musical

Two Gentlemen of Verona

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Normanhurst Uniting Church Musical Society put their best foot forward in the Shakespearean jazz-rock musical; “Two Gentlemen of Verona”. The plot takes wild twists and turns and we get pulled along this torrent of comedic miscommunication. Proteus loves Julia, while his best friend Valentino loves Sylvia. A basic premise becomes complicated when Proteus travels to Milan to see Valentino,  and falls in love with someone other than his beloved Julia- and thus hilarity ensues.

The plot is as predictable as any Shakespearean comedy, but since we’re immersed in the moment, every plot twist is a shock. NUCMS did well to surprise us, directing actors to make use of the audience space and interact with us. With a live band and frantic characters, the actors carried the mayhem with great enthusiasm and energy. Suddenly he’s in love with her, suddenly someone is pregnant,  suddenly there’s a betrayal, and all placated by a Greek Chorus-esque ensemble.

This musical seems like such fun. The organised chaos gave the production a live excitement. Charmian Fauvet’s performance of Julia was beautiful. Her vocals are so sweet and she glows in the spotlight.  Although in a miasma of entanglement, Fauvet presents a love-lorn Julia with such passion. Jessica Knight’s portrayal of Sylvia was fresh and effervescent. With light footed dance numbers and lyric-heavy vocals, Knight played a love-torn damzel with life and colour.  The chorus, were like shadows, slipping on and off stage only to propel the plot and play with the characters. Cupid and his helper also had a role to play, meddling with everyone like a puppeteer.

This musical was silliness and comedy gold. A fun night out for the family.

For more information,  visit: http://nucms.org

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MUSE presents, ‘Legally Blonde’

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The age old parable of Elle Woods’ admission into Harvard Law School has been revisited and brought to the stage by MUSE in their latest production; ‘Legally Blonde’.  What a fun musical! There was an electricity in the air as the Everest Theater at the Seymour Centre was awash with pink lights and energetic cheerleading.

After being dumped by her boyfriend for not being “serious enough”, sorority president,  Elle Woods, (Kirralee Elliott), has no other option than to chase her now ex boyfriend to Harvard to prove just how serious she can be. In the process, she discovers her worth and realises that reaching her full potential doesn’t require her to change. I left the musical feeling empowered and inspired, and that’s to the credit of the production team and ensemble.

MUSE’s production seemed like so much fun. It was very fast paced, with overwhelming musical styles; lyrical quips, story-heavy songs, quick transitions. It would be easy to get lost in the flurry of pink, however the tale is told with precision and clarity. We are swept along this sensory experience, which was aided simple sets that rolled on and off with ease, and helped us to immerse in the world of Elle Woods. We kept up with the characters as they moved from a sorority house, to a beautician, into courtrooms and lecture halls.

Each character was larger than life, and had quirks and comedic idiosyncrasies, that make them endearing and loveable. Even minor characters had their own side-story; Paulette Bonafonte (Gabi Kelland) and the UPS guy (Lachlan McKirdy)’s performance had the audience excited. Throughout the course of the musical, the audience became more invested in the characters and their antics. The full house became more involved whooping and cheering, and this made the performance feel more theatrical, more melodramatic like a pantomime.

For me, the highlight was the energy of the cast. What a fantastic ensemble!  The passion and enthusiasm each actor had for their role brought vibrancy to even the minor characters. There was a “Greek chorus” of Elle’s friends, who not only sang comical commentary to every situation, but danced their way into the next scene. The choreography was polished and exciting- special commendations to Lucy Allen as Brooke Wyndham, who sang while skipping in a mock fitness video. The leading cast were of a particularly high calibre; Kirralee Elliott’s performance of Elle Woods was astounding. Such a dialogue rich role called for a wide range of emotions, and still her vocals were pitch perfect.

Finally, the band were excellent, accompanying the cast, and not overpowering the performance. ‘Legally Blonde’ was terrific fun for a Friday night, that left people buzzing.

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Image credit: MUSE presents Legally Blonde.

Dinkum Assorted, the New Theatre

Dinkum Assorted is a vibrant play showing at the New Theatre in Newtown from the 17th November until the 19th December. With fifteen strong female leads, the show bursts with vibrancy and excitement. They bring to life a story of the working women in Warrabadanga, during the winter of 1942, when WWII is in