Tag: Jeff Busby

La Mama Presents THE CHAIRS

Intelligent and effective production of Ionesco’s classic play

By Leeor Adar

Eugène Ionesco was a notable writer in the French avant-garde and absurdist theatre, and a theatre-maker that found art in considering the futility of man. Like many of his contemporaries, Ionesco was the product of a world of wars and ideas. The Chairs is one of Ionesco’s earliest major works, and perhaps the play that depicts humanity’s futility and absurdity at its finest.

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The premise follows an old man and woman, currently isolated from the rest of society, preparing to entertain a hoard of guests for the old man’s message to the world. The sea surrounds the bored pair as they plod through their lives, reliving the excitement of stories already told and vistas already explored. The old woman serves as the vessel from which the man relays his moments of glory (or the moments of glory he could have had), while the old man unsteadily looks upon the world from his ladder, eyeing the boats that pass them in the distance – a promise of life elsewhere. The claustrophobia in Ionesco’s language is palpable – the pauses that linger and the poignant sense that these two characters live within one another and no where else.

Award-winning writer and artistic director Jenny Kemp directs this La Mama production, bringing to secluded life the void of the old man (Robert Meldrum) and the old woman (Jillian Murray). The performance space of the La Mama theatre enhances the stifling intimacy of the writing and characters, and the adroit lighting design (Rachel Burke) and sound design (Russell Goldsmith) heighten this intense experience further.

The quality of the acting is excellent here: Meldrum and Murray inject so much energy into this production, and we utterly believe their characters’ profound desperation and manic highs and lows. The language of Ionesco is handled with real care and attention to detail; Kemp’s vision is clear and we as an audience feel crowded in by the invisible audience the play brings onto stage, culminating in the greatest chair pile-up I expect La Mama has ever seen.

This production is quite exhausting for the audience, but this was necessary given the content of the play. What starts as hopeful energy becomes devoured by the exasperation of the characters trying to bring their message to life and be seen and valued in their world. The arrival of the Emperor – another invisible force – brings the turning point upon which lives of the old couple have reached completion. There are comic moments in this journey, and there are universal truths about our existence worth contemplating during the course of the play.

Kemp’s The Chairs is impressively successful in mastering what it wants on stage, but whether every audience can patiently journey with the characters of Ionesco’s play is another proverbial ladder to climb altogether.

The Chairs played at La Mama Theatre from 5-15 October, 2017. Visit http://lamama.com.au/ for information about upcoming productions.

Image by Jeff Busby

Australian Premiere: THE BOOK OF MORMON

Truly crass, highly sophisticated, and utterly sensational

By Tania Herbert

Taglined as ‘The Only Book that Matters’, The Book of Mormon is the Tony-Award glutton and Broadway spectacular written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park and Team America fame), joined by songwriter Robert (Bobby) Lopez (of Avenue Q and Frozen fame). The opening night of the long-awaited Australian premiere certainly met the definition of ‘gala’- prequelled by a cocktail party filled with every identifiable face in Melbourne (particularly if you’re a fan of The Bachelor), and concluded with a standing ovation as Trey and Matt joined the cast onstage for the final number. Even the actual Mormons are taking advantage of the hype, with giant posters currently framing Southern Cross Station.

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The plot is the usual musical-esque small-town boy heading out into the world to make it big. Less usual though is the setting of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) is a newly-minted Mormon missionary, ready to change the world and fulfil his dream of ringing doorbells throughout Orlando Florida. However, his hopes are challenged once he finds himself paired with the goofy and inept Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) and shipped off to remote Northern Uganda. Once there, the Brothers discover that The Lion King was way off the mark, and it’s all up to them to save the village from insurgent rebels.

The show is approachable for a range of audiences- 10-man acapella for the musicians, continual nods to musical comedy classics for the genre fans, and enough excessive costuming and production value to please any contemporary Broadway hedonist. However even those with no prior experience will be well entertained by the true hilarity of this piece of comedic genius that barely pauses for breath. Perhaps one of the most unique elements of the show is the working of humour into every element of production- set changes, exits, and lighting all feature as jokes and the humour ranges from the outright crass to artful parody.

