky personality, which justifies the choice for a show that is slightly unorthodox in tone. Ultimately, O.C. Diva‘s most memorable moments involve Cole’s singing, which proves to be much closer to perfection than she believes it to be. After divulging her anxieties about personal deficiencies, the show ends at a point of catharsis where she confesses the need for trust. It is evident to all in the audience that she can certainly rely on her talents to take her very far indeed.

5 Questions with Hilary Cole

hilarycoleWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck because it can go before or after any word and always makes sense.

What are you wearing?
Staple cold weather gear. X-Tall super thick stockings, socks, brown boots, a long sleeved dress and my favourite leather jacket (It’s made from off cuts of the meat industry, but still I’m a terrible vegetarian). I also just noticed I still have my aviators on because you can never be too careful, the UV lights in this artificially lit shopping centre are pretty dangerous…

What is love?
The deepest kind of obsession.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was Violet on Broadway and it was beyond brilliant. I’m gonna give it 4.5 stars, just a tiny notch down from Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill which I’d give a 5. Perfection.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Hah! What a fantastic question. Yes it is. (Gotta be confident in this industry right?) It’s completely original and I think it presents these songs and stories in a way people probably haven’t seen before. It’s my first go at cabaret so I’m trying to be really truthful, unashamed and hopefully entertaining. Because it’s about me I don’t have the luxury that I usually do of hiding behind a character, which is scary as heck but it means that the audience will get a fair chunk of my soul each night.

Hilary Cole is starring in O.C. Diva, part of Hayes Theatre’s Cabaret Season 2014.
Show dates: 15, 22, 29 Jun 2014
Show venue: Hayes Theatre Co