Tag: Alex Theatre

The Kransky Sisters Present A VERY KRANSKY CHRISTMAS

Deliciously oddball holiday humour

By Leeor Adar

The Kransky Sisters are the kookiest cabaret act gracing Australia, and really, they’ve become cultural icons in their own right including memorable TV appearances on programs on Spicks and Specks and Adam Hills Tonight. I doubt many pictured backwater Australia as three sheltered sisters as a comic-cabaret gothic triad, but nonetheless here they are in all their kooky mod-squad glory.

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The Kranskys are touring pre-holidays to offer some quirky Christmas cheer to Australians everywhere. Appearing at the relatively new kid on the block, the Alex Theatre, the sisters Mourne, Eve and Dawn (Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns) bring the house down with their hilarious songs, revamped versions of club hits, and strange stories from their fictional lives.

For those who don’t know the Kranskys’ origin tale, it starts out like most caravan dreams: Mourne and Eve’s mother runs off with their uncle, leaving them with their half-sister Dawn, the tuba-playing and long-suffering member of the pack. They live in Esk in small-town Queensland, and ever dressed alike, conduct their everyday Aussie lives whilst enabling each other’s sheltered world-views – with marvelously funny results.

To get everyone in the mood for their fabulously off-beat humour, a slideshow shared highlights of the sisters’ travels over the past year. It’s particularly funny to those who like the odd and unsettling – which is pretty much everyone in the audience – because we didn’t come for a Barbie sideshow, and the wonderful seriousness of their vibe only heightens the absurdity.

Mourne (clearly the dominant sibling), tells stories from their childhood and adult lives, and Eve nods in agreement and chimes in, whereupon they’re often completing each other’s sentences as Dawn eyeballs them. Songs intersperse their histories, from singing Thriller to an unsuspecting Swedish backpacker, to taking same backpacker to a nightclub only to regale the night through song to us – we really get a solid dose of Kransky Does Pop: Sia, Daft Punk etc. etc. and it’s an absolute hoot as the sexual undertones of the music are utterly lost on them. Brandishing the tuba, and an oddball collection of other instruments, they give us a new vantage point to confection music by injecting their gloomy-folk magic to it.

The Kransky Sisters are a highly talented performance trio, and their style, music and unique way of storytelling gives them the enduring creative edge to attract audiences for years to come. I know that I will happily attend their next Christmas shindig if they will have me.

If you want to catch the kooky Kranskys, you may need swallow your pride for some audience participation – but boy will it make for some fun! You’ll find them touring Melbourne until the 26 November, and then on to NSW, QLD, SA and ACT.

For Melbourne:

20th – 26th November, 2017

Alex Theatre

135 Fitzroy Street,

St Kilda, Melbourne, VIC

Info & tickets: www.alextheatrestk.com and ticketek.com.au

For other upcoming locations, dates and ticketing, head to the following link: http://www.thekranskysisters.com/touring

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Christina Bianco’s DIVA MOMENTS

Phenomenal.

By Adam Tonking

Diva Moments by award-winning performer and world-class impressionist Christina Bianco is an  exploration of dozens of the world’s greatest divas performing for you live through the magic of Bianco’s singular talent. If you think the idea of a series of impersonations sounds like a shallow gimmick, you are so very mistaken, because anchoring all of this is the incomparable Bianco.

Christina Bianco

Her talent as an impressionist is mind-blowing. She employs no props to assist her, using only the physical and more importantly vocal idiosyncrasies (of everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Shirley Bassey to Celine Dion to Adele) to bring them alive on stage, frequently exaggerating their quirks for comic effect, and that alone would have made for a fun and impressive evening. But she employs the art of impression is so many different ways that the act never gets old.

