Review: The Book Of Mormon (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Feb 27, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Directors: Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker
Cast: Ryan Bondy, Andrew Broadbent, A.J. Holmes, Bert LaBonté, Zahra Newman, Augustin Aziz Tchantcho, Rowan Witt
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The best musical of all time, can only ever be a determination based on subjective assessment, but The Book Of Mormon is very possibly the funniest and cleverest, most unique iteration of a show in the Broadway musical genre, to have graced the stage. Two young men are dispatched from America to Uganda, to spread the word of their Mormon church. It is a simple story, but the layers of meaning that it explores are manifold and deeply trenchant.

From issues regarding religion’s inescapably oppressive nature, to the severe problem of poverty in developing nations, The Book Of Mormon is relentlessly, if subliminally, disturbing. It delivers big laughs at every turn, through an absurd sense of outrageous humour (the kind that is nothing less than exquisite, if shared by the right audience), but it is the savage evaluation of our humanity, and its pointed castigation demanding we do better, that provides impetus for its narrative drive.

The jokes are marvellously extreme, its songs are irresistibly charming and delightful, and everything is put together with extraordinary daring and finesse. There are elements that will likely offend sensibilities of those targeted by the pricey entrance fee, but the show is careful to couple soft with hard, tender with caustic, to make its lessons digestible. It ultimately retreats deftly into kumbaya territory, able to appease audiences of all persuasions.

Performed by a terrifically exuberant cast (and a fabulous orchestra headed by musical director David Young), this Sydney production is everything one could wish for, in a night of sensational, intelligent and thrillingly bawdy entertainment. The ensemble is given ample opportunity to showcase their talents, and they all rise to the occasion, as a group and as individuals, to present a work impressive with both its precision and nuance.

Ryan Bondy as Elder Price is suitably dazzling, all sharp moves and sonorous tenor, bringing youthful idealism to glorious life. Elder Cunningham is played by A.J. Holmes who charms the pants off of everyone, with splendid timing and inexhaustible zeal. The eminently memorable Zahra Newman gives us a Nabulungi so full of spirit, and so perfectly sung, that she shifts focus away from the Mormon boys to a greater story of international economic injustice.

No work of art can solve world hunger, but in The Book Of Mormon‘s tale of the haves and the have-nots, our culpability is clear. The West has always looked abroad for resources to pilfer, but we do little to mend the devastation that is inevitably left behind. Missionaries from our churches go with the best of intentions, trying to do what they can to bring relief to those who suffer, imposing belief systems on foreign lands that have thus far proven only to be inadequate. Thoughts and prayers can do wonders, but the miracles we wish to see the most, require real sacrifice.

wwww.bookofmormonmusical.com.au

Review: Beautiful The Carole King Musical (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Sep 17 , 2017 – Jan 21, 2018
Book: Douglas McGrath
Music & Lyrics: Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil
Director: Marc Bruni
Cast: Jason Arrow, Stephanie Caccamo, Doron Chester, Barry Conrad, Andrew Cook, Marcus Corowa, Julia Dray, Akina Edmonds, Esther Hannaford, Amy Lehpamer, Cameron Macdonald, Nana Matapule, Mike McLeish, Lorinda Merrypor, Joseph Naim, Ruva Ngwenya, Josh Piterman, Naomi Price, Rebecca Selley, Sean Sinclair, Angelina Thomson, Mat Verevis, Anne Wood, Chloé Zuel
Image by Joan Marcus

Theatre review
It was 1958 when 16 year-old Carole King sold her first song to Dimension Records, thus beginning her career as a trailblazing female of the music industry. Featuring her hits, and others of the era, Beautiful the musical charts King’s early years as a songwriter, depicting personal and professional challenges that had come her way, as she evolved into the legendary figure we have come to know.

Douglas McGrath’s book is tender, gently but effectively sentimental, and memorable for its surprising humour. The soulful songs are arresting, with an immediacy of appeal derived from the unabashedly catchy style of 3-minute hit factories typical of the time. Powerfully nostalgic, there is no other way to respond to the music than to gush with excitement, at the beginning of each familiar tune.

