Tag: Ben Fon

Pursued By Bear Presents ORDINARY DAYS

Authentic and accessible

By Joana Simmons

Presented as the second part of a unique double bill, Ordinary Days is a slick contemporary chamber musical with heart. Bought to us by independent performance and production hire company, Pursued By Bear, this 90-minute show accomplishes their vision of telling great stories and challenging the theatre industry. The stories of four characters going about their days in New York weave into our hearts and each other’s lives through the delightful music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. It is a relatable, believable and thoroughly enjoyable show about growing up and enjoying the view.

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Chapel off Chapel is humming as the almost full house takes their seats. The white tulle suspended from the ceiling provides the perfect canvas for the colourful chirpy showtune opening sung by the ever-optimistic Warren (Joel Granger). We meet Deb (Nicola Bowman), a graduate who is feeling the standard Gen-Y dissatisfaction with life: wanting to achieve great things and reach that big picture but not quite knowing how. She loses her most precious possession – the notes to her graduate thesis, and this is the catalyst for a chain of events that turn the ordinary days of four New Yorkers into something extraordinary. Jason (Matthew Hamilton) moves in with his love Claire (Brittanie Shipway) and we see their excitement and tension build as a couple, as things from the past are revealed and their bond unravels. Through powerful songs and vignettes, these multiple stories become intricately connected and the audience becomes heavily invested.

The cast carries their individual stories and works together with accuracy and professionalism. Granger’s endearingly geeky portrayal of Warren is authentic and strong. Hamilton brings maturity to his role as Jason, however his accent and pitch took some time to settle and some movement felt forced, although once on the mark he was a treat. The female cast in their own respects stole the show for me though: Shipway’s singing and natural emotion, especially in “Gotta Get Out” were heart-melting highlights, and Bowman had the audience in stitches with her fantastic comic timing, smooth delivery and subtle yet hilarious physicality. Director Tyran Parke has done an outstanding job bringing such creative and dramatic gems out of these four talented people. Special commendation goes to musical director Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe as this show is basically entirely sung through; the storytelling and diction combined with great dynamic delivery of the songs was top-notch and she supported it all on piano the whole time. The lighting by Jason Crick bought life and drama to the relatively blank set, and whilst there were some minor sound issues on the night I attended, the technical team did a good job.

My favourite part was the end: there was some truly magical goosebump moments throughout, but the ending left me feeling beautifully warm (which was a relief considering the Melbourne temperature.) Whilst the storyline of Ordinary Days isn’t anything too groundbreaking, the music and characters pull us in and help us to see and appreciate the little things, which is so important, especially now.  Escape the cold and get swept up in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Ordinary Days (part of double bill, Chump Days) at Chapel Off Chapel

8-18 June 
Time: 8pm Thursday-Saturday, 5pm Sunday
Tickets: $35 Preview (Thursday 8 June), $49 Adult, $39 Concession (+transaction fee)

http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/melbourne-theatre/ordinary-days-8-18-june/

Image by Ben Fon

Life Like Company Presents THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Beautiful and beguiling musical of love

By Bradley Storer

A twinkling of strings on the harp, cascading into a glorious swirl of orchestral sound under the swell of a soaring and mellifluous soprano voice – from the very first moments of the opening night of The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel’s sumptuous score (gorgeously conducted by Vanessa Scammell) instantly swept us into the magically romantic landscape of Florence, Italy.

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The entire cast, under the capable direction of Theresa Borg and in Kim Bishop’s stunning costumes, are close to flawless. Genevieve Kingsford as the childlike Clara Johnson has the unenviable task of depicting a character with a mental disability that is never fully explained, but Kingsford is a marvel in the part, sensitively balancing Clara’s innocence and openness with a fog of anxiety and confusion but never tips over into caricature. Her rich youthful soprano manages the difficult score with ease and her beautiful rendition of the eponymous song whipped the crowd into a roaring applause on opening night.

As Clara’s ardent suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli, Jonathon Hickey brought a bright and piercing tenor and a refreshing adolescent sincerity to the part – while his ‘Il Mondo Era Vuoto’ came off a touch too anguished, he harnessed a touching sensitivity in ‘Love to Me’. Anton Berezin was commanding and charming as Fabrizio’s father, while Josh Piterman as the older brother Giuseppe exuded charisma and flashy charm. Madison Green as Giuseppe’s long-suffering wife Franca managed to find the heart and kindness in a deeply wounded and embittered woman, as well as ably handling the trickiest moments of Guettel’s music.

