Tag: Jordan Mahar

StageArt Presents SPRING AWAKENING

Ambitious take on audacious musical

By Bradley Storer

Spring Awakening, the rock musical which first revolutionized the modern conception of musical theatre over ten years ago on Broadway, is a strange beast – the text derived from Frank Wedekind’s controversial late-ninteenth-century play, combined with contemporary rock/pop/folk songs composed by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater that are specifically designed to stand apart from and explore the action of the plot rather than to advance it as in traditional music theatre. Resolving this division between the music and text requires strong direction and a conceptual framework that can bridge these two elements.

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Director Robbie Carmellotti has made big and bold offers with this production, and I thoroughly respect and applaud his efforts in exploring new pathways to interpret a modern classic. However, elements of this production did not fully succeed: the decision to have characters play their own instruments at different points (which all but vanished by the second act) didn’t add anything in particular to the meaning or understanding of the show – the central conceit of nineteenth-century German school children morphing into teen rock stars is already so strong on its own that it doesn’t need this addition. The appearance of handheld microphones as part of this overall metaphor, while an inherent part of this show, becomes overused in this production and feels forced into several unnecessary moments. The decision to have the cast speak their dialogue in German accents and to sing in American accents, which again I appreciate as an attempt to underline the distance between the characters and their inner ‘rock stars’, is unfortunately undermined by a lack of consistent accents across the entire cast. And finally, the re-orchestration of Sheik’s music at certain points deadened the impact of this vital and pulse-raising score, the loss of electric guitar in ‘The Bitch of Living’ turning the number into a country-fied hoedown that lacks the energy and guts of the original.

Brent Trotter is wonderful as Moritz, the anxiety-riddled schoolboy who befalls a terrible fate, managing the character’s difficult journey with great emotion and a gorgeous contemporary voice. As Wendla, Jessie-Lou Yates works hard and tirelessly throughout, but feels slightly miscast in reading as too old to be a young girl undergoing puberty. Ashley Roussety as Melchoir, the closest the show has to a central character, has the opposite problem – he looks perfectly cast as the charismatic and fiercely intelligent protagonist and delivers a credible performance in the first act, and is particularly impressive in Zoee Marsh’s choreography for ‘The Mirror-Blue Night’. However, in the second act he begins to feel a little lost in the role as the story races to climax, losing the emotional impact of the tragic but hopeful conclusion.

The supporting cast, in contrast, are uniformly excellent. Henry Brett steals the entire show as the effete Hanschen, drawing raucous laughter in his two big scenes. Luisa Scrofani impressively shreds the bass guitar as she emotionally tears into the bleakness of ‘The Dark I Know Well’. Grace Browne shines as Thea, and Alice Batt plays both violin and the role of Anna beautifully. Olivia Solomons manages to effectively differentiate every one of her multitude of female adult characters, but sadly Barry Mitchell as her opposite is less successful as parts blur together with similar vocal tone and physicality. The entire ensemble offer up heart-touching loveliness in the complex choreography and choral harmonies of ‘Touch Me’, one of the production’s stronger moments, and showcasing some stunning riffing from Jordan Mahar as Georg.

While this production may have its problems, StageArt should be commended for their commitment to offering contemporary and challenging musicals, and the entire creative team and cast congratulated for attempting a new approach to this much-loved and ground-breaking piece.

Dates: 19 May -10 June

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.

Times: Wed – Sun 7:30pm, Matinee Sat & Sun 1.30pm, Sun 21st May 4pm

Prices: $49 – $79

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au, (03) 8290 7000, at the venue box office.

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Pursued By Bear Presents FIRST DATE

Crass, cluey, and relentlessly funny

By Amy Planner

That awkward blind date feeling should definitely be avoided at all costs, so when someone decides to dedicate a musical to it, there are bound to be a few uncomfortable and unfortunately relatable moments. Enter First Date: The Musical (book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) – this is the show dedicated to bringing those dreaded memories back and managing to make you both laugh and cry at them.

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When slightly nerdy blind date newbie Aaron (Jordan Mahar) is set up with tattoo-toting blind date veteran Casey (Rebecca Hetherington), their obvious differences make for an interesting and incredibly awkward first date. Along for the ride are a number of family members, potential children, ex-lovers and a best mate or two to give their albeit not always helpful advice – in musical form of course.

The Small Timber Café was the setting of this first date disaster, with the audience invited to sit at the café tables and even order coffee from the stage before the show. Cast members lingered around, blending in with baristas and immersing the awaiting audience in this distinctive setting.

There were a few sound issues in the beginning but after some level adjustments and once those opening night nerves were settled, this show had the audience laughing, clapping and even hollering at times.

This small cast were incredibly entertaining from lights up to lights down. Their energy was outstanding as was their enthusiasm for the show bubbling over. Hetherington and Mahar took the lead with their well-characterised vocals, even contriving to sober the boisterous audience with their serious solos.

The five-man ensemble; Nicole Melloy, Danielle O’Malley, Adam Porter, Stephen Valeri and Daniel Cosgrove, were the energetic life force of the show. Each performer had such a unique take on their characters, which made for a hilariously bumpy ride.

Other than those few audio hiccups, this show was pretty seamless. Director Mark Taylor took an Americanised script and made it fit perfectly into an Australian setting and by taking a few ‘lewd’ chances, has put together a genuinely hilarious production.

First Date’s musical score is very modern and unexpected but has indisputable flow and vigour, and no successful musical would be complete without a great Musical Director – and Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe was just that. Her artistic verve manifested in equally witty tunes and great musical moments. The band had nowhere to hide, set upstage in full view of the audience, disguised as café patrons and a chef hat-totting drummer behind the pass.

Sarah Tulloch’s production design was satisfyingly realistic and unbelievably innovative. The set dressing was simple but effective and the ease with which backstage crew could be disguised as waiters and move items around was a sneakily brilliant thought.

First Date is comically crude and toe-tappingly upbeat, and it even slips in a few serious moments to make you remember some things are all too real and unavoidable. As someone who has seen the Broadway original, this definitely stacks up and does Melbourne proud.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel

Season: September 2-11, Mon-Sat 8pm & Sun 5pm

Tickets: $39 Monday only, $49 Full, $39 Concession (+ transaction fee)

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au