Review: Yarramadoon The Musical (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 11, 2018
Book: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Songs: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Directors: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Cast: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Images by Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
Shelly might only be sixteen, but she has had enough of her country town. The bright lights of big city Sydney beckons, but first, Shelly has to deal with forces at home determined to keep her from the freedoms of the metropolis. Eliza Reilly and Hannah Reilly’s Yarramadoon is about a girl daring to dream; a diamond in the rough on her way to discovering her full potential. There is admittedly nothing extraordinary in that well-worn narrative, but the Reillys’ idiosyncratic comedy style proves irresistible, in this joyful take of the musical theatre genre.

Strictly for urban audiences, Yarramadoon is a scathing satire of life in the many backwater corners of Australia, where big mouths and narrow minds reign supreme. Songs by Matthew Predny and the Reillys are exuberant and effectively concise. It is a jaunty show, consistently witty, with many instances of inventiveness that truly delight. Lighting designer Martin Kinnane brings an excellent sense of dynamism to the plot, moving us between dimensions with great efficiency. The cast’s approach to performance is highly mischievous, and we get hopelessly swept up in their very compelling shenanigans. Eliza Reilly is particularly memorable as Shelly, confident in her extravagant sense of humour, and surprising with the depth she is able to convey, in what initially seems to be an unexceptional role.

When Shelly eventually lands in Sydney, there is no guarantee that she will find everything she had longed for, but the satisfaction that will come with her new autonomy is unequivocal. If we tell our girls that the world is their oyster, they must also be encouraged to explore the wilderness. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side; the key is to have the gumption to go and find out.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Cry-Baby (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jul 20 – Aug 19, 2018
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the John Waters film)
Songs: David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Brooke Almond, Hayden Baum, Christian Charisiou, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Bronte Florian, Alfie Gledhill, Aaron Gobby, Joel Granger, Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Amy Hack, Laura Murphy, Ashleigh Rubenach, Ksenia Zofi
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is 1950s Baltimore, in Maryland, USA, and the township is split into the straitlaced “squares” and their arch nemesis, the delinquent “drapes”. Cry-Baby is an Elvis-type drape singer who has won the heart of Allison, queen of the squares, for a tale of forbidden love and culture clashes, in the tradition of Romeo And Juliet, West Side Story, and Grease. Originally a 1990 film by the King of Bad Taste, John Waters, this 2007 musical is a spruced up, dumbed down version as though the squares have co-opted Cry-Baby, for a retell of the story in their own style and aesthetic. This is, essentially, John Waters for the mainstream.

An exceedingly sharp and polished production, designed by Isabel Hudson (set) and Mason Browne (costumes), Baltimore is on this occasion, turned into a dazzling candy-cane Disney theme park, where even the poor looks camera-ready for the pages of Vogue. Director Alexander Berlage proves himself adept at manufacturing atmosphere and energy for the stage, but is unable to find for the piece, any emotional or intellectual depth that will allow for a more substantial experience, beyond an appreciation of all its very enthusiastic display of light and froth.

Christian Charisiou and Ashleigh Rubenach lead the cast, both Ken-and-Barbie-perfect in all that they bring, complete with the exhilarating singing of very high notes, that we have come to expect of the genre. Most memorable is Laura Murphy, incredibly delightful as Lenora, the only subversive element of the show, gleefully representing the cult of Waters in exquisite form. Other standouts include Amy Hack who embodies an assertive libidinal power that reminds us of the show’s queer origins, and Blake Erickson who amps up the camp factor in all his multi-gendered parts, to our immense satisfaction.

When overzealous french kissing is the dirtiest thing in a show, we know that it has deviated far, far away from the John Waters milieu. It is true that we can be polite when making art, that there is no need for the crude and obscene to surface in everything we put on stage, but Waters’ devotees will encounter an air of sacrilege at the Cry-Baby musical that is perhaps unbearable.

For others however, it is a wonderful reprieve from the daily humdrum, of colour, movement and a fantastic pop sensibility, that champions the optimism and vitality of youth at its best. The younger we are, the easier it is to demolish attitudes of prejudice and hate. There is no question that the differences between tribes, drapes and squares and so forth, can be reconciled, when we realise that the amount we have in common are infinitely greater, than the things we dream up to keep us apart.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.laurenpetersdesign.com

Review: Gypsy (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 18 – Jun 30, 2018
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Blazey Best, Laura Bunting, Anthony Harkin, Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, Jessica Vickers, Jane Watt, Sophie Wright
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Probably the most well-known story about a stage mother, Gypsy is a highly-regarded biographical musical, that charts the early years of legendary American burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, with particular focus on her mother Rose’s overzealous efforts at attaining stardom for her two daughters. The show is a fascinating character study, but also thoroughly entertaining, with a structure that seems to include every ingredient necessary for a sure-fire hit.

