Tag: Deidre Rubenstein

Blue Saint Productions Presents: VIOLET

A Glorious and Uplifting Tale

By Bradley Storer

A facially-scarred young woman taking a bus trip through the American South to see a faith-healing preacher in the company of two soldiers who slowly bring her out of her shell – on paper it doesn’t sound like the typical Broadway musical, does it? But Violet, with a terrific book by Brian Crawley and an incredible score by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori, is a glorious and uplifting tale that makes a great case for the continuing relevance of the musical as an art form.

Blue Saints Productions presents Violet.
Blue Saints Productions presents Violet.

Sam Dodemaide as the eponymous protagonist is a knockout. Violet’s emotional arc across the 105 minute and intermission-less piece is massive, requiring enormous commitment and stamina to make work. Dodemaide navigates the journey of this closed off and isolated loner through joy, friendship, hope, heartbreak and ultimately healing catharsis with magnificent emotional clarity and heart-rending transparency, with her bright silvery belt cutting through Tesori’s wide ranging styles of music with ease. Luisa Scrofani as Violet’s younger self, who haunts and pervades the stage action, matches so well with Dodemaide that it is easy to forget that the two aren’t actually the same person. Violet’s father is ably played by Damien Bermingham; the complex relationship between the two communicated with palpable reality.

As Flick, the African-American soldier whose encouragement and empathy spark Violet’s own transformation, Barry Conrad has a warm, gentle stage presence and a lovely pop voice that shows remarkable flexibility – however, I felt his big number ‘Let It Sing’ lacked the gospel fire and joy to really make it land, leaving it merely an exercise in riffing without a real emotional heart. Steve Danielsen as fellow soldier Monty fares better; bringing an edge of sexual charisma and danger to his character that contrasts and balances Conrad’s gentler presence nicely.

The ensemble as a whole are wonderful, playing a wide range of characters across the story with small moments that showcase each of them to marvellous effect. Standouts are hard to pick, but Katie Elle Reeve as a rock and roll music hall singer thrills with an incredible and powerful voice, Deidre Rubenstein does fantastic work as both the elderly Mabel and the hilariously voracious prostitute Alice. As the gospel singer Almeta, Cherine Peck brings the house down with her number ‘Raise Me Up’, truly bringing a sense of religious devotion and joy to the role.

The entire creative team, led by director Mitchell Butel, have done a truly spectacular job of rendering this outstanding musical, a must-see for any lovers of the modern musical or anyone looking to be entertained and uplifted in the same evening.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Lt Chapel St

Dates: 3rd – 20th March, 2016

Time: 8pm Tues – Sat, 2pm Sat, 6pm Sunday

Tickets: $59 Full, $54 Concession, $49 Group 10+

Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au, phone 8290 7000, or at the door

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REVIEW: MTC Presents LADIES IN BLACK

Sleek, stylish and utterly winning

By Caitlin McGrane

The lead-up to Ladies in Black has been, for me, quite mysterious. It is the creative brainchild of Carolyn Burns (North by Northwest) and Tim Finn, so my expectations were suitably high, particularly because the production is also directed by Simon Phillips (North by Northwest). During the interval of Ladies in Black I struggled to think whether I had ever seen an Australian musical – would Priscilla or Strictly Ballroom count? And generally speaking musicals aren’t my thing, but Ladies in Black was jolly good fun, uproariously funny, and most importantly melted my feminist heart.

Ladies in Black starring Kathryn McIntyre, Kate Cole, Christen O’Leary, Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder, Deidre Rubenstein, Carita Farrer Spencer.jpg

It is the gentle, uplifting coming-of-age story of Lisa (Sarah Morrison), a shy, bookish Sydney teenager in the 1950s and her job at Goodes’ department store. Her colleagues in cocktail frocks Fay (Naomi Price) and Patty (Lucy Maunder), along with the magnificent Magda (Christen O’Leary) and lovely Miss Jacobs (Deidre Rubenstein) softly introduce her to life in the adult world. Although excellently played by Morrison, I found Lisa was sometimes competing for stage space with other characters in ways that felt, to me, a little jarring. That is not to say that anyone or any scene was unnecessary, I think writer Carolyn Burns did an exceptional job of rounding out every character as much as she could, to me this seemed like the consequence of not wanting to leave anyone out because they were all so worth seeing. I particularly enjoyed the (wonderfully oft-repeated song) about men being bastards and the way in which it was the male characters that were sidelined and showed shame for their sexual appetites, neatly subverting historical convention and giving the play a truly modern edge.

