Review: Bran Nue Dae (Opera Australia)

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Jan 15 – Feb 1, 2020
Book: Jimmy Chi
Music and lyrics: Jimmy Chi, Kuckles
Director: Andrew Ross
Cast: Czack (Ses) Bero, Marcus Corowa, Adi Cox, Ernie Dingo, Damar Isherwood, Taj Jamieson, Tehya Jamieson, Teresa Moore, Andrew Moran, Tuuli Narkle, Callan Purcell, Bojesse Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Tai Savage, Danielle Sibosado
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Bran Nue Dae is the semi-autobiographical story of Aboriginal music star Jimmy Chi, who as a teenager in the 1960’s, hitchhiked from his mission school back home to Broome. A musical of the coming-of-age variety, the work features splendid songs written some thirty years ago by Chi and his band Kuckles, now beautifully nostalgic and sentimental, with strong country and soul influences that move us evocatively to the Western Australia outback.

Musical direction by Patrick bin Amat and Michael Mavromatis provide an emotional dimension to the show, effective in conveying a sense of the Australian bush, and of Indigenous cultures through their sensitive arrangement of each and every tune. Directed by Andrew Ross, the comedy is a sleek one, but insufficiently humorous, often lacking in the energy required to fill the large auditorium.

Performer Ernie Dingo leaves a strong impression, with an easy charm and confidence as Uncle Tadpole that sustains our interest. Protagonist Willie is played by an equally likeable Marcus Corowa, who lights up the stage with his vocal cords whenever they get a workout. The ensemble is a nimble uplifting group, with the four women proving particularly memorable, when singing their bright and resonant choruses.

Being the very first Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae is undoubtedly significant in theatrical history. What is more important however, are the subsequent shows that should follow, but examples are scarce. Of course, Indigenous peoples continue to practise other art forms that are culturally specific, and the wider community must always provide support when invited to, although the dream remains, where Western institutions can be much more inclusive, that more Indigenous participation can be seen in what has become this nation’s dominant platforms. The fact that our black sisters and brothers continue to be missing from so much of our cultural activity, is a seismic problem that we cannot afford to take lightly.

www.brannuedaemusical.com.au

Review: 1984 The Musical (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 8 – 25, 2020
Book and Lyrics: Tom Davidson McLeod, Diana Reid (based on the novel by George Orwell)
Music: Riley McCullagh
Directors: Tom Davidson McLeod, Georgia Vella
Cast: Christie Auchamp, Jordan Barnes, Vevie Brook, Tom Davidson McLeod, Alex Gonzalez, Charlie Hollands, Jude Horsburgh, Elizabeth Jones, Joshua Karras, Jessica Loeb, Joshua Macqueen, Anna Della Marta, Ezara Norton, Emilie Ritchie, Sophie Roderick, Coco Veksner-Shaw, Olivia Siegloff, Georgia Vella, Olivia Wolff
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Turning George Orwell’s 1984 into a musical comedy, is more than a novel idea. The exasperation of experiencing, in the current political climate, a totalitarian dystopia so close to Orwell’s predictions, is indeed worthy of satire. With book and lyrics by Tom Davidson McLeod and Diana Reid, this farcical revisit to Orwell’s familiar text, is an appropriately sarcastic affair, as we witness imaginary scenarios from 7 decades ago come to pass, both here and overseas.

Music by Riley McCullagh provides consistency to McLeod and Reid’s humour, which ranges from clever to puerile. Although a raw work, 1984 The Musical is energetic and inventive on many fronts, with direction by McLeod and Georgia Vella contributing a valuable exuberance to the staging.

Performer Charlie Hollands is a likeable Winston Smith, able to balance tragedy and comedy in his interpretation of the everyman under tremendous stress. His love interest Julia is played by Anna Della Marta, who impresses with a sonorous voice. The memorable Joshua Mcqueen demonstrates considerable comedy chops as the antagonist O’Brien, although his singing does leave a lot to be desired. The role of Charrington is taken on by director Vella, who proves herself equally accomplished on stage, delivering many laughs as the unscrupulous undercover agent.

