Tag: Waleed Aly

CHANGES: A Theatrical Tribute to the Music of David Bowie

It’s all about the music

By Sally McKenzie

David Bowie was a theatrical performer, so it makes sense for Kendall-Jane Rundell and her team at Bare Naked Theatre to deliver the music of Bowie in a theatrical format. They promised  ‘a personal, raw account of storytelling through contemporary and physical theatre’, but unfortunately I felt that the ‘storytelling’ aspect fell short in many aspects. The music, however, particularly the magnificent accompaniment by Robot Child, was pure Bowie indulgence in every way.

Changes.jpg

Musically, this show was quite an ambitious project, as it included roughly 35 Bowie songs, no dialogue. I was in music heaven. Songs included Bowie’s better-known hits such as the title song ‘Changes’, ‘ Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘China Girl’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Starman’,  ‘Under Pressure’ , ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Golden Years’.  Some of his more rare gems such as ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, ‘Where Are They Now’ and ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ also played an important part in this musical tribute. With the absence of a conductor, the band executed every song with confidence and flair. The transitions between songs was mostly smooth with only the occasional brief pause while musicians changed instruments or to allow for dramatic pauses on stage.

Robot Child with guest musician Matt Arter (guitar, sax, harmonica) has one of the finest line-ups of musicians I have seen. The arrangements were very close to the original Bowie tunes. The sounds produced on the keyboards of Owen James and David Hartney were great replicas of those included on Bowie’s albums, and the piano solos played by James in ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ were a highlight. Waleed Aly is indeed a virtuoso on the electric guitar. His solos were a feature of the night as they soared through the venue.

Together Dan Slater (drumkit) and Daniel Lijnders (bass guitar) provided a rock solid foundation for the band, executing every riff and rhythm with absolute accuracy and a great understanding of the vast collection of Bowie’s ‘substyles’ of alternative rock. I also particularly enjoyed the backing vocals provided by Hartney and Arter. Those added harmonies and the conviction and passion by these musicians were a huge asset to the show.

The main vocalists of the night were Jeff Wortman (who was also the music director and the regular lead vocalist of Robot Child) and Rundell (director). Wortman’s vocals were impressive. I was amazed by his vocal stamina as he sang in almost every song – and with 7 or 8 shows remaining, has a huge job ahead of him. Rundell was the other lead vocalist, and although her voice suited the range and androgyny of some of the Bowie songs,  she unfortunately did not have the vocal flexibility or security required. Her intonation wasn’t always accurate and I felt her voice lacked the power and impact required to match the energy and professionalism of the band.

With no program, director’s or musical director’s notes and no biographies of cast for the show, I wondered initially: what was the original concept for Changes? What was the purpose?  I waited for the actors on stage to tell me a story but struggled to connect to any of the themes. The six other performers in the cast portrayed the ‘fans’, ‘party-goers’, ‘drug-takers’ etc. in Bowie’s life, and attempted to provide a more abstract account of Bowie’s songs and lyrics with physical movement – some choreographed, some not.  Costumes by Jessica Allie were simple and neutral, and make up was ‘Bowie-esque’, but the performers seemed to lack an overall sense of purpose and commitment. Jacqui Essing was the stand-out in this hard-working but under-utilised ensemble. She looked completely comfortable on stage and was the most confident with her movement.

Lighting and sound was fabulous. A wall of light rigged behind the band shone into the audience as if to represent the ‘outer space’ theme in the relevant parts of the show. Large hanging spot lights were scattered and clearly visible over the largely open stage, giving the sense of Hollywood or TV studio. Handling such a big sound in a high-ceiling venue is a huge challenge, and LSS Studios triumphed again. The band was mixed perfectly and the overall sound was at ‘Rock Concert’ level, which was much needed. At times though, it was difficult to hear the words of the vocalists. Bowie’s lyrics are often abstract and difficult to understand, however, so this wasn’t a major deterrent.

Admittedly, this is not the cohesive, meaningful or enlightened dramatic performance the publicity suggested, but I was truly impressed by the hundreds of hours put in to rehearsing and performing such an epic collection of songs, and if you are a Bowie fan, you will revel in the sound of this show.

Changes: A Theatrical Tribute is at Gasworks Arts Park until the 6th August. Book at http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/changes/ or barenakedtheatre@gmail.com

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REVIEW: Back to Back Theatre Present HELL HOUSE

Paving the way to a remarkable theatre experience

By Anastasia Russell-Head

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, turning up at the Artshouse Meat Market for the opening night of Back to Back’s Hell House. Ushered in to the ticket desk, we were given coloured stickers to place on our collars and told to wait until we were called. After a few minutes we were asked to assemble down a flight of stairs in a black plastic-shrouded antechamber. Strange sounds could be heard from round about, and no-one really knew what was going to happen next.

Soon enough the show began, and we were introduced to our devilish guide who walked us through a series of strange and horrific vignettes – a young man’s funeral, an abortion, a car crash, a suicide, a pagan sacrifice – until finally we reached hell itself.

This play originated in bible-belt USA churches, where it is performed annually to thousands of young Christians – the aim being to scare them into re-confirming their faith. Interestingly, Back to Back stages this version as an “anthropological study”, not aiming to pass judgment or present a particular point of view. In fact, the presentation of the play is only one half of the production; the other half being an interactive forum looking at themes of provocation, belief and morality.

For me, the forum (with panelists Scott Stephens, Waleed Aly, Clare Bowditch and Benjamin Myers) was almost more provocative than the play – in that it caused me to completely re-think the way I had viewed and approached the original work. Questions were asked about judgment, consequentialism, good and evil – and Waleed Aly even wove in a few Batman allegories for good measure!

At first I wanted to laugh at the simplistic morality, the black-and-white-ness, the you’ll-all-go-to-hell-sinners vibe of the work. Yet this is not irony. It’s not for laughs (although there are a couple of giggle-worthy moments). It’s not about poking fun at fundamentalism. Rather, this production seeks to begin a discussion and open the door for some serious debate. I’m still musing about it the next morning, which is a sure sign of a thought-provoking work.

Hell House by Back to Back Theatre at Arts House, Meat Market

Until Sunday 5 August

Saturday 4 August: Performances every 10 minutes from 7pm, followed by forum at 8.30pm.

Sunday 5 August: Performances every 10 minutes from 2pm, followed by forum at 3.30pm.

Full $25 / Concession $20

Book online or phone 03 9322 3713