Tag: Kanen Breen

Victorian Opera Presents ‘TIS PITY: AN OPERATIC FANTASIA OF SELLING THE SKIN AND TEETH

In praise of a cabaret goddess

By Bradley Storer

A sinister puppeteer dangles a dark-haired poppet on strings, twisting her to his amusement and satisfaction, as he sings of the evening ahead with hints of the debauchery and debasement to come. The star of the evening, the international cabaret star and dishevelled diva Meow Meow, misses her entrance to the Melbourne Recital Centre (of course) and is forced to drag around props and costumes before she ascends a staircase to become a glorious goddess of the ancient world. We are promised bite-sized pieces depicting the goddess’ many daughters throughout the ages, from Ancient Greece to the modern day.

Victorian-Opera-Tis-Pity-Meow-Meow-photo-by-Karl-Giant.jpg

Meow Meow is, as always, a combination of high-diva glamour and self-deprecating humour, always ready with an off-the-cuff remark that never fails to make the audience laugh. Her magnificent voice is on full show here, from a gutsy alto to a light classical soprano all utilized to maximum effect throughout the night. Her leading man Kanen Breen takes on many roles in the performance, from lover to pimp to bishop, with a ghoulish visage, an elastic physicality and a thrilling tenor voice that rings to every corner of the Recital Centre.

The text of the performance, from composer and librettist Richard Mills, is quite dense and delivered at a rapid pace – the performers are miked but not amplified loud enough, so often the words blended into a flurry of sound, and climatic lines to songs were drowned out by the orchestra. The vignette structure of the performance also seems extremely rushed, with one or two sections going by so quickly and without remark that I found it hard to decipher what they were.

The show also never seems to decide quite clearly what their subject matter is. At the start of the show the proclaimed intent seems to be examining the evolving perception of prostitution throughout history, but what emerges seems to be more a comment on attitudes towards women and femininity in general rather than prostitution. While this is certainly not a problem in itself, not making the focus of the work clear only serves to add to the audience’s confusion. The inclusion of three dancers (Alexander Bryce, Patrick Weir and Thomas Johansson) as bit players to Meow Meow and Breen’s escapades, while wonderful in their dancing and delivering good performances, never seem adequately utilized enough to justify having them in the show.

The only few moments that work and connect with the audience are those where Meow Meow is left alone onstage to simply sing – in these moments, she is tender, heart-breaking and most importantly real. In the finale where Meow Meow sings about the troubles of modern times, a line about ‘building a wall’ around her heart becomes an uncomfortably contemporary parallel to the path of current politics.

Tis Pity feels like it needs re-structuring and reconsideration of its overall message before it can truly work as a theatrical piece, but having a star such as Meow Meow back on our stage is a delight worth savouring.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, 31 Sturt St, Southbank

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Times: 7:30pm

Tickets: $118 – $30

Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au, (03) 9699 3333

Image by Karl Giant

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REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents SWEENEY TODD

Loved it!

By Jessica Cornish

In celebrating their 10th birthday, Victorian Opera have chosen to end their Stephen Sondheim trilogy that began in 2013 with the famous musical horror Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet St, directed by Stuart Maunder.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) is a man seeking revenge on Judge Turpin (Philip Rhodes) for the wrongful imprisonment that separated him from his beautiful wife and child, Johanna (Amelia Berry). Escaping colony convict life, Todd returns an obsessed and disillusioned man, and in a cruel and unforgiving society crumbling into filth and poverty, loses his humanity and becomes a serial killer alongside his infatuated accomplice, Mrs Lovett (Antoinette Halloran). They promptly make a business of slitting the throats of barbershop customers and baking them in to pies. Meanwhile, Todd’s estranged daughter is locked away by her adopted guardian the Judge, and a lovesick boy Anthony Hope (Blake Bowden) tries to free Johanna from the lecherous man planning to marry his ward.

Victorian Opera debutant but Melbourne music-theatre favourite Teddy Rhodes has a beautiful rich voice, and his strong brooding frame demanded attention at all times; however, for the first act he seemed a little wooden and detached (even for Todd) when delivering his few lines. Halloran was a triumphant highlight of the show: her singing was always clear, well-executed and perfectly acted, providing black humour throughout the night. Her Mrs Lovett was all at once funny, revolting, and greedy yet still managed to gain the sympathy of the audience. Another standout performance was soprano Berry as Johanna, who effortlessly and accurately glided through her notoriously difficult songs and had amazing vocal clarity and control. Finally, Kanen Breen as Beadle Bamford definitely needs a mention for his hilarious performance as the snarky Judge’s companion, with a killer falsetto that reared itself spectacularly in the second act.

The ensemble are highly participatory throughout the performance, reminiscent of a Greek chorus narrating and commentating on the action unfolding. In this production, the ensemble’s well-executed diction was truly impressive because of the rapid-fire of lyrics and intense musical and narrative demands, whereupon for the most part every word was heard even amongst the complex rounds of verses. The famous Sondheim score is lyrically rich, metrically unstable, dissonant and riddled with constant tension. Under Phoebe Brigg‘s astute musical direction, even songs seemingly beautiful and sweet were laced with vengeance and murder, always leaving the audience deliciously uncomfortable and on edge.

The clarity of the audio designed by Jim Atkins was excellent: however the balance between the orchestra and the vocals was often slightly off, leaving the occasional vocal lines difficult to hear, while the infamous eerie factory whistle was literally painful to listen to and, with patrons covering their ears, really needs to be turned down. Philip Lethlean‘s atmospheric lighting was harsh, using cool washes, up-lighting, and at times, one dimensional angles to give a real horror feel, and adding to the unease of Fleet St. The sets by Rodger Kirk were simple yet adequate, and were easily and smoothly manipulated on a scene-to-scene basis (with just the one bed that seemed to be stuck on stage for a little extra time than required).

