Tag: Chapel Off Chapel



By Joanna Simmons

Lyric Opera presents the first in its’ trio for the 2017 season, and Camille Saint Saens’ The Japanese Princess is a wonderful choice of work. Having never been performed in Australia; this one-act comic opera is accessible and excellent. The story is simple so the main feature is the music; played beautifully by the Lyric Chamber orchestra and sung by the experienced cast of three. It’s a treat for the ears, and with dialogue in English and subtitles for all the French Songs it defies any old notions that opera is dusty fat ladies warbling in foreign tongues for hours.

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We follow the story of Kornelis, an art student who becomes infatuated with all things Japanese, and much to his fiancée (and cousin in the libretto) Lena’s dismay, becomes obsessed with the portrait of a mysterious Japanese Princess, Ming (not a Japanese name.) Ming makes Lena question herself, her relationship and Kornelis’ sanity. The voluptuous orchestra ornately guides the story with a nod to the orient with songs with colourful language and robust emotions.

Lena, played by Kimberly Coleman (and alternated with Kate Macfarlane) was naturalistic and strong.  She plays up the comedy where needed and connects with the other players and the music. Robert Macfarlane as Cornelius’s (alternated with Hew Wagner) dulcet tenor tones were right on the money. I wish his acting was as strong, as there were a lot of comedic moments that could have been more detailed with facial expression and timing, and other moments that felt forced. Arisa Yura as Ming, is subtlely woven into the story and is captivating to watch. She dances skillfully with a fan, her delicate hands well placed; yet then does some turns and steps that break character and genre, which feels disjointed alongside the music and set.

The intricate set designed by Christina Logan Bell that feels like the inside of a Japanese fan or tea house, complete with tatami mats, is beautiful and memorable. It, combined with the well-plotted lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw, transports us to this wonderous other world. Lucy Wilkins’ costume design fits well with the set and the era, adding colour and beauty with Ming’s kimono, and a neutral- everyday feel to Cornelius and Lena. Director Miki Oikawa has tastefully bought this production out to be one that is accessible in our modern day, in partnership with artistic director and conductor Pat Miller, whose passion and knowledge is evident, and should be highly commended.

The part I loved the most about this show was the beginning, where Miller turned around from facing the orchestra and invited us to ensure that our phones weren’t going to disturb the performance, but encouraged us to use them, to share with people what we are doing, and push opera to become something that is spoken about, shared, liked, snapchatted, hashtagged and all. In our world of watching videos for 30 seconds before getting distracted, it can be difficult to produce theatre to challenge our palates whilst tickling them too. This show is engaging and enchanting, simple and satisfying for the ears and eyes.

Lyric Opera’s The Japanese Princess played at Chapel Off Chapel, 11-18 March, 2017

Image by Sarah Walker

Midsumma Festival 2017: ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS

Good celebrity siblings come in threes…

By Myron My

There are not too many people in the world who do not know who Kylie Minogue is. And the same could be said for her sister Dannii Minogue. But what about Erin Minogue? That’s right, the other, other Minogue sister who has also seeking her own piece of the fame pie. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma FestivalOn A Night Like This: The Erin Minogue Experience focuses on the youngest Minogue sibling who is given her moment to shine in this well-crafted and stylish comedy cabaret about the true story of a fictitious person.

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Written by Chris Gist and Paul Kooperman with Lizzie Moore (who also performs as Erin), we are taken through the decades of the Minogue sisters’ lives and it is revealed what Erin’s role in each significant moment was or what the reason was for her absence. When it comes to the case of Young Talent Time for example, while all three were originally booked to audition, Erin had a doctor’s appointment she had to go to due to her mother’s concern of her unusual growth spurt…

The stories within each period are entertaining funny with a great mix of songs from the Minogue sisters, including “This Is It” by Dannii and “I Believe In You” by Kylie. Accompanying Erin on stage is her sassy and talented pianist, D’Arren (like L’Oreal – aka Brad Rush), who also joins in for a few notable songs. Erin’s recollections are sharp and witty with some brilliant one-liners and apart from a slight drop during the 00’s period, the story is tight and told with a purpose.

