Review: Mack & Mabel (Working Management)

workingmanagementVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 18, 2016
Book: Michael Stewart (based on an idea by Leonard Speigelgass)
Music: Jerry Herman
Director: Trevor Ashley
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis, Shay Debney, Adam Di Martino, Sally Hare, Scott Irwin, Caroline Kaspar, Shaun Rennie, Kuki Tipoki, Stephen Valeri, Jessica Voivenel, Zachary Webster, Mikayla Williams, Deone Zanotto
Image by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Set against a backdrop of early Hollywood, Mack & Mabel is about a love that never happened, a romantic tale that is more “coulda woulda shoulda” than happily ever after. Created in 1974, the musical is in essence a damsel in distress story, where the girl is not strong enough to get what she wants, and in this case, the guy never quite gets his act together to rescue her. The songs are fun and perky, but mostly unmemorable. Every imaginable cliché of the genre is enlisted for a show that works hard to entertain, and although it is never able to surprise, the experience it delivers is nonetheless an enjoyable one.

Directed by Trevor Ashley, with choreography by Cameron Mitchell, the show is highly animated, and relentless with its pizzazz. Every song is staged with great detail and deliberation, but while there is no shortage of energy and action, its comedy is not always effective, and its pathos is insufficiently potent. It is a diverse cast with varying levels of competencies, but their conviction keeps us attentive to every sequence being presented. Leading lady Angelique Cassimatis charms us with indefatigable flamboyance, and her male counterpart Scott Irwin provides grounding with a melancholic sincerity. Deone Zanotto is outstanding as Lottie, a secondary character called upon to bring all the bells and whistles needed to spice things up. Zanotto’s physical discipline and vocal agility are a joy to witness. Also noteworthy is Neil McLean’s sound design achieving excellent dynamism and clarity with how we hear music, lyrics and dialogue in the production.

There is little in Mack & Mabel that we can relate to, but it is a good excuse for some exhilarating song and dance. There is a frustration in seeing Mabel’s life presented as a failure due to her fruitless dedication to Mack. What might have been a kind of beautiful resignation and saccharine sentimentality in the past, is now just far-fetched, and tedious, whether or not one reads the musical from a consciously feminist perspective. The drama relies on our submission to its dated sensibilities about romance, and thankfully, many of us have progressed far beyond that.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Libby Asciak and Erin Clare

Erin Clare

Erin Clare

Libby Asciak: Do you have any little rituals you do before each performance?
Erin Clare: The great thing about Heathers is its iconic 80’s theme and styling. I really feel like I’m stepping into a different character every time I apply copious amounts of blush to my cheeks, temple and forehead. It’s bizarre, but it really helps to be able to transform into another person visually. The hour call is really the time to exercise the outrageous fashion faux pas about that time and I love it. I like to watch Pat Benatar’s clip “love is a battlefield” because it is a gift to my soul- sometimes if I sit really still I can feel my hair getting frizzier just watching it.

How well did you know the musical Heathers before starting rehearsals?
If there’s anything the fan base of Heathers has taught me- is that if you know Heathers, you absolutely love it. I hadn’t heard of the show before the Hayes announced it, and after hearing the opening track I realised it was something very very special. Anyone who I spoke to raved about the show- and much like the movie; it has serious cult status for very good reason. Before rehearsals I listened to the soundtrack religiously, and of course watched the film, but it really is such a hidden gem that anyone in musical theatre should listen to.

What’s your favourite moment in the show?
In our production, without giving anything away, the incredible Lucy Maunder who plays Heather Chandler has a moment with a set of keys that I am obsessed with. To quote another fan I may have had a borderline “religious experience” at how hilarious it is. Within the show there are a lot of razor sharp moments that switch from belly laughs to tragedy within seconds and I think it is incredibly well written in that regard. One favourite moment for my character is my suicide attempt, which is always so fun to play and leaves me minty fresh for the rest of the show. That makes absolutely no sense unless you come watch so I guess you will just have to buy a ticket now.

If you weren’t cast as Heather Mac who else would you like to play?
I would cut off my limbs to play Martha, what a beautiful role! She truly is the heart of this piece and just so brilliantly delivered by Lauren McKenna. I would also love if it were at all possible to play J.D. His song “Meant To Be Yours” is an amazing roller-coaster of someone so beautifully insane and he has such an amazing part to play within the story. Incidentally I also enjoy a smart trench coat.

If you weren’t in the performing arts industry what would you be doing?
I’ve been so incredibly lucky to be able to know exactly what I wanted to do from a really young age. I think if I wasn’t in the industry I would be complaining to friends and hairdressers about wanting to be in the industry. We are really blessed to be doing what we are doing and part of something really exciting. If not for my aversion to technology I’d love to write a column for an arts publication but I’m still deciphering Windows 98.

Libby Asciak

Libby Asciak

Erin Clare: After learning you had landed the role of Heather Duke, how did you begin to prepare for the role?
Libby Asciak: Before auditioning I had only watched sections of the movie and off-Broadway show so I went back to the movie where it all started to find out what made this movie such a massive hit in the 80’s.

Word on the street is that you make the world’s best rocky road. Do you have any other baking specialities?
I’m not even gonna lie my rocky road is the bomb and I have a lot of pride attached to it haha. I literally throw in all of my favourite things, add some chocolate, add some peanut butter and you cant go wrong! I love cooking but I’m actually not a crazy baker as I cant eat egg which is in so may of the yummy baking recipes.

What is your favourite thing about playing Heather Duke?
I get to play a bitch. I definitely wasn’t a Heather in high school. I loved my music and dance and being in the design studios so that didn’t really make up to be the standard of a Heather sadly. It is so amazing to be able to turn the tables and play the girls who made me feel so insecure and made me feel like I wasn’t enough. Now I can show them how it’s really done!

