Tag: Chapel Off Chapel

Review: Bright Star

A compelling story, anchored by powerful performances

By Bradley Storer

‘Bright Star’, the critically acclaimed Broadway/country musical composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, makes its Australian premiere under the helm of company Pursued by Bear and it is easy to see why this piece has rapidly become beloved by audiences. Director Mark Taylor has crafted a strong production stacked with wonderful talent that show off the virtues of this musical to maximum effect.

The story follows two parallel narratives – a young soldier (Callum O’Malley) returns from World War II to his hometown in the American South and sets off to become a writer, while the authoritative newspaper editor (Kala Gare) who takes him under her wing relives her own wild youth and the events that have led her where she is. Running underneath these intertwining stories is a refreshing score combining country, bluegrass and gospel brought to roaring life by the band assembled for this production.

O’Malley is charming and bright as the young writer Billy Cane, radiating good natured innocence throughout. Sarah Krndija as Margo, the book store clerk who is not so secretly in love with Billy, is effusive and sweet at the same time she nails every comedic undercurrent of their relationship. Ellie Nunan and Lachie Hewson as the newspaper staff are a hilarious duo peppering the emerging friendship between Cane and their editor Alice Murphy with acerbic zingers. The ensemble around them flow seamlessly and skilfully in and out of multiple characters, changing sets and eras fluidly (aided by lovely choreography from Freya List) as the story moves back and forth through time.

While the entirety of the cast is excellent, it is truly Kala Gare in the role of editor Alice Murphy who emerges as the ‘bright star’ of the title. From her first step on the stage her velvet but powerful voice tenderly and thrillingly strokes the opening notes of the bluegrass music, hooking the audience immediately. Alice’s journey across the show is emotionally gigantic, encompassing youthful exuberance, first love, tragedy, painful regret and joyous rediscovery, with Gare making every step of the way ring true. After winning turns in ‘Rent’ and ’50 Shades of Grey: The Musical’, Gare fully comes into her own as a leading lady of musical theatre with this performance.

A compelling and emotional story, anchored by unique music and a powerful performance at its centre, ‘Bright Star’ offers an unmissable experience for all fans of modern musical theatre.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Lt Chapel St, Prahran

Dates: 25th Oct – 3rd November

Times: Mon – Wed 7pm, Thurs – Sat 8pm, Sunday 5pm

Price: $55 – $69

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au or 03 8920 7000 or at the box office

Photography courtesy of Fon Photography

Review: The Beautiful Game

Theatricalised slice of Irish Troubles

By Owen James

Amidst the madness of Fringe, independent company Manilla Street Productions are presenting a rarely-performed Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical about the lives of a football team wrestling with pride and confrontation during ‘The Troubles’. This is a high-quality production of material that I found at times unfulfilling and disjointed, but full kudos to Manilla Street Productions for choosing to tackle this little-known show.

Lloyd-Webber’s score is nothing groundbreaking, but suitably serves the emotional elements of the story. Though rife with generic and poorly-written lyrics that hinder potential character development, there are beautiful ballads and dynamic ensemble numbers peppered throughout. The book by respected veteran writer Ben Elton is at its best when tackling the darker themes stewing beneath these characters’ lives, crafting moments of emotion that are deeply affecting.

Director/producer Karen Jemison has brought the world of 1969 Belfast to life with evident understanding of the political and religious thunderstorm these conflicted young men are swallowed by. It is this ongoing conflict – both in their heads and on the streets – that is at the heart of The Beautiful Game, where you either take a side, or someone will choose one for you. Jemison has injected the production with a realistic sense of energy and danger that makes for compelling, engaging character work.

Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook is seamlessly integrated into blocking, executed by an ensemble at the top of their game (no pun intended). A football match dissolves into a competitive, masculine dance sequence and out again in a West Side Story-esque blend of athleticism and choreographic metaphor. Daniele Buatti’s expert musical direction embraces the tender Irish melodies and rousing, chanted anthems of Lloyd-Webber’s score with vivacity and concentrated delicacy.

Stephen Mahy brings innocence and vulnerability to ambitious footballer John Kelly. This is a great vehicle for Mahy’s talents, his versatile voice gliding over difficult high melodies with ease – Mahy can sing anything. Stephanie Wall has crafted a detailed character in love interest Mary, and executes a perfect rendition of heartfelt, part-acapella ballad ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’.