Moore is engaging on stage and her animated re-telling of these natty narratives feels genuine and convincing, as if Erin actually was indeed there. And if her words are not believable enough, there is a slideshow throughout the show with clever photographic ‘evidence’. Just like the Minogues, Moore also has an impressive voice, whereupon she is able to take the sisters’ hits and – with some pleasing musical arrangements by Anthony Costanzo – make the songs her own.

So while Erin may not be as famous as her sisters or have their international success, she still has things to be proud of, such as getting to run her very own dance school, the Erin Minogue Fame School in Frankston… On A Night Like This is a fresh, fun and enjoyable cabaret show about reaching for the stars, even if they seem too far away.

On A Night Like This: The Erin Minogue Experience was performed at Chapel Off Chapel between 20 – 21 January 2017.

Image by Joel Devereux

Clock and Spiel Productions Presents THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

Better the devil you know

By Philip Edwards

C.S.Lewis is well known today for his series of seven novels for children Chronicles of Narnia, especially since some of the books have been made into very successful movies. But before that. he came to fame with his classic satirical masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, first published in February 1942.


Hailey McQueen (director, producer and writer) has brilliantly adapted the “Letters” to the stage in what is a most entertaining and engaging production. As a longtime lover of all of C.S.Lewis’ works, I was both greatly looking forward to this play and wondering how a series of letters could be made into a full-scale production. I was not disappointed. McQueen has not only presented the wonderful insights into human nature that Lewis is famous for, but she has managed to inject humour and fun into what could have been rather dry if handled differently. From the very outset the audience was captivated and enthusiastic.

The show opens with the demon Screwtape (Yannick Lawry) assisted by Toadpipe a lesser devil (George Zhao), addressing a gathering of junior tempters in Hell at the annual dinner of the Tempter’s Training College for Young Devils. This is part of a speech taken from “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”, Lewis’ 1959 sequel to the Letters which first appeared as an essay in the Saturday Evening Post.This was a clever move by McQueen as it serves to introduce the role of Screwtape as a master Tempter whose job is to guide his nephew, Wormwood, in his task of tempting a young man who is in danger of becoming a Christian.

From then on Screwtape dictates letters, addressed to Wormwood, via Toadpipe which are then sent by some fiendish mailing system (wonderful sound and lighting effects), whereupon a reply is received which prompts another letter. The process appears quite simple, but the added humorous antics of the somewhat dimwitted Toadpipe ensure that there is never a dull moment.

Lawry and Zhao are the only actors on stage, and they are both there for the entire 80-90 minutes of the performance without a break. Lawry delivers the text of the letters with great skill and fluency. His performance is flawless and I was awed by the dedication that was required to memorise practically the whole book.  Occasionally Screwtape allows Toadpipe (Zhao) to present a section of his letter to Wormwood, sometimes as a blackboard lecture,which has the whole audience laughing at full volume. Screwtape’s frustration with Toadpipe and his antics results in some quite violent treatment of the poor creature which are staged beautifully (at one point Toadpipe’s head is jammed in a stool) and provide a dynamic relief to the dictation phases of the presentation.  Toadpipe is clearly bored by his miserable existence and does a variety of crazy stunts to break the monotony of his life of servitude. Zhao excels in this role and is a delight to the whole audience.

The theatre was packed with people of all ages from twenty-something to eighty-something and we were completely engaged the whole time.   The whole production team is to be congratulated on a memorable and captivating show that has brought the brilliant wit and insights of C.S.Lewis to the stage and to even greater accessibility for a modern generation.

The music, sound and light effects when each letter is delivered are wonderful.  Adam Jones (music and sound design) and Ben Anshaw (lighting design) are to be commended, for what they did fitted the mood perfectly.  I particularly liked the little tune that tied the production together: it had the right balance of quirkiness and lightheartedness that kept the show from being a heavy “lecture”-type of production that could easily have occurred when presenting a series of letters.

