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

Review: Natives Go Wild (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 22 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Rhoda Roberts
Music: Damian Robinson
Director: Chelsea McGuffin
Cast: Waangenga Blanco, Mika Haka, Beau James, Josephine Mailisi, ‘SistaNative’ Seini Taumoepeau, Samuela Taukave aka Skillz
Images by Anna Kucera

Theatre review
There is probably nothing more objectifying than being part of the display at a human zoo. To be placed in that position can of course be an entirely voluntary enterprise, but in the 19th century, it is likely that circumstances at fairs and carnivals were less than dignified, with the acquisition and misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples for the pleasure of gawking colonials, forming a crucial feature of the circus industry.

Rhoda Roberts’ Natives Go Wild is critical of that tradition of humiliation, of a West obsessed with exoticism, depriving people of colour their agency. In this show however, identities are reclaimed, and tables are turned, as Indigenous performers from various Antipodean regions, take charge of their narratives, telling us precisely what we need to know, about who they are and what they do.

It is a glamorous production, featuring excellent work by designers Mark Howett (set and lights) and Tim Chappel (costumes). Original songs and music by Damian Robinson are full of inspiration, contributing a sense of transcendental elevation to the staging, with singer Seini SistaNative Taumoepeau bringing remarkable soul to these refreshing compositions. Director Chelsea McGuffin is charged with the responsibility of assembling disparate elements into a cohesive whole, for a vaudeville style of presentation that asks all the right questions.

Ringmaster Mika Haka is high camp personified, but in an acerbic and confrontational style, never letting us easily off the hook. Waangenga Blanco and Samuela Skillz Taukave are mesmerising dancers, both portraying a series of legendary Indigenous figures from circus history. Aerial artist and contortionist Josephine Mailisi conveys true beauty with a physicality full of strength and discipline. The interminably charming clown Beau James delivers some of the funniest and most moving sequences, proving himself a real star we cannot get enough of.

Some might argue that colonisation has improved lives, but there is no question that the inherent cruelty of Western values, has had negative impacts on Indigenous communities that remain significant today. The persistent inability of white people to prioritise Indigenous voices have meant that their needs are consistently ignored, and their wisdom disregarded. Even as we watch the world crumble under instruments of white supremacy, it refuses to cede power, tenaciously holding on to reins that have failed economies and the environment. Unless the next stage of our collective evolution is to better incorporate those who have demonstrated actual skills of survival, the future can only be bleak.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Billy Elliot (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Oct 10 – Dec 15, 2019
Music: Elton John
Book and Lyrics: Lee Hall
Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Kelley Abbey, Gabrielle Daggar, Vivien Davies, Danielle Everett, Robert Grubb, Drew Livingston, Jamie Rogers, Justin Smith, Aaron Smyth, James Sonnemann, Dean Vince
Images by James D. Morgan

Theatre review
An eleven-year-old boy from the North-East of England decides to learn ballet. Billy Elliot takes place in the mid 80’s with County Durham in the throes of the devastating coal miners’ strike, and Billy’s decision to dance could not seem more flippant or extravagant. There is of course, the additional concern that ballet is a wholly inappropriate activity for any male person, especially in regards a small boy during his formative years. The fragility of masculinity is a central theme in the musical; machismo and gayness are delicate subjects in virtually all our societies, hardly spoken about until the notion of manhood finds itself severely threatened. Billy’s simple act of ditching boxing for ballet, causes more than a slight kerfuffle, thereby exposing our culture for its toxic attitudes around gender roles.

Not quite as moving as the 2000 film, but certainly no less entertaining, Billy Elliot is a sumptuous delight on the live stage. All its visual aspects are marvellously rendered, from scenic design, lighting, costumes, to choreography, there is brilliance everywhere we look. Music by Elton John, with book and lyrics by Lee Hall, tell the story with humour and elegance. Its depictions of childhood are particularly charming. Billy and his friends are allowed to be playful and rambunctious, their more than occasional use of mild profanity presents an innocence that feels resonantly, and unusually, authentic.

Performer Jamie Rogers proves himself technically accomplished in the title role, with countless pirouettes and chaînés turns keeping us amazed and thrilled. Billy’s best friend Michael is played by James Sonnemann, a hugely charismatic actor whose precise comic timing has us eating out of his hand, at every appearance. Gabrielle Daggar is another child star who delivers the laughs, very endearing as the mischievous Debbie. The grown-ups too are excellent, in this quintessential work about art and its challenges. Billy’s father is given effervescent life by Justin Smith, and Kelley Abbey’s idiosyncratic warmth as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson makes convincing, this unexpected and unlikely tale from the English working class.

It is an appealing thought that one’s station in life could be illusory, but the truth is that few of us can transcend barriers, to become something more than has been assigned. Humans may be capable of infinite things, but cultural restrictions are just as real as those natural potentialities. Immense and immeasurable forces abound, that tell us what we cannot do, and it takes superhuman ability to recognise the truth, and surmount social constructs. Defiance is hard, but without it, autonomy can only be elusive.

wwww.billyelliotthemusical.com.au

Review: Fangirls (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 10, 2019
Book, Music & Lyrics: Yve Blake
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Aydan, Yve Blake, Kimberley Hodgson, Chika Ikogwe, Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Edna is head over heels in love with Harry, except Harry is miles away in the UK, and a member of a boy band oblivious to Edna’s existence. Yve Blake’s Fangirls details the experience shared by many, ever since the advent of pop music in the middle of the twentieth century, where teenagers develop crushes on stars the intensity of which can often be overwhelming. They had fainted at Beatles concerts in the 60’s, thrown panties at Tom Jones in the 70’s, and now they write fan fiction as a manifestation of their fantasies, and a declaration of love, to share with vast communities of like-minded youth.