David Meadows is a standout as Father O’Donnell, bringing gravitas and humour to this commanding but compassionate man, and finding depth in scenes both celebratory and devastating. Des Flanagan as bitter, turbulent Thomas carries the character’s complicated arc with building intensity in a delightfully intimidating and exceptional performance.

Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco is superb, highlighting crisp and clean vocals and every note from the nine-piece band. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has once again transformed the intimate Chapel into a colourful paradise, creating menacing alleyways, rowdy pubs, hotel rooms and bright football ovals, all with distant, twinkling Irish hues hanging over every desperate character’s decision.

The material is undoubtedly imbued with heart and passion, but does not always connect its serious and comedic elements in a believable manner, creating a sometimes confusing dichotomy of tone. The extremely strong cast and production team of Manilla Street have played to the show’s many strengths with a very faithful, polished presentation – audiences will undoubtedly relish the professional performances and quality of this production. I cannot wait to see what Manilla Street bring us next.

Running at Chapel Off Chapel until 29th September
Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/the-beautiful-game/

 

 

Review: ‘Night, Mother

A balanced of light, shade and reams of texture

By Ross Larkin

One could be forgiven for hesitating at the prospect of a two-hander, set in real time, staged in one act, and all about suicide. It sounds gruelling for the audience and more gruelling for the actors. And it is – intensely so. However, it’s also not to be missed.

Marsha Norman’s daring and brutal piece makes no apologies for its subject matter. Right off the bat, middle-aged divorcee, Jessie, reveals, quite calmly to her ageing mother Thelma, with whom she resides, that she’s decided to take her own life, and plans to do so later the same evening. 

What ensues is an emotional minefield of denial, fear, rage, nostalgia and revelation as the pair unpack Jessie’s reasoning and Thelma tries every approach she can muster to talk her daughter out of it. 

Aside from desperate and harrowing, ‘Night, Mother is a fascinating character study, enhanced by the fact that Jessie is level-headed and contented with her decision. This is offset by Thelma’s spiral into despair as she tackles every stage of grief in the space of 90 minutes.

It’s a tall order for the most capable of creatives to undertake, and thankfully, Iron Lung Theatre succeeds in dealing with the content intelligently and thoroughly. 

Imperative that such a dialogue heavy piece set in one location find all the right emotional beat changes, subtext and layers, director Briony Dunn fleshes these out for the most part, particularly in the final third of the piece when the tension really starts to wreak havoc. 

As the troubled Jessie, Esther van Doornum brings a beautiful subtlety to a role, which, in the wrong hands, might risk an overly depressive portrayal, but van Doornum hits the mark with her matter-of-fact, often peaceful resolution, only letting tinges of sadness emerge at the most poignant moments.

Caroline Lee as Thelma has her work cut out for her in a heavily demanding role that requires a plethora of intense emotional states, and she does a fine job where many an actor might struggle.

‘Night, Mother may not be for the faint hearted, but it’s every bit engrossing and rewarding in a rare instance where extremely heavy content is balanced with light, shade and reams of texture. Iron Lung’s version of it is definitely worth seeking out.

‘Night, Mother is playing now at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran until August 17. Tickets are available online at www.chapeloffchapel.com.au or by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photography by Pia Johnson

Boyslikeme Presents NEXT FALL

Fine performances in fragile love story

By Myron My

Being in love is never easy. Geoffrey Naufft’s Next Fall tells the story of Adam and Luke, a gay couple who begin a relationship spawning five years before tragedy strikes when Luke is hit by a car. Opening with Luke’s friends, family and Adam gathering at a hospital waiting room to hear news on his outcome, the story flashes back to various moments in the lives of both Adam and Luke and those closest to them.

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Each flashback builds on 40-year-old Adam’s (Darrin Redgate) frustration over where his life is heading, and Luke’s (Mark Davis) attempts to reconcile his sexuality with his Christian faith. Redgate does a capable job as the neurotic candle-seller who seems to be subconsciously attempting to self-sabotage his chances at ever finding happiness, even when it’s staring at him right in the face. Davis evokes a naive self-assuredness in Luke with regards to his dogmatic beliefs, but he is also able to bring out a warmth and kindness to him as his relationship with Adam grows.

