Review: The Magic Flute (Opera Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 30, 2015 – Jan 16, 2016
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder (English translation by J D McClatchy)
Director: Matthew Barclay (based on the original production by Julie Taymor)
Cast: Taryn Fiebig, John Longmuir, Samuel Dundas, Hannah Dahlenburg, Daniel Sumegi, Jane Ede, Sian Pendry, Anna Yun, Katherine Wiles, Kanen Breen, Adrian Tamburini, Malcolm Ede, Jonathan McCauley, Dean Bassett, Clifford Plumpton, Jack Kleem, Justin Chen, Ben Johnston
Images by Branco Gaica

Theatre review
Julie Taymor’s reinvention of The Magic Flute first appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2004. Whimsical and colourful, Opera Australia’s presentation of Taymor’s work with Matthew Barclay at the helm, speaks to audiences of all creed and ages. The story’s darker elements and its mischievous sexuality are left intact, but interpreted in a gentle manner that poses no threat to young minds and delicate sensibilities.

Marvellous use of puppetry and masks, along with animated performance styles ensure that we are captivated and constantly amazed. The extraordinary spectacle created by elaborate sets and costumes is the centre of our attention, and music becomes secondary for most of its duration. There are exceptions of course, most notably the arias by the Queen of the Night, thrilling and beautiful under Hannah Dahlenburg’s masterful execution. Technical brilliance and unbridled passion of the diva’s voice brings elevation to our spirit, and the mythological aspects of The Magic Flute become markedly resonant. The trio of young boys Justin Chen, Ben Johnston and Jack Kleem are memorable as adorable child-spirits, joined at the hip and perfectly harmonious with their delicate singing. Another trio of performers Jane Ede, Sian Pendry and Anna Yun create a humorously malicious gang of ladies who appear throughout the show quite out of the blue, effectively manifesting a sense of the supernatural for this magical opera.

If this is pantomime, then it is the most sophisticated that one could wish to see. There is artistic excellence at every turn that will satisfy any theatrical aficionado, and even though its emotional and intellectual capacities are moderate at best, this is a production that has extremely wide appeal, perhaps surprisingly so for its genre. In The Magic Flute, evil is banished and lovers unite with solace and happiness. The simple tale will never grow old, especially at this level of innovation that artists can tell it. The spirit of adventure and invention is alive in Mozart’s 225 year-old masterpiece.

www.opera.org.au

Review: Anything Goes (Opera Australia / Gordon Frost Organisation)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 5 – Oct 11, 2015
Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Book: Guy Bolton & P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, Timothy Crouse, John Weidman
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Carmen Duncan, Bartholomew John, Wayne Scott Kermond, Debora Krizak, Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Caroline O’Connor, Alex Rathgeber
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Cole Porter’s songs are amongst the most familiar in the Western world, and Anything Goes boasts a whole raft of evergreen hits, all taking pride of place in the musical. Originally staged in 1934, the show has been revived many times, along with film versions in 1936 and 1956 and a television special in 1954. Porter’s music is unquestionably delightful and quite irresistible. The wit of his lyrics, and catchiness of his melodies were perfect for stage and screen during his active years from the 1920’s until his final TV score in 1958 for Aladdin. This latest rendering of Anything Goes is a nostalgic gem that brings back all that is wonderful of the era, and adapts it to contemporary tastes. Direction by Dean Bryant is snappy and bold, but the production is always mindful of the conservative American climate that it re-enacts and never allows itself to get vulgar, although moments of bawdy humour are plentiful and extremely well-received. Where there are forbidden fruits, the idea of “anything goes” can take hold anywhere, and Bryant’s less is more approach pays off. By being only slightly naughty, he makes us laugh from beginning to end, tapping into a sense of old-fashioned cheekiness that still works.

Anything Goes features an ensemble cast, with many small (and very lightweight) narratives held together by the conceit of a classic cruise liner setting. We do not usually expect definitive stars for this variety of show, but Caroline O’Connor’s presence clearly dominates. Her skill, energy and seasoned pizazz, together with supreme confidence and splendid comic timing, ensures that her talent is a cut above the rest and that her every appearance jolts the crowd into spasms of irrepressible excitement. Also fantastic are the young lovebirds, Claire Lyon and Alex Rathgeber, both with impeccable voices beautifully suited to the genre, and each with physical disciplines that let the depiction of their characters be believable, charming, and terribly romantic. Their rendition of De-Lovely is a show-stopper with demanding choreography by Andrew Hallsworth executed with tremendous flair and exquisite sentimentality, bringing to the show a sophistication that exceeds all expectations. Supporting players are effective comedians but less gratifying in their respective musical numbers, most of which appear in Act II, and causing an unfortunate dip in energy as the show attempts to reach its climatic conclusion.

