Tag: Maria Mercedes

Helen Yotis Patterson’s TAXITHI

Moving portayals of resilient Greek-Australian women

By Myron My

Inspired by her grandmothers, Helen Yotis Patterson has compiled a number of stories of Greek women who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 60s. While the narratives and their characters are often filled with hope and excitement for a better life, they are sometimes met with disappointment and frustrations. Despite this, the women presented in Taxithi (Greek for ‘journey’) are fiercely strong and determined.

Taxithi

The impressive cast – Maria Mercedes, Artemis Ioannides and Helen Yotis Patterson – bring much honesty with their portrayals of these women. While some stories are taken directly from Yotis Patterson’s family history, the cast are clearly poignantly connected with all the experiences that are played out. There are well-crafted moments throughout, including Mercedes’ emotional lament at missing her mother’s final moments as she traveled back to Greece and Ioannides’ striking performance as a young bride who find herself in an arranged marriage.

The music is one of the strongest elements of Taxithi. Musical director, arranger and pianist Andrew Patterson has captured the era perfectly along with Jacob Papadopoulos‘ masterful bouzouki playing. During the musical moments, the three women’s voices elicited strong emotive responses from the audience, to the point where even my non-Greek speaking friends were able to feel what was being sung. John Ford and Rachel Burke‘s lighting design and Darius Kedros‘ sound design, while both minimal, are still highly effective, especially in the evocative opening moments with the sound of waves crashing in the ocean, making you feel as if you yourself are on the ship travelling to Australia.

Towards the end of the performance, I admit I did feel the stories started to become slightly repetitious, with quite a few revolving around young girls immigrating to get married. Had Yotis Patterson perhaps narrowed the quantity of stories and explored her powerful themes even further, this repetition would have been resolved and the emotional connection with the characters could have been even stronger.

However, at a time where we are denying people entry into our country who are trying to escape persecution from their own, Taxithi serves as a telling reminder that “letting people in” is not a bad thing and only allows our lives and culture to become richer. Furthermore, the journeying tales of Taxithi teach us to always remain resilient and to fight for what we want in life, and that is something everyone can strive towards, regardless of sex, gender or race.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Now until 24 March, then 5-10 April | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $35 Conc
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs

Image by Sarah Walker www.sarahwalkerphotos.com

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REVIEW: Left Bauer Productions Presents MASTER CLASS

Intimate and involving theatre

By Bradley Storer

Terrence McNally’s Master Class, a play about the life of Greek opera singer Maria Callas whose artistry and career revolutionised the landscape of 20th century opera, comes to fortyfivedownstairs with the brilliant Maria Mercedes as the tragic diva.

Master Class

The intimate theatre space at fortyfivedownstairs is perfect for the play set as a masterclass in the twilight of Callas’s career, the era signalled effectively by the 70’s fashion worn by the cast. Mercedes enters the room with an air of quiet authority, an iron fist wrapped in silk, taking charge of the stage and the accompanist (Cameron Thomas) in short order. Mercedes is the embodiment of the word ‘diva’ – narcissistic, commanding and uncompromising but with such charisma and a depth of artistic integrity that it is easier to see how this figure still fascinates today. Mercedes manages to find the undercurrents of charm, self-deprecation and kindness in the character which also make her surprisingly likeable.

The three students who Callas teaches over the course of the play are all equally as brilliant – Robert Barbaro as the sole male participant Tony brings a potent masculine swagger and a heart-meltingly beautiful tenor to the role. Anna-Louise Cole as Sharon, the only student with the guts to stand up to the opera superstar, radiates a subdued determination which rises to the surface as she faces off against Callas – her dramatic soprano is showcased to jaw-dropping effect in an tremendously difficult aria from Verdi’s Macbeth. The best of the lot is Georgia Wilkinson as Sophie, a bubbly coloratura soprano, and Wilkinson plays her so winningly that it is hard to take your eyes off her, even when she is simply standing side stage observing Callas.

As she watches her students singing roles she herself made famous, Callas is drawn into internal monologues of operatic proportions, brutally delving into the depths of her poverty-stricken childhood, her ill-fated love affair with Aristotle Onassis, the demons of self-doubt, bitterness and adolescent insecurity which swirl into implosive arias of painful triumph and gut-wrenching loss.

