Tag: Pursued By Bear

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 ORDINARY DAYS

Authentic and accessible

By Joana Simmons

Presented as the second part of a unique double bill, Ordinary Days is a slick contemporary chamber musical with heart. Bought to us by independent performance and production hire company, Pursued By Bear, this 90-minute show accomplishes their vision of telling great stories and challenging the theatre industry. The stories of four characters going about their days in New York weave into our hearts and each other’s lives through the delightful music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. It is a relatable, believable and thoroughly enjoyable show about growing up and enjoying the view.

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Chapel off Chapel is humming as the almost full house takes their seats. The white tulle suspended from the ceiling provides the perfect canvas for the colourful chirpy showtune opening sung by the ever-optimistic Warren (Joel Granger). We meet Deb (Nicola Bowman), a graduate who is feeling the standard Gen-Y dissatisfaction with life: wanting to achieve great things and reach that big picture but not quite knowing how. She loses her most precious possession – the notes to her graduate thesis, and this is the catalyst for a chain of events that turn the ordinary days of four New Yorkers into something extraordinary. Jason (Matthew Hamilton) moves in with his love Claire (Brittanie Shipway) and we see their excitement and tension build as a couple, as things from the past are revealed and their bond unravels. Through powerful songs and vignettes, these multiple stories become intricately connected and the audience becomes heavily invested.

The cast carries their individual stories and works together with accuracy and professionalism. Granger’s endearingly geeky portrayal of Warren is authentic and strong. Hamilton brings maturity to his role as Jason, however his accent and pitch took some time to settle and some movement felt forced, although once on the mark he was a treat. The female cast in their own respects stole the show for me though: Shipway’s singing and natural emotion, especially in “Gotta Get Out” were heart-melting highlights, and Bowman had the audience in stitches with her fantastic comic timing, smooth delivery and subtle yet hilarious physicality. Director Tyran Parke has done an outstanding job bringing such creative and dramatic gems out of these four talented people. Special commendation goes to musical director Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe as this show is basically entirely sung through; the storytelling and diction combined with great dynamic delivery of the songs was top-notch and she supported it all on piano the whole time. The lighting by Jason Crick bought life and drama to the relatively blank set, and whilst there were some minor sound issues on the night I attended, the technical team did a good job.

My favourite part was the end: there was some truly magical goosebump moments throughout, but the ending left me feeling beautifully warm (which was a relief considering the Melbourne temperature.) Whilst the storyline of Ordinary Days isn’t anything too groundbreaking, the music and characters pull us in and help us to see and appreciate the little things, which is so important, especially now.  Escape the cold and get swept up in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Ordinary Days (part of double bill, Chump Days) at Chapel Off Chapel

8-18 June 
Time: 8pm Thursday-Saturday, 5pm Sunday
Tickets: $35 Preview (Thursday 8 June), $49 Adult, $39 Concession (+transaction fee)

http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/melbourne-theatre/ordinary-days-8-18-june/

Image by Ben Fon

Pursued by Bear Presents TICK TICK BOOM

Engrossing and innovative musical theatre

By Sally McKenzie

Tick Tick Boom is a cleverly-written one act musical which beautifully illustrates the struggles of the composer Jonathon Larson (who also composed Rent) to ‘make his break’ in the world of musical theatre.  In this new production presented by Pursued By Bear, I was captivated from beginning to end. I doubt you will find a better portrayal of this autobiographical piece by Larson.

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Upon entrance to ‘The Loft’ performance space at Chapel Off Chapel, we are immediately immersed in the ‘chaos’ of Larson’s musical mind as we walk on a floor covered in pages of sheet music, and are surrounded by a clutter of suitcases and neglected musical instruments randomly stacked against walls.

In the middle of this there is a floor-boarded stage, slightly raised with a piano as the centre piece. Three wooden chairs are the only other set pieces on this stark performance space. A dozen hanging exposed light bulbs also frame the space, helping to bring a distinct realism to the set.

