Tag: Luisa Scrofani

Review: DreamSong

Forgive, Forget, Redeem.

By Sebastian Purcell

Set in urban modern Australia, Pastor Richard Sunday (Nelson Gardner) runs the Mega-Church of DreamSong, along with his (second) wife Christian Pop artist Whitney Sunday. Together they concoct a plan to not only increase the church’s standing in the community but re-elect out of favour Prime Minister Darren Cunningham (Jarrod Griffiths). However not all actions are conducted in good faith as DreamSong navigates the waters of fame, celebrity, power, honesty, faith and redemption.

This musical comedy looks to emulate the success of the Book of Mormon by providing endless laughs at Big religion which is more focused on status, wealth and power over faith.  This is a tight show, wonderfully directed by Lauren Mckenna  and pop/ rock score executed dutifully by the band, led by Maverick Newman, ensures the cast works seamlessly as an ensemble (Luisa Scrofani, Gareth Issac, Samuael Skuthrop and Tayla Muir) and gives everyone their moment in the spotlight. Lauren’s work with the creative team is fantastic and smooth in particular using a giant cross as both prop and scene setting is aesthetically clean and current, rising to its crescendo in ‘Funeral Hymn’.

Choreographer Madison Lee should be applauded for the incredible dance routines which add so much colour, movement and laughter, though she’s supported by one of the most flexible and vibrant casts to take to the stage. Madison makes the church feel more of a pop/ hip hop show than your Sunday sermons, with sex dripping from routine after routine.

Annie Aitken delivers the standout performance of the night, her soaring soprano voice is largely under utilised by the score, but when she’s able to let loose – in particular in It isn’t Fair – it will give you chills. Annie shows that seeking fame at any cost will always have consequences and her stage presence is mesmerising throughout.

Nicola Bowman as April Sunday drives the heart of the show, losing her faith, re-affirming her faith and questioning DreamSong’s teachings to high praise. She excels in the shows few soft moments in April’s Prayer and Show Me. Olivia Charalambous as Jesus Christ recounts the events of the last supper and over 2000 years of history in minutes in a dramatic and polished re-enactment while Maxwell Simon (Chris T) rocks it out as a pop sensation turned wannabe saviour.

Gardner and Griffiths commit enthusiastically to their malevolent, scheming characters with props to Griffiths who literally blows smoke up Chris T’s arse. Kate Schmidli (Clarice) and Bailey Dunnage (Neville) provide the voices of reason to their boss’ with Bailey in particular providing an outstanding performance as a nervous, intelligent but incredibly confused follower.

I found that the shows only downfall is that it tries to do too much. It’s jam packed with jokes, political and social references, so many that I was at a loss for what exactly DreamSong’s message is. While set in Australia with denim costumes, and Australian flags, the introduction of guns and a tweeting, golfing Prime Minister, seems to confuse Australia with America; and I wonder it the show’s authenticity would be impacted by this. I would be curious to see what sort of show would result from a more condensed, focused book; hopefully, one that would cement this Book of Mormon-like show as a cult favourite.

DreamSong plays at The Alex Theatre, St Kilda 22 Nov – 30 Nov.

Tickets available through Ticketek.com.au

Photography courtesy of The Alex Theatre

StageArt Presents SPRING AWAKENING

Ambitious take on audacious musical

By Bradley Storer

Spring Awakening, the rock musical which first revolutionized the modern conception of musical theatre over ten years ago on Broadway, is a strange beast – the text derived from Frank Wedekind’s controversial late-ninteenth-century play, combined with contemporary rock/pop/folk songs composed by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater that are specifically designed to stand apart from and explore the action of the plot rather than to advance it as in traditional music theatre. Resolving this division between the music and text requires strong direction and a conceptual framework that can bridge these two elements.

Spring Awakening.jpg

Director Robbie Carmellotti has made big and bold offers with this production, and I thoroughly respect and applaud his efforts in exploring new pathways to interpret a modern classic. However, elements of this production did not fully succeed: the decision to have characters play their own instruments at different points (which all but vanished by the second act) didn’t add anything in particular to the meaning or understanding of the show – the central conceit of nineteenth-century German school children morphing into teen rock stars is already so strong on its own that it doesn’t need this addition. The appearance of handheld microphones as part of this overall metaphor, while an inherent part of this show, becomes overused in this production and feels forced into several unnecessary moments. The decision to have the cast speak their dialogue in German accents and to sing in American accents, which again I appreciate as an attempt to underline the distance between the characters and their inner ‘rock stars’, is unfortunately undermined by a lack of consistent accents across the entire cast. And finally, the re-orchestration of Sheik’s music at certain points deadened the impact of this vital and pulse-raising score, the loss of electric guitar in ‘The Bitch of Living’ turning the number into a country-fied hoedown that lacks the energy and guts of the original.

