Tag: Dean Bryant

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS 2016 Australian Tour

Merrily macabre and highly enjoyable

By Ross Larkin

A highly experienced pool of theatre royalty has taken on the ambitious task of staging a touring production of musical cult favourite, Little Shop of Horrors, which opened last night at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre. Thankfully, their obvious efforts have largely paid off.

Brent Hill, Audrey II 02 LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS  - PHOTO CREDIT JEFF BUSBY.jpg

Based on the quirky 1960 film by Roger Corman of the same name, Little Shop is a rare example of classic screen translating to the stage almost seamlessly, and at times, with superior effect, largely thanks to the tenderly appealing tunes of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (ably musically directed here by Andrew Worboys).

Virtually entirely set in a failing, divey florist in urban Skid Row, goofy employee Seymour Krelborn acquires a strange breed of plant during a full eclipse, which he christens Audrey II (named after his colleague with whom he is romantically enamoured). Seymour soon discovers Audrey II can not only speak to him, but also requires a diet solely of human blood in order to survive. Seymour begins to attract media attention and fame as the intriguingly disconcerting Audrey II grows bigger and bigger while locals simultaneously disappear mysteriously…

Esther Hannaford, of King Kong fame, steals the show as Seymour’s love interest, Audrey. Her understated, eccentric and loveable performance is coupled with powerhouse vocals of seemingly effortless range. Brent Hill as Seymour, and also the voice of Audrey II, gave a solid performance, as did supporting actors Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane and Chloe Zuel as Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette respectively.

The ever-growing, oversized fly trap that became Audrey II was extremely impressively created by puppet-makers Erth and manipulated with a cleverness that must be seen in order to be believed. Accomplished director Dean Bryant has, on this occasion, excelled. Bringing a small cast and this massive puppet into force with enjoyable laughs and great songs, Bryant’s direction both visually and content-wise is innovative and satisfying.

Although the energy of some cast members did waiver on occasion, no doubt the pace and punch will pick up for the entire ensemble as the run progresses. Overall, this a strongly recommended feast of sinister fun and entertaining black comedy.

Presented by Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions, Little Shop of Horrors is playing now at the Comedy Theatre, Exhibition Street, Melbourne until May 22nd with a variety of dates and showtimes. Go to http://www.littleshoptour.com.au/ for tickets and more information.

Image by Jess Busby

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REVIEW: Luckiest Productions Presents SWEET CHARITY

Your friends should see this now

By Bradley Storer

Luckiest Productions’ Sweet Charity has made its way to Melbourne after successful sell-out seasons in Sydney and Canberra. This Helpmann Award-winning production more than lives up to expectations with a dark revisionist exploration of this Broadway classic.

Sweet Charity 2015 photo Jeff Busby_2

Verity Hunter-Ballad in the title role of Charity Hope Valentine brings a refreshing touch of normality and relatability. The audience is always aware, beneath the zany and perky exterior, of the real flesh and blood human that Charity is. She also dances up a storm and brings exquisite vocal mastery to all of Charity’s songs, unleashing a full-throttle and soul-rending performance in the despairing ‘Where Am I Going?’. Martin Crewes shows surprising versatility as the various men in Charity’s life – at first showing seductive charm and gallantry as the charismatic Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal, then later morphing into the neurotic but lovable Oscar Lindquist, with a similar vocal transformation from operatic tenor to contemporary character singing.

The bare-bones production, under the direction of Dean Bryant, is unafraid to show the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of this seemingly comedic musical. The female ensemble are depicted closer to the prostitutes of Fellini’s original film than the taxi dancers of the Broadway musical, stuck in an eternal cycle of degradation and poverty that they’ve given up on escaping – most touchingly rendered in Nickie (Debora Krizak) and Helene (Kate Cole)’s by turns cynical and hopeful duet ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’. Even Charity’s Act One comedic tour de force, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, is performed in a single light surrounded by darkness, as if suggesting the continual threat of the despair kept at bay by Charity’s hopefulness and optimism.

