Tag: Lucy Maunder

The Production Company Presents CURTAINS

 Marvelous music and joyously good fun

By Bradley Storer

The madcap trials and tribulations of a Broadway-bound musical falling apart at the seams, a classic ‘whodunnit’ murder-mystery, a romantic comedy as well as a tribute to all people with passion for the theatre, all bound together by the final score devised by the legendary team of Kander and Ebb – who could ask for anything more in a show?

Curtains

Simon Gleeson in the role of Lt. Frank Cioffi – lead investigator of the aforementioned murder – is a revelation, his leading man charisma channeled into a role that would be the comedic sidekick in any other piece but here is the focal point of this ode to the theatre world and its people. His comedic timing is exceedingly precise and his rendition of the wistful ‘Coffee Shop Nights’ is absolutely mesmerizing, his rich resonant voice peeking through at a few artfully chosen moments.

The rest of the cast work wonderfully as an ensemble but a mixed bag in terms of individual success. Melissa Langton as the brassy producer of the show nails her character’s bitter (and hilarious) one-liners, but her big number ‘It’s a Business’ falls slightly flat despite her magnificent belt. Alex Rathgeber finds the heartfelt sincerity in his caddish composer, and his touching ballad ‘I Miss the Music’ is a highlight of the show – Lucy Maunder is radiant as his estranged lyricist/wife. Alinta Chidzey sang beautifully as the ingénue Niki Harris but tended to vanish in a role that seems bland and underwritten.

Colin Lane was slightly off-kilter at first as the British director of the show within the show, his accent seeming a little wobbly, but found his feet with pithy non-sequiturs punctuated throughout the evening. Nicki Wendt as the woefully untalented diva whose demise launches the plot delivers a performance of such scene-stealing awfulness that it feels slightly disappointing (in the best possible way) to see her for only the first five minutes of the show.

The ensemble had clearly worked hard at creating individuated background characters, devising moments of sneaky comedy for those looking hard enough, and danced brilliantly in all their numbers, with the orchestra under musical director John Foreman giving the glorious Kander and Ebb score the magnificent treatment it deserved at all times.

Balancing an incredibly tricky mixture of narrative tones, The Production Company delivers this Australian professional premiere with panache, this tribute to the ‘theatre people’ of the world as a whole shining with warm-hearted joy.

Venue: The State Theatre, The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.

Date: 20th August – 28th August

Times: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday, Matinees 1pm Wed/2pm Saturday/3pm Sunday

Prices: $42 – $130

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au , 1300 182 183, or at the box office.

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Melbourne Premiere: HEATHERS THE MUSICAL

Black comedy classic into a fantastically biting and bitchy musical

By Caitlin McGrane

Before I went to see Heathers: The Musical I had vowed to myself that I would watch the cult movie so I was prepared, but I ultimately didn’t, and more’s the better, as I feel it would have utterly ruined the fresh first-time delight if I had. That said, there is still plenty for fans of the film to love – those classic lines (that even I knew) delivered with just enough homage to avoid pastiche. Heathers is a twisted classic story of high school popularity, love, sex. And murder. Written for the stage by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, the show delivers acerbic wit and darkly poignant comedy in spades.

Heathers the Musical.jpg

Veronica Sawyer (Hilary Cole) is a Senior at Westerberg High School in Ohio; in desperation to make her final year more bearable, Veronica asks the eponymous popular girl gang, the Heathers, if they can help her by just letting her associate with them. Veronica falls in line with the Heathers, until she meets broody Baudelaire-quoting heartthrob J.D. (Stephen Madsen) whereupon things start to go slightly pear-shaped… Cole and Madsen both inhabited their roles wholly and convincingly: their chemistry positively palpable.

