Review: The Lucky Country (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 26 – Jun 17, 2023
Music and Lyrics: Vidya Makan in collaboration with Sonya Suares
Director: Sonya Suares
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Dyagula, Milo Hartill, Jeffrey Liu, Vidya Makan, Billy Mcpherson, Karlis Zaid
Images by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review

It is perhaps the most important function of the theatre, to help us figure out, who we are as a community. A space of congregation where artistic expression is shared, so that issues can be discussed by those local to the area, and where hopefully some form of consensus can be reached. Theatre is at its best, a force for social cohesion. In these times of division, brought on by unprecedented technological disruptions, the myth of monolithic cultures can no longer prevail. Yet we have to find ways to uphold notions of unity, in a new climate determined to acknowledge and appreciate the irrefutable diversity that can no longer be subsumed by outmoded conceptions of a singular identity.

In The Lucky Country, a new musical written by Vidya Makan in collaboration with Sonya Suares, that diversity is displayed extensively on stage, but without a sense of fracture that has come to inform how we understand difference. Makan and Suares’ thorough search and depiction of ways to pay respect, for the many peoples that we are, allows The Lucky Country to offer a showcase of identities that feels accurate and aspirational. Each of its many delightfully melodious songs represents a different part of those on this land; they are distinctly rendered, more like an anthology than one narrative of experience, allowing each of us to have our own say, and demonstrating the ease of co-existence.

The work is incredibly moving with its deep excavations of marginalised lives, but it is also guided by a scintillating humour, for a show that is disarmingly funny from beginning to end. Directed by Suares, along with choreography by Amy Zhang, The Lucky Country is energetic and bustling with activity, holding our attention captive, always keeping us fulfilled and wanting more.

Instead of a set, the empty stage is adorned with a cyclorama, on which Justin Harrison’s witty and sensitive video compositions are projected, adding further emotional dimensions to the production. Lights by Rob Sowinski and costumes by Emily Collett are slightly under explored, but both provide satisfactory levels of embellishment. Heidi Maguire’s orchestrations are entertaining and lively, and along with Michael Tan’s sound design, deliver for the songs a beautiful simplicity that feel rich in resonance.

In spectacular form, a wonderful cast delivers these stories of diminished individuals to glorious light. Joseph Althouse, Dyagula, Milo Hartill, Jeffrey Liu, Vidya Makan, Billy Mcpherson and Karlis Zaid bring technical acuity, as well as exceptional soulfulness, to make The Lucky Country an unforgettable instance of transcendence, filled with love for all who have been welcomed to this country.

Colonialism aims to make so many of us feel small and devalued. It also wishes to drive wedges between us, so that we forget who the real enemies are. Its apparatus is hopelessness, wearing us down until we relent and allow them to exploit and pillage as they wish. Defiance however is a part of the human spirit that remains accessible, even during the hardest of times. In The Lucky Country, we see that the act of defiance can be joyful and unifying. An insistence on new ways to define ourselves beyond old ideas that privilege few, is an urgent need that begins with a defiance that can be summoned, from every dark depth of despair.

Review: Metropolis (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 20, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Julia Robertson (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)
Music: Zara Stanton
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Tom Dawson, Sam Harmon, Selin Idris, Dominic Lui, Amanda McGregor, Tomas Parrish, AJ Pate, Joshua Robson, Anusha Thomas, Shannen Alyce Quan, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel Metropolis, emerged as a response to the Second Industrial Revolution, when it had become clear that modernity was likely to involve catastrophic consequences, that the powers that be, could very well ignore. In von Harbou’s story, business magnate Joh Fredersen’s ambitions knows no bounds. His efforts to exploit new technologies for unprecedented material gains, turns him blind to the devastating human and environmental costs, resulting from these twentieth century ways of organising labour. There may be a naivete associated with Metropolis, but a century on, it is clear that von Harbou’s early concerns, criticized for being overly simplistic, have now become completely substantiated, and sadly commonplace.

