Review: Madiba (State Theatre)

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

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

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

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

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

wwww.madibamusical.com.au

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Evie May (Hayes Theatre)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Inner West Side (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Jake Bayssari
Music: Tom Cardy
Lyrics: Jake Bayssari, Tom Cardy, Lucille MacKellar
Director: Jake Bayssari
Cast: Amy Bennett, Georgia Britt, April-Rose Desalegn, Elouise Eftos, Lincoln Elliott, Britt Ferry, Alexandra Gonzalez, Freddy Johnston, Roy Joseph, Grant Loxton, Rhianna McCourt, Laura McDonald, Lily O’Harte, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Ruby Teys
Image by Christopher Dinh

Theatre review
Andrea is leaving the parochial suburbia of affluent northern Sydney, to find a more grounded, but glamorous, existence in the city’s inner west. She sets out to denounce the shallow values of her birthplace, determined to create for herself something new and meaningful, only to duplicate old ills at a new locale. Inner West Side is a new musical, centred around the community of Newtown, where the dissonance of things earnest and ironic can coincide, and where million dollar apartments are dressed up to look shabby and resolutely anti-establishment. Featuring observational humour at its most scintillating, the show is as vibrant as it is incisive, enormously entertaining from the very start.

Directed by Jake Bayssari, whose rigour and talent shines through in every scene, the production offers an ingenious representation of our young, with all their contradictory concerns forming the basis of a most amusing work. Tom Cardy’s music is refreshingly varied in style, performed with admirable enthusiasm by a five piece band, although sound engineering does leave a lot to be desired. Antony Robinson’s set design is a simple solution that sets the tone with accuracy and efficiency, and costumes by Adrienne Dell deliver playful interpretations of archetypes that help us identify so distinctly the milieu being examined.

A wonderfully cohesive cast of energetic performers take to the stage, for an unforgettable venture into the formidable task of creating an original musical. Leading lady Laura McDonald is a spirited presence, splendidly funny and tremendously likeable as Andrea, the Collaroy rich bitch in exile. Elouise Eftos leaves a remarkable impression as sultry Monica, vampy queen of the hive, powerful in her depiction of a privileged woman believing herself to be a born ruler. Chameleon entertainer Ruby Teys is delightful in a myriad guises, displaying extraordinary skill, in each of her hilarious and scene-stealing incarnations.

Those of us who get to choose where we live, must count ourselves exceptionally lucky. The world is often an ugly place, but when one comes across a tiny pocket that seems perfect in every way, it is the greatest of fortunes to be able to call it home. Whether an address is ideal, however, depends so much on how we are, on the inside. Newtown and its surrounds, are not for everyone, but for those who love it, the inner west is a beacon of beauty, peace and joy. Its characteristics are distinct, but the nourishment it provides, it must be noted, is by no means unique. The best town in Australia, is in fact, everywhere.

www.facebook.com/innerwestside | www.ultracult.com.au

Review: Stalker The Musical (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 19 – Oct 6, 2018
Music: Andy Peterson
Book and lyrics: Alex Giles, David Russell
Director: Kaleigh Wilkie-Smith
Cast: Melody Beck, Levi Burrows, Steph Edmonds, Luke Lamond, Michele Lansdown, Peter Meredith, Haji Myrteza, Harrison Riley, Emma Taviani
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
The story takes place in a town ruled by the heartbroken, where all physical contact is forbidden, but where its inhabitants are encouraged to police and lust after each other, using only their eyes and binoculars. In Stalker The Musical by Alex Giles, Andy Peterson and David Russell, a fantasy world is created out of dejection, with a great deal of palpable ambition, but neither its creativity nor its imagination prove convincing enough, to entice us into its outlandish manifestations. We observe it to be an oddity, a strange concoction of ideas, that struggles to find resonance on any level.

Every song sounds overly familiar, as though a paint-by-numbers take on the musical theatre genre, unoriginal and painfully predictable. Problems with sound engineering on opening night, certainly do not help with the experience.

The cast, although likeable and committed, struggle with the production’s attempts at comedy and drama, unable to make any meaningful or lasting impact with the material. There is an abundance of energy and conviction on stage, with Zoe Ioannou’s clever choreography bringing some visual coherence to the show, but the performers are consistently let down by the writing’s deficiencies.