My only reservations about the whole production are: I would have loved to see the New Year’s Eve party, and some lines from other scenes sometimes felt like unnecessary exposition. Even though O’Leary’s Magda was terrific rattling through the evening’s events at breakneck speed, I would have enjoyed seeing Lisa and Fay dancing; however, I appreciate that the focus of the play was the women, not their male beaus.
The play is beautifully staged, and the opening of the second act was a particular highlight. The band (Gerard Assi, David Hatch, Matt Hassall, Jo To and Paul Zabrowarny) playing the music (nicely visible behind the stage) were outstanding – each scene felt accompanied by the perfect jazz riff or subtle tinkling of atmospheric music.

Unsurprisingly the costumes (from designer Gabriela Tylesova) were breathtaking, and now I really want to own at least one cocktail frock. Lighting (designed by David Walters) was suitably impressive – moving seamlessly from snowy street to sunny beach to moody bar.

My usual aversion to musicals has been swiftly demolished by this beautiful performance: it was extremely difficult not to get caught up in the whimsical daydreams of all the characters, and I left feeling as though it was the first production I had seen in a long time that didn’t talk down to the audience and really relished in the shiny, glossy newness of a beautiful dress.

Ladies in Black is now playing at The Sumner Theatre at the Melbourne Theatre Company in Southbank until 27 February 2016. More information and tickets at: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2016/ladies-in-black

Image by Rob Maccoll

REVIEW: MTC Presents NORTH BY NORTHWEST

MTC’s masterly salute to the master of suspense

By Rachel Holkner

How will they do the scene on Mount Rushmore? This has to be the question at the front of the mind of any audience member familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film North By Northwest. In this world premiere production by the Melbourne Theatre Company the film is adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns in ingenious and highly entertaining ways.

North by Northwest

The story follow the trials of Roger Thornhill, a New York advertising man mistaken for a spy. Following leads and leading chases across several states on trains and planes, through hotels and auction house, Thornhill gradually uncovers a larger plot with higher stakes than a simple case of mistaken identity. High-paced action scenes are interspersed with romantic interludes, all peppered with witty dialogue. One of North By Northwest‘s main attractions: it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

More of a straight reenactment rather than a reimagining, director Simon Phillips‘ stage adaption sometimes holds a bit too tightly to the film. A few (very few) moments do not translate well, and might be a bit odd to anyone not familiar with Hitchcock’s work. Several characters are straight impersonations of the film’s actors, and this was to the play’s detriment. Occasionally it felt as though the actors did not have full ownership of their parts.

The cast of twelve do a spectacular job in taking on the work of a cast of thousands. With the aid of amazing costuming, wigs and headgear by costume designer Esther Marie Hayes it was easy to forget that the woman dining in the train had minutes ago been in a stand-up argument as Thornhill’s mother. Matt Day is excellent as Roger Thornhill, as was Amber McMahon as Eve Kendall, the femme fatale. Many other familiar names bring their strength to the production including Nicholas Bell, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Deidre Rubenstein and Matt Hetherington. The entire cast deserves high praise for their faultless and energetic work.

However, the show-stealing performance, that which received the most spontaneous applause, laughs and gasps from the audience was the staging. An incredibly creative use of a massive rear-projection screen used with live-action miniatures brings the language of film right onto the stage. Complete with an opening credit sequence nod to the kinetic typography of Saul Bass (titles designer of many of Hitchcock’s films), no opportunity was lost to draw the audience into the play and into the manipulative world of 1950s America.

The audience shared in the glee of the cast as they interacted at frequent intervals with items key to the setting, whether writing notes, pouring drinks or driving tiny cars, these actions were projected to provide close-ups, midshots and moving backgrounds key to keeping the production as close to Hitchcock’s vision as possible. The iconic cropduster scene is gobsmackingly good, keeping us simultaneously on the edge of our seats and in fits of laughter.

