Review: Nine (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble)

museVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 21 – 24, 2015
Book: Arthur Kopit (based on the Italian by Mario Fratti, after Federico Fellini’s )
Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Jonathan Rush
Cast: Mikhaila Chaplin, Anna Colless, Hannah Cox, Genevieve de Souza, Rielly Dickson, Doug Emery, Jacinta Gregory, Bridget Haberecht, Bronwyn Hicks, Jane Hughes, Gabi Kelland, Lisa-Marie Long, Jos Markerink, Rose McClelland, Olga Solar, Nicole Toum, Stephanie Troost, Sam Wood

Theatre review
Based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 semi-autobiographical film , this is a musical about a man’s passion for life, work and women. The central character in Nine is Guido Contini, the superstar director under pressure to create a new work. He escapes, procrastinates and reminisces, but we do not see the film being made. His artistic process is not a straightforward one, and we learn that genius manifests itself in unexpected ways.

The songs in Nine are melodic and extravagant, powerfully orchestrated by ten musicians under the supervision of Alexander Norden, who breathes life into Maury Yeston’s 42-year-old compositions. The show is directed with flair and energy by Jonathan Rush, and choreographed intelligently by Natasha Heyward. It is a production that successfully expresses the exuberance of Fellini’s Italy, with all elements finding cohesion in the decadence and wildness of that romanticised world.

There are accomplished performances in the show, most notably Hannah Cox’s turn as Liliane La Fleur, completely stealing the show in her sensational Folies Bergère number, with perfectly pitched humour, rambunctious sex appeal, and a stunning sense of joy. There are major problems with sound in the production, but stronger singers, including Anna Colless and Bronwyn Hicks do manage to overcome them with sheer vocal power. Less fortunate are the show’s leads Doug Emery and Bridget Haberecht, the Continis who find themselves consistently drowned out by musical accompaniment. Nevertheless, their committed and eloquent performances leave a strong impression, and help to deliver a fascinating narrative that is ultimately very satisfying.

This might be a minimal staging, but its imperfections are few. Nine stands the test of time, and this small revival demonstrates the potentialities and pleasures it contains. Inspiration is invaluable, and artists especially must be able to identify them. Fellini’s magnificence is emulated in Yeston’s musical, and this production is clearly touched by the muses, but we do not have to wait for the calling of divinity to be spurred on to create something special; as we see in Guido’s story, greatness is to be found in la dolce vita.

Review: A Little Night Music (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble)

muse2Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 25 – 28, 2015
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Stuart Bryan, Emma Elsley, Owen Elsley, Harry Flitcroft, Louise Flynn, Sarah Gaul, Bronwyn Hicks, Christie New
Image by Wenray Wang

Theatre review
Desiree and Frederik are middle-aged but they are yet to find fulfilling relationships. Sondheim’s A Little Night Music is a very adult love story that contains more farce than it does romance, and speaks to a slightly jaded audience that understands the complexities and illusions of love. The text is an intelligent but mischievous one, offering interesting insight into the personal aspects of mature lives. The most popular song of Sondheim’s entire oeuvre, “Send In The Clowns” is a prominent feature that encapsulates the experience of longing and regret. The decision by MUSE (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble) to stage the work is ambitious on many fronts, but the greatest challenge is for its very young team to convincingly portray the show’s main characters who are at least twice their age. The humour and pathos of the narrative, and its musical numbers, are heavily nuanced and demanding of any cast, but to expect those who have yet to taste all the flavours of life to interpret A Little Night Music with depth and poignancy is a very tall order indeed.

