Tag: Joseph Spanti

Review: Jack Frost: The Musical

A timely fairy-esque tale

By Bradley Storer

Despite the industry wide instability currently decimating the Australian theatre scene, opening night of new Australian musical Jack Frost luckily proceeded. A fairy-esque tale that follows the journey of a young girl travelling both backwards into her past and headfirst into her future, the tale feels eerily appropriate for the current global situation. A small town facing environmental chaos, a political struggle between a conservative past and the pull of progress, and the rise of a charismatic but underhanded leader.

The absolute crowning glory of the piece is composer/writer Joseph May-Dessmann’s score, a lush and inviting affair under the musical direction of Jayla McLennan. While no specific number stands massively above the rest (with the possible exception of Frost’s solo number ‘Take Care’) the songs of Jack Frost are truly a wonder, lifting the cast and audience towards musical theatre magic.

The script and book need some further work, with some character motivations and plot points still a little unclear textually. A little more exploration and explanation of the world in which the characters inhabit may also solve some tonal and linguistic shifts from scene to scene that felt slightly jarring. Despite this, director Lauren McKenna has done a wonderful job of crafting the dramatic journey and stage imagery to a polished gleam.

Tayla Muir as Stella Forte, the heroine of the story, is the guiding light of the production. With an exquisite voice and a lovely stage presence, Muir is absolutely captivating – when the stage lights go down to focus on only her face and voice, it is almost impossible to turn away. As her best friend Michael, Ben Hallam is adorably campy, and stage veteran Samm Hagen rounds out the central trio as mayoress Violet Flowers. Hagen commands the stage from her very first moment, wielding her massive voice with finesse and lifting the performances of everyone around her with her presence alone.

As the ostensible antagonist Leo, Joseph Spanti offers both incredible singing and a refreshingly natural and truthful performance of the agonized character, flowing with ease into the charismatic showmanship of the second act. Callum Andreas, in a very grounded and gentle performance, has only one song as the mystical Jack Frost but easily turns it into the highlight of the show with his stunning voice. Ambrose Steinmetz and Penny Larkins, as Stella’s mother and grandmother respectively, radiate warmth and love, lifting the mood in the second act with their charming comedic duet.

While the rest of the season has been cancelled in light of recent developments, with as amazing a cast and an sublime a score as this Jack Frost definitely deserves a wider audience and further development and we can only hope it will return.

Venue: St Martin’s Youth Theatre, 28 St Martins Lane, South Yarra

Bookings: No longer available

Review: Spring Awakening

A re-envisioned rendition

By Owen James

Spring Awakening is a powerful, transporting show. Steven Sater’s book is incomparable, packed with thoughtful, confronting scenes that are affecting no matter the interpretation. Adapted into a musical from the once-banned 1891 Germanic playtext written by Franz Wedekind, the material highlights the importance of sexual education through the lives of repressed, struggling teenagers in a stringent and stilted time that unfortunately is not too distant from today. After its initial, very popular 2006 Broadway production, it also had a revival by Deaf West Theatre transfer to Broadway in 2015, that saw the show reinvented with the added thematic catalyst of deaf education – demonstrating how ripe and malleable Spring Awakening is for reinvention. North By South Theatre are presenting the first “gender fluid” production of this cult classic, encouraging us to examine the characters for their motives and emotions with actors who are “not playing a gender”, but “playing a person”.

The gender of the characters has not been altered, nor have the characters been stripped of gender entirely. The costuming is (confusingly) distinctly gendered, and many moments of the text inherently rely on gender archetypes. It’s a unique concept that certainly feels pertinent to the show, but one that for me did not elevate the material to any new heights, nor uncover a fresh interpretation on the text. Director Cal Robinson-Taylor has staged this rendition very well in the cosy ‘Loft’ (fitting name) at Chapel Off Chapel, where movement/choreography never feels squashed or crowded, despite the thirteen-strong cast.

Musical Director Alex Langdon has ensured the musical performances from both cast and band are top-notch at every turn. Harmonies are rich and complete, and ensemble numbers pack considerable punch. Sound Design from Ryan Mangold is professional and refined; the band are mixed with precision to craft a perfect blend between instruments. I’ve seen the show many times, but this is the clearest rendition of the beautiful string arrangements I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the performers are without amplification, so many lyrics and parts of dialogue spoken over music are simply lost.

Joseph Spanti and Majella Davis as Melchior and Wendla are a well-matched duo, bravely delving into their characters’ intimate connection with interchanging nuance and fire. Spanti finds moving emotional heights in “Totally Fucked” and the penultimate graveyard scene, and Davis’ “Whispering” is packed with sweet innocence and soft vocals.

Francesca O’Donnell executes the demands of stress-ridden teen Moritz adeptly, tackling songs intended for a male voice with vigour that thankfully suit her very well. Juan Gomez performs a very compelling portrayal of Ilse, with the character’s appearance in early act two arguably the highlight of the show. There are many textured, detailed moments from members of the ensemble, and “Touch Me” gives ample chills (particularly the belted solo from Yash Fernando).

Whilst there are plentiful caveats in blurring the gender lines, I applaud North-By-South theatre for attempting to view Spring Awakening through a unique lens, and addressing issues deservedly part of the current public headspace. I hope they continue to tackle future productions with as determined and bold an approach.


Photography courtesy of Chapel Off Chapel