The production, directed by Richard Carroll, is inviting and warm, especially sensitive in its depiction of family dynamics. The narrative is conveyed with emotion and depth, but some of Gypsy’s theatricality is lost in the realism that it cultivates; both its humour and drama can occasionally feel underplayed, perhaps too understated in approach for a form that honours all things larger than life.

Rose is very convincing here, as the “momager” with good intentions. Played by Blazey Best, her maternal qualities are irrefutable, but parts of the character that are nefarious and abhorrent, are softened as a result, and dramatic tensions never quite reach beyond the adequate. Laura Bunting impresses in Act II, as we watch the performer take little Louise through a breathtaking transformation, into the international sensation that was Gypsy Rose Lee. As the character begins to find her strength and power, we become accordingly captivated, relieved to experience a brighter side to the mournful tale. Supporting actor Jane Watt chews the scenery as Cratchitt and again as Tessie Tura, delivering some truly marvellous moments of joyful laughter, whilst demonstrating extraordinary comic ability and presence, in a very unexpected coupling of roles.

Also memorable is scenic design by Alicia Clements, romantically evocative of auditoriums from the early twentieth century, complete with ornamental proscenium arches and velvet curtains. Scene changes are impeccably executed by a very attentive and efficient team, headed by Cara Woods, the stage manager who rises to the challenge of a very technically involved show.

When successes come to bear, past transgressions tend to turn easily forgiven. It is true that Gypsy’s fame and fortune had come, partially, as a result of Rose’s unconscionable behaviour, but there must be no denying the depravity of her ways. The cliché that “everything happens for a reason” is useful in helping people move forward, and although there is no virtue quite as awe-inspiring as forgiveness, Rose should only be seen as a villain, whether or not one is able to perceive her redeeming features. Parents are simply never allowed to violate the sanctity and responsibility, of nurturing and protecting their offspring, no matter what riches are at stake. Contemporary parallels to the Gypsy story abound, with the Kardashians, Jenners and Hadids currently most conspicuous. It can seem a fine line between love and exploitation, but the matter of parenting has no room for ambiguity.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: The Colour Orange (Flaming Howard Productions)

Venue: Giant Dwarf (Redfern NSW), May 19, 2018
Book and lyrics: Oli Cameron, Sophia Roberts
Music: Oli Cameron
Director: Oli Cameron, Sophia Roberts
Cast: Kirralee Elliott, Liam Ferguson, Gabi Kelland, Zach Selmes, Zara Stanton, Victoria Zerbst
Image by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Pauline Hanson is one of our most famous politicians, a celebrity the media never seems to tire of, who is constantly in our airwaves with some variety of outrageous concoction. We are in an age where people are encouraged to behave poorly, so that they can be turned into clown-like characters, for our daily consumption of current affairs. There are consequences of course, to this morbid fascination and promotion of unsavoury types, but their ability to prevail within our cultural consciousness in undeniable.

The Colour Orange is a musical by Oli Cameron and Sophia Roberts, that tracks the rise and fall, and rise again of Hanson. Before the ubiquity of influencers and the twitterati, Hanson was a legitimate oddity. Cameron and Roberts are fascinated by the early years of her fame, spending much of their 60 minutes recalling what can only be described as an embarrassing portion of Australian political history. There is no questioning the colourful, and hence highly entertaining quality of those times, but little is made of our current climate and her persistent relevance to those who are so resolutely behind her.

The songs are thoroughly amusing, cleverly devised to deliver maximum comedic effect, although its satire seems to dwell most comfortably on the tried and tested. Hanson is presented as a walking cliché, and the audience laps it up. Although lacking in fresh perspectives, there is plenty to make fun of, and like its closing number says, “isn’t it fun to laugh,” repeatedly so it seems, at this bugbear that refuses to go away.

It is a raw production, but the talent on display is significant. The band, known as The Flaming Howards, is cohesive and effervescent, with Cameron as their spirited leader, bringing an appropriate amount of camp to proceedings. Six performers play a range of roles, all individually impressive, each one memorable in their own right. All players are given the opportunity to take on the lead role at different moments, but it is somewhat disappointing that none have taken up the challenge of impersonating Hanson’s very distinct speaking voice. There is however, enough derision already taking place, to keep us satisfied.

What Hanson represents, requires little decipherment; we have known her for over two decades, and her playbook never changes. The Colour Orange all but neglects the meanings of her resurgence, even though it is more than worthwhile to try and understand what it is in our community today, that allows that particular brand of hatred, prejudice and the thoughtless persecution of our own kind, to raise its ugly head. It has been demonstrated time and time again, that the presence of people like Hanson, feeds an insidious appetite for destruction, that when left unchecked, will not hesitate to precipitate one catastrophe after another.

www.facebook.com/flaminghowardproductions

Review: Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), May 13 – Jul 19, 2018
Book: Stephan Elliott, Allan Scott
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Lena Cruz, Euan Doidge, Robert Grubb, George Holahan-Cantwell, David Harris, Adèle Parkinson, Emma Powell, Tony Sheldon
Images by Ben Symons

Theatre review
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert is an iconic work about homophobia, or more accurately, the resilience of LGBT people in Australia, who have managed to grow from strength to strength against all odds, in the face of pervasive, persistent and severe prejudice. The bus takes our three protagonists across the breadth of half the continent, encountering abuse and humiliation at every stop. To watch spirited people triumph over obstacles and injustice, is always gratifying, but to see it all happen in a musical with shiny twentieth-century pop tunes, is quite the sensation.