Esther Hannaford is deeply endearing in the lead role, effortlessly sassy but with a startling quality of earthy humility that closely approximates our impression of the woman herself. Hannaford’s voice is scintillating in ballads and in numbers that convert easily to the musical theatre format, but grittier fare like “Natural Woman” and “I Feel The Earth Move” expose the rift in genres that remains to be ameliorated.

It is a large and talented cast, with moments of brilliance emerging from each member, to our immense delight, as the show progresses. Beautiful is a simple story, but rich with theatrical pleasures. Director Marc Bruni’s creation seems always to be perfectly gauged. It fulfils predictable requirements of a conventional Broadway show, but is fundamentally elegant in all its approaches. There are bells and whistles everywhere we look, but nothing ever goes overboard.

It is not a regular occurrence on stage, that a tale is told of a woman who reaches great heights of success, without her having to make enemies, or to lose integrity. Beautiful is about women making it in showbusiness, without demeaning themselves or anybody else. The show is unquestionably enjoyable, and it delivers all the frivolous fun one asks of the format, but its quiet representation of a sovereign womanhood, is the reason for our elation.

wwww.beautifulmusical.com.au

5 Questions with Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham

Glaston Toft: Tell us about your character, Tony, in The Bodyguard?
Damien Bermingham: Tony is the loyal, well meaning bodyguard who has all the best intentions without necessarily all the skills required for such a big job as dealing with a crazed stalker.

Do you have a dressing room or other performance ritual?
My character doesn’t get to sing which is a new experience for me in a musical and even though at times it feels like more of a play than a musical for my character I still stick to my routine of doing a very thorough vocal warm up. Doing gentle vocal exercises in a steaming hot shower work best to get my voice warmed up.

What do you do in your downtime during the show?
I moonlight as an independent theatre producer so spend a lot of my downtime working on various theatrical endeavours.

What’s your favourite Whitney Houston song and why? Do you sing along while you’re off stage?
‘Run To You’ is my favourite Whitney song but I’ve had the Bodyguard soundtrack since 1993 so it’s fair to say I’m a fan of all of her work. I never realised until rehearsals started just how many Whitney songs I know all the words to. You can’t help but sing along.

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
My bucket list of musical theatre roles would be Sweeney Todd or Don Quixote. If no one offers me those roles before I die I might just have to produce the shows myself to make sure it happens 😉

Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham: Who is Glaston Toft and where did that unusual name come from?
Glaston Toft: I’m an actor currently performing in the musical The Bodyguard. I’m often told how unusual my name is. I think my parents were fans of the boardgame Scrabble. You should see what they came up with for my siblings!

Is it strange being cast in a musical and playing an acting role, not actually singing?
Certainly the rehearsal process was strange, having no time with the music department. But now that we’re up and running it’s not that different. I think in most musicals I’ve spent my time acting through song and text. I’m just doing it all in the latter category at the moment.

What’s it like hearing all those Whitney Houston songs night after night?
Paulini is a machine and a superstar… so listening to her breathe life into those great songs is a real treat. They are infectious songs, you can’t not lip syncing to them every night. The finale goes off!

How do you decorate your dressing room?
I don’t really decorate my dressing room as such. I do like to keep some mementos. Currently my door is pinned with notes from a fellow cast member reminding me that as an FBI agent I fail to do my job every night. It’s my motivation to keep looking!

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
I find most people’s ‘dream roles’ are what they would be perfectly suited for. I’d love to play Judd Fry (Oklahoma), Bill Sykes (Oliver) or Sweeney Todd. I know the type of roles I’m suited to but I find it interesting to perform roles that are a bit against my ‘type’.

Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft are appearing in The Bodyguard, the musical.
Dates: 21 Apr – 2 Jul, 2017
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

Review: Ladies In Black (Sydney Lyric Theatre / Queensland Theatre)

ladiesinblackVenue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 3 – 22, 2017
Book: Carolyn Burns
Music & Lyrics: Tim Finn (based on Madeleine St John’s novel, “The Women In Black”)
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Kate Cole, Carita Farrer, Bobby Fox, Natalie Gamsu, Madeleine Jones, Kathryn McIntyre, Sarah Morrison, Ellen Simpson, Greg Stone, Trisha Noble
Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
There is no question that the world needs more stories about women and our solidarity. Examples of how we tear each other down are aplenty, but the ways we offer love and support need to be better envisioned in art and in life, so that we may begin to subvert systems of patriarchy that rely on our disunity to thrive.

