Tag: Nancye Hayes

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: Victorian Opera’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Simply – see this

By Bradley Storer

Victorian Opera undertakes a gargantuan challenge, both technically and artistically, with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

This Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of the life of French artist Georges Seurat and his painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte’, and the life of his fictional descendants, indelibly changed the landscape of the Broadway musical when it premiered in 1984, and the shadow of the original production is hard to escape. An opera company attempting to mount the musical presents even more challenges, given the fundamental differences between the art forms.

I can happily say that Victorian Opera has risen to the challenge and exceeded it spectacularly. The set design alone, inherently important to the meaning of the show, is astonishing. A simple bare scaffold  and a winding staircase unfolds into a continual array of surprising and delightful scenes – trees, buildings, sketches and pieces of George’s work fly in and out, all contained within a frame that resembles the outline of an artwork.

Alexander Lewis as the artist Georges Seurat brings a humanity, vulnerability and anguish to the role, as well as a flawless operatic tenor voice – for this reviewer, he lacked the fire and intensity at times needed to believe him as a visionary artist, but this is a small complaint. Christina O’Neill as his lover Dot overplayed her sensuality and sexuality at the beginning to a strident degree, but in the character’s more reflective moments she was perfection, and as this quality became more pronounced over the course of the show O’Neill created a strong and heart-breaking character who, more so than even George, is the soul of the show.

Nancye Hayes as George’s mother is hilariously understated and her Act One duet with Lewis ravishes with its delicate loveliness. The ensemble of Sunday, a mix of musical theatre and opera singers, are uniformly strong, all bringing hilarious and touching characterizations . The finale of Act One, the culmination of George’s work in assembling his masterpiece, is a glorious tribute to the power of art to create meaning in the human condition.

Having attended a panel discussion with the artistic team for Sunday, it is clear that this is a labour of love from an ensemble of artists that have enormous respect for the work and a singular vision for its creation. Here this union creates a magnificent production, a stunning and original artistic vision expertly executed and a triumph for all involved.

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

Dates:    Sat 20 , Tue 23, Wed 24, Thur 25, Fri 26, Sat 27 July at 7.30pm and Wed 24, Sat 27 July at 1:00pm

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com, Ph: 1300 182 183