Sometimes all you can do is laugh, and it does feel as though we have arrived at a point in our evolution, where we can only respond to the state of things with incredulity. There is an idealism in Orwell’s writing that represents a spirit of resistance against what he knew was to come, but it may seem today that most of us have submitted to the tyranny not only of governments but of corporations, that conspire to exploit and subjugate all of us. We have become accustomed to constant surveillance, and are no longer fearful of our desires being manipulated by nefarious interests. Increasingly, we learn to sleep with the enemy, to accept catastrophe as the new normal, and understand reality to be disappointing and irredeemable. In 2020, Orwell’s 1984 no longer reads like a precautionary tale, but a documentation of the beginning of our extinction.

www.1984musical.com/

Review: Six (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 4 – Mar 5, 2020
Creators: Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss
Directors: Jamie Armitage, Lucy Moss
Cast: Kiana Daniele, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Vidya Makan, Courtney Monsma, Chloé Zuel
Images by James D. Morgan
Theatre review
King Henry VIII of England is famous for having had six wives, and each of those women are in turn remembered only for her short reign as queen, having to share that position with many others. To tell the story of quick successions between the years 1509 and 1547, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss create a work of musical theatre, by having the queens form a pop group in the tradition of the Spice Girls; each member bears a distinct personality type, but are collectively a cohesive whole. The show takes the form of a pop concert, comprising solo numbers during which each individual provides an account of her instalment in the narrative arc, and two group songs bookending those episodes.

Cleverly conceived, but insufficiently witty, Six feels to be squarely targeting a teenage crowd, complete with a multitude of bleeped out expletives. Composition and arrangement of music is undoubtedly joyful, and completely scintillating, and like most pop concerts, Six relies on a connection of instincts, rather than appealing to our analytical capacities. At just 75 minutes, many stones are left unturned, but the show is probably satisfying enough for those seeking light entertainment without a lot of nuance and complexity.

The six Australian performers present an imaginary girl group so dynamic and technically proficient, one can hardly recall ever seeing the real thing anywhere near this level of expertise. Kiana Daniele and Chloé Zuel are sassiest of the bunch, with presences so strong, one often wishes that the staging focuses only on their two characters, Cleves and Aragon. Funny ladies Kala Gare and Courtney Monsma bring on the laughs, as Boleyn and Howard, both with splendid timing offering a sense of much needed theatricality to proceedings. Big sentimental ballads are sung by Loren Hunter and Vidya Makan, memorable for knocking our socks off with some truly remarkable vocal acrobatics.

Six tries to offer an opportunity for the queens to reclaim power, even if they seem destined to remain in their king’s shadow. It is now the dawn of 2020, and the Duchess of Sussex has announced intention to “step back” from responsibilities as a senior royal. This comes after persistent abuse by the English press since announcement of her ascendance in 2017. It can be interpreted that Meghan Markle is in fact taking charge of her personal destiny in the most daring and radical way. We have all operated within systems not of our own choosing, but few of us have been willing to cut our losses, and go where our integrity tells us. For women, this is the difference between yesterday and today. It might be true that we continue to find ourselves inadvertently falling into situations that we recognise to be unjust, but for many of us, to disengage is now a realistic option.

www.sixthemusical.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Meet Me In St. Louis (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 17 – 21, 2019
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Songs: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
Director: Matt Hourigan
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Jayden Castle, Phoebe Clark, Sinead Cristaudo, Lana Domeney, Grace Driscoll, Lincoln Elliott, Amy Humphreys, Claudia Joller, Katelin Koprevic, Victoria Luxton, Alexis O’Donnell, Jared Palessen, Matthew Predny, Oliver Roach, Caitlin Shannon-Duhigg, Jerome Studdy, Andrew Symes

Theatre review
Young Esther is in love with John, the boy next door, but her family is set to move to New York as a result of her father’s recent promotion at work. It is clearly not the story of Meet Me In St. Louis that captivates, but its celebrated songs that we connect with. Based on the legendary 1944 film, this is a musical production of the most traditional kind, that holds special appeal for audiences of a conservative vein. There is nothing unpredictable or original here, only an abundance of nostalgia that many will no doubt find satisfying.