If I have any complaint it would be that the season is not long enough.  I recommend that you do all that you can to get to see it before it ends this weekend.  Forget the Christmas shopping.  This is more important.

(If you do miss it in Melbourne it is moving to Canberra next week.  That’s not too far to drive!)

The Screwtape Letters is now on at The Loft Theatre, Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran until Saturday 17th December 2016.  Bookings: Ph. 03 8290 7000.  More information at: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au

RL Productions Presents REEFER MADNESS

Satirical cult show challenges modern audiences

By Myron My

Reefer Madness was originally a 1939 film intending to dissuade youth from smoking cannabis and highlighting the risks linked to this “pastime”. In 1999, Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney opened their musical version of the show in Los Angeles and 17 years later it is being presented by RL Productions, and the entire time watching, I’m sorry to confess I just kept wondering – why?

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While I understand the tongue-in-cheek humour and the satirical nature of the cult show, I simply cannot find any laughs in rape or domestic violence narratives. I will admit that I am not familiar with the film and unsure to what extent it makes these references, but stating women will be raped if they are stoned and watching a female character being physically and verbally assaulted by a male – and played for laughs – is not on. Yes, you can argue that it was in the musical’s book (from 1999), but these issues are so problematic for today’s audience that I felt this production needs to consider and address this in some way.

It is said that Murphy and Studney wrote the first song for Reefer Madness in under five hours, and for me, it shows. The lyrics are simple and obvious, and many of the songs themselves feel more like filler than actually showing us something more of the characters or situation. So “The Brownie Song”, “Romeo & Juliet “and “Lonely Pew” failed to engage me in any way, but that said, under the able musical direction of David Wisken, there are some great songs in there as well, including “The Orgy” and “Listen To Jesus, Jimmy”, in which the performance by Ed Deganos is just brilliant. The choreography by Yvette Lee is also quite noteworthy here and the use of the ensemble in all the musical pieces is well thought-out.

There are some scenes in Reefer Madness that are genuinely entertaining, such as when Jimmy takes his first hit and the penultimate scene in the reefer den. The intelligent direction by Stephen Wheat and lighting design by Jason Bovaird (in particular during the latter scene) was quite effective in creating some emotion from the drama and chaos that was being acted out.

The entire cast is full of energy and committed to their roles, but with all the characters being very one-dimensional I found myself struggling to care for them. Rosa McCarty however, as Mae, has some great moments on stage and manages to bring life to a character that could easily have become another cliché. James Cutler is also great as The Lecturer, bringing laughs to some very dry material with some comedic good timing and body language.

In 1999 Reefer Madness may have had its cult fans and garnered some favourable critical reviews, but for me, in 2016 – and in Australia – this is just a dated and troubled musical that has no redeeming history or context here. There are certainly some laughs to be had, but I was ultimately left mystified as to the reasons for choosing to put on such a show.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
4 December | 7:30pm Tue- Sat, 6pm Sun
Tickets: $49 Full | $55 Conc
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

StageArt Presents THE COLOR PURPLE

An unforgettable theatre experience

By Sally McKenzie

The emotional impact of Stageart’s The Color Purple is something so very special. It is a show that I have known about for a very long time, have owned the cast album, sung the songs and seen the movie. Not until tonight, however, have I realized how powerful this show really is.

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Most people know the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, which was later brought to life on stage by Oprah Winfrey – this time as producer. The story, beginning in the early 20th century, follows the story of ‘Celie’, an African-American woman in America’s south, facing a life of abuse by her father and husband and how she struggles to maintain her faith in God and humanity.

Jayme-Lee Hanekom is an absolute shining light in this superb production – from the moment she steps on stage in the very first scene as a very young Celie, singing with her sister to the mature woman who leads the whole cast in the spine-tingling finale. Hanekom is absolutely breathtaking in this role, and her vocals are equally as magnificent Along this journey I felt her pain, sorrow, heartache, anger, hatred, joy and the overwhelming love she had for her sister, Nettie (Anna Francesca Armenia) and Shug Avery (Thando Sikwila), and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one in tears.

