Tag: Robert Tripolino

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.

Ned The Musical.jpg

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

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Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2016: DEATH SUITS YOU

Blithely black humour prevails

By Myron My

Everyone has moments when they feel underappreciated and ignored at work and frustrated with their overall work/life balance, but none more so than Death. This is someone who meticulously plans how each and every mortal will meet their ultimate demise, and then needs to ensure our own stupidity or actions do not interfere with these plans. Death must watch over us all the time, even when we are sleeping. In this year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival show Death Suits You, this hardworking individual recalls some of his finer achievements and attempts to have us understand the complexities of his role.

Death Suits You

Sam Hooper as Death is a charming and charismatic performer, even if this version of Death is simply dressed in plain black shorts and a t-shirt. Perhaps this is part of Death’s plan: to appear as “one of us” and subsequently let our guard down and allow ourselves to see things from his perspective, no matter how macabre it might be. Hooper has written some great individual tales to share and despite knowing that it will not be a happy ending, the build-up and visual language he uses has the stories running through our minds as vividly as a movie.

With each narrative, Hooper has an accompanying performance piece, and the beauty of this is that it is not just song, but also dance and spoken word, which leave the audience wondering how he will interpret the next victim’s inner feelings and sadness. Hooper tailors these perfectly and the touching dance routine during his drowning victim’s tale is equally meditative and unsettling. Likewise, Hooper’s careful diction with the spoken word pieces clearly brings out the attitudes and feelings of those who are facing mortality, and are performed with strong conviction.

Despite the necessary gloom and doom theme of the show, such as Death’s retelling of poor 6-year-old Eva’s end, Hooper ensures that the audience is never left despondent. The show is littered with clever and witty laughs, such as Death’s admission that he controls the weather to create a dramatic exit for people, or how his work is a great method of population control.

Robert Tripolino‘s music is the perfect accompaniment to the stories and, in the face of Death, is effortlessly brought to life by the two-piece multi-instrumentalist band of Shanon Whitelock and Caleb Garfinkel, providing strong support to Hooper. The simple lighting throughout the show is also used well in creating the various moods and scenarios that Hooper describes.

Sadly, as with many cabaret shows during the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Death Suits You only has a three-night run which ends on Sunday so best head off and see this show soon, before Death decides to pay you a visit instead.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran 
Season: until 19 June| 8.45pm
Tickets: $37 Full | $33 Conc 
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

REVIEW: The Production Company’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

A little more mascara

By Ross Larkin

La Cage Au Folles began as a play in the 70’s by Jean Poiret until it was later remodelled into a musical by Jerry Herman. In 1996, Hollywood created the well-known film version, renaming it The Birdcage. Melbourne’s The Production Company last night opened their version of the musical at The Arts Centre, with Todd McKenney and Simon Burke as gay lovers Albin and Georges and a familiar supporting cast including Rhonda Burchmore, Gary Sweet and Marg Downey.

La Cage Au Folles - Todd McKenney and Les Cagelles

When Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Robert Tripolino) announces his engagement to Anne (Emily Milledge), matters accelerate to hysterical at the prospect of his fiance’s highly conservative and political parents (Sweet and Downey) coming over to meet Jean-Michel’s family.

Decidedly flamboyant transvestite Albin is deemed by Jean-Michel too risky and controversial to meet Anne’s parents and is advised to make himself scarce for the evening. When Jean-Michel’s birth mother fails to show, Albin steps in in all his convincing drag glory under the pretence of being mother himself, and hilarity ensues.

As with any famous and celebrated show, there are unavoidable audience expectations. In the case of La Cage Au Folles, it is safe to assume that giant laughs, flashy songs, spectacular dancing and tremendous energy are all somewhat anticipated.

Regretfully, The Production Company only gently hit the mark, waxing and waning in pace and stamina. The occasional musical number is quite impressive while too many others are underwhelming and forgettable.

