Review: Urinetown (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Music and Lyrics: Mark Hollman
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Cast: Artemis Alfonzetti, Dani Caruso, Joe Dinn, Deanna Farnell, Max Gambale, Joel Horwood, Tom Kelly, Kira Leiva, Barbra Toparis, Petronella Van Tienen, Benoit Vari, Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Somewhere in America, in a dystopian future, to go toilet has become a commodified privilege. Urinetown, the 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, tells a story about an economic system that allows the top 1%  to insist on us paying for everything, and receiving incommensurate returns. The vast majority thus becomes increasingly disadvantaged, finding themselves to be mere cattle, constantly scrounging for the benefit of those who claim to be owners of every resource. In Hollman and Kotis’ fantasy, a revolt eventuates. The conclusion however, is not quite as predictable.

It is an excellent conceit, although the plot has a tendency to feel rambling and its narrative often finds itself gridlocked. Not a lot actually happens, in the two-and-a half hour duration, and its humour can be lacklustre, but the songwriting is enjoyable, with enough inventiveness to sustain attention. Matthew Reid’s musical direction is spirited and jaunty, creating a charged atmosphere, with his very accomplished four-piece band.

Direction of the show by Ylaria Rogers is dynamic, with a lightheartedness that keeps things amusing. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography too, provides levity to proceedings, in order that the message becomes an easier pill to swallow. Set design by Monique Langford involves clever use of ladders in various configurations, that allow for a spacious stage to comfortably accommodate a big and busy cast. Helen Wojtas’ costumes for the great unwashed are in appropriate states of dereliction, but with colours and textures to maintain visual interest. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are a wonderful element of the production, bringing unexpected beauty and a sense of gravity, to something we know to be true and important.

Performer Joel Horwood demonstrates admirable versatility in the role of Bobby, bringing charm, wit, emotional intensity and a crucial quality of profundity, that prevents the comedy from undermining the whole point of Urinetown. Their singing is powerful, in a show that features consistently strong vocals. Petronella Van Tienen plays Hope, a saccharine sweet character but with the kind of earnestness that most are likely to find appealing. Chemistry between the leads is scintillating, especially for their romantic duet “Follow Your Heart”. Also noteworthy is Natasha Vickery whose vaudeville style of presentation for Little Sally leaves an impression, as one of the more refreshing personalities we encounter, in this world of misery.

Ultimately, we discover that Urinetown is about the extinction of the human race. Some argue that this is due to no fault of our own, but most will understand all the devastation we have brought to the planet. It is a tale about our insatiable greed. It questions our nature, and like all good art, it urges us to examine what it means to be human, and further, if anything could be done, to combat the parts of us determined to cause harm. We keep wanting to overpower Mother Earth, such is the depth of our foolishness. It is certain that we are never going to be a match for the infinitude of the universe, yet we seem determined to not find ways to make peace with it. 

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Nice Work If You Can Get It (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 18 Nov – 20 Dec, 2022
Book: Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics: George and Ira Gershwin
Director: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Octavia Barron Martin, Lisa Callingham, Grace Driscoll, Nat Foti, Anthony Garcia, Catty Hamilton, Joel Houwen, James MacAlpine, Rob Mallett, Jayme Jo Massoud, Adorah Oloapu, Ashleigh Rubenach, Andy Seymour, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Andrew Waldin, Jasper Wind
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

It is the Prohibition era, and Billie the bootlegger is secretly storing 400 crates of gin, in a Long Island beach house, owned by Jimmy’s mother. In the meantime, Jimmy is about to get married for the fourth time, but the playboy’s new fascination with Billie means that his best laid plans are going awry. Joe DiPietro’s book for the musical Nice Work If You Can Get It is a tribute to romantic comedies of the Hollywood Golden Age. Thoroughly frivolous and undoubtedly fun, the story is constructed around the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, which are easily, and understandably, the highlight of the show.

