Tag: James Cutler

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
Season:
4 December | 7:30pm Tue- Sat, 6pm Sun
Tickets: $49 Full | $55 Conc
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

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Stage Art Presents TITANIC: THE MUSICAL

Exhilarating

By Myron My

It has been over 100 years since the Titanic sank, killing more than half its passengers and crew. While this famous tragedy is a well-documented and discussed event, Stage Art‘s production of the Australian premiere of  Titanic: The Musical breathes new life into the story, creating a gloriously entertaining show that should not be missed.

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The cast of 20 is flawless and all the actors take on their numerous roles with much gusto, achieving character changes effortlessly and at times, instantly. The production is meticulously directed by James Cutler, and from the opening scene, the hustle and bustle and the excitement felt from everyone on board is perfectly encapsulated as the latter is replicated in the audience.

Some stand-out performances included Jon Sebastian as the pompous J. Bruce Ismay, Casey Withoos as the second-class passenger with aspirations of first-class grandeur Alice Beane, Sam Bennett as love-struck third-class passenger Jim Farrell, and Dom Winsor, reprising the role he first played over a decade ago in the US production, as the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews.

Peter Stone‘s story and book develops elegantly and organically: even with such a large number of characters, every single person has a clear and distinctive story arc or motivation. Whether it be through a song or a short scene to tell their story, they all felt fleshed out, whereupon the emotions felt and reactions experienced upon the sinking of the ship are rendered even more heartbreaking to witness. The characters in Titanic the Musical were based on those actually on board the ship, and while a little creative licensing occurs, Stone’s careful research is evident and pays off marvelously.

The music and lyrics by Maury Yeston are wonderfully brought to life by the highly talented band and singers under the proficient musical direction of Kent Ross. The ensemble pieces, especially the epic opening number, are a dream to listen to and you cannot take your eyes of the accompanying action happening on stage. Greta Sherriff and Matthew Hyde perfectly complement each other with their voices, and their song “I Give You My Hand” is a tender and touching moment. Adam Di Martino and James Brown‘s dynamic ragtime number “Doing the Latest Rag” is also a firm favourite.

Titanic: The Musical is a gripping and entertaining story that reaches far beyond the familiar historical narrative we thought we knew. Already halfway through 2016, it is fair to say that this will emphatically be one of the best musicals, if not one of the best shows, of the year.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran 
Season: 24 July | 7:30pm Wed- Sun, 1.30pm Sat and Sun (17 July 1.30 performance will be AUSLAN interpreted)
Tickets: A Reserve: $69 Full / $65 Concession | B Reserve $59 Full / $55 Concession | C Reserve $49
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

Image by Belinda Strodder

REVIEW: Stage Art Presents IN THE HEIGHTS

Exhilarating

By Bradley Storer

Melbourne music theatre company Stage Art score a major win this year with the Australian premiere of In the Heights, the musical which opened on Broadway in 2008 and introduced the world to the lives and vibrancy of the urban Latin community in New York City.

In the Heights_Photo Credit Belinda Strodder

This fresh and modern approach to music theatre is cemented in the opening image, a spectacular hip -hop combination from Graffiti Pete (Peter Sette), as well as the musical’s titular opening number which combines extensive rap and lush Latino music and Salsa rhythms that, under the musical direction of Cameron Thomas, throbs with energy and passion. The incredibly talented ensemble handle Yvette Lee‘s complex and pyrotechnic choreography with astonishing ease, although the group numbers tended to blur together towards the end of Act One before roaring back to life in ‘The Club’ sequence.

The cast as a whole should be congratulated, delivering strong performances on nearly every front. Stephen Lopez as Usnavi, the emotional centre and sometimes narrator of the show, brings both charisma and an adorable awkwardness to the role, as well as amazing vocal dexterity and diction in Usnavi’s many rap-based streams of consciousness. As his love interest Vanessa, Bianca Baykara showed off thrilling vocal power and confident dancing, but seemed a little unsure of herself in the role at times. Anna Armenia as Nina had an inexhaustible belt and a sweet stage presence, and James Elmer as Benny made a comic masterpiece out of ‘Benny’s Dispatch’ as well as revealing a lovely pop tenor voice in the character’s more romantic moments with Nina.