Designers of the show must be lauded for a lavish production that looks outstanding in its refinement and elegance. Even though visual elements are probably derivative and significantly inspired by previous incarnations, costumes by Dale Ferguson are a treat to behold and a genuine highlight. Ferguson’s set, along with Matt Scott’s lights, are as dynamic and intelligent as they come. Every movement on stage occurs flawlessly, and our eyes shift effortlessly under the spell of their technical wizardry. Placement of the orchestra in the elevated centre stage is a genius touch that recalls big band formations of the past, and contributes to a wonderful acoustic dimension impressively balanced by Michael Waters on sound design.

The title might be Anything Goes, but nothing is left to chance. There is little logic in the stories and characters we see (and its occasional racial humour will undeniably offend some), but everything on the stage is measured to utmost precision. It is professional theatre at its strongest, and will provide benchmarks on many aspects of performing arts, in Australia and worldwide. Musicals are not the best at advancing a society’s politics and civilisation, and it rarely reveals rare truths of the human condition, but a work of this standard will inspire greatness in many forms. A night of sheer entertainment might not move mountains, but where we can find meaning, is the way it helps us see that mere mortals are the ones to make miracles happen.

www.anythinggoesmusical.com.au

5 Questions with Debora Krizak and Wayne Scott Kermond

Debora Krizak

Debora Krizak

Wayne Scott Kermond: You have interesting and diverse talents in show business, what do you enjoy most as a performer?
Debora Krizak: I enjoy hearing an audience laugh. I wondered for years what it was that I loved most about being on stage and then I started getting a few comedic roles and there was no doubt in my mind that this is what I wanted to do more of. Life’s too short not to laugh so laugh out loud, peeps. I also love a good spontaneous adlib. We have so many great ad-libbers in Anything Goes. I only wish I got more stage time with Wayne and Todd. That could be dangerous.

How did you get started in this business we call show?
I started out as a young four-year-old at a local suburban dance school in Adelaide. They used to put on amateur concerts and from the age of 11 they put us all around a piano and bashed out “As Long As He Needs Me” from Oliver. I think I might have been the only eleven-year-old there that day that could naturally pick up the melody and remain in tune. So the role was mine. It was a great learning experience. My mum would buy me all the soundtracks and videos and I would just try to mimic them all. I’ve always had a knack for mimicking. My first professional music theatre break came when I was cast in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. I was lucky enough to understudy Ulla and learnt a lot from that experience. Prior to music theatre, I toured the country in rock bands. That’s a book in itself. I saw the big banana, the big pineapple, the big ….the big… Yeah that was a decade of my life I’ll never get back sitting in the back seat of a Tarago van.

You are relatively a tall lady, do you like working alongside short men, or does it bother you they are constantly looking at your boobs.
I’m tall but not as tall as people think. I’m five foot ten. Girls are getting taller thankfully and hopefully more roles will become available to tall women in Australia! The comedy of a tall woman/short man has been around for years and I love working alongside Wayne. Yes he has to look at my boobs but I am juggling them in his face. They have their own spotlight and show. The things we do!

You are living 2 lives, during Anything Goes. Deb the performer, and Deb the wife and mother, how do you juggle the two so successfully.
I’m lucky that I have a wonderful husband who can work from his office at home in Sydney when needed which gives me the flexibility to skip a few school pick ups. I have 7 year old boy/girl twins who are in their second year of school. Touring is harder as the kids are in school and I don’t like up rooting them too much. I usually don’t like locking myself into run of play contracts that open in another city. Short contracts in each city can work as I have an arrangement with the kids school that they can travel with me for four weeks of a term and I home school them. It’s tough and exhausting but I’d rather that than spending too long away from them. As it is we’ve had to spend two weeks apart here in Brissy and it breaks my heart to be missing important things like their athletics carnival and gymnastics concert. Those days are hard. I’m lucky though that when the kids are with me, they will often come to work with me and sit in my dressing room and just take it all in. It helps to know where mum is and have an understanding of what I do so its not so inferior to them. I love being a mum and am also grateful for these extraordinary performing opportunities. I think being a parent gives you a whole different perception on life and a whole new layer as an actor. Gee it’s exhausting being the best version of yourself with both hats on though!

