Category: Cabaret

Review: Amore e Morte

Reminiscent of a film noir

By Sebastian Purcell

Amore e Morte tells the story of a couples witness to a murder, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in a strange new place. While safe for a time until they are called back to the home land. He testifies while she records his tale as an expose. The musical is performed by the dynamic duo, Nikki Elli Souvertijs and Italian instrumentalist Riccardo Barone.

Barone’s music is complex, beautiful, emotional and soaring in equal parts. Most impressive is the entire 60 minutes performed without sheet music. In addition the performance of the Melodica while playing the piano together was worth viewing in its own right.

Souvertijs soars with a big clear Broadway voice, which is sometimes overwhelming in the smaller venue of the Butterfly Club. The softer notes in the show, resonates more on a dramatic and emotional level, however, overall there are too few of these moments. Because of this I felt as thought the show didn’t provide enough light and shade, especially given the tale it was trying to tell. That been said, Souvertjis clearly demonstrates that she is multi-dimensional conveying the story through both song, costume and minimalist acting that was reminiscent of a film noir.

Throughout the production a type writer is used as prop for Souvertjis’s character to write about the couples trials and tribulations, but it also serves as a wonderful accompaniment to the piano. The timing and use was creative and experimental, and one of the highlights of the show.

The production was smooth, lighting design simple but effective, and the sound was clear, but I did think that it might be too amplified for the venue. This is a no gloss, no glam production, and very befitting a story of love and loss.

Amore e Morte was performed at the Butterfly Club, Melbourne.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride 

By Rebecca Waese 

Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.

With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.

Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark.  Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.

There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?

While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble. 

Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here

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