Sweeney Todd is a thrilling and enthralling musical, and with a difficult score for the regular music-theatre or operatic performer, it is not often as vocally perfected as it is here by the Victorian Opera. The opening night performance was an absolute pleasure to see and hear, and as the ‘Demon Barber’ isn’t a steady theatre standard, I warmly suggest everyone go see this musical operetta. (Just make sure that if you are purchasing or picking up ticketson the day to arrive at least half an hour in advance due to very long lines, and even more importantly make sure you are in the correct venue! Many people, including myself were ushered into the wrong theatres within the Arts Centre, so I almost saw West Side Story, another Sondheim classic, last night!)

Victorian Opera’s Sweeney Todd is playing at the Playhouse in The Arts Centre until July 25, 2015. Tickets from $50, bookings via http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/sweeney-todd

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala 2015

Glorious beginnings for another promising festival

By Bradley Storer

This year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala, keeping with the festival theme of ‘Keeping it Fresh’, took place at St Kilda’s new Alex Theatre, with excerpts from fresh new festival acts from all over Australia.

Melbourne Cabaret Festival

Dolly Diamond provided a lovely opening to the show, passing through the audience offering roses while singing a charming medley of tunes from ‘Oliver!’, accompanied by Cameron Thomas, and introduced our host for the evening – musical theatre performer and former Australian Idol finalist Rob Mills. Mills, admitting it to be his first gig as an MC, was a charming and competent host throughout the evening, even having to strike the stage and bring out props with enthusiasm and energy.

Annie Lee shed her usual garb as the eldest of the acclaimed Kransky Sisters to deliver both a touch of glamour and gawky physical comedy to the little-known poetry of the Weimar era in excerpts from her show ‘Lighthouse Berlin’. The Strange Bedfellows, Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen, stormed the stage to deliver contemporary Weimar-style cabaret with jaw-dropping vocal power and charisma, traversing such territory as a German-language version of ‘Tainted Love’, a new number based around the misdeeds of Rolf Harris all the way to Amanda Palmer’s gutsy anthem for humanity ‘Sing’.

Winner of the Your Theatrics International Cabaret Competition, Noni McCallum, took to the stage next and proved beyond doubt the reason for her win – a ballsy belt with a dry, self-deprecating wit, McCullum narrated the humours of dating past age 30 before ending with the simultaneously hilariously and surprisingly touching ‘Ikea Song’. A capella groups Ginger and Tonic and Suade showcased their trademark exquisite harmonies combined with witty and risqué songwriting, providing viewpoints on the modern dating scene from both feminine and masculine perspectives. Closing the night were the Queens of the City, a drag group whose members entertained the audience with sassy banter, Cher-impersonation and stunning contemporary pop vocals.

The wide variety on show at the Gala aptly displays the variety and breadth of talent, both local and international, that Melbourne Cabaret Festival draws year after year and which bodes well for the festival’s future in years to come.

Date: June 18th, 2015
Venue: The Alex Theatre, 1/135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda

REVIEW: Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen are STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Deliciously dirty cabaret

By Bradley Storer

Australian opera stars Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen bring their delightfully perverted brand of dark cabaret to the Melbourne stage.  The diabolical duo, clothed in corsets and border-line S&M finery, storm the stage of The Butterfly Club and make clear from the outset their aim to both offend our sensibilities and entertain us at the same time. In their opening number Dark and Breen harness the operatic power of their voices in thrilling ways to deliver a roof-rattling Robbie Williams number, never apologising for their classical roots but finding a surprisingly comfortable middle ground between modern rock and opera.

Strange Bedfellows

The evening was an onslaught of confrontational sexuality, moral degradation and gasp-inducing humour that harkened back to the highly political and satirical origins of classic German cabaret, but always performed with a cheeky smile and a refusal to be serious. Topics ranged from the masculine/feminine dichotomy found in both men and women alike, a Germanic rendition of ‘Tainted Love’, an extended and uproarious rock opera/morality play about sexual fetishes too heinous to be mentioned here, all the way to a medley of the pair’s childhood songs which culminated in a simultaneously heart-rending and bone-chilling performance of the Dresden Dolls’ ‘Slide’.

Dark is an earthy, sensual presence onstage, using her commanding mezzo-soprano in a wide variety of styles and wielding her forthright and ribald sense of humour to maximum effect. Her tale of being classified as a ‘geriatric’ mother and the trials of IVF was a refreshingly sincere change of pace in the show that still managed to draw laughs even as it touched the hearts of the audience. Breen’s devilish grin and sinuous stage manner, along with a powerful and penetrating tenor, make him and Dark an ideal and complementary duo onstage. Together they drew the audience into depths of filth, lust and sin that terrified and titillated in equal measure. My only critique would be a slight loss of pace towards the end of the evening as more sincere material took over, losing some of the crackling and dynamic energy of the darkness which preceded it.

A terrific evening of classic Weimar-style cabaret from two accomplished local artists, Strange Bedfellows: Under the Covers sure to be savoured by those enjoy the darker and dangerous pleasures of life.

Venue: The Butterfly Club, Carson Place, Melbourne

Date: 18 – 22nd February
Time: 6pm Wednesday and Sunday, 7pm Thursday – Saturday
Tickets: At the door, www.thebutterflyclub.com
Price: Full $32, Concession $28, Members $26, Groups 8+ $25