Tag: Cameron Thomas

Watch This Presents MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Fine performances in a challenging musical

By Bradley Storer

Merrily We Roll Along, currently being presented by Watch This at the MTC, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved scores but was regarded in its original Broadway incarnation as a critical and commercial flop. Part of this is due to the challenging structure of the show, moving backwards in time to unravel the complexities of the characters depicted, but also since we begin with the central character at his most morally corrupt it can be hard to generate sympathy for him.

WatchThis Productions

As this character, Franklin Shephard, Lyall Brooks faces an uphill battle trying to make him sympathetic. He acts and sings the part very well, but feels stronger as the older Frank more than the younger one. Nelson Gardner is charmingly nerdy and goofy as Charley, bringing wonderful physical comedy to the role. Completing the central trio in the role of Mary is Nicole Melloy, and she is so brilliantly funny and heart-breakingly transparent in every moment that it feels like the role could have been written for her – watching her in the part makes a compelling case that the show’s central journey is actually Mary’s instead of Frank’s.

Sophie Weiss as Beth ably handles the show’s biggest ballad, ‘Not A Day Goes By’, and her character’s transition from a haunted and heart-broken woman to the sunny naivety of youth. As the famous Broadway star Gussie, Cristina D’Agostino nails her big dance number but doesn’t manage to find the humanity under the glamourous façade, directed to play the character so over the top that it comes off a caricature. The ensemble, playing a wide variety of characters across the twenty-year time lapse, are marvellous with too many standout moments to recount here, and their united voices as they sing ‘Our Time’ are a truly beautiful conclusion to the evening.

Sara Grenfell’s direction and staging feels slightly confused which is a problem with a show such as this where there is already a complex structure, and the minimalistic set (consisting mainly of a large staircase and a set of curtains) tends to blur the scenes together. Cameron Thomas does a wonderful job as the sole musician in this production, and while it is lovely to hear the voices of the cast and ensemble unamplified in the space, the score loses much of its potential power when played only on the piano.

While not entirely successful on all fronts, the collection of strong performances and Sondheim’s magnificent score make this new production of Merrily a worthwhile visit.

Venue: The Lawler Studio, Melbourne Theatre Company, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne VIC

Dates: 29th June – 15th July

Times: Tues – Sat 7:30pm

Prices: $39 – $49

Bookings: 8688 0800, MTC tickets online

Image by Jodie Hutchinson 

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REVIEW: Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala 2015

Glorious beginnings for another promising festival

By Bradley Storer

This year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala, keeping with the festival theme of ‘Keeping it Fresh’, took place at St Kilda’s new Alex Theatre, with excerpts from fresh new festival acts from all over Australia.

Melbourne Cabaret Festival

Dolly Diamond provided a lovely opening to the show, passing through the audience offering roses while singing a charming medley of tunes from ‘Oliver!’, accompanied by Cameron Thomas, and introduced our host for the evening – musical theatre performer and former Australian Idol finalist Rob Mills. Mills, admitting it to be his first gig as an MC, was a charming and competent host throughout the evening, even having to strike the stage and bring out props with enthusiasm and energy.

Annie Lee shed her usual garb as the eldest of the acclaimed Kransky Sisters to deliver both a touch of glamour and gawky physical comedy to the little-known poetry of the Weimar era in excerpts from her show ‘Lighthouse Berlin’. The Strange Bedfellows, Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen, stormed the stage to deliver contemporary Weimar-style cabaret with jaw-dropping vocal power and charisma, traversing such territory as a German-language version of ‘Tainted Love’, a new number based around the misdeeds of Rolf Harris all the way to Amanda Palmer’s gutsy anthem for humanity ‘Sing’.

Winner of the Your Theatrics International Cabaret Competition, Noni McCallum, took to the stage next and proved beyond doubt the reason for her win – a ballsy belt with a dry, self-deprecating wit, McCullum narrated the humours of dating past age 30 before ending with the simultaneously hilariously and surprisingly touching ‘Ikea Song’. A capella groups Ginger and Tonic and Suade showcased their trademark exquisite harmonies combined with witty and risqué songwriting, providing viewpoints on the modern dating scene from both feminine and masculine perspectives. Closing the night were the Queens of the City, a drag group whose members entertained the audience with sassy banter, Cher-impersonation and stunning contemporary pop vocals.

