Review: Aspects Of Love (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 30, 2018
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber (based on the novella by David Garnett)
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black, Charles Hart
Director: Andrew J. Bevis
Cast: Finn Alexander, Hugh Barrington, Caitlin Berry, Ava Carmont, Annelise Hall, Christopher Hamilton, Jonathan Hickey, David Hooley, Stefanie Jones, Megan Kozak, Wendy Lee Purdy, Michaela Leisk, Matthew Manahan, Sam Marques, Grant Smith
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Rose and Alex have an unconventional romance, with each other as constants, but also involving several other people who weave through over the years, to test traditionally held notions of love. David Garnett’s 1955 novella Aspects Of Love is a seductive work, with intentions for a refreshed sense of modernity, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s clumsy adaptation turns the story into an absurd one, with abrupt renderings that in effect, ridicule its characters and alienate its audience. The opening song “Love Changes Everything”, a legitimate hit from the composer’s heyday, is characteristically schmaltzy, but other tunes are even less appealing, in a show that disappoints from the very beginning.

Although unable to surmount the astonishingly poor writing, this production, directed by Andrew J. Bevis, is assembled with an admirable polish. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Steven Smith’s set design are particularly charming, with John Rayment’s lights helping to provide a visual sophistication to the bewildering goings on. Performers are similarly accomplished, with leading lady Caitlin Berry introducing a high level of professionalism as Rose, to keep us secure in her unwavering and impeccable stage savvy. Alex is played by Jonathan Hickey, convincing as the 17-year-old ingénue, but who gradually loses his grip on the material as the role progresses into maturity. Stefanie Jones is memorable as Giulietta, spirited and alluring in a role that otherwise makes little sense.

At the heart of Aspects Of Love is a wonderful tale that challenges the way we look at our world. Its women are free, able to fall without explanation, time and time again, for friends and lovers all through their lives. They experience marriage, but remain unencumbered. Rose chooses the right husband, who helps her grow beyond the prescribed and parochial, never ceasing to flourish, forever expanding, in both professional and personal terms. The musical however, fails to encapsulate that majesty, instead it deflates and diminishes, with an insistence that all should yield to a perspective that is ultimately pedestrian, and incapable of inspiration.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Company (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 1, 2018
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Heather Campbell, Maree Cole, Grace Driscoll, Emily Dreyer, Lincoln Elliott, Jacqui Greenfield, Michele Lansdown, Michael McPhee, Alexander Morgan, Bridget Patterson, Brendan Paul, Ileana Pipitone, Marcus Rivera, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bobby is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday, with friends who all appear to be married couples, unable to resist badgering him into finding a wife of his own. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is approaching half a century old, and although its conceit seems archaic, we know that the experience it depicts remains resolutely accurate. People are often unwilling to accept single life as a valid and healthy option, and even though the musical does not portray marriage to be comprehensively wonderful, its insistence that Bobby comes to an acquiescence, in spite of his quite fabulous New York City bachelor existence, is representative of our narrow definitions of identity.

George Furth’s book for the 1970 creation might bear an exasperating plot that does not stand the test of time, but Sondheim’s songs continue to be sublime. Directed by Julie Baz, the production is entertaining and spirited, on a very busy stage that although not always visually appealing, is consistently ebullient, with an ensemble cast full of beans. Leading man Brendan Paul does an adequate job of his singing, but it is his radiant high-wattage smile that really charms. Heather Campbell is deeply impressive as Amy, delivering a rendition of the notoriously difficult “Getting Married Today” at an exceptional standard. Another memorable tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is performed by the commanding Michele Lansdown, whose interpretation of the socialite lush Joanne, is a delightful contrast to a lot of the squeaky clean goings on. Also noteworthy are the jubilant musicians that make up a sensational six-piece band, led by Antonio Fernandez whose music direction brings us a great deal of class, through his faithful interpretation of a now nostalgic score.