I cannot know how much someone not familiar with the film would enjoy this production, however lines which I was merely nodding to as I recognised them, were getting genuine laughs from the audience which would indicate that there is enough clarity and freshness here for all. MTC’s North By Northwest is an amazing achievement. Hilarious, tense and dramatic at all the right moments. You won’t regret seeing this one, it’s sensational.

And as for Mount Rushmore? Well I can’t tell you. You simply wouldn’t believe me.

Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Until 20 June 2015
Tickets: $51-$124
Bookings: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

REVIEW: Vic Theatre Company Presents LOVING REPEATING

Sleek, beautiful and musically sumptuous

By Bradley Storer

The emerging group Vic Theatre Company takes their maiden voyage with the rapturous Loving Repeating, a musical based on the life and times of formidable poet and intellectual Gertrude Stein with music by Broadway legend Stephen Flaherty and text derived from the letters and poems of Stein herself.

Loving Repeating (James Terry Photography)

The performance is structured as part lecture, part flashback – we are guided by the elderly Stein (Deidre Rubenstein) reflecting back on the events which shaped her the course of her life and career as an artist, on selections of her poetry and intellectual writings. The titular opening song is a glorious lyrical outpouring based on Stein’s observations of her fellow students at college, the ensemble beautifully led by Caitlin Berry as the youthful Stein with gorgeous choreography from Michael Ralph, setting a high bar for the rest of the show.

The main focus of Loving Repeating is the relationship between Stein and her lover Alice B. Toklas, a relationship which lasted until Stein’s death. The five actors who between them play the two roles at different ages are wonderful. Berry as the young Gertrude displays a fiery disposition and fierce sensuality, with Jennifer Peers showing the softening of this youthful ferocity into a mature, enveloping warmth. Gillian Cosgriff brings an angelic glow and understated passion to the young Alice B. Toklas, expanding into a confident and forthright sexuality in the performance of Nicole Melloy as her middle-aged self. Rubenstein as the elderly Stein wields poetic language with authority and surgical precision, challenging the audience intellectually at the same time she draws us in with a twinkle in her eye and a sense of self-deprecating humor.

Loving Repeating feels less like a traditional musical theatre show than a staged song cycle or a sung-through chamber opera. Langley brings some creative staging to the show aided immensely by the brilliant choreography of Ralph, encompassing lyrical abstract movement, tango and vaudevillian flair. The ensemble as a whole are ideal in the seamless whole they created in their numbers, and as they almost never leave the stage their stamina in this 90-minute show be commended.

The problem is that Stein’s writings do not necessarily add up to a cohesive narrative – it is at points easy to become lost in Stein’s circular and repetitive language which, although making an impact on the page, can be impenetrable for an audience member with no knowledge of Stein’s history. The show is set up as series of vignettes but it is hard to find an underlying meaning or connection in the text as they transition from one section to the next.

Overall though, this is an impressive debut performance from Vic Theatre Company, with a sense of quality and artistry to match even professional shows on far bigger stages – there are moments of such shocking and surprising beauty to be found in Loving Repeating that they alone are worth the price of admission.

Dates: 21 January – 8 February

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday, 8.00pm; Saturday 3pm & 8pm; Sunday 8pm (1 Feb) and 3pm (8 Feb)

Tickets:  $49.00 full, $43.00 concession (+ transaction fee), SPECIAL PRICE for Tuesday 3 February – all tickets $40 (+ transaction fee)

Booking: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au, Phone: 03 8290 7000, Email: chapel@stonnington.vic.gov.au

Image by James Terry

REVIEW: A Murder is Announced at THE COMEDY THEATRE

Prepare to be intrigued…

By Kim Edwards

The queen of crime is being celebrated anew – Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced opened in Melbourne this week, and proved to be a deadly and delicious production of this mystery classic.

A Murder is Announced

Leslie Darbon‘s 1977 stage adaptation of one of Christie’s best-crafted novels is excellent, as the charming rambling wander through English village life is sewn up into a taut and witty drawing-room drama. The script establishes memorable and appealing characters with brisk confidence, rolls out the action with energy, and moves swiftly through important exposition, all without losing the actual language and style of the original novel.

