Category: Cabaret

Review: Songs For Nobodies

One woman becomes ten

By Owen James

Bernadette Robinson is a star, and Songs For Nobodies is the perfect vehicle for her endless talent to be showcased in. Originally commissioned and directed by Simon Phillips ten years ago, this one-woman masterpiece allows Robinson to become Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas in succession, alongside five women who meet these stars in unlikely and often amusingly implausible situations.

She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the very beginning, and we are enthralled with every breath and spellbinding note. Robinson effortlessly switches between her impressive array of accents, dialects and musical styles as she crosses continents and classes, each new voice painting a portrait of a lost artist we feel could be genuinely standing before us. (And it’s the closest we’ll get!) Robinson performs from the heart, her loving recreations mesmerising and enchanting for their truthful purity. We are left astonished with delicate transitions between soprano torch songs, country classics, and smoky blues standards.

The whole experience is very calming and peaceful, a combination of the warm wave of nostalgia intrinsic to the material, and the feeling that we are always safe in Robinson’s expert hands. Sound and lighting designers have embraced this tranquillity, and enhanced every moment with simple but very effective use of soundscapes and flawless lighting states.

The text is written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and is imbued with research and passion at every turn. Clear and polished pictures are painted of both the famous artists and the ordinary women recounting their encounters in every monologue, and every carefully selected song is masterfully integrated with the text, creating a tonally consistent flow throughout the entire ninety minute runtime. The show is undoubtedly curated for an audience acquainted with the references, but will still be enjoyed by anyone unfamiliar with these famous artists, thanks to Murray-Smith’s witty and timeless writing.

It is difficult to imagine an artist more suited to their art than Bernadette Robinson in Songs For Nobodies. She is deserving of every piece of praise and acclaim that has come her way throughout the ten-year international performance history of this show – which includes a noteworthy nomination for an Olivier Award during its West End run. Living in the intimate Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne until January 5th, this outing makes for the perfect pre-Christmas treat or post-Christmas wind-down. Not to be missed.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/songs-for-nobodies

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Review: Chicago

Full of razzle dazzle

By Rebecca Waese

The sizzling Jazz-age musical, Chicago, opened at the State Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne last night, satirizing the idea of the celebrity criminal, the corrupt justice system and the media that glamourizes American criminals, and especially, gorgeous female murderesses. Based on a 1926-play written by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins on historical female murderesses who used their feminine wiles to get away with murder, this revival of the 1975 American musical is eerily resonant today in the age of ‘fake news’ where phoney celebrities dominate the headlines and Insta feeds. It was sultry, and full of ‘razzle dazzle’ with some fine moments of comedic timing and satire, and extraordinary talent.

Alinta Chidzey as Velma Kelly brought her outstanding talents in dance and voice to the stage, with vertical leg extensions and a vocal range and power that took my breath away. Having toured alongside Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz and winning an impressive collection of awards for Musical Theatre, Chidzey is one to watch. The casting of Casey Donovan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton was bang-on. The former Australian Idol winner was a powerhouse to behold, owning the space with intensity and adding a sexy physical confidence to the role which was fabulous to see. Natalie Bassingthwaighte brought engaging comedic timing and physicality to the role of Roxie Hart, particularly in the press conference scene where the lawyer, Billy Flynn, played by Jason Donovan, uses her as his ventriloquized dummy to construct a new narrative and re-frame her as innocent. Donovan was slick, charming and humane in his dramatic portrayal of the celebrity lawyer and connected well to the Melbourne audience who welcomed him warmly. The vocals of Jason Donovan and Bassingthwaighte, however, were just not on the same level as Chidzey and Casey Donovan, whose voices filled the vast theatre and were in a league of their own.

Highlights of the show included the onstage orchestra (directed by Daniel Edmonds) who stole a few celebrity moments after interval with some upstanding jazz solos that got the crowd roaring. Understated cuckold Amos Hart, played by Rodney Dobson, had the best jazz hands in the show in his compelling, ‘Mr. Cellophane’ and the ensemble was extraordinarily strong with salivating sexy moves from Fred Casely, played by Andrew Cook and Fosse-inspired choreography by Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst that popped and pulsed with impressive synchronicity.

