Tag: Alexander Lewis

Review: Ragtime

The peak of the modern Broadway musical.

By Bradley Storer

Ragtime, the much beloved modern classic of the American musical stage, finally makes its Australian professional premiere with the Production Company – judging from the rapturous audience response on opening night it has been well worth the wait. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed novel, with a score by powerhouse composing duo Ahrens and Flaherty, and a book by legendary playwright Terrence McNally, Ragtime represents the peak of the modern Broadway musical.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, the show depicts the trials and interactions of three families representing the cross sections of racial and socio-economic backgrounds in America at the time. An upper-middle class white family of New Rochelle, a pair of lovers from the marginalized black community of Harlem, and a father and daughter emerging from the impoverished immigrants of Eastern Europe. Director Roger Hodgman conducts these intersections of class and race across tiers of scaffolding, choregrapher Dana Jolly delineating all three groups clearly through movement (as well as several flashy vaudeville numbers).

The African-American lovers form the centre of Ragtime’s dramatic momentum and spirit, with Kurt Kansley cutting a commanding figure as pianist Coalhouse Walker Jnr., his fine baritone by turns beautiful and fearsome as Coalhouse’s struggle for justice descends into darkness. Chloe Zuel as his lover Sarah makes a huge impression with a powerful performance of the chilling ‘Your Daddy’s Son’.

Alexander Lewis as immigrant on the rise Tateh recalls a young Mandy Patinkin, bringing intensity and a thrilling tenor to the role as well as rogueish charm, combining all three in the pyrotechnic patter song ‘Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.’. As the acerbic Grandfather, John McTernan steals the show with barely a handful of lines. As the Mother of the white New Rochelle family, Georgina Hopson delivers the standout performance of the production. She delivers the show’s defiant anthem to the onward march of civilization, ‘Back to Before’, so winningly that the audience is held completely spell bound before exploding into applause.

Ragtime’s optimistic ending, which envisions a potential America whose socio-political boundaries have dissolved and united the people as family, seems slightly naïve in the face of the country’s (and indeed, the world in general) continued racial and class inequalities well into the 21st century. While we can only hope and work towards a future like the one prophesized here, musical theatre fans can rejoice in the vision of this beautiful production.

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne

Dates: 2 – 10th November

Times: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday, 1pm Matinee Wednesday and Thursday, 2pm Matinee Saturday, 3pm Sunday

Prices: $25 – $150

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, Arts Centre Box Office.

Photography courtesy of Cavanagh PR 

REVIEW: Victorian Opera’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Simply – see this

By Bradley Storer

Victorian Opera undertakes a gargantuan challenge, both technically and artistically, with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

This Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of the life of French artist Georges Seurat and his painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte’, and the life of his fictional descendants, indelibly changed the landscape of the Broadway musical when it premiered in 1984, and the shadow of the original production is hard to escape. An opera company attempting to mount the musical presents even more challenges, given the fundamental differences between the art forms.

I can happily say that Victorian Opera has risen to the challenge and exceeded it spectacularly. The set design alone, inherently important to the meaning of the show, is astonishing. A simple bare scaffold  and a winding staircase unfolds into a continual array of surprising and delightful scenes – trees, buildings, sketches and pieces of George’s work fly in and out, all contained within a frame that resembles the outline of an artwork.

Alexander Lewis as the artist Georges Seurat brings a humanity, vulnerability and anguish to the role, as well as a flawless operatic tenor voice – for this reviewer, he lacked the fire and intensity at times needed to believe him as a visionary artist, but this is a small complaint. Christina O’Neill as his lover Dot overplayed her sensuality and sexuality at the beginning to a strident degree, but in the character’s more reflective moments she was perfection, and as this quality became more pronounced over the course of the show O’Neill created a strong and heart-breaking character who, more so than even George, is the soul of the show.

Nancye Hayes as George’s mother is hilariously understated and her Act One duet with Lewis ravishes with its delicate loveliness. The ensemble of Sunday, a mix of musical theatre and opera singers, are uniformly strong, all bringing hilarious and touching characterizations . The finale of Act One, the culmination of George’s work in assembling his masterpiece, is a glorious tribute to the power of art to create meaning in the human condition.

Having attended a panel discussion with the artistic team for Sunday, it is clear that this is a labour of love from an ensemble of artists that have enormous respect for the work and a singular vision for its creation. Here this union creates a magnificent production, a stunning and original artistic vision expertly executed and a triumph for all involved.

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Dates:    Sat 20 , Tue 23, Wed 24, Thur 25, Fri 26, Sat 27 July at 7.30pm and Wed 24, Sat 27 July at 1:00pm

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com, Ph: 1300 182 183