Fiction and reality however, become dangerously blurred in Fangirls, as Edna’s obsession grows completely out of hand. It is admittedly surprising, that what seems to be a pedestrian premise for a show, would emerge being the foundation for one of the cleverest and most entertaining musicals to grace our stages. Its dialogue is inexhaustibly witty, partnered by songs that are as inventive as they are powerful, with a plot structure that casts a hypnotic spell over our heads and hearts. Proving that storytelling does not always require subject matter that obviously resonate, Fangirls enthrals with its colourful yet authentic characters, who navigate the modern world in a way that can be thought of as peculiar, but also unequivocally essential in our understanding of humanity. Perhaps it is precisely in these instances of insanity, that we can locate our true nature.

Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is a joyful exercise in feminine vivacity, deliciously exuberant as it celebrates the foibles of adolescence that define us all. Fangirls is hilarious, even at its darkest moments, always insisting that we laugh heartily at situations that evoke memories that were once deathly embarrassing, but are now freshly endearing. Music direction by Alice Chance and music production by David Muratore, draw inspiration from recent trends in pop, for a remarkably exciting score replete with energy, surprise and fabulous irony. Leonardo Mickelo’s choreography is similarly accomplished, making every number a visual thrill. Video by David Fleischer and Justin Harrison help depict the new media environment that informs the sensibilities of our youth, but it is Emma Valente’s lighting design that delivers spectacle and atmospheric augmentation, which really get us in the mood.

Edna is triumphantly portrayed by Blake, whose skills in acting, singing and dancing, are quite astonishingly on par with what she achieves as songwriter and playwright. She is simultaneously heartbreaking and comical, persistently nuanced even if the performance is relentlessly extravagant in tone. The mononymous Aydan is thoroughly convincing as the object of desire, a marvellous caricature who is clearly in on the joke. Five extraordinary supporting players in a wide variety of roles, leave us hopelessly thrilled by their impressive talents. Chika Ikogwe is absolutely glorious with the sassy humour and parodic hip hop stylings she brings, in addition to the moments of piercing poignancy she introduces as the less than best friend Jules.

Caroline, the mother at wits end, is played by an impossibly versatile Sharon Millerchip. James Majoos is unforgettable as Saltypringl, and for dialling up the camp factor in all his scintillating representations of gender diversity. Very big laughs are delivered by Kimberley Hodgson, who is brilliantly incisive as the naive Briana, and Ayesha Madon takes every opportunity to tickle us with excessive vocal flourishes, along with multiple absurd appearances as an overzealous ribbon gymnast.

We can give our children everything they need and want, and still have to live with the idea that they will inevitably go out and court trouble. In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that when we leave them with nothing to want, is when they would find ways to create havoc. People need to feel in control of their own existences. Adults take it upon themselves to provide every kind of order, so that the young can have peaceful and rewarding lives, but without experiencing chaos and failure, it is hard to imagine that anyone could truly welcome everything that should be cherished. We dread our kids ever having to hit rock bottom, but we know that that is in many ways, absolutely necessary.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.atyp.com.au | www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Hair (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 3 – 6, 2019
Book & Lyrics: James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Music: Galt MacDermot
Director: Cameron Menzies
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Angelique Cassimatis, Emma Hawthorne, Luke Jarvis, Joe Kalou, Julian Kuo, Louis Lucente, Matthew Manahan, Sun Park, Paulini, Keshia Paulse, Callan Purcell, Monique Salle, Hugh Sheridan, Prinnie Stevens, Harris M. Turner,
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hair debuted 1967, in the middle of the anti-Vietnam war movement. An icon of the peace-loving hippie counterculture era, the musical contains many anti-establishment elements that remain its defining feature, including the incorporation of profanity, illicit drugs, and nudity. It is the story of a New York City bohemian tribe, culminating in tensions that bring strain to the group when it is discovered that a member, Claude is being conscripted.

Act One is an exuberant cornucopia, of mischievously colourful expressions pertaining to ideals and identities of the flower power generation. Director Cameron Menzies and choreographer Amy Campbell manufacture a joyful visit to an optimistic past, enjoyable not only for its nostalgic value but also for an innocence, that proves so moving in the current bitter climate. Act Two turns serious, with the narrative shifting more firmly onto the Vietnam war, but sound engineering, although beautifully optimised for the cast’s vocalisations, does little to enhance diction in the reverb of the auditorium. Without clear enough access to dialogue and lyrics, the drama is unable to resonate. Lighting by Paul Lim on the other hand, is innovative and exciting, and together with James Browne’s spirited work on costumes, the production is a delight for the eyes.

A marvellous ensemble, full of conviction and vigour, gives us a cohesive gang of personalities, remarkably convincing in their depiction of an adopted family affair, powerful with the warmth they emanate. Matthew Manahan is a charming presence as Claude, commendable for the complexity he brings to the role. An imposing Harris M. Turner is the show’s unequivocal scene-stealer, equally impressive whether singing or dancing as Hud, the militant black rights activist. The astonishing Paulini sings some very big notes, reliably bringing the house down at each appearance. The group’s alpha male Berger is played by a tremendously likeable Hugh Sheridan, whose vivacity knows no bounds, even if completely unbelievable as a high school student.

When psychologist and LSD advocate Timothy Leary said half a century ago, to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, many were persuaded by his statement of subversion, and sought an alternative to socioeconomic and political systems that had revealed themselves to be oppressive and unjust. It seems all these years later, we are once again at a breaking point. A new generation, fuelled by the same disillusionment, is now trying to find new answers to old questions. Bell bottoms and patchouli may no longer be en vogue, but we still want peace, equity and a restorative love for mother earth, and with any luck, our efforts will have a permanent impact this time round.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com