Tag: Kellie Dickerson

Groaning Dam Productions Presents NED: A NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL IN CONCERT

Musically stunning

By Bradley Storer

It had been a wonderful week for Australian music theatre, with a limited and critically acclaimed season of Jon English’s Paris and then a Melbourne remounting of the new original musical Ned after a successful Bendigo premiere just over two years ago. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, but it can be safely said that both make a brilliant case for the vitality and necessity of new Australian musical theatre works.

Ned The Musical.jpg

Ned tells the story of the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) bushranger from childhood to his death by hanging, and the book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre firmly takes the view of Kelly as a good, honourable man driven to extremes by injustice and government  corruption. The opening choral number sets up the evening as an interrogation of the legend and the ambiguous figure at its centre.

Nelson Gardner brings a loveable larrikin-quality and charisma to the central role, making it easy to sympathize with him and the hardships we witness him first suffer and then rebel against. The first act grounds us in the reality of living in nineteenth-century Australia, and we’re allowed to witness the close and loving bonds between family and friends that will soon be stretched and torn apart.

As in Paris, we are treated to a veritable feast of young Australian talent amongst the cast of Ned. Robert Tripolino, Brent Trotter and Connor Crawford are fantastic as the trio of friends who along with Ned are drawn into conflict with the law, and their voices meld beautifully in the lyrical “White Dove”. Alana Trater and Hannah Frederickson are wonderfully girlish and infectious in their playful chemistry before bleak events force them into maturity, Trater in particularly growing in gravitas before unleashing the shattering “No Way Back” in the family’s darkest hour.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the meek police officer Fitzpatrick, whose initial kind nature tips over into bitterness and violence, is adorably awkward and well-meaning and manages the character’s slide into darkness with palpable pathos. Anchoring the entire cast (and quite possibly the whole show) is Penny Larkins as Ellen, the matriarch of the Kelly family – grounding the character with determined optimism and joy, Larkins traverses the biggest arc of the show as Ellen watches one by one her family taken to prison, ending up there herself to protect her children and comforting her son in his last moments. When Ellen is pressured by the police in the second act to give up the location of Ned’s gang, Larkins unsheathes the steel hidden beneath the surface in the defiant “My Son”, almost bringing their audience to their feet mid-show roaring with applause.

Adam Lyon’s score is dazzling throughout, managing to find its own uniquely Australian identity in its sound, and under the masterful hand of musical director and conductor Kellie Dickerson every moment of music was truly epic.

The only criticism that could be levelled would be at the book – while the show’s dedication to exploring and individuating all the central characters is wonderful, it comes at the cost of losing focus on Ned as the centre of the piece. Oddly, Ned himself only has two solo numbers throughout the entire show, and while the optimistic and yearning “Hope of Australia” is a brilliant song at the beginning of Ned’s journey there is sadly not much besides dialogue with other characters to define the later stages of his trajectory. Director Gary Young did a stellar job of staging this piece in a concert setting, but on the night the second act of Ned felt slightly weaker than the first. This was quite possibly because of the long stretches of dialogue that would play more strongly in a fully-staged production, but in a concert tended to drag down momentum.

These small criticisms aside, Ned more than proved itself worthy of national attention and development, and we can only hope this piece receives the funding and further opportunities to grow it deserves – with time, Ned could be THE great Australian musical.

Venue: National Theatre, St Kilda

Time: 7:30pm

Date: Monday 17th July

Image by Marty Williams

REVIEW: Life Like Company Presents CITY OF ANGELS

Cy Coleman’s classic beautifully and stylishly revisited

By Myron My

Life Like Company‘s 2015 production has been the much-loved, Tony-Award-winning musical comedy thriller, City of Angels. Paying homage to the 1940s era of film noir while also taking a swipe at the Hollywood film industry, it is a heavily engaging and engrossing meta-story of betrayal, love, passion and murder.

Dress rehearsal photo from the Life Like Company production of City of Angels. Photography by Ben Fon - http://fon.com.au
Dress rehearsal photo from the Life Like Company production of City of Angels. Photography by Ben Fon – http://fon.com.au

Despite being first performed 26 years ago, the book by Larry Gelbart still come across as fresh and relevant. It may admittedly be a little politically incorrect and chauvinistic for current times (despite being mediated through characters we’re invited to critique) but the cheeky wit and cleverness of the script and the direction of Martin Croft ensure you still enjoy watching the relationships being depicted on stage. Led by Musical Director Kellie Dickerson, the live band superbly bring to life the upbeat challenging jazz score by Cy Coleman, and the cast certainly do justice to David Zippel’s sharp lyrics in their performances.