Brent Trotter is wonderful as Moritz, the anxiety-riddled schoolboy who befalls a terrible fate, managing the character’s difficult journey with great emotion and a gorgeous contemporary voice. As Wendla, Jessie-Lou Yates works hard and tirelessly throughout, but feels slightly miscast in reading as too old to be a young girl undergoing puberty. Ashley Roussety as Melchoir, the closest the show has to a central character, has the opposite problem – he looks perfectly cast as the charismatic and fiercely intelligent protagonist and delivers a credible performance in the first act, and is particularly impressive in Zoee Marsh’s choreography for ‘The Mirror-Blue Night’. However, in the second act he begins to feel a little lost in the role as the story races to climax, losing the emotional impact of the tragic but hopeful conclusion.

The supporting cast, in contrast, are uniformly excellent. Henry Brett steals the entire show as the effete Hanschen, drawing raucous laughter in his two big scenes. Luisa Scrofani impressively shreds the bass guitar as she emotionally tears into the bleakness of ‘The Dark I Know Well’. Grace Browne shines as Thea, and Alice Batt plays both violin and the role of Anna beautifully. Olivia Solomons manages to effectively differentiate every one of her multitude of female adult characters, but sadly Barry Mitchell as her opposite is less successful as parts blur together with similar vocal tone and physicality. The entire ensemble offer up heart-touching loveliness in the complex choreography and choral harmonies of ‘Touch Me’, one of the production’s stronger moments, and showcasing some stunning riffing from Jordan Mahar as Georg.

While this production may have its problems, StageArt should be commended for their commitment to offering contemporary and challenging musicals, and the entire creative team and cast congratulated for attempting a new approach to this much-loved and ground-breaking piece.

Dates: 19 May -10 June

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.

Times: Wed – Sun 7:30pm, Matinee Sat & Sun 1.30pm, Sun 21st May 4pm

Prices: $49 – $79

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au, (03) 8290 7000, at the venue box office.

Blue Saint Productions Presents: VIOLET

A Glorious and Uplifting Tale

By Bradley Storer

A facially-scarred young woman taking a bus trip through the American South to see a faith-healing preacher in the company of two soldiers who slowly bring her out of her shell – on paper it doesn’t sound like the typical Broadway musical, does it? But Violet, with a terrific book by Brian Crawley and an incredible score by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori, is a glorious and uplifting tale that makes a great case for the continuing relevance of the musical as an art form.

Blue Saints Productions presents Violet.
Blue Saints Productions presents Violet.

Sam Dodemaide as the eponymous protagonist is a knockout. Violet’s emotional arc across the 105 minute and intermission-less piece is massive, requiring enormous commitment and stamina to make work. Dodemaide navigates the journey of this closed off and isolated loner through joy, friendship, hope, heartbreak and ultimately healing catharsis with magnificent emotional clarity and heart-rending transparency, with her bright silvery belt cutting through Tesori’s wide ranging styles of music with ease. Luisa Scrofani as Violet’s younger self, who haunts and pervades the stage action, matches so well with Dodemaide that it is easy to forget that the two aren’t actually the same person. Violet’s father is ably played by Damien Bermingham; the complex relationship between the two communicated with palpable reality.

As Flick, the African-American soldier whose encouragement and empathy spark Violet’s own transformation, Barry Conrad has a warm, gentle stage presence and a lovely pop voice that shows remarkable flexibility – however, I felt his big number ‘Let It Sing’ lacked the gospel fire and joy to really make it land, leaving it merely an exercise in riffing without a real emotional heart. Steve Danielsen as fellow soldier Monty fares better; bringing an edge of sexual charisma and danger to his character that contrasts and balances Conrad’s gentler presence nicely.

The ensemble as a whole are wonderful, playing a wide range of characters across the story with small moments that showcase each of them to marvellous effect. Standouts are hard to pick, but Katie Elle Reeve as a rock and roll music hall singer thrills with an incredible and powerful voice, Deidre Rubenstein does fantastic work as both the elderly Mabel and the hilariously voracious prostitute Alice. As the gospel singer Almeta, Cherine Peck brings the house down with her number ‘Raise Me Up’, truly bringing a sense of religious devotion and joy to the role.

The entire creative team, led by director Mitchell Butel, have done a truly spectacular job of rendering this outstanding musical, a must-see for any lovers of the modern musical or anyone looking to be entertained and uplifted in the same evening.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Lt Chapel St

Dates: 3rd – 20th March, 2016

Time: 8pm Tues – Sat, 2pm Sat, 6pm Sunday

Tickets: $59 Full, $54 Concession, $49 Group 10+

Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au, phone 8290 7000, or at the door