Category: Musical Theatre

Review: Tinder Tales

New Australian musical impresses and woos 

By Samuel Barson

“Dick is dick” in Tinder Tales is the equivalent of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”. It is equally as memorable, but perhaps slightly raunchier and a little more gratifying than Shakespeare’s work (in this circumstance at least). This line represents modern romance in all its paradoxical nature – symbolising the love lives of today’s youth as so much simpler than before, yet horrifyingly more complex.

Tinder Tales shows audiences this paradox through the eyes of Abby (played beautifully by Eadie Testro-Girasole), as she navigates the use of Tinder, the modern dating app we have all come to know so well. She is after the perfect match. Who she finds soon enough, in Evan (played ever so charismatically by Tom New). But not soon after Abby and Evan’s first date we (and they) realise that they are perhaps not so perfect for each other after all. Abby quickly finds herself struggling with her own self-worth, as well as holding on to the idea of ‘the perfect match’ she has worked so tirelessly to find.

The entire cast present the highs, lows, laughs and tears of modern romance with gorgeous energy and humour. Anna Wilshire and Callum Warrender were particularly entertaining, both bringing a unique stage presence that made it hard to keep your eyes off them, even when they weren’t centre stage.

The music was sharp and succinct, with clever and relatable lyrics (props to writer Mattie Mcleod and composer and musical director Thomas Bradford). Perhaps so much so that scenes were at times disappointing when the cast weren’t singing and dancing. Rachael McLean’s design was homely and familiar, which worked terrifically well considering how familiar the characters inhabiting the space were themselves.

Tinder Tales is an impressive new Australian musical, with a myriad of characters and situations you will undoubtedly recognise, regardless of your dating app use or relationship status.

Tinder Tales is being performed 24 – 28 October at Chapel Off Chapel. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photograph: supplied

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NINE – The Musical

Romance and writer’s block: musical adaptation of Guido Contini’s life

By Owen James

 

StageArt present yet another rarely performed musical masterpiece with Nine: The Musical which explores the dozens of exhausted mental catacombs belonging to the arrogant, tortured and “genius” filmmaker Guido Contini. As he endures a mid-life crisis approaching his fortieth birthday, his emotional and sexual frustrations obstruct his usual creative liberty.

At first, it is difficult to understand what relevancy Nine has in 2018 – it is a show revolving around a man worshipped by women and who in turn often objectifies and mistreats them. Lines such as “there are only two kinds of women in the world – wives and whores” could easily be taken with offence in today’s socio-political climate, which must be considered when re-mounting any piece of art from the past. But despite Guido’s ego, it is ultimately his mental health that is explored in Nine, making a welcome contribution to the all-too silent public conversation surrounding this. And any production that can display the talents of sixteen women as strong as those in Nine must be welcomed to the stage.

And if there are two elements to surely praise in this production, one is unquestionably the talented female cast and the second is the music of Maury Yeston. In the opening song, Guido is literally swallowed by a sea of long hair and elegant cocktail dresses: jaw-dropping for the sheer number of powerful women who command both our and Guido’s attention. It’s a hypnotic effect, and their constant presence throughout the rest of the show builds to an overwhelmingly beautiful cacophony in key moments.

Clear standouts from this incredibly strong ensemble are Rachel Bronca as seductress Carla, the phenomenal Bronte Florian as Saraghina (who truly shines in her scene with young Guido and in Be Italian), and Stephanie John as fast-talking, intimidating Stephanie. All three deliver sensational, captivating performances.

Anthony Scundi delivers a strong performance as Guido Contini, but noticeably struggles with his vocals – perhaps reflecting a strained voice following weeks of intensive rehearsals. Scundi’s stage presence successfully delivers Guido’s delusion as he dips between fantasy and the real world and his increasing madness in indecision – creatively, emotionally and sexually.

Director and choreographer Michael Ralph ensures this madness manifests at every opportunity. He has created a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are skilfully blurred, exacerbating Guido’s confusion and descent into mania. Ralph’s choreography is sublime, ranging from angelic obsession in Overture Delle Donne, to disrupted delicacy in The Grand Canal, and to dirty, sharp, cathartic movement in showstopper Be Italian. The open, transformable set by Ralph and Tom Willis accompanied by gorgeous lighting from Willis breed an inviting atmosphere where anything is possible, and indeed at any point we could be inside Guido’s daydream, nightmare, or real-life torment. Dazzling costuming from Meredith Cooney complete this unbridled visual nirvana of dreams and possibility.