For those unfamiliar with the work, City of Angels offers two stories simultaneously told on stage. In one, mystery writer Stine (Anton Berezin), is attempting to perfect his latest film noir script while at the mercy of Hollywood film mogul, Buddy Fidler (Troy Sussman). In contrast, the second story (depicted entirely in black and white costumes and set pieces) has the audience entering Stine’s fiction where private investigator Stone (Kane Alexander) is hired by Alaura Kingsley (Anne Wood) to locate her missing stepdaughter and from there on, the plot thickens and the lines between reality and fantasy start blurring.

The whole cast is exemplary in their portrayals of their characters, including elegant body language and accents, with many playing dual roles as they cross over between stories. Berezin and Alexander are highly entertaining to watch as each character faces his own personal struggles, as well as having to deal with each other. Their famous duet, “You’re Nothing Without Me” is a powerhouse number and stays with you long after the curtain drops.

Amanda Harrison as Donna and Oolie, while not having much stage time, is a consummate scene-stealer and her spectacular renditions of “You Can Always Count On Me” and “What You Don’t Know About Women” (with Chelsea Plumley) are highlights of the evening. Wood is a superb choice as the sultry femme fatale Alaura and her chemistry with Alexander has you hanging off their every word and action.

City of Angels has much love and respect for the film noir genre while poking fun at its tropes. This particular production is a sharp and highly amusing show with some stunning performances from its cast. The only thing criminal about Life Like Company‘s latest theatrical creation is that it is on for only four nights, as many more people should be given the opportunity to experience its bite and brilliance.

City of Angels was performed at the Arts Centre between 5 – 8 November 2015.

REVIEW: Manila Street Productions Presents SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM

Musings of the man on his music

By Bradley Storer

With Sondheim on Sondheim, Manilla Street Productions assembles a star-studded cast to perform a revue of Broadway’s most prolific living composer, an evening of Stephen Sondheim’s music intercut with projections of the man himself with a variety of anecdotes and details relating to his life and song-writing. Among the cast were leading lady of Australian music theatre Lucy Maunder, Rob Guest, Endowment winner Blake Bowden, Martin Crewes, Delia Hannah, Michael Cormick, Lisa-Marie Parker, Anton Berezin and Australian theatre legend Nancye Hayes.

Sondheim on Sondheim

The structure of the show itself, songs and scenes from Sondheim’s oeuvre presented alongside exclusive interviews with the composer himself, is problematic – none of the songs can gain enough momentum to hold the audience before they are interrupted by snatches of interviews, and thus the flow of the evening drags. Sondheim himself is a charming and engaging presence onscreen, and hearing him speak on various topics is one of the joys of the performance. By the second act, the portions of Sondheim’s interview are more smartly dispersed alongside longer numbers which allow some much-needed momentum, leading to wonderful group songs like the self-parodying ‘God’, ‘Opening Doors’, ‘The Gun Song’ and ‘Smile Girls!, an Ethel Merman number cut from Gypsy.

The all-star cast seemed surprisingly tentative, too unsure to invest themselves in their individual numbers enough to perform a ‘star turn’ – which unfortunately is what revues such as this need to stay afloat. Maunder’s Act Two strip tease, ‘Ah, But Underneath’, was the closest the evening came to a show-stopper and allowed Maunder (who earlier delivers a touching performance of ‘Take Me to the World’) to unleash scintillating dance skills and charismatic sexuality, but was undercut by the entrance of the male ensemble and an oddly dissatisfying climax to the number. One of the greatest moments of the evening was the simplicity of watching Hayes grabbing a stool and taking centre stage to sing with heart-breaking simplicity the famous ‘Send in the Clowns’.

The orchestra, under the capable direction of Kellie Dickerson, were in great form, performing the new arrangements with great zest and skill – one mistake however was the choice of a slower tempo for the explosive ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc.’, a show-stopper that requires manic and frenetic energy to work, leaving Crewes’ valiant attempt to deliver the number underwhelming.

Sondheim on Sondheim unfortunately fails to deliver on the promise of its incredible cast and rich material, finding only moments here and there which capture the deep well of emotion and beauty within’s Sondheim work – the show itself has structuring issues which certainly don’t help the creative team and need more time and finesse to overcome.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, corner of Southbank Boulevard and Sturt St.
Date: Saturday 23rd May, 2015
Time: 2pm & 7:30pm
Tickets: A Reserve – $69, $59 Concession, B Reserve – $59, $55 Concession
Booking: www.melbournerecitalcentre.com.au, 03 9699 3333, at the box office.