Review: Aspects Of Love (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 30, 2018
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber (based on the novella by David Garnett)
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black, Charles Hart
Director: Andrew J. Bevis
Cast: Finn Alexander, Hugh Barrington, Caitlin Berry, Ava Carmont, Annelise Hall, Christopher Hamilton, Jonathan Hickey, David Hooley, Stefanie Jones, Megan Kozak, Wendy Lee Purdy, Michaela Leisk, Matthew Manahan, Sam Marques, Grant Smith
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Rose and Alex have an unconventional romance, with each other as constants, but also involving several other people who weave through over the years, to test traditionally held notions of love. David Garnett’s 1955 novella Aspects Of Love is a seductive work, with intentions for a refreshed sense of modernity, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s clumsy adaptation turns the story into an absurd one, with abrupt renderings that in effect, ridicule its characters and alienate its audience. The opening song “Love Changes Everything”, a legitimate hit from the composer’s heyday, is characteristically schmaltzy, but other tunes are even less appealing, in a show that disappoints from the very beginning.

Although unable to surmount the astonishingly poor writing, this production, directed by Andrew J. Bevis, is assembled with an admirable polish. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Steven Smith’s set design are particularly charming, with John Rayment’s lights helping to provide a visual sophistication to the bewildering goings on. Performers are similarly accomplished, with leading lady Caitlin Berry introducing a high level of professionalism as Rose, to keep us secure in her unwavering and impeccable stage savvy. Alex is played by Jonathan Hickey, convincing as the 17-year-old ingénue, but who gradually loses his grip on the material as the role progresses into maturity. Stefanie Jones is memorable as Giulietta, spirited and alluring in a role that otherwise makes little sense.

At the heart of Aspects Of Love is a wonderful tale that challenges the way we look at our world. Its women are free, able to fall without explanation, time and time again, for friends and lovers all through their lives. They experience marriage, but remain unencumbered. Rose chooses the right husband, who helps her grow beyond the prescribed and parochial, never ceasing to flourish, forever expanding, in both professional and personal terms. The musical however, fails to encapsulate that majesty, instead it deflates and diminishes, with an insistence that all should yield to a perspective that is ultimately pedestrian, and incapable of inspiration.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Evie May (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 3, 2018
Book & Lyrics: Hugo Chiarella
Music & Lyrics: Naomi Livingston
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Amanda Harrison, Loren Hunter, Keegan Joyce, Tim Draxl, Jo Turner, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Nik Damianakis

Theatre review
In Hugo Chiarella and Naomi Livingston’s musical Evie May, a queer woman from early last century takes centre stage, to tell a story of lost loves against a backdrop of bittersweet nostalgia. We watch as our protagonist’s star rises, revelling in her achievements as an illustrious vaudeville performer, but also mournful of the sacrifices demanded of her, in a world that simply would not allow a woman to be her true self. Evie May is a strong work, beautifully imagined and executed with admirable integrity. Its narrative is intelligently constructed, with songs that are memorable yet unusually tasteful.

The show feels somewhat anomalous. In an industry that seems to thrive on relentless exhilaration, the languid melancholy of Evie May is paradoxically refreshing, sustained by a palpable desire to authentically represent a woman genius from our recent past. Director Kate Champion’s approach is elegant, often understated, and although visually underwhelming, her show is ultimately a moving one, profound in the messages it is able to convey. The characters come from a different time, but they all exist to impart something meaningful, and valuable, to how we see ourselves, then and now.

Within a no frills set up, the cast prove themselves more than proficient, at a lot of heavy lifting. The ingenue version of Evie, is played by bona fide triple-threat Loren Hunter, whose powerful acting and mesmerising dulcet tones, has us hopelessly engrossed in her character’s captivating melodrama. Amanda Harrison brings star quality to Evie at her early retirement age, a confident presence, thoroughly reliable as the production’s heart and soul, on which all the action anchors. Love interest June is played by a very delightful Bishanyia Vincent, effervescent as flamboyant showgirl and deeply poignant as the one who got away. Vincent is equally persuasive in the role of Margaret, Evie’s sister, a difficult personality made worthy of compassion by the actor’s detailed rendering.

It is convenient to think that the worst of our oppression as LGBTQ women are over, but Evie May’s story is not just a relic of yesteryear. The compromises we have to make, in order to succeed, or simply to survive, continue to be unreasonable and unjust. It is a modern Australia, but we must not live in the delusion that the straight white man has relinquished his position as top dog. Until our girls can walk into any space they choose, there is still much to fight for.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.newmusicalsaustralia.com.au

Review: She Loves Me (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Aug 24 – Sep 15, 2018
Book: Joe Masteroff
Music: Jerry Bock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Director: Erin James
Cast: Caitlin Berry, Zoe Gertz, Joel Granger, Jay James-Moody, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Kurt Phelan, Suzanne Steele, Georgina Walker, Rowan Witt
Images by Noni Carroll
Theatre review
Balash and Nowack have been exchanging anonymous love letters, unaware that they are colleagues, both working at the same cosmetics store. Based on Miklós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie, the musical She Loves Me first appeared 1963 on Broadway, and although a terribly old-fashioned story, its songs are utterly and eternally charming, still able to delight audiences today. Its characters are perhaps no longer believable, and they present little that we can relate to, but the show would most certainly appeal to those seeking a healthy dose of nostalgia in their entertainment.

Musical direction for this revival, is executed wonderfully by Steven Kreamer, who breathes new ebullient life into these half-century-old songs. His team of musicians, along with David Grigg’s sound design, deliver for our ears, an unexpectedly rich and exciting experience. Choreography by Leslie Bell, too, is enchanting, bringing to the stage a sense of extravagance that consistently fascinates our senses.

Much of the comedy in She Loves Me is outdated, but several big laughs are had when supporting player Jay James-Moody occupies centre stage; his comic inventiveness is an absolute godsend. Caitlin Berry and Rowan Witt are the leads, both excellent singers, with strong presences that manage to sustain our attention, even when the story wanes. Director Erin James keeps the production active and energetic, but the plot’s flimsiness seems impossible to rectify.

The nature of romance changes with time. In the Tinder age, we are encouraged to always anticipate the next better thing. Unlike us, people of Balash and Nowack’s generation were more likely to believe in that one true love, at a time when moving mountains to find them, had seemed a completely reasonable thing to do. The stakes are significantly lower now, as we become increasingly independent and pragmatic, able to attain fulfilment without narrow definitions of success and love. Many have been let down by dreams of happily ever after, but if we are able to appreciate the things that are, and not hanker only for what could be, chances are that heaven, is already here.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

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