Tag: Jason Robert Brown

Vic Theatre Company Presents THE LAST FIVE YEARS

A performance to fall in love with

By Bradley Storer

A woman enters her apartment after a long day of work, placing her bag on the table and letting her hair down before spotting a letter left on her bed, along with a set of keys. With this heart-breakingly simple image, the complex narrative of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway classic The Last Five Years begins to unwind in this production by Vic Theatre Company.

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The Last Five Years is a musical that presents many challenges – along with balancing the audience’s sympathy for two people shown at their respective worsts, the concept of each character’s story unfurling in opposite directions (his forwards, hers backwards) means there is normally no direct interaction between the two characters, eliminating the chemistry needed to make the central love story work. Director Chris Parker has chosen to have both characters present in relevant scenes, which is effective in some scenes (‘See I’m Smiling’ and ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’ in particular) but less so in others where the apparent silence of one character for the entire time doesn’t always work. Brown’s wonderful score however remains entrancing throughout, beautifully played by the band under Daniel Puckey, with the simple but intricate set by Daniel Harvey unfolding in a multitude of ways to enhance the action.

Verity Hunt-Ballard is nothing short of brilliant in the role of Cathy. She wrenches the heart in her opening song, ‘Still Hurting’, manages to make the character sympathetic and delivers pure musical comedy gold in her ‘A Summer in Ohio’ and ‘Climbing Uphill’ – even in the scenes where she doesn’t speak, Hunt-Ballard conveys powerful emotion with just a look and a cheeky smile. Her performance alone is more than worth the price of admission.

Josh Piterman as the charismatic wunderkind writer Jamie ably handles the early parts of his character’s journey, his whirlwind romance with Cathy blossoming alongside his literary career, and sensitively performs the emotionally ambivalent ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You’ before losing his footing towards the end. The character’s final songs don’t have quite the impact they could (despite a nice symbolic touch involving a memento from earlier in the piece), and the last few moments of the show lose their full weight.

A problem with the musical itself is that it never seems to fully suggest what conclusion or meaning we should draw from watching Cathy and Jamie’s relationship disintegrate – but the final image of Cathy, her face lit up by the elation of newfound love as she retreats into darkness, remains haunting nevertheless.

Venue: 45downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000

Dates & Times: Nov 25, 27, 29, Dec 1, 4, 7, 9, 7.30pm / Nov 26, 8.30pm / Dec 11, 3pm / Dec 3, 10 4pm

Prices: Preview $43, Full $50, Concession $45, Group 8+ $43, Double Bill $80 (with The Gathering)

Tickets: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com , (03) 9662 9966

Image by James Terry Photography

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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

REVIEW: The Butterfly Club Presents THE LAST FIVE QUEERS

Robert Brown re-imagining is all about the music

By Myron My

More and more you hear people saying, “It’s a small world”. Thanks to modern living, our lives are becoming intertwined in ever-more varied and surprising ways. In The Last Five Queers, book by Adam Noviello & Madi Lee and music by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown, we meet five individuals who are all connected with each other in some way. In this song-cycle cabaret, their relationships are all pushed to the forefront as they tackle the high and lows of being in love with someone and trusting another enough to give yourself over to them.

The Last Five Queers

There were some incredibly strong musical performances in the show. Keagan Vaskess as the woman in love with her best friend was exceptional with her songs. What is even more impressive is the confidence and emotion on display, considering she was only brought in five days ago after the original performer became unwell. The scenes between gay couple, Henry Brett and Jack O’Riley were just as accomplished however. The belting out of memorable numbers ensured their duets and solos were by far the highlights of the show. Rounding out the cast were Tim Carney and Lee who, despite their strong effort, were unable to affect me as much as Vaskess, Brett and O’Riley did. Their projection was not as successful, and for me their vocal range didn’t reach the breadth of the other three

Playing his own arrangements of Brown’s music was musical director Barnaby Reiter. I’ve seen Reiter perform in a number of cabaret shows over the years and it’s always a pleasant surprise when he appears on stage. He really is one of Melbourne’s great musical talents, playing with finesse and skill and really creating moments on stage for not only the audience to experience, but also for the performers to occupy.

While the cast shone in their singing, the acting is where some cracks surfaced. There were several awkward vignettes between songs, due to dialogue that sounded trite and acting that felt unnatural. There was not much authenticity in the portrayals and it felt everyone was just going through the motions: there was the lack of intensity from a spontaneous kiss, the lack of chemistry between loving couples and the lack of familiarity between siblings and friends.

I could have happily enjoyed Vaskess, Brett and O’Riley singing all night, and listened to Reiter play the piano. However, I was there to see The Last Five Queers, and as a whole, the show required some fine-tuning. The writing needed to be more genuine and organic and the acting side of this cabaret needed stronger direction. It’s still an enjoyable show but I will remember The Last Five Queers as more of a quick fling than a long-lasting relationship.