This musical adaptation, with book and lyrics by Julia Robertson and music by Zara Staunton, certainly preserves the uncomplicated tone of the original book (and the famous Fritz Lang film of 1927). Its songs are highly enjoyable, with unpredictable orchestrations by Staunton that evoke meaningful contrasts between notions of the natural versus the synthetic. The plot however, is rarely compelling or convincing in a show, directed by Robertson, that is perhaps excessively stylised, ironically unable to convey sufficient humanity, for its audience to invest meaningfully into any of its characters, or its moral intentions.

There are however, many instances of visual splendour, on a set by Nick Fry whose rendering of classic art deco schemes, delivers satisfying imagery commensurate with expectations derived from the cultural landmark that is Lang’s film. Fry’s work on a human-size puppet that depicts a dystopic robot, is especially impressive. Ryan McDonald’s lighting design too is pleasing to the eye, although it can seem too pre-occupied with the manufacturing of beauty, leaving some spatial configurations to look somewhat deficient. Ella Butler’s costumes depict well, the decay of modernity, but some attempts at portraying decadence, are less than adequate.

Joshua Robson plays Fredersen, and along with Shannen Alyce Quan in the role of Maria, offer some of the stronger singing, in a cast memorable for its unwavering earnestness. Tom Dawson brings stage presence to Fredersen’s honourable son Freder, but it is Thomas Campbell as the mad scientist Rotwang who is memorable with a sense of authenticity, albeit in an extravagantly fantastical realm.

Freder repeatedly urges for his father to do better, but it is hard to tell anyone to moderate their behaviour, when they see no incentive to do so; for some people, the idea of “a greater good” simply never resonates. It makes sense therefore, to resort to the language of power, that they evidently believe in above all else. This then requires that the disenfranchised find cohesion and consensus, for the only way for the huddled masses to be able to participate in the discourse of power, is for us to coalesce, in hopes of forming something threatening enough, that will force a change. When our disparities are this severe, we need to wake to the fact that any amelioration, will only come from our steely insistence, and never from the kindness of those whose hearts are determined not to be found. |

Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 20 – 26, 2023
Book: Jonathan Larson
Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Director: Tyran Parke
Cast: Sheridan Adams, Finn Alexander, Hamish Johnston, Elenoa Rokobaro, Hugh Sheridan
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review

Jon’s thirtieth birthday is fast approaching, and his anxiety is on overdrive. An artist living and working in New York, his career has yet to take off, even though everyone seems to heap praise on his song writing. Tick, Tick… Boom! is a semi-autobiographical work by Jonathan Larson, first performed in 1990, just six years before his untimely death, at the very young age of 35. Larson’s greatest success finally came with the musical Rent, but he never saw the warm reception of opening night, having passed away just the day before its first preview.

Tick, Tick… Boom! was never conceived for large venues. This staging, directed by Tyran Parke, is based on an adaptation by David Auburn that expanded the work from Larson’s original solo format, and its current iteration in a 2,000 seater auditorium, demonstrates unfavourably the intimate nature of the musical. The drama never grips, and the songs rarely soar. We feel energies dissipating long before they reach us, from a stage that often looks too subdued, and too far away.

Christina Smith’s scenic design encloses the action on the centre third of the proscenium, which helps to concentrate focus, but which also restricts movement, in a way that makes the show look monotonous. Lights by Matt Scott, although adept at providing appropriate illumination, does not deliver much more than its essential functions. Musical direction by Kohan van Sambeeck, while able to imbue some intensity to the plot, is let down by sound engineering that keeps the band distant, and much of their efforts withdrawn and contained within the stage area.

Leading man Hugh Sheridan, while not lacking in verve, has a voice that is excessively raspy and strained, unable to allow his audience to connect with the songs, and therefore losing the essence and soul of his character Jon. Performer Elenoa Rokobaro is the saving grace of the production, confident and delightful in all of her roles, especially memorable in her showstopping tune, “Come to Your Senses”, taking the opportunity very late in the piece, to remind us of the magic, that theatre is capable of.