The Heathers comprise of ‘mythic bitch’ Heather Chandler (Lucy Maunder), neurotic bulimic Heather Duke (Hannah Fredericksen), and bland cheerleader Heather McNamara (Rebecca Hetherington). All three performers are exceptionally funny, but Fredericksen really stole the show as Heather Duke whose ascension to Queen B was hilariously unhinged. Vincent Hooper and Jakob Ambrose looked like they were having heaps of fun on stage as the lewd and cringe-inducing jocks Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly. Lauren McKenna positively shone as Ms Fleming, whose culturally appropriative Afro-inspired dress and hair were so bad they were genius. It would also be remiss not to mention Mitchell Hicks‘ impressive work as J.D.’s unfathomably repulsive father ‘Big Bud’; his every appearance on stage made me want to run screaming from the auditorium. The other members of the ensemble cast – Sage Douglas, Heather Manley and Stephen McDowell were all excellent, and provided the much-needed pace for many of the song-and-dance numbers.

The only area in which the production was let down was in sound design; while director Trevor Ashley and musical director Bev Kennedy did a wonderful job bringing the musical to the Arts Centre stage, on opening night the sound quality in the theatre was not successfully monitored or moderated. This meant that while the cast were performing it was virtually impossible to hear what they were sing-speaking over the noise of the band. This aside, the rest of the production coordination was outstanding.

I therefore thoroughly enjoyed what I could hear of the songs, particularly the LGBT-inspired number delivered by Ram and Kurt’s fathers. Despite being mostly unable to discern the lyrics, I still had a fantastic time; I couldn’t care less what they were singing about half the time because the performances were making me laugh, which is what I wanted. The melodies weren’t original, or even particularly catchy, but every song simultaneously captured the spirit of the 80s, as well as the neuroses of high school to which we can all relate.

Well-thought out set design (Emma Vine), lighting design (Gavan Swift) and choreography (Cameron Mitchell) were essential to support the cast while they careered about on stage. Angela White’s costumes were exceptional and instantly transported us back to 1988.

Heathers had the audience – many of whom were no doubt hard-to-please movie fans – whooping and rolling in the aisles for so much of the performance that any glitches or technical missteps went entirely unnoticed. Indeed, such was the excitement of the ladies in the row in front of me that when J.D. made a brief appearance in the audience one of them quietly screamed, ‘Ooh Julie! Look who you’ve got next to you!’ And I think that just about summed up the experience – it really did make me giddy with high school excitement, albeit with rather more murderous inclinations. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Heathers is showing at the Arts Centre on Southbank until 22 May 2016. For tickets and more information visit: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2016/musicals/heathers-the-musical

REVIEW: MTC Presents LADIES IN BLACK

Sleek, stylish and utterly winning

By Caitlin McGrane

The lead-up to Ladies in Black has been, for me, quite mysterious. It is the creative brainchild of Carolyn Burns (North by Northwest) and Tim Finn, so my expectations were suitably high, particularly because the production is also directed by Simon Phillips (North by Northwest). During the interval of Ladies in Black I struggled to think whether I had ever seen an Australian musical – would Priscilla or Strictly Ballroom count? And generally speaking musicals aren’t my thing, but Ladies in Black was jolly good fun, uproariously funny, and most importantly melted my feminist heart.

Ladies in Black starring Kathryn McIntyre, Kate Cole, Christen O’Leary, Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder, Deidre Rubenstein, Carita Farrer Spencer.jpg

It is the gentle, uplifting coming-of-age story of Lisa (Sarah Morrison), a shy, bookish Sydney teenager in the 1950s and her job at Goodes’ department store. Her colleagues in cocktail frocks Fay (Naomi Price) and Patty (Lucy Maunder), along with the magnificent Magda (Christen O’Leary) and lovely Miss Jacobs (Deidre Rubenstein) softly introduce her to life in the adult world. Although excellently played by Morrison, I found Lisa was sometimes competing for stage space with other characters in ways that felt, to me, a little jarring. That is not to say that anyone or any scene was unnecessary, I think writer Carolyn Burns did an exceptional job of rounding out every character as much as she could, to me this seemed like the consequence of not wanting to leave anyone out because they were all so worth seeing. I particularly enjoyed the (wonderfully oft-repeated song) about men being bastards and the way in which it was the male characters that were sidelined and showed shame for their sexual appetites, neatly subverting historical convention and giving the play a truly modern edge.