Opening on the historic night of Donald Trump’s impeachment, this Chicago production voices a timely and ironic message on the decline of justice and truth in America. Velma comments, “You know, a lot of people have lost faith in America and what America stands for’ and Billy Flynn’s response is to ‘Razzle Dazzle them… How can they see with sequins in their eyes?” A self-aware musical production such as this exposes our collective desire for both glamour and truth. With home-grown stars and a formidable ensemble, you will be entertained on a number of levels by this Australian production of Chicago.

Until 23rd February, tickets at http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/chicago

Photography by Jeff Busby

 

Preview: People Suck

Who sucks more?

By Sebastian Purcell

People Suck, a musical comedy, explores the many ways in which people are just the worst. The creative, passionate, vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic cast works seamlessly together to show you all the ways the world has gone downhill lately. Comparing who sucks more (Voldemort vs Marilyn Manson), or who in the office is more annoying, or who you just don’t like for no good reason; this witty musical provides a not-so-gentle reminder to be ever vigilant on the trek to becoming a better human being.

Written by award-winning Canadian team Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell, airs common grievances through their clever and topical lyrics. The cast is beautifully and dutifully supported on the piano by Geoffrey Scarlett, but I can’t help wondering what the show would feel like with a band or small orchestra for added oomph.

The cast works really well as an ensemble feeding off each other’s energy and is wonderfully directed by Sarahlouise Younger; particularly in the opening number, “Todays Lesson”, where early primary school students work out that the world is a little messed up. There are moments where the harmonies are a little off throughout the show, but to be able to pitch and harmonise against a single piano is no easy feat.

Individually everyone receives their moment to shine. Belinda Jenkin portrays a wonderfully and hilariously frustrated woman who wishes her men (and women) sucked more in the bedroom. Tim Lancaster switches roles, mannerisms, and vocal styles throughout the show but stands out in his fast-paced lament of how often people seemingly manage to butcher the English language. Georgie Potter throws in a terrific Cardi B impression and brings to life every one’s worst nightmare of a stranger talking to you on a train. Ashley Weidner is the first to take the show to a deep and emotional level with his performance of Eleven, reflecting on a school bully’s impact 20 years on, a reminder of how our actions can haunt those years down the track.

However, it is Ashley Taylor who brings the cast together, firstly as Primary School Teacher trying to impart important life lessons on her challenging class, and then in her breath taking and tear-jerking performance of ‘I Don’t Know What to Say’. Vocally and emotionally she pours her heart out and you could feel the impact across the audience.

The stage is light on – chairs and tables to set scenes – yet in each moment you know exactly where you are going, which is a credit to the lightning, stage, costume and production design team.

The show uses course language, adult themes and questions the role of religion in today’s science orientated world. It had me grinning from ear to ear and left me reflective of what small changes we all could make to make the world suck a little less each day.

People Suck plays at Theatre Works- St Kilda from 20 – 30 November 2019.

Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 or online at www.theatreworks.org.au/program/people-suck/

Photography by Sarahlouise Younger and Ashley Taylor

Review: Not Quite Right

A heart-warming tribute and ode to family

By Sebastian Purcell

Bringing this one woman, all encompassing, cabaret to life is no mean feat. Seasoned performer Susan-ann Walker (Once, Funny Girl, Cabaret, The Secret Garden, Confessions of a Sex Kitten) transforms into more than 10 characters – or family members – singing a variety of styles and playing the piano, ukulele and accordion, and doing it all with extraordinary humour, and most importantly, authenticity. This show celebrates those eccentric, crackerjack, kooky and courageous people who proudly march to the beat of their own drum. 

Susan-ann  provides a lesson in character acting; one of the standout performances is that of an opera diva, ironically giving the audience a lesson in performing ‘My Sharona’. The performance easily draws comparison, and perhaps inspiration, from that of Glinda and Carlotta from Wicked and Phantom of the Opera respectively. While Joy, the music teacher, with her calming voice and presence, is reminiscent of Adele’s ‘Jenny’ on the Graham Norton Show and provides a bundle of laughs.