Artists do not create work in vacuums. It is fundamental to any art practice, that communication between creator and audience is a matter of consideration, but there always comes a point where one can care too much. Jon cares too much, about what people think, not only in relation to his work as a writer of songs and musicals, but also as a man struggling in a contemporary epoch, defined by envy and competition. It is a shame that we have manufactured a world, in which few artists are able to be content simply with the joy of creation, where most are made to involve themselves with an endless barrage of peripheral interferences, that fuel professional jealousy and gratuitous aspiration. Jon is good at what he loves, but it is a real shame that everywhere he seeks affirmation, seems to make him think, that he is not enough.

Review: Into The Woods (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 18 – Apr 23, 2023
Book: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Marty Alix, Stefanie Caccamo, Peter Carroll, Tamsin Carroll, Andrew Coshan, Lena Cruz, Tim Draxl, Esther Hannaford, Shubshri Kandiah, Mo Lovegrove, Anne-Maree McDonald, Justin Smith
Images by Christopher Hayles

Theatre review

Truth always finds its way into the stories we tell, although the degree with which it is incorporated, varies wildly. Some truths are hard to bear, so we have them varnished and camouflaged. Other truths are easier understood, when disguised as something adjacent to stone cold facts. There is a danger however, that the human mind can sometimes do all it can, to evade truths that are too bitter, so we spare ourselves the cruelty, and fabricate nonsense for delusory alternatives that might be more tolerable, thereby circumventing any action that could help improve matters.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods takes aim at the ways in which we explain the world to our children, urging us to consider how much protection to offer them, and how much real understanding we want them to have. By extension, it compels each of us to examine our own capacities to handle the rougher aspects of existence, and questions the veracity with which we navigate the more consequential challenges that inevitably arise.

Exuberant direction by Eamon Flack, along with a sense of indefatigable urgency that sets the pace, makes for a show that has us riveted and amused. A stellar cast brings not only great skill and talent, but also an inspiring sincerity, that draws us deep into the nuances, both sensorial and intellectual, of Lapine and Sondheim’s masterpiece.

Orchestrations by Guy Simpson reduces accompaniment to a couple of pianos, with mixed results. An inviting intimacy is achieved for the production, but the music can on occasion be insufficiently rousing. Fortunately, sound design by David Bergman supplements our need for greater drama, in moments where a more rhapsodic level of emotion is required.

Set design by Michael Hankin is fairly minimal in approach, with an abundance of gleaming black surfaces that deliver timeless visual sophistication. Costumes by Micka Agosta do not veer very far away from the vivid essences of characters as prescribed in the text, but several surprising and extravagant interpretations, leave a remarkable impression. Damien  Cooper’s lights are in constant motion, meticulously and imaginatively illuminating the action, to create endlessly sumptuous imagery, whilst facilitating all the meaningful storytelling.

It is probably with a considerable amount of delusion, that people decide to birth babies into existence. Parents imagine that they can shield their offspring from all manner of harm, and further, they fantasise about creating futures that are brighter and altogether lovelier, in which their children can flourish. It is in moments of passion perhaps, that people forget the unrelenting suffering, intermittent it may be for some, that underscores all our days on this plane. They then dream up fairy tales and enchanting fables, to manufacture sweeter, kinder and more tender realities, for ears that will only be delicate for a short amount of time, before they too have to wake up, to all that is nightmarish, in how we have to traverse this mortal experience.

Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 15, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner (adaptation by Jay James-Moody)
Music: Burton Lane
Director: Jay James-Moody
Cast: Natalie Abbott, Blake Bowden, Lincoln Elliott, James Haxby, Jay James-Moody, Madeleine Jones, Billie Palin
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review

Daisy is put under hypnosis by Dr Bruckner, to explore a sort of regression therapy, in order that the origins of Daisy’s ESP abilities can be uncovered. Quite by accident, a past life emerges, and Bruckner promptly falls for the ghost of Melinda, who seems to reside in Daisy’s body. The trouble however, is in the liberties that the doctor takes with his patient’s body. Daisy remains unaware of Melinda’s existence, and is certainly oblivious to the physical intimacies being shared, whilst in a trance.

