Category: Musical Theatre

Review: Bring It On

Vibrant and uplifting, Stage Masters’ high school classic soars

By Owen James

Bring It On is Stage Masters’ first foray into professional theatre after producing youth productions for a number of years, and they have really stepped up to the plate. I remember seeing their youth production of Bring It On in 2015, and I’m blown away by how far this company has come.

Loosely based on the film of the same name, Bring It On follows the journey of high school cheerleader Campbell as she navigates the highs, lows and backstage drama of the high school cheer world. After being transferred to a new school, Campbell must make new friends and form a new cheer squad to compete in the National Championships.

The book by Jeff Whitty is both tight and clumsy at different times, but Alister Smith’s direction ensures the pace rocks along as fast as some of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green’s rap-filled lyrics. It’s undoubtedly one of the most combined physically and vocally demanding shows I’ve seen, and this cast nail it.

The first act is admittedly much stronger than the second both in music and writing, but there are energetic crowd-pleasers throughout. Michael Ralph’s choreography is some of the most vibrant and jaw-dropping I’ve seen in theatre and matches perfectly with the score by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ensemble numbers like ‘What I Was Born To Do’, ‘Friday Night Jackson’ and both teams’ final performances at Nationals are where the choreography really shines – with some cast members almost touching the Athenaeum ceiling as they soar into the air. Musical Director Daniele Buatti executes this funky, synthy score flawlessly, and Greg Ginger’s sound design rocks the theatre with every electronic pulse.

Nadia Komazec is exemplary as Campbell, onstage for almost every scene but never missing a beat. Audition favourite One Perfect Moment is executed with vocal perfection, and throughout the show she develops a truly beautiful connection with the audience. Mean Girls The Musical needs to be rushed to Australia immediately with Komazec as Regina George.

Nicola Bowman almost steals the show as hilarious Bridget. She is an utter delight to watch in every moment with impeccable comic timing and undoubtedly has a very successful future ahead of her. Elandrah Feo is perfectly cast as sassy Danielle. She is compellingly energetic in every move and note and despite the ferocity of her character, brings a beautifully watchable and warm energy to the stage.

Karla Tonkich as ambitious antagonist Eva, lights up the stage with every assertive quip and evil riff. Second act song ‘Killer Instinct’ is performed with hilarious intensity from Tonkich and quickly becomes a show highlight. Special mentions to Marty Alix as La Cienega who we can’t help but love, and to Tarik Frimpong as Twig whose stage presence is utterly sensational.

Bring It On has already extended its Melbourne Season – it’s wonderful to see this production getting the attention it deserves. We need more short professional runs like Bring It On in Melbourne, so that shows that might not pull audiences for months on end in the Regent still have their chance for creatives and audiences alike. Congratulations to producers David Venn and Stage Masters for presenting this gem – I highly recommend everyone gets along to this passionate and uplifting night at the theatre.

Bring It On is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre until 23 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

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MICF presents Tinder Tales

Dating, devices and love at first swipe

By Amy Planner

From Australian writing duo Mattie Mcleod and Thomas Bradford comes this brand new totally Aussie musical about dating in the new tech-savvy swiping world of Tinder.

Abby is a little unlucky in love and has had a rather unsuccessful dating life. While trying to navigate the swipe-crazy world of online dating, Abby has to struggle through her dating life with the voices of her Doubt, Insecurity and Mother forcefully tagging along for the ride. When she lucks upon the profile of Evan she is struck with what she thinks is love at first swipe and so the singing and dancing tale begins.

This show was a non-stop ride of awkward sex scenes, brutally honest truths, terrifying realities and damn catchy musical numbers. The small cast of six were nothing short of fantastic: Eadie Testro-Girasole (Abby), Mel O’Brien (Insecurity), Aubrey Flood (Doubt), Yashith Fernando (Evan), Callum Warrender (Ensemble) and Tash Jenkins (Ensemble). Each had their own uniqueness and flare, which created a truly rich performance. Their offstage bond was evident in their onstage trust of each other and their willingness to go the whole nine yards.

The use of minimal set, costume and lighting elements had a significant impact at the right times. The intimate space meant that there was no need for a flashy set, sparkly costumes or bright lights, it called for talent to shine and story to triumph, and they truly did.

Aside from some minor issues in ensemble volume level towards the beginning and a couple of unnecessary costume changes that could be improved by simplified garments, this show deserves an absolutely tremendous round of applause.

Perhaps the loudest applause should go to the creators of this show. With book and lyrics by Mattie Mcleod and music by Thomas Bradford, Tinder Tales is a stroke of musical comedy brilliance. In an image-obsessed world where true love is a mere swipe away, this production tells us to follow our hearts and trust our instincts despite the voices in our heads. If you can get a ticket to this show – do it, swipe right because it’s a match. Tinder Tales is a real must-see!

