5 Questions with Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham

Glaston Toft: Tell us about your character, Tony, in The Bodyguard?
Damien Bermingham: Tony is the loyal, well meaning bodyguard who has all the best intentions without necessarily all the skills required for such a big job as dealing with a crazed stalker.

Do you have a dressing room or other performance ritual?
My character doesn’t get to sing which is a new experience for me in a musical and even though at times it feels like more of a play than a musical for my character I still stick to my routine of doing a very thorough vocal warm up. Doing gentle vocal exercises in a steaming hot shower work best to get my voice warmed up.

What do you do in your downtime during the show?
I moonlight as an independent theatre producer so spend a lot of my downtime working on various theatrical endeavours.

What’s your favourite Whitney Houston song and why? Do you sing along while you’re off stage?
‘Run To You’ is my favourite Whitney song but I’ve had the Bodyguard soundtrack since 1993 so it’s fair to say I’m a fan of all of her work. I never realised until rehearsals started just how many Whitney songs I know all the words to. You can’t help but sing along.

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
My bucket list of musical theatre roles would be Sweeney Todd or Don Quixote. If no one offers me those roles before I die I might just have to produce the shows myself to make sure it happens 😉

Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham: Who is Glaston Toft and where did that unusual name come from?
Glaston Toft: I’m an actor currently performing in the musical The Bodyguard. I’m often told how unusual my name is. I think my parents were fans of the boardgame Scrabble. You should see what they came up with for my siblings!

Is it strange being cast in a musical and playing an acting role, not actually singing?
Certainly the rehearsal process was strange, having no time with the music department. But now that we’re up and running it’s not that different. I think in most musicals I’ve spent my time acting through song and text. I’m just doing it all in the latter category at the moment.

What’s it like hearing all those Whitney Houston songs night after night?
Paulini is a machine and a superstar… so listening to her breathe life into those great songs is a real treat. They are infectious songs, you can’t not lip syncing to them every night. The finale goes off!

How do you decorate your dressing room?
I don’t really decorate my dressing room as such. I do like to keep some mementos. Currently my door is pinned with notes from a fellow cast member reminding me that as an FBI agent I fail to do my job every night. It’s my motivation to keep looking!

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
I find most people’s ‘dream roles’ are what they would be perfectly suited for. I’d love to play Judd Fry (Oklahoma), Bill Sykes (Oliver) or Sweeney Todd. I know the type of roles I’m suited to but I find it interesting to perform roles that are a bit against my ‘type’.

Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft are appearing in The Bodyguard, the musical.
Dates: 21 Apr – 2 Jul, 2017
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

5 Questions with Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte

Bert LaBonte

Marny McQueen: What are the best things about your home town, Geelong?
Bert LaBonte: Being so close to the water, but far enough away from the city.

In what ways do your sons take after you?
Oh look, they’re very sociable and blood cheeky.

Is your wife Amanda happy to be rid of you ¾ of the year while you are on tour?
I can safely say NO! But we make it work when it happens. We call it Team LaBonte!

Which have you been most proud of in your entire performing life?
I’d probably say Foley from An Officer And A Gentleman because I created the role in an original musical. Oh, and I might’ve won a few awards for it too.

What advice would you give other actors regarding working with a diva like me?
Just smile, breathe and think of home time.

Marney McQueen

Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte: Other than me, which other leading man/men have you found inspirational to work with?
Marney McQueen: Tony Sheldon in Priscilla, he never missed a show, and even in rehearsals he always gave it 150%. I loved working with Andrew McFarlane, mostly because I was able to live out a childhood crush developed over many years of Playschool watching, and I learned many lessons about making sure you enjoy yourself while you are working from Bob Hornery. But my most inspirational leading man was the incomparable Garry MacDonald. In my comedy shows I work alongside an exceptional theatrical animal, Mark Jones, who I could not do cabaret without.

What is your favourite role you’ve played in your career to date?
At school, John Proctor in The Crucible. I went to an all girls’ school.

How do you find being a mum with little ones in this industry helps you as a performer?
It certainly helps you focus in your job while you are at work, you become more efficient. Although in this show you can tap into the immense pool of emotions that little people unleash within you.