Alan Jay Lerner’s 1965 book and lyrics for the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever certainly would not fly in today’s climate, especially if Daisy was a woman. This current adaptation by Jay James-Moody, takes inspiration from the 2011 Broadway adaptation, and makes Daisy a man, presumably so that the quandary of gender imbalance in the original is eliminated. A case of sexual assault between men, along with professional impropriety, is however still at the centre of the piece, and it is arguable if the production addresses either adequately.

The show begins with wonderful charm, as we are introduced to the three main characters, all of whom are played by extremely likeable performers; James-Moody as Daisy, along with Blake Bowden as Bruckner and Madeleine Jones as Melinda, form quite the formidable team.  The supporting cast of Natalie Abbott, Lincoln Elliott, James Haxby and Billie Palin, too is an accomplished foursome, each with evident commitment to the cause.

As we get into the nitty-gritty of the story, a lethargy unfortunately develops, and a conspicuous lack of theatrical verve persists until the end of Act 1. Returning from interval, things take a swift turn, and a much more convivial experience takes hold, for a comedy that is although problematic, has the capacity to keep its audience engrossed.

Set design by Michael Hankin is creatively imagined, and beautifully realised by Bella Rose Saltearn, but awkward entrances and exits, reveal an oversight perhaps, of the show’s more practical requirements. Costumes, also by Hankin, establish strongly the personality types we encounter, but it is not entirely convincing that an English woman from 1923 is wearing trousers outside of the sporting field, or that Daisy would be wearing shorts, to embark on a vacation to Vancouver. Lights by James Wallis, operate delicately to offer visual enhancements for recurring supernatural elements, but several deficient blackouts, prove distracting for an otherwise pleasurable vista.

Natalya Aynsley’s orchestrations and arrangements are inexhaustibly elegant, fully utilising the score’s old Broadway sound to great nostalgic effect. Subtle sound design by Oliver Brighton delivers further auditory magic, with thoughtful adjustments that help us place the narrative in oscillating realms, moving us between past and present, real and metaphysical.

Not only has Dr Bruckner recently lost his wife, he is now dealing with the complications of having amorous feelings for another dead woman, as well as being newly enamoured with a real human male. All this vulnerability could make Brucker an empathetic character,  but he should not be regarded as anything other than the villain of the piece. It is unforgivable behaviour, even if disguised by some of the most romantic music, and plenty of sweet nothings, one can hear.

Review: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 16 Feb – 18 Mar, 2023
Book : Joseph Fields, Anita Loos
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Leo Robin
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Octavia Barron-Martin, Thomas Campbell, Ruby Clark, Adam Di Martino, Emily Havea, Georgina Hopson, Tomáš Kantor, Leah Lim, Tomas Parrish, Matthew Predny, Monica Sayers
Images by John McCrae

Theatre review

It is the Roaring Twenties, and two single women are on a luxury cruise ship sailing from New York to Paris. Dorothy just wants to have a good time, but Lorelei is determined to find herself a rich husband. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may be most remembered as one of Marilyn Monroe’s finest cinematic moments, but its predecessor was this musical by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos, which was in turn based on Loos’ own novel. Light and frothy, with generous portions of slapstick, it brims with post-war optimism, and expresses a kind of anticipation about all the irresistible promises of capitalism.

