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

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