The cast are universally stunning. Both leads come to Melbourne as Mormon veterans (Bondy performing in all three US companies, and Holmes in ‘every company.. thus far’), and the polish and passion shows in the truly flawless performances. The leads are backed up by two mostly separate ensembles- the Mormon brothers and the Ugandan villagers. The contrast in music, dance and characterisation styles for the two ensembles was one of the most rewarding parts of the production for me- adding more variety to an already exceptionally catchy bunch of tunes. Many of the cast also come from international productions of the show, along with the best of local talent. VCA graduate Zahra Newman was the particular standout as the adorable (yet still with a very impressive belt) Nabulungi, the chief’s daughter looking for a life ‘less shitty’.

Whilst only vaguely reminiscent of the of South Park episode All About Mormons (Season 7, Episode 12), fans of Matt and Trey are still rewarded, with South Park’s Jesus Christ making an appearance, and lead characters not so vaguely reminiscent of the pair themselves as they appeared in Baseketball.

For a show that spends so much time spoofing, The Book of Mormon is also truly unique, and covers a massive amount of ground in politics, comedy and moral ambiguities. The comic timing is flawless, the dancing immaculate, and the vocals spine tingling.

In typical Matt-and-Trey style though, the show is horrifyingly offensive and nothing is sacred. It’s a little like the Broadway version of Cards Against Humanity as you find yourself laughing at religion, African poverty, FGM and AIDS. If you don’t cringe at least once, you probably need to work on your politically correctness. Given all the inappropriateness, the show is also strangely sensitive, and a timely reminder that with a bit of tolerance, imagination and community, we can all be a lot happier.

The show is certainly not friendly for families, the politically sensitive or the easily offended, but if you don’t fall into one of those categories, it’s fair to say you’re going to have a pretty good night out with The Book of Mormon. With the new world of Brexit and Trump, it may seem like things are pretty grim at the moment, however this musical is the ultimate reminder that in the end, the world can still be a pretty funny place– as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

THE BOOK OF MORMON is currently playing at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Tickets are on sale until June 25, and can be purchased at bookofmormonmusical.com.au

Warning: Adult themes and coarse language!

Image by Jeff Busby

Victorian Opera and Circus Oz Presents LAUGHTER AND TEARS

Brave ascent into arias and airy new ground

By Leeor Adar

It is a wonderful idea in theory to create an amalgamation of opera and circus in production. Both disciplines embody the drama of the human condition, whether through the astonishing highs of an operatic voice to the deep dive taken by the circus performer.

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Victorian Opera and the State Opera of South Australia merge here with Circus Oz to bring to life Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The production begins in humour as one of our characters throws open the curtains and insists on joining the wonderful Orchestra Victoria under concertmaster Roger Jonsson. It’s a clever breakage of the fourth wall, and a nod at the fact we are watching a play within a play, which becomes of greater importance as we move towards Act II.

The dress rehearsal of a Commedia dell’Arte pantomime is slapstick in true tradition, with Circus Oz performers Kate Fryer, Geoffrey Dunstan, D J Garner and Luke Taylor as stage hands, essentially stealing the show from the main action of the dress rehearsal. The stage hands are so effortless in their expression, humour and movement that we as an audience implicitly trust them to flip their bodies and hang off ladders without batting an eye. Unfortunately, Act I is bordering on dull, and when the curtains closed at interval, it was difficult to fathom where Laughter and Tears would take us.

Act II is a very different turn from Act I, undoubtedly as we’ve moved on from the slapstick and now entered the Tears. Tonio, performed with brooding viciousness by the talented baritone James Clayton, is the prologue to the Tears, reminding us that the customs of Commedia are over, and we are now going to witness passion, blood and flesh in Act II.

Enter Pagliacci.

Disappointingly, the amalgamation of circus and opera does not work well here. There is one exception, and it is occurs when Nedda (soprano Elvira Fatykhova) describes the freedom of birds in nature as Geoffrey Dunstan leaps upon ropes, ever-escalating in height, inspiring awe and heightened pulse rates amongst the audience. This is the amalgamation I was seeking. It was the beauty of Fatykhova’s voice soaring as the body of the performer flung itself into careless abandon. It was breathtaking and brief. Circus Oz took a backseat to the drama of Pagliacci from here on, and it will be worthwhile to utilise their skill in more astonishing ways in future exercises.

