Review: Cry-Baby (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jul 20 – Aug 19, 2018
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the John Waters film)
Songs: David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Brooke Almond, Hayden Baum, Christian Charisiou, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Bronte Florian, Alfie Gledhill, Aaron Gobby, Joel Granger, Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Amy Hack, Laura Murphy, Ashleigh Rubenach, Ksenia Zofi
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is 1950s Baltimore, in Maryland, USA, and the township is split into the straitlaced “squares” and their arch nemesis, the delinquent “drapes”. Cry-Baby is an Elvis-type drape singer who has won the heart of Allison, queen of the squares, for a tale of forbidden love and culture clashes, in the tradition of Romeo And Juliet, West Side Story, and Grease. Originally a 1990 film by the King of Bad Taste, John Waters, this 2007 musical is a spruced up, dumbed down version as though the squares have co-opted Cry-Baby, for a retell of the story in their own style and aesthetic. This is, essentially, John Waters for the mainstream.

An exceedingly sharp and polished production, designed by Isabel Hudson (set) and Mason Browne (costumes), Baltimore is on this occasion, turned into a dazzling candy-cane Disney theme park, where even the poor looks camera-ready for the pages of Vogue. Director Alexander Berlage proves himself adept at manufacturing atmosphere and energy for the stage, but is unable to find for the piece, any emotional or intellectual depth that will allow for a more substantial experience, beyond an appreciation of all its very enthusiastic display of light and froth.

Christian Charisiou and Ashleigh Rubenach lead the cast, both Ken-and-Barbie-perfect in all that they bring, complete with the exhilarating singing of very high notes, that we have come to expect of the genre. Most memorable is Laura Murphy, incredibly delightful as Lenora, the only subversive element of the show, gleefully representing the cult of Waters in exquisite form. Other standouts include Amy Hack who embodies an assertive libidinal power that reminds us of the show’s queer origins, and Blake Erickson who amps up the camp factor in all his multi-gendered parts, to our immense satisfaction.

When overzealous french kissing is the dirtiest thing in a show, we know that it has deviated far, far away from the John Waters milieu. It is true that we can be polite when making art, that there is no need for the crude and obscene to surface in everything we put on stage, but Waters’ devotees will encounter an air of sacrilege at the Cry-Baby musical that is perhaps unbearable.

For others however, it is a wonderful reprieve from the daily humdrum, of colour, movement and a fantastic pop sensibility, that champions the optimism and vitality of youth at its best. The younger we are, the easier it is to demolish attitudes of prejudice and hate. There is no question that the differences between tribes, drapes and squares and so forth, can be reconciled, when we realise that the amount we have in common are infinitely greater, than the things we dream up to keep us apart.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.laurenpetersdesign.com

Review: Gypsy (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 18 – Jun 30, 2018
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Blazey Best, Laura Bunting, Anthony Harkin, Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, Jessica Vickers, Jane Watt, Sophie Wright
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Probably the most well-known story about a stage mother, Gypsy is a highly-regarded biographical musical, that charts the early years of legendary American burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, with particular focus on her mother Rose’s overzealous efforts at attaining stardom for her two daughters. The show is a fascinating character study, but also thoroughly entertaining, with a structure that seems to include every ingredient necessary for a sure-fire hit.

The production, directed by Richard Carroll, is inviting and warm, especially sensitive in its depiction of family dynamics. The narrative is conveyed with emotion and depth, but some of Gypsy’s theatricality is lost in the realism that it cultivates; both its humour and drama can occasionally feel underplayed, perhaps too understated in approach for a form that honours all things larger than life.

Rose is very convincing here, as the “momager” with good intentions. Played by Blazey Best, her maternal qualities are irrefutable, but parts of the character that are nefarious and abhorrent, are softened as a result, and dramatic tensions never quite reach beyond the adequate. Laura Bunting impresses in Act II, as we watch the performer take little Louise through a breathtaking transformation, into the international sensation that was Gypsy Rose Lee. As the character begins to find her strength and power, we become accordingly captivated, relieved to experience a brighter side to the mournful tale. Supporting actor Jane Watt chews the scenery as Cratchitt and again as Tessie Tura, delivering some truly marvellous moments of joyful laughter, whilst demonstrating extraordinary comic ability and presence, in a very unexpected coupling of roles.

