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

Review: Darlinghurst Nights (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jan 4 – Feb 3, 2018
Book: Katherine Thomson (based on the book by Kenneth Slessor, and original concept by Andrew James)
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Baylie Carson, Andrew Cutcliffe, Natalie Gamsu, Abe Mitchell, Billie Rose Prichard, Sean O’Shea, Justin Smith
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
For many who reside in Sydney, the Darlinghurst area marks the heart of our city. It may not be the official “central business district”, but its spirit represents how we think of home, at our most wistful moments. Darlinghurst Nights, the musical and the locale alike, are a little tawdry and decadent, always seedy but romantic, full of melancholic nostalgia. The story by Katherine Thomson, based on Kenneth Slessor’s 1933 book, is a bittersweet embodiment of the bohemian essence we love associating with Sydney and the Kings Cross area, inventively devoid of the bourgeoisie.

Colourful characters and their dramatic stories are brought to the stage by Lee Lewis’ passionate direction, offering dreamy and ghostly tribute to lives that continue to gloriously disgrace the area. Historical tales are accompanied by Lee’s modern sensibility, allowing for a convergence of past and present, so that we relate intimately with the action unfolding before us. The production is cleverly designed by Mason Browne, whose set and costumes help to tell the story with remarkable sophistication and minimal fuss. Lighting designer Trent Suidgeest is especially noteworthy with his very thorough and imaginative work, in introducing a sense of poetic evanescence to all that we see, persistently exploring ideas for emotional landscapes that keep us firmly engaged with the show.

The cast is strong, a well-rehearsed bunch admirable for their restrained approach to the musical format. Each personality is convincingly portrayed, and whether raspy voiced or vividly sparkling in tone, every song is performed with great conviction. There is exceptional beauty in Max Lambert’s music for Darlinghurst Nights. Crossing over from classical to jazz and pop, Lambert has the intricately conceived entirety blended into one seamless work, that feels so marvellously accurate in its sonic representation of this city.

Ultimately, it is all illusory of course, our sentimental fantasy of this Sydney that has no big business, no bureaucracy and no black history. In Darlinghurst Nights, the truth is not allowed to get in the way of a good story, but as this nation strives to move towards a stronger future, a greater honesty needs to inform the way we think and talk about ourselves. We can no longer afford to leave buried, all our hard and inconvenient truths.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: High Fidelity (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 17, 2017
Book: David Lindsay-Abaire (based on the novel and film by Nick Hornby)
Lyrics: Amanda Green
Music: Tom Kitt
Director: Neil Gooding
Cast: Nicholas Christo, Erin Clare, Denise Devlin, Bronte Florian, Toby Francis, Zoe Gertz, Madison Hegarty, Alex Jeans, Joe Kosky, Dash Kruck, Jenni Little, Matthew Predny, Teagan Wouters
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a break up story, with Rob in a state of devastation, trying to figure out why he had been abandoned and how he is going to win Laura back. In High Fidelity, the musical based on Nick Hornby’s novel (1995) and film (2000), we observe the nature of narcissism and its subsequent relinquishment, as our thirty-something boy protagonist, is driven to confront his own arrested development.

Rob owns a record store, in an age where the CD had all but decimated the market for vinyl. He organises stock not according to a logic that customers would find useful, but according to different periods of his personal life that the music had been prominent. The mixtapes he had gifted Laura, are of songs that only he loves.

This version of High Fidelity has trouble locating our empathy. The characters bear a trite American blandness. Both its humour and drama are ridden with cliché and a staggering predictability. None of the stakes that it attempts to set up, are able to convince us of any meaningful investment. Dialogue and lyrics are perfunctory, and only occasionally amusing, and the music is thoroughly, quite embarrassingly, run-of-the-mill.

The strong leads almost save the day, with Toby Francis and Teagan Wouters bringing an admirable sense of vulnerability and authenticity to their roles. Both are enthralling with the sheer beauty of their voices and passionate interpretations of songs, but much as they are effective in portraying the people-next-door, our enthusiasm for their story never quite takes hold. It is an accomplished cast, but there is something too straightlaced in their approach for a show that requires something more playful, more risky perhaps, to elevate it from its disappointingly pedestrian writing.