Director Alexander Andrews may not have the most seasoned performers at his disposal, but his flair for musical theatre is undeniable. Andrews is careful to keep the stage active with movement and surprise, so that we are visually engaged throughout the three hour production. Dramatic tension is not always present, and the piece often lacks exuberance, but sequences are paced quickly, with fresh events unfolding consistently to retain our attention. Stronger performers include Christie New, who creates a very funny Charlotte Malcolm, endearing us with sharp self-deprecation, and a knack for delivering powerful punchlines in both speech and song. Also memorable is Madame Armfeldt, the brilliantly zany matriarch presented by Sarah Gaul with gusto and flamboyance. Stuart Bryan cuts a fine figure as the show’s leading man, but his approach is too reserved, and his self-consciousness distracts from Frederik’s emotional journey. Quality of singing in the production is accomplished. Clare Richards’ powerful soprano is a standout, and Conrad Hamill’s work as Music Director, while being fairly rigid is delightfully detailed and precise.

Mr Sondheim’s work is quite literally second to none. He is an original and an undisputed genius, whose creations are ubiquitous and magnificent. Good productions of his body of work make for sublime nights of unparalleled theatrical pleasure, but lesser attempts can still be enjoyable by virtue of the sheer prowess of foundations already laid down years before. Musical theatre is rarely reinvented, and young practitioners of the genre subject themselves to emulating successes they had witnessed before. There is a sense of duplication that exists, whether effort is put into matching what had been great, or intentions are to supercede prior manifestations. It is a true conundrum, when one considers the true essence of art and the pursuit of all that is new.

5 Questions with Anna Colless

annacollessWhat is your favourite swear word?
I heard a friend say fudgeknuckles the other day and I’ve rather taken to it. Mostly because I can’t figure out what on earth inspired her to come up with it.

What are you wearing?
A luxurious fur, elbow-length gloves and a suave new hat. Oh wait that’s not a mirror, that’s a painting… Nevermind.

What is love?
Love is everything.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Doorstep Arts’ production of Next To Normal at the Hayes Theatre, and I’d give it a solid 4 stars. Or to put it another way, 1 star for every time I was moved to tears. It was a phenomenal show.

Is your new show going to be any good?
If the little I have seen so far is anything to judge by, it’s going to be a heck of a lot more than good! You really don’t want to miss this chance to see such an incredible show performed by what is truly a stellar cast!

Anna Colless is in A Little Night Music by The Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble.
Show dates: 25 -28 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Anyone Can Whistle (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble)

museVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 15 – 25, 2014
Book: Arthurs Laurents
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Olivia Aleksoski, Alexander Andrews
Cast: Dani El-Rassi, Sarah Gaul, Curtis Gooding, Jordan Shea, William Wally Allington
Image by nick&nick Photography

Theatre review
Stephen Sondheim’s 50 year-old musical still works. Its themes of corrupt governments and the gullibility of humankind remain relevant, and the farce constructed around those societal issues make for scenarios that are amusing yet meaningful. Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble’s production might be an amateur one, but it features the vibrancy and enthusiasm of its young members that impress despite inadequate training and an overall lack of sophistication. The five-piece band headed by Music Director Douglas Emery delivers scaled down but punchy accompaniment that delights us with a sparkling joyousness, even if accuracy and cohesion can be improved.

Choreography by the ambitious Louise Flynn is loud and exciting, with the cast’s varying levels of dance ability utilised intelligently. Flynn has a keenness for theatricality and a lot of fun, which manifests effectively on a stage that is consistently colourful and dynamic. India Cordony as Police Chief Magruder takes every opportunity to inject comedy into her dance, and the results are outrageously memorable. Aidan Kane’s physical discipline pays off with a polish and professionalism that helps him stand out from the chorus line.

Dani El-Rassi and Jordy Shea are fiercely committed in their roles, and both present moments of brilliance that will further improve with greater confidence. William Allington as Treasurer Cooley is also engaging, with an effortless charm that keeps his performance buoyant. The show’s biggest parts are demanding, and not satisfactorily created on this occasion. Their love story is a substantial piece of the plot but the desperate shortage of chemistry between actors is quite painful to watch.

The work is directed by Olivia Aleksoski and Alexander Andrews who have used their wonderful troop of stars cleverly. Each personality is given room to shine, and although the show’s plot is not always clear or affecting, the energy that bubbles on stage is always refreshing. The miracles that happen in the story might have been fabricated, but it should be remembered that most artists are also faking it… until they make it someday.