Also memorable is scenic design by Alicia Clements, romantically evocative of auditoriums from the early twentieth century, complete with ornamental proscenium arches and velvet curtains. Scene changes are impeccably executed by a very attentive and efficient team, headed by Cara Woods, the stage manager who rises to the challenge of a very technically involved show.

When successes come to bear, past transgressions tend to turn easily forgiven. It is true that Gypsy’s fame and fortune had come, partially, as a result of Rose’s unconscionable behaviour, but there must be no denying the depravity of her ways. The cliché that “everything happens for a reason” is useful in helping people move forward, and although there is no virtue quite as awe-inspiring as forgiveness, Rose should only be seen as a villain, whether or not one is able to perceive her redeeming features. Parents are simply never allowed to violate the sanctity and responsibility, of nurturing and protecting their offspring, no matter what riches are at stake. Contemporary parallels to the Gypsy story abound, with the Kardashians, Jenners and Hadids currently most conspicuous. It can seem a fine line between love and exploitation, but the matter of parenting has no room for ambiguity.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Carmen, Live Or Dead (Oriel Entertainment Group)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 28 – May 13, 2018
Music & Lyrics: iOTA
Book: Craig Harwood
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Natalie Gamsu, Stefanie Jones, Andrew Kroenert
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It is true that Frida Kahlo had had an affair with Soviet politician Leon Trotsky, but it is entirely fictional that a lovechild was born as a result of that brief relationship. Nonetheless, Craig Harwood’s vividly imagined Carmen, Live Or Dead almost has us believing in its fantasy, that Kahlo’s offspring does exist, and that Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich had once lived in Australia.

It is an appealing fabrication; the idea that Kahlo’s magnificence lives on beyond her legendary paintings, and Harwood does create a persona that is as colourful and spirited as any fan could wish for, even if the writer’s plot structure has a tendency to be unnecessarily convoluted. Prominent in the presentation, are eight original songs by iOTA, all of them charming, often very quirky in style, and thankfully not too derivative of the Broadway genre.

Visually sumptuous, the production features a whimsical set, exquisitely decorated and painted by designer Dann Barber, evoking quintessential Mexican beauty, alongside enchanting imagery that pays tribute to the art of Kahlo. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are sensual and alluring, providing a sensation of transcendence that convincingly elevates the theatrical experience, whilst retaining its delicious and unique aura of street-smart griminess.

Director Shaun Rennie manufactures a series of captivating moods, allowing every scene to intrigue, with moments of visceral engagement that leave an impression. Performer Natalie Gamsu is a warm presence who shines in each song, but the character being portrayed does not always feel authentic; her true emotions are elusive and the connections we make can feel tentative. Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert provide musical accompaniment, as well as actorly support, both accomplished with their contributions, for a show memorable for the surprising effectiveness of its restrained approach to instrumentation.

Carmen announces her impending death early in the show, inviting us to partake in flashback summations of her life and times, that constitute this piece of musical theatre. We are also inspired to consider our own deaths, and how our individual stories will eventually be told. Footprints will fade, but nothing matters more than how much good we are able to leave behind.

www.carmenliveordead.com

5 Questions with Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert

Stefanie Jones

Andrew Kroenert: Who do you think should have a fictional lovechild?
Stefanie Jones: Of all our most loved and most famous cultural icons, a child between Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio (once they’d separated) would have been pretty cool. She would have made a great mother, and we know how much he loved her. On top of all that, what a gene pool! So all the right ingredients, I say.

If it were the last day of your life, how would you spend it?
Without a doubt, Brisbane. My parents created the most beautiful family home there for us to grow up in, with an outdoor terrace and a pool surrounded by palm trees to watch the sun go down over. Being able to sit there with a glass of wine in my hand, with my mother’s cooking on the table and surrounded by family and friends would be absolutely perfect.

If you could play any role of the opposite gender, what would it be?
The Emcee in Cabaret would be oodles of fun! He is confused, in some ways debased, yet he is intelligent and has that rare ability to turn tragedy into satire / comedy. Cabaret is a very smart, important and relevant story so any role in that show would be a dream and also a great way to continue talking about our political and social history.

Any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
No, although I wish I had a few to help with my nerves sometimes! Mainly I just like to not feel rushed, to have the time to check in with fellow cast mates and to get ready at a comfortable pace, unlike Andrew Kroenert.

If you could have written any pop song, what would it be?
‘Never Give Up On The Good Times’ by The Spice Girls. It just came to me, and I’m sold on this choice.

