Category: Musical Theatre

Midsumma Presents Falsettos

Treat your ears to unfaltering vocals in StageArt‘s latest production Falsettos

By Owen James

Falsettos presents an honest and often amusing dissection of an atypical family living through ‘70s and ‘80s New York City. The complex score by William Finn winds together the lives of seven people struggling with relationships, family and heartache.

The show is worth a visit for the music alone. Musical Director David Butler has guided the small cast of eight through a score that would give composer Stephen Sondheim a run for his money. I cannot emphasise this enough – the complicated music is executed with beautiful perfection. Lyrics are delivered at the pace of Guns and Ships without a syllable lost, and tear-jerking ballads are handled with love. Treat your ears to unfaltering vocals and note-perfect piano from Butler himself.

Director Tyran Parke has crafted a production filled with honesty and emotion that explores the intersection of morality with love in a disjointed family setting. The natural but playful staging brings laughs and sentiment, and gives the brave characters of this completely sung-through musical space to breathe.

Finn’s score and James Lapine’s book give us quite an antagonistic view of love through couple Marvin and Whizzer, played by Don Winsor and Sam Ward respectively. Winsor’s Marvin struggles with certainty on all fronts – questioning his decisions, circumstances, and sexuality. Ward’s Whizzer (say that ten times fast) is stubborn yet balanced, and dares us to love him. Together the pair explore masculinity and faith in two grounded and moving performances.

Sarah Shahinian’s Trina manages to hold everything together despite disrupted family life. Her flawless and versatile performance includes two highlight numbers – “I’m Breaking Down” and “Holding to the Ground” – which are performed with power and conviction. It’s hard to pull our eyes off Nick Simpson-Deeks as the persistent and self-serving Mendel. Simpson-Deeks brings us an endearing character with warmth, wit, and sublime vocals. The stereotypically troubled psychiatrist comes to life with nuance and affection.

Outsiders-turned-family members Charlotte (Francesca Arena) and Cordelia (Jenni Little) start as the “lesbians from next door” in act two, but quickly become an integral part of this unconventional family. Bright and sweet, the pair bring a much-needed lift in pace to the second act. The role of resilient and lively Jason is shared by Riley Flood and Ben Jason-Easton who alternate throughout the season. The night I attended had Flood, who to be performing at this level at his age is nothing short of phenomenal – with further vocal and stage training, this young performer will go far.

Crisp sound design from Marcello Lo Ricco, simple and colourful lighting from Tom Davies, and era-appropriate costumes from Meredith Cooney help to create the perfect atmosphere for this small show with a big heart.

March along to the quirky and emotional Falsettos, playing a very limited season until February 11th at Chapel Off Chapel.

Prices: $49 – $69
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/false18
Photo credit: Belinda Strodder

 

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Midsumma Presents Moonlite

Bitten By Productions tells real-life story of Australian bushranger, Captain Moonlite

By Owen James

The sounds of Smith Street, Collingwood filter below the pavement into the basement of the Grace Darling Hotel. A more fitting location could not be found to tell the real-life story of Australian bushranger and gun-slinger, Captain Moonlite. Surrounded by stained walls of broken stone and dripping pipes, and accompanied by four authentic bluegrass musicians, we are told a story long forgotten by history.

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Photographs: Sean Carney

The toe-tapping, original music by Dan Nixon is sometimes moving, sometimes frantic, but always filled with fun and passion. It’s beautifully composed and always perfectly suited to the mood of each scene. There is perhaps even more room for Nixon’s compositions in this dialogue-heavy show.

The script by Gabriel Bergmoser takes us smoothly from location to location, present day to the past via flashbacks, and openly explores the characters’ motivations and emotions without ever locking into one definite version of history. This is for the best, allowing the audience to create their own preferred version of Captain Moonlite and his comrades and foes in their minds.

The cast of versatile performers is led by Tim Constantine as Captain Moonlite himself, who explores the intimidating, menacing and bank-robbing public personality, as well as the man who hid underneath the rough exterior. Constantine is the man for the part, his cackling laugh and booming voice fitting the Australian outlaw stereotype we expect, while also making the role his own.

James Coley as Rogan and Daniel Cosgrove as Faulkner both play characters with powerful personalities, who are given a chance to shine in superbly executed monologues. Ryan Smedley as love interest, Nesbit has a beautiful voice that glides over Dan Nixon’s higher melodies and harmonies with ease.

