Tag: Brent Trotter

Groaning Dam Productions Presents NED: A NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL IN CONCERT

Musically stunning

By Bradley Storer

It had been a wonderful week for Australian music theatre, with a limited and critically acclaimed season of Jon English’s Paris and then a Melbourne remounting of the new original musical Ned after a successful Bendigo premiere just over two years ago. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, but it can be safely said that both make a brilliant case for the vitality and necessity of new Australian musical theatre works.

Ned The Musical.jpg

Ned tells the story of the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) bushranger from childhood to his death by hanging, and the book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre firmly takes the view of Kelly as a good, honourable man driven to extremes by injustice and government  corruption. The opening choral number sets up the evening as an interrogation of the legend and the ambiguous figure at its centre.

Nelson Gardner brings a loveable larrikin-quality and charisma to the central role, making it easy to sympathize with him and the hardships we witness him first suffer and then rebel against. The first act grounds us in the reality of living in nineteenth-century Australia, and we’re allowed to witness the close and loving bonds between family and friends that will soon be stretched and torn apart.

As in Paris, we are treated to a veritable feast of young Australian talent amongst the cast of Ned. Robert Tripolino, Brent Trotter and Connor Crawford are fantastic as the trio of friends who along with Ned are drawn into conflict with the law, and their voices meld beautifully in the lyrical “White Dove”. Alana Trater and Hannah Frederickson are wonderfully girlish and infectious in their playful chemistry before bleak events force them into maturity, Trater in particularly growing in gravitas before unleashing the shattering “No Way Back” in the family’s darkest hour.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the meek police officer Fitzpatrick, whose initial kind nature tips over into bitterness and violence, is adorably awkward and well-meaning and manages the character’s slide into darkness with palpable pathos. Anchoring the entire cast (and quite possibly the whole show) is Penny Larkins as Ellen, the matriarch of the Kelly family – grounding the character with determined optimism and joy, Larkins traverses the biggest arc of the show as Ellen watches one by one her family taken to prison, ending up there herself to protect her children and comforting her son in his last moments. When Ellen is pressured by the police in the second act to give up the location of Ned’s gang, Larkins unsheathes the steel hidden beneath the surface in the defiant “My Son”, almost bringing their audience to their feet mid-show roaring with applause.

Adam Lyon’s score is dazzling throughout, managing to find its own uniquely Australian identity in its sound, and under the masterful hand of musical director and conductor Kellie Dickerson every moment of music was truly epic.

The only criticism that could be levelled would be at the book – while the show’s dedication to exploring and individuating all the central characters is wonderful, it comes at the cost of losing focus on Ned as the centre of the piece. Oddly, Ned himself only has two solo numbers throughout the entire show, and while the optimistic and yearning “Hope of Australia” is a brilliant song at the beginning of Ned’s journey there is sadly not much besides dialogue with other characters to define the later stages of his trajectory. Director Gary Young did a stellar job of staging this piece in a concert setting, but on the night the second act of Ned felt slightly weaker than the first. This was quite possibly because of the long stretches of dialogue that would play more strongly in a fully-staged production, but in a concert tended to drag down momentum.

These small criticisms aside, Ned more than proved itself worthy of national attention and development, and we can only hope this piece receives the funding and further opportunities to grow it deserves – with time, Ned could be THE great Australian musical.

Venue: National Theatre, St Kilda

Time: 7:30pm

Date: Monday 17th July

Image by Marty Williams

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StageArt Presents SPRING AWAKENING

Ambitious take on audacious musical

By Bradley Storer

Spring Awakening, the rock musical which first revolutionized the modern conception of musical theatre over ten years ago on Broadway, is a strange beast – the text derived from Frank Wedekind’s controversial late-ninteenth-century play, combined with contemporary rock/pop/folk songs composed by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater that are specifically designed to stand apart from and explore the action of the plot rather than to advance it as in traditional music theatre. Resolving this division between the music and text requires strong direction and a conceptual framework that can bridge these two elements.

Spring Awakening.jpg

Director Robbie Carmellotti has made big and bold offers with this production, and I thoroughly respect and applaud his efforts in exploring new pathways to interpret a modern classic. However, elements of this production did not fully succeed: the decision to have characters play their own instruments at different points (which all but vanished by the second act) didn’t add anything in particular to the meaning or understanding of the show – the central conceit of nineteenth-century German school children morphing into teen rock stars is already so strong on its own that it doesn’t need this addition. The appearance of handheld microphones as part of this overall metaphor, while an inherent part of this show, becomes overused in this production and feels forced into several unnecessary moments. The decision to have the cast speak their dialogue in German accents and to sing in American accents, which again I appreciate as an attempt to underline the distance between the characters and their inner ‘rock stars’, is unfortunately undermined by a lack of consistent accents across the entire cast. And finally, the re-orchestration of Sheik’s music at certain points deadened the impact of this vital and pulse-raising score, the loss of electric guitar in ‘The Bitch of Living’ turning the number into a country-fied hoedown that lacks the energy and guts of the original.

Brent Trotter is wonderful as Moritz, the anxiety-riddled schoolboy who befalls a terrible fate, managing the character’s difficult journey with great emotion and a gorgeous contemporary voice. As Wendla, Jessie-Lou Yates works hard and tirelessly throughout, but feels slightly miscast in reading as too old to be a young girl undergoing puberty. Ashley Roussety as Melchoir, the closest the show has to a central character, has the opposite problem – he looks perfectly cast as the charismatic and fiercely intelligent protagonist and delivers a credible performance in the first act, and is particularly impressive in Zoee Marsh’s choreography for ‘The Mirror-Blue Night’. However, in the second act he begins to feel a little lost in the role as the story races to climax, losing the emotional impact of the tragic but hopeful conclusion.

The supporting cast, in contrast, are uniformly excellent. Henry Brett steals the entire show as the effete Hanschen, drawing raucous laughter in his two big scenes. Luisa Scrofani impressively shreds the bass guitar as she emotionally tears into the bleakness of ‘The Dark I Know Well’. Grace Browne shines as Thea, and Alice Batt plays both violin and the role of Anna beautifully. Olivia Solomons manages to effectively differentiate every one of her multitude of female adult characters, but sadly Barry Mitchell as her opposite is less successful as parts blur together with similar vocal tone and physicality. The entire ensemble offer up heart-touching loveliness in the complex choreography and choral harmonies of ‘Touch Me’, one of the production’s stronger moments, and showcasing some stunning riffing from Jordan Mahar as Georg.

While this production may have its problems, StageArt should be commended for their commitment to offering contemporary and challenging musicals, and the entire creative team and cast congratulated for attempting a new approach to this much-loved and ground-breaking piece.

Dates: 19 May -10 June

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.

Times: Wed – Sun 7:30pm, Matinee Sat & Sun 1.30pm, Sun 21st May 4pm

Prices: $49 – $79

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au, (03) 8290 7000, at the venue box office.