Accompanied at the piano by the amazing Michael Lavine, she performed “Wind Beneath My Wings,” first as Bette, but then switching through different singers to see how they may have treated it. She performed what she called her “Mega Mix,” where she sings snatches of famous songs as the amazing women who made them famous – a particular favourite was Dolly then Whitney, singing (of course) “I Will Always Love You.” She read from a book from one of her favourite divas in a variety of voices from Kathy Griffin to Keira Knightley in one of her most hilarious moments. And as a nod to her Australian fans, she performed songs made famous by Australian artists in a segment called “Unlikely Interpretations.” You haven’t heard “Land Down Under” until you’ve heard it performed by Ms Streisand, and Christina Aguilera’s take on Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” worked surprisingly well. She even attempted a few impressions of Australian divas, proving what a generous performer she is, and while she called her Olivia Newton-John a “work in progress,” I thought she nailed it.

But besides the many incredible women she channelled onstage, the greatest was Bianco herself. She chatted constantly between songs, telling hilarious stories about herself and the lives of the divas with impeccable comic timing, but still in a way that seemed like she was having the time of her life and we were all part of it. And most of all, she performed a few amazing, left-of-centre songs, as herself.

What can I say? More than her spine-tingling Piaf or her ridiculously spot-on Celine Dion, when she took to the stage as herself, it was better than all of her impressive impressions. She is a compelling storyteller, and her ability to colour her voice – and with such rapid ease – adds a multitude of rich layers to the songs she performed. “Wherever He Ain’t” and “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have” have never been performed with greater emotional expression. And her operatic “duet” between herself and “Kristin Chenoweth” was breathtaking in its breadth.

The skill to manage so many different vocal qualities, the athleticism required to perform with such engaging non-stop energy, and importantly, the vocal stamina to sing big song after big song, from the lowest alto to the highest soprano, is truly a phenomenon to behold. And poses the question; how many of Bianco’s homages could have done the same? She is truly a diva unto her self.

Christina Bianco played at Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda; unfortunately only 8-9 March 2017 and then Sydney at the Hayes Theatre, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Sunday 12th March 20173.00pm & 7.00pm (sold out) www.hayestheatre.com.au.

But I insist you immediately check out her videos on YouTube and pray for her return.

Image by Darren Bell

Ellis Productions Presents AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

Frantic and frivolous fun

By Rebecca Waese

Adapted from Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, this production of Around the World in 80 Days (reinvented for the stage by Toby Hulse and directed by Terence O’Connell) is light-hearted, silly, and farcical fun. While the tone is inescapably dated in its colonial attitudes of English superiority, it has much to offer viewers who like slapstick comedy and don’t take stereotypes too seriously.

Around the World in 80 Days.jpg

The play is self-aware, tongue-in-cheek and colludes with the audience at the impossibilities and the joys of staging such a massive production with just three actors playing 39 parts. Full of frenetic adventures and running gags, the play transports you back to the Great Victorian Age where Englishman Phileaus Fogg, (Ian Stenlake) wagers a fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days with his servant Passepartout (Pia Miranda) by his side. They are pursued throughout the adventure by Inspector Fix from Scotland Yard (Grant Piro) who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber on the run.

Pia Miranda, as Passepartout, brings animated energy to the role and shows a knack for physical comedy. Grant Piro, is a stand-out as the obsessive Inspector Fix but even more captivating in his role as the storyteller with an illuminated map hat who guides the audience to imagine the journey through time and space, conjuring up so much with so little. Stenlake is a steady Fogg who may have been overshadowed on the night by the zeal and energy of the other outrageous characters but conveys a sense of the importance of order convincingly.

Merinda Backway’s set design is inventive and versatile using only a few crates and railings to create the elaborate transcontinental train, a ship, and one particularly delightful and wild hidden surprise. Lauren Richie’s gorgeous hats are worth a mention, adorned by miniature trains, binoculars, and other intricate symbols of the Victorian age.