Mamooshka, a Czech cabaret artist and vodka ambassador, provides all the laughs as she (begrudgingly) entertains with well-known modern hits, and to top it off provides an encore you never knew you needed – a brand new interpretation of Queen … on the accordion no less.

But the heart and soul this show is Susan-Ann telling her story through Radio Heads’ Creep as a love letter to her 15-year-old crush, and the fondness of retelling these childhood memories, that makes this a unique, human and fantastic piece of cabaret.

The use of multimedia throughout the show serves to present additional characters and allow for the wonderful character transformations – the costumes add an extra feather in this shows cap.

It’s not for the faint hearted, the characters have their choice language, though if you’re up for a laugh then this is the show to kick back and not only immerse yourself in Susan-ann’s story, but a chance to reflect on your own family and childhood too. Directed by Theresa Borg, the creative and tech team, produce an all round polished performance.

Not Quite Right is laugh out loud, tears rolling down your face funny show, that has a big heart at the centre of it.

For more shows at The MC Showroom ( 1/48 Clifton St, Prahran) visit http://www.themcshowroom.com

Photography courtesy of Angel Leggas

Review: APOCALYPSE MEOW: A Crisis is Born

Some Christmas kook for the Christmas cynic

By Leeor Adar

Few performers can request audience members to inflate plastic animals and giveth o’er their personal possessions, but cabaret queen Meow Meow does this and the audience giggles and obliges. Meow Meow’s personal charm aside, her performances are always memorable and mercurial in equal measure. Apocalypse Meow is a Meow Meow Christmas special, carting out tricks, music and orphans; no stone is left unturned.

The stage is a haphazard mess, affectionately (or not so) referred to as a “shelf”. A fire burns in a tv, there’s sheets everywhere and a band perches themselves at the ready in golden glitz uniform(they are fantastic). Meow Meow enters, all apologies and grandiosity. She was set for the Royal Albert Hall, but no room; Sydney Opera House? Forget it. She’s left with the Malthouse shelf, and this is where she will take us through to the end of time.

Conceptually, this show is a cracker. It’s the cynics guide to Christmas. But don’t you worry, cynicism doth crack, and sentimentality will floweth. Every Christmas cliché is carted out and thrown off kilter with Meow Meow, and it really is an anti-Christ-mas of belly laughs and shtick. There is a level of depth reached that at first is hard to imagine, her prerogative is to sift through the Hallmark holiday dregs and find the bonafide core of what it all means, usually through the lens of a child’s eyes. Deep down, does Meow Meow not hope and dream?

The show starts with large promises and an air of embarrassment; Alan Cumming, Rufus Wainwright and Jake Shears are set to appear, apparently, but instead Meow Meow finds herself greeted at the door by children singing Christmas carols. Meow Meow finally relents to the carollers and drags two orphans out to sing at her will alongside a boy mannequin. It’s very clever, and very funny. And just when I think Meow Meow is softening, she begins a rendition of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand to scare the daylights out of the orphans – not to mention herself.

The descent is not over, and the arrival of her über talented doppelgänger (Michaela Burger) takes this show into a kooky Christmas variety show that would make the Kransky Sisters marvel. Anything goes in Meow Meow’s apocalyptic world of sparkles and dilapidation, so it is a pleasant surprise when tenderness rears its head towards the close of the show. My eyes water a little as things take a mellow turn, and Meow Meow’s gorgeous voice is soon replaced by her transforming into a child-like ballerina, dancing until the end of the show. 

Merry Christmas cynics.

You can catch her Christmas kook until Sunday 1 December. Tickets on sale:  https://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/apocalypse-meow

Photography courtesy of Magnus Hastings

Review: Gender Euphoria

Flipping gender dysphoria on its head

By Ross Larkin

Never before have I known so little about what to expect from a show as I did entering the world of Gender Euphoria.

Part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, I suspected perhaps an array of colour, a healthy dose of music and dance and certainly plenty of diversity. What I didn’t necessarily expect was to laugh raucously, be moved to tears more than once, and to feel utterly inspired and uplifted. 

Touted as Australia’s biggest line-up of Trans and gender-diverse performers, the ensemble of ten hail from multiple walks of life and all areas of the globe; and as diverse as they are, they most certainly all have one thing in common – talent. 