Completing the cast of seven are Megan Scolyer-Gray as the mischievous Werneke, Saxon Gray as Claude and Katy Nethercote as the doting Helen. The cast as a whole carry their material with power, conviction and presence, drawing us into the past while simultaneously reminding us of issues still prevalent today. It really is a perfect contribution to Midsumma Festival.

Original Australian musicals are rare: when one comes along, it’s a must-see and Moonlite is no exception. This production will make you laugh, think, consider our history, and therefore our future.

Dates: 17 January – 4 Febuary
Venue: The Grace Darling Hotel, 114 Smith St Collingwood
Times: Wed 7:30pm, Sun 4:00pm
Prices: $25 – $32
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/moonlt18

Groaning Dam Productions Presents NED: A NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL IN CONCERT

Musically stunning

By Bradley Storer

It had been a wonderful week for Australian music theatre, with a limited and critically acclaimed season of Jon English’s Paris and then a Melbourne remounting of the new original musical Ned after a successful Bendigo premiere just over two years ago. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, but it can be safely said that both make a brilliant case for the vitality and necessity of new Australian musical theatre works.

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Ned tells the story of the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) bushranger from childhood to his death by hanging, and the book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre firmly takes the view of Kelly as a good, honourable man driven to extremes by injustice and government  corruption. The opening choral number sets up the evening as an interrogation of the legend and the ambiguous figure at its centre.

Nelson Gardner brings a loveable larrikin-quality and charisma to the central role, making it easy to sympathize with him and the hardships we witness him first suffer and then rebel against. The first act grounds us in the reality of living in nineteenth-century Australia, and we’re allowed to witness the close and loving bonds between family and friends that will soon be stretched and torn apart.

As in Paris, we are treated to a veritable feast of young Australian talent amongst the cast of Ned. Robert Tripolino, Brent Trotter and Connor Crawford are fantastic as the trio of friends who along with Ned are drawn into conflict with the law, and their voices meld beautifully in the lyrical “White Dove”. Alana Trater and Hannah Frederickson are wonderfully girlish and infectious in their playful chemistry before bleak events force them into maturity, Trater in particularly growing in gravitas before unleashing the shattering “No Way Back” in the family’s darkest hour.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the meek police officer Fitzpatrick, whose initial kind nature tips over into bitterness and violence, is adorably awkward and well-meaning and manages the character’s slide into darkness with palpable pathos. Anchoring the entire cast (and quite possibly the whole show) is Penny Larkins as Ellen, the matriarch of the Kelly family – grounding the character with determined optimism and joy, Larkins traverses the biggest arc of the show as Ellen watches one by one her family taken to prison, ending up there herself to protect her children and comforting her son in his last moments. When Ellen is pressured by the police in the second act to give up the location of Ned’s gang, Larkins unsheathes the steel hidden beneath the surface in the defiant “My Son”, almost bringing their audience to their feet mid-show roaring with applause.

Adam Lyon’s score is dazzling throughout, managing to find its own uniquely Australian identity in its sound, and under the masterful hand of musical director and conductor Kellie Dickerson every moment of music was truly epic.

The only criticism that could be levelled would be at the book – while the show’s dedication to exploring and individuating all the central characters is wonderful, it comes at the cost of losing focus on Ned as the centre of the piece. Oddly, Ned himself only has two solo numbers throughout the entire show, and while the optimistic and yearning “Hope of Australia” is a brilliant song at the beginning of Ned’s journey there is sadly not much besides dialogue with other characters to define the later stages of his trajectory. Director Gary Young did a stellar job of staging this piece in a concert setting, but on the night the second act of Ned felt slightly weaker than the first. This was quite possibly because of the long stretches of dialogue that would play more strongly in a fully-staged production, but in a concert tended to drag down momentum.

These small criticisms aside, Ned more than proved itself worthy of national attention and development, and we can only hope this piece receives the funding and further opportunities to grow it deserves – with time, Ned could be THE great Australian musical.

Venue: National Theatre, St Kilda

Time: 7:30pm

Date: Monday 17th July

Image by Marty Williams

Jon English’s PARIS: A ROCK ODYSSEY

A legend lives on

By Bradley Storer

Music Theatre Melbourne makes a volcanic debut with their powerhouse concert production of Jon English and David MacKay’s Paris at Melbourne Recital Centre. Assembling a phenomenal cast and combining them with the directorial talents of Neil Gooding and the musical direction of Isaac Hayward, this epic and ancient love story comes to life with incredible vivacity.