Ladies In Black features a group of “shop girls” at a Sydney department store in the 50’s, each of them consummate professionals, all of whom get on remarkably well. There however, is little else to enjoy about the musical. Thoroughly lacklustre, unable to deliver the exuberance and glamour it wishes for its characters to portray. Its humour is underwhelming, with narratives that fail to resonate, and even though Tim Finn’s songwriting could be admired for its slightly unconventional take on the musical theatre format, much of it is uninspiring and forgettable.

For a show that makes fashion one of its central interests, the production is designed with little imagination or innovation. Choreography never offers anything more than the bog-standard, and the cast rarely looks to be challenged or excited by what they have to present. Occasional appearances by Natalie Gamsu, Greg Stone and Bobby Fox as “continental migrants” introduce moments of exhilaration, but they are few and far between.

Young Lisa confronts parochial Australia in Ladies In Black. She is at a crossroads, encountering choices that stoke her passions, versus others that feel easy and normal. We observe a blandness that can take hold, and ways of living that can pale our existences into insignificance. The women go to work everyday, and in their camaraderie, attempt to find deeper meanings to their existences, but the struggle to prevent their black clothed power from fading into a repugnant beige is ever-present, and often defeated.

wwww.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Dream Lover (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

dreamloverVenue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Sep 22 – Nov 27, 2016
Original concept and stage play: Frank Howson, John Michael Howson
Dramaturg/Script Consultant: Carolyn Burns
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: David Campbell, Martin Crewes, Hannah Fredericksen, Bert LaBonte, Marney McQueen, Caroline O’Connor
Image by Brian Geach

Theatre review

In the musical Dream Lover, Bobby Darin is a nice guy with a career to be proud of. Undeniably talented, the Italian-American from New York’s Bronx county made it big in show business in the middle of the twentieth century, leaving behind an impressive catalogue of songs, but an uneventful life story. The show starts off slowly, with characters that take time to connect, and a doggedly polite plot that resists sensationalism, mindful of a need to honour the late star, thereby sacrificing opportunities for a greater sense of theatricality and humour. Our emotions are guided by the quietly simmering narrative, so even though all its musical numbers are strong, the viewing experience only becomes exuberant later in the piece when its dramatic stakes finally gain height.

The jukebox musical format is carefully and cleverly utilised here, with preexisting songs from Darin and his era, assembled and rearranged to form a surprisingly coherent and entertaining show. Set design is striking but inflexible, with an undiminishable glitz distracting from its many sombre scenes, although remarkably effective in its visual demarcation of space. The production boasts an outstanding cast, with quintessential showman David Campbell in the lead, overflowing with extraordinary charm and skill, stealing hearts in every melody. There are moments when Campbell seems restrained and overly cautious in his portrayal of a venerated hero, and occasional issues with sound balance can be disappointing, but his powerful presence, astonishing commitment and infectious passion, guarantee a spectacular night at the theatre. Also noteworthy are Martin Crewes as Darin’s manager Steve Blauner, and Hannah Fredericksen as Darin’s wife Sandra Dee, both captivating personalities who provide solid support with unequivocal artistic brilliance.

Bobby Darin is from a time when we knew to celebrate dignity. There is no dirt in Dream Lover, which will take many of today’s audiences by surprise. Scandalous biographies are where the money is; in entertainment today, whether reality TV, tell-all books or on any other conceivable digital configuration, we consume crudeness as a matter of habit. It is troubling that the kind of career that Darin had enjoyed, could cease to be valued and appreciated in this new economy of vulgarity and gossip on steroids, where music is routinely sold in a package along with celebrity humiliation. Dream Lover may be about the past, but its ability to remind us of better days offers a nostalgic glimmer of hope. It inspires a longing for something purer, and on days like these, it could be the best that we can cling to.

wwww.dreamlover.com.au

5 Questions with Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte

Bert LaBonte

Marny McQueen: What are the best things about your home town, Geelong?
Bert LaBonte: Being so close to the water, but far enough away from the city.