Undoubtedly, Fogg’s Orientalist view of the world is outdated in 2016, and the Indian and Chinese accents rely on age-old wince-worthy stereotypes that reflect the time in which the novel was written. However, the scene in which Grant Piro plays the Indian Princess in drag at the end of the play is, unexpectedly, one of the finest moments of the show. Pico’s Indian Princess and Stenlake’s Fogg carry the audience’s hopes up in the air with them as Fogg leaves behind some of his earlier inhibitions and enjoys, with some subversive self-reflexivity, a bit of romance that has the audience rallying for him and his masculine princess.

The play is suitable for older children and fans of slapstick and physical humour but one scene may not be appropriate for young children, where the Indian princess widow is drugged and just about to burn on her husband’s funeral pyre before Passepartout performs a dramatic rescue. If old-fashioned farce is your cup of tea, this is fun physical humour from a simpler time of storytelling.

Around the World in 80 Days is playing at Alex Theatre in St. Kilda, Tues Aug 23- Sept 4 at 7:30 with matinees on Sat (2 pm) and Sun (3 pm).

Tickets: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=AROUNDTH16

Image by James Terry

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.

Vass Productions Presents YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN

Adorable family fun

By Narelle Wood

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters come to life. From the outset everything about this musical is cartoon-esque and it is hard not to grin like a buffoon the whole way through.

You're A Good Man Charlie Brown

With book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the musical is based on the life of Charlie Brown (Cameron MacDonald) the eternal optimist, despite Lucy (Courtney Glass) pointing out loudly and frequently what she labels as his ‘loser’ tendencies. The key members of the gang are there to help Charlie along the way: Sally (Sarah Morrison), Linus (Adam Porter), Schroeder (Joshua Robson), and of course the forever-faithful puppy with attitude Snoopy (Luigi Lucente). There is kite-flying, choir practice, book reports, a nail-biting baseball game and the intellectual conversation of adults interspersed with childlike behaviour that made, and still makes, the antics of Charlie Brown and co. both subtle social commentary and very funny.

The storyline has been put together through the use of Schulz’s comic strips, so some of the plot points are very familiar. And the staging is in keeping with his art style too: it looks as though to walk on stage would be to walk into the comic strip itself. The sets, courtesy of set designer Jacob Battista, are simple but impressive, making very clever use of frames and staircases to change scenes. As the show commenced, he only thing that was perhaps a bit jarring initially was accepting adults play the roles of such familiar child characters and this may have been the reason the first part felt a bit flat, at least for the adult members of the audience, though there were several kids who found it all very funny.

Once the audience and the musical warmed up, it became absolutely clear that this is an extremely talented cast. It is difficult to pick a standout when the small ensemble is so strong, but I would have to say Glass’s portrayal of Lucy is spectacular. That been said, MacDonald’s sad Charlie Brown made the audience sigh with sympathy on more than one occasion. And while Snoopy was played by human Lucente, he captured all of Snoopy’s attitude and some beguiling beagle-like behaviour as well: if only dinner time was always that entertaining.

Gary Abraham’s direction combined with choreography by Dana Jolly and Ben Kiley’s music direction has resulted in an absolutely joyful production that really showcases the singing, dancing and acting talent on stage. The intricate timings in most of the production numbers were accomplished with seeming ease; my favourite was easily The Book Report, mostly due to how well I identified with each of the approaches to work, and I don’t think I will ever think of Beatrix Potter in the same way again.

The night show might be a late time slot for any little person in your life, but the children I overheard discussing it at the end of the show were so excited at seeing these characters live on stage. Charlie Brown is indeed a good man, and this is a must for fans of the cartoon and anyone looking at escaping into the lovable and complicated world of Charlie Brown and his gang.