It is wonderful to see the famous tenor aria, Vesti La Giubba, performed live by such a talented tenor as Rosario La Spina. As Canio (La Spina) breaks down during this performance, the heart simply stops. The warmth and pathos of his voice is heartbreaking. I was very moved, and in that moment Tears delivered. La Spina’s shaking rage and vulnerability prior to slaying his wife and her lover showcased La Spina’s marvellous talent as a performer.

To see the death-defying leap of bird-song, and the leap of faith taken by Victorian Opera and Circus Oz, you can see Laughter and Tears on Tuesday 16, and Thursday 18 of August at 7:30pm, at The Palais Theatre: http://www.victorianopera.com.au/what-s-on/season-2016/laughter-and-tears/

Image by Jeff Busby

Australia Tour 2016 of SINGING IN THE RAIN

A perfect storm of local talent

By Jessica Cornish

The beloved 1950s American musical comedy Singing In The Rain has seamlessly transitioned from the silver screen to Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre for 2016. Exploring the 1920’s Hollywood film industry’s shift from silent films to the talkies and the challenges a studio faces when one of their biggest draw cards have the voice and personality of a shrill creature from another world, the Gene Kelly hit now features a host of new local stars.

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With direction by Jonathan Church, choreography by Andrew Wright and musical direction by Adrian Kirk, this creative team have created a well-polished, colourful and picturesque Australian production of the great American classic. A strong ensemble with excellent diction, slick dance moves and a good energy contributed to the overall high-quality performances throughout the night.

Leading romantics were played by the well-seasoned Adam Garcia and Gretel Scarlett. Garcia fit the part well and seemed to naturally channel the 1920s heartthrob with suave charm, while appealing leading lady Ms Scarlett gave consistently strong vocal performances. Comedic relief was provided by the talented Erika Heynatz, who brilliantly portrayed the incredibly narcissistic and obnoxious beauty Lena Lamont. And last but not least, the 2008 So You Think You Can Dance competition winner Jack Chambers was a standout performer of the evening, consistently demonstrating vast stamina and charisma to make him the perfect sidekick as Cosmo Brown.

Highlight musical numbers included the classic vaudeville-themed song-and-tapdance number “Fit as a Fiddle”, the lyrical tongue-twister “Moses Supposes”, melodically catchy “Make ’em Laugh” and of course, “Singing in the Rain”. The staging of the highly anticipated theme song did not disappoint, replicating the iconic after-hour streets of Hollywood with a literal and spectacular down-pouring of rain soaking the stage and its inhabitants. I particularly enjoyed watching the cast members joyfully splashing in puddles and kicking water onto nearby audience members armed with plastic ponchos.

Singing in the Rain is a classic musical that captures all that is good about the world of traditional musical theatre and has been successfully presented to Australian audiences in a colourful, eye-catching and crisp-sounding production that will be residing in Melbourne until July.

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

Price: Ranging from $71.00- $117.00.

Melbourne Season: Tuesday to Sunday until July 5.

Tickets: http://www.daintygroup.com/tour/singin-in-the-rain-aus/

Image by Jeff Busby

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.

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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

Victorian Opera’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR

Blood, tears and glorious music

By Bradley Storer

Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti’s classic bel canto tragedy made famous by our Dame Joan Sutherland, is brought to the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre by Victorian Opera, this star-vehicle appropriately lead by international star Jessica Pratt in the title role of Lucia.

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Despite Henry Bardon’s wonderfully atmospheric and decrepit set (whose variations remain a highlight throughout the evening), the opening scene was very statically and somewhat muddily directed. The male chorus lacked strong direction or intention, but held together under the performances of José Carbó as Enrico Ashton and Jud Arthur as Raimondo. Lucia’s entrance in the next scene, amongst a well-timed eerie burst of onstage fog, was more effectively staged, drawing gasps from the audience.

