Tag: Chapel Off Chapel

Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2016: DEATH SUITS YOU

Blithely black humour prevails

By Myron My

Everyone has moments when they feel underappreciated and ignored at work and frustrated with their overall work/life balance, but none more so than Death. This is someone who meticulously plans how each and every mortal will meet their ultimate demise, and then needs to ensure our own stupidity or actions do not interfere with these plans. Death must watch over us all the time, even when we are sleeping. In this year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival show Death Suits You, this hardworking individual recalls some of his finer achievements and attempts to have us understand the complexities of his role.

Death Suits You

Sam Hooper as Death is a charming and charismatic performer, even if this version of Death is simply dressed in plain black shorts and a t-shirt. Perhaps this is part of Death’s plan: to appear as “one of us” and subsequently let our guard down and allow ourselves to see things from his perspective, no matter how macabre it might be. Hooper has written some great individual tales to share and despite knowing that it will not be a happy ending, the build-up and visual language he uses has the stories running through our minds as vividly as a movie.

With each narrative, Hooper has an accompanying performance piece, and the beauty of this is that it is not just song, but also dance and spoken word, which leave the audience wondering how he will interpret the next victim’s inner feelings and sadness. Hooper tailors these perfectly and the touching dance routine during his drowning victim’s tale is equally meditative and unsettling. Likewise, Hooper’s careful diction with the spoken word pieces clearly brings out the attitudes and feelings of those who are facing mortality, and are performed with strong conviction.

Despite the necessary gloom and doom theme of the show, such as Death’s retelling of poor 6-year-old Eva’s end, Hooper ensures that the audience is never left despondent. The show is littered with clever and witty laughs, such as Death’s admission that he controls the weather to create a dramatic exit for people, or how his work is a great method of population control.

Robert Tripolino‘s music is the perfect accompaniment to the stories and, in the face of Death, is effortlessly brought to life by the two-piece multi-instrumentalist band of Shanon Whitelock and Caleb Garfinkel, providing strong support to Hooper. The simple lighting throughout the show is also used well in creating the various moods and scenarios that Hooper describes.

Sadly, as with many cabaret shows during the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Death Suits You only has a three-night run which ends on Sunday so best head off and see this show soon, before Death decides to pay you a visit instead.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran 
Season: until 19 June| 8.45pm
Tickets: $37 Full | $33 Conc 
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

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Blue Saint Productions Presents SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD

Cross oceans to hear this production

By Sally McKenzie

It’s hard to believe that Jason Robert Brown’s first major off-Broadway production, Songs For A New World, debuted over 20 years ago. Its music is timeless and remarkably beautiful. Each song portrays an individual’s journey as he or she is forced to make crucial life choices when things don’t go to plan.

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 Luke Joslin (Director) and Geoffrey Castles (Musical Director) have staged a most impressive version of this classic in the Loft performance space at Chapel off Chapel. Joslin effectively establishes a theme of an ocean journey to a ‘New World’ by setting the stage as the deck of a ship with a mast and tattered sail and ropes. The sounds of the ocean and waves rolling in played as patrons entered, and as they leave the space. Patches of graffiti are painted on the ship to provide extra evidence of people traveling through and making their own ‘mark’ on the world.

In song cycles such as this, with four actors performing multiple roles, it is difficult for the audience to become attached to any particular character as they pass through each song. In this musical it is much easier to be moved by the music itself – particularly the lush harmonies in the ensemble songs such as ‘Flying Home’ or ‘Hear my Song’, or the more well-known and loved opening song ‘A New World’. The musical direction in this production is outstanding. Castles is obviously a master of vocal direction. The blend of the cast’s voices is sublime and for me, the highlight of the show. Songs For A New World requires a virtuoso pianist – and Castles is also brilliant in this role. It was disappointing not to see his name listed as pianist in the band credits in the program. Another important feature missing from the program was a song list – a must in a sung-through show.

Anthony Chircop (on electric and acoustic bass) executes the part with great flair as does Tom Doublier on drums and percussion. The trio of musicians are positioned behind the mast and mostly visible, and this group is definitely the dream team in my book for a show like this. They take a much-deserved bow with the cast at the end of the show.

