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. |

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

5 Questions with Ayeesha Ash and Heather Manley

Ayeesha Ash

Ayeesha Ash

Heather Manley: Rent is your first musical after studying Acting at WAAPA. How do you find the rehearsal process compared to a straight play?
Ayeesha Ash: The rehearsal process hasn’t been extremely different, it’s just focusing on song lyrics instead of dialogue and making sure I know my choreography perfectly, so that I don’t accidentally hit someone in the head with a prop.

If you had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
Definitely Japanese. Sushi, sashami, wakame, edamame. SOY SAUCE.

What has been your favourite performing experience?
In my final year at WAAPA my class toured a show that we wrote to Dublin. It was such a great experience being able to perform a piece we were so connected to on the other side of the world.

What strange fact about you do not many people know?
When I was a kid I would only have a shower if I was wearing my rain hat (I’ve grown out of that phase now).

Would you rather be married to a man with a fish head and a normal body or a normal head with a fish body, and why?
Normal head and fish body because he would probably be a really good ocean swimmer. He could take me on ocean dates and introduce me to all of his whale friends.

Heather Manley

Heather Manley

Ayeesha Ash: What’s been the most challenging piece to learn in Rent?
Heather Manley: I think the whole thing was a bit of a challenge because it’s a return season and we are entering a cast where almost all of the members were in the first run and knew all the numbers already. My brain was so full of lyrics and choreography within the first week.

Who is your favourite character to play in the show and why?
I really like playing Mimi’s sassy mom and singing in Spanish. Who doesn’t love to be sassy when they get the chance?

If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?
Definitely a bird. It’s always been a fantasy of mine to be able to fly. And I’m a bit obsessed with birds – I have four cockatiels as pets back home in Guam.

If you could turn any movie into a musical what would it be?
I think Miss Congeniality is screaming to be a musical!

Who did you prefer in the 90s: Britney or Xtina?
Britney Spears’ album with ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ was the first album I bought, so definitely Britney.

Ayeesha Ash and Heather Manley can be seen in the new season of Rent the musical.
Dates: 29 Mar – 17 Apr, 2016
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Click here for Suzy’s review of last year’s production of Rent.

Review: Rent (Highway Run Productions)

highwayrunVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Oct 8 – Nov 1, 2015
Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: Shaun Rennie
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Laura Bunting, Denise Devlin, Casey Donovan, Linden Furnell, Josh Gardiner, Loren Hunter, Stephen Madsen, Nana Matapule, Jack O’Riley, Matthew Pearce, Chris Scalzo, Monique Sallé, Kirsty Sturgess, Chloe Wilson
Image by Kurt Sneddon

Theatre review
Stories about the impoverished artist are always romantic. The bohemian life is one that fires all our imaginations, but only a few of us are able to experience. In spite of all the debauchery and vulnerabilities associated with that way of life, we admire the purity that they represent with their uncompromising choices. The characters in Jonathan Larson’s Rent are passionate and idealistic, and like characters in Puccini’s La Boheme, their poverty is seen to be something of a rebellion against an establishment that is corrupt and ugly.

There are tragic repercussions in the narratives of Rent, and it is not until those occur in the second act that emotions begin to run high. All the musical numbers are beautifully realised under the direction of Shaun Rennie, but characters and their stories are somewhat distant, perhaps due to the age of the piece. Rennie, along with his designers (set by Lauren Peters, lights by Ross Graham and costumes by Georgia Hopkins) bring an accuracy to the look and feel of the USA in the mid-90’s, and Musical Director Andrew Worboys does an excellent job of updating its sound, but for a substantial duration, the piece plays like a concert with brilliant performances that engage, but only on a superficial level. We wait for poignancy to take hold, and although it eventually does, its effects seem too little, and too late.

The cast is comprised of 14 powerful voices that give the musical a superb polish. Some are stronger actors than others, but the quality of singing is consistently impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. Mimi is played by Loren Hunter, who shines bright in the role with her creation of a personality that is complex, colourful and clear. There is a precision to her work that delivers just the right amount of pathos, keeping us connected through her sense of authenticity. Along with her warm vocal tones, Hunter’s portrayal of conflict and suffering is an irresistibly captivating one. Also memorable is Casey Donovan, feisty and dramatic as Joanne, the Ivy League-educated lawyer. Donovan stuns us with her extraordinarily soulful singing, giving the musical genre a rare edge, and surprises us with a convincing characterisation of an intriguing personality. Christopher Scalzo is a controversial Angel. Originally written as a trans woman, Scalzo’s interpretation reads more like a cisgender gay male. Well-known trans characters of the theatre are extremely rare, so this obliteration is unfortunate, but it is a commendable decision that Scalzo is not required to assume a false trans identity for the stage, and is instead allowed to give expression to the role in a manner that is perhaps more in line with his personal gender identity. It is also noteworthy that Scalzo’s gutsy approach to his songs adds a raw dimension to a show that can be too clean in its presentation of the New York underground. His concluding scene is sensitively rendered, providing one of the key elements to the most moving portion of the production.