When Bobby finally admits to his loneliness, we question the veracity of his proclamations, wondering if it is a case of peer pressure leading our protagonist, to invent feelings that are not entirely authentic. Sondheim came out as gay in 1998, at the age of 68. Company is essentially a work he had written about the confirmed bachelor, at a time when his sexuality was in the closet, in which the protagonist’s friends are confounded by his refusal to settle with a woman. The incessant nagging leads to Bobby eventual relenting, not by actually marrying a woman, but by performing a ruse of regret and embarrassment, that many gay people have had to carry out, as a strategy in dealing with the heteronormativity that they inevitably have to contend with. Like many LGBTQ people, Bobby probably feels no need to satisfy those traditional expectations, but a big song and dance is always useful in getting them off our backs.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: The Overcoat (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 1, 2018
Book & Lyrics: Michael Costi (based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol)
Music: Rosemarie Costi
Director: Constantine Costi
Cast: Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel, Aaron Tsindos, Charles Wu
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Nikolai is an unremarkable man, an ordinary citizen of Russia, who lives and works in St Petersburg, not unlike the faceless millions in any of the world’s cities. He is unambitious, able to be content with a simple life, but the most basic of human requirements, dignity, eludes him. He is sold a luxurious coat, one he is unable to afford, with the promise that the new garment would finally help him gain the respect of people he sees every day at work. Based on Nikolai Gogol’s short novel of the same name, The Overcoat is about injustice, and the sacrifices some have to make, just to attain a level of subsistence.

Adapted by Michael Costi, whose book and lyrics retain the poignancy of the original, this musical version is an understated but thoroughly moving work of theatre. Rosemarie Costi’s music is consistently gripping, and delightfully idiosyncratic, incorporating shades of Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim to find exquisite balance in this sophisticated take on the genre. Director Constantine Costi exhibits great style, alongside a sensitive understanding of drama, for a production that lulls us gently to some very deep places in our hearts and minds.

Performer Charles Wu is an enchanting presence, vulnerable yet confident as Nikolai. Not only does he earn our empathy for the pitiful character, Wu elevates our experience of the sad story with his capacity to inspire our intellect. Aaron Tsindos’ booming voice thrills and satisfies, as do his extravagant depictions of several unforgettable supporting roles. Laura Bunting and Kate Cheel create a range of ebullient personalities, both actors proving themselves to be as commanding as they are charming.

Our protagonist procures his coat, with money that should have gone to food and rent. Before society can provide him with a feeling of belonging, Nikolai must give up more than all he has; we come to the cruel realisation that the real world does not offer unconditional love. When we participate in the labour force, we go to work for survival and for salvation, but there is never any guarantee that the exchange can be a fair one. In fact, we see in The Overcoat, that when the marketplace is left to its own devices, many of us are put in positions where we have to give more than we can ever receive in return. The unfairness is ubiquitous, and without intervention, disparities can only widen.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Wild Party (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 15 – 24, 2018
Book: Michael J. Lachiusa, George C. Wolfe
Music & Lyrics: Michael J. Lachiusa
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Michael Boulus, Jack Dawson, Nick Errol, Emily Hart, Prudence Holloway, Matthew Hyde, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Sophie Perkins, Olivier Rahmé, Zach Selmes, Samuel Skuthorp, Georgina Walker, Simon Ward, Jordan Warren, Madeleine Wighton, Victoria Zerbst
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is New York City in the 1920s, and the party is lit. Bohemian types gather at the behest of volatile lovers Queenie and Burrs; not a single introvert in sight, all thirsty for a good time, ready to make the drama happen. Michael J. Lachiusa and George C. Wolfe’s 2000 musical The Wild Party is a rollicking ride with colourful characters taking us through a succession of exuberant numbers, celebrating life in the most exciting of cities.

Under Alexander Andrews’ direction, The Wild Party is a dazzling, fun-filled romp. Even though its narrative becomes somewhat vague, the production’s relentless vibrancy keeps us engaged and uplifted. Music direction by Conrad Hamill is lush and decadent, a wonderfully evocative element. Outstanding choreography by Madison Lee brings unexpected sophistication. Imaginative and adventurous, Lee’s work is thoroughly compelling, and along with dance captain Sophie Perkins’ efforts, it is the way bodies move through every second in this staging, that proves truly splendid. A group of 5 chorines, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Jordan Warren and the aforementioned Perkins, are the stars, brilliant with their spirit and charm, extraordinarily cohesive with all that they present.