Armenia was delightful in her role, radiating joy and hope in everything she did. She and Hanekom complemented each other perfectly. Sikwila thrived as Shug: her duet with Celie – ‘What About Love’ – was sublime. Their velvet voices blended like nothing I have heard before. They were born to sing together. Sikwila was equally as impressive belting out her song at the ‘juke joint’ – ‘Push The Button’.

Noelan Petero (as Doris), Sasha Hennequin (Darlene) and Anisha Senarante (Jarene) had just the right amount of ‘sass’ as the trio providing the social commentary/gossip as the story unfolded. Their harmonies together were also on point. Kendrew A. Heriveaux (Mister) was consistently strong in his role as Celie’s abusive husband. Vanessa Menjiva was definitely an audience-favourite as the strong-willed, tough female role-model , Sofia. As her husband Harpo, Iopu Auva played the perfect ‘second fiddle’ to Sofia. There are too many roles to mention here, but this is a show with no weak links. The ensemble was brilliant! Harmonies were well-executed and superbly balanced and blended.  Whether playing an evangelical parishioner, a worker on the farm, a native African in the Mission, each and every cast member was completely connected to their character and purpose for being part of that scene.

The set was simple but completely fitting for the staging of this production: nothing else was needed with performances from the cast so astonishingly good. Lighting was beautifully designed by Jason Bovaird and Maddy Seach, helping provide an apt frame for the intimacy of the story and the focus on the personal journey of Celie. Congratulations to director Robbie Carmelotti for his exemplary creative choices. Costumes by Rhiannon Irving were also simple, but appropriate for the period and status of each character. The brightness of the traditional African garments in the second half of the show was a fitting contrast.

Sound design (Marcello Lo Ricco) was exceptional, providing the perfect balance between band and cast. It was the richest and most heartfelt quality of sound I have experienced in this space. Musical direction by Caleb Garfinkel was well-executed.  With the music in this production clearly a highlight, Garfinkel certainly had his work cut out for him – masterfully balancing the leading of the band while also playing guitar and keyboard. Diction was not always clear, however – particularly amongst the singing from the female trio. This was partly due to the heavy accents required of them. I also worry about the female cast maintaining their voices. There is so much emotional belt in this show – which can definitely take its toll. Hopefully an informed vocal coach is on hand.

The Color Purple is showing at Chapel off Chapel from 15th October to 6th November. If the immediate standing ovation after tonight’s performance is anything to go by, this show is sure to be a sell-out. Don’t miss out! I have already booked my ticket to see it again.


Image by Belinda Stodder

Pursued By Bear Presents FIRST DATE

Crass, cluey, and relentlessly funny

By Amy Planner

That awkward blind date feeling should definitely be avoided at all costs, so when someone decides to dedicate a musical to it, there are bound to be a few uncomfortable and unfortunately relatable moments. Enter First Date: The Musical (book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) – this is the show dedicated to bringing those dreaded memories back and managing to make you both laugh and cry at them.

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When slightly nerdy blind date newbie Aaron (Jordan Mahar) is set up with tattoo-toting blind date veteran Casey (Rebecca Hetherington), their obvious differences make for an interesting and incredibly awkward first date. Along for the ride are a number of family members, potential children, ex-lovers and a best mate or two to give their albeit not always helpful advice – in musical form of course.

The Small Timber Café was the setting of this first date disaster, with the audience invited to sit at the café tables and even order coffee from the stage before the show. Cast members lingered around, blending in with baristas and immersing the awaiting audience in this distinctive setting.

There were a few sound issues in the beginning but after some level adjustments and once those opening night nerves were settled, this show had the audience laughing, clapping and even hollering at times.

This small cast were incredibly entertaining from lights up to lights down. Their energy was outstanding as was their enthusiasm for the show bubbling over. Hetherington and Mahar took the lead with their well-characterised vocals, even contriving to sober the boisterous audience with their serious solos.

