Tag: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Review: The Beautiful Game

Theatricalised slice of Irish Troubles

By Owen James

Amidst the madness of Fringe, independent company Manilla Street Productions are presenting a rarely-performed Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical about the lives of a football team wrestling with pride and confrontation during ‘The Troubles’. This is a high-quality production of material that I found at times unfulfilling and disjointed, but full kudos to Manilla Street Productions for choosing to tackle this little-known show.

Lloyd-Webber’s score is nothing groundbreaking, but suitably serves the emotional elements of the story. Though rife with generic and poorly-written lyrics that hinder potential character development, there are beautiful ballads and dynamic ensemble numbers peppered throughout. The book by respected veteran writer Ben Elton is at its best when tackling the darker themes stewing beneath these characters’ lives, crafting moments of emotion that are deeply affecting.

Director/producer Karen Jemison has brought the world of 1969 Belfast to life with evident understanding of the political and religious thunderstorm these conflicted young men are swallowed by. It is this ongoing conflict – both in their heads and on the streets – that is at the heart of The Beautiful Game, where you either take a side, or someone will choose one for you. Jemison has injected the production with a realistic sense of energy and danger that makes for compelling, engaging character work.

Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook is seamlessly integrated into blocking, executed by an ensemble at the top of their game (no pun intended). A football match dissolves into a competitive, masculine dance sequence and out again in a West Side Story-esque blend of athleticism and choreographic metaphor. Daniele Buatti’s expert musical direction embraces the tender Irish melodies and rousing, chanted anthems of Lloyd-Webber’s score with vivacity and concentrated delicacy.

Stephen Mahy brings innocence and vulnerability to ambitious footballer John Kelly. This is a great vehicle for Mahy’s talents, his versatile voice gliding over difficult high melodies with ease – Mahy can sing anything. Stephanie Wall has crafted a detailed character in love interest Mary, and executes a perfect rendition of heartfelt, part-acapella ballad ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’.

David Meadows is a standout as Father O’Donnell, bringing gravitas and humour to this commanding but compassionate man, and finding depth in scenes both celebratory and devastating. Des Flanagan as bitter, turbulent Thomas carries the character’s complicated arc with building intensity in a delightfully intimidating and exceptional performance.

Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco is superb, highlighting crisp and clean vocals and every note from the nine-piece band. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has once again transformed the intimate Chapel into a colourful paradise, creating menacing alleyways, rowdy pubs, hotel rooms and bright football ovals, all with distant, twinkling Irish hues hanging over every desperate character’s decision.

The material is undoubtedly imbued with heart and passion, but does not always connect its serious and comedic elements in a believable manner, creating a sometimes confusing dichotomy of tone. The extremely strong cast and production team of Manilla Street have played to the show’s many strengths with a very faithful, polished presentation – audiences will undoubtedly relish the professional performances and quality of this production. I cannot wait to see what Manilla Street bring us next.

Running at Chapel Off Chapel until 29th September
Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/the-beautiful-game/

 

 

REVIEW: The Musical of Musicals: The Musical

Hilarious for everyone, but a special theatre treat for the real fans…

By Meg Richardson

This is one musical that lives up to its name, for this satirical parody has been crafted to satisfy even the most obsessive musical theatre fans. As part of MICF this year, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical takes one simple plot line and tells it 5 times over in completely different styles, so while never repetitive, it is entirely hilarious.

The plot follows a young woman (Emma Hoy) who can’t pay her rent, her boyfriend (Jack Brown) and her older confidant (Bianca Bruce) and their constant battles with their demanding landlord (Josiah Lulham). Audiences also enjoy a one-man ensemble/narrator (Michael Leaver). The 5 famous composers that are acknowledged are Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb. For reasons obvious to anyone that has seen any of the works of these artists, each time the story is repeated in another of these styles, there is a totally different outcome.

MoMTM provides its fair share of laugh-out-loud, slaptstick moments that any audience would enjoy, but it is the true musical theatre fans that will really appreciate this show. Each section is full of references to the composers’ works from obvious musical cues to subtle dialogue references that only tickle the funny bones of those in the audience with the most astute theatrical knowledge. There is also a risky amount of blatant criticism of some of the trademark indulgences of the legends that almost invites a gasp of horror at the delivery.

The cast work seamlessly together as all but Lulham have worked together on the show previously. While they were all a joy to watch, Bruce’s stage presence is hard to tear your eyes from. Her comic delivery of diva Abby in Dear Abby (the Jerry Herman tribute) was enough to have viewers in stitches. The whole cast performed the show without microphones, but due to their ample talent, this was never an issue. Along with this finely-tuned cast, musical director Simon Bruckard uses only a single piano to provide fantastic support to his players and created some magical moments for the audience to enjoy.

Technically, the show could have had more support. There were times when it wasn’t clear if the follow spot was lagging behind as a gag or if the operator had actually fallen asleep but aside from that, it all moved quite smoothly.

Overall MoMTM was a performance worthy of the deafening applause it received that can only be created by a true musical theatre audience.

Venue: The Open Stage @ The University of Melbourne
757 Swanston Street, Parkville, VIC, 3010
Dates: 18th April – 21st April
Times: Wednesday – Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Tickets: Adults $22, Concession $18, Groups (5 or more) $15
Bookings: www.themusicalofmusicals.com

REVIEW: Melbourne Premiere of LOVE NEVER DIES

Are we entering an era of music theatre sequels?

By Kim Edwards

Back when synthesisers were cool, pyrotechnics and special effects were reserved for rock concerts, and theatre was elite and intimate, a new wave of musicals revitalised and reinvented a genre.  

Interestingly they were more in keeping with nineteenth-century theatre and the operatic tradition than the trends of modern drama: they were vast, lavish, opulent spectacles sweeping through epic, passionate narratives with rich, full, emotional orchestrations.

And at the forefront of this surging theatrical excitement was the wild success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical Phantom of the Opera.

Years later, an aging composer who once wrote a masterpiece for his ingenue is struggling to find inspiration again, branch out to enrapture an international audience, and determine what his musical and personal legacy will  be.

Webber biography, right? No: this is the plot for his new Phantom sequel Love Never Dies that opened in Melbourne last night.

Webber calls it his most ‘personal’ work to date, and there is a real sense of wish-fulfilment in this musical: it studiously ignores dates, details and character elements established in its predecessor to indulge a love story, displace the villainy and transplant a theatrical world across an ocean from the Paris Opera house to Coney Island. The show was panned in London, cancelled on Broadway, and has been thoroughly revised by renowned director Simon Phillips for this latest production.

So after all the hype and hullaballoo: what do I think of Melbourne’s production of Love Never Dies?

Visually and from a production perspective, this show is unquestionably stunning. The sets and staging are wonderous, and the new location for the action gives designer Gabriela Tylesova glorious scope for the grotesque, gorgeous, gothic playground she creates. Like Meg’s ‘Bathing Beauty’ song, layers keep being stripped away to reveal costumes, scenery and lighting each more breath-taking and spectacular than the last.

It opens, not with an overture, but with a charm song obviously designed to (re)introduce the Phantom and let a new young star enchant an audience. Ben Lewis’ rendition of ‘Till I Hear You Sing was indeed divine, and his final note magical. The character has lost the complexity of the original, and Lewis’ lower register coming across as rather uneven later suggests he has yet to find his own iconic sound as a singer, but overall he gave an impressive performance.

Anna O’Bryne was a fresh-faced Christine with a luminous and lucid voice: even though trite lyrics often gave her little to work with emotionally (indeed, the whole show title proved a misnomer of sorts) she displayed wonderful charm and talent.

However for me, it was Simon Gleeson’s performance as Raoul that reverberated with all the passion and pathos and complexity I found lacking in the central love story. His character is reinvented as troubled and self-loathing, and in the opening of Act II where he asks “Why Does She Love Me?”, Gleeson transcended some banal lyrics to give a very real and moving delivery of the song. In many ways, this felt like the only moment of subtlety in the show.

Maria Mercedes was painfully angry as Mme. Giry, and there was a definite fascination in seeing Sharon Millerchip reprise the role of Meg and bring a real sense of growth as performer and character.

Webber’s songs are familiar yet not particularly memorable, but the orchestrations and voices are highly enjoyable. Moreover, the plot is thin but the ensemble led by carnivalesque Greek chorus Emma J. Hawkins, Paul Tabone and Dean Vince are deft and dynamic.

The real appeal of the show remains in the old-fashioned spectacle achieved with the latest in theatre technology: Love Never Dies is ultimately a sumptuous, sentimental production of pure and unadulterated melodrama, draped in lavish splendour. If there are recurring echos of the ridiculous and redundant at times, they are usually swirled away in the colour and action.

Does this production bring anything to the Phantom legacy? No. Does it spoil the original musical then? No. Is it an enjoyably excessive and entertaining night of theatre? Yes actually. Yes it is.

Love Never Dies is playing at The Regent Theatre from May 2011.

Phantom Fans in Furore Over LOVE NEVER DIES

An Unexpected Editorial

by Kim Edwards

Our inbox has been loaded lately with various long-winded emails as part of a campaign to spam theatre reviewers. The emails contain protestations in violent objection to or in passionate support of the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to open in Melbourne.

Love Never Dies purports to be a sequel to the wildly successful Phantom of the Opera, and its latest season has prompted an extraordinary turf war among fans of the latter and former.  

Both sides have apparently concluded it is important for reviewers to know Love Never Dies is respectively awful/awesome, while insisting we are, of course, to write impartial reviews as we see fit.

As we foresee that a further deluge of such emails may be inevitable, we felt it was important to voice an opinion on behalf on Theatre Press reviewers.

We are yet to attend Love Never Dies, or to offer either a review or opinion on it*.  Theatre Press reviewers are requested always to give honest feedback, offer constructive critique, and point out the subjectivity of their stance: this is simply one person’s opinion.  

While we might remark on the audience’s reaction or the wider reception of the production, we have no interest in reading unsolicited reviews from fans or foes of any show who, despite their best rhetorical efforts, are seeking to influence us.

Theatre is a fickle and troublesome industry. Sometimes wonderful shows close too early, while poor shows manage to drum up extensive audiences.   Sometimes excellent productions do not appeal to a local crowd, and weak productions strike an unexpected chord.

But sometimes critically acclaimed does translate into universal popularity, whereupon spectacular musicals achieve all the fame and success they deserve, and the unsuccessful ones fall quietly into obscurity.  

Interestingly of course, public protests over ‘bad’ shows usually end in the latter being far more successful than they might otherwise have been…

Ultimately, this is all irrelevant for theatre reviewers.   There is a place for all forms and levels of theatre, and producers, composers and artists have every right to create any new shows they like for the mingled delight and despair of theatre audiences.

Whatever strange motivations are behind the recent spat of love/hate fan emails to Theatre Press, the actual effect is to imply our critical integrity and credibility is in question because we need reminders to offer unbiased opinions.

As theatre critics however, we always wish to support the industry we love, rigorously deny censorship by attending as many and varied performances as we can as open-mindedly as we can, and then constantly do our best to express an honest opinion and make an effort to link the right audiences with the right shows.   Every time.

If you like Love Never Dies, enjoy seeing it.   If you don’t like it, enjoy avoiding it.   If you have an opinion on a show, share it – but respect the rights of others to disagree.   However, if you think the way to share this opinion is to spam review sites – please think again.

*Edit: Since writing the above, we have attended the show and offered an opinion. You can find the review here.