Pratt is clearly comfortable and confident in the role of Lucia, capably navigating the dramatic arc of Lucia’s journey from innocent love-struck girl to her doomed fate, with a sweet and agile soprano that even in the harsh acoustics of Her Majesty’s could be heard in every corner of the theatre. Her acting choices can be a little odd at times – Pratt beams intermittently through her first aria, the ghostly and ill-omened ‘Regnava Nel Silenzio’, which is a little at ends with the dramatic situation (but feels more appropriate in the following cabaletta ‘Quando Rapito’). At times she can feel a little too controlled, never relaxing fully into the role until the famous and vocally-Olympian mad scene, ‘Il Dolce Suono’, where her soft but intense singing touches the heart even as her coloratura thrills.

Carlos E. Bárcenas as her lover Edgardo has a magnificent tenor voice, at points taking notes higher than even the score indicates to astounding effect. Dramatically though he seems lost, never entirely confident in the role and lacking connection and chemistry with Pratt, which means the last scene depicting Edgardo’s suicide tends to drag.

Carbó manages to find every colouring in the desperate Enrico, abusive to his sister one moment then conciliatory and pleading the next, and his scenes with Pratt are quite possibly the dramatic highlight of the show. Arthur as the priest Raimondo is an authoritative presence, and he received massive applause on opening night. Richard Mills draws out a wonderful performance from the Victorian Opera orchestra, as well as the onstage chorus who are impeccable vocally.

Overall, a worthy re-visiting of the classic opera with a commanding lead star at its centre – a worthwhile night at the opera for any theatre-lover!

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Dates: Tuesday April 12th, Thursday 14th, Saturday 16th, Tuesday 19th, Thursday 21st

Time: 7:30pm

Booking: www.ticketek.com.au

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

L’Chaim!

By Narelle Wood

Directed by Roger Hodgman and original choreography reproduced by Dana Jolly, Melbourne’s new production of Fiddler on the Roof is a powerhouse production to kick off the 2016 theatre season.

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Written in 1960’s the drama-filled musical, heralded as the first of its kind, has stood the test of time as its themes of tradition, family, love and displacement are just as relevant today. Set in a small village, Anatevka, Russia, the milkman Tevye (Anthony Warlow) is struggling to provide a comfortable life for his family. This includes his five strong-willed daughters, who Tevye hopes to marry off to suitable men that will provide some of the comforts he can not afford. With tensions brewing and the world changing around them, Tevye finds the traditions of his people being challenged by more than just his intelligent and independent daughters’ ideas on love.

The cast is full of some of Australia’s best stars of the stage. Warlow is joined by Sigrid Thornton (Golde), Lior (Motel), Nicki Wendt (Yente) and Mark Mitchell (Lazar Wolf); the latter’s transformation is so superb that I didn’t know it was Mitchell until I read the program. Warlow is also almost unrecognizable as Tevye, embodying all the warmth and humour of the character, yet Warlow’s presence is betrayed by his unmistakably rich voice.

While Warlow is clearly the star of the show for both his talent and the iconic role, the rest of the cast are just as masterful. The onstage relationship between Warlow and Thornton is endearing and Wendt’s portrayal of the matchmaker is as every bit hilarious as the character is nosey. There are several other exceptional performances in this production. Teagan Wouters (Tzeitel), Monica Swayne (Hodel) and Jessica Vickers (Chava) are all impressive as Tevye’s eldest daughters revealing exceptionally strong vocals.

There were so many moments where I found myself astonished by the talent on stage: Warlow’s rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” and the ensemble dancers during “To Life” and “Wedding Dance”, for example. However one of the truly standout aspects of this production was the set design by Richard Roberts. Simple and understated but such a clever design concept that allows for such seemingly easy transitions between houses and into the town square.

To be honest, I would have been happy if the performance finished after Act 1 as Fiddler on the Roof had already exceeded all of my expectations; the fact that Act 2 extended this prodigious experience was a delightful bonus. This production of Fiddler on the Roof has certainly set the performance standard for 2016 and it will be a difficult task for others to match.

Venue: Princess Theatre, Spring St, Melbourne
Season: Until 27th Feb, Tues –Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm & Sun 3pm
Tickets: From $79.90
Bookings: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au

Image by Jeff Busby