Tag: Ash Flanders

Midsumma Festival 2017: PLAYING TO WIN

Witty, winsome – and definitely winning

By Myron My

Ash Flanders is confessedly one confused performer as he struggles to stay optimistic in a society and industry that like to chew people up before spitting them out in an instant. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, Playing To Win has Flanders – in a wonderful kitten leotard – holding his cabaret audience hostage as he recalls the lowlights and the lower-lights of being in said industry, resulting in an evening of great songs and engaging storytelling.

Playing to Win.jpg

For the most part, Flanders draws on his own personal experiences with fame and success – including a tragically hilarious story involving Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy – but he also looks at the idolisation of reality-TV-star celebrities, particularly those who are famous for no discernible reasons. His send-up of Gina Liano’s “Gina” perfume ad is a great touch in emphasising his frustrations at slipping down the black hole of failure.

Admirably supported by musical director Dave Barclay and band Artistic Difference, Flanders has a select choice of songs that are used cleverly to colour and characterise his stories, including memorable performances of “Ride Like The Wind” by Christopher Cross and “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” by Celine Dion. The final song of the night (which is better as a surprise) succeeds in bringing his story full circle and includes some brilliant audience interactions.

Flanders does give his all in Playing To Win, and while it is full of satisfying sarcasm and cheeky comedy, there is an emotional aspect to his storytelling and a genuine openness in what he shares with us. In one way, his humour can be see as a defence mechanism on display, further highlighting his vulnerability. While Flanders might “only” be performing in the smallest venue at the Arts Centre, he is definitely destined for bigger things and bigger rooms, and Playing To Win is profound evidence of that.

Playing To Win was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne between 27 – 29 January 2017.

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REVIEW: MTC Presents BUYER AND CELLAR

Here’s what Barbra keeps in her basement…

By Caitlin McGrane

As the house lights dimmed inside the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre, I leaned over to my mother and whispered, ‘I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand.’ This remains true, but I am now certainly informed about her basement. As Alex (Ash Flanders) recounts his fictional employment in Barbra Streisand’s basement shopping mall it was thrilling to revel in the affection that playwright Jonathan Tolins clearly has for the superstar singer. The play was warm, heartfelt and gregarious in all the right ways.

Buyer and Cellar

The play opens with Ash giving a brief introduction to the audience about the book that inspired the play (My Passion for Design by Barbra Streisand) and about how Streisand built a shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu home. Ash then becomes Alex and tells the wickedly funny story of how he moved from Disneyland to Streisand, and how Alex’s relationship with his boyfriend Barry is affected by the new job. It’s a true one-man show, and Flanders did a spectacular job of moving seamlessly between the characters with their idiosyncratic accents and mannerisms. As I stated before, I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand, but Flanders’ impression of her softly lilting voice and affected mannerisms were outrageously funny.

For the most part the play had me in stitches, however, there were several LA references that went completely over my head and it seemed, much of the rest of audience’s as well. This has nothing to do with the delivery, just that the play was written about a particular place with which a local audience is not necessarily familiar. The saturation of American culture certainly helped contextualise the jokes, but specific references to freeways were always going to go over most of our heads. (I would love to see if something similar could be written about Melbourne; maybe Geoffrey Rush has a Pirates of the Caribbean set up in his garage, I don’t know.)

There is clearly so much passion and fondness for Streisand in the script; director Gary Abrahams has ensured the barbs (pardon the pun) are handled just right – carefully toeing that difficult line between gently mocking and barbarous (I’m sorry I can’t stop). Adam Gardnir simply and effectively designed the sets and costumes; while Rachel Burke’s lighting design was beautiful. For a play about such a massively successful musician, there wasn’t much music, however The Sweats’ composition and sound design carefully adorned and enhanced the performance. Finally, Flanders’ numerous accents were so accurate, that it would be deeply remiss not to mention voice and dialogue coach Suzanne Heywood who has clearly done a marvellous job.

It can make me wary when it looks like the cast and crew of a production have had lots of fun assembling and crafting their work, but in this case it was really joyous to see. Buyer and Cellar demonstrates how reverence can work well alongside gentle teasing, especially if the butt of your jokes is a multimillionaire who really does have a shopping mall in her basement.