The heart of this musical, however, is the central role of Margaret Johnson, the mother of Clara whose journey through the show embodies the conflict between the human search for love and the fear that true lasting love is nothing but an illusion. Chelsea Plumley sometimes pushes into moments of slight performativity as Margaret, but overall she nails the character’s charm, intelligence and courage, giving glorious voice to Margaret’s inner conflict as she addresses the audience in both direct dialogue and dramatically compelling song.

The backdrop of paintings and sculpture that fly in and out seamlessly, designed by Tom Willis, make a wonderful set and illustrate the libretto’s constant correlation of the characters’ plights with the figures of renaissance art, but at certain points they blocked the view of the action – physical transitions between scenes were sometimes made awkward by lighting that highlighted instead of concealing the cast and crew moving the scenery.

These small concerns aside, Life Like Company has produced an outstanding production that wonderfully captures the magic of this modern musical, captivating the audience from start to finish with its magnificent score and achingly-rendered story – heart-meltingly lovely and heart-breaking all at the same time. 

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

Times: 8pm Friday and Saturday, 6pm Sunday

Dates: October 28 – November 6

Tickets: $65 – $135

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au , 1300 182 183, at the box office.

Image by Ben Fon

Blue Saint Productions Presents SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD

Cross oceans to hear this production

By Sally McKenzie

It’s hard to believe that Jason Robert Brown’s first major off-Broadway production, Songs For A New World, debuted over 20 years ago. Its music is timeless and remarkably beautiful. Each song portrays an individual’s journey as he or she is forced to make crucial life choices when things don’t go to plan.

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 Luke Joslin (Director) and Geoffrey Castles (Musical Director) have staged a most impressive version of this classic in the Loft performance space at Chapel off Chapel. Joslin effectively establishes a theme of an ocean journey to a ‘New World’ by setting the stage as the deck of a ship with a mast and tattered sail and ropes. The sounds of the ocean and waves rolling in played as patrons entered, and as they leave the space. Patches of graffiti are painted on the ship to provide extra evidence of people traveling through and making their own ‘mark’ on the world.

In song cycles such as this, with four actors performing multiple roles, it is difficult for the audience to become attached to any particular character as they pass through each song. In this musical it is much easier to be moved by the music itself – particularly the lush harmonies in the ensemble songs such as ‘Flying Home’ or ‘Hear my Song’, or the more well-known and loved opening song ‘A New World’. The musical direction in this production is outstanding. Castles is obviously a master of vocal direction. The blend of the cast’s voices is sublime and for me, the highlight of the show. Songs For A New World requires a virtuoso pianist – and Castles is also brilliant in this role. It was disappointing not to see his name listed as pianist in the band credits in the program. Another important feature missing from the program was a song list – a must in a sung-through show.

Anthony Chircop (on electric and acoustic bass) executes the part with great flair as does Tom Doublier on drums and percussion. The trio of musicians are positioned behind the mast and mostly visible, and this group is definitely the dream team in my book for a show like this. They take a much-deserved bow with the cast at the end of the show.

The show is well-cast all round. Linden Furnell’s (Man 2) warmth and ease of tone is well-suited to songs such as ‘She Cries’ and his duet ‘I’d Give It All For You’. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal  of the ukelele larrikin busker in ‘The River Won’t Flow’.  I was most impressed with John O’Hara. His voice is exceptional. His solo in ‘On The Deck of A Spanish Sailing Ship’ and in ‘Flying Home’ are the two vocal highlights in this production. O’Hara soars through his upper range and delivers every note and word with heartfelt emotion. He is truly captivating.

Teagan Wouters (Woman 1) gives a beautiful rendition of ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ – always a difficult song to execute technically and to find the right balance of vulnerability and strength, and Wouters delivers this without over-singing the song. Natalie O’Donnell as Woman 2 has the job of performing the majority of the ‘character songs’ in the show (such as ‘Sarabaya Santa’, ‘Just One Step’) but I found her particularly endearing and engaging as she led the finale ‘Hear My Song’. It is one of the rare moments of the show when eye contact is made with the audience and I felt like I was part of the story instead of being an outside observer. Too many of the songs are focused ‘straight ahead’. In a show that can potentially become too much like a concert, it is important to find more ways of involving the audience and making them feel part of the journey.

Staging and blocking is, on the whole, simple but effective, as was the lighting and costuming. Sound design is fabulous and hard to fault– I loved the addition of maximum reverb to the band –particularly to the congas and double bass in songs such as ‘King of The World’. It was also added tastefully to the singing.

Songs For A New World runs from June 2nd-12th at Chapel off Chapel. This show is a musical masterpiece. Fans of the music will not be disappointed.

Bookings: http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/songs-for-a-new-world-2-12-june/

Image by Ben Fon