Love is a bad word in Stalker, and those who have denounced romance, however momentary, will understand the necessity of being able to see one’s own existence as independent and sovereign, before the joys of life can be truly appreciated. Characters in the show may or may not find their romantic match, but more important is their capacity to love, whatever the objects of desire turn out to be.

www.stalkerthemusical.com

Review: Evita (Opera Australia / Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 13 – Nov 3, 2018
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Hal Prince
Cast: Tina Arena, Michael Falzon, Kurt Kansley, Paulo Szot, Alexis van Maanen
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Eva Perón’s legend is one regarding power, at all cost. Charting the meteoric rise of the historical figure from humble beginnings, the musical Evita features a narrator, a character based on the guerrilla leader and famed revolutionary Che Guevara, who takes us through the story of the Argentinian First Lady, from a critical, but widely shared, standpoint. Our female protagonist is not deprived of a voice however. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s show is often a feud of perspectives, reflective of opposing attitudes pertaining to the controversial personality. It is also often a battle of the sexes that happens on stage, as we see a woman defending herself in the masculine world of politics, and we grapple with the uncomfortable coupling of misogyny and the less than honourable conduct of our heroine.

The production is a faithful recreation of the West End and Broadway original from the late 1970’s, directed by Hal Prince, with a notable addition of the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me”, from the 1996 Alan Parker film. Surprisingly fast-paced, the show leaves it to us to formulate more extensive interpretations of Perón’s life and times, but it certainly gives us plenty to chew on. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is one of the most well-known Broadway hits, and to have the lyrics “and as for fortune, and as for fame, I never invited them in,” performed in resplendent bejewelled dress (designed by Timothy O’Brien), reveals a complexity to the character that is perhaps impossible to encapsulate in any single theatrical work.

Tina Arena proves herself an unequivocal superstar in the title role, vocally flawless for a splendid rendition of some very famously challenging tunes. She brings an electrifying passion to the stage, creating a feisty character who remains endearing, even when her actions turn dubious. It is tremendously satisfying to see one of Australia’s biggest talents take on a challenge of this magnitude, and emerge victorious. Che is played by Kurt Kansley, a charming presence, but whose diction as the South American can at times, be frustrating to decipher. Paulo Szot is an excellent President Juan Perón, impressive in all aspects, and very alluring, making the entire stint look a mere walk in the park.

The Peróns were loved because they had acted perfectly their part in the public eye. We see them here, in private, absorbed in vanity, hardly ever sparing a thought for their hungry millions. It is a familiar image of politicians, of individuals more concerned with their own careers than the actual responsibilities they have sworn to undertake. Observing the masses of Eva Perón’s devotees, we are warned of being blind to the poor behaviour of those we elect into positions of authority and prestige. The space we allow for leaders to carry out work for the common good, reside behind heavy curtains that form limits to our democracy. They may assume the appearance of kings and lords, but never to be forgotten, is the servitude that they owe.

www.evitathemusical.com.au

Review: Jersey Boys (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Aug 29
Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast: Ryan Gonzalez, Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane, Glaston Toft, Mia Dabkowski-Chandler, Cristina D’Agostino, Sage Douglas, Mackenzie Dunn, Glenn Hill, Luigi Lucente, Enrico Mammarella, Scott McConnell, Joshua Mulheran, Jack O’Riley, Matthew Prime, Daniel Raso, Rutene Spooner
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The Four Seasons have sold an estimated 100 million records, a figure virtually unheard of in the industry today. Jersey Boys takes place in the 1960s, when young American talents were able to think of the music industry as a realistic means of striking rich. A highly effective jukebox musical, filled with colourful characters and an infallible inventory of songs, the show is the proverbial, and predictable, rollicking ride, designed for sheer entertainment.

This Australian revival features an exceptional cast, with Ryan Gonzalez particularly mesmerising as Frankie Valli, complete with that trademark falsetto, celestial and ineffable. Gonzalez’s vocal abilities are a sublime joy from start to end, and his stage presence proves astonishingly compelling, despite his slight stature. He gives his all to the performance, leaving us thrilled and wanting more.

Cameron MacDonald too, is wonderful as Tommy DeVito, founding member of the group and charming villain of the piece. Brilliantly wicked, and quite alluring, MacDonald impresses with flawless timing, proving himself indispensable to the production’s dramatic effectiveness. Also noteworthy is supporting player Rutene Spooner, who sparkles in all his guises, and has us flummoxed by the incredibly nimble athleticism of his voice, whenever he is given an opportunity to sing.

We can easily tire of rags to riches stories; they rarely deviate from structures that are rigidly conventional. The magic of live musical performance however, is boundlessly and fantastically uplifting. Singers and musicians have the potential to move us in profound ways, and on this occasion, their renditions of these half-century old songs, have certainly hit the mark.

www.jerseyboys.com.au