Georgina Walker plays a very alluring Queenie, with an attitude and physical gestures that are flawlessly reminiscent of that bygone era. Sound engineering is often deficient, and Walker’s voice suffers as a result, but the intricacy of her performance is no less impressive. Prudence Holloway and Victoria Zerbst take on flamboyant roles with extravagant aplomb, both actors fierce and fabulous.

Parties are worth little when participants are unable to let their hair down, but as we see in The Wild Party, things can go too far. Art however, plays by different rules, and social transgressions are often an important part of how it can create impact. Considering the context, this staging is perhaps slightly polite, so it is never really able to provide much more than entertainment. To be wild, is to explore boundaries and question the rules. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes may well be liked by everyone, but she is unlikely to have left an indelible mark anywhere.

www.littletriangle.com.au

Review: Madiba (State Theatre)

Venue: State Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 1 – 18, 2018
Book: Jean-Pierre Hadida, Alicia Sebrien
Author & Composer: Jean-Pierre Hadida
Additional Material: Lunik Grio, Emmanuelle Sebrien
Directors: Pierre-Yves Duchesne, Dennis Watkins
Cast: Courtney Bell, Barry Conrad, David Denis, Blake Erickson, Perci Moeketsi, Ruva Ngwenya, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji, Madeline Perrone, Tarisai Vushe
Images by Serge Thomann

Theatre review
Known as Father of the Nation, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, for activities opposing apartheid. In the musical Madiba, we see his personal struggles, and the inspiration he had provided, and continues to provide, for racial reconciliation in the region and around the world. Mandela’s heroic aura is unwavering as the centrepiece of a production that unfortunately, never quite lives up to the man’s eminence.

The writing manages to establish coherence for a timeline that stretches fifty years, but it is insufficiently rousing, for themes that one expects to be much more intrinsically emotional. The minimalist approach to visual design proves a challenge for the large stage, with lights that get absorbed by heavy curtains before adequate illumination can be provided to performers.

It is however, an excellent cast that presents the musical, with Perci Moeketsi effortlessly convincing as Mandela, an affable presence who reminds us of the warm personality so often seen in the media. Brilliant dancing by David Denis, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji and a very spirited ensemble, has us thoroughly mesmerised. Barry Conrad, Ruva Ngwenya and Tarisai Vushe thrill us with their singing, making full use of the opportunity to showcase their extraordinary vocal talents.

When Noah emerged from his ark after the great flood, a rainbow of peace appeared in the sky, signifying a new beginning. The dream of a rainbow nation in post-apartheid South Africa, is a vision about inclusivity, for a future in which black and white are no longer divided. Now five years after Mandela’s passing, white supremacy can be seen trying again to rear its ugly head, everywhere from Europe and America, to Africa and Australia. The project of decolonisation is a huge undertaking, an extremely difficult exercise that often seems doomed to failure, but forces determined to defeat fascism can never be crushed. We remember the sacrifices made by Mandela and his country, and the progress they were able to attain under onerous circumstances, and use them as motivation, for all the battles that lie ahead.

wwww.madibamusical.com.au

Review: Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert (Bondi Theatre Company)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Oct 12 – 27, 2018
Book: Doug MacLeod (based on Margaret Fulton’s autobiography I Sang For My Supper)
Music: Yuri Worontschak
Director: Ruth Fingret
Cast: Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Clare McCallum, Alexander Morgan, Brett O’Neill, Jasmine Sands, Rebecca Spicer
Images by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Australia’s original celebrity chef, Margaret Fulton may be known to have provided culinary lessons to generations, but in the musical Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert, we observe her to be a trailblazer who has, ironically, led women out of their kitchens and into the workforce. The story tracks Fulton’s rise to prominence in mid-20th century, through a combination of verve and luck, culminating in the publication of her hugely successful cookbooks. Helping to broaden the concept of an Australian cuisine, at a time when the White Australia Policy was still in place, her career is a significant landmark that many still hold dear today.