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The show has been staged in a very simple style, befitting the concert format, which brings the dynamic performances and the electric, pulsating score to the forefront with no need for distracting spectacle. Gooding has cleverly used projected text and images above the stage to fill in gaps between scenes, flowing seamlessly and provided enough detail for the audience to follow without being distracting or unnecessary. Under Hayward’s baton, the orchestra bring every bar of the score to full-bloodied life.

With such a treasure trove of actors bringing every single character to life in thrilling fashion, it can be hard to pick standouts! The princely handsome Matthew Manahan as the central character Paris brings youthful exuberance and charm to the role, as well as a voice of shocking power and range. The character of Helen of Troy is given a surprisingly sympathetic and complex portrayal in Paris, which gives Madeleine Featherby the chance to range from delicately wistful and lovestruck in one scene, to fiercely intelligence and bravery in the next, showcasing maximum control over her wide vocal range. Kerrie Anne Greenland as the princess and prophetess Cassandra is so ferociously charismatic and commanding that it can be hard to take your eyes off her whenever she appears onstage, and her belting as the city of Troy burns around her is jaw-dropping. The chorus, who remain onstage for most of the evening, are first-rate and sing magnificently in all their numbers.

Truly this production can’t be praised enough – on their opening night, the entire company received an overwhelming standing ovation that couldn’t have been more well deserved. With only four performances, you’ll be sorry if you’ve missed  out on seeing this production that showcases the best of what Australian music theatre has to offer!

Paris: A Rock Odyssey played at Melbourne Recital Centre, 31 Sturt St, Southbank, from 13 – 15th July 2017.

Watch This Presents MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Fine performances in a challenging musical

By Bradley Storer

Merrily We Roll Along, currently being presented by Watch This at the MTC, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved scores but was regarded in its original Broadway incarnation as a critical and commercial flop. Part of this is due to the challenging structure of the show, moving backwards in time to unravel the complexities of the characters depicted, but also since we begin with the central character at his most morally corrupt it can be hard to generate sympathy for him.

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As this character, Franklin Shephard, Lyall Brooks faces an uphill battle trying to make him sympathetic. He acts and sings the part very well, but feels stronger as the older Frank more than the younger one. Nelson Gardner is charmingly nerdy and goofy as Charley, bringing wonderful physical comedy to the role. Completing the central trio in the role of Mary is Nicole Melloy, and she is so brilliantly funny and heart-breakingly transparent in every moment that it feels like the role could have been written for her – watching her in the part makes a compelling case that the show’s central journey is actually Mary’s instead of Frank’s.

Sophie Weiss as Beth ably handles the show’s biggest ballad, ‘Not A Day Goes By’, and her character’s transition from a haunted and heart-broken woman to the sunny naivety of youth. As the famous Broadway star Gussie, Cristina D’Agostino nails her big dance number but doesn’t manage to find the humanity under the glamourous façade, directed to play the character so over the top that it comes off a caricature. The ensemble, playing a wide variety of characters across the twenty-year time lapse, are marvellous with too many standout moments to recount here, and their united voices as they sing ‘Our Time’ are a truly beautiful conclusion to the evening.

Sara Grenfell’s direction and staging feels slightly confused which is a problem with a show such as this where there is already a complex structure, and the minimalistic set (consisting mainly of a large staircase and a set of curtains) tends to blur the scenes together. Cameron Thomas does a wonderful job as the sole musician in this production, and while it is lovely to hear the voices of the cast and ensemble unamplified in the space, the score loses much of its potential power when played only on the piano.

While not entirely successful on all fronts, the collection of strong performances and Sondheim’s magnificent score make this new production of Merrily a worthwhile visit.

Venue: The Lawler Studio, Melbourne Theatre Company, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne VIC

Dates: 29th June – 15th July

Times: Tues – Sat 7:30pm

Prices: $39 – $49

Bookings: 8688 0800, MTC tickets online

Image by Jodie Hutchinson 

Flourish Productions Presents THE SONGS OF ALAN MENKEN

A warming and appealing tribute

By Narelle Wood

The name Alan Menken is synonymous with so many Broadway and Disney productions: it is hard to capture the gamut of his career, especially in a 2-hour performance review. But the ensemble cast of the review The Songs of Alan Menken certainly did their best to show the range of styles and shows that Menken has contributed to.