Venue: Alex Theatre, Fitzroy St, St Kilda

Season: Until 2nd July, Wed-Sun 7.30pm Matinees: Tues 11.30am, Wed & Thu 10.30am, Sat 1pm and Sun 3pm

Tickets: Concession from $25 | Adult from $35

Bookings: www.alextheatrestk.com/whats-on-alex/youre-good-man-charlie-brown

Image by James Terry Photography

Melbourne Ballet Company Presents EMPYREAN

Be transfixed

By Joana Simmons

Melbourne Ballet Company brings us the second chapter of their 2016 trilogy season: Intention and Desire. Empyrean is taken from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘highest form of heaven’, and described in the program as an intellectual light full of love. The show comprises of three separate works created by three distinctly different Australian choreographers – Timothy Harbour, Simon Hoy and Rani Luther – who have created individually fantastic works that bring life to this lofty idea.

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The first piece “Illuminate”, by Rani Luther with music by Philip Glass, explores the idea that heaven is there to be found in all of us on multiple levels. The beginning is breathtaking. Three male and female couples beautifully weave in and out, using choreographic devices, technical lifts and turns to create a world that is mesmerizing to watch. There is a great variety of movement, the partner work was solid and innovative and the dancers’ musicality and timing was en pointe (pun intended). Set on the backdrop of a projection focusing on the woman holding the lamp in Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica (which represents a world reigned over by harmony and light amid suffering and destruction) each dancer had a moment to shine, lead by principals Kirsty Donovan and Alex Bayden Boyce. You know a dance work is good when you feel the audience let out a breath when the sweating athletes stand still at the completion of the 30-minute piece.

“Zealots”, by Timothy Harbour and with music by John Adams, is a dynamic contrast to the previous piece: the dancers in their yellow high neck costumes, black socks and shoes do not touch or manipulate each others’ bodies, yet still are rarely apart. There are moments of strong company unison, because they were separate you could appreciate the tricky choreography, with its quirky hip placement and arm lines. The music is electronic and choppy, and the powerful sharp movements blended it to make it bounce off the stage. I loved how you could see each dancer’s unique contribution to the work, and how the women and men were dancing the same, powerful steps. Samuel Harlett’s incredible, almost rubber-limbed movements show impeccable control. “Zealotry” is defined in the program as “fanatical commitment and belief” and you can definitely see the dancer’s full commitment to this hard-hitting sharp movement. The 15 minutes feels like longer as it is dense with complex dance.

The final work hit the nail on the head. In “Lucidity”, by company director Simon Hoy and music by Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter captivatingly combines complex floor work and sharp technical movement. The projections on the giant backdrop synchronised with the electronic beats and hard-hitting movement making it a full physical sensory experience. The thing that stood out for me was how there was real connection between the dancers, making me feel them, not just watch them and it was – dare I say it – sexy.

Hoy and Alisa Finney have put together a delightfully varied and high quality production. Lighting designed by Craig Boyes and costumes by Santha King add so much to make this show memorable. There’s a lot of sad things happening in the world at the moment; this is why we are lucky to have the theatre, where we can escape and be mesmerized by stories and talent. Make the most of it, and look out for the Melbourne Ballet Company‘s upcoming productions.

Empyrean was performed at the Alex Theatre from June 17-18, 2016.

 

Vass Productions Presents BAD JEWS

Full of Chutzpah

By Deborah Langley

On its return season to Melbourne, I recently had the pleasure of attending opening night of the Vass Theatre Group‘s production of Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon. This relatively new play has been a smash hit in London’s West End, New York’s Broadway and indeed across America, both selling out and extending much like the product here in Australia.

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The play may be new, but it draws on very traditional theatrical methodology, throwing together some eccentric and memorable characters in a high-pressured situation in order to present some deeply-felt and complex ideas about religion and cultural heritage.

A beloved grandfather has died and three cousins (and one girlfriend) are spending the night after the funeral together in a cramped Manhattan apartment to sit ‘shiva’ with the family the next day. Close quarters, family dynamics and interesting personality clashes brings up viciously hilarious quarrels about family, faith and the legacy of the tribe as a treasured family heirloom with religious significance is up for grabs.

