Review: Miracle City (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 12 – 29, 2017
Books & Lyrics: Nick Enright
Music & Concept: Max Lambert
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Missy Higgins, Josie Lane, Lara Mulcahy, Gus Murray, Liam Nunan, Anthony Phelan, Kelly Rode, Jessica Vickers
Image by Branco Gaica

Theatre review
The Truswells are American televangelists who make commerce out of religion, by commodifying faith and targeting herds of desperate souls. They put on a weekly TV show, promising inspiration, redemption and salvation, in exchange for cash from their loyal viewers. Behind the scenes however, the family is going broke, as they try unsuccessfully to fulfil ambitions of expanding their operations.

Miracle City depicts an absurd slice of life, but the production is rarely funny. The plot trudges along, offering no surprises and only few instances of amusement. In the absence of humour, we search instead for poignancy, which disappointingly and quite bewilderingly, never arrives. It is fortunate then, that the show features excellent singing and a pleasing score of Christian gospel music.

The cast works hard, with leading lady Kellie Rode bringing a valuable sense of vibrancy and polish to the show. Gus Murray cuts an imposing figure as Reverend Truswell, but it is a portrayal that seems insufficiently sinister in this tale of crushed dreams and broken morals. A trio of choristers provide some stunning powerhouse vocals that lift the mood, thankfully, at very regular intervals. Missy Higgins, Josie Lane and Lara Mulcahy play subsidiary characters, but their voices are the highlight of a musical that is otherwise strangely passionless.

We pay businesses to satisfy our needs, but we want them to be transparent in our dealings. Religion can give a lot to individuals, but the magic that they perform, often relies on obfuscation and mystery. We need to be in touch with the sacred, but we do not wish for access to the venerable be contingent on trade. Those who peddle in the divine, are therefore deceptive and hypocritical, whether on trash TV or in our more hallowed institutions.

www.thetheatredivision.com

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

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2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

End

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Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

Click here to see Best Of 2013

5 Questions with Joanna Weinberg

joannaweinbergWhat is your favourite swear word?
POES! It’s a South African word which is extremely rude and derogatory and politically incorrect and therefore satisfying to those in the know.

What are you wearing?
Bare feet , black nail polish and lots of drapy shawl things.

What is love?
My husband reads my reviews and lies to me if they are bad.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Storytiller on the Sydney Fringe. Lots of stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
My new show is already good. What a dumb question.

Joanna Weinberg is starring in Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs.
Show dates: Sundays 14, 21 and 28 Sep 2014
Show venue: Hayes Theatre Co

Review: Ruthless! (The Theatre Division)

theatredivisionVenue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Jun 19 – Jul 12, 2014
Book & Lyrics: Joel Paley
Music: Marvin Laird
Director: Lisa Freshwater
Cast: Katrina Retallick, Meredith O’Reilly, Margi de Ferranti, Caitlin Berry, Madison Russo, Geraldine Turner

Theatre review
The value of camp is found in its affiliation with irony and black comedy, but its inherent darkness is masked by insolent loudness, and often, political meanings are so extensively subverted that they become near invisible. Camp heroes like Carmen Miranda, Liza Minnelli, Bob Downe and seventies pop star Sylvester (to name just a few), are all iconic figures remembered for a certain frivolity, but they each represent something far more serious, which we can choose either to acknowledge, or ignore. Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’ Ruthless! is utterly and irrevocably camp, but it is also highly intelligent and sophisticated in its approach. Its themes of feminism, family and the American dream are key impetuses for its jokes and plot development, even if they are not explicitly dissertated. Instead, front and centre are the wittiest of lines, the most charming of show tunes, and the savagest of stories. This is a musical that has all the constituents of a cult hit, which is to say that it is not for everyone, but for those with whom it resonates, Ruthless! is a very special show indeed.

Lisa Freshwater’s direction is suitably bold. The material needs a brazen and fearless attitude, and Freshwater is certainly no shrinking violet. Wickedness lurks in every corner, and the director is never afraid to take full advantage of it for our benefit. The writing is a minefield of laughter, and she detonates at every opportunity. The characters have few redeeming features, but Freshwater manages to make each one bewitching. By ensuring that these women never seem realistic, their misdeeds are prevented from descending into too dark and threatening a space. Instead, they are always beguiling and glamorous, like the women in Disney films, only more animated.

Choreography by Christopher Horsey is dynamic and astute. He is always in on the joke, and provides a rich suite of tools for the performers to articulate in movement. The stage is always vibrant, and the women are always confident. Each gesture and posture is full of flair and calculated, forming part of the rich visual language that establishes the production’s brilliant effervescence. Also noteworthy is Mason Browne’s work as set and costume designer. His use of colour is exemplary, and the vividness he achieves with quite minimal elements is truly inspired.

The lead role Judy Denmark is played by Katrina Retallick with inconceivable talent and flair. It is sublime to witness an elite performer at the top of her game, and this is such an occasion. The performer glows throughout the show, with supreme grace, a flawless voice and a surprising mastery over the dark humour at hand. The role is a tricky one. It is challenging, technical, unconventional and confronting, and Retallick achieves it all with flying colours and devastating splendour.

Young performer Madison Russo is a revelation as the scene stealing Tina Denmark. Her vocal and dance abilities are impressive, and crucial to the effectiveness of the narrative. Caitlin Berry’s versatility is showcased perfectly, along with a stunning singing voice and a keen sense of acerbic humour. Margi de Ferranti plays both Miss Block and Myrna Thorn with exuberance, and claims the biggest laugh of the show with a gag about Miss Block’s sexuality and dress sense. Geraldine Turner is positively terrifying as the theatre critic who “hates anything to do with the theatre, that’s my job”, Lita Encore. Her performance of “I Hate Musicals” is reason enough to buy a second ticket for another viewing. Meredith O’Reilly as Sylvia St Croix displays professional savvy and a stage presence that are impossible to ignore.

As Les Misérables celebrates its umpteenth opening in Melbourne this month, it is important to remember that popularity in the arts might mean fame and fortune, but excelling in smaller theatres under ridiculous constraints of all kinds is a greater glory. Ruthless! will never see the financial success of Phantom and Saigon (“if I want helicopters, I’d go to the airport!” says Lita Encore), but for those of us who yearn for something with bite, and that provides its cast with nowhere to hide but to rely only on sheer talent, this is a show to ruthlessly champion for.

www.thetheatredivision.com