Tinder Tales is being performed at The MC Showroom until 22 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

StageArt Presents Garfield: A Musical With Catitude

Garfield roars, or rather sarcastically purrs, onto the Chapel stage to delight children and adults alike.

By Owen James

Garfield: A Musical With Catitude sees the titular feline leave his safe surroundings at home with owner Jon and go exploring for his “fantastic birthday” in alleys and daydreams. Accompanied by animal friends Odie, Arlene and Nermel, together they contemplate life as pets, and avoid animal control in the scary outside world. Garfield is StageArt’s first school holiday show produced for children and does not disappoint.

Director Luigi Lucente has milked the child-friendly book by Michael J. Bobbitt and Jim Davis for all it’s worth, creating a colourful palate of lively characters that make children squeal and adults smile. You can’t help but grin and giggle in this delightful world.

Musical Director Caleb Garfinkel has made the most of the zany music by John L. Cornelius II. With beautifully executed harmonies peppered throughout, this ensemble of five brought this simple but charming score to theatrical life.

Madison Lee’s choreography is highly energetic and rarely leaves characters a moment to breathe. Children will delight in enthusiastic and playful movement that keeps the imagination of young audience members active.

With his sour attitude leaping out of the comic strip and onto stage, Lachlan Graham’s Garfield has ten times the energy of any cat I’ve ever met. Graham’s expert grasp on physical comedy induced frequent laughter, and his genuine enthusiasm for the role and for theatre for youth shines in his performance.

Garfield’s friends Arlene (Grace Browne), Nermel (Laura Greenhalgh) and Odie (Callum Warrender) deliver highly polished performances with beautifully clear caricatures that engage even the youngest attendee. Never once dropping gusto or focus, these characters dance and sing their way through Garfield’s pessimism, reminding us to look for the silver lining in every situation. Warrender as Odie was a special fan favourite, with his lines including “woof” and “bark” inducing many squeals and smiles.

Garfield is a treat. Adults will love the scattered pop culture references, kids’ faces will light up at the animated onstage antics, and “I Hate Mondays” will stay in your head for the rest of the day. With a running time of only 60 minutes and ticket prices as low as a movie ticket and small popcorn, Garfield makes purrfect school holiday entertainment.

Garfield: A Musical With Catitude plays at Chapel Off Chapel until 13 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

MICF presents Romeo is Not the Only Fruit

A refreshing Shakespeare mash-up that obliterates all lesbian stereotypes

By Lois Maskiell

Another reimagined Shakespeare might not have everyone leaping from their couches to purchase tickets, but Romeo is Not the Only Fruit definitely should convince otherwise. Jean Tong’s latest offering revolutionises the tale of star-crossed lovers, by creating a highly original romantic comedy. Written and Directed by Tong and featuring a cast of queer women of colour, this sharply satirical and heart-warming musical is easily the most refreshing mash-up of Shakespeare I have seen.

Revolving around the “bury your gays” trope, whereby queer characters are often killed off in various media, Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) and Darcy (Louisa Wall) fall in love despite their odds. The couple’s trajectory is witnessed by the dead lesbian chorus (Sasha Chong, Nisha Joseph and Pallavi Waghmode) who are both onlookers and meddling family members. At times they cheer the lovers on, while at others they coerce Juliet towards a heteronormative route. Though, like in all good rom-coms true love prevails as Juliet and her white girl lover overcome the obstacles of conservative parents, interracial romance and of course “dead lesbian syndrome”.

Photographs: Jules Tahan

Tanjutco plays a charming and determined Juliet whose journey in love is mirrored by an arcade game of Mortal Combat. Fantastic sound effects tally Juliet and Darcy’s points as their romance develops. The chorus becomes increasingly involved in the outcome of their relationship, enjoying their clumsy triumphs as well as their spicier moments.

Tong’s lyrics teamed with James Gales’ composition and sound create a quality score with catchy, in-your-face lyrics. Diva powerhouse Pallavi Waghmode’s singing is something to witness in itself, her voice carries the songs with power. Sasha Chong as Juliet’s mother is quick-witted and captivating, and together with the naturally humorous Nisha Joseph, makes half of a strong comedic duo.

James Lew’s set and costumes give the show a kitsch aesthetic, the most innovative example being oversized cardboard drinks that Juliet and Darcy slurp on while watching performance art. All this, with Laura Frew’s pop choreography make this brilliant mash-up of Romeo and Juliet a pleasure to watch. Romeo is Not the Only Fruit challenges conventions and tropes with humour, and there’s no doubt many will leap from couches to see this production before it closes.