There is much to love about the show. Brian Thomson’s production design, Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s costumes and Ben Moir’s wigs, are all spectacular and unabashedly flamboyant, a real feast for the eyes, in a theatrical moment that provides an escape from our beige humdrum. The central story that reunites a gay man with his young son, is thoroughly moving, a soulful addition to the already poignant and universal narrative, of having to live out one’s own truth. The original film, on which the musical is based, is however, well over two decades old, and the baggage of its sexist and racist dimensions have only become more pronounced with time. Theatre, unlike the format of the motion picture, is capable of endless evolution. It is understandable that the biggest gags of the film have to be retained, but their political incorrectness require a degree of modulation or better yet, radical revisions, which the production conveniently disregards.

One can think of many women, bankable stars of the stage, who would be perfect for the role of Bernadette, but Tony Sheldon is once again cast as the Sydney local trans legend. He is precise and polished, an incandescent presence, but we are now in a new age of trans identities, and misgendering of this nature, is distracting, and certainly no longer acceptable. Euan Doidge is interminably effervescent, and breathtakingly beautiful, as Felicia the younger drag queen who learns things the hard way. His abilities as singer and dancer are thrilling to witness, and there is no denying the relief in seeing a person of colour as a lead, in a show known for its history of excruciating ethnic representations. The infamous ping pong scene is kept intact, but Lena Cruz’s feisty performance as Cynthia has us cheering for the character’s sense of liberated and vibrant autonomy.

David Harris cuts through the noisy glitz as Tick, impressive in his ability to convey emotional intensity, for several scenes that help prevent the show from disintegrating into meaningless froth. The father-son chemistry in later sequences are unforgettable, with fabulous child performer George Holahan-Cantwell offering the perfect balance, especially moving in the “Always On My Mind / I Say A Little Prayer” number, delivering a genuine instance of delicacy, in the midst of all things bold and brassy.

The show opens in Sydney officially, and auspiciously, on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2018. This year, same-sex couples in Australia are finally able to marry, and the gay rights movement finds itself approaching the culmination of its objectives. In Priscilla, the prejudices on display that are most agonising, are no longer about gay men. It is time to look at the behaviour on the Australian stage, towards trans people and ethnic minorities. These may just be unintended sub-plots of a show that bears our national pride, but the passage of time can turn things from well-meaning to wilful neglect. We all wish to belong, and those who are no longer the pariah, should know to work for a bigger expanse of inclusivity and unity.

www.priscillathemusical.com.au

Review: Carmen, Live Or Dead (Oriel Entertainment Group)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 28 – May 13, 2018
Music & Lyrics: iOTA
Book: Craig Harwood
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Natalie Gamsu, Stefanie Jones, Andrew Kroenert
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It is true that Frida Kahlo had had an affair with Soviet politician Leon Trotsky, but it is entirely fictional that a lovechild was born as a result of that brief relationship. Nonetheless, Craig Harwood’s vividly imagined Carmen, Live Or Dead almost has us believing in its fantasy, that Kahlo’s offspring does exist, and that Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich had once lived in Australia.

It is an appealing fabrication; the idea that Kahlo’s magnificence lives on beyond her legendary paintings, and Harwood does create a persona that is as colourful and spirited as any fan could wish for, even if the writer’s plot structure has a tendency to be unnecessarily convoluted. Prominent in the presentation, are eight original songs by iOTA, all of them charming, often very quirky in style, and thankfully not too derivative of the Broadway genre.

Visually sumptuous, the production features a whimsical set, exquisitely decorated and painted by designer Dann Barber, evoking quintessential Mexican beauty, alongside enchanting imagery that pays tribute to the art of Kahlo. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are sensual and alluring, providing a sensation of transcendence that convincingly elevates the theatrical experience, whilst retaining its delicious and unique aura of street-smart griminess.

Director Shaun Rennie manufactures a series of captivating moods, allowing every scene to intrigue, with moments of visceral engagement that leave an impression. Performer Natalie Gamsu is a warm presence who shines in each song, but the character being portrayed does not always feel authentic; her true emotions are elusive and the connections we make can feel tentative. Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert provide musical accompaniment, as well as actorly support, both accomplished with their contributions, for a show memorable for the surprising effectiveness of its restrained approach to instrumentation.

Carmen announces her impending death early in the show, inviting us to partake in flashback summations of her life and times, that constitute this piece of musical theatre. We are also inspired to consider our own deaths, and how our individual stories will eventually be told. Footprints will fade, but nothing matters more than how much good we are able to leave behind.

www.carmenliveordead.com

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