Tag: Zahra Newman

Australian Premiere: THE BOOK OF MORMON

Truly crass, highly sophisticated, and utterly sensational

By Tania Herbert

Taglined as ‘The Only Book that Matters’, The Book of Mormon is the Tony-Award glutton and Broadway spectacular written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park and Team America fame), joined by songwriter Robert (Bobby) Lopez (of Avenue Q and Frozen fame). The opening night of the long-awaited Australian premiere certainly met the definition of ‘gala’- prequelled by a cocktail party filled with every identifiable face in Melbourne (particularly if you’re a fan of The Bachelor), and concluded with a standing ovation as Trey and Matt joined the cast onstage for the final number. Even the actual Mormons are taking advantage of the hype, with giant posters currently framing Southern Cross Station.


The plot is the usual musical-esque small-town boy heading out into the world to make it big. Less usual though is the setting of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) is a newly-minted Mormon missionary, ready to change the world and fulfil his dream of ringing doorbells throughout Orlando Florida. However, his hopes are challenged once he finds himself paired with the goofy and inept Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) and shipped off to remote Northern Uganda. Once there, the Brothers discover that The Lion King was way off the mark, and it’s all up to them to save the village from insurgent rebels.

The show is approachable for a range of audiences- 10-man acapella for the musicians, continual nods to musical comedy classics for the genre fans, and enough excessive costuming and production value to please any contemporary Broadway hedonist. However even those with no prior experience will be well entertained by the true hilarity of this piece of comedic genius that barely pauses for breath. Perhaps one of the most unique elements of the show is the working of humour into every element of production- set changes, exits, and lighting all feature as jokes and the humour ranges from the outright crass to artful parody.

The cast are universally stunning. Both leads come to Melbourne as Mormon veterans (Bondy performing in all three US companies, and Holmes in ‘every company.. thus far’), and the polish and passion shows in the truly flawless performances. The leads are backed up by two mostly separate ensembles- the Mormon brothers and the Ugandan villagers. The contrast in music, dance and characterisation styles for the two ensembles was one of the most rewarding parts of the production for me- adding more variety to an already exceptionally catchy bunch of tunes. Many of the cast also come from international productions of the show, along with the best of local talent. VCA graduate Zahra Newman was the particular standout as the adorable (yet still with a very impressive belt) Nabulungi, the chief’s daughter looking for a life ‘less shitty’.

Whilst only vaguely reminiscent of the of South Park episode All About Mormons (Season 7, Episode 12), fans of Matt and Trey are still rewarded, with South Park’s Jesus Christ making an appearance, and lead characters not so vaguely reminiscent of the pair themselves as they appeared in Baseketball.

For a show that spends so much time spoofing, The Book of Mormon is also truly unique, and covers a massive amount of ground in politics, comedy and moral ambiguities. The comic timing is flawless, the dancing immaculate, and the vocals spine tingling.

In typical Matt-and-Trey style though, the show is horrifyingly offensive and nothing is sacred. It’s a little like the Broadway version of Cards Against Humanity as you find yourself laughing at religion, African poverty, FGM and AIDS. If you don’t cringe at least once, you probably need to work on your politically correctness. Given all the inappropriateness, the show is also strangely sensitive, and a timely reminder that with a bit of tolerance, imagination and community, we can all be a lot happier.

The show is certainly not friendly for families, the politically sensitive or the easily offended, but if you don’t fall into one of those categories, it’s fair to say you’re going to have a pretty good night out with The Book of Mormon. With the new world of Brexit and Trump, it may seem like things are pretty grim at the moment, however this musical is the ultimate reminder that in the end, the world can still be a pretty funny place– as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

THE BOOK OF MORMON is currently playing at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Tickets are on sale until June 25, and can be purchased at bookofmormonmusical.com.au

Warning: Adult themes and coarse language!

Image by Jeff Busby

Optic Nerve Presents THE MILL ON THE FLOSS

Where waters run deep

By Rebecca Waese

Optic Nerve’s The Mill on the Floss directed by Tanya Gerstle, delivers a thrilling, sensual, and physically-charged performance about Maggie Tulliver, who, growing up in a provincial town in nineteenth-century England, learns that her choices in life are damningly limited by her gender.

The Mill on the Floss

In this intelligent and immersive production, originally adapted by Helen Edmundson for Shared Experience Theatre Company from George Eliot’s novel, three actors play Maggie at different stages in her life in a moving embodiment of how we experience inner conflict when faced with making heart-breaking decisions. Young Maggie, played by Maddie Nunn with joy and irreverence, supports the more somber second Maggie, hauntingly portrayed by Zahra Newman, and convinces her to return the affections of her first suitor Philip Wakeham, (Tom Heath), who is the son of the lawyer who has taken over Maggie’s father’s mill. Rosie Lockhart delivers a beautifully tempered yet volatile third evolution of Maggie, who becomes entangled in an impossible love triangle with her cousin’s betrothed, Stephen Guest (George Lingard), and has to choose between respecting her brother’s wishes for her and her own desires that will leave her disowned by her family and a societal outcast.

Gerstle’s Pulse style of actor training, where actors follow physical and emotional impulses to give body to the text, allows for some unforgettable ensemble moments. Eight actors commit fully to their 17 roles and create a moving experience of a flood using only chairs and an upturned table in a simple yet evocative light and soundscape. The ghost of a drowned witch emerges from an unseen crevice under the stage to try and drown Maggie in the river. The scenes with the Aunties who selfishly expose their self-interest when Mrs Tulliver (Luisa Hastings Edge) and Mr Tulliver (James O’Connell) lose everything reveal the underside of family divided by class. Music enhances the production and Zahra Newman’s powerful instrument of a voice, worth the price of admission alone, sings a primal call-to-arms of the pain of women who centuries earlier were drowned for being witches.