Rent was created at a time when AIDS was the leading cause of death in young Americans. Although there is much more still to be achieved in the space of HIV/AIDS research and medical advancement, we have come a long way since those early days of death and darkness. Discrimination however, still persists and the message in Jonathan Larson’s work remains relevant. Wealth distribution is still the cause of our troubles, and the urgency to address the problems in Africa is undiminished. The production’s upbeat end is to be expected, and although it seems futile in these times of complacency to bemoan the fact that the struggle is yet to be over, the truth in Larson’s work resonates, and it is always the underprivileged that is neglected and we simply have to do better. |

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014


2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP



Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014


Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: Love And Death And An American Guitar (Highway Run Productions)

highwayrunVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jun 4 – 6, 2014
Playwright: Toby Francis
Director: Neil Gooding
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Toby Francis, Noni McCallum, Andrew Worboys

Theatre review
Jim Steinman is a living American rock legend. Best known for power ballads made famous by the likes of Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply and Celine Dion, his music is deeply ingrained into pop culture the world over. Like many song writers responsible for the most popular music ever recorded, his fame has never matched those who are centre stage. Toby Francis’ new script is mainly a monologue that incorporates the cabaret format. He performs it with an accompanist, along with a support vocalist who provides a female voice for several numbers. The story gives us some background into Steinman’s work and subsequent estrangement with Meatloaf, then goes on to an imagined depiction of Steinman pitching to us, an idea for a rock opera. Neverland was the precursor to Steinman’s seminal Bat Out Of Hell, but Francis’ vision is assembled like a concerto of greatest hits.

The song list is selected wisely, with many of Steinman’s crowd-pleasers included. Francis is on stage, dressed in denim, wielding a guitar and a microphone stand. On his right is musical director Andrew Worboys on a grand piano. It seems an awkward arrangement, but the rock cabaret works. The glam quality in Steinman’s songs provide a romantic flamboyance that makes sense for the context. Pre-programmed backing tracks give the songs their arena style volume, but all vocals are sung live. There is no doubt that the strongest element of Love And Death And An American Guitar is its standard of singing. The notes that emerge from Francis and his female counterpart Noni McCallum’s voices are astounding. One of the great joys of live performance is to be in the presence of superhuman talent, and these singers’ abilities are beyond what any combination of iPod and earphones can encapsulate. Also accomplished is Francis’ storytelling and the script he has prepared for the show. There is a beautiful lyricism to his writing, although the story does lack vividness at times. His skills as an actor are persuasive enough for the production, but the command over his physicality requires training.

Much as Steinman is one of the greatest song writers ever to surface, he does not have the makings of a rock god. Successful rock stars lend style, attitude and personality to the stage. They need to resonate sexuality, danger, confidence and power. In his show, Francis is positioned somewhere between cabaret, musical theatre and rock. He has a vulnerability that is alluring, but there is a politeness that belongs to the more formal world of musicals. The songs belong to stadiums that seat thousands, but Love And Death And An American Guitar translates them for a much smaller venue, and an entirely different genre of show. Francis sheds new light on these classic tunes, allowing their many fans to fall in love all over again. To borrow from the man himself, “it’s so hard to resist and it’s all coming back…” |

5 Questions with Toby Francis

tobyfrancisWhat is your favourite swear word?
The one I use the most is “fuck” so I should probably say that’s my favourite by default but because I get to choose I’d say my favourites are “dickhead” and “some bastard” because they always make me laugh. Especially when used like this, “Why don’t you like Bill?” “He’s a fuckin’ dickhead.” And, “Who stole your car Grandma?” “Some bastard.” Cracks me the fuck up.

What are you wearing?
A white t-shirt with Johnny Cash on it that my sister-in-law got me from Bear Hug and blue denim jeans that I got for myself from Jeans West because they were on sale. I’m so white.

