Tag: Penny Larkins

Review: Jack Frost: The Musical

A timely fairy-esque tale

By Bradley Storer

Despite the industry wide instability currently decimating the Australian theatre scene, opening night of new Australian musical Jack Frost luckily proceeded. A fairy-esque tale that follows the journey of a young girl travelling both backwards into her past and headfirst into her future, the tale feels eerily appropriate for the current global situation. A small town facing environmental chaos, a political struggle between a conservative past and the pull of progress, and the rise of a charismatic but underhanded leader.

The absolute crowning glory of the piece is composer/writer Joseph May-Dessmann’s score, a lush and inviting affair under the musical direction of Jayla McLennan. While no specific number stands massively above the rest (with the possible exception of Frost’s solo number ‘Take Care’) the songs of Jack Frost are truly a wonder, lifting the cast and audience towards musical theatre magic.

The script and book need some further work, with some character motivations and plot points still a little unclear textually. A little more exploration and explanation of the world in which the characters inhabit may also solve some tonal and linguistic shifts from scene to scene that felt slightly jarring. Despite this, director Lauren McKenna has done a wonderful job of crafting the dramatic journey and stage imagery to a polished gleam.

Tayla Muir as Stella Forte, the heroine of the story, is the guiding light of the production. With an exquisite voice and a lovely stage presence, Muir is absolutely captivating – when the stage lights go down to focus on only her face and voice, it is almost impossible to turn away. As her best friend Michael, Ben Hallam is adorably campy, and stage veteran Samm Hagen rounds out the central trio as mayoress Violet Flowers. Hagen commands the stage from her very first moment, wielding her massive voice with finesse and lifting the performances of everyone around her with her presence alone.

As the ostensible antagonist Leo, Joseph Spanti offers both incredible singing and a refreshingly natural and truthful performance of the agonized character, flowing with ease into the charismatic showmanship of the second act. Callum Andreas, in a very grounded and gentle performance, has only one song as the mystical Jack Frost but easily turns it into the highlight of the show with his stunning voice. Ambrose Steinmetz and Penny Larkins, as Stella’s mother and grandmother respectively, radiate warmth and love, lifting the mood in the second act with their charming comedic duet.

While the rest of the season has been cancelled in light of recent developments, with as amazing a cast and an sublime a score as this Jack Frost definitely deserves a wider audience and further development and we can only hope it will return.

Venue: St Martin’s Youth Theatre, 28 St Martins Lane, South Yarra

Bookings: No longer available

Groaning Dam Productions Presents NED: A NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL IN CONCERT

Musically stunning

By Bradley Storer

It had been a wonderful week for Australian music theatre, with a limited and critically acclaimed season of Jon English’s Paris and then a Melbourne remounting of the new original musical Ned after a successful Bendigo premiere just over two years ago. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, but it can be safely said that both make a brilliant case for the vitality and necessity of new Australian musical theatre works.

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Ned tells the story of the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) bushranger from childhood to his death by hanging, and the book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre firmly takes the view of Kelly as a good, honourable man driven to extremes by injustice and government  corruption. The opening choral number sets up the evening as an interrogation of the legend and the ambiguous figure at its centre.

Nelson Gardner brings a loveable larrikin-quality and charisma to the central role, making it easy to sympathize with him and the hardships we witness him first suffer and then rebel against. The first act grounds us in the reality of living in nineteenth-century Australia, and we’re allowed to witness the close and loving bonds between family and friends that will soon be stretched and torn apart.