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne

Season: Until 9 August | Tue-Sat 8:30pm, Sunday 8:00pm

Tickets: $32 Full | $28 Conc

Bookings: The Butterfly Club

REVIEW: The Collective Presents PARADE

You don’t know this man
By Bradley Storer
New Melbourne company The Collective make their theatrical debut with the first professional production in Australia of Jason Robert Brown’s modern classic Parade, a tale of injustice, prejudice and murder in early 20th-century Atlanta.
Parade
Luigi Lucente as Leo Frank, the Jewish factory superintendent who is accused of murdering young Mary Phagan (Jemma Plunkett), turns in a performance perfect from head to toe. Lucente portrays Frank as a man whose alienation from the community has left him a lonely sensitive soul with a icy, defensive exterior – not shying away from the more strident aspects of Frank’s personality, Lucente intertwines them in such a way that they strike a delicious note of ambiguity over whether Frank is capable of committing murder. His plain-spoken appeal to the jury, ‘It’s Hard to Speak My Heart’, is heartrendingly beautiful.
Laura Fitzpatrick brings a subdued gentle air and a sweet, touching voice to Frank’s wife, Lucille. She takes a quieter, less belty approach to Lucille’s big numbers ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ and ‘Do it Alone’ than some interpreters, but this means we never lose sight of Lucille as an ordinary woman driven by an immense inner strength which blossoms over the course of the story. The delicacy and chemistry which she and Lucente bring to the couple’s penultimate love duet ‘All the Wasted Time’ is electrifying, sending shivers up the spine.
The supporting roles are filled out admirably – Cameron MacDonald has charisma to burn as reporter Britt Craig. who whips the South into a media frenzy over the controversial trial, and turns in solid work as Governor Jack Slaton. Tod Strike is a commanding presence as amoral prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, and Andrew Doyle brings an impish charm to Frankie Epps, the teenager who spearheads the mob violence which leads to the musical’s tragic conclusion. The ensemble overall are top quality, bringing fierce commitment to a variety of roles and levels of moral ambiguity.
The performance space, which has the audience split in two on either side with action playing out in the middle, is used to thrilling effect in the first act. The isolation of husband from wife in ‘Leo at Work/What Am I Waiting For’ is illustrated perfectly as they stand at the separate ends of the stage echoed later by the chillingly emotional image which closes Act One. The cleverly staged trial sequence symbolically and physically makes the audience implicit in the condemnation of Leo, as well tapping into the inherently theatrical nature of a trial itself. However, this fades in Act Two where the staging is used less imaginatively and begins to impede the effectiveness of the show instead. The split staging and somewhat confusing direction of the last scene dilutes the impact of its final revelation, reducing the poignancy of what should be the emotional sucker-punch of the musical.

These small issues aside, this is a strong debut from the emerging company with a challenging and immensely satisfying piece that should be a ‘must see’ for all Melbourne music theatre enthusiasts!

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, CBD
Date: 17-28 Sept, 2014
Times: TuesSat 8pm, Sun 7pm
Tickets: $45, Conc $40, Groups (8+) $40
Bookings: Ph 03 9662 9966 or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

REVIEW: Drew Collet and Sophie Weiss in THE LAST FIVE BEERS

Home-brewed cabaret hits the spot!

By Jen Coles

In presenting a homage of sorts to their favourite musical Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, Drew Collet and Sophie Weiss have managed to create a truly creative and uniquely Australian piece of cabaret.

The Last Five Beers tells the story of two ex-lovers who are meeting for drinks after two years (unlike the original musical, which tells the story of the deconstruction of a relationship over five years).

Weiss and Collet have taken certain licences with the storytelling itself, taking the time to introduce themselves before the show ‘started,’ giving out free popcorn and cracking jokes at each other’s expense.

This may have seemed like an unnecessary deviation from starting the show, however they incorporated many aspects of the aforementioned jokes into the later story (for example, Sophie’s loud voice or Drew’s less-than-committed Jewish/American accents). This whole approach allowed the audience to get past the stigma of audience participation, as it was a vital part of their show.

Beginning at a restaurant, The Last Five Beers accurately captures the awkwardness of meeting an ex-lover. The pair heightened aspects of their personalities into new characters; Sophie emerged as a neurotic stress-head whereas Drew appeared too much of a relaxed bloke to really cope with that type of person, and so, it was clear early on the pair weren’t right for each other.

Still, the discussions of the good times versus the bad showed a nice quiet chemistry between Weiss and Drew, and a perfect explanation of why the relationship went south in the first place.

The cabaret itself was rich with a diverse range of music to inform the story, Weiss and Collet had ample time to showcase their incredible talents, and despite a few shaky moments, Collet recovered well to hold the stage for some of the more tender moments (in particular, a beautiful rendition of Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word).

Weiss has a phenomenal voice, which sometimes was too overpowering for the small space of the Club (but again, Collet had established this in the opening, so it was still funny).

Overall, the show was extremely humorous and felt very fresh and exciting to watch. The performers’ energy was matched by the expertise lighting and direction of Glenn Van Oosterom, and Simon Bruckard on piano was delightful in skill. This is a wonderful piece of cabaret not to be missed. 

The Last Five Beers is playing this weekend at The Butterfly Club.

Thur – Sat 28-30 April- 7pm
Sun 1 May- 6pm

BOOKINGS: http://www.thebutterflyclub.com/