At the end of the master class, Callas stands alone, reflecting to the audience on the simultaneous joy and loneliness of a life devoted to art, saying that she will be satisfied if she has had an effect on even a single person – it’s hard to imagine how anyone could leave this masterfully directed play without feeling affected by the soul of this great artist.

Venue: 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 19 – 28th August
Times: Tuesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 4:30pm and 8pm, Sunday 4:30
Tickets: Full $38, Concession $30, Under 30’s $30, Groups (10+) $30, Preview $30
Bookings: Phone – 03 9662 9966, Online at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

REVIEW: Melbourne Premiere of LOVE NEVER DIES

Are we entering an era of music theatre sequels?

By Kim Edwards

Back when synthesisers were cool, pyrotechnics and special effects were reserved for rock concerts, and theatre was elite and intimate, a new wave of musicals revitalised and reinvented a genre.  

Interestingly they were more in keeping with nineteenth-century theatre and the operatic tradition than the trends of modern drama: they were vast, lavish, opulent spectacles sweeping through epic, passionate narratives with rich, full, emotional orchestrations.

And at the forefront of this surging theatrical excitement was the wild success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical Phantom of the Opera.

Years later, an aging composer who once wrote a masterpiece for his ingenue is struggling to find inspiration again, branch out to enrapture an international audience, and determine what his musical and personal legacy will  be.

Webber biography, right? No: this is the plot for his new Phantom sequel Love Never Dies that opened in Melbourne last night.

Webber calls it his most ‘personal’ work to date, and there is a real sense of wish-fulfilment in this musical: it studiously ignores dates, details and character elements established in its predecessor to indulge a love story, displace the villainy and transplant a theatrical world across an ocean from the Paris Opera house to Coney Island. The show was panned in London, cancelled on Broadway, and has been thoroughly revised by renowned director Simon Phillips for this latest production.

So after all the hype and hullaballoo: what do I think of Melbourne’s production of Love Never Dies?

Visually and from a production perspective, this show is unquestionably stunning. The sets and staging are wonderous, and the new location for the action gives designer Gabriela Tylesova glorious scope for the grotesque, gorgeous, gothic playground she creates. Like Meg’s ‘Bathing Beauty’ song, layers keep being stripped away to reveal costumes, scenery and lighting each more breath-taking and spectacular than the last.

It opens, not with an overture, but with a charm song obviously designed to (re)introduce the Phantom and let a new young star enchant an audience. Ben Lewis’ rendition of ‘Till I Hear You Sing was indeed divine, and his final note magical. The character has lost the complexity of the original, and Lewis’ lower register coming across as rather uneven later suggests he has yet to find his own iconic sound as a singer, but overall he gave an impressive performance.

Anna O’Bryne was a fresh-faced Christine with a luminous and lucid voice: even though trite lyrics often gave her little to work with emotionally (indeed, the whole show title proved a misnomer of sorts) she displayed wonderful charm and talent.

However for me, it was Simon Gleeson’s performance as Raoul that reverberated with all the passion and pathos and complexity I found lacking in the central love story. His character is reinvented as troubled and self-loathing, and in the opening of Act II where he asks “Why Does She Love Me?”, Gleeson transcended some banal lyrics to give a very real and moving delivery of the song. In many ways, this felt like the only moment of subtlety in the show.

Maria Mercedes was painfully angry as Mme. Giry, and there was a definite fascination in seeing Sharon Millerchip reprise the role of Meg and bring a real sense of growth as performer and character.

Webber’s songs are familiar yet not particularly memorable, but the orchestrations and voices are highly enjoyable. Moreover, the plot is thin but the ensemble led by carnivalesque Greek chorus Emma J. Hawkins, Paul Tabone and Dean Vince are deft and dynamic.

The real appeal of the show remains in the old-fashioned spectacle achieved with the latest in theatre technology: Love Never Dies is ultimately a sumptuous, sentimental production of pure and unadulterated melodrama, draped in lavish splendour. If there are recurring echos of the ridiculous and redundant at times, they are usually swirled away in the colour and action.

Does this production bring anything to the Phantom legacy? No. Does it spoil the original musical then? No. Is it an enjoyably excessive and entertaining night of theatre? Yes actually. Yes it is.

Love Never Dies is playing at The Regent Theatre from May 2011.