Direction by Cameron Mitchell imbues an admirable sense of abandon to the broad comedy of Nice Work If You Can Get It. For 2-and-a-half hours, we are treated to something frothy and gleeful, that never wishes to take it itself seriously. The laughs are constant, often uproarious, proving that an average script can be transposed effectively to the stage, when executed with considerable flair. Mitchell’s work as choreography too is impressive, in a style that harks back to the good old days, delivering nostalgia as well as dynamism, for a staging determined to entertain.

Set design by Simon Greer provides versatile solutions, with great fluidity, to addresses the many location changes, although the space often feels constrictive of the show’s ambitious dance sequences. Christine Mutton’s costumes are delightfully conceived and meticulously fitted, to give much needed elevation to the imagery being created. Wigs on its leading ladies however, require greater attention. Illumination by James Wallis is thankfully utilitarian, providing just enough lighting trickery so that our attention never deviates from the performers.

Playing Jimmy is the dashing Rob Mallet, whose physical discipline brings exquisite polish to the production. The accuracy in his emulation of a vocal style faithful to the period too, keeps us firmly in the fantasy. Ashleigh Rubenach sings all her songs perfectly, but feels somewhat miscast as the tomboyish Billie. Grace Driscoll is very charming as Eileen, able to be both campy and endearing, in her wonderfully kooky sendup of a Martha Graham type.

It is a big cast of 16, comprising some very funny thespians, along with highly accomplished dancers, all doing remarkably to generate theatrical magic. The Gershwin sound however, remains a pinnacle on any stage. It is an eternal joy to hear their greatest hits, no matter the excuse or occasion.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Godspell (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 14 Oct – 6 Nov, 2022
Original Conception: John-Michael Tebelak
Music and New Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Jeremi Campese, Gillian Cosgriff, Victoria Falconer, Alfie Gledhill, Abe Mitchell, Chaya Ocampo, Billie Palin, Quinton Rich, Jane Watt. Swings: Mae Li Cowell, Gus Noakes
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Jesus Christ and his disciples are in an Australian pub this time round, in Tebelak and Shwartz’s Godspell. Much has changed since the musical’s first outing half a century ago, but Christ’s teachings about love never age. His popularity as a venerated figure, however, has waned significantly, and there is no question that increasing numbers of audiences will feel alienated by the religiosity that continues to surround his personality.

Director Richard Carroll introduces vast amounts of colour and variety to his version of Godspell, but there is unlikely anything that could convert, those of us who are resolute in our distaste for Christianity or religions in general, which remains central to this 2022 production. Jesus seems a nice enough person, but all that deification is nonetheless, very hard to take.

The show’s visual appeal though, is undeniable, with Emma White’s stage design providing a familiar warmth, along with the provision of multiply apportioned spaces, that helps with the presentation’s constant transformations. Angela White’s costumes are a melange of epochs, with a whimsy that establishes its characters as joyful and endearing from the very start. Peter Rubie’s lights are imaginative and ambitious, offering a delectable palette of luminal combinations that really helps to keep things exciting.

The ensemble beams with dedication; there is an intensity to their focus and camaraderie, that demands our attention. Billie Palin sings the part of Christ well, but her dazzling vocals prove not to be a substitute, for the charisma we associate with sect leaders of that magnitude.

It should be encouraged that we learn about things that are important to our neighbours. Listening to other people’s religious beliefs is often a rewarding experience, that is until they become overwrought and depart too far from shared realities. We have argued for centuries about the intricacies of what Christ had preached, but the damage caused in his name, by so many of his followers, are simply irrefutable.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Jekyll And Hyde (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 29 Jul – 27 Aug, 2022
Book and Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Hayden Tee
Cast: Melanie Bird, Mitchell Cox, Georgina Hopson, Madeleine Jones, Luke Leong-Tay, Brendan Maclean, Rob McDougall, Sarah Murr, Gus Noakes, Billie Palin, Brady Peeti, Matthew Predny, Mitchell Roberts, Rutene Spooner
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Dr Jekyll is determined to reveal the secrets hidden within the human psyche, but what he uncovers is beyond anything he can ever prepare for. This 1990 musical by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn, is a retelling of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, famous and eternally resonant with what it says about our nature.