Matt Hourigan directs and choreographs, displaying considerable theatrical flair, although use of space can be more inventive. The band can sound somewhat distant, but music direction by Oscar Balle-Bowness remains a delight. Visual elements are adequately assembled, to help us imagine America at the dawn of the previous century. Performers look, comically, either too old or too young for their roles, but the quality of singing is consistently high, with leads Phoebe Clark and Matthew Predny leaving strong impressions with their vocal abilities.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has since become one of the most popular songs of the festive season. A deeply melancholic lyric that wistfully harks back to an idealistic past, “once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore,” overzealous with the trust we place on old memories, and the frankly strange belief that things always used to be better, back in the day. The truth is that we have progressed in many ways, and although life is never without its challenges, to yearn for anything that might involve a regression of our existences, is simply unwise.

www.facebook.com/starkeeperproductions/

Review: Little Miss Sunshine (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 12 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics: William Finn
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Kiera Dzeparoski, Sarah Furnari, Aneke Golowenko, Martin Grelis, John Grinston, Ellacoco Hammer McIver, Gavin Leahy, Christopher O’Shea, Fiona Pearson, Julian Ramundi, Grace Ryan, Adam van den Bok
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Olive dreams of winning the Miss America beauty contest one day but is for now, more than happy competing in child pageants. When she qualifies for a prestigious event 800 miles away, the Hoover family finds itself in the tight quarters of a mini bus, travelling together and living in each other’s pockets, on the road for two days. A musical version of the 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine is about kinship, and the dreams of regular folk. It is a work replete with pathos and tenderness, a bittersweet comedy that can touch the hardest of hearts.

Director Deborah Jones infuses the production with a charming quirkiness that endears us to all of its characters. Beautifully lit by Michael Schell, against a whimsical set by David Marshall-Martin, which includes a truly delightful interpretation of the famed vintage Volkswagen, as seen at the movies. Musical direction by Laura Heuston makes good use of a three piece band to convey a swathe of emotions, for a show best consumed with generous doses of sentimentality.

An impressive level of conviction is demonstrated by the cast, memorable also for a sense of cohesion they bring to this story about the ordinary American family. Young Olive is played by Kiera Dzeparoski, whose effervescence provides persuasive driving force for the narrative. As mother Sheryl, Fiona Pearson’s astonishing singing voice delivers the most enjoyable moments of Little Miss Sunshine. John Grinston is very funny as Grandpa, with an irrepressible zest for life that gives heart and soul to the staging. Equally hilarious is Sarah Furnari, strong in all three of her roles, making us laugh heartily with each of her appearances.

It often seems that life is determined to beat us down, as though it knows the potency of our resilience. When we first meet the Hoover family, its members are at varying degrees of failure, with several personalities close to giving up. It is true that having loved ones as support, can help us weather difficulties of all kinds, but for those less fortunate, the human spirit must not be underestimated. Some live without families, and some even have to live without love, but there is always a way out, no matter how hard it may get.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: School Of Rock (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 8 – Feb 16, 2019
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Brent Hill, Nadia Komazec, Amy Lehpamer, John O’Hara, Zane Blumeris, Cooper Alexis, Jude Hyland, Cherami Mya Remulta, Cole Zoernleib, Joel Bishop, Paisley Motum, Brandon Santos, Sara Petrovski, Zoe Zantey, Deeana Cheong Foo, Sabina Felias

Theatre review
Fifth-graders at the prestigious Horace Green prep school, are suddenly thrown into chaos, when their substitute teacher arrives to replace all of their academic syllabus, with a secret mission to participate in a rock music competition. For a few short weeks, the man-child Dewey’s passion for rock, becomes a central part of these twelve children’s lives, and in the process, each is able to develop a sense of worth and self-esteem, from their accidental exposure to the anarchic art form.