The role of Jonathon Larson is played by Luigi Lucente. He is simply brilliant. The audience immediately empathizes with the heightened anxiety of his character and – through the passing of time (which is likened to the strict timing of the metronome) – are captivated with his journey as an artist.  Lucente is compelling as he delivers his soliloquies to the audience. Through superb timing and natural alliance with the character,  he is able to bring out the comedy in an otherwise ‘serious’ plot.  Moreover, Lucente is perfectly cast as he also is an impressive musician/pianist and rock vocalist. His playing of the piano is interwoven superbly into the music of the show. His performance of ‘Why’ was particularly moving, and the ‘out of tune’ piano was a perfect vessel for his emotions.

Angela Scundi gives a solid performance of the role of Jon’s girlfriend Susan, and effectively doubles as other characters throughout the show.  Her rendition of ‘Come To Your Senses’ was very well-received by the audience. Quin Kelly depicted the more conservative character of Michael, which was an apt juxtaposition to the spirited nature of ‘Jon’. Although his voice didn’t quite seem suited to the more contemporary style of the show, but he brought a lovely energy to the ensemble-style cast. Mitch Roberts and Rebecca Heatherington provided extra vocal harmonies for songs and portrayed their cameo roles with conviction. Their presence in the Sondheim parody ‘Sunday’ was particularly engaging.

Paul Watson’s direction is stunning and completely fitting for the venue. The multiple uses of the piano as a set piece and the ‘domestic’ lighting doubling as the perfect tools to create the needed intimacy of such a personal story are just two examples of his stylish creative choices. His ability to convey the different tensions in the space with the positioning of actors alone is impressive.

The musical direction by Jess Barlow is well-executed. Vocal harmonies are tight and the band is well-balanced with the vocalists. There was the occasional imbalance of vocal harmonies (the men sometimes overpowering the women), but this did not deter from the enjoyment of such a fabulous score.

Tick Tick Boom is playing in The Loft at Chapel Off Chapel until May 2nd. Tickets can be booked online at http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/ticket-sales/

REVIEW: Australian Premiere of HIGH FIDELITY The Musical

Spin the record

By Narelle Wood

High Fidelity the musical, the latest production by Pursued by Bear, is a fun look at the ups and downs of relationships, making mix tapes and coping with becoming the-most-pathetic-man-in-the-world.

Set in ‘the last real record store on earth’, the musical follows Rob (Russell Leonard), the record store’s owner, through his break-up with girlfriend Laura (Simone Van Vugt). In amongst the heartbreak, Rob finds himself slapped by female friend Liz (Lisa Woodbrook), haunted by girlfriends past, and having to work with his two quirky staff members Dick (Liam O’Bryne) and Barry (Scott Mackenzie), not to mention dealing with Laura’s new love interest, Ian (Jason Bentley).

High Fidelity

In typical Nick Hornsby-style, High Fidelity has lots of quips and sarcasm, and director David Ward has guided his cast to deliver their lines with superb comedic timing. Not only do the leads provide laughs in their dialogue but there are also some brilliant comedic moments subtly delivered by the chorus; at times it was difficult to know where to look, there was just so many character idiosyncrasies to take in. Comedy aside, there are some amazing singing performances, most notably Van Vugt, Mackenzie, Woodbrook and Anisha Sanaratine as Marie La Salle

There were some small opening night issues with what appeared to be some first-performance nerves at the start of the show, and some technical issues with the microphones and some lighting cues. The biggest problem was the choreography; with such a small stage and a fairly large cast there were times when there was too much going on and the dancing seemed to be there unnecessarily. That being said, when the choreography had a purpose it was brilliant, for instance at the start of the show and when Ian visits Rob: these moments ended up being amongst my favourite parts.

This is the Australian premier of High Fidelity and the program acknowledges the risk that Pursued by Bear has taken with this production, but the risk has definitely paid off. Between the music, the funny moments and the storyline, this is not just a must see, but a must see twice.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel,
Season: 11 – 21 September, Thursday – Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $37.50 Full | $32.50 Conc
Bookings: http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/ticket-sales/