Andrew Kroenert

Who do you think should have a fictional lovechild?
Doesn’t everyone want Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to have a ridiculously funny, quirky (and most likely wonderfully camp) little boy? He would be absolute heaven.

If it was the last day of your life, how would you spend it?
Last day on earth I would probably host a BBQ at my house with all my family during the day, hang out with the nephews and have a few beers with my siblings and parents. Then I’d send them home and have a quiet evening with my partner, Jess. Maybe split a bottle of wine, play some cards listen to all my favourite music.

If you could play any role of the opposite gender, what would it be?
I think it would be super fun to play Cathy in The Last Five Years. It would be interesting to see how the themes and people’s feelings towards those characters would hold were they played by members of the opposite sex.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I don’t have any pre-show rituals but I’m never in costume before the 5 minute call, in fact I try to stay out of costume for as long as possible before a show starts! And I’ll always have a coffee before a show.

If you could acquire any one skill to add to the strings of your bow, what would it be?
I would like to be fluent in another language. Having just been to Mexico currently that language is Spanish although I have long wished to be fluent in French.

Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert can be seen in Carmen, Live Or Dead , by Craig Harwood and iOTA.
Dates: 28 Apr – 6 May, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: In The Heights (Hayes Theatre / Blue Saint Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 16 – Apr 15, 2018
Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book: Quiara Alegria Hudes
Director: Luke Joslin
Cast: Marty Alix, Libby Asciak, Ana Maria Belo, Samantha Bruzzese, Will Centurion, Margi de Ferranti, Ryan Gonzalez, Monique Montez, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji, Alexander Palacio, Michelle Rozario, Luisa Scrofani, Stephen Tannos, Richard Valdez, Olivia Vasquez
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
At the far north of Manhattan lies the Washington Heights neighbourhood, populated by a predominantly Dominican-American community, living and pursuing the American Dream. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical In The Heights appeared in 2005, featuring an almost entirely Latinx cast of characters, with music heavily influenced by styles and rhythms of Latin America, along with a generous measure of Miranda’s now signature incorporation of rap. It is a story of aspiration and struggle, with the immigrant experience placed respectfully, at its centre. Although culturally specific in its explorations, In The Heights is broad in appeal, and proves to be readily received by audiences in Australia, where an ascendant history of migration has shaped the identities of us all.

Musical Director Lucy Bermingham’s marvellous interpretation of the score, brings us a vitality rarely encountered at our theatres. Exciting, soulful and wonderfully refreshing, the show is an unequivocal treat for the ears. A formidably well-rehearsed band plays the work with astonishing brilliance; contributions by drummer Emma Ford and percussionist Alysa Portelli are particularly invaluable in sweeping us away from our dreary humdrum. Choreography by Amy Campbell is ferociously riveting. Her use of space and bodies, has us dazzled and thrilled, and dancers Samantha Bruzzese and Michelle Rozario are simply unforgettable with their athletic glamour.

Ryan Gonzalez is the powerhouse leading man, impressive at all the facets required of a musical performer. His Usnavi is a warm, charismatic and persuasive character, whose narrative moves us purely because of the talents displayed on stage by Gonzalez. Whether singing, rapping, dancing or acting, we devour all that he offers up so thoroughly flawlessly. Also very successful are Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji and Luisa Scrofani, both strong in voice and presence, spectacular in their respective roles. Marty Alix and Richard Valdez leave excellent impressions in smaller parts, with musical and comic abilities clearly eclipsing the actual scope of what had been stipulated. Director Luke Joslin’s achievements with In The Heights are rich and very gratifying. Together with an accomplished team of designers, he has brought us a big, brash musical that stands for something more than entertainment.

Art has the capacity to talk about power in our worlds, with absolute truth and honesty. The predicament of the underprivileged must be conveyed to all, especially to those who do not wish to hear it. The nature of how we structure communities, in the daily expansion of what we consider to be meritorious, must always be questioned, and within that, the problem of how we exclude and exploit peoples, must be continually interrogated. We can no longer hold on to ignorant conceptions of living in stagnant societies. In this new era of advanced technology and accelerating warfare, the movement of people will only intensify, and our ability to extend justice and equity is the greatest test to our humanity.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.bluesaint.com.au

5 Questions with Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy

Madison McKoy: How did you come to be involved in The View Upstairs?
Markesha McCoy: I flew to Sydney to be a part of Trevor Ashley’s new panto The Bodybag. It was a hilarious parody based off of the cult classic The Bodyguard. One of the producers for The View Upstairs, Gus Murray, played our strapping bodyguard and asked me if I wanted to stick around and be a part of the show. I’m so glad he did because I’m having an amazing time.