The show is well-cast all round. Linden Furnell’s (Man 2) warmth and ease of tone is well-suited to songs such as ‘She Cries’ and his duet ‘I’d Give It All For You’. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal  of the ukelele larrikin busker in ‘The River Won’t Flow’.  I was most impressed with John O’Hara. His voice is exceptional. His solo in ‘On The Deck of A Spanish Sailing Ship’ and in ‘Flying Home’ are the two vocal highlights in this production. O’Hara soars through his upper range and delivers every note and word with heartfelt emotion. He is truly captivating.

Teagan Wouters (Woman 1) gives a beautiful rendition of ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ – always a difficult song to execute technically and to find the right balance of vulnerability and strength, and Wouters delivers this without over-singing the song. Natalie O’Donnell as Woman 2 has the job of performing the majority of the ‘character songs’ in the show (such as ‘Sarabaya Santa’, ‘Just One Step’) but I found her particularly endearing and engaging as she led the finale ‘Hear My Song’. It is one of the rare moments of the show when eye contact is made with the audience and I felt like I was part of the story instead of being an outside observer. Too many of the songs are focused ‘straight ahead’. In a show that can potentially become too much like a concert, it is important to find more ways of involving the audience and making them feel part of the journey.

Staging and blocking is, on the whole, simple but effective, as was the lighting and costuming. Sound design is fabulous and hard to fault– I loved the addition of maximum reverb to the band –particularly to the congas and double bass in songs such as ‘King of The World’. It was also added tastefully to the singing.

Songs For A New World runs from June 2nd-12th at Chapel off Chapel. This show is a musical masterpiece. Fans of the music will not be disappointed.

Bookings: http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/songs-for-a-new-world-2-12-june/

Image by Ben Fon

Doorstep Arts Presents DOGFIGHT

Brave cast and company grapple with Pasek and Paul musical

By Myron My

Dogfight, based on the 1991 River Phoenix film, revolves around the actions of three marines on their final night in a small town in 1963, just before they are to be deployed to Okinawa, and then on to Vietnam. While the trio come from seemingly similar backgrounds, they are friends bound by circumstances of war. Over the course of this night, these bonds are tested, especially when Eddie meets the naive and innocent Rose.

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The original production of Dogfight, with book by Peter Duchan, premiered in New York in 2012 and won the Lucille Lortel Outstanding Music Award as well as being nominated for a number of others. However, so much of the show feels outdated, and unfortunately there is nothing new or especially engaging being offered by this story – whereupon even those who are not familiar with the film itself can see exactly how things are going to pan out.

The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is fresh and fun to listen to, and under the capable musical direction of Trevor Jones here, the highly talented five-piece band brings their work vividly to life. The lyrics however were a disappointment. They felt clumsy and uninspired, and didn’t really offer much insight to the characters’ thoughts that wasn’t already evident from the book. The strongest numbers are the opening song, “Some Kind of Time”, “Come to a Party” and “Pretty Funny”, the latter finally allowing us to feel what the characters really were.

Alexander Woodward tackles the difficult role of Eddie, whom the audience must somehow simultaneously like, while being repulsed by his actions. Unfortunately, the journey Eddie goes on did not feel fleshed out enough here, and as such, prevented the complexities required of this problematic character to come through on opening night. The changes and realisations he has never seemed to come from a place of understanding and growth and ultimately felt forced. However, Woodward certainly generates some nice moments in his scenes with Olivia Charalambous (Rose), and the duration of their date beginning at the restaurant until their farewell encompasses some of the best moments in the show.

Charalmbous has a great energy on stage and her renditon of “Pretty Funny” was a touching and genuinely emotional scene. Jaclyn DeVincentis adds some excellent comedic timing in her portrayal of Marcy and the honesty with which she plays her is warm and well-grounded, so it’s a shame (but understandable given the role) that she did not have more time on stage. The ensemble are full of vigour, and the choreography by Leanne Marsland brings forth the bravado and aggression we can see would have been rampant during that era.

It’s great that Doorstep Arts are willing to champion lesser-known musicals, and Dogfight does endeavour to look at marine life and how young men’s lives were and are forever changed by needless war. While there were strong performances in this ambitious production and good musical numbers, at 2.5 hours long I admit though that I expected richer character development and a more engaging book from an award-winning work.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Season: 15 May | Mon- Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $49.90 Full | $44.90 Conc
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel