Tag: Anna O’Byrne

Opera Australia and John Frost Present MY FAIR LADY

Lush, lovely and loyal revival

By Bradley Storer

Rapturous strings and a painted scrim of the Thames welcomed the audience into the world of Edwardian-era London on the Melbourne opening night at My Fair Lady. This production under the direction of the original Eliza Doolittle, Dame Julie Andrews herself, hums with vitality, and with sets and costumes modelled on the original Broadway production (by Oliver Smith and Cecil Beaton respectively) one can feel the wonder the show must have provoked in the audience of yesterday, the Ascot Gavotte a particular moment of sheer visual loveliness.

My Fair Lady Photo by Jeff Busby.jpg

Anna O’Byrne is perfectly cast as Eliza. Her silvery soprano handled the score with ease, deploying Eliza’s feistiness and vulnerability in equal measure, and winning the audience’s heart in all her iconic numbers – but especially in the giddy and rapturous ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Her standing ovation at the end of the night was well-earned.

Charles Edwards manages to find the heart and humanity in the often reprehensible Henry Higgins, but doesn’t shy away from his acid tongue or biting wit in ‘Why Can’t The English?’ and ‘Hymn to Him’, managing to adroitly combine the ‘talk-singing’ style of the originator Rex Harrison with moments of understated lyrical voice to create a more individualised interpretation.

As Higgins’ closest confidante, Colonel Pickering, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is charmingly hilarious in the duo’s back and forth and in his own small moments onstage. Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins steals the show effortlessly with just a few lines, subtly suggesting where Henry has inherited his quick wit and turn of phrase from.

The scene-stealing role of Alfred P. Doolittle is here played by Reg Livermore, who places his own stamp upon the part and nails the cheeky paean to laziness ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’. As the lovesick Freddy, Mark Vincent has a lush and easy vocal tone, delivering a lovely ‘On the Street Where You Live’. The ensemble are fantastic throughout, bringing superb energy and vivacity to their characters and shining in Christopher Gattelli‘s choreography for ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’.

There has been critical discussion over whether certain elements and the ending of the musical should have been changed for this new production, and indeed on opening night there were moments where the blatant misogyny of Higgins drew audible gasps from the audience – since this has been staged as a recreation of the original 1956 production, I felt that trying to sanitise the darker undertones of the show that are more apparent to society today would be dishonest. It is doubtful the work can ever be described as ‘feminist’, since the musical seems to be more actually focused on Higgins’ journey than Eliza’s and concerns itself more with the effects of the class system rather than gender, but by refusing to soften the sheer awfulness of Higgins’ character it can be argued the production maintains a measure of integrity, even as it is slightly baffling why the newly self-empowered Eliza would choose to return to him.

Overall, a charming and beautiful revisitation of a classic sure to delight any audience!

Dates: May 16th – July 27th (Melbourne)

Times: WednesdaySaturday 7:30pm, Tuesday 1pm, Wednesday 1pm, Sunday 3pm

Venue: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St, Melbourne

Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or the venue box office

Image by Jeff Busby

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REVIEW: The Production Company’s WEST SIDE STORY

Simply impeccable

By Narelle Wood

There were two things: the fact that The Production Company was responsible; and the recreation of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography by Michael Ralph. It did not disappoint, in fact with this production of West Side Story, The Production Company has set a new bar for itself and for theatre in Melbourne.

West Side Story

The storyline is a mostly faithful reinvention of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet, set on the streets of New York’s Upper West Side. Two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks are engaged in a turf war, more to do with cultural prejudices and nothing better to do, than an actual place to hang. Of course when Tony (Gareth Keegan), a boy from the Jets, and Maria (Anna O’Byrne), a girl from the Sharks, meet, dance and fall in love, the cultural tensions go from casual street rumblings, to choosing weapons at a war council. And, as per the original, tragedy ensues, but not before some of the most spectacular renditions of some of Broadway’s most iconic songs.

Byrne’s voice is incredible and had the potential to overpower the rest of the cast. However, under the direction of Gale Edwards, it perfectly complimented all the other voices, especially Keegan’s and Deone Zanotto (Anita). Byrne and Keegan seemed to fit so naturally together that I found myself genuinely hoping things would somehow work out; something that I’ve not experienced before in any production of West Side Story or Romeo and Juliet. The whole cast was brilliant, but Zanotto was spectacular in absolutely everything she did.

Sets and costumes were exactly as I expected from The Production Company: simple, effective and impressive. In fact, what made this production so remarkable was how flawlessly everything came together. It was a highlight for me to hear the music to West Side Story played live, at speed and with every nuance. But the star of the show was the choreography. It was truly a privilege to watch how Ralph and the cast were able to recreate the original choreography and make it their own. I would have happily sat and watched them dance every number over and over again.

I don’t think I will ever risk seeing this musical again. The Production Company’s West Side Story is perfection.

Venue: The Arts Centre
Season: Until 19th July
Tickets: Tickets between $21 – $126
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/musicals/west-side-story

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.