Cy Coleman’s classic Broadway score and Bob Fosse’s signature choreography are both thrillingly modified here to service the new production – new arrangements of music bring in such contemporary sounds as electric guitar, drums and synthesizer that drastically shift the feel of Coleman’s music to the modern. The famous ‘Hey Big Spender’ becomes less of a brassy Broadway belter and more like the guttural, dirty rock music of a strip club in the early hours. The ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ is transformed through the wonderfully imaginative choreography of Andrew Hallsworth into an angular and frenetic vision of a hideously modern New York party, and the psychedelic hippy celebration of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ into a rock-gospel revivalist meeting that sees most of the cast naked by the end.

The most drastic change is the very last scene, stripping away any pretensions to Broadway brightness with Hunter-Ballad’s achingly vulnerable and raw performance and an ending so shocking and unexpected that it leaves the audience dumb-founded. Such a dark and revelatory vision of a classic Broadway musical make this production of Sweet Charity a must see!

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.

Dates: 25th February – 7th March

Times: WednesdaySaturday 8pm, Tuesday 7pm,  Matinees: Thursday 26 February, 1pm, Saturday 28 February, 2pm, Sunday 1 March, 3pm, Saturday 7 March, 2pm

Tickets: Tickets from $79.90, Under 30s concession pricing $30

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, at the box office.

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: The Production Company’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

A little more mascara

By Ross Larkin

La Cage Au Folles began as a play in the 70’s by Jean Poiret until it was later remodelled into a musical by Jerry Herman. In 1996, Hollywood created the well-known film version, renaming it The Birdcage. Melbourne’s The Production Company last night opened their version of the musical at The Arts Centre, with Todd McKenney and Simon Burke as gay lovers Albin and Georges and a familiar supporting cast including Rhonda Burchmore, Gary Sweet and Marg Downey.

La Cage Au Folles - Todd McKenney and Les Cagelles

When Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Robert Tripolino) announces his engagement to Anne (Emily Milledge), matters accelerate to hysterical at the prospect of his fiance’s highly conservative and political parents (Sweet and Downey) coming over to meet Jean-Michel’s family.

Decidedly flamboyant transvestite Albin is deemed by Jean-Michel too risky and controversial to meet Anne’s parents and is advised to make himself scarce for the evening. When Jean-Michel’s birth mother fails to show, Albin steps in in all his convincing drag glory under the pretence of being mother himself, and hilarity ensues.

As with any famous and celebrated show, there are unavoidable audience expectations. In the case of La Cage Au Folles, it is safe to assume that giant laughs, flashy songs, spectacular dancing and tremendous energy are all somewhat anticipated.

Regretfully, The Production Company only gently hit the mark, waxing and waning in pace and stamina. The occasional musical number is quite impressive while too many others are underwhelming and forgettable.

The two leads are undoubtedly well performed, with McKenney in particular delivering much of the needed laughs and glamour, and Aljin Abella as the butler a consistent source of humour and force.

However, director Dean Bryant’s decision to merge La Cage Au Folles into pantomime territory with actors speaking to and interacting with the audience for extended periods (presumably to cover costume changes) was an ill-fated one, breaking from the struggling momentum even further.

Sweet as Anne’s father might have looked the part but was typically miscast, yelling every line with farcical irritation and further contributing to the pantomime domain. Downey and Burchmore were reliably enjoyable but sadly appeared all too briefly.

Essentially, Bryant and The Production Company have found most of the ingredients necessary to make La Cage Au Folles the dazzling spectacle it deserves to be, however, its current state feels underbaked, in need of increased pace, energy, stakes and more bold choreography.

La Cage Au Folles is playing at The Arts Centre Playhouse, Melbourne, until December 7, Wednesday-Sunday at 7.30pm and Tuesday December 2 at 7.30pm, with 2pm matinees each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Bookings 1300 182 183 or visit www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

REVIEW: Michael Griffiths is IN VOGUE

Strike a pose

By Ross Larkin

A young man singing and playing Madonna songs on the piano, and assuming her as a ‘character’, relaying snippets of life anecdotes between tunes?

In Vogue

You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the very notion.