But who has rights to Grandfather’s prizes procession? The bossy, overbearing and fanatically religious Daphna – performed by Maria Angelico who delivers with all the annoyingly loud speed of thought that traditionally characterises New York Jews. Her wealthy cousin Liam (Simon Corfield) and girlfriend Melody (Anna Burgess) who really want to be the voice of reason but don’t stand a chance with the crazy energy of Daphna? Or Jonah (Matt Whitty) who doesn’t want to get involved?

This incredibly talented cast bring the characters to life with all the complexities that they require. Burgess’s operatic solo of Summertime has to be a standout comedy moment for me but all performers encapsulate their characters perfectly. Although I do wonder if some of the Jewish nuances were missing, as the work sometimes felt very tense, and perhaps some of the comedy was lost without these very subtle cultural timings.

Overall this is a brilliant production that crosses cultural lines, with so many similarities to be drawn between Jewish families and any close-knit clan. So if you can get past the very specific Jewish references (most of which are eventually explained) make sure you check it out before this well-deserved second season is over!

 Dates: 27 April – 14 May

 Times: Tue-Sat 8:00pm, Matinees: Sat 3:00pm, Sunday 1 May and Sunday 8 May 5:00pm

Venue: Alex Theatre, St Kilda

Bookings: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BADJEWS16

REVIEW: Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS

Strong performances and serious laughs

By Myron My

Already a hit on Broadway and the West End, Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews has crossed continents for its Australian premiere. The “bad Jews” here are three family members, siblings Jonah and Liam, and their cousin Diana (who prefers to be called by her Hebrew name Daphna) who have come together for the funeral of their grandfather. Over the course of the evening, their relationships, cultural identity, class and life are all explored, often with hilarious results.

Bad Jews Photo_Credit Jeff Busby

Daphna (Maria Angelico) is not concerned with any form of financial gain from her late grandfather, and all she requests from her cousins (Simon Corfield and Matt Whitty) is her grandfather’s “chai”, a gold ring that represents his soul and that he had since he was a child. While this “simple” request soon creates much tension for the three, it creates an equal amount of laughs for us.

Director Gary Abrahams’ exhaustive casting search has more than paid off with the actors he has chosen. Angelico is definitely a find as Daphna, who, despite playing a character that can be abrupt and hostile towards anyone “different”, still manages to show the vulnerability that is hiding under Daphna’s strong cultural and religious ideals. However, it is Corfield as the arrogant and self-entitled Liam who remains the star of Bad Jews. The antithesis of Daphna, he is not a follower of the faith and nor does he have the strong connection to family that his cousin does. Corfield does such a phenomenal job with his portrayal that I actually hated seeing his character on stage and really wished he would shut his mouth every time he spoke. Everything about Liam; the way he speaks, the way he stands, the way he moves, is all powerfully convincing as a privileged, upper-class white man.

Anna Burgess as Liam’s girlfriend, Melody, brings an innocence to the show and some brilliant comic relief, with one memorable scene in particular being a highlight of Bad Jews. It’s perhaps because of these three strong characters that Whitty’s Jonah unfortunately left little impression as scenes involving the character usually had him doing nothing more than standing around with an exasperated look on his face. I’ve seen Whitty perform before and he is assuredly a good actor but unfortunately the character needed to have a stronger presence if he was going to compete against the likes of Daphna, Liam and Melody.

Despite the one-act play taking place entirely in a studio apartment, Abrahams ensures that the pacing never drags or falters. His use of the space and a mixture of verbal as well as physical comedy ensures our attention is always on the stage.

Ultimately none of the characters are actually very nice people and we are left wondering who exactly is the “bad” Jew and who is the rightful heir to the “chai”. Even with a few ‘rants’ that went on for too long, Harmon’s script is a clever and well-observed character study on what makes us ‘us’, and with the talented group of actors on board, this is a production that makes for an enjoyable and entertaining night out.

Venue: Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Extended until 19 September | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: Between $40 – $55
Bookings:  Alex Theatre

Image by Jeff Busby