Melbourne, Australia

REVIEW: Australian Premiere of HAPPY PEOPLE IN CONCERT

In Musical Theatre, Performances, Review on October 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

Marvellous home-grown musical

By Bradley Storer

Australian music theatre composer Matthew Lee Robinson, after the acclaimed concert production of his musical Atlantis earlier this year, returned to Chapel Off Chapel with the presentation of his original work Happy People, a behind-the-scenes examination of the world of children’s entertainment.

Happy People

The titular group, ‘Happy People’, are a Hi-5/Wiggles-style collective of children’s entertainers who, after ten years working together, are falling apart. Bobby (Bobby Fox) and Sunny (Sun Park), formerly married and recently divorced, are conflicted over residual bitterness and Bobby’s self destructive tendencies. Flamboyant Jewish boy Benny (Tom Sharah) seeks to re-invent himself as a member of a boy band pop star. Jeff (Bert Labonté), the elephant-suited mascot of the group, wants nothing more than to move to his recently-bought new home and settle down with the fifth member of the group, Sally (Gretel Scarlett) – a bright bouncy blonde with the sugary sweetness and rigidity of a Stepford housewife.

The show as a whole is fantastic – Robinson, doing double duty as composer and librettist, crafts hilarious sendups of songs that seemed almost ripped from a real-life children’s TV show, as well as some emotional ballads and duets that throb with the complexities and heartaches of adulthood, alongside well-crafted scenes that had the audience in tears from laughter.

In the cast, there are no weak points – even from behind music stands and carrying books, they delivered fully committed and individuated performances. Scarlett as the manically cheerful Sally shows off some fantastic comedic chops, as well as her stunning voice of both range and power. Sharah as Benny comes close to stealing the show with every line, and his song ‘Boyband’ is a comedic and physical tour de force of every 90’s boyband stereotype. Robyn Arthur in the small but crucial role of the band’s manager Poppy brought a solid and earthy maturity to the part, as well as a rafter-shaking belt in the touching penultimate song ‘Young’.

Happy People stands as a strong work from an established Australian composer, and is great evidence of the vibrancy and originality of the emerging Australian musical scene.

The premiere of Happy People in Concert took place at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran on the 18 – 19th October, 2014.

REVIEW: Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show

In Circus, Performances, Review on October 16, 2014 at 9:15 am

A one-man carnival

By Myron My

I knew next to nothing about Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show before attending the show, but I was intrigued by its title and minimal show synopsis. Fortunately, Drago’s (Ilan Abrahams) declaration at the beginning of the show that he is here to entertain us and we are here for enjoyment really proves true.

Drago's Freak Show

Abrahams has really honed in on showman Drago’s character and personality. The physicality displayed seemed very natural and habitual, and along with his miming, Abrahams has great story-telling abilities and ensures that he always has our attention.

The tatty circus tent designed by Hamish Fletcher and the outfit worn by Abrahams and created by Amaya Vecellio are both well thought out and carefully detailed, down to the dirt marks and holes, further embracing the travelling circus atmosphere.

The lighting played a very important and effective part in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show. A variety of lighting techniques are used including a circus spotlight, torchlights and candlelight, with each eliciting a different emotion or mood from us. Even amongst the low light moments, the shadows bouncing off the walls and flickering within the tent added to the freak show vibe being created.

Despite my enjoyment, I did walk out of the show feeling unsure as to the purpose of the piece. What is it that Abrahams wants us to feel? The stories were enjoyable as were the songs but I felt like there was a message that got lost along the way. I was also puzzled as to the meaning of the special guest and the “big reveal”. I expected a stronger impact especially with all the anticipation for their arrival.

The elements that do work in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show work very well and ensure that it is an hour of definite enjoyment, even if the ultimate meaning of the work does get a little confused.

Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show was performed at La Mama as part of its Explorations season which supports works in development.

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents THE BIG SING

In Opera, Performances, Review on October 16, 2014 at 9:06 am

With voices raised

By Narelle Wood

For one night only Victorian Opera, community choirs from around regional and metropolitan Victoria, VOYCE (Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble), students from the Master of Music Opera Performance program and Orchestra Victoria came together for the very aptly named The Big Sing.

In the magnificent surrounds of Hamer Hall we were treated to performances of Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, as well as Gilbert and Sullivan and Maestro Mills’ own arrangements of Australian folk songs “Click go the Shears” and “Waltzing Matilda”. The program provided a great variety of musical moods, from the joyful drinking song “Brindisi” from La Traviata to Purcell’s haunting “When I am Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas.

The Big Sing

It was, however, the ethereal performance of “With Drooping Wings” also from Dido and Aeneas and sung by VOYCE that was a highlight, demonstrating the depth of talent that Victorian Opera has to work with.

Michael Petruccelli and Matthew Tng were very entertaining (they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves) and I could have listened to Kate Amos and Cristina Russo sing all night. But for anyone unsure whether opera is for them, nights such as these are a perfect introduction. Selection of music aside, Maestro Mills provides a history and context to the pieces in a passionate, sometimes brutally honest, but always entertaining style.

While in an opera performance the opera singers will always be the stars, listening to, and on this very fortunate occasion watching, Orchestra Victoria is an incredible experience. This time we were treated to some introductions to the various instruments, and personalities, of the orchestra, which added a relaxed and very personable feel to the evening.

I did find the request to join in the singing of “Waltzing Matilda” a little confronting and was a little too self-conscious to join voices with likes of Elizabeth Lewis and Nathan Lay. Hopefully The Big Sing will be back next year as I certainly thought it was a big hit, and who knows – maybe next year I’ll be game enough to sing along.

Victorian Opera’s The Big Sing took place at Hamer Hall on 13th Oct 2014.

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