The key sequence featuring the legendary “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” can be taken as ironic, or in fact be read as being quite earnest. In 2023, we understand that in a dog-eat-dog world, especially one that disadvantages women, will of course see someone like Lorelei focussing her energies on money, rather than affairs of the heart. She wants to survive, and knows all the levers to pull, to make things work for her. Performed on this occasion by Georgina Hopson, it is those darker dimensions of girls’ best friend that emerge. Hopson’s performance of a very extended version of the song, is thrilling and unequivocally spectacular. All faculties of the theatrical arts converge flawlessly for a few minutes, to deliver something explosive and transcendent. The rest of the production however, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

As the original writing approaches its centenary, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proves to have lost its charm and humour. What might have been considered goofy and whimsical, is now simply silly and lazy. Most of the songs are lacklustre, with a distinct soullessness that leaves us cold. Extraordinarily exhilarating musical direction by Victoria Falconer, does marvellously to lift our spirits during interludes between, but the songs themselves remain uninspired.

Like Falconer, all of the cast and crew give their conspicuous best to the production. Director Richard Carroll goes to great lengths to keep pacing taut, and to make all the jokes more sophisticated than were ever intended. Daniel Potra’s set design gives a real sense of the razzle-dazzle, and lights by Benjamin Brockman delivers us all the dynamics missing from the source material, as well as being relentlessly flattering on the cast. Costumes by Angela White seems to make the bold decision to depart from the 1920s, as it draws influence from virtually every decade of the last century.

The role of Dorothy was always no match for the eponymous blonde, but Emily Havea’s resolve to bring the character into a modern age, is certainly admirable. The women’s love interests are played by Tomáš Kantor and Matthew Predny, both delightful personalities, and convincing in their efforts to win affections. Octavia Barron-Martin and Thomas Campbell demonstrate deep commitment to the comedy, making us laugh in spite of the banal dialogue. Leah Lim is especially strong when given the opportunity to showcase her dance abilities; her synergy with choreographer Sally Dashwood elevates the show considerably, even if their contributions bear little relevance to the central plot.

It should be no surprise that men would prefer Lorelei. Even though she is destined to come out on top, it is her dedication to playing by their rules, that turns them on. Lorelei might win, but the point is that, she obeys them. Women game the system every day, but in the process, we often find ourselves inflicting the same harm, that we accuse men of doing. It is a mystery if Lorelei uses her new-found wealth, after the story concludes, for good or evil, but choices are certainly available to her. Power is designed to oppress, but it can also be transformed into something that can be shared and distributed. After Lorelei attains her safe harbour, one would hope, that she keeps the gates open, for others to follow.

Review: Rocky Horror Show (Theatre Royal)

Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Feb 14 – Apr 1, 2023
Music, lyrics and book: Richard O’Brien
Director: Chris Luscombe
Cast: Ellis Dolan, Jason Donovan, Darcey Eagle, Ethan Jones, Deidre Khoo, Loredo Malcolm, Stellar Perry, Henry Rollo, Myf Warhurst

Theatre review
Half a century after its inception, the only thing shocking about Rocky Horror Show is in the realisation, that the word “transvestite” is now beginning to sound archaic. Frank-N-Furter’s ambiguous gender expressions are now, unbelievable as it may seem, a normalised phenomenon in many cities, so the iconic figure is no longer the ironic abomination it once was. Their power however, remains resolutely intact, and it is that sense of dominion they exude, that keeps the show a thrilling experience.

This latest rendition by director Chris Luscombe, seems quite incredibly, to be even more energetic and exuberant than ever before. The show’s celebratory qualities appear to really resonate, in this new age of queerness and trans-inclusiveness; the Rocky Horror Show may not have changed as much as we have, but that is perhaps the reason for its renewed allure. We are looking at the show with fresh eyes, and discovering that it still makes sense for the Twenty-First Century, albeit in differently nuanced ways.

Times have changed. 30 years ago, Jason Donovan was accused by the queer community for homophobia, following his legal action against a publication for false claims about his sexuality. Today, Donovan is an excellent Frank-N-Furter, completely at ease with the camp and salacious aspects of the role, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the part’s efficaciousness. He pushes to the limit, right where the bawdy, brash and crass, is about to become too much, and lets us off the hook, so that he can take us further the next time.