Based on the 2003 film by Richard Linklater, this musical version of School Of Rock is similarly rousing, able to provide inspiration to audiences of all ages. With a story about the clash of class and culture, it reveals with excellent humour, some of the problems we experience as a result of the way we organise society, and the impact that it has on children. This stage adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable, a commercial product of musical theatre that hits all the right spots, featuring powerful tunes and exquisite stage craft,

Performer Brent Hill is a charismatic Dewey, an energetic and confident presence that effortlessly maintains a disarming vivacity for the show’s entirety. School principal Mullins is played by the highly skilled Amy Lehpamer, detailed and captivating with all that she brings to the stage. Twelve astonishing young performers make up the rebel mob, each one impressive in their own right. The precocious Deeana Cheong Foo is especially remarkable as the bright and headstrong Summer, a convincing actor noteworthy for her proficiency in comic timing. Zane Blumeris as Zack on the guitar, and Cherami Mya Remulta as Katie the bassist, are two unforgettable musicians, in a group of extraordinary prodigies responsible for making the show come alive.

In School Of Rock, we see children go from subdued to wild, and learn the value of experimentation and self-expression. It is a journey of discovery that the kids embark on, and in the joy of their momentary emancipation, we observe each one embracing a courage that will serve them well in all the days to come. Not everyone in the band will continue being rock stars, but no matter how they progress from this point, we can be sure that they will henceforth be able to recognise the resonance of authenticity whenever it appears.

www.schoolofrockthemusical.com

Review: H.M.S. Pinafore (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 8 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Katherine Allen, Gavin Brown, Thomas Campbell, Jermaine Chau, Tobias Cole, Sean Hall, Bobbie Jean Henning, Dominic Lui, Rory O’Keeffe, Billie Palin, Zach Selmes
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is all aboard the love boat in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 141-year-old operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. On the naval vessel, we find romances that transcend the English class system, as well as classic tropes of mistaken identities, and raucous sailor buffoonery of the guileless variety. The songs remain delightful, but its narrative is predictably outdated. Under Kate Gaul’s direction however, much of the show is made new again, by her resolute queering of how the story is told.

Genderfucking is the order of the day in this interpretation of H.M.S. Pinafore. A doggedly heterosexual world is radically transformed into something much less binary, where we no longer have to care what’s between the legs, as long as we understand that the heart wants, what the heart wants. With extravagant makeup design by Rachel Dal Santo, uniformly applied on all members of cast, everyone becomes sexually ambiguous. We are born naked and the rest is drag, as the saying goes, and the production is all the better for it. A modern sensibility permeates all of the show, that has suddenly turned refreshing and quite entrancing. Its humour is rejuvenated, featuring a roster of performers that are all very keen, very able and impressively comical in their embrace of a newly mandated approach of subversiveness.

Soprano Katherine Allen sings beautifully the part of Josephine, and brings a confident exuberance that transforms her damsel in distress character, into something much more likeable. Her beau Ralph is given irresistible charm by Billie Palin, who adds to her performance of masculinity, a renewed sense of dimension and meaning. Thomas Campbell is unforgettable as a hirsute version of Little Buttercup, with exaggerated gestures conveying an overt femininity for his role, using the art of drag to expose the absurdity of our obsession with gendered behaviour. Tobias Cole and Rory O’Keefe play Capt. Corcoran and Sir Jospeh Porter respectively, for persuasively funny depictions of powerful men, both creative in their camp renderings of otherwise hackneyed archetypes.

Music director Zara Stanton’s arrangements are highly inventive, incorporating a small number of instruments performed on stage by the ensemble, although a lack of percussion and bass does detract slightly from the rowdy mood. Nate Edmondson’s sound design delivers some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs of the production. Choreography by Ash Bee adds to the humour of the piece, although the movement of bodies can seem insufficiently robust at certain points. Melanie Lertz does wonderfully as production designer, for costumes and a set that are whimsical, joyful, and satisfyingly vivid. Fausto Brusamolino’s dynamic lights too are similarly pleasing, memorable for an air of romantic sophistication that they manufacture.

Affairs on the ship are kept underground, because of violations to conventions of class and hierarchy. On the stage, however, it is precisely these violations that we indulge in, so it only makes sense that notions of normalcy are required to go through a process of subversion, in order that we may enjoy H.M.S. Pinafore‘s underlying criticism of our hypocrisy. For centuries, we have thought of romantic love as splendid and almighty, yet societies everywhere have kept it a privilege only for those who fit the straight and narrow. What were once despicable perverts now take centre stage, as we learn to broaden every definition of who we are.

www.hayestheatre.com.au