Bringing a delicious sense of camp, is new direction from the inventive mind of Hayden Tee, whose bold vision ensures that Jekyll and Hyde is nothing short of a captivating experience. The show is taut and exciting, with a superlative level of singing and musicianship that has us impressed from start to end. Orchestration by Nigel Ubrihien is exceptionally sophisticated, as well as being highly enjoyable, with Steven Kramer’s musical direction delivering great visceral power, through all that we hear. Olivia Wilding and Sally Schinckel-Brown are the two cellists prominently featured, keeping us deeply engaged in the high drama of this outlandish story.

Leading man Brendan Maclean is appropriately intense and macabre in the title role, although not always convincing with the emotional dimensions being explored. Brady Peeti as Lucy steals the show unequivocally, as does Georgina Hopson (who plays Emma), both performers completely disarming with their supreme vocal abilities. Mitchell Cox and Rutene Spooner too are unforgettable in multiple smaller roles, able to seize our attention with every appearance, for moments of genuine delight. Also noteworthy is choreography by Siobhan Ginty, who keeps our eyes amused through the duration, with her wonderful physical configurations of a splendidly assembled cast.

Set design by Melanie Liertz is whimsical yet ambitious, able to create for the viewer a sense of expansiveness, alongside a satisfying quirkiness to her depiction of a psychiatric hospital. Lights by Anthony Pearson succeed at establishing atmosphere for each sequence, but can sometimes feel perfunctory, or perhaps insufficiently creative in approach. Costumes by Mason Browne on the other hand, are highly appealing, and relentlessly glamorous, whilst maintaining accuracy in all his representations of the tale’s colourful personalities.

We can never try too hard, to reveal who we are. It is apparently true, that there is no end to how much we can learn about being human. The problem it seems, is what we do with that information, when we understand that a big part of our existence comprises qualities less than desirable. Mr Hyde is horrible, and he is everywhere. We imagine that to know Mr Hyde, is to be able to control him, but evidence suggests that evil will always find a way.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Bonnie & Clyde (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 17 Jun – 17 Jul, 2022
Book: Ivan Menchall
Lyrics: Don Black
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Sam Hooper
Cast: Teagan Wouters, Blake Appelqvist, Carlo Boumouglbay, Jonathan Chan, Darcy Fisher, Lewis Francis, Deborah Galanos, Milo Hartill, Kieran McGrath, Lucy Miller, William Motunuu, Sarah Murr, Caity Plummer, Sam Richardson, Luisa Scrofani, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow lived a century ago in the United States of America, where they had become notorious robbers who killed a total of thirteen people through their exploits. Their names continue to hold cultural meaning today, thanks mainly to the 1967 Hollywood film Bonnie and Clyde, remembered for glamourising that historical entanglement, of crime and romance. This musical version first appeared in 2009, and ran for just 69 performances on Broadway in 2011.

On stage, the scandalous couple’s story seems to lose all its lustre. Their personalities become too nice, and their lawlessness is portrayed too innocently. The book by Ivan Menchall feels uninspired, demonstrating that little about the legendary narrative remains captivating. Directed by Sam Hooper, who brings along an unmistakeable earnestness to this revival, but struggles to make the show deliver enough thrills and spills, even with the presence of firearms throughout the piece.

The general look of the production is accomplished with a minimalist approach, that can feel somewhat unimaginative, and sparse. The songs in Bonnie and Clyde however, are enjoyable. Music direction by Zara Stanton keeps things classic and tight, with neat but lively instrumentations that help to sustain our attention. Vocals by lead performers Teagan Wouters and Blake Appelqvist are powerful ; both offering technical brilliance that successfully elevate these lesser known tunes. Characters in the show, however, never feel convincing, and the audience is never really able to invest meaningfully into any relationship or narrative.