The five-man ensemble; Nicole Melloy, Danielle O’Malley, Adam Porter, Stephen Valeri and Daniel Cosgrove, were the energetic life force of the show. Each performer had such a unique take on their characters, which made for a hilariously bumpy ride.

Other than those few audio hiccups, this show was pretty seamless. Director Mark Taylor took an Americanised script and made it fit perfectly into an Australian setting and by taking a few ‘lewd’ chances, has put together a genuinely hilarious production.

First Date’s musical score is very modern and unexpected but has indisputable flow and vigour, and no successful musical would be complete without a great Musical Director – and Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe was just that. Her artistic verve manifested in equally witty tunes and great musical moments. The band had nowhere to hide, set upstage in full view of the audience, disguised as café patrons and a chef hat-totting drummer behind the pass.

Sarah Tulloch’s production design was satisfyingly realistic and unbelievably innovative. The set dressing was simple but effective and the ease with which backstage crew could be disguised as waiters and move items around was a sneakily brilliant thought.

First Date is comically crude and toe-tappingly upbeat, and it even slips in a few serious moments to make you remember some things are all too real and unavoidable. As someone who has seen the Broadway original, this definitely stacks up and does Melbourne proud.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel

Season: September 2-11, Mon-Sat 8pm & Sun 5pm

Tickets: $39 Monday only, $49 Full, $39 Concession (+ transaction fee)

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au


Intense and intriguing family drama

By Myron My

Written in 1924 by Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms is a story that explores profound human connections and the depths that people will go to have what they desire. Inspired by the myth of Phaedra, Hippolytus and Theseus, O’Neill’s story is set in New England where patriarch Ephraim (Darren Mort) returns to his home with new wife, Abbie (Diana Brumen). This does not bode well for the relationships with his three sons (Garikai Jani, Timothy Smith and Sam Lavery) as the tension builds to a devastating end.

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Lavery perfectly encapsulates youngest son Eben’s resentment towards his father and the rage that burns inside him, yet at the same time brings to the surface the tenderness and love that he can also feel. His scenes with Brumen are gripping and you’re never quite sure which way their story is going to go, even if it is based on a Greek tragedy. Brumen’s manipulative and scheming Abbie is convincing, but it is during her horrific and tragic final scenes that she is able to channel fully everything Abbie has been experiencing until that moment.

Director and founder of The Sol III Company, Andrei Schiller-Chan, does a brilliant job in portraying these characters’ emotions and thoughts beyond the words of the play, in particular the scene where Ephraim reminiscences about his past loneliness to Abbie. Having Ephraim off to the side, we are drawn into Abbie and Eben’s private, silent conversation from Abbie’s bedroom to Eben standing downstairs in the kitchen. The fight scene between the father and son is also powerfully executed and choreographed.

While at times the story does seem to slow down significantly in pace, with a sense of repetition in the scenes being played out, the cohesiveness of the technical and design elements continue to keep us intrigued. Production designer Hahna Read‘s set, despite the limitations of the physical space on the stage, has a firm feeling of authenticity and the waft of bread baking throughout the space further added to that.

Travis MacFarlene‘s elegant lighting design is used effectively to convey the emotions and thoughts of the characters while subtly supporting the mood of the play. Similarly, Paul Raine‘s sound design is evocative and adds adroitly to the environment of the farmhouse in which the story is situated.

Desire Under the Elms is a tale about ancient and basic human emotions; love and jealousy. It’s about growing up, letting go – and also, revenge. Similar to their production last year of The Exonerated, The Sol III Company excel in exploring these universal but complex themes and have created another thoughtful and captivating performance in Desire Under the Elms.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran 
Season: 24 July | 8pm Tues- Sun, 2pm Sat 16 & 23 July, 5pm Sun 17, 3pm Sun 24
Tickets: $38 Full | $33 Conc | $28.50 under 25
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

Image by Timothy Smith