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The ensemble of seven singers (Seth Drury, Josh Ellwood, Zuleika Khan, Vanessa Menjivar, Liam J. O’Bryne, Emily Paddon-Brown and Jeff van de Zandt) treated us to songs from wonderful movies and musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tangled, and Sister Act.  The accompanying choreography (by Rhys Velasquez) and staging (Matthew Lockitt) was simple and seamless, and the lighting was flawless. The only distracting thing was the occasional ‘off-pitch’ note, which was perhaps less about the very talented singers, and more to do with the demanding range needed to perform some of Menken’s more complicated scores. (That, and the appearance of some stuffed animals, which seemed a little bit corny in light of the rest of the show.)

More important were the number of standout moments. “Need to Know” from Weird Romance has become my unofficial ‘geek’ anthem and the duet of “I Can Read You” (Leap of Faith) performed by O’Byrne and Menjivar was brilliant. In saying that, one of my favourite moments came courtesy of Drury and Van de Zandt’s duet of “A Whole New World”: hands down one of the cutest duets of all time. The showstopper though was the ensemble singing one of Menken’s perhaps lesser-known songs, “Sailing On“. It was not a big upbeat number, but an understated and moving arrangement by musical director Lucy O’Brien, with stunning harmonies adroitly performed.

Ultimately, The Songs of Alan Menken was the perfect way to spend a cold Saturday afternoon, with the music of Menken lingering on way after the performance was over.

This production of The Songs of Alan Menken was performed on June 24, 2017 at The Southbank Theatre.

Image by James Terry Photography

Pursued By Bear Presents ORDINARY DAYS

Authentic and accessible

By Joana Simmons

Presented as the second part of a unique double bill, Ordinary Days is a slick contemporary chamber musical with heart. Bought to us by independent performance and production hire company, Pursued By Bear, this 90-minute show accomplishes their vision of telling great stories and challenging the theatre industry. The stories of four characters going about their days in New York weave into our hearts and each other’s lives through the delightful music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. It is a relatable, believable and thoroughly enjoyable show about growing up and enjoying the view.

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Chapel off Chapel is humming as the almost full house takes their seats. The white tulle suspended from the ceiling provides the perfect canvas for the colourful chirpy showtune opening sung by the ever-optimistic Warren (Joel Granger). We meet Deb (Nicola Bowman), a graduate who is feeling the standard Gen-Y dissatisfaction with life: wanting to achieve great things and reach that big picture but not quite knowing how. She loses her most precious possession – the notes to her graduate thesis, and this is the catalyst for a chain of events that turn the ordinary days of four New Yorkers into something extraordinary. Jason (Matthew Hamilton) moves in with his love Claire (Brittanie Shipway) and we see their excitement and tension build as a couple, as things from the past are revealed and their bond unravels. Through powerful songs and vignettes, these multiple stories become intricately connected and the audience becomes heavily invested.

The cast carries their individual stories and works together with accuracy and professionalism. Granger’s endearingly geeky portrayal of Warren is authentic and strong. Hamilton brings maturity to his role as Jason, however his accent and pitch took some time to settle and some movement felt forced, although once on the mark he was a treat. The female cast in their own respects stole the show for me though: Shipway’s singing and natural emotion, especially in “Gotta Get Out” were heart-melting highlights, and Bowman had the audience in stitches with her fantastic comic timing, smooth delivery and subtle yet hilarious physicality. Director Tyran Parke has done an outstanding job bringing such creative and dramatic gems out of these four talented people. Special commendation goes to musical director Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe as this show is basically entirely sung through; the storytelling and diction combined with great dynamic delivery of the songs was top-notch and she supported it all on piano the whole time. The lighting by Jason Crick bought life and drama to the relatively blank set, and whilst there were some minor sound issues on the night I attended, the technical team did a good job.

My favourite part was the end: there was some truly magical goosebump moments throughout, but the ending left me feeling beautifully warm (which was a relief considering the Melbourne temperature.) Whilst the storyline of Ordinary Days isn’t anything too groundbreaking, the music and characters pull us in and help us to see and appreciate the little things, which is so important, especially now.  Escape the cold and get swept up in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Ordinary Days (part of double bill, Chump Days) at Chapel Off Chapel

8-18 June 
Time: 8pm Thursday-Saturday, 5pm Sunday
Tickets: $35 Preview (Thursday 8 June), $49 Adult, $39 Concession (+transaction fee)

http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/melbourne-theatre/ordinary-days-8-18-june/

Image by Ben Fon