My only reservations about the whole production are: I would have loved to see the New Year’s Eve party, and some lines from other scenes sometimes felt like unnecessary exposition. Even though O’Leary’s Magda was terrific rattling through the evening’s events at breakneck speed, I would have enjoyed seeing Lisa and Fay dancing; however, I appreciate that the focus of the play was the women, not their male beaus.
The play is beautifully staged, and the opening of the second act was a particular highlight. The band (Gerard Assi, David Hatch, Matt Hassall, Jo To and Paul Zabrowarny) playing the music (nicely visible behind the stage) were outstanding – each scene felt accompanied by the perfect jazz riff or subtle tinkling of atmospheric music.

Unsurprisingly the costumes (from designer Gabriela Tylesova) were breathtaking, and now I really want to own at least one cocktail frock. Lighting (designed by David Walters) was suitably impressive – moving seamlessly from snowy street to sunny beach to moody bar.

My usual aversion to musicals has been swiftly demolished by this beautiful performance: it was extremely difficult not to get caught up in the whimsical daydreams of all the characters, and I left feeling as though it was the first production I had seen in a long time that didn’t talk down to the audience and really relished in the shiny, glossy newness of a beautiful dress.

Ladies in Black is now playing at The Sumner Theatre at the Melbourne Theatre Company in Southbank until 27 February 2016. More information and tickets at: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2016/ladies-in-black

Image by Rob Maccoll

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.

REVIEW: Victorian Opera’s INTO THE WOODS

Stunning cast in superb production

By Adam Tonking

Into The Woods is admittedly one of my favourite musicals. With the movie adaptation due out at the end of the year, now is the perfect opportunity to see Stephen Sondheim’s masterful exploration of fairy tales in all its original glory, and fortunately, Victorian Opera have staged an immensely enjoyable production of this wonderful show.

Victorian Opera 2014 - Into the Woods © Jeff Busby

The amazing cast deftly handle all of Sondheim’s tricky score and dense lyrics. Truly impressive, in that even at its most tongue-twisting, not a single syllable was lost on the audience, allowing us to enjoy every witty line and every beautifully crafted lyric. Sondheim writes wonderful characters for women, the three main ones in Into The Woods being The Baker’s Wife, The Witch, and Cinderella , and the three actresses in these roles were more than up to the task.

Christina O’Neill was perfect as The Baker’s Wife, never missing a single moment in the character’s development, bringing energy to some of the weaker spoken scenes, and providing blessed relief in the challenging, exposition-heavy second act with her stunning rendition of “Moments In The Woods.” Queenie van de Zandt was in usual glorious form as The Witch, bringing an engaging pragmatism to the role’s more obvious malice, allowing a clearer understanding of the character. Her skilled handling of The Witch’s rap was awe-inspiring, but she was truly breathtaking in my favourite song “Last Midnight.” Lucy Maunder as Cinderella was spectacular, and her duets with O’Neill were some of the most touching of the night. Among the men, particular praise should go to John Diedrich as the Mysterious Man for bringing one of the weakest characters and a terribly awkward part to life.

Clearly I cannot lavish enough praise on Victorian Opera’s Into The Woods. This is simply a magnificent production of a gorgeous show. Don’t miss your chance to see it. It’s playing from now until Saturday 26 July at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. Book tickets at www.victorianopera.com.au or by calling 1300 182 183.

REVIEW: Gordon Frost’s GREASE THE MUSICAL

New production of the rom-com musical classic hits Melbourne

By Bradley Storer

After an impromptu greeting by the ensemble cast of Gordon Frost’s Grease led by Principal Lynch (Val Lehman) welcoming us to the halls of Rydell High School, the lights go down and a brief love duet between romantic leads Sandy (Gretel Scarlett) and Danny (Rob Mills) leads into the electrifying opening ‘Grease is the Word’.