The narrator is played by Myf Warhurst, much less seasoned as a musical performer, but clearly a charming celebrity, happy in her own skin and comfortable with public adoration. Deidre Khoo and Ethan Jones are sensational as Janet and Brad, both fantastically versatile, and captivating with their sardonic characterisations and exquisite timing. Also memorable, are Stellar Perry and Henry Rollo, as Usherette/Magenta and Riff Raff respectively, delivering all the electrifying subversive joy associated with the legendary Rocky Horror Show. Also noteworthy is musical direction by Jack Earle, who injects extraordinary spiritedness, into a production that leaves us wanting more.

In 2023, it is Janet and Brad who look more alien than anyone else, on the Rocky Horror stage. What creator Richard O’Brien had identified in 1973 as ordinary but repugnant, is now simply bizarre. The puritanical values represented by the couple, and the hypocrisy they embody, although still prevalent in certain circles, are no longer the norm it used to be. People need to be allowed to diverge in whatever ways suit them, as long as nobody gets hurt, and as long as we know to give ourselves over to “absolute pleasure” from time to time.

Review: Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Feb 11 – Apr 16, 2023
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Trevor Ashley, Euan Fistrovic Doidge, Paulini
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Joseph’s brothers sell him off to a life of slavery, simply for loving himself a little too much in a rainbow coat. By the end of the biblical story we discover, quite unsurprisingly, a moral about forgiveness. These archaic tales seem always to place the onus on victims to make things right, and even though there is a valuable lesson in Joseph being the bigger person in the situation, there is no denying that his eleven brothers should have been taught in the first place, not to act like deplorable imbeciles.

The fable of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat however does include some moderately delightful fantasy aspects, involving Joseph’s abilities as a soothsayer. He interprets other people’s dreams, and tells the future. As with all clairvoyant types, Joseph is hopeless at predicting his own destiny, so even though his story ends with redemption, there is something deeply uninspiring about his general lack of agency. The songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, in this 50-year-old musical are not much more exciting, but nostalgia is always certain to appeal, especially to those in search of something gratuitously sentimental.

Performer Euan Fistrovic Doidge is a very attractive Joseph, convincing with his guileless charm, and delivering all the singing and dancing required with such effortlessness, he makes the job look like child’s play. Paulini contributes her marvellous voice to the staging, and is every bit the Sunday School teacher, as narrator in a show that sees her interacting with a lot of children. The Elvis-like Pharoah is played by a flamboyant Trevor Ashley, who proves a breath of fresh air, in something that has a tendency to feel dreary despite its resolutely vibrant title.

Those who enjoy too much colour and extravagance, know what it is like to be ostracised and condemned. Joseph was banished because he was deemed irksome, by brothers who felt inadequate in comparison, or who were simply envious. The divine will always elude the drab, and even though the drab seems always able to create oppression from their own deficiencies, it will always be the divine that will endure beyond.

Review: Hairspray (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 5 – Apr 2, 2023
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the film by John Waters)
Lyrics: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Music: Marc Shaiman
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: Brianna Bishop, Rhonda Burchmore, Ayanda Dladla, Mackenzie Dunn, Bobby Fox, Todd Goddard, Asabi Goodman, Shane Jacobson, Sean Johnston, Javon King, Donna Lee, Todd McKenney, Carmel Rodrigues
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review

Tracy is a big girl, and because it is 1962, she was never meant to appear on TV. When Corny Collins looks past conventions to recognise Tracy’s talents and casts her on his variety show, Tracy quickly uses her new platform to instigate change on national television, by forcing the integration of Black and white Americans on screen. Whether one sees Hairspray as yet another “white saviour” narrative, or a story that is about true allyship, the musical’s feelgood charm is hard to deny. Characters and the story from John Waters’ original 1988 film are colourful and adorable. Songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman from this 2002 Broadway creation are irresistibly soulful. Perfect in so many ways, this is a show that is likely to keep returning for generations to come.