It is a wholesome show, perhaps too polite in tone, but the narrative is structured effectively for an entertaining, often amusing experience, featuring charming insights into our heroine’s story. Music by Yuri Worontschak is beautifully melodious, for a slew of catchy tunes that keep our feet tapping along. Sound design however, is a major sore point, as are most of its visual elements. Nevertheless, Ruth Fingret’s direction ensures that her cast takes every opportunity to deliver energy and merriment through their vibrant performances.

Leading lady Manon Gunderson-Briggs plays a gregarious Fulton; feisty and exuberant at centre stage, keeping us charmed and firmly attentive to the vignettes being shared. Equally likeable is Rebecca Spicer, whose sparkly confidence in a variety of supporting roles makes her a memorable presence. Brett O’Neill proves himself an adventurous performer, as he playfully invents one character after another, always with a tongue-in-cheek sense of extravagance that many will find irresistible.

A person’s legacy relates to their contribution to society. It is a measurement of how many lives are made better, even in the tiniest of ways, by the actions of individuals or groups that endeavour to bring progress to the world. The Margaret Fulton Cookbook has sold a million and a half copies, offering inspiration to young and old for 50 years and counting. Our achievements do not have to be of that scale, but mere mortals too, need to try to leave this a better place than when we had found it. Knowing that every thought, intention and action, has the potential to leave an indelible mark, we must simply always try to do good.

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Evie May (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 3, 2018
Book & Lyrics: Hugo Chiarella
Music & Lyrics: Naomi Livingston
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Amanda Harrison, Loren Hunter, Keegan Joyce, Tim Draxl, Jo Turner, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Nik Damianakis

Theatre review
In Hugo Chiarella and Naomi Livingston’s musical Evie May, a queer woman from early last century takes centre stage, to tell a story of lost loves against a backdrop of bittersweet nostalgia. We watch as our protagonist’s star rises, revelling in her achievements as an illustrious vaudeville performer, but also mournful of the sacrifices demanded of her, in a world that simply would not allow a woman to be her true self. Evie May is a strong work, beautifully imagined and executed with admirable integrity. Its narrative is intelligently constructed, with songs that are memorable yet unusually tasteful.

The show feels somewhat anomalous. In an industry that seems to thrive on relentless exhilaration, the languid melancholy of Evie May is paradoxically refreshing, sustained by a palpable desire to authentically represent a woman genius from our recent past. Director Kate Champion’s approach is elegant, often understated, and although visually underwhelming, her show is ultimately a moving one, profound in the messages it is able to convey. The characters come from a different time, but they all exist to impart something meaningful, and valuable, to how we see ourselves, then and now.

Within a no frills set up, the cast prove themselves more than proficient, at a lot of heavy lifting. The ingenue version of Evie, is played by bona fide triple-threat Loren Hunter, whose powerful acting and mesmerising dulcet tones, has us hopelessly engrossed in her character’s captivating melodrama. Amanda Harrison brings star quality to Evie at her early retirement age, a confident presence, thoroughly reliable as the production’s heart and soul, on which all the action anchors. Love interest June is played by a very delightful Bishanyia Vincent, effervescent as flamboyant showgirl and deeply poignant as the one who got away. Vincent is equally persuasive in the role of Margaret, Evie’s sister, a difficult personality made worthy of compassion by the actor’s detailed rendering.

It is convenient to think that the worst of our oppression as LGBTQ women are over, but Evie May’s story is not just a relic of yesteryear. The compromises we have to make, in order to succeed, or simply to survive, continue to be unreasonable and unjust. It is a modern Australia, but we must not live in the delusion that the straight white man has relinquished his position as top dog. Until our girls can walk into any space they choose, there is still much to fight for.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.newmusicalsaustralia.com.au