What are your plans for the future, after Anything Goes.
I’m very fortunate to have been offered a short contract in another wonderful show that I’m very excited about. It hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t say what it is but it will be fun. I start the very next day Anything Goes finishes at the opera house! What a year. Three shows back to back. How lucky am I?

Wayne Scott Kermond

Wayne Scott Kermond

Wayne Scott Kermond: You’re from a prominent show biz family, what was your first experience in the theatre?
Debora Krizak: I was first carried onstage for a bow with my parents at the tender age of two-and-a-half weeks old. My first musical appearance was playing a Tap Dancing Sailor in the production of Gypsy at Sydney Her Majesty’s Theatre starring Gloria Dawn and then Toni Lamond.

Where did you learn the art of slapstick and who do you get inspiration from?
Being a fourth generation performer it was passed on to me by my family. My grandfather and his 2 brothers (The Kermond Brothers) were physical comics, hoofers, acrobats, eccentric dancers, they and my Mum and Dad taught me the skills. Also growing up watching other acts and performing with my parents, I was always inspired by the funny guy, like Donald O’Connor, Buster Keating, Abbott & Costello, I learned I could make people laugh by falling over or walking into a door. Particularly for the girls when I was at school. Now I do it for a living.

You are a relatively short man. Do you like working alongside tall women or do they scare you?
When you’re my height everybody is taller than me. I love tall women, I’m married to one, she is a dancer. But as she says to me, it’s all the same lying down.

Do you have a favourite musical comedy performer?
No, as comics, I love and am inspired by Robin Williams, Jerry Lewis, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, Lee Evans and Jim Carrey, great physical and verbal comics and more importantly their pathos. They make me laugh and cry.

What’s been the best part of the Anything Goes experience for you so far?
I love playing the role of Moonface Martin, it allows me to perform my love for comedy and more importantly bring back the art of physical comedy to the older generation but more importantly introducing a new generation to the old style of physical comedy. Audiences still love a pie in the face.

Debora Krizak and Wayne Scott Kermond will be appearing in Anything Goes with Opera Australia.
Dates: 5 Sep – 11 Oct, 2015
Venue: Sydney Opera House

Review: The King And I (Opera Australia / Sydney Opera House)

thekingandiVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 7 – Nov 1, 2014
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II (based on Anna And The King Of Siam by Margaret Landon)
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Cast: Lisa McCune, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Shu-Cheen Yu, Jenny Liu, Adrian Li Donni, Marty Rhone, John Adam
Image by Brian Geach

Theatre review
There is no denying the contentiousness of casting a performer who is not of Asian heritage to play the role of the King of Siam. It is a very rare occasion that a main stage production in Australia features a specifically Asian character in its lead, and to deprive Asian actors of the opportunity to headline a show of this grand scale is unfortunate. On the other hand, we are a culture that believes in meritocracy, where the best candidate for the job should win the part. Instead of background, we look at ability, and in the case of Teddy Tahu Rhodes who is King, in the Sydney season of The King And I, he proves himself a force to be reckoned with. Handsome, imposing and astonishingly talented, Rhodes is in many ways, perfect for the role. His humour is confident and sharp, and his rich baritone voice is immensely satisfying. Rhodes has charisma in abundance, which is key to his successful portrayal of royalty and chauvinism.

Anna is played by the endearing Lisa McCune, who is surprisingly animated in her depiction of the English language teacher from Wales. Her voice is not the most powerful in the cast, but her interpretation of classics like Getting To Know You and Shall We Dance is thoroughly accomplished, and her enthusiasm for the role is more than evident. McCune’s Anna is a delicate figure, but her energy is consistently buoyant, and her performance is compelling and enjoyable. The production features outstanding supporting players, including soprano Jenny Liu as Tuptim who provides the most ethereal and emotional singing in the production. Liu’s ability to convey passion and angst is a great asset to the show, and she embodies the tragedy of the plot effectively. The role of Lady Thiang is performed by Shu-Cheen Yu who delights with a stunning theatricality derived from traditional Chinese forms. Her use of physical and facial expressions is a rare treat on Australian stages, which simply must not be missed.