The wide variety on show at the Gala aptly displays the variety and breadth of talent, both local and international, that Melbourne Cabaret Festival draws year after year and which bodes well for the festival’s future in years to come.

Date: June 18th, 2015
Venue: The Alex Theatre, 1/135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda

REVIEW: Stage Art Presents IN THE HEIGHTS

Exhilarating

By Bradley Storer

Melbourne music theatre company Stage Art score a major win this year with the Australian premiere of In the Heights, the musical which opened on Broadway in 2008 and introduced the world to the lives and vibrancy of the urban Latin community in New York City.

In the Heights_Photo Credit Belinda Strodder

This fresh and modern approach to music theatre is cemented in the opening image, a spectacular hip -hop combination from Graffiti Pete (Peter Sette), as well as the musical’s titular opening number which combines extensive rap and lush Latino music and Salsa rhythms that, under the musical direction of Cameron Thomas, throbs with energy and passion. The incredibly talented ensemble handle Yvette Lee‘s complex and pyrotechnic choreography with astonishing ease, although the group numbers tended to blur together towards the end of Act One before roaring back to life in ‘The Club’ sequence.

The cast as a whole should be congratulated, delivering strong performances on nearly every front. Stephen Lopez as Usnavi, the emotional centre and sometimes narrator of the show, brings both charisma and an adorable awkwardness to the role, as well as amazing vocal dexterity and diction in Usnavi’s many rap-based streams of consciousness. As his love interest Vanessa, Bianca Baykara showed off thrilling vocal power and confident dancing, but seemed a little unsure of herself in the role at times. Anna Armenia as Nina had an inexhaustible belt and a sweet stage presence, and James Elmer as Benny made a comic masterpiece out of ‘Benny’s Dispatch’ as well as revealing a lovely pop tenor voice in the character’s more romantic moments with Nina.

Francesca Arena was stunning in the role of Abuela Claudia, the grandmotherly figure who embodies the strength and determination of the Washington Heights community – her tour-de-force story of her journey from her home country, ‘Pacienca y Fé’, was an Act One highlight, Arena unleashing roof-shaking vocals and a gospel-like intensity. Laura Marcucci owned the stage as Daniela, the ballsy local salon owner, in the gossipy ‘No Me Diga’ and as the rousing ring leader of ‘Carnival del Barrio’. Andrew Doyle was cheeky and heart-warming as the frenetic Sonny, Usnavi’s shop assistant.

Director James Cutler and the entire creative team should be incredibly proud of this show and bringing this wonderful story to our shores, which even on opening night had the audience almost leaping to their feet in pure exhilaration and joy.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.
Date: 18 February – 8 March
Time: 7:30 Tuesday – Sunday, 2pm Matinee Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: A Reserve $59 Full, $55 Concession / B Reserve $49 Full, $45 Concession
Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au , Phone: 03 8290 7000, Email: chapel@stonnington.vic.gov.au , at the door.

Image by Belinda Strodder.

REVIEW: Left Bauer Productions Presents MASTER CLASS

Intimate and involving theatre

By Bradley Storer

Terrence McNally’s Master Class, a play about the life of Greek opera singer Maria Callas whose artistry and career revolutionised the landscape of 20th century opera, comes to fortyfivedownstairs with the brilliant Maria Mercedes as the tragic diva.

Master Class

The intimate theatre space at fortyfivedownstairs is perfect for the play set as a masterclass in the twilight of Callas’s career, the era signalled effectively by the 70’s fashion worn by the cast. Mercedes enters the room with an air of quiet authority, an iron fist wrapped in silk, taking charge of the stage and the accompanist (Cameron Thomas) in short order. Mercedes is the embodiment of the word ‘diva’ – narcissistic, commanding and uncompromising but with such charisma and a depth of artistic integrity that it is easier to see how this figure still fascinates today. Mercedes manages to find the undercurrents of charm, self-deprecation and kindness in the character which also make her surprisingly likeable.