It may seem that we have finally lost interest in old criminals like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but the truth is that we have simply shifted our admiration for the outlaw, to a different kind. In 2022, it is the billionaire maverick that has captured our attention. He does not have to wield guns or get his boots dirty. He simply fires off irresponsible tweets, and watch legions of fanboys fawn over his reckless behaviour. He uses his wealth and influence, to manipulate markets, bringing untold volatility to our economies. All because of his insatiable need, to look important and to feel virile.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Dubbo Championship Wrestling (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 May – 11 Jun, 2022
Book & Lyrics: Daniel Cullen
Music: Daniel Cullen, James Cullen
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Zoe Ioannou, Genevieve Lemon, Luke Leong-Tay, Noni McCallum, Terry Serio, Justin Smith, Aaron Tsindos, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Due to extenuating circumstances, city girl Rose is forced to return to her hometown, where her father Des runs a flagging business, providing entertainment to locals through wrestling events that have seen better days. Daniel and James Cullen’s Dubbo Championship Wrestling is exactly as you would expect it; a humorous take on country life that explores our cultural cringe, as a people obsessed with the idea of never being sophisticated enough, but are ultimately full of heart.

That structural conceit may be as tired as Des’ team of misfit employees, but juxtaposing wrestling with musical theatre, is undoubtedly a stroke of genius. Director Sheridan Harbridge creates, from the extravagance of both art forms, ample moments of spectacle, and of slapstick, for a show memorable for its unapologetic brashness. Musical direction by Glenn Moorhouse takes inspiration from classic  Australian rock music, and combines it with Broadway conventions, to form a soundscape that is relentlessly energetic.

Set design by Ella Butler adapts the stage to manufacture a surprisingly expansive accommodation, for a generously sized wrestling ring, on which most of the action takes place. Butler’s costumes are appropriately loud and comedic, and effective in giving immediate visual definition to each of the show’s characters. Lights by Trent Suidgeest work overtime to provide vibrancy and exuberance. They elevate Des’ poverty-stricken Dubbo Dome, to something altogether more fabulous and edifying.

Tim Dashwood’s accomplishments as fight director, along with Ellen Simpson’s choreography, form a crucial part of Dubbo Championship Wrestling‘s uniqueness. Movement is fundamental to any work of theatre, but to witness the re-creation of fantastical sequences of high camp brawling, set to live singing, is quite a thrill.

Performer Zoe Ioannou is a superb lead as Rose, with strong vocals that convey precisely the inner spirit of the young rebel, but more importantly, it is Ioannou’s singularly impressive physical discipline that truly sets her apart, as she executes every dance step and fight move to incredible perfection. Terry Serio is convincing as the battered and bruised Des, allowing us to empathise with his idealistic plight. Rose’s mother Cheryl is played by Bishanyia Vincent, who brings valuable dramatic intensity and emotional authenticity, to a production that tends to venture very far into caricature territory. Especially noteworthy is the hilarious Aaron Tsindos, simply irrepressible as Perfect Ten Ken, fully relishing in the world of absurdity that these people inhabit.

As a species, we are endlessly amused with the kinds of aspirations that other people hold. Often we are deprecating of what other people wish to achieve with their lives, wondering why they are not more like us. Certainly there are some ambitions that are more noble than others, but in Dubbo Championship Wrestling we see that the fighting spirit that each person is able to gather from within, is quite a marvel. Des and his cohort may not wish to change the world, but the ferocity with which they dedicate energy to their passions, is endlessly inspiring.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Lizzie (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2022
Book: Tim Maner
Music & Lyrics: Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Tim Maner, Alan Stevens Hewitt
Director: Maeve Marsden
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Ali Calder, Marissa Saroca, Sarah Ward
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It was 1892 in Massachusetts, that Lizzie Borden was believed to have murdered her father and step-mother. There is little in the musical Lizzie, that talks about the morality of her actions, and although it does not necessarily make her a heroic figure, the central ferocity of her convictions, is quite an admirable thing to behold.

Based on an original concept by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner, the show depicts a young woman living in puritanical times, but unable to contain her fury that arises from persistent ill-treatment. That very inexorable and fervid drive, if present today in our somewhat improved circumstances, would surely see Lizzie achieve a great deal more than notoriety and scandal.