Director Maude Davey and musical director Ned Dixon bring a flamboyant and dazzling array of burlesque, song, dance, comedy, circus art and poetry, which are woven seamlessly together in a non-stop thrill ride of comedy, heartbreak and exhilaration. 

Mama Alto is not only the perfect charismatic hostess, but her voice is to die for and she had the audience in the palm of her hand with gorgeous interpretations of two classic songs by The Pretenders. 

Nikki Viveca and special guest from the UK, Krishna Istha, were also highlights, with their beautifully hilarious and poignant routines, as was the guest of all guests, Tiwi Islander Crystal Love, whose moving, yet uplifting segment had the crowd transfixed with awe and admiration. 

There’s no doubt about it, Gender Euphoria absolutely flips gender dysphoria on its head with charm, style and inspiration.

By the end, the packed house was on its feet cheering for more, and there was a sense that not only had we been part of something utterly moving and entertaining, we had also witnessed a groundbreaking and vitally significant and important piece of work.

If you’re able to somehow see this show, then do what you can to make it happen, as this is one event not to be missed. 

Gender Euphoria was part of the Arts Centre Spiegeltent Tent Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Photography courtesy of Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

 

Review: The Beautiful Game

Theatricalised slice of Irish Troubles

By Owen James

Amidst the madness of Fringe, independent company Manilla Street Productions are presenting a rarely-performed Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical about the lives of a football team wrestling with pride and confrontation during ‘The Troubles’. This is a high-quality production of material that I found at times unfulfilling and disjointed, but full kudos to Manilla Street Productions for choosing to tackle this little-known show.

Lloyd-Webber’s score is nothing groundbreaking, but suitably serves the emotional elements of the story. Though rife with generic and poorly-written lyrics that hinder potential character development, there are beautiful ballads and dynamic ensemble numbers peppered throughout. The book by respected veteran writer Ben Elton is at its best when tackling the darker themes stewing beneath these characters’ lives, crafting moments of emotion that are deeply affecting.

Director/producer Karen Jemison has brought the world of 1969 Belfast to life with evident understanding of the political and religious thunderstorm these conflicted young men are swallowed by. It is this ongoing conflict – both in their heads and on the streets – that is at the heart of The Beautiful Game, where you either take a side, or someone will choose one for you. Jemison has injected the production with a realistic sense of energy and danger that makes for compelling, engaging character work.

Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook is seamlessly integrated into blocking, executed by an ensemble at the top of their game (no pun intended). A football match dissolves into a competitive, masculine dance sequence and out again in a West Side Story-esque blend of athleticism and choreographic metaphor. Daniele Buatti’s expert musical direction embraces the tender Irish melodies and rousing, chanted anthems of Lloyd-Webber’s score with vivacity and concentrated delicacy.

Stephen Mahy brings innocence and vulnerability to ambitious footballer John Kelly. This is a great vehicle for Mahy’s talents, his versatile voice gliding over difficult high melodies with ease – Mahy can sing anything. Stephanie Wall has crafted a detailed character in love interest Mary, and executes a perfect rendition of heartfelt, part-acapella ballad ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’.

David Meadows is a standout as Father O’Donnell, bringing gravitas and humour to this commanding but compassionate man, and finding depth in scenes both celebratory and devastating. Des Flanagan as bitter, turbulent Thomas carries the character’s complicated arc with building intensity in a delightfully intimidating and exceptional performance.

Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco is superb, highlighting crisp and clean vocals and every note from the nine-piece band. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has once again transformed the intimate Chapel into a colourful paradise, creating menacing alleyways, rowdy pubs, hotel rooms and bright football ovals, all with distant, twinkling Irish hues hanging over every desperate character’s decision.

The material is undoubtedly imbued with heart and passion, but does not always connect its serious and comedic elements in a believable manner, creating a sometimes confusing dichotomy of tone. The extremely strong cast and production team of Manilla Street have played to the show’s many strengths with a very faithful, polished presentation – audiences will undoubtedly relish the professional performances and quality of this production. I cannot wait to see what Manilla Street bring us next.

Running at Chapel Off Chapel until 29th September
Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/the-beautiful-game/