Tag: Martin Crewes

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.
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REVIEW: Luckiest Productions Presents SWEET CHARITY

Your friends should see this now

By Bradley Storer

Luckiest Productions’ Sweet Charity has made its way to Melbourne after successful sell-out seasons in Sydney and Canberra. This Helpmann Award-winning production more than lives up to expectations with a dark revisionist exploration of this Broadway classic.

Sweet Charity 2015 photo Jeff Busby_2

Verity Hunter-Ballad in the title role of Charity Hope Valentine brings a refreshing touch of normality and relatability. The audience is always aware, beneath the zany and perky exterior, of the real flesh and blood human that Charity is. She also dances up a storm and brings exquisite vocal mastery to all of Charity’s songs, unleashing a full-throttle and soul-rending performance in the despairing ‘Where Am I Going?’. Martin Crewes shows surprising versatility as the various men in Charity’s life – at first showing seductive charm and gallantry as the charismatic Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal, then later morphing into the neurotic but lovable Oscar Lindquist, with a similar vocal transformation from operatic tenor to contemporary character singing.

The bare-bones production, under the direction of Dean Bryant, is unafraid to show the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of this seemingly comedic musical. The female ensemble are depicted closer to the prostitutes of Fellini’s original film than the taxi dancers of the Broadway musical, stuck in an eternal cycle of degradation and poverty that they’ve given up on escaping – most touchingly rendered in Nickie (Debora Krizak) and Helene (Kate Cole)’s by turns cynical and hopeful duet ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’. Even Charity’s Act One comedic tour de force, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, is performed in a single light surrounded by darkness, as if suggesting the continual threat of the despair kept at bay by Charity’s hopefulness and optimism.

Cy Coleman’s classic Broadway score and Bob Fosse’s signature choreography are both thrillingly modified here to service the new production – new arrangements of music bring in such contemporary sounds as electric guitar, drums and synthesizer that drastically shift the feel of Coleman’s music to the modern. The famous ‘Hey Big Spender’ becomes less of a brassy Broadway belter and more like the guttural, dirty rock music of a strip club in the early hours. The ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ is transformed through the wonderfully imaginative choreography of Andrew Hallsworth into an angular and frenetic vision of a hideously modern New York party, and the psychedelic hippy celebration of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ into a rock-gospel revivalist meeting that sees most of the cast naked by the end.

The most drastic change is the very last scene, stripping away any pretensions to Broadway brightness with Hunter-Ballad’s achingly vulnerable and raw performance and an ending so shocking and unexpected that it leaves the audience dumb-founded. Such a dark and revelatory vision of a classic Broadway musical make this production of Sweet Charity a must see!

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

Dates: 25th February – 7th March

Times: WednesdaySaturday 8pm, Tuesday 7pm,  Matinees: Thursday 26 February, 1pm, Saturday 28 February, 2pm, Sunday 1 March, 3pm, Saturday 7 March, 2pm

Tickets: Tickets from $79.90, Under 30s concession pricing $30

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

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: The Production Company’s GUYS AND DOLLS

High-rolling fun

By Narelle Wood

What more can you ask for in a musical than gangsters, gambling, broads and the promise of salvation? Guys and Dolls, this year’s first of The Production Company’s annual three-show season, delivers all the cheek, humour and charm that this musical needs and a whole lot more.

The premise of the story is that Nathan Detroit (Adam Murphy) needs find a place and some funds in order to hold his ‘oldest established, permanent floating crap game’. Opportunist Detroit takes advantage of Sky Masterson’s (Martin Crewes) gambling nature and bets Masterson that he cannot persuade Sarah Brown (Verity Hunt-Ballard), the sergeant of the Save-A-Soul Mission, to go with him to Havana, Cuba.

Chelsea Plumley and Adam Murphy in Guys and Dolls

While Masterson’s in pursuit of Sarah, Sarah’s in pursuit of souls to save her mission, and Detroit is trying to save himself from getting married to his long-term fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Chelsea Plumley).

The casting is superb. I did find it initially difficult to see Hunt-Ballard as Sarah Brown rather than Mary Poppins, mainly due to both characters having similar attributes of refinement. However once Sarah and Masterson meet, the Poppins-ness completely dissolves. The character of Miss Adelaide has some of the best material of the show, including iconic songs such as “A Bushel and A Peck”, “Adelaide’s Lament”, and “Marry the Man Today”. It is Plumley’s ability to pull off the unique intonation of the Miss Adelaide character in both dialogue and song, along with the embodiment of a desperate doll in love, which makes Plumley’s performance a show-stealer.

Supporting the main cast is an equally strong chorus and production team, including stunning costume design by Tim Chappel and musical direction by Guy Simpson. The dancing throughout the instrumental version of “Luck Be Our Lady”, provided by the male members of the chorus, is exceptional, as is the performance of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” which also showcases how effectively director Gale Edwards and choreographer Nathan M. Wright utilise the space.

The Production Company‘s shows are always a treat, and this production of Guys and Dolls is simply delicious.

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Season: 23rd to 26th July 7.30pm, 23rd July 1pm, 26th July 2pm, and 27th July 3pm.
Tickets: Full $48-$119 | Conc $24-$105
Bookings: http://artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on

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