If you had the choice between a green or red scrunchie, which would you prefer?
I love a red lip which makes me go more towards the red so I can at least match hehe. However, at Westerburg High I don’t think I can live with the pressure of being in control of the red scrunchie.

What is your favourite scene in either the movie or musical and why?
I’m gonna go with the musical and I think my favourite scene is when Heather Chandler pops out of the locker and says the very famous line “F*ck me gently with a chainsaw.” The audience go crazy when Lucy Maunder (Heather Chandler) says it and she plays it so brilliantly.

Libby Asciak and Erin Clare star in Heathers, the musical.
Dates: 16 July – 9 August, 2015
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: Heathers (Snowqueen Productions / Working Management)

hayesVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), July 16 – Aug 9, 2015
Book, Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe, Kevin Murphy (based on the screenplay by Daniel Waters)
Director: Trevor Ashley
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Jaz Flowers, Lucy Maunder, Stephen Madsen, Erin Clare, Libby Asciak, Vincent Hooper, Jakob Ambrose, Lauren McKenna, Mitchell Hicks, Michelle Barr, Rebecca Hetherington, Stephen McDowell
Image by Kurt Sneddon

Theatre review
The film Heathers is a cult favourite from 1988 that surprised viewers, with its dark approach to the teen movie genre that had been in vogue at the time. What appeared on the surface to look like standard fare about high school hierarchies and puppy love turned out to be fascinatingly morbid. Its exploration of teenage angst in a plot that discussed suicide and murder preempted today’s attention of school shootings and other massacres of the kind. Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s musical version is a much more frivolous interpretation of events in the movie, although it is noteworthy that stories and characters are largely kept intact. Most of the songs are well-written, but they range from comical to sentimental, with very few occasions for the macabre that the original film was successful at generating.

Accordingly, Trevor Ashley’s direction of the work is hugely comedic, with meticulous focus on amplifying every funny moment. His style is deafeningly camp, which is not unsuitable for the production, but that distinctively loud tone of presentation tends to play on a single level with little variation, and allows for scarce instances of complexity. The first act in particular, is relentlessly raucous. We cannot help being engaged, but the story feels empty. The writing does not seem to provide sufficient space for tension to build, and the central character Veronica is not given a realistic chance at making a strong enough connection with her audience for the narrative to work as well as it does in the film. Additionally, the leads do not have the same superstar charisma of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater to keep us spellbound, but Jaz Flowers and Stephen Madsens’ accomplished singing does a good job of moving the show along.

Act Two is a marked improvement, with more compelling plot twists and greater disparity between scenes. Supporting performers impress in their solos, including Lauren McKenna as Ms. Fleming, the flamboyant high school teacher whose intentions to help the students are more self-serving than altruistic. McKenna is inventive, confident and very effervescent in her cheeky depiction of the faux hippy woman. Vincent Hooper plays the Sweeneys (senior and junior) with outstanding energy and enthusiasm. The performer embraces the bawdy style of humour and creates hilarious exaggerations of the American jock, which delivers some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Heathers the musical is amusing at every point, with many entertaining sequences of choreography and effective comedy. It does however, miss the opportunity for creating greater tension and poignancy with its resonant subject matter. The teenagers in Heathers grow up too fast. Their loss of innocence requires deeper exploration, but as in real life, we brush aside their concerns too easily.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Ali McGregor’s Alchemy (Hayes Theatre Co)

alimcgregorVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – 26, 2014
Musical Director: Sam Keevers
Cast: Ali McGregor

Theatre review
Ali McGregor has the kind of talent that we all wish to have. She is a singer who can sing anything across every genre, and she does them all incredibly well. In Alchemy, she showcases her frankly amazing ability at opera, rap, pop, rock, and all shades of jazz. There is nothing her voice is incapable of, and everything sounds authentic. Switching from musical theatre torch songs to hip hop à la Salt-N-Pepa is entirely effortless for McGregor. We never feel that the performer is more comfortable in one style than another, and the confidence she presents with each number is thoroughly enthralling and quite overwhelming.

When the diva sings, we are captivated and suspended in a timeless space; we lose ourselves and all our cares evaporate. McGregor says that Alchemy is about turning trash to treasure. The set list includes well known chart hits from the 80’s and 90’s, but rearranged to fit a jazz cabaret mode featuring Sam Keevers on the piano, Jonathan Zwartz on double bass and Tim Firth on drums. The programme is beautifully paced and constantly surprising, with an enjoyable juxtaposition of the familiar with the unexpected, providing amusement and delight. McGregor is a keen entertainer who engages her crowd with gestures and glances, and a lot of talking between songs. She is without question, a funny lady, and uses comedy well to create contexts for song choices, but unlike the music, her style and content of her chit-chat can become repetitive. She also shies away from more serious moments, frequently introducing a self-deprecating humour that is sometimes charming, but can also be disruptive. McGregor is capable of a lot of beauty with her presence and performance, and should allow more of her sublime qualities to resonate, instead of reverting to a persistent display of modesty and down-to-earthness.

It must be noted that lighting design for the show is inventive and very dynamic, transforming the simplest of stagings into something quite visually stunning. Sound however, does not show off McGregor’s range with enough effectiveness. The singer sounds impressive through the venue’s speakers for most of the duration but when she belts the bigger notes with her extraordinary power, the technical facilities seems to falter, losing dimension at these crucial points. Fortunately, the star’s determination and infallibility smooths over every flaw, and we cannot help but stay in love with her until the very end.

www.hayestheatre.com.au