In what ways do your sons take after you?
Oh look, they’re very sociable and blood cheeky.

Is your wife Amanda happy to be rid of you ¾ of the year while you are on tour?
I can safely say NO! But we make it work when it happens. We call it Team LaBonte!

Which have you been most proud of in your entire performing life?
I’d probably say Foley from An Officer And A Gentleman because I created the role in an original musical. Oh, and I might’ve won a few awards for it too.

What advice would you give other actors regarding working with a diva like me?
Just smile, breathe and think of home time.

Marney McQueen

Marney McQueen

Bert LaBonte: Other than me, which other leading man/men have you found inspirational to work with?
Marney McQueen: Tony Sheldon in Priscilla, he never missed a show, and even in rehearsals he always gave it 150%. I loved working with Andrew McFarlane, mostly because I was able to live out a childhood crush developed over many years of Playschool watching, and I learned many lessons about making sure you enjoy yourself while you are working from Bob Hornery. But my most inspirational leading man was the incomparable Garry MacDonald. In my comedy shows I work alongside an exceptional theatrical animal, Mark Jones, who I could not do cabaret without.

What is your favourite role you’ve played in your career to date?
At school, John Proctor in The Crucible. I went to an all girls’ school.

How do you find being a mum with little ones in this industry helps you as a performer?
It certainly helps you focus in your job while you are at work, you become more efficient. Although in this show you can tap into the immense pool of emotions that little people unleash within you.

If you weren’t a performer what would you be doing with your life?
I love this question. I studied commerce at the University of Melbourne, but I don’t think I would’ve pursued a career in that department. I think I’d be a real estate agent, which is basically being an actor, yeah?

What’s your favourite thing to do away from work?
Go swimming at the Coogee Women’s Pool.

Bert LaBonte and Marney McQueen can both be seen in Dream Lover the musical.
Dates: from 22 September, 2016
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

Review: Singin’ In The Rain (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

singinintherainVenue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jul 7 – Aug 28, 2016
Music & Lyrics: Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Reed
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Director: Jonathan Church
Cast: Grant Almirall, Robyn Arthur, Mike Bishop, Jack Chambers, Rodney Dobson, Erika Heynatz, Gretel Scarlett
Image by Hagen Hopkins

Theatre review
Regarded by those in the know to be the greatest movie musical of all time, Singin’ In The Rain takes place in Hollywood in the late 1920’s, when sound had begun to disrupt the silent film industry. This theatre production, based on the 2012 London revival, is similarly lighthearted, with a simple storyline that provides justification for a lot of song and dance in a style that harks back to the golden age of cinema.

Performers Jack Chambers and Erika Heynatz are called upon to provide the laughs in distinct comic sequences that showcase their talents appropriately, but the production suffers from a lack of exuberance that maintains an unfortunate muted tone over proceedings. Visual and sound design elements seem to be overly subdued, resulting in a show that often feels distant and lifeless. In the role of Don Lockwood is Grant Almirall, no less skilled and technical than Gene Kelly in the original film, but his very nifty footwork does not make up for the shortfall of charisma that we have come to expect of a Broadway style leading man.

Gretel Scarlett’s best efforts as supporting character Kathy Selden bring memorable moments of theatrical brilliance, leaving an excellent impression with polished execution of choreography and sublime vocals. Equally accomplished are the ensemble players, who present magnificent dance sequences that form the strongest feature of the production. Andrew Wright’s contribution as choreographer is outstanding, and almost compensates for the show’s minor but noticeable imperfections. Much excitement surrounds the heavy rain that pours on stage for the eponymous number; unquestionably gimmicky but also spectacular and beautifully realised. We go to musicals of this genre for amusement, and Singin’ In The Rain certainly does offer entertainment and escape, as well as bucket loads of nostalgia for the more romantic among us.

wwww.singin.com.au