Tag: Lucy O’Brien

Flourish Productions Presents THE SONGS OF ALAN MENKEN

A warming and appealing tribute

By Narelle Wood

The name Alan Menken is synonymous with so many Broadway and Disney productions: it is hard to capture the gamut of his career, especially in a 2-hour performance review. But the ensemble cast of the review The Songs of Alan Menken certainly did their best to show the range of styles and shows that Menken has contributed to.

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The ensemble of seven singers (Seth Drury, Josh Ellwood, Zuleika Khan, Vanessa Menjivar, Liam J. O’Bryne, Emily Paddon-Brown and Jeff van de Zandt) treated us to songs from wonderful movies and musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tangled, and Sister Act.  The accompanying choreography (by Rhys Velasquez) and staging (Matthew Lockitt) was simple and seamless, and the lighting was flawless. The only distracting thing was the occasional ‘off-pitch’ note, which was perhaps less about the very talented singers, and more to do with the demanding range needed to perform some of Menken’s more complicated scores. (That, and the appearance of some stuffed animals, which seemed a little bit corny in light of the rest of the show.)

More important were the number of standout moments. “Need to Know” from Weird Romance has become my unofficial ‘geek’ anthem and the duet of “I Can Read You” (Leap of Faith) performed by O’Byrne and Menjivar was brilliant. In saying that, one of my favourite moments came courtesy of Drury and Van de Zandt’s duet of “A Whole New World”: hands down one of the cutest duets of all time. The showstopper though was the ensemble singing one of Menken’s perhaps lesser-known songs, “Sailing On“. It was not a big upbeat number, but an understated and moving arrangement by musical director Lucy O’Brien, with stunning harmonies adroitly performed.

Ultimately, The Songs of Alan Menken was the perfect way to spend a cold Saturday afternoon, with the music of Menken lingering on way after the performance was over.

This production of The Songs of Alan Menken was performed on June 24, 2017 at The Southbank Theatre.

Image by James Terry Photography

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REVIEW: Watch This Presents COMPANY

Stunning performances in superb production

By Adam Tonking

Stephen Sondheim can be tricky. His shows seem to be full of pitfalls to trap the unwary theatre company into poor choices, and Company is no exception. With no linear narrative, just a series of vignettes centred on marriage and relationships in New York and his usual densely layered music and finely wrought lyrics, there are a myriad of ways for this show to go off the rails. Fortunately, the cast and creative team behind Watch This’ Company are more than up to the challenge.
Company Photo Credit Jodie Hutchinson

The cast are sublime. The protagonist Robert is a difficult role to play; a mostly passive observer to the five married couples in his friendship circle, he still needs to build a rapport with the audience so they care when he stops for a moment of self-reflection. Nick Simpson-Deeks was perfect, engaged in every scene as the fulcrum around which the action takes place, charming and affable with a stunning voice: there could not have been a better choice for the dramatic lynchpin that carries the whole show.

But there were many beautiful performances from the rest of the cast also. Mark Dickinson as David in an early scene where he reveals a controlling side was absolutely chilling, Johanna Allen as Jenny brought a delightful schadenfreude and glorious voice to “Getting Married Today”, and Sally Bourne brought poignantly to life the difficult song “The Little Things You Do Together” as Joanne (a role which in another performer’s hands could have seemed like a mere mean drunk there simply to throw in the acerbic asides). These were a few of my favourite moments, but the whole cast were spectacular.

In fact, the creative team have likewise done a spectacular job. The choreography by Michael Ralph was inventive and finely detailed; in a show that doesn’t require big dance numbers, his choreography was clever and beautifully executed. Costume design by Zoe Rouse carefully managed a balance between current fashion and the 1970s era in which the show is set, while also cleverly colour-coding the married couples to help the audience manage visually the relationships between the characters.

One glaring problem with this production is the choice of venue. Unfortunately for a portion of the audience, the action was obstructed from view by poles or railings, which is a shame because the direction and staging was flawless. A sparse and economical set by Eugyeene Teh was transformed under the direction of Kat Henry into the multitude of locations required, and Henry’s tight direction kept the momentum going through the quietest of scenes. The creative team also made the brave choice to have the performers work without microphones, with mixed results. There is something so much more engaging and compelling, particularly in an intimate show like Company, to hear the performers under the musical direction of Lucy O’Brien without the filter of amplification, and in many moments in this production it was magnificent. Until the performer turns away from you and you’ve missed what they’re saying. Again, I confess I blame the choice of venue.

That said, I would dearly love to see this exact production again, preferably in a different venue, or at least in a better seat. This is Sondheim, after all, and Watch This have presented a brilliant production of Company. My suggestion is, see it, but make sure you choose your seating carefully. Actually – see it anyway. Because even from my seat next to the band where I couldn’t see half of the stage, I still loved it.