Romeo is Not the Only Fruit plays at Malthouse until 8 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

 

StageArt Presents Bare

StageArt lifts the musical Bare to soaring new heights
By Owen James 

StageArt’s latest offering of rarely produced theatre for Melbourne is bold and relevant. Bare explores sexuality and identity in an oppressive world, and while the almost twenty-year-old material is becoming a little dated, given the recent social and political climate both in Australia and worldwide, Bare comes as a timely and pertinent reminder to listen and accept.

There is no better venue for Bare than Chapel Off Chapel. Director Dean Drieberg’s set uses the glorious stained glass window of the church-turned-theatre as the permanent backdrop for the action. This, combined with a large, looming cross suspended above the stage, makes the characters seem microscopic against what’s above.

As Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere’s book puts turbulent teenage emotions in the pressure-cooker setting of a Catholic boarding school, Drieberg has ensured every moment of these characters’ lives is as realistic as possible. Kirra Sibel’s choreography melts seamlessly into Drieberg’s vision, adding clarity and fluidity to this depiction of teenage frustration. And right from the opening song, the cast proves they can keep up with every fast-paced move thrown at them. Special mention to the most inventive use of chairs I’ve ever seen onstage during ‘Wonderland’.

Photographs: Belinda Strodder

It is the choreography and the music of this show that gives the confused and raging hormones of these characters an outlet to scream at their oppressive and irrelevant world. Caleb Garfinkel (Musical Director) has ensured every harmony is brought to life with killer perfection, leading a band that rocks the Chapel through this pulsating, lively score.

Adam Di Martino delivers stunningly perfect vocals as Peter, with never a note out of place. He plays the innocence and vulnerability of Peter beautifully, but for me, fell slightly short of reaching a believable emotional climax towards the end of the second act. Thankfully, Martino’s passionate and soaring high notes are more than enough to provoke tears.

Finn Alexander makes us fall in love with him again and again as Jason. Adored by cast and audience alike, Alexander never puts a foot wrong in his vital role and his charm wins us over (as well as Peter and Ivy) from the opening scene.

Hannah McInerney delivers a moving performance in the very underwritten character of Ivy, and Hannah Grodin as the ignored and overlooked Nadia breaks both smiles and hearts. However, painting both Ivy and Nadia as unredeemed females relying on others for their happiness is problematic and shows the age of the material.

Ivy is yet another female character punished for impulsive actions. Emotionally ignored by characters absorbed in their own problems, she is left alone with burdens beyond her years. McInerney brings Ivy to life with a moving, emotional performance and delightfully smooth vocals. Grodin’s moments of wonderfully rude teenage jealousy are truly hilarious, and she belts out ‘Quiet Night At Home’ with ease.

We do get a strong female character from Vanessa Menjivar as the delightfully sassy Sister Chantelle. Her two numbers, ‘911 Emergency’ and ‘God Don’t Make No Trash’ are each filled with a stirring burst of energy. We want to see much more of Mandi Lodge as Claire, as her brief appearances are affecting and exceptional.

There is not a weak link to be found in this ensemble – as sarcastic, mindlessly doting and judgemental as real adolescents –  they collectively embrace the various stereotypes found in high school and make them unique and believable.

Lighting by Maddy Seach and Jason Bovaird, and sound by Marcello Lo Ricco are faultless, effortlessly transforming the small stage into an oppressive church, school hallway, claustrophobic dormitory and dingy rave.

Having seen Bare three times now, I have come to accept that the original material is at times clunky and melodramatic, briefly dipping into moments reminiscent of The Bold and the Beautiful. However, StageArt’s production lifts the material to soaring new heights, and is definitely worth the ticket. Bare is a must-see for fans of musicals like Spring Awakening, Dear Evan Hansen or RENT, and for any fans of Bare already – this is the best you will ever see this show performed.

Bare plays at Chapel Off Chapel until 15 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Malthouse Presents A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer

The incredibly moving, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, reaches all extremes of the emotional spectrum.

By Joana Simmons 

‘The C word’ can be a touchy subject, so people talk around it often referring to it as a battle or war. British theatre company, Complicité team up with Bryony Kimmings in this world-class production, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, to present cancer through a different lens: a real one, a feminist one, a funny one, and a musical. The show tells the story of Kimmings in the process of writing a guide for patients and the people around them. This guide makes space for cancer not to be seen as a heroic battle and celebration of survival, but rather the scary, lonely and painful thing it is.

Performed by an all singing female cast, this musical is the kind of show where you remain seated after it ends, knowing it has got right under your skin as you begin to process it. While I dried my tears, I wondered how to write a review that would do this show justice.