Directed by Maeve Marsden, who uses the hard rock energy of Lizzie‘s song list, to facilitate a passionate staging that appeals to our desire, for stories about feisty women in these modern times. Musical direction by Victoria Falconer is a highlight, informed by feminist philosophy and brimming with a joyful punk edge. Ghenoa Gela’s choreography is inventive and unpredictable, offering physical manifestations to characters that allow us to read them more clearly between the lines.

Melanie Liertz’s set and costume designs evoke a gothic quality that is perfectly suited to the narrative, although several vertical poles positioned downstage can sometimes obscure the view of action taking place further upstage. Verity Hampson’s lights are a dramatic element of the show, bringing great dynamism to all the imagery being presented.

Performer Marissa Saroca as Lizzie, is spirited and wonderfully enthusiastic, although her vocals can be slightly hit-and-miss for the musical’s very rambunctious tunes. Ali Calder and Sarah Ward play the sister and the maid, respectively, and both are reliable in delivering big rock vocals, whilst making some genuinely hilarious comedic choices that endear themselves to the audience incontrovertibly. The part of Lizzie’s love interest Alice, is performed by Stefanie Caccamo who sings beautifully, albeit in a more conventional Broadway style, and who makes believable the speculative sapphic romance.

Considering the conditions women like Lizzie Borden had had to tolerate just to survive, it is a wonder that more murders were not committed. That we think of her as an exception only shows the depth of our habit for compliance, and our capacity to withstand abuse and humiliation. Most of us never reach breaking point, and that is without question, the way manifold forces work to exploit our tendency to bend and acquiesce. We do not always need to draw blood in order to rise up, but it is important that we learn to take cues from women like Lizzie, who have lost patience, long before we are completely drained of the ability to retaliate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Merrily We Roll Along (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 21 Oct – 27 Nov, 2021
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Andrew Coshan, Georgina Hopson, Evan Lever, Vidya Makan, Elise McCann, Ainsley Melham, Tiarne Sue Yek, Aaron Tsindos
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
The story begins in 1976 and with each scene, we are moved back further in time, eventually to 1957. This 2021 Hayes Theatre staging of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is a nostalgic delight, as we look back to simpler times of the previous century, taking the opportunity to relish in a tale about the loss of innocence, that seems little more than quaint by what we are used to today.

Young people from that bygone era, like those of our current times, were deeply embroiled in socio-economic upheaval. However, it is evident from George Furth’s book (on which Sondheim’s musical was based), that critical events in 1960’s America, such as the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, were able to be conveniently swept aside, in favour of a brand of sentimental reminiscence intent on making life seem so insular, in its wilful naivete.

We are made to examine the friendship between three white artistic types, whose lot in life were dependant only on luck and on the ruggedness of the individual. Their narratives are exempt from being tainted by their proximity to power, and their complicity in social structures that are manifestly unjust. It is perhaps a relief that this form of storytelling, is no longer quite as widely condoned in today’s, shall we say, more politically conscious climate. Black lives always did matter, but how we think and talk about those associated issues seem, thankfully, to have irrevocably changed.

On the other hand, many do continue to enjoy the escapism of the theatrical arts. These increasingly trying times, have made us  feel an irresistible need to seek momentary refuge, in things that are less god damned serious, and in the world of musical theatre, there is perhaps nothing better than to resort to the great songs of Sondheim. They always bear a sense of repetitive familiarity, yet reliably refreshing; toe-tappers that will prove uplifting even at times of awesome pessimism, and because they were written so long ago, we can let ourselves off the hook, for indulging in something that is so completely devoid of wokeness.

Musical direction for the production is brilliantly harnessed by Andrew Worboys, who knows exactly how to make everything shine and sparkle, for a welcome return to communal entertainment after many months of sustained isolation. In the many instances when one becomes painfully aware of the unbearable flimsiness of the characters in “Merrily We Roll Along”, there is always Worboys’ omnipotent work to return to, for something to properly sink our teeth into.

Direction is provided by Dean Bryant, who adds stylish embellishment whenever possible, including clever incorporation of Dave Bergman’s video projections that widen our experience of time and space in the intimate auditorium. Set design by Jeremy Allen is wonderfully chic, as are Melanie Liertz’s costumes, and Veronique Bennett’s beautiful golden lights transport us somewhere decidedly cosier and softer, than the harsh realities of the outside world. It is noteworthy that Bryant’s ability to fabricate a sense of gravity for the staging is remarkable, considering the often banal quality of what is actually being explored.