This adaptation maintains a strong connection to the novel, written in 1860 by Mary Ann Evans under the male pseudonym George Eliot, for its unflinching and unnervingly contemporary portrait of the stirring passions of a young woman bound by the social forces of her time. There is less focus on Tom, Maggie’s brother (Grant Cartwright) than in the novel although his over-physical relationship with Maggie resonates with the intense childhood bond George Eliot describes having with her brother before they were estranged in her autobiographical poem “Brother and Sister.” The weakest part comes in the love affair between third Maggie and Stephen Guest where the affair feels somewhat rushed and not as consuming as it could be if Lingard were able to bring a deeper maturity to the role.

Mill on the Floss injects the past into the contemporary with its rousing themes of how women react passionately against being held down in society. In the theatre foyer, a collage depicting fifteenth-century witch trials and Eddie McGuire’s recent comments about how he would pay to see his female colleague’s head held under a pool of iced water, tracks a chilling legacy that makes Maggie’s struggles even more vital today. This a triumph you do not want to miss; it’s history in the making.

Date: 28 Jul 2016 – 13 Aug 2016. Extra show added Tues Aug 9.

Time: Tues to Sat at 7:30pm and 1:30pm on Sat 6, Sat 13 Aug

Price: $35 Full / $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+ /$20 Preview [plus $2.50 booking fee per ticket]

Presented by: Theatre Works and Optic Nerve

Bookings: (03) 9534 3388

Image by Pia Johnson

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.

REVIEW: The Daniel Schlusser Ensemble’s MENAGERIE

A daring exploration of the essence of a life

By Christine Moffat

Menagerie is a composite of many ideas, combining the real and imagined life and companions of playwright Tennessee Williams. This is experimental theatre, bordering on performance art, something that the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble has become known for. A circus of characters in and around a small, seedy shack create a cacophony of noise and movement. It’s a risky combination: when it worked, it created sublime theatrical experiences. When it didn’t, the result was prettily arranged tableaux better suited to photography.


There is no arc or emotional journey within this show. This type of experimental work is aiming for more than a good story: it is seeking the essence of an event, or in this case, a life. Through a controlled mayhem, director Daniel Schlusser weaves six incredibly capable actors into a tragically beautiful tapestry. Throughout the piece, the cast became a dysfunctional family. Each performance seemed to exploit the personal strengths of each actor. Josh Price (Williams) and Zahra Newman (Ozzie) both delivered powerful, potentially dominating performances. Price was particularly interesting as the many dishevelled versions of Williams. These larger roles were tempered and complimented by the subtle work of Kevin Hofbauer (Frank) and Edwina Wren (Rose). Jane Badler (Edwina) and Karen Sibbing were erratic, tragic and hilarious, and owned the audience more than once.

The set, designed by Dale Ferguson, was almost a character in itself. It consisted of the claustrophobic hut, surrounded by an assortment of rough amenities that suggested both squalor, and the enmeshed, suffocating family that plagued the real Williams. Although not emotionally affecting in the way a traditional theatre piece would be, Menagerie achieves a sense of truth about Williams’ internal world that you instinctively believe. The ensemble appear to have taken what is known about Williams the artist and worked backwards to present a valid hypothesis of how that complex man was created. This achievement indicates the method in their mayhem.

Menagerie (part of NEON Festival of Independent Theatre)
Venue: MTC Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
Dates: 18 to 26 May 2013
Show times: Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm (duration 90mins + interval)
Tickets: $25
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 or www.mtc.com/neon

Review: MTC’s Production of CLYBOURNE PARK

A funny, confronting and fascinating look at life over the fence…

By Diana Tarr

MTC’s latest production Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Bruce Norris, is a frank and honest depiction of the racial tension in northern American cities in the 1950’s and raises the question of what, if anything, has changed in our attitudes in the subsequent years.

In 1959, in the affluent Chicago suburb of Clybourne Park, a white couple is forced to consider the impact that selling their home to a black family will have on the neighbours they are leaving behind.  Fast-forward fifty years, and a young white couple tries to go forward with their plans to demolish the same, though now sadly decrepit, house and rebuild – with considerable resistance from their soon-to-be (black) neighbours.

The set, designed by Christina Smith, included just the right details to send me straight back to the homes and neighbourhoods of my childhood in suburban Detroit: the built-in bookcases, the string dangling from the basement light, even the sound of footsteps on the carpeted stairs.

Each of the superb cast (including Patrick Brammall, Bert LaBonte, Zahra Newman, Luke Ryan and Alison Whyte). portrayed at least two unique characters, though Greg Stone and Laura Gordon produced the most convincing and dramatic transformations in mannerisms, voice and characterisations for the second act. As grieving father Russ and then forthright tradie Dan, Stone gave the stand-out performance of the night, inspiring incredulous belly laughs and shocked silences from an audience that was eating out of his hands from his first bite of Neapolitan ice cream.

There is so much of the familiar in Clybourne Park, which is at times comforting but also self-convicting: not only in acknowledging the awkward relationships and social niceties, but particularly in recognising the people with good intentions who either don’t realise or don’t want to acknowledge how much they misunderstand about the experiences of others.

By the end of the first act, I was mentally kicking myself for even considering that perhaps a few of the arguments for keeping the neighbourhood unchanged might just have a certain logic to them. By the end of the second, I was cringing by how much I recognised myself in the comments and ideals of the yuppie wife, Lindsey (Gordon). But although Clybourne Park acknowledges these feelings of confusion and guilt, it does not seem to try to invoke them – just poke fun at them.

And oh my, what fun it was!


Clybourne Park: The Black and White Picket Fence

17 September – 26 October

The MTC Theatre, Sumner

140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank

Tickets: $30 (29 & under); $86-$97 (full)