Watch This presents Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth is on at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, from September 16 till October 4. Tickets available at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com or by calling 03 9662 9966.

REVIEW: Flourish Productions Presents THE SONGS OF ALAN MENKEN

From immortal Disney blockbusters to rare musical gems

By Adam Tonking

Alan Menken has a singular talent for writing beautiful songs about longing to be somewhere else. On a bleak winter afternoon, there was nowhere I’d rather have been than at Flourish Productions’ The Songs Of Alan Menken. And clearly I wasn’t alone. A packed Toff In Town necessitated more chairs being brought in to accommodate the enthusiastic crowd for this cleverly staged and brilliantly performed revue show.

The Songs of Alan Menken

The song choices were particularly inspired: some incredible showstoppers from little-known or unproduced works, some more obscure choices from the famous ones, and a sprinkling of favourites simply impossible to omit. A few more obvious choices were neatly packed into a cleverly arranged overture by accompanist Lucy O’Brien. With its simple and effective staging, slick transitions, and some snappy choreography, this show was the perfect package. Add the brilliant music of Menken, and all you need is the cast.

And what a cast. Six performers of such skill that not a moment was lost, not a song failed to hit the mark. Vanessa Menjivar opened proceedings taking the lead in “Zero To Hero,” before blowing us away in “Growing Boy,” handling the food-related innuendo with great style. “Watch What Happens,” a surprisingly complex and difficult song from Newsies, was artfully delivered by Emily Paddon-Brown. Jeff Van De Zandt’s passionate and emotive rendition of “Out There” almost brought me to tears, and Zuleika Khan’s flawless “Mother Knows Best” had them pouring down my face in awe. Khan wowed again in “Suddenly Seymour,” a gorgeously tender moment with an exquisite Liam O’Byrne as Seymour. And Josh Ellwood’s “Need To Know” was a perfect gem of a song. Although it didn’t show off the impressive notes that Ellwood would consistently deliver in the rest of the show, his storytelling was perfect.

Throw in a few group numbers, such as “I Wanna Be A Rockette,” which was so good I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it, and “Lady In The Long Black Dress,” a ridiculous comic song for the men, and the afternoon was perfect. A perfect homage to a composer so beloved for his work with Disney, and so much more to fall in love with. And with a performance of such calibre, I’ll definitely be attending any future shows from Flourish Productions.

Flourish Productions presented The Songs Of Alan Menken at The Toff In Town, Level 2/252 Swanston Street, Melbourne, on Sunday 12th July 2015 at 3pm and Monday 13th of July 2015 at 8pm.

www.flourishproductions.com.au

REVIEW: Lucy Brien and Matilda Dixon Smith’s DEVOTED – A MUSICAL

Grease isn’t the word…

By Ross Larkin

Funded with campaign entity Pozible, Matilda Dixon-Smith’s contemporary take on 1978 musical Grease (this production was originally titled Grease: A Tragedy – later changed for legal reasons), Devoted is an intimate yet potentially alienating experience, not dissimilar from attending a party where one might feel included but, at times, ostracised.

Staged in a music venue, the curious space, in which the action occurs on the outskirts of the centrally placed audience, usually works well in providing an affectionate environment where one feels part of the story.

Devoted

Re-imagined as, what feels like, a combination of Grease, Romeo and Juliet and Brokeback Mountain, Devoted charts the young love of Daniel and Sally played by Zak Pidd and Hannah Denison. Daniel’s love for Sally is compromised by his feelings for best pal, Nick (Eamonn George), while Nick has impregnated Raff (Sera Duff). After some endearing encounters and stacks of awesome original music by composer and MD Lucy O’Brien, the love square eventually turns sour with tragic consequences.

Utilising the garden of the Northcote Social Club, where actors play through glass windows works beautifully, almost filmic in feel. Other scenes require the audience to turn 360 degrees to focus on the action, keeping the pace active save for some clumsy blocking hindering sight lines.

This is, perhaps, why director Justin Nott opted to endow the entire cast with radio microphones for both song and dialogue. Sadly, however, this was a mistake. While being appropriate for certain musical numbers, the otherwise cosy and interactive context was far from requiring amplification, sometimes depleting ones bearings and detracting from the engagement of plot and emotion.

Thankfully, Pidd plays Daniel with commitment and charm, providing much of the show’s laughs and sincerity, while Duff is attitude personified and Kelly Cupo as Penny has a singing voice to die for and presence to match.

Accentuated by excellent songs, Devoted generally makes it difficult not to feel included in the colourful ‘party’, and engaged in this often funny, tragic story. Emerging young talent of this ilk deserve their efforts to skyrocket and hopefully grace larger spaces where microphones will suit just fine.

Devoted: A Musical played last night at the Northcote Social Club, 301 High Street, Northcote. Future performances to be advised.