From a technical perspective, the production is assembled well. Lauren Peters’ set design is versatile and charming, and Andrew Worboys delivers exuberant dynamism as musical director. There is great conviction on stage, everyone gives their all, but we want an artistry that is more than elbow grease. The show people are clearly inspired, but the audience too, needs to be moved.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.highwayrunproductions.com

5 Questions with Toby Francis and Teagan Wouters

Toby Francis

Teagan Wouters: What was the first album you ever bought?
Toby Francis: The first album I ever bought with my own money was “Punk-o-Rama 6” when I was in Year 7. But the first album that was ever mine was “Aqua Aquarium” when I was about year 7 in age. Those two albums tell you everything you need to know about me, really.

Who was your inspiration as a singer growing up?
Farnham. Hands down. I mean, Freddie Mercury and Barnsey were also gods to me. But Farnham was and is the voice. Around my early 20s, I became obsessed with his voice. I wanted to be able to do what he did and I’d just belt the shit out of his songs until my voice gave out. What he does vocally is incredible.

If you could make any album into a stage show, what would it be?
“My Chemical Romance” – The Black Parade. It’s a great album, it’s theatrical. It has that old school high concept rock and roll that you don’t really see anymore. It is so open to incredible set pieces and costumes. It has such vivid imagery and characters. I’ve thought about what that album would be like on stage a lot.

What song would you choose for your first dance at your wedding? And what song do you want people to play at your funeral?
Wedding: Bright Eyes – “First Day Of My Life”. I found Bright Eyes when I couldn’t sleep one night in high school and a clip came on Rage. I thought it was incredible. And this song is such a simple joy. It’s lyrics aren’t pretentious. But they also aren’t ashamed of being a little twee in places. It’s just real and happy. It’s perfect.

Funeral: Johnny Cash – “We’ll Meet Again”. This song, but not this version, was played at my grandfather’s funeral. He loved to sing and we’d watch Singin’ In The Rain together all the time. When he died, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I also adore The Ink Spots and their version of this song is the one Johnny Cash covered. So it all fits. I mean, I don’t believe in an after life but I believe in my grandfather.

Top 5 Albums people should listen to?
This isn’t in any order and I’m going for a bit of variety so:
1. “The Feel Good Record Of The Year” – No Use For A Name
2. “Lizzie: The Musical”
3. “Hospice” – The Antlers
4. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D city” – Kendrick Lamar
5. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” – Against Me!

Teagan Wouters

Toby Francis: What was the first album you ever bought?
“1995 Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras Party Anthem”. I was 9 years old and heard it playing in a music shop and had to have it! I think I was destined then to have a career in musical theatre.

Who was your favourite artist growing up?
Tina Arena! I just love her effortless voice.

What is your guilty pleasure album?
Anything musical theatre. I’m a musical theatre nerd at heart. And maybe a little Alanis Morissette – “Jagged Little Pill”, to belt out in the car.

What song do you want to be played for the first dance at your wedding? And at your funeral?
Wedding… it will be on loan from my brother because I sang it at his wedding but, “You And I” by Ingrid Michaelson. Something borrowed right?

Funeral… I don’t know! Something that’s happy?!

Song that breaks your heart, and another that lifts you up?
Heartbreaking, Sara Bareilles – “Manhattan”. Uplifting, Wilson Philips – “Hold On”.

Catch Toby Francis and Teagan Wouters in High Fidelity, the musical.
Dates: 18 Nov – 17 Dec, 2017
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: Assassins (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Sep 16 – Oct 22, 2017
Book: John Weidman
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Laura Bunting, David Campbell, Connor Crawford, Martin Crewes, Kate Cole, Bobby Fox, Hannah Fredericksen, Jason Kos, Rob McDougall, Maxwell Simon, Justin Smith
Images by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Australia does not believe in capital punishment, and we certainly never condone murder under any circumstance, but this principled conception of the world relies entirely, on a justice system that convinces us of its adequacy. If men in high places get off scot-free after committing egregious acts of immorality, we begin to think in terms of vigilantism. In Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins, a congregation of women and men remembered for the dubious accolade of having attempted to shoot and kill American presidents, are gathered for a history lesson, that talks about the phenomenon of political assassinations, and the meanings it represents in our modern democracies.