Kimmings is the narrator of the story and her humorous manner makes us feel like she’s having a chat over a cuppa, instead she’s on top of a scaffold addressing an audience. We hear voice overs of interviews conducted with patients, doctors, psychologists and researches, who are also acted out by the cast. From this point in the production, I got goose bumps every five minutes.

_A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer by Complicite. Photo by Mark Douet _80A3951_preview
Photographs: Mark Douet

Lara Veitch is introduced as the oracle who changes Bryony’s perspective completely. Lara and Bryony recount the lessons they learned from each other, and how their friendship blossomed in a way that gets into our hearts because it’s both funny, sad and entirely true. The show shifts in mood when Lara describes the shocked comments and stares she continues to receive after refusing to have reconstructive surgery post a double mastectomy. She describes the pressure female patients have to ‘stay sexy’ through treatment.

Rock-chick power anthems frequent the show with a stand out number sung by the captivating Elexi Walker, with multi-instrumentalist Gemma Storr on lead guitar, Eva Alexander on bass and Lottie Vallis on synth. Another memorable moment involved an audience member sharing their story of cancer, and the audience – many of whom were sobbing – was then invited to join the cast in naming the people close to them who have been affected by this group of diseases. As Kimmings said, it’s “definitely not like Netflix” and I think it is so remarkable that we were able to share our grief.  It is an experience I will never forget.

This production is the brainchild of many brilliant minds who have banded together to make this an aesthetically and audibly bold musical. It was co-written by Kirsty Housley, Brian Lobel and Bryony Kimmings with Kirsty Housley also directing. Music and sound design by Tom Parkinson and Lewis Gibson respectively got the message across, especially the deafening sound of the MRI. Unfortunately, I could not hear some of the lyrics in the songs, which was largely disappointing. Lucy Osborne’s sparkly costumes and set adorned the stage, transforming it from place to place wonderfully while illuminated by Marec Joyce’s lighting design. By the end of the show, the stage was trashed, as if to be a visual metaphor for how one’s world can be turned upside down.

Theatre is a powerful medium that can make us laugh, cry, get mad, feel inspired and feel connected to something outside ourselves. A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer achieves all of these things. It is like nothing I have seen before, and I will always remember with awe that I was able to experience such a moving production. Buy yourself a ticket to this show that is not only a night out but also an opportunity to grow.

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer plays at Malthouse until 18 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

Green Day Presents American Idiot

Green Day’s Tony Award-winning musical, American Idiot makes for a punchy and nostalgic night out.

By Jessica Gittel Cornish

Rich in nostalgia, tartan skirts, denim vests and tight black jeans, Green Day’s American Idiot recreated my high-school years in a fast-paced and vibrant production at the Comedy Theatre. The 90-minute powerhouse musical, produced by Queensland Performing Arts Centre and Shake & Stir Theatre, features crowd favourites such as American Idiot (cough, still as relevant as ever), Wake Me Up When September Ends and Jesus of Surburbia – to name a few.

Toying with dark themes of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and the trauma associated with war, this production disguises its heavier subjects under pulsating pop music and blinding strobe lights. The storyline follows the life of Johnny (Ben Bennett), as he narrates his experiences in a series of diary entries and letters to friends and family. The audience travels with him as well as his two male besties, Connor Crawford (Tunny) and Alex Jeans (Will) throughout one year of their lives.

American Idiot

The strong male cast even includes Aussie rock legend Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) who features as the elusive St Jimmy. Accompanying these artists are standout vocal performances, belted out by female leads: Phoebe Panaretos and Ashleigh Taylor. Equally impressive is the ensemble; their high energy and stamina faultlessly rippled throughout the theatre. The vocals were spot on, solo after solo, harmony after harmony, and under the expertise of sound designer Julian Spink, the sound was crisp and well balanced.

It would have been nice to have had a bit more story and character development throughout the performances, as the musical seemed to lack a strong plot line. However overall the production was a success, no doubt thanks to Craig Ilott’s direction and Glenn Moorhouse’s musical direction. The production team have cohesively worked together and successfully transitioned the punk pop hits to the stage. Not only has it resurrected the early 2000’s pop music, it’s doing what many other productions struggle with – it’s bringing theatre to a younger demographic.

This up-beat musical full of nostalgia, punchy lighting (Matthew Marshal) and erratic choreography has done the music and lyrics of original Green Day member Billie Joe Armstrong proud. This energetic, contemporary musical has been the highlight of my 2018 as I loved every moment. It’s only running for a short time in Melbourne, so snag some tickets while they’re still available!

American Idiot plays at Comedy Theatre until 11 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 61 00.