Alana Tranter as loyal, dependable wife Luisa evokes our pity but warms our hearts in Be on Your Own, and a special mention must be given to Kershawn Theodore as Young Guido (alternated by Brierley Smith) who hits every move and note with sharp precision – he has a bright theatre career ahead of him.

The score by Maury Yeston is rich, sophisticated and powerful. In every song, the orchestra, led by musical director Nathan Firmin with AMD Peter Pham Nguyen, is utterly stellar, capturing every emotion from the original 26-piece orchestration with only eight staggeringly talented musicians – but you’d think it was many more from the full and textured sound they produce. Near perfection in sound design from Marcello Lo Ricco delivers crisp and clean vocals with a beautifully balanced band.

Based on Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 ½, Nine is best described as Company meets Follies meets Loving Repeating, with a dash of Passion and Cabaret – and notably won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score for the original 1982 Broadway production. If you’ve seen the 2009 film adaptation, you absolutely haven’t seen the stage show – they are barely cousins let alone siblings (the stage show is far superior).

Nine delivers fast-paced, dark material with an extremely talented cast, addressing creative pressure and the power of female influence. As with all StageArt presentations, Nine is not a show you’re likely to see again anytime soon in Melbourne – and certainly not in such an intimate, intricate production.

NINE The Musical is being performed 12 October -13 November at Chapel Off Chapel. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photograph: supplied 

Review: Disenchanted

Has the damsel in distress had her day?

By Narelle Wood 

It’s a tale as old as time: pretty damsel finds herself in distress and is rescued by a handsome prince. Well woodland creatures, princes and enchanted rodents beware; these damsels are disenchanted with their lot and they’re not afraid to sing about it.

Disenchanted, directed by (Madison Thew-Keyworth) is a cabaret-style show lead by Snow White (Ellie Nunan), Cinderella (Courtney Underhill) and the occasionally conscious Sleeping Beauty (Tayla Johnston). To highlight the many issues with what the princesses term “the princess complex” the trio of merry maidens are joined on stage by some other famous females including Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour – or as we now know her, Princess Jasmine –  (all played by Jennifer Trijo), Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel (all played by Demi Phillips) and Tiana (Asabi Goodman), the first African American Disney princess, who also happened to kiss a frog.

Together the princesses take a slightly more realistic, some may say a little cynical but much needed, look at their fairy-tale storylines, and in doing so raise a few questions around the types of messages these stories are sending and whether the idea of a damsel in distress has had its day.

There are songs about cultural appropriation, the Disney-fixation on making grim tales more palpable to children, and the capitalist venture that is princess entertainment. Cinderella’s anthem for an image-obsessed generation, All I Wanna Do is Eat, is just one of many songs that touch on body image issues, which are suggested to stem from the unrealistic proportions often used to portray the feminine physique. My favourite song though is Snow White’s truthful version of what she would like to be singing while she worked, and despite being an upbeat and perky number called A Happy Tune, Snow White drives home some pretty hard-hitting messages about household equality.

The show’s a hoot. The band – under the musical direction of Bradley McCaw – look like they’re having a blast. The cast has charm, wit and beauty, which is everything you could want in a prince, and is all wrapped up in a feisty fairy-tale princess package. Snow White is cool, calm and in control and Cinderella’s comic timing is perfect. Sleeping Beauty is, when she’s not asleep, a little over sexed – which is a good opportunity to point out that this show is not recommended for anyone under the age of 15. Best leave the little princesses at home.

Disenchanted was an Off-Broadway hit and it’s not hard to see why. It’s not the fairy-tale we know, but it is very much the modern take on these fairy-tale classics that we need to hear.

Disenchanted, presented by Mad About Theatre, is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre 6 – 8 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

Photograph: Rick Monk

Review: Fugitive Songs

Fugitives, runaways and a sublime musical score

By Owen James

Sonder Theatre Company have produced an extraordinary production of this rarely performed musical. Both this company and this director, Dirk Hoult, are clearly ones to watch in the Melbourne theatre scene.

Fugitive Songs rotates characters and settings around the theme of running away – although not in the same sense as other “fugitive musicals” such as Bonnie and Clyde or Thrill Me. These are regular people pushed to their limits, they are victims of circumstance, avoiding or escaping their past or future. Each song gives us a new moment, a new perspective or intrinsic human value such as fear, resilience or recovery to consider.