It is a great joy to be able to take pleasure in a work of musical theatre, that is not frivolously romantic, or twee, or excessively sentimental with its concerns. Some might argue that its topic is of particular relevance in 2017, but Assassins is thematically pertinent as long as our governments are a thing of contention, and for true democracy to exist, that sense of discordant anxiety must surely be ever-present. Whether or not the leader is to your tastes, there will always be a substantial portion of the population that is against them, if we are to uphold the fundamental doctrines surrounding our shared understanding of freedom.

Brilliantly conceived for the Sydney stage by director Dean Bryant, who balances spectacle with nuance, to deliver a show that is as entertaining as it is meaningful. In perpetual and harmonious motion, Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth, have created a sophisticated interpretation of Assassins, that addresses the genre’s need to tease and dazzle, whilst maintaining an air of gravity to proceedings. The production is a visual delight. Alicia Clements’ set and Ross Graham’s lights continually steal the show, with surprises that unfurl through every scene, splendid and ravishing from beginning to end.

An impressive ensemble takes charge of the material. Although not evenly skilled, their spirited cohesion makes for a performance that is firmly captivating. David Campbell is compelling as John Wilkes Booth, the man responsible for Lincoln’s death. Fabulously gifted in voice, and delicately studied with his acting, Campbell may not be a leading man on this occasion, but proves himself to be the unequivocal star of Assassins. Justin Smith’s marvellous acting chops too, make a fascinating Samuel Byck, the all too familiar loony who would very likely be a regular caller on talkback radio if alive today. Also memorable, is Martin Crewes, whose passionate singing and radiant presence, are reliable, as always, for adding vibrancy to the presentation.

There is always a temptation to imagine a world suddenly better, after a terrible tyrant is killed, but history has proven time and time again, that the removal of a head, does not automatically bring peace to the body politic. If there is anything worth celebrating about our Western democracies, it is our ability to argue for the greater good to prevail. As long as our conscience leads the way, harm can be minimised, but by the same token, the imperfections of our societies will remain salient. Murder can be sweet revenge, but it solves nothing, serving only to prolong the torment of injustice.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Melba (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Aug 11 – Sep 9, 2017
Book & Lyrics: Nicholas Christo
Music: Johannes Luebbers
Director: Wayne Harrison
Cast: Annie Aitken, Michael Beckley, Caitlin Berry, Andrew Cutcliffe, Blake Erickson, Genevieve Lemon, Emma Matthews, Adam Rennie, Samuel Skuthorp
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Nellie Melba was the first Australian musician to have achieved international stardom, a legendary figure whose story provides inspiration not only to artists who dream of making it big, but also for women everywhere who know how it is to be told to tame their ambitions. She became wife and mother early in life, as was de rigueur in late nineteenth century, and in the musical Melba, we see her struggle to acquire the independence necessary for professional success. A fabulous selection of classical arias are inserted into a new work of musical theatre, with book and lyrics by Nicholas Christo, and music by Johannes Luebbers.

The original material is delightful, with scandalous details in Melba’s story providing an unexpected sense of titillation to proceedings. Director Wayne Harrison keeps us invested in the show’s characters and narratives, for a production that captivates at every point. Design elements however, are generally underwhelming, with set and costumes requiring greater imagination and boldness, for a more accurate approximation of our fantasies, of the diva and her circles.

Performers Annie Aitken and Emma Matthews share the eponymous role, each bringing to the stage, their phenomenal talents and abilities. It is a strong concept, to have disparate disciplines, opera and musical theatre, represented in this quite unique format for Melba, but it is not always a seamless blend in its efforts to accommodate two physical manifestations of the same personality. Nonetheless, the magnificent quality of singing in the show is sufficient to remedy most of its shortcomings. Also noteworthy is Andrew Cutcliffe who successfully turns us against the forsaken husband Charlie. His creation of a persuasive villain for the piece, is efficacious, and impressive.

In its efforts to keep the memory of our heroine, dignified and noble, Melba can often feel compromising in how it portrays her humanity. The picture it delivers is unbelievably pristine, and the drama is subsequently more gently rendered than is perhaps desired. We need people to look up to, especially trailblazers who show us that the impossible can be done, but it is important that we understand that flaws and foibles are what we have in common, especially when the magic they possess can seem so unattainable to mere mortals.

www.hayestheatre.com.au