Performer Ainsley Melham is sensational in the role of Charley Kringas, bringing incredible precision and unexpected complexity to a personality who can otherwise easily be thought of as prosaic. Elise McCann sings every note with clarity and gusto, and as Mary Flynn, McCann is memorably feisty, in a show that has problems allowing enough depth into any of its women characters. Playing Franklin Shepard is Andrew Coshan, who although demonstrates commitment, has a tendency to come across too ordinary and somewhat immaterial, for someone who is meant to occupy the very centre of the story. Supporting players are generally excellent, with Georgina Hopson and Vidya Makan particularly endearing with the effortless comedy they deliver at every turn.

It is true, that we cannot make a better future, without knowing the past. It is also true, that to live in the past, is detrimental to efforts for meaningful progress. The reverse chronology of “Merrily We Roll Along” shows us the history of old friends, so that we can see the value in redemption, along with the importance of embracing humility as a guiding principle in relationships. Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but as proven time and again, it sure pays dividends.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Half Time (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 1 – May 2, 2021
Book: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin
Lyrics: Nell Benjamin
Music: Matthew Sklar
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan, Dolores Dunbar, Deni Gordon, Jaime Hadwen, Chaska Halliday, Nancye Hayes, Stefanie Jones, Donna Lee, Joy Miller, Coby Njoroge, Wendy-Lee Purdy, Eric Rasmussen, Monica Sayers, Tom Sharah
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The title of Half Time refers to the bit of song-and-dance that typically occurs in the middle of American sporting events. It is a tradition involving professional performers, who as we find out in the show, have an inordinately premature use-by date of 27 years old. As a marketing gimmick the New Jersey Cougars, a basketball team, assemble a group of seniors to present a surprising version of that mid-game entertainment. A noble idea on the surface, it is soon exposed to be an exercise based on the humiliation of our old.

Half Time the musical however, is a loving showcase of elders in the arts industry. The eight central roles are filled by our community’s most advanced, in an ensemble piece that tackles ageism head on. Director Helen Dallimore does an admirable job of keeping us emotionally invested, in stories that are perhaps much too cliché-laden and almost embarrassing in their predictability. Music by Matthew Sklar is sufficiently enjoyable, but it is the infectious earnestness harnessed by Dallimore that holds our attention.

Strong vocals by Dolores Dunbar-Joanne and Deni Gordon, provide their respective songs with a sentimentality that many will find deeply moving. Idiosyncratic personalities created by Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan and Nancye Hayes are memorable, and genuinely funny, in a production that endeavours to challenge our preconceived notions of the ageing process. Stefanie Jones gives a highly polished rendition of Tara, the old folks’ choreographer and coach, whilst Chaska Halliday and Coby Njoroge waste no opportunity to steal the show, whenever their breath-taking talents are positioned centre stage.

As the Chinese saying goes, “the older the ginger, the spicier it gets.” It is an incontrovertible truth that wisdom comes with age, yet the elderly (especially elderly women) are routinely shunned from so much of our lives. The tendency for the young to think of them as inconvenient, difficult and slow, and therefore exclude them from decisions on how things are run in the Western world, can only be of detrimental effect. To only value youthful qualities, is to risk repeating mistakes, as evidenced by so much that has been in written of history.