Grease-the-musical

The cast emerges from the smoke, each character instantly distinguishable in the tight and precise ensemble, and all is right with the world. ‘Grease is the Word’ is exciting, characterful and taps immediately into the hot-blooded vivacity of 50’s youth culture.

What is so disappointing is that very little that follows matches the opening number. The classic score is still fantastic, under the musical direction of Stephen Amos, but the energy in both the musical numbers and scenes never reaches the level it should be at. (Act I song ‘These Magic Changes’ led by Chris Durling as Doody comes the closest to achieving the strength of the first number).

Scarlett and Mills are perfectly believable as the lead couple. Mills uses his cheeky charm to good effect as bad boy Danny, and Scarlet gives off an aura of sunny innocence as Sandy, and shows off a surprising range in her number ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. Danny’s gang, the T-Birds, tend to blur together with their similar hair colours and identical outfits, although Duane McGregor as Roger does get to display some impressive vocals in his duet ‘Mooning’ with Jan (Laura Murphy). Stephen Mahy as Kenickie is oddly restrained to the point of being underpowered, displaying the rock stylings necessary for the biggest number in the show ‘Greased Lightning’ but none of the rock star sexual charisma.

The female characters as a whole fare better. Lucy Maunder as Rizzo is the highlight of the entire show, grabbing attention as soon as she struts out in her dark sunglasses and by the end delivers a commanding performance of ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. The first-rate ensemble are to be commended for performing with complete energy and commitment in everything they appear in, with special mention to ensemble member Euan Doidge for the onstage acrobatics he pulls off at various points in the show.

Melbourne season: 5th January – 16th March, 2014.

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne

Tickets: Online at http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=GREASE14

REVIEW: Melbourne Premiere of DR ZHIVAGO THE MUSICAL

The lustre is lacking, but the performers bring their own shine

By Kim Edwards

Anthony Warlow received a standing ovation for Melbourne’s opening night of the new musical Dr. Zhivago, and it was richly deserved.

His sumptuous voice soars through Lucy Simon’s melodious ballads, and his sleek performance of Zhivago slides easily between delicate characterization and the sweeping charisma that made him glorious on the Australian and international stage.


However, the vehicle for his achievement has the propensity to be as clunky and awkward as the show’s cumbersome ‘train’ set piece. Dr. Zhivago the musical boasts a lavish and quite lovely score, a famous and beloved tale to tell, and fine performances from an excellent cast. But even the man himself could not overcome the problems of trite lyrics, perfunctory character development, historical caricature and messy staging.

Rising star Lucy Maunder has a bright beautiful voice, and is charming as Lara, although she is given little room to explore the character emotionally. Her lovely co-star Taneel van Zyl has even less opportunity in the thankless role of Tonia.

Fortunately Pasha the revolutionary-turned-rogue is fleshed out more fully, and allows dynamic Martin Crewes to rip into his character and create a ferocious, flamboyant and strangely pathetic and appealing man as Zhivago’s foil and reflection.


While clearly necessary to truncate an epic history and vast landscape for a two-act musical on a proscenium stage, sadly this is not managed well. The set is versatile but dull and the projections of giant figures looming over the action are disconcerting and distracting.

Great battles, tragic events and extraordinary moments of emotional possibility are packaged up into menial exposition, running about with chairs, and songs (in a story about a poet, no less) with relentless rhyming couplets so predictable they become painful.

Having said this, the show is by no means boring. The blocking is full of action and interest (although peasants suddenly turning from rural Russia to push a train into Moscow was one of several jarring continuity breaks). The cast work energetically through their material, and the wedding dancing by the revolutionaries and the lively female opening number for Act II were highlights.

Act II is generally superior in pace and excitement: there is also particularly beautiful lighting in the abandoned house, and the powerful confrontation of Zhivago and Pasha is more moving than the finale.

Playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, Dr Zhivago is emphatically an enjoyable night out: if it does not achieve all the profound tragedy, romance and grandeur the tale deserves, hearing Warlow make magic once again is wonderfully worthwhile.

Photos by Kurt Sneddon