Tag: Blake Bowden

REVIEW: Twisted Broadway 2015

“Broadway in a Brand-New Key”

By Bradley Storer

Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS brought together a stunning ensemble of Australian music-theatre talents last night for Twisted Broadway, a gender-bending re-interpretation of musical theatre’s greatest hits, to raise money for research and developmental programs for people living with HIV/AIDS. The sense of community and giving was palpable, all the performers and creative team donating their time and energy – even the set for the show was donated by The Production Company‘s current show Nice Work if You Can Get It.

2015 Twisted Broadway Hosts_Photo by Kayzar Bhathawalla

Kate Ceberano, one of the evening’s hosts, began the show as a literal MC – the classic character from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, spiritedly singing ‘Wilkommen’ and showing some impressive high kicks as she introduced us to the ‘twisted’ male and female ensembles and the Twisted Broadway orchestra, under the direction of James Simpson. She was followed by the glorious tenors of Blake Bowden and Josh Piterman, both bringing lead man charisma to the Jekyll and Hyde duet ‘In His Eyes’, before fellow host Eddie Perfect joined Ceberano onstage to introduce the evening officially.

The first half of the show was dedicated mainly to ensemble numbers, highlights including a cheeky ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ by the female ensemble of West Side Story, a campy male version of ‘Make Him Mine’ by Ed Grey, Alex Given and Drew Weston, a bevy of showgirls accompanying Melissa Langton as she charmingly crooned ‘All I Care About is Love’, a trio of male Lion King ensemblists bringing Motown realness in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ all the way to Nathan Pinnell leading the ensemble of Anything Goes in a joyous ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’. A few choice solo performances were dotted throughout, Akina Edmonds‘ soulful take on the Schwartz classic ‘Lost in the Wilderness’ standing out in particular.

After a fantastic ensemble opening of ‘On Broadway’ choreographed by Michael Ralph, the second act brought spectacular solos from a variety of performers. Rob Mills hilariously sent himself up in a re-vamped version of the audition sequence ‘Climbing Uphill’ from The Last Five Years, Tom Sharah stole the show with his ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’, and Queenie van de Zandt brought the audience to their feet in a roof-raising ‘What Kind of a Fool Am I?’. Perfect debuted a charming song from his unseen musical version of the classic Australian film Muriel’s Wedding with help from Casey Bennetto, and the male ensemble delivered a testosterone-charged ‘Be Italian’ led by Mike Snell before Josie Lane closed the evening with a thunderous ‘Goodbye’.

Producers Michael Benge and Kate MacDonald informed the audience at the end of the show that over $50,000 had been raised for Oz Show Business Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, making a perfect end to this marvellous night of music theatre all done in the name of a good cause.

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda, Melbourne.
Date: 17th August, 2015
Time: 8pm

http://www.twistedbroadway.com.au/

Image by Kayzar Bhathawalla
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REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents SWEENEY TODD

Loved it!

By Jessica Cornish

In celebrating their 10th birthday, Victorian Opera have chosen to end their Stephen Sondheim trilogy that began in 2013 with the famous musical horror Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet St, directed by Stuart Maunder.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) is a man seeking revenge on Judge Turpin (Philip Rhodes) for the wrongful imprisonment that separated him from his beautiful wife and child, Johanna (Amelia Berry). Escaping colony convict life, Todd returns an obsessed and disillusioned man, and in a cruel and unforgiving society crumbling into filth and poverty, loses his humanity and becomes a serial killer alongside his infatuated accomplice, Mrs Lovett (Antoinette Halloran). They promptly make a business of slitting the throats of barbershop customers and baking them in to pies. Meanwhile, Todd’s estranged daughter is locked away by her adopted guardian the Judge, and a lovesick boy Anthony Hope (Blake Bowden) tries to free Johanna from the lecherous man planning to marry his ward.

Victorian Opera debutant but Melbourne music-theatre favourite Teddy Rhodes has a beautiful rich voice, and his strong brooding frame demanded attention at all times; however, for the first act he seemed a little wooden and detached (even for Todd) when delivering his few lines. Halloran was a triumphant highlight of the show: her singing was always clear, well-executed and perfectly acted, providing black humour throughout the night. Her Mrs Lovett was all at once funny, revolting, and greedy yet still managed to gain the sympathy of the audience. Another standout performance was soprano Berry as Johanna, who effortlessly and accurately glided through her notoriously difficult songs and had amazing vocal clarity and control. Finally, Kanen Breen as Beadle Bamford definitely needs a mention for his hilarious performance as the snarky Judge’s companion, with a killer falsetto that reared itself spectacularly in the second act.

