Tag: Mark Taylor

Review: Bright Star

A compelling story, anchored by powerful performances

By Bradley Storer

‘Bright Star’, the critically acclaimed Broadway/country musical composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, makes its Australian premiere under the helm of company Pursued by Bear and it is easy to see why this piece has rapidly become beloved by audiences. Director Mark Taylor has crafted a strong production stacked with wonderful talent that show off the virtues of this musical to maximum effect.

The story follows two parallel narratives – a young soldier (Callum O’Malley) returns from World War II to his hometown in the American South and sets off to become a writer, while the authoritative newspaper editor (Kala Gare) who takes him under her wing relives her own wild youth and the events that have led her where she is. Running underneath these intertwining stories is a refreshing score combining country, bluegrass and gospel brought to roaring life by the band assembled for this production.

O’Malley is charming and bright as the young writer Billy Cane, radiating good natured innocence throughout. Sarah Krndija as Margo, the book store clerk who is not so secretly in love with Billy, is effusive and sweet at the same time she nails every comedic undercurrent of their relationship. Ellie Nunan and Lachie Hewson as the newspaper staff are a hilarious duo peppering the emerging friendship between Cane and their editor Alice Murphy with acerbic zingers. The ensemble around them flow seamlessly and skilfully in and out of multiple characters, changing sets and eras fluidly (aided by lovely choreography from Freya List) as the story moves back and forth through time.

While the entirety of the cast is excellent, it is truly Kala Gare in the role of editor Alice Murphy who emerges as the ‘bright star’ of the title. From her first step on the stage her velvet but powerful voice tenderly and thrillingly strokes the opening notes of the bluegrass music, hooking the audience immediately. Alice’s journey across the show is emotionally gigantic, encompassing youthful exuberance, first love, tragedy, painful regret and joyous rediscovery, with Gare making every step of the way ring true. After winning turns in ‘Rent’ and ’50 Shades of Grey: The Musical’, Gare fully comes into her own as a leading lady of musical theatre with this performance.

A compelling and emotional story, anchored by unique music and a powerful performance at its centre, ‘Bright Star’ offers an unmissable experience for all fans of modern musical theatre.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Lt Chapel St, Prahran

Dates: 25th Oct – 3rd November

Times: Mon – Wed 7pm, Thurs – Sat 8pm, Sunday 5pm

Price: $55 – $69

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au or 03 8920 7000 or at the box office

Photography courtesy of Fon Photography

Pursued By Bear Presents FIRST DATE

Crass, cluey, and relentlessly funny

By Amy Planner

That awkward blind date feeling should definitely be avoided at all costs, so when someone decides to dedicate a musical to it, there are bound to be a few uncomfortable and unfortunately relatable moments. Enter First Date: The Musical (book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) – this is the show dedicated to bringing those dreaded memories back and managing to make you both laugh and cry at them.

First Date.jpg

When slightly nerdy blind date newbie Aaron (Jordan Mahar) is set up with tattoo-toting blind date veteran Casey (Rebecca Hetherington), their obvious differences make for an interesting and incredibly awkward first date. Along for the ride are a number of family members, potential children, ex-lovers and a best mate or two to give their albeit not always helpful advice – in musical form of course.

The Small Timber Café was the setting of this first date disaster, with the audience invited to sit at the café tables and even order coffee from the stage before the show. Cast members lingered around, blending in with baristas and immersing the awaiting audience in this distinctive setting.

There were a few sound issues in the beginning but after some level adjustments and once those opening night nerves were settled, this show had the audience laughing, clapping and even hollering at times.

This small cast were incredibly entertaining from lights up to lights down. Their energy was outstanding as was their enthusiasm for the show bubbling over. Hetherington and Mahar took the lead with their well-characterised vocals, even contriving to sober the boisterous audience with their serious solos.

The five-man ensemble; Nicole Melloy, Danielle O’Malley, Adam Porter, Stephen Valeri and Daniel Cosgrove, were the energetic life force of the show. Each performer had such a unique take on their characters, which made for a hilariously bumpy ride.

Other than those few audio hiccups, this show was pretty seamless. Director Mark Taylor took an Americanised script and made it fit perfectly into an Australian setting and by taking a few ‘lewd’ chances, has put together a genuinely hilarious production.

First Date’s musical score is very modern and unexpected but has indisputable flow and vigour, and no successful musical would be complete without a great Musical Director – and Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe was just that. Her artistic verve manifested in equally witty tunes and great musical moments. The band had nowhere to hide, set upstage in full view of the audience, disguised as café patrons and a chef hat-totting drummer behind the pass.

Sarah Tulloch’s production design was satisfyingly realistic and unbelievably innovative. The set dressing was simple but effective and the ease with which backstage crew could be disguised as waiters and move items around was a sneakily brilliant thought.

First Date is comically crude and toe-tappingly upbeat, and it even slips in a few serious moments to make you remember some things are all too real and unavoidable. As someone who has seen the Broadway original, this definitely stacks up and does Melbourne proud.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel

Season: September 2-11, Mon-Sat 8pm & Sun 5pm

Tickets: $39 Monday only, $49 Full, $39 Concession (+ transaction fee)

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au