Composers Nathan Tysen (music) and Chris Miller (lyrics) (a team also known for musicals Tuck Everlasting and The Burnt Part Boys) have shaped these unique stories with a folky score reminiscent of early works of Pasek & Paul or of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, packed with humour and warmth. Musical Director Caleb Garfinkel has brought this difficult score to life with love, precision, and a team of electrifying voices and musicians – proving Garfinkel’s consistently impressive musical direction.

Director Dirk Hoult has done an extraordinary job physicalising this score, creating ensemble movement that elevates every lyric without ever becoming distracting. He has ensured that in this intimate world of diatribes and confessions each song has a distinctly unique flavour. I’d rush out to see any productions Hoult has a part in.

Every member of this six-person ensemble brings their all to this fugitive world and by portraying their numerous characters with realistic humour and pain, they keep us engaged in every new chapter. This show is the perfect vehicle for each of them, giving every performer a chance to shine. Though, special mentions are due to Bailey Dunnage and Luisa Scrofani who both have a magical stage presence that induces laughter and heartache at every new turn.

Lighting by Jason Crick is sharp and precise, embracing each song and character with a personalised glow. His work is sublime, transforming this small black box theatre into dozens of locations both large and small.

Fugitive Songs likely won’t be seen in Melbourne again for a long time. It is a credit to this emerging company that they have chosen this rarely-presented piece and pulled it off close to perfection. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Sonder.

Fugitive Songs was performed at Chapel Off Chapel 27 August – 2 September. See here for more information about Sonder Theatre Company.

Photograph: Lissa & Laz Photography

Review: Mamma Mia! The Musical

Musical extravaganza will have you dancing in the aisles to ABBA’s greatest hits

By Owen James

It’s the classic party music we all know and love realised onstage in this musical extravaganza that makes it a great night out for all ages.

When 21-year old Sophie secretly invites three of her mother Donna’s past lovers to her wedding on the fictional Greek island Kalokairi, chaos and confusion ensue. Throw in twenty two of ABBA’s best songs alongside this simple but effective plot, and Mamma Mia quickly becomes a joyous musical extravaganza.

This is the third professional incarnation of Mamma Mia The Musical in Melbourne, and its pure, unbridled joy is infectious and irresistible for everyone in the Princess Theatre. If you’re not grooving in your seat during this show, you’re either deaf or soulless. The energy of the performers is palpable, and every person onstage gives their all to this electric, joyous atmosphere.

Gary Young has directed this polished production, ensuring that it parties harder and bigger than any other jukebox musical. The second act moves a little slower than the first, but familiar peppy ABBA tunes accompany a very colourful disco-style finale that makes dancing in the aisles genuinely irresistible.

The choreography by Tom Hodgson is jaw-droppingly spectacular. Huge kudos to the entire ensemble for their slick, sharp execution, and to Hodgson for a truly fantastic grasp of effective ensemble movement.

MAMMA MIA! AUST PRODUCTION 2018
Featuring Natalie O’Donnell. Photo credit: James Morgan.

Sarah Morrison as Sophie brings a beautiful warm energy to the stage in every scene she’s in. Her infectious smile and sublime vocals ride the deceptively complex ABBA melodies with ease, and she’s an utter joy to watch in every moment.

Natalie O’Donnell’s Donna is heart-warming and heart-breaking, and she belts every iconic ballad and party classic with divine passion. ‘Money, Money, Money’ is one of the show’s best moments thanks to O’Donnell’s energetic and jovial performance. Jayde Westaby contributes a cheeky and feisty Tanya, and Alicia Gardiner is glowing as hilarious Rosie – her gleeful physical comedy is a highlight of many of the trio’s group numbers.

Phillip Lowe as Harry Bright, Josef Ber as Bill Austin, and Ian Stenlake as Sam Carmichael are each a perfect fit for their three beautifully distinct characters. Their comedic confusion is enchanting as they bounce off one another with ease, and moments of fond reflection throughout the show of their time on this island twenty years prior are heartfelt and warm.

Take A Chance on Mamma Mia The Musical – it’s guaranteed to leave you with a grin, and possibly some sore calves from boogying in the aisles. Lay All Your Love on this Super Trouper playing at the Princess Theatre until September 30th.

Mamma Mia! The Musical is being performed at the Princess Theatre until 30 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 111 011.

Photographs: James Morgan

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.

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.