Designers never share top billing with cast members, but this is a production with a visual glory that will be remembered for years to come. Brian Thomson’s scenic design is luxurious and exquisite, with Nigel Levings’ lighting providing further variation to scenes. We never stray far from the King’s palace, but the stage looks and feels different in every scene, and nearly every change is awe inspiring. The glamour and vibrancy of Roger Kirk’s costumes are second to none, with every ensemble conveying beauty and romance. Choreography of the legendary segment The Small House of Uncle Thomas by Susan Kikuchi (based on Jerome Robbins’ original work) is sublime. Watching the famed sequence emerge from the familiar film into reality, in such fine form is a dream come true. Christopher Renshaw serves as director of the production, bringing with him great amounts of flair and elegance, especially in bigger scenes with groups of children and servants. There are always nuances to discover and flourishes to admire in the background. Renshaw handles the writing’s awkward (and dated) racial dynamics well. Jokes are made out of the clashing and discord between races, but caricatures are toned down significantly so that characters escape obvious degradation.

In spite of the productions efforts however, we cannot escape the core message of The King And I, which pits two cultures against each other and concludes at a point where the Siamese King experiences a dramatic transformation, while the Caucasian Anna remains the same person. The underlying message is clear; one side requires improvement and the other can stay unchanged. Furthermore, the Asian character’s evolution needs to be in line with the Westerner’s standards of taste and acceptability in order for the show to find resolution. It is understandable that the esteemed nature of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work is resistant to radical alteration, and the fact that the story is based on famous memoirs places psychological constraints on artistic licenses, but creativity in the arts should know no bounds, especially when it takes on the responsibility to improve ideologies and advance civilisations.

www.thekingandimusical.com.au

5 Questions with John Adam

johnadamWhat is your favourite swear word?
There’s only one left which still has any impact. No prizes.

What are you wearing?
Jeans. T-shirt. Sneakers.

What is love?
The only thing that gives life meaning.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Best recent show was The Cherry Orchard at Melbourne Theatre Company. 4.5/5.

Is your new show going to be any good?
The best bang-for-your-buck musical-goers are likely to get.

 

John Adam is appearing in The King And I with Opera Australia.
Show details: QPAC Brisbane from 13 Apr 2014, Princess Theatre Melbourne from 10 Jun 2014, Sydney Opera House from 9 Sep 2014

5 Questions with Marty Rhone

martyrhoneWhat is your favourite swear word?
The F bomb. It can sum up so many things in so many contexts. I don’t think there is a better word that can so expressively sum up a situation or feeling.

What are you wearing?
Jocks; it’s pretty warm here in Brisbane.

What is love?
Love can be so many things and so many emotions; from adoration and passion to admiration and respect, but most of all I think it is something or someone you always want to have in your life and without it or them your life would be an empty existence.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
It was so forgettable I can’t even remember the title but the actors did their best with ordinary material so for that I give them 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Potentially as good as any before it.

Marty Rhone is appearing in The King And I with Opera Australia.
Show details: QPAC Brisbane from 13 Apr 2014, Princess Theatre Melbourne from 10 Jun 2014, Sydney Opera House from 9 Sep 2014

5 Questions with Adrian Li Donni

adrianlidonniWhat is your favourite swear word?
It’s not one I use a lot, but the “C-word” really tickles me. Something about people’s reaction to it really makes me laugh. Don’t judge, Shakespeare used it.

What are you wearing?
I just got a spray tan in preparation for our first preview this weekend, so just ratty shorts, while I wait for it to settle.

What is love?
I don’t know how to answer that. Mucho complicated, as it is just a word. I’ll try and point to it though…

When I look at someone beyond his or her labels and ego, there is love; a deep knowing that I am Him and She is me. We were all created from a single moment in history. We are all made of star stuff. How awesome is that?

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Lion King at Capitol Theatre. Didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it, but this time I let go and really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be extremely good! The detail in the set design alone is worth the price of a ticket (has anyone mentioned that it’s covered in thousands of Swarovski jewels?). It’s a grand and stunning production with a stellar cast. Come check us out!

Adrian Li Donni is appearing in The King And I with Opera Australia.
Show details: QPAC Brisbane from 13 Apr 2014, Princess Theatre Melbourne from 10 Jun 2014, Sydney Opera House from 9 Sep 2014