Performer Carmel Rodrigues is completely delightful as Tracy Turnblad, full of vibrancy as the spirited teen. Her legendary mother Edna is played by Shane Jacobson, who although never really convinces as the divine maternal figure, impresses with his vocal prowess. Scene-stealer Javon King’s immense talent and unequivocal star quality, only makes us want the part of schoolfriend Seaweed to be much bigger, even though he is in no way an insignificant element of the show. Asabi Goodman as Motormouth Maybelle, may require a bolder sense of confidence, but her solo rendition of  “I Know Where I’ve Been” is certainly accomplished, and an important statement about the unfaltering efforts of Black activists, even when their white counterparts claim the limelight.

It should come as no surprise that Tracy is a good feminist. The fact that she faces prejudice every day, from inhabiting a physicality deemed contemptible by so many, could only mean that she must understand the deficiencies of how things are run. Tracy knows also, that it is not only one’s size that could be weaponised against people. We see her fighting for Black rights, because injustice is simply injustice, no matter how it manifests. Good feminists must continue to hold the door open, once they have entered the room, and they must never forget that no one is to be left behind.

Review: Urinetown (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Music and Lyrics: Mark Hollman
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Cast: Artemis Alfonzetti, Dani Caruso, Joe Dinn, Deanna Farnell, Max Gambale, Joel Horwood, Tom Kelly, Kira Leiva, Barbra Toparis, Petronella Van Tienen, Benoit Vari, Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Somewhere in America, in a dystopian future, to go toilet has become a commodified privilege. Urinetown, the 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, tells a story about an economic system that allows the top 1%  to insist on us paying for everything, and receiving incommensurate returns. The vast majority thus becomes increasingly disadvantaged, finding themselves to be mere cattle, constantly scrounging for the benefit of those who claim to be owners of every resource. In Hollman and Kotis’ fantasy, a revolt eventuates. The conclusion however, is not quite as predictable.

It is an excellent conceit, although the plot has a tendency to feel rambling and its narrative often finds itself gridlocked. Not a lot actually happens, in the two-and-a half hour duration, and its humour can be lacklustre, but the songwriting is enjoyable, with enough inventiveness to sustain attention. Matthew Reid’s musical direction is spirited and jaunty, creating a charged atmosphere, with his very accomplished four-piece band.

Direction of the show by Ylaria Rogers is dynamic, with a lightheartedness that keeps things amusing. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography too, provides levity to proceedings, in order that the message becomes an easier pill to swallow. Set design by Monique Langford involves clever use of ladders in various configurations, that allow for a spacious stage to comfortably accommodate a big and busy cast. Helen Wojtas’ costumes for the great unwashed are in appropriate states of dereliction, but with colours and textures to maintain visual interest. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are a wonderful element of the production, bringing unexpected beauty and a sense of gravity, to something we know to be true and important.

Performer Joel Horwood demonstrates admirable versatility in the role of Bobby, bringing charm, wit, emotional intensity and a crucial quality of profundity, that prevents the comedy from undermining the whole point of Urinetown. Their singing is powerful, in a show that features consistently strong vocals. Petronella Van Tienen plays Hope, a saccharine sweet character but with the kind of earnestness that most are likely to find appealing. Chemistry between the leads is scintillating, especially for their romantic duet “Follow Your Heart”. Also noteworthy is Natasha Vickery whose vaudeville style of presentation for Little Sally leaves an impression, as one of the more refreshing personalities we encounter, in this world of misery.

Ultimately, we discover that Urinetown is about the extinction of the human race. Some argue that this is due to no fault of our own, but most will understand all the devastation we have brought to the planet. It is a tale about our insatiable greed. It questions our nature, and like all good art, it urges us to examine what it means to be human, and further, if anything could be done, to combat the parts of us determined to cause harm. We keep wanting to overpower Mother Earth, such is the depth of our foolishness. It is certain that we are never going to be a match for the infinitude of the universe, yet we seem determined to not find ways to make peace with it.