Francesca Arena was stunning in the role of Abuela Claudia, the grandmotherly figure who embodies the strength and determination of the Washington Heights community – her tour-de-force story of her journey from her home country, ‘Pacienca y Fé’, was an Act One highlight, Arena unleashing roof-shaking vocals and a gospel-like intensity. Laura Marcucci owned the stage as Daniela, the ballsy local salon owner, in the gossipy ‘No Me Diga’ and as the rousing ring leader of ‘Carnival del Barrio’. Andrew Doyle was cheeky and heart-warming as the frenetic Sonny, Usnavi’s shop assistant.

Director James Cutler and the entire creative team should be incredibly proud of this show and bringing this wonderful story to our shores, which even on opening night had the audience almost leaping to their feet in pure exhilaration and joy.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.
Date: 18 February – 8 March
Time: 7:30 Tuesday – Sunday, 2pm Matinee Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: A Reserve $59 Full, $55 Concession / B Reserve $49 Full, $45 Concession
Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au , Phone: 03 8290 7000, Email: chapel@stonnington.vic.gov.au , at the door.

Image by Belinda Strodder.

REVIEW: Four Letter Word Theatre Presents THE WILD PARTY

Let the fun begin

By Bradley Storer

Upon entering the Main Stage area at Revolt, the audience is immediately immersed in the dingy but seductive Prohibition-era charms of the ‘speak easy’, with tables set up close to the stage and lit eerily by candles. The dark cavernous space of Revolt seems an oddly fitting place for this 1920’s tale of a party thrown by a pair of vaudeville performers on their last legs – a potent cocktail of sin, depravity and eventual tragedy.

Rosa McCarty is a knockout as Queenie the party’s hostess, a blonde bombshell past her prime, throwing herself into the fading performer’s depths of hedonism and disillusionment with abandon and a fierce belt.

The Wild Party

James Cutler is continually compelling as the brutish Burrs, her abusive and bullying husband, bringing ferocious energy and sinister glee to the role that makes him exciting to watch. Their volatile and destructive relationship, although disturbing, is vividly invoked by the two performers.

The musical unfortunately has trouble finding its feet in the first act. Despite a cavalcade of strange and curious characters that pour onstage at the beginning of the show, including a charming polysexual predator (Ed Deganos), a lesbian stripper and her borderline comatose lover (Samantha Hammersley and Renee Pope-Munro) and a creepily close pair of male twins (Samuel Dariol and James Worsnop), there is a lack of energy onstage which makes the ‘party’ atmosphere hard to maintain. Maree Barnett as the cunning diva looking for a comeback emits smouldering ambition, while wielding a pair of surprisingly flexible legs like a weapon. The arrival of Kate, a vaudevillian star and Queenie’s best friend/enemy (played with commanding confidence by Alana Kiely), and her lover Black (Christian Cavallo) raises the spirits of the ensemble considerably, culminating in an Act Two ode to gin that explodes with an dynamic vitality that has been missing so far.

A daring move is the inclusion of a secondary ensemble, a collection of malevolent Satanic spirits who seemingly manipulate and corrupt the characters unseen by anyone whilst wandering offstage and through the audience – a very original idea, which has mixed results throughout the evening. While feeling like an unnecessary addition in the first act, director Robbie Carmellotti finds some electrifying tableaus in the second act that utilize them to a better degree.

An evening of daring and boundary-pushing theatre that, while sometimes not entirely succeeding, is nevertheless admirable for the depth of its invention and ambition.

VENUE: Revolt Melbourne, 12 Elizabeth St, Kensington

DATES: 31st July – 3rd August

TIME: Tue to Sat 7:30pm, Sun 3pm

TICKETS: A Reserve $60/Concession $40, B Reserve $45/ Concession $30, C Reserve $25, Table of 8 $900

BOOKINGS: www.fourletterwordtheatre.com, www.revoltproductions.com,  boxoffice@revoltproductions.com , at the door.