It is Darren Yap‘s vibrant intelligent direction here that also freshens up the tale for a modern audience. I admired the delicate balance created between the self-aware humour that poked affectionate fun at the murder mystery genre and the foibles of the characters, and the real suspense and intrigue that held the opening night audience enthralled. I call it The Mousetrap effect – hearing an entire theatre of patrons draw a breath in horrified and delighted unison when a particular dark secret or shocking revelation is revealed…

Overall. the casting is delightful: Judi Farr (with clear homage to the glorious Joan Hickson) plays Miss Marple with wry humour and real charm. Robert Grubb has some trouble reigning in the wonderful gusto he feels portraying the bluff and dramatic Inspector Craddock, but the slight histrionics play off well against the elegant, fluid and nuanced performance of Debra Lawrance as Letitia Blacklock. Libby Munro gives a spirited and beautifully stylish depiction of Julia, Deidre Rubenstein offers superb comic timing as the bumbling Dora, and both Carmen Duncan and James Beck perform with aplomb in the rather thankless roles of Mrs Swettenham and Edmund.

Both Nathaniel Middleton and Libby Munro struggled to keep caricature at bay and their accents intact on opening night, but will no doubt smooth into their roles, while Victoria Haralabidou was a spectacular scene-stealer in the difficult role of refugee housekeeper Mitzi. Agatha Christie’s cheerful racism is always hard to overcome, but neat scripting and Haralabidou’s hilarious and enchanting dedication to her character gave Mitzi an ascerbic wit and vivaciousness that let us laugh with her at the constrained British behaviours and appreciate her more naturalistic emotion and energy.

Starting from $95.00, tickets are pricy for this old favourite, but classic murder mystery is always beguiling and as a Christie devotee, I enjoyed this production as thoroughly as the initiates behind me who were ecstatic the plot twists took them completely by surprise!

A Murder is Announced is playing at the Comedy Theatre until December 4. Tickets are available through Ticketek and online here.

Review: CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION

Poignant and personal theatre at its best

By Kate Boston Smith

MTC’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation is sleek, perfectly timed and beautiful.  American writer Annie Baker has crafted a poignant play about four unlikely characters signed up for a six-week acting course.  Director Aidan Fennessy has stripped back any of the hyperbole of theatre and left us with real characters and situations that we can relate to and truly care about.

© Photo by Paul Dunn

Set in the dream-catcher that is a community college, short, sharp scenes are played out over the duration of the acting course.  The classes are run by the free-spirited, enthusiastic Marty played by Deidre Ruberstein who guides her four students, shy sixteen-year old Lauren (Brigid Gallacher), recently divorced Schultz (Ben Grant), femme fatale Theresa (Kate Cole) and James (Roger Oakley) her dutiful husband.

The group runs through a range of abstract acting exercises that help them focus in and open up to the task at hand.  Absolutely absurd to watch, the audience, (who have likely participated in these kind of games at acting school or corporate team-building days) delighted in seeing these activities played out on stage. Baker combines numerous moments of stillness with snappy dialogue that unravels the story with exact precision.  We watch as these five characters open and connect like flowers on a vine. 

© Photo by Paul Dunn

Casting is divine, with direction that was perfectly timed.  Staging and props were kept to a minimum, which was ideal for this situation as smaller moments were not lost in the wash of production.   There were several times where a mere eyebrow raised by Theresa or slight head drop from Schultz could bring the audience to tears.  It was the combination of these minute physical details and extremely considered conversations between characters that wove a rich and seamless show

Particularly heart-warming are the different points through the piece when one character introduces themself as another, describing who they are, what they do and why they are enrolled in the class.  At these instances we see not only how a character has viewed a fellow classmate, but also the empathy they share with them.   Watching, we are reminded of when we have put ourselves into vulnerable situations and how a little encouragement has meant the world or an unlikely friend  – or a moving theatre experience – can warmly affect our lives.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Annie Baker

Director Aidan Fennessy

Venue: The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio | 140 Southbank Blvd Southbank, VIC
Dates: August 17 – September 17, 2011
Tickets: from $35 (Under 30s $25)
Bookings: MTC Theatre Box Office (03)8688 0800 | mtc.com.au