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life?
Teaching the audience about the tragic events that took place and the inequality we still face today while still making them laugh as well.

How is your character similar to and/or different from you?
We are very similar. We both love hard but keep a stone cold face. Hard to trust but once we do, we’ll do anything for anyone we’ve brought into our lives. The only difference I feel we have is our sexual preference haha.

Without giving anything away, what is your favourite line of dialogue from the show?
“I’m not just a basic bitch, another wannabe nouveau riche tipping toward a breakdown.”

If you had a magic wand, what role/show would you do next?
Aida in Aida.

Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy: What’s your favourite colour?
Madison McKoy: My fave colour is purple. Yellow is a close second.

If you could have dinner with three of your favourite celebrities, dead or alive, who would it be?
Janet Jackson: I’ve loved her music and performance since primary school.
Barak Obama: I’d love to chat with him about life in general.
Suzanne Vega: The lyrics and melodies to her folk-style music are wonderful. I was turned on to her by a mate back in the 80s. Actually, we probably wouldn’t eat. We’d just sing. 🙂

What has been your favourite role to play?
I played Jim in the musical Big River some years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s def a role I’d like to play again.

So you’re originally from America, whats something you miss from the States?
Yes. I’m originally from North Carolina and migrated to Australia in 1994. My family is the main thing I miss. I used to miss Oreo biscuits, I mean, cookies but you can get them in Oz these days. When I first arrived, they were only available in gourmet food stores. Yes, I actually paid $15.00 for a bag of Oreos, ha ha ha.

What can you learn from your character Willie in The View Upstairs?
Willie is a man of the world. He’s definitely seen some things! Some of his top advice is to keep living, keep trying to better yourself, and be kind to others.

Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy can be seen in The View Upstairs the musical.
Dates: 8 Feb – 11 Mar, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 11, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Max Vernon
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy, Stephen Madsen
Image by John McCrae

Theatre review
Wes is an obnoxious brat, a twenty-something social media star escaping New York, for the less competitive town of New Orleans. The View Upstairs by Max Vernon imagines a hallucinatory haze, in which our protagonist encounters the inhabitants of a local gay bar circa 1973. It is a musical in which the gay Millennial travels over time and space to meet his cultural forebears, for historical lessons about those whose shoulders he stands on. In 2018 we have finally arrived at a time, when many young queers of Western civilisations are oblivious to the arduous journey required, to attain our current state of equality and tolerance. Wes takes things for granted and lives a reckless life, until he comes face to face with stories he never knew would resonate at such depth.

The View Upstairs is an undoubtedly well-meaning piece of writing, with beautiful sentimentality and a pervasive warmth, but its songs and narrative structure bear a derivative quality that is less than inspiring. Director Shaun Rennie focuses cleverly, on bringing heart and soul to the production, keeping us emotionally engaged in spite of the meandering, lacklustre plot. Isabel Hudson’s colourful set design is appropriately humorous; effective in its recollection of a period remembered for being less than aesthetically sophisticated, but infinitely more genuine in the way communities interact.

A charming cast performs the show, impressively well-rehearsed and with great ardour. Leading man Henry Brett is eminently convincing as Wes, bringing a wonderful intensity to the more dramatic scenes, and consistently bowling us over with some truly sensational singing. Similarly gifted is Markesha McCoy, whose voice is capable of bringing any house down, and on this occasion, we are grateful to be audience to her magnificence. Martelle Hammer and David Hooley are memorable for contributing a dimension of vulnerability to the story, both striking in the authenticity they deliver through their portrayals of the underclass.

Without the knowledge of how things have come to be, so much of daily life can seem meaningless. The immense achievements of the gay rights movement are enjoyed by so many of us in the West today, but it is becoming increasingly evident, that those who benefit most, are least aware of the sacrifices required to arrive at this point of evolution. LGBTQI elders had all wished for brighter futures, but few had imagined that with the eradication of prejudice, comes the blind ignorance of entitlement. The best qualities of humanity, whether compassion, resilience or ingenuity, are often derived from great adversity. When life becomes easy for our children, we have to worry about the virtues they fail to cultivate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au