The two leads are undoubtedly well performed, with McKenney in particular delivering much of the needed laughs and glamour, and Aljin Abella as the butler a consistent source of humour and force.

However, director Dean Bryant’s decision to merge La Cage Au Folles into pantomime territory with actors speaking to and interacting with the audience for extended periods (presumably to cover costume changes) was an ill-fated one, breaking from the struggling momentum even further.

Sweet as Anne’s father might have looked the part but was typically miscast, yelling every line with farcical irritation and further contributing to the pantomime domain. Downey and Burchmore were reliably enjoyable but sadly appeared all too briefly.

Essentially, Bryant and The Production Company have found most of the ingredients necessary to make La Cage Au Folles the dazzling spectacle it deserves to be, however, its current state feels underbaked, in need of increased pace, energy, stakes and more bold choreography.

La Cage Au Folles is playing at The Arts Centre Playhouse, Melbourne, until December 7, Wednesday-Sunday at 7.30pm and Tuesday December 2 at 7.30pm, with 2pm matinees each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Bookings 1300 182 183 or visit www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

REVIEW: DreamSong for MICF

Redemption is not at hand

By Narelle Wood

I like clever, witty, well-constructed comedy and unfortunately I found DreamSong to be absolutely none of these. While the premise of the show (a money-hungry evangelist constructing a second coming of Jesus) certainly had potential, what ensued was two hours of clichéd cheap shots at a whole range of issues, religions and minorities that I felt were extremely offensive, and I’m not easily offended.

DreamSong

Pastor Richard Sunday (Ben Prendergast) has realised his church is in financial peril, and along with the help of his wife Whitney (Chelsea Gibb), the prime minster (Mike Mcleish), the prime minster’s advisor (Alana Tranter) and a wannabe actor (Connor Crawford), he stages a fraudulent resurrection of the son of God. Meanwhile the pastor’s daughter April (Emily Langridge) is trying to talk the real Jesus Christ (Brent Hill) out of a crisis of confidence. Prendergast certainly looked the part of evangelic preacher but his character lacked charisma and charm that was needed to make the deception believable. Evan Lever as Neville Gruber was fabulous as the eager-to-please church follower, but it was Hill’s portrayal of Jesus Christ that actually provided the only comical parts to the show: it was pity that his character had less than twenty minutes of stage time.

Author of DreamSong, Hugo Chiarella, seems unsure about what faction of society he takes issue with. His supposedly black comedy (in my opinion it’s rarely funny) about a non-specific church mocks soldiers dying in Afghanistan, the mentally disabled, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, abortions, people suffering and dying from AIDS, homosexuality, victims of paedophilia and animal cruelty. Excluding the cast, the one redeeming feature of this musical is in fact the music provided by Robert Tripolino. I can’t say I’m a fan or have that much knowledge of Christian pop, but the range and style of music seemed perfectly matched to the premise of the show.

Perhaps a warning at the show about the offensive content may have placated how offended I was, and this then may have enabled me to see beyond those cheap shots to a concept that is worth exploring and what attracted me to the show in the first place.

Venue: Theatre Works, St Kilda
Season: Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:00pm, Sun at 5:00pm, until 20th April
Tickets: Full $35| Conc $30
Bookings: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/

REVIEW: Melbourne Cabaret Festival’s CLOSING GALA

Olympians, Oprah and marriage equality in fabulous festival finale

By Bradley Storer

The stars of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival joined together at Ormond Hall on the festival’s closing night to raise funds for and support the cause for Marriage Equality.

Tara Minton, a British-based Australian harpist and singer, played selections from her festival show about the songs of Joni Mitchell, enchanting with her ethereal arrangements of ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Smitten’ and a voice that combined delicacy with a surprising power. Karin ‘Danger’ Muiznieks showed off the breadth of her range (as well as a dead on Piaf impression) in a tune that summarised the highs and lows of the Festival accompanied by Cameron Thomas.