The ensemble are highly participatory throughout the performance, reminiscent of a Greek chorus narrating and commentating on the action unfolding. In this production, the ensemble’s well-executed diction was truly impressive because of the rapid-fire of lyrics and intense musical and narrative demands, whereupon for the most part every word was heard even amongst the complex rounds of verses. The famous Sondheim score is lyrically rich, metrically unstable, dissonant and riddled with constant tension. Under Phoebe Brigg‘s astute musical direction, even songs seemingly beautiful and sweet were laced with vengeance and murder, always leaving the audience deliciously uncomfortable and on edge.

The clarity of the audio designed by Jim Atkins was excellent: however the balance between the orchestra and the vocals was often slightly off, leaving the occasional vocal lines difficult to hear, while the infamous eerie factory whistle was literally painful to listen to and, with patrons covering their ears, really needs to be turned down. Philip Lethlean‘s atmospheric lighting was harsh, using cool washes, up-lighting, and at times, one dimensional angles to give a real horror feel, and adding to the unease of Fleet St. The sets by Rodger Kirk were simple yet adequate, and were easily and smoothly manipulated on a scene-to-scene basis (with just the one bed that seemed to be stuck on stage for a little extra time than required).

Sweeney Todd is a thrilling and enthralling musical, and with a difficult score for the regular music-theatre or operatic performer, it is not often as vocally perfected as it is here by the Victorian Opera. The opening night performance was an absolute pleasure to see and hear, and as the ‘Demon Barber’ isn’t a steady theatre standard, I warmly suggest everyone go see this musical operetta. (Just make sure that if you are purchasing or picking up ticketson the day to arrive at least half an hour in advance due to very long lines, and even more importantly make sure you are in the correct venue! Many people, including myself were ushered into the wrong theatres within the Arts Centre, so I almost saw West Side Story, another Sondheim classic, last night!)

Victorian Opera’s Sweeney Todd is playing at the Playhouse in The Arts Centre until July 25, 2015. Tickets from $50, bookings via http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/sweeney-todd

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Manila Street Productions Presents SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM

Musings of the man on his music

By Bradley Storer

With Sondheim on Sondheim, Manilla Street Productions assembles a star-studded cast to perform a revue of Broadway’s most prolific living composer, an evening of Stephen Sondheim’s music intercut with projections of the man himself with a variety of anecdotes and details relating to his life and song-writing. Among the cast were leading lady of Australian music theatre Lucy Maunder, Rob Guest, Endowment winner Blake Bowden, Martin Crewes, Delia Hannah, Michael Cormick, Lisa-Marie Parker, Anton Berezin and Australian theatre legend Nancye Hayes.

Sondheim on Sondheim

The structure of the show itself, songs and scenes from Sondheim’s oeuvre presented alongside exclusive interviews with the composer himself, is problematic – none of the songs can gain enough momentum to hold the audience before they are interrupted by snatches of interviews, and thus the flow of the evening drags. Sondheim himself is a charming and engaging presence onscreen, and hearing him speak on various topics is one of the joys of the performance. By the second act, the portions of Sondheim’s interview are more smartly dispersed alongside longer numbers which allow some much-needed momentum, leading to wonderful group songs like the self-parodying ‘God’, ‘Opening Doors’, ‘The Gun Song’ and ‘Smile Girls!, an Ethel Merman number cut from Gypsy.

The all-star cast seemed surprisingly tentative, too unsure to invest themselves in their individual numbers enough to perform a ‘star turn’ – which unfortunately is what revues such as this need to stay afloat. Maunder’s Act Two strip tease, ‘Ah, But Underneath’, was the closest the evening came to a show-stopper and allowed Maunder (who earlier delivers a touching performance of ‘Take Me to the World’) to unleash scintillating dance skills and charismatic sexuality, but was undercut by the entrance of the male ensemble and an oddly dissatisfying climax to the number. One of the greatest moments of the evening was the simplicity of watching Hayes grabbing a stool and taking centre stage to sing with heart-breaking simplicity the famous ‘Send in the Clowns’.

The orchestra, under the capable direction of Kellie Dickerson, were in great form, performing the new arrangements with great zest and skill – one mistake however was the choice of a slower tempo for the explosive ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc.’, a show-stopper that requires manic and frenetic energy to work, leaving Crewes’ valiant attempt to deliver the number underwhelming.

Sondheim on Sondheim unfortunately fails to deliver on the promise of its incredible cast and rich material, finding only moments here and there which capture the deep well of emotion and beauty within’s Sondheim work – the show itself has structuring issues which certainly don’t help the creative team and need more time and finesse to overcome.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, corner of Southbank Boulevard and Sturt St.
Date: Saturday 23rd May, 2015
Time: 2pm & 7:30pm
Tickets: A Reserve – $69, $59 Concession, B Reserve – $59, $55 Concession
Booking: www.melbournerecitalcentre.com.au, 03 9699 3333, at the box office.