What is love?
Work. I’ve been with my partner for 9 years and it’s been my experience that love is work. And not in a bad way. In a totally good way, in the way love is not only an attraction or need to be around someone and care for them but it’s also a commitment to them that says even when we are at our worst, when we are really at each other because of whatever reason, I will work and try to make it better. I will still be here and I’m not going to walk away because it’s tough right now. I think that once that feeling goes, that’s when the love is gone.

Also, I have a question for you Suzy Goes See, how many people answer this question with “baby, don’t hurt me”? I’m hoping it’s a million percent of people. (Thanks for asking this Toby, because it isn’t far from a million percent. Not all creative people are original thinkers, just quietly. – Suzy x)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
David Campbell sings John Bucchino at The Hayes. I’m incredibly biased but I give it 5 stars. The whole show is fabulous, the music, the vocals, the everything. The conversation has a real ease to it, you get comfortable in that room very quickly then it’s just a matter of sitting back and enjoying it. It’s really quite special.

Is your new show going to be any good?
No. It’s mostly just me describing photos of Jim Steinman I’ve seen on the internet. Don’t see it… But actually, I’m really proud of it. It’s different to anything I done before in that I’m playing the character of Jim, I’m not just being myself. I’ve spent more time with this script than I have on any of my previous shows really working through it with loads of input from Neil Gooding, Lauren Peters, and Andrew Worboys. And everyone is so good at what they are doing on this show, Lauren’s design is incredible, she basically said to me, “I know what this show should look like so I’m going to go away and create some stuff and don’t bother me, ok?” And then she did and it was perfect. Neil’s really got a strong grasp of the show I wanted to create and he’s helped keep everything on track and shape it into a cohesive show. And, of course, Andrew Worboy’s arrangements and Musical Direction is incomparable. He has such a distinct style but at the same time, he can take the music anywhere. The work he is doing on this show, and that he did on Sweet Charity and Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You, is mind-blowing to me. I feel incredibly lucky to have these people want to work on this show with me. But yes, I think it’s going to be good. More than I’m probably allowed to admit in public.

Toby Francis is starring in Love And Death And An American Guitar, part of Hayes Theatre’s Cabaret Season 2014.
Show dates: 4, 5, 6 Jul 2014
Show venue: Hayes Theatre Co

Review: O.C. Diva (Hayes Theatre Co)

hilarycole1Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jun 15 – 29, 2014
Directors: Hilary Cole, Jay James-Moody
Musical Director: Steven Kreamer
Cast: Hilary Cole

Theatre review
Hilary Cole’s cabaret show takes on the familiar structure of a singer with a microphone, and her musical director on piano. The format works well for Cole, whose voice is an absolute delight, and her ability to convey clear stories and emotions through song demonstrates real talent. As is customary, the song list is composed mostly of familiar standards, but unexpected twists are introduced for added dimension as well as comic effect. Blondie’s 1979 hit “One Way Or Another” gets a surprising mash up treatment with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phanton Of The Opera”, delivering laughs as well as an impressive opportunity to showcase Cole’s musical flair and her musical director Steven Kreamer’s prowess as an accompanist. There is also a one-woman “duet” with Cole being joined by her own impersonation of Bernadette Peters, that illustrates her admiration for the Broadway superstar, and reveals an unexpected versatility.

Direction of Cole’s performance is effective in the comic sections. Her punchlines are subtle but defined, and the jokes are well written. The young performer’s level of confidence is still in teething stages, but she manages to connect well in the venue’s intimate setting. Cole does fidget and stroll around excessively, and her eyes often withdraw into an introspective downward glance, but her passion for the stage is vibrant and infectious. There is a significant portion of the show that looks back at Cole’s experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. The performance becomes vulnerable and truthful, but also overly dark and depressing. Balance is lost here, and one is reminded of the work of Sandra Bernhard and Liza Minnelli where melancholic humour is retained when dealing with bleaker subject matter. Sadness does have a place in the cabaret, but a greater sense of show needs to be applied.

Cole is a beautiful performer, both physically and vocally. She is also a quirky personality, which justifies the choice for a show that is slightly unorthodox in tone. Ultimately, O.C. Diva‘s most memorable moments involve Cole’s singing, which proves to be much closer to perfection than she believes it to be. After divulging her anxieties about personal deficiencies, the show ends at a point of catharsis where she confesses the need for trust. It is evident to all in the audience that she can certainly rely on her talents to take her very far indeed.