Jon Jackson astonished the audience with his incredible range in an Etta James classic and a heartfelt song about the joys of marriage and children (made all the poignant by Jackson’s remarks about the inability to marry his partner of fifteen years). Cabaret diva Tina del Twist (the drag alter-ego of Wes Snelling) took to the stage with an imaginary back up band, crooning snatches of songs in a voice of spine-tingling power, in between bouts of wandering the stage in an absent-minded haze that felt like a three-act play in itself!

After intermission international drag cabaret star Spanky re-opened proceedings with some rock’n’roll sexiness as she sauntered through the crowd, accompanied by guitarist Robert Tripolino, before stunning with the Madonna tune ‘Revolver’ from his 2012 Green Room award-winning show Candice McQueen. Jazz chanteuse Jade Leonard took to the stage with her self-penned gay anthem ‘Equal Love’ before announcing her engagement to drag performer Art Simone (also present on the night) and inviting the audience to their nuptials at the next Equal Love Rally.

Matthew Mitcham as MC for the evening charmed with a ukulele mash-up of Kylie tunes for his opening, and guided the rest of the event with awkwardly adorable enthusiasm. This being a fundraiser for marriage equality Mitcham played to certain elements of the crowd, performing an impromptu striptease to ‘Barbie Girl’ (accompanied on the harp by Minton) which I’m sure left half the audience with spontaneous pregnancy. Later he showed off more of his… ahem… ‘assets’… during the auction which raised prices significantly!

Closing Gala

The night closed with a special guest performance by Oprah (played by Rachel Dunham), fresh from her Melbourne Cabaret season in Oprahfication, who regaled us with tales of starting out as a young black woman in television and bringing the house down with a voice that shook the rafters.

An incredible end to one of Australia’s fastest growing festivals, displaying the phenomenal talent on offer every year.

 Venue: Ormond Hall, 557 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Date: 7th July 2013

Time: 7:45pm

REVIEW: EP Launch with Spanky in CANDICE MCQUEEN – NASTY

His/her hit show is now on EP

By Jessica Cornish

On  Sunday November 4 in the iconic Spiegeltent nestled beside that giant ferris wheel, the outrageous artist Spanky morphed into Candice McQueen to launch her 5 track EP as produced by the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

As always, the high-heeled Candice, draped in fluorescent pink and with blue eyelashes did not disappoint. But nor did WAAPA graduate support act, Gillian Cosgriff who kicked off the launch wonderfully, and quickly captivated the audience with her quirky songs about past relationships and bad experiences with shaving her legs and a lack of band aids in her life.

The feature show Nasty, fresh from its previous run a few months ago in the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, stars the bizarre Candice McQueen, ‘fluent in the language of fag,’ who tells epic tales of her life including a birth surrounded by a circle of gorillas, an hiatus in the Middle East where she was present for the crucifixion of Jesus, and a move to West Hollywood where she meet her lover, River Phoenix…

The  ‘Mr Sister’  has eternally strong stage presence, great comedic timing and an ability to draw you in to her bizarre world: however it was sometimes easy to get lost with some of her songs towards the end. But like the guy next to me said, ‘I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it’s funny’, so maybe it’s okay to be a little bemused sometimes.

Throughout the night Candice was accompanied by her extremely talented guitarist/pianist/back-up vocalist Robert Tripolino. Dressed in a pair of worn-out red converse shoes and sunnies, he was incredible, consistently nailing every harmony, including the tricky More Than Words classic, and demonstrating his skill on the guitar.

My only concern with the launch was that  I felt the production side was slightly lacking. Candice made great use of the difficult circular space in her initial stage appearance; however she was in darkness for most of the first number and throughout the performance there were other instances where I felt the show could have benefited from greater use of light.

However, that being said Nasty the EP launch was a great night. Once again Spanky delighted a crowded venue and the funds raised from this event will contribute to future international tours for the star and her sidekick.