The three students who Callas teaches over the course of the play are all equally as brilliant – Robert Barbaro as the sole male participant Tony brings a potent masculine swagger and a heart-meltingly beautiful tenor to the role. Anna-Louise Cole as Sharon, the only student with the guts to stand up to the opera superstar, radiates a subdued determination which rises to the surface as she faces off against Callas – her dramatic soprano is showcased to jaw-dropping effect in an tremendously difficult aria from Verdi’s Macbeth. The best of the lot is Georgia Wilkinson as Sophie, a bubbly coloratura soprano, and Wilkinson plays her so winningly that it is hard to take your eyes off her, even when she is simply standing side stage observing Callas.

As she watches her students singing roles she herself made famous, Callas is drawn into internal monologues of operatic proportions, brutally delving into the depths of her poverty-stricken childhood, her ill-fated love affair with Aristotle Onassis, the demons of self-doubt, bitterness and adolescent insecurity which swirl into implosive arias of painful triumph and gut-wrenching loss.

At the end of the master class, Callas stands alone, reflecting to the audience on the simultaneous joy and loneliness of a life devoted to art, saying that she will be satisfied if she has had an effect on even a single person – it’s hard to imagine how anyone could leave this masterfully directed play without feeling affected by the soul of this great artist.

Venue: 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 19 – 28th August
Times: Tuesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 4:30pm and 8pm, Sunday 4:30
Tickets: Full $38, Concession $30, Under 30’s $30, Groups (10+) $30, Preview $30
Bookings: Phone – 03 9662 9966, Online at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

REVIEW: Melbourne Cabaret Festival’s CLOSING GALA

Olympians, Oprah and marriage equality in fabulous festival finale

By Bradley Storer

The stars of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival joined together at Ormond Hall on the festival’s closing night to raise funds for and support the cause for Marriage Equality.

Tara Minton, a British-based Australian harpist and singer, played selections from her festival show about the songs of Joni Mitchell, enchanting with her ethereal arrangements of ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Smitten’ and a voice that combined delicacy with a surprising power. Karin ‘Danger’ Muiznieks showed off the breadth of her range (as well as a dead on Piaf impression) in a tune that summarised the highs and lows of the Festival accompanied by Cameron Thomas.

Jon Jackson astonished the audience with his incredible range in an Etta James classic and a heartfelt song about the joys of marriage and children (made all the poignant by Jackson’s remarks about the inability to marry his partner of fifteen years). Cabaret diva Tina del Twist (the drag alter-ego of Wes Snelling) took to the stage with an imaginary back up band, crooning snatches of songs in a voice of spine-tingling power, in between bouts of wandering the stage in an absent-minded haze that felt like a three-act play in itself!

After intermission international drag cabaret star Spanky re-opened proceedings with some rock’n’roll sexiness as she sauntered through the crowd, accompanied by guitarist Robert Tripolino, before stunning with the Madonna tune ‘Revolver’ from his 2012 Green Room award-winning show Candice McQueen. Jazz chanteuse Jade Leonard took to the stage with her self-penned gay anthem ‘Equal Love’ before announcing her engagement to drag performer Art Simone (also present on the night) and inviting the audience to their nuptials at the next Equal Love Rally.

Matthew Mitcham as MC for the evening charmed with a ukulele mash-up of Kylie tunes for his opening, and guided the rest of the event with awkwardly adorable enthusiasm. This being a fundraiser for marriage equality Mitcham played to certain elements of the crowd, performing an impromptu striptease to ‘Barbie Girl’ (accompanied on the harp by Minton) which I’m sure left half the audience with spontaneous pregnancy. Later he showed off more of his… ahem… ‘assets’… during the auction which raised prices significantly!