As in Paris, we are treated to a veritable feast of young Australian talent amongst the cast of Ned. Robert Tripolino, Brent Trotter and Connor Crawford are fantastic as the trio of friends who along with Ned are drawn into conflict with the law, and their voices meld beautifully in the lyrical “White Dove”. Alana Trater and Hannah Frederickson are wonderfully girlish and infectious in their playful chemistry before bleak events force them into maturity, Trater in particularly growing in gravitas before unleashing the shattering “No Way Back” in the family’s darkest hour.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the meek police officer Fitzpatrick, whose initial kind nature tips over into bitterness and violence, is adorably awkward and well-meaning and manages the character’s slide into darkness with palpable pathos. Anchoring the entire cast (and quite possibly the whole show) is Penny Larkins as Ellen, the matriarch of the Kelly family – grounding the character with determined optimism and joy, Larkins traverses the biggest arc of the show as Ellen watches one by one her family taken to prison, ending up there herself to protect her children and comforting her son in his last moments. When Ellen is pressured by the police in the second act to give up the location of Ned’s gang, Larkins unsheathes the steel hidden beneath the surface in the defiant “My Son”, almost bringing their audience to their feet mid-show roaring with applause.

Adam Lyon’s score is dazzling throughout, managing to find its own uniquely Australian identity in its sound, and under the masterful hand of musical director and conductor Kellie Dickerson every moment of music was truly epic.

The only criticism that could be levelled would be at the book – while the show’s dedication to exploring and individuating all the central characters is wonderful, it comes at the cost of losing focus on Ned as the centre of the piece. Oddly, Ned himself only has two solo numbers throughout the entire show, and while the optimistic and yearning “Hope of Australia” is a brilliant song at the beginning of Ned’s journey there is sadly not much besides dialogue with other characters to define the later stages of his trajectory. Director Gary Young did a stellar job of staging this piece in a concert setting, but on the night the second act of Ned felt slightly weaker than the first. This was quite possibly because of the long stretches of dialogue that would play more strongly in a fully-staged production, but in a concert tended to drag down momentum.

These small criticisms aside, Ned more than proved itself worthy of national attention and development, and we can only hope this piece receives the funding and further opportunities to grow it deserves – with time, Ned could be THE great Australian musical.

Venue: National Theatre, St Kilda

Time: 7:30pm

Date: Monday 17th July

Image by Marty Williams

REVIEW: UNTITLED, OR THE SEAT OF NARCISSA

Faultlessly funny

By Ross Larkin

From the outset, a certain curiosity swells at the prospect of a play with no title, while simultaneously bearing a highly distinct and decided one. This is not coincidental, but rather a sneaky peak into the contrary madness that awaits in writer/director Sofia Chapman’s hilarious new production.

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Initially a love triangle between three quirky, tenacious women, Untitled, or The Seat of Narcissa quickly evolves to include multiple love-crazed subjects in a chaotic swarm of hysteria while infidelity and passion abound along with music, dancing and poetry.
Penny Larkins is the egocentric and deceitful Viscountess Narcissa, who chews up her lovers and spits them out, all the while demanding the utmost respect and attention.
Falling under her spell are Erica Chestnut as the sassy Duchess of Dullcote and Kate Hosking as feisty go-getter, Baroness of Inverness, while Narcissa’s seemingly dazed and confused servant, Marcello, played by Madeline Hudson, intersects the melodrama with great intrigue.

The humour and wit of Chapman’s writing is immediate and doesn’t stall for a single moment, aided by a strong and energetic cast whose comic timing and delivery had the audience cackling from beginning to end.

Chapman is also responsible for the hilariously witty poetry which merges with the play beautifully, as well as the very fitting and engaging music and comical lyrics. Hudson’s song on the accordion with Hosking on the cello about knowing a Jewish person is a particularly priceless moment.

Add to the mix some wacky and amusing dancing, gorgeous costumes and a slew of double entendres and clever one-liners and the result is a barrel of non-stop laughs, comparable to the likes of Monty Python, Black Adder and Absolutely Fabulous. This is one Midsumma show for the top of your list!

Untitled, or The Seat of Narcissa is playing now at La Mama, 205 Faraday street, Carlton until January 31st.

Tickets available at http://lamama.com.au/ or on (03) 9347 6948.
Image by Annabel Warmington