However, I’m willing to risk offending many a die-hard Madonna nut, by going so far as to say, that Michael Griffiths, a WAAPA graduate of Jersey Boys fame, has more talent in his little pinkie than the material girl could fantasise about. Yet, Griffiths’ extraordinary talent is undermined by the show’s non-musical content.

Madonna is widely both loved and laughed at. Her unprecedented success and fame go hand-in-hand with immense failures, criticism and controversy: selling bucket-loads of records one minute, and being scorned for acting attempts and outlandish behaviour the next.

Griffith’s portrayal and director Dean Bryant’s vision for this year’s Midsumma Festival show no shame in showcasing Madonna in her weaker light, highlighting her often shallow lyrics and narcissistic ways to the point of mockery, even bordering on disrespect. Yet: cue the singing and playing and we’re suddenly enchanted by gorgeous and moving renditions of ‘Like a Prayer’, ‘Material Girl’ and other well-known pop classics, basking in the typically ambient lighting of fortyfivedownstairs and sounding more glorious than ever.

Sure, the aim of the dialogue is to be lighthearted and fun. Yet, unlike the duo’s other popular cabaret celebrating and portraying the career and personal life of Annie Lennox (Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox, playing in conjunction with this show for Midsumma), In Vogue lacks elegant cohesion and purpose, and therefore struggles to flow as engagingly as it should. Whereas Sweet Dreams beautifully combined the heartbreaking (and often humorous) tales of Lennox’s love affair with Dave Stewart, intertwined with brilliant reinterpretations of her songs, In Vogue generally succeeds only where the latter is concerned.

However, Griffiths is such a musical talent that the show is justified by his renditions alone. In fact, I’m always left wanting more and more of his playing. It’s just that, in this case, I could take or leave the script.

In Vogue is playing now until January 26 – Wednesday to Sundays at 9pm at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Bookings at www.midsumma.org.au

REVIEW: Sweet Dreams – SONGS BY ANNIE LENNOX

Exceptional cabaret is made of this

By Ross Larkin

It’s a brave performer indeed, who not only assumes the guise of a celebrity of the opposite sex, but endeavors to perform and ‘become’ Britain’s most successful female artist of all time – cabaret style.

Sweet Dreams

A graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Michael Griffiths has some big shoes to fill. Yet, fill them he does – until they are bursting at the seams.

The former Jersey Boys star, along with director Dean Bryant, have thankfully avoided indulgently churning out Lennox’s ‘best of’ catalogue, one after the other. Rather, they have created a comical, yet heartbreaking narrative of a fascinating artist with nothing but integrity and awe-inspiring skill.

Initially, one might grapple with suspending their disbelief over a young man at a piano, who is not so much paying tribute to Lennox, but portraying her in character.

Yet, wigs, costumes and accents would undoubtedly take Sweet Dreams into less-appropriate tongue-in-cheek pantomime or drag-queen territory.

While die-hard fans may need to overcome some fictional story elements (mostly added for comic relief), the narrative generally stays true to Lennox’s career and personal life, exploring with particular intrigue, her relationship with Eurythmics partner, and former lover, Dave Stewart.

While it’s no secret she and Stewart broke up as a couple just prior to forming Eurythmics in 1981 (which subsequently fueled an often tempestuous working relationship), Bryant and Griffiths have brilliantly used Lennox’s music to shed a clearer light on the meaning of her songs.

Griffiths plays and sings with effortless charm, innovation and finesse, giving new insight into the likes of ‘Who’s that Girl?’, ‘Missionary Man’ and ‘Why’.

Along with a newly-explored meaning of these familiar tracks, is the re-interpretation of the music itself. Griffiths adds a vaudeville charm to the formerly dark, synthesised ‘Love is a Stranger’, and a refreshingly melancholic sadness to pop classic ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ – injecting a gorgeous energy that, dare it be said, surpasses the original.

Sweet Dreams is a mesmerising feast of laughs, sadness and brilliant music showcasing a true icon with style and wit, recommended even for the lesser of Lennox’s fans.

Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox is playing nightly as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival until Sunday, July 7 at 7.30pm at 45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Bookings on 03 9662 9966 or fortyfivedownstairs.com