If you weren’t a performer what would you be doing with your life?
I love this question. I studied commerce at the University of Melbourne, but I don’t think I would’ve pursued a career in that department. I think I’d be a real estate agent, which is basically being an actor, yeah?

What’s your favourite thing to do away from work?
Go swimming at the Coogee Women’s Pool.

Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen can both be seen in Dream Lover the musical.
Dates: from 22 September, 2016
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

5 Questions with Keane Fletcher and Ruverashe Ngwenya

Keane Fletcher

Keane Fletcher

Ruverashe Ngwenya: Tell us about your role in We Will Rock You.
Keane Fletcher: My role in We Will Rock You is the Swing, which means I understudy all of the male ensemble members and have to be ready to go on for them at a moment’s notice. I also understudy two of the lead roles in the show, Galileo and Khashoggi.

Tell us about your favourite experience when you were touring the world with the Ten Tenors?
It’s hard to pick just one favourite experience with The Ten Tenors. I spent six years touring the world with them and in that time I got to visit so many beautiful countries and sing in some amazing venues. Performing for Oprah on Hamilton Island’s Whitehaven Beach was pretty amazing, as was singing for 60,000 people at the opening of the UEFA Cup in Warsaw, Poland. My time spent with them was an incredible experience and one I’ll never forget.

If you could invite six people, living or dead, to a dinner party at your house, who would they be?
Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, the writer Lorrie Moore, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe (they could carpool) and, of course, Freddie Mercury. The world’s best dinner party followed by world’s worst hangover!

What’s your favourite holiday destination?
New Orleans baby! I’ve been lucky enough to go a few times, once for work but mainly for pleasure, and I still can’t get over how otherworldly and exciting it is. So many famous writers, playwrights and musicians have lived there and you can feel the impact the city must have had on them. There’s music pouring out of every corner, amazing food, so much voodoo and superstition, and you can drink on the street. What more could you want?

What is your favourite Queen song and why?
Bohemian Rhapsody, no question. It’s the first Queen song I remember listening to as a kid and so I can’t separate the nostalgia I feel for it from my general love for it musically, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Great music usually marks a moment in time for people and I think that’s why people love Queen so much, because their songs have become ingrained in all of our lives. If you hear Bohemian Rhapsody come on the radio and aren’t singing along by “thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening” then there’s something wrong with you.

Ruverashe Ngwenya

Ruverashe Ngwenya

Keane Fletcher: Tell us about your role in We Will Rock You.
Ruverashe Ngwenya: My role in We Will Rock You is quite a versatile fun one! I start off the show playing the Gaga teacher/spy for Khashoggi and his “army”. I am very much a part of the law enforcement to ensure the rules and regulations are being followed by the students. I also am a part of the amazing ensemble and sing a lot of amazing music along with the cast. I also get to play the feisty diva, Bohemian Aretha, which is a lot of fun and a huge contrast from the Gaga teacher. I also understudy the role of Killer Queen.

You played the violin as a child. Do you still play in your spare time?
Yes, I did play the violin as a child! Wow thanks for the reminder haha. No I don’t still play – the violin was more like an introduction to music for me. It was how I learnt to read music, pick up the theory side of music and broaden my horizons as a musician, eventually finding my passion in singing and performance.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a dinner party at your house, who would they be?
They would have to be my grandmother who passed away when I was 9 along with Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson.

What is the holiday destination you’ve always wanted to go to?
That is an impossible question to answer! There are so many places in the world I want to and WILL travel to (hahaha) mainly most of Africa. I really want to explore the continent and all its cultures and customs thoroughly. South America is high on the list! Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and definitely India when I’m older later in life – that’s the main list!

What is your favourite Queen song and why?
My favourite Queen song would have to be We Are The Champions – I absolutely love singing it! The song fills you with so much pride and happiness. When you sing it you just feel great! So uplifting!

Keane Fletcher and Ruverashe Ngwenya can be seen in We Will Rock You, the Queen musical.
Dates: 20 Apr – 26 Jun, 2016
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

Dates: 10 Jul – 7 Aug, 2016
Venue: QPAC, Brisane

Dates: 30 Aug – 9 Oct, 2016
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne

Review: Rocky Horror Show (Lyric Theatre)

rockyhorrorVenue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Apr 11, 2015
Music, lyrics and book: Richard O’Brien
Director: Chris Luscombe
Choreographer: Nathan Wright
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis, Nicholas Christo, Brendan Irving, Kristian Lavercombe, Amy Lehpamer, Stephen Mahy, Craig McLachlan, Bert Newton, Jayde Westaby

Theatre review
The Rocky Horror musical and its Australian star are icons within their own realms. They have their loyal followings, all coming with fixed expectations that have been cultivated from years of interaction and fandom. There is nothing at all that is unpredictable in this particular incarnation. Richard O’Brien’s material has dated and Craig McLachlan is no shinier a star than he was thirty years ago, but no ticket holder anticipates seeing anything out of the ordinary, other than a very well iterated version of the usual fare.

The production provides as much colour and fun as a dvd viewing of the 1975 film could deliver. Things feel old-fashioned but charming, and while we no longer respond to the show’s shock factor, its kitsch value is still unique and remarkable. The gender and sexual subversion that is fundamental to Rocky Horror‘s success is now passé and much too mild to resonate with the same sense of danger experienced four decades ago, but it provides context for very blue comedy, which this particular Dr. Frank N. Furter does not shy away from. McLachlan’s comic timing is not the key to his enduring popularity, but his determination and exceptional commitment to the stage carries an infectious joy that allows the two hour show to occur in the blink of an eye. The performer leads the cast with an exuberant and playful energy, but lacks the elegance of Tim Curry’s legendary rendition on celluloid. McLachlan’s singing is surprisingly strong, but the more memorable numbers are presented by Amy Lehpamer (Janet Weiss) and Kristian Lavercombe (Riff Raff), who impress with a kind of polish specific to stars of musical theatre, complete with piercing, unwavering vocals and irresistible pizzazz that entertains all from front row up to the nosebleeds.

Theatre, like life, needs occasional lashings of frivolity to provide some balance to the inevitable gloominess that afflicts everyone from time to time. Janet and Brad go through a profound metamorphosis in the story, having seen things that were previously unimaginable, and come away with lessons that are unfathomable to many. Some of us hope for that kind of poignancy every time we devote time and money to the arts, but others prefer to leave the auditorium with nothing more than a few laughs and several delightful song and dance sequences. Rocky Horror Show is lightweight but it does not pretend to be anything much more, and if Frank N Furter has lost his edge, we should probably be grateful that androgyny and gender fluidity is no longer an effective freak show centrepiece.

www.rockyhorror.com.au

5 Questions with Anna Freeland

annafreelandWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck. Especially when said with an English accent. So classy.

What are you wearing?
A grey knit jumper, patterned trackies & socks. Sorry Sydney, what Summer?

What is love?
A hard thing to define without cheapening it. For me it’s a treasured and beauteous thing. It’s also the person who drives me places and looks after me when I’m sick, makes me cups of tea and watches Parks & Rec with me.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Miracle City at The Hayes. It was epic. Blazey Best had me simultaneously in stitches and tears. 4.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Any good? Suzy, you’re gonna have the time of your life! Honestly though, it’s a fantastic show to be a part of; the music is provocative, the story is classic and the dancing is dirty, what’s not to love?

Anna Freeland can be seen in Dirty Dancing, the musical.
Show dates: until Feb 22, 2015 in Sydney (the show then heads to Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.)
Show venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

sgs-best2014

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

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sgs-best2014a

Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

End

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

Review: Strictly Ballroom (Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Mar 25, 2014
Book: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Original Score: Elliot Wheeler
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Choreographer: John O’Connell
Performers: Thomas Lacey, Phoebe Panaretos, Bob Baines, Drew Forsythe, Natalie Gamsu, Robert Grubb, Fernando Mira, Heather Mitchell, Mark Owen-Taylor, Sophia Katos

Theatre review (originally published at auditoriummag.com)
The transformation of Strictly Ballroom into a work for the musical stage is a logical progression. The themes and structure of the film obviously lend themselves to a rendering that would fit readily into the popular genre, and Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for ostentation, flamboyance, and musical numbers in his films makes him a marketer’s dream in this lucrative market.

As an internationally lauded luminary of film imagery, our expectations of production and costume design in his show are understandably high. Fresh from receiving her third and fourth Academy Awards just a month prior to opening night, long-time collaborator Catherine Martin’s work as set and costume designer is irrefutably stunning. Working with already outlandish costumes from the world of ballroom dancing, Martin’s creations take a giant leap forward, into a realm of fairy tales and pure fantasy. There is no requirement for restraint on this stage, and we are treated to the most gloriously colourful and glitzy wigs and costumes that had previously existed only in our dreams.

Martin’s sets are effective and dynamic. The scenes are not located anywhere exotic, but the several suburban venues depicted are created with flair and great imagination. There is very efficient use of space with mobile pieces that work independently, but are also combined for different perspectives. It is not a story that features pyramids, castles or helicopters, but this is a visually arresting stage, which exploits every depth and height that the space can afford, and which sparkles at every corner. There are sequins, paillettes, beads and crystals shimmering at all times, helping to establish an aesthetic that fits in perfectly with this fantastical realm.

Strictly Ballroom embraces wholeheartedly the kitsch value of musicals, and its visual elements are only the beginning. Although it does carefully cater to middle class family audiences, every aspect is expressed through a rejection of banal refinement and conventional good taste. Its story is highly romanticised, the emotions it portrays are brash, the songs are oversweet and obvious, and all performers approach their roles with a sense of unbridled and confident exaggeration. If there is ever a moment for a concoction with this much cheese to work, this would be it, but very unfortunately, the show misses its mark on several levels.

Humour is appropriately peppered throughout the plot. There is much to make fun of, with ridiculous characters and contexts all clearly bearing the promise to deliver laughs, but many of the jokes fall flat. Luhrmann’s direction seems to lack an emphasis on the comedy. Punchlines often do not work, and the atmosphere struggles to keep buoyant. An exception is the role of Liz, played by Sophia Katos, who is memorable as the most consistently funny member of the cast. A number of roles have been created chiefly for comic relief, and Katos’ execution is clearly the strongest.

Leading the cast is Thomas Lacey, an attractive man and a strong dancer, both qualities shared by his character Scott Hastings. Lacey is also an adequate singer, but the scale of the production requires a much more experienced voice that will stand its own amongst all the frenetic activity on stage. Weaker still is Lacey’s acting, which fails to connect him with his love interest, and renders their relationship completely uninteresting and unconvincing. Equally responsible is Phoebe Panaretos, who is admittedly more evenly skilled in the various disciplines of musical theatre, but her lack of charisma in the very central role of Fran is a key disappointment. Panaretos is not a weak performer, but it is evident that she is simply too inexperienced for the challenge bestowed upon her.

Better performances come from the likes of Heather Mitchell, who is endearing as Shirley Hastings, the male protagonist’s mother. Mitchell’s characterisation is vibrant and believable, and although not the strongest of singers, she brings a warmth to the production despite playing someone fairly unpleasant. Also in parental roles are Natalie Gamsu and Fernando Mira, who both impress as characters of Spanish heritage. Gamsu’s distinctive voice is outstanding in a production that seems to have cast performers according to dance ability and appearance, and Mira is a charismatic actor, whose talents as a flamenco dancer are showcased brilliantly, but needs to find greater confidence in his singing.

One of the themes in Strictly Ballroom is the tension between ethnic groups in Australia. This is expressed in the romantic relationship between Fran and Scott, and also in their dance. Their families are depicted in wildly different lights, but both are spirited, joyful and moving. Regretfully, this meaningful and dramatic subject matter is not explored in sufficient depth. The young leads seem too easily accepted by each others’ families, and the penultimate obstacle to their love takes form instead, in the young man’s dilemma about competition dance partners. The opportunity for a more emotive conclusion is sacrificed for one that is more vivacious, but also needlessly frivolous. Ultimately it is the production’s marvelous visual beauty that triumphs, but a three hour show requires more than pleasure for the eyes. It needs to do something for the soul, which discerns the difference between style and substance, and recognises all that glitters is not gold.

www.strictlyballroomthemusical.com