Closing Gala

The night closed with a special guest performance by Oprah (played by Rachel Dunham), fresh from her Melbourne Cabaret season in Oprahfication, who regaled us with tales of starting out as a young black woman in television and bringing the house down with a voice that shook the rafters.

An incredible end to one of Australia’s fastest growing festivals, displaying the phenomenal talent on offer every year.

 Venue: Ormond Hall, 557 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Date: 7th July 2013

Time: 7:45pm

Review: KARIN DANGER’s Hot Box

Making up as she goes – with make up!

By Jessica Cornish

Last night I journeyed to The Butterfly Club at its new inner city location to – er – enter into Karin Danger’s Hot Box… The award-winning musical comedian presented a mix of cleverly written songs and banter throughout the 50 minute cabaret performance for MICF.

Hot Box

Karin has a terrific voice, and belted out some impressive notes with great force and control. Her original songs were animated and well-presented, and some of the lyrics were both clever and intriguing.

However, her dialogue between the musical numbers unfortunately seemed to fall flat most of the time. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the show was about. Her banter was rather confusing and jumped from idea to idea, whilst she sporadically smeared on another layer of makeup, or completed one of many costume changes.

That said, there was definitely a strange audience dynamic for her performance last night. The audience on one side of the room sat almost in silence throughout the entire show, whilst three or four people howled with laughter throughout the evening on the other side of the divide. Unfortunately I was on the quieter side of the room that didn’t quite seem to get the night.

Karin Danger was accompanied throughout by excellent pianist Cameron Thomas. Initially he appeared to be more like the backing track rather than a part of the performance; however he turned out to be quite a colourful character, providing the show with some extra energy.

Reflecting on this festival show, I appreciate that the cabaret comedy of Hot Box is a safe place where Karin can and others are invited to laugh at themselves. Like her show itself, it was clearly when performing her witty songs Karin was most comfortable with herself and us, and could be happy in her own skin – despite the odd imperfection here and there.

When:  April 09- 21, Tue-Wed 8pm, Thu-Sat 9pm, Sun 8pm

Where: The Butterfly Club, Carson Place (Off Little Collins St) CBD

Cost: Full $23 & Conc $20

Booking: Ticketmaster, at the venue 9690 2000, thebutterflyclub.com, at the door

REVIEW: StageArt Presents HAIR

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius! With these famous words I experienced the ‘new age’ movement of StageArt’s production of Hair at Chapel Off Chapel.

Hair

From the second you walk into the venue, you feel like you have transported back in time with hippies scattered throughout the space and mingling – in character – with the audience. These guys don’t just break the fourth wall: they smash right through it! There are many moments where the cast runs into the audience singing their songs, speaking directly to us and generally including us in the show. Costume designer Hazel Green has also perfectly encapsulated the essence of the era with her pieces for the cast.

The level of energy the cast had and maintained throughout Hair was quite phenomenal. During the rousing final number of Let The Sun Shine In, I could hear the breathlessness of some of the performers as they stood beside me having given the song all they had.

The other stand-out numbers would have to be the famous Aquarius, Hair as wonderfully performed by Ashley Rousetty and Sam Kitchen and What A Piece of Work Is Man sung brilliantly by Mitchell Sanfillipo and Gina Mets. However, and this is my main qualm with the show, the sound production was not up to scratch. There were moments throughout where it became difficult to hear what was being sung or spoken as the mics would drop in and out.

With eighteen performers and a brilliant five-piece band – led by musical director Cameron Thomas – on stage the whole time you would be right to assume that it is a large space. Upon inspecting the stage and seeing that it is in fact a very tight place I appreciated how much precision and care was needed for the choreography to work and the level of awareness the actors needed at all times.

Famously ending with that powerful final scene and its strong message regarding war which remains relevant in today’s society, you have two more weeks to “come to the orgy” that is Hair and revel in this wonderfully colourful, vibrant and trippy production.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran

Season: JAN 31st – FEB 17th, Wed – Sat 8pm,  Sat & Sun 2pm

Tickets: $46.50, $41.50 Conc

Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au