If we commit to honouring our elders the way so many Indigenous cultures do, we will have to shift our values, in a way that changes priorities in politics and economics. Resources will have to be regarded differently. We may even begin to see our relationship with nature, and ergo with the planet, in a radically different way. To place attention and care on the process of how each of us dies, instead of obsessing over an unattainable eternal youth, is likely the key, ironical as it may seem, to much better ways of life.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.nineteen98productions.com.au

Review: Young Frankenstein (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 20, 2021
Book: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics: Mel Brooks
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Matthew Backer, Olivia Charalambous, Shannon Dooley, Nick Eynaud, Ben Gerrard, Amy Hack, Luke Leong-Tay, Lucia Mastrantone
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
American neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein has to make a trip to Transylvania, in order that he may secure the inheritance of a vast estate, upon the untimely death of his infamous nature-meddling grandfather. Mel Brooks’ 2007 musical version of Young Frankenstein, came to Broadway 33 years after the success of his 1974 film. What was originally a spoof of classic horror cinema, is now turned into a parody of Brooks’ own comedy oeuvre. It is arguable how well his body of work has stood the test of time, but as this new iteration of the musical at Hayes Theatre demonstrates, Mel Brooks’ writing contains indubitable genius, and with the right approach and attitude, a brilliant masterpiece can be unveiled.

Directed by Alexander Berlage (winner of 2018 and 2019 gongs for Best Direction of a Musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards), Young Frankenstein is post-modern, high-camp theatrical amusement at its best. Berlage takes radical liberties with the text, stridently ensuring that every moment of the show delivers something disarmingly witty, or at the very least kooky and fascinating. What results is a fast-paced production that feels constantly buoyed by humour, shimmering with inventiveness. Central to Berlage’s method, is an unyielding allegiance to principles of queerness, that locates for the intrinsic irony of Brooks’ universe, an amplified sense of flamboyant absurdity. Although not exactly the wildest of rides, the show is perhaps better suited to the open-minded.

The staging looks exquisite, even though many jokes are made about budgetary constraints met by Australian independent theatre. Isabel Hudson’s set is comprised of staircases that go nowhere, and doorways of unusual proportions, splendidly converting M.C. Escher’s legendary drawings into physical reality. In turn, these unusual architectural structures make for fantastical contortions, in how human figures traverse the space, for laughs as well as for sheer eccentricity. Costumes by Mason Brown combine the traditional with the subversive, making Savile Row meet Leigh Bowery, for an aesthetic that feels unexpectedly cohesive, and a true visual delight. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design too is an absolute joy. Oscillating between vibrant clashes of primary colours, and a green monochrome that pays tribute to the black and white of the 1974 film and of the ones from early last century to which Brooks refers, Suidgeest provides a deeply satisfying sense of stylistic dynamism that is both relentless and surprising.

Leading man Matthew Backer’s appearance may be nothing like Gene Wilder’s, but fears of an inferior depiction of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein are laid to rest from the very first scene. The performer is meticulous yet instinctual, thoughtful but rambunctious, with mesmeric eyes that seize our attention, as they reveal all we need to know about the story, and the wider cultural implications of what we are witnessing. Also noteworthy is his reliably marvellous singing voice, a proverbial cherry on top that has us endlessly spoilt.

Shannon Dooley plays Elizabeth with wonderful idiosyncrasy, an admirably brassy presence whose scintillating confidence seems to know no bounds. The problematic German “dumb blonde” character Inga is given a clever twist. By casting male performer Ben Gerrard in the role, its offensive quality is dampened, and Gerrard’s respectfully controlled drag interpretation proves that intelligent, innovative thinking can solve many artistic conundrums, even those related to sacred, often archaic, legacies. Performers in Young Frankenstein are, without exception, accomplished and appealing. Luke Leong-Tay’s Igor and Lucia Mastrantone’s Frau Blucher are both effervescent and irresistibly mischievous. Nick Eynaud’s irreverent take on The Monster further emphasises the audacious flaunting of queerness, for a show that seems to have much more interesting things to say, than what Brooks had ever intended.

It is likely true, that many of us have reached a point of exhaustion, after a year of the pandemic, and half a decade of Trumpism and tumult from the far-right. If the Americans’ embrace of the silly 1974 Young Frankenstein film, was a reflection of their disillusionment and fatigue, from their participation in the war in Vietnam, then this new musical rendition arrives just in time to fulfil our need for something thoroughly and unapologetically frivolous. It is not always a good time for levity; the world has serious things to sort out, and art is sometimes all we have. For now, however, the brain deserves a rest, and the soul needs nothing more than a good hard laugh.

www.hayestheatre.com.au