Kaarin Fairfax simultaneously brings fragility and strength to Arlene, Luke’s mother. A touching scene between her and Adam displays Fairfax’s ability to convey the deep emotions her character is feeling without resorting to overt dramatics. Sharon Davis as Holly delivers a solid performance as the supportive friend for both Adam and Luke, with her subtle comedic timing allowing us to momentarily forget the impending tragedy.

Unfortunately I felt Paul Robertson‘s performance as Luke’s homophobic father Butch needed further development in allowing us to understand the nuances of the character. Throughout the story Luke has an intense fear of his father finding out about his sexuality – and yet nothing eventuates from this, even when Butch comes across Adam and Luke during a moment of intimacy, which I found very unsatisfying. Similarly, the character of Brandon (James Biasetto) in this production feels more like an outsider looking in and even during his flashback scene with Adam, Brandon doesn’t reveal anything to the audience that we are not already aware of.

Peter Blackburn takes care in his direction to not rush the story and otherwise allows the characters and their relationships time to develop organically. The set design by James Lew is interesting in that it suggests that the past and present are inextricably linked, however the set changes where an actor appears in the waiting room for a few seconds for no other purpose than to give time for the crew to prepare the stage for the next scene feel very much like filler rather than substance.

While religion and getting old are major themes explored in Next Fall, it is ultimately a touching love story between two people. As such, Naufft’s script may be a formulaic play with no real surprises, but the dedicated performances from this cast are what turn this production into a story worth sharing.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Season: until 30 July | Wed – Sat 8:00pm, Sun 5:00pm
Tickets: $39.50 Full | $29.50 Conc
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

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

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.

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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.

Flourish Presents LET IT BE: THE SONGS OF LENNON & McCARTNEY

New shows added by popular demand

By Narelle Wood

In this ‘one night only’ performance Flourish Productions showcases a range of songs from the legendary songwriting combination of Lennon and McCartney.

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The eight-singer ensemble treated us to a vast array of classics from the more clean-cut era with the likes of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to the more experimental “Strawberry Fields”. There were a combination of ensemble performances, duets and solos, supported by the extremely talented creative director Drew Downing on the piano and an exceptionally tight and talented band (Max Koenig, Bryan Bowen, Dave Banen and Paul Congdon). The band by themselves would have made for a spectacular performance, especially with some killer solos on the saxophone and guitar provided by Koenig and Banen respectively.

That is not to say the vocals weren’t spectacular themselves. There were many highlights including the ensemble performances of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” and a stunning interpretation of “With A Little Help From My Friends”, which started with eight-part a cappella harmony, highlighting just how talented this group are. There were also some standouts solos, including Tyson Legg‘s haunting rendition of  “So This Is Christmas”, Vidya Makan‘s funky version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Jess Fairlie‘s ‘dirty’ performance of “Let’s Get Together”. One of my favourite performances of the night was Makan and Ana Mitsikas‘s duet of “Ticket to Ride”, providing a funky jazz piano accompaniment as well as the smooth vocals. Overall though, for me, it was Fairlie who stole the show with a powerful and enigmatic performance of “Hey Jude”.

There were a couple of things I wasn’t a fan of: there seemed to be a lot of erroneous  microphone-swapping and some of the backup movements and choreography was a little cheesy. There were a few interpretations of the songs that I weren’t keen on; they didn’t quite match my expectations. Jack Lyall‘s teenage angst take on Yesterday didn’t work for me, yet his performances in the more gritty rock style numbers were fantastic. It was clear the ensemble have a range of experience and there were some that are still finding their performance feet.

Nitpicking aside, the night was fantastic, the show was sold out and the audience were singing and dancing along in their chairs. The diversity of ages in the audience were a testament to the timelessness of Lennon and McCartney’s work, and the applause at the end a testament to the quality of the show. While Let it Be was supposed to a one night only performance, there are now two more shows scheduled. If you want to treat yourself to tickets, and I suggest you do, do so quickly as I expect there will be many people keen to attend these encores.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel, Prahran

Season: 29th April 3pm & 8pm

Price: $35 full $30 Concession $25 Child

Tickets: chapeloffchapel.com.au phone 03 8290 7000