Buyer and Cellar is showing at the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre until 12 December. Tickets from: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/mainstage-2015/buyer-and-cellar/

REVIEW: Meme Girls

Exploring the black hole of Youtube

By Myron My

Every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views on videos. In Meme GirlsAsh Flanders has delved into the bottomless pit of YouTube vloggers and their videos, performing a selection of monologues in the dramatic camp fashion that Flanders does so well.

meme girls

There are a variety of videos that Flanders has chosen, from the serious to the absurd, such as the woman who tells you that one of the hardest things in life is learning how to fold a fitted sheet. Flanders nails each “character” he performs. The way he speaks, sounds, acts and moves; each person is unique.

Accompanying Flanders is the wonderful Art Simone. Simone has a presence to her that is instantly captivating and draws all our attention when she is on stage. I would have loved to have seen her more and do more, but the little time she has she effectively  blurs gender lines and identity; the same transformation that Flanders goes through during Meme Girls.

However, I’m not completely sold on the idea that the show has, as director Stephen Nicolazzo puts it, “genuine love of the genders, races and class (Flanders) represents on stage”. Some, most definitely, but others feel like they are being parodied and played for laughs and therefore lack the honesty or sincerity that I expected to see. Perhaps this is Flanders’ intention though and is commenting on the type of culture and lifestyle that we, as a society, seem to be obsessed with.

From a stagecraft perspective, this show cannot be faulted. How I would love to get inside Eugyeene Teh’s thought process and see how he consistently creates these brilliant sets and costume designs. His pink cylindrical tunnel, as if we are falling into the black hole that is YouTube, is absolutely stunning, especially when paired with Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting design. Along with THE SWEATS’ sound design; I have not been, in a very long time, so in awe, of the opening moments of a show as much as I have for Meme Girls.

Meme Girls is a wonderful showcase of talent from Nicolazzo, Flanders and the creative team behind it. Whilst the message it tries to make is not always clear or consistent, it is, as Simone mimes at one point during the show, “an unusual and exciting theatrical event“.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank

Season: Until 2 May | Wed – Sat 8pm, Tuesday 7pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 5pm

Tickets: $60 Full | $50 Conc | $30 Under 30

Bookings: Malthouse Theatre

Review: LITTLE ONES THEATRE PRESENTS Psycho Beach Party

60s spoof cinema becomes Midsumma highlight

By Myron My

Psycho Beach Party is a glorious camp dive into the 60s surf as we follow Chicklet’s (Ash Flanders) journey to becoming a female surfer. Along the way we learn of a psycho who likes to shave women’s hair from top to bottom, witness some “unexpected” love, and meet an overbearing mother with a secret or two of her own.

Filmed as the 2000 queer cult classic of the same name, Little Ones Theatre have brought all the joy and hilarity of Charles Busch’s spoof horror beach flick script back to the stage where it all began.

Psycho Beach Party

The play’s set is adorned with leopard prints as far as the eye can see: umbrella, beach chairs, sand, backdrop and even the majority of the costumes are all decked in various shades and patterns of black and yellow. Despite scene changes, the set never altered and perhaps allowing the audience to cast their eyes on something different would have better distinguished between different locales. The gloriously campy musical numbers – and quirky choreography – were a joy to watch and I did wish there had been a few more of these.

All the performers did extremely well with their characters and they were clearly having fun playing these absurd beach-loving stereotypes. The standouts for me would have to be Flanders, Genevieve Giuffre as Berdine and Zoe Boesen as Marvel Ann. Despite having quite a few different stories with not much narrative direction, the various erratic plots do all get wrapped up quite nicely by the end of the show.

But you are not watching Psycho Beach Party for its storyline or the depth of its characters. It is – dare I say it – like a 60s beach version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Friday the 13th Psycho Beach Party cranks it up to 11 with its over-the-top persona, some sharp (and sexually punning) dialogue and a few fabulous music interludes for good measure.

Playing as part of Midsumma Festival, Psycho Beach Party is as camp as the proverbial row of tents but this is definitely one beach where you’ll want to pitch yours (yes, I went there).

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda.

Season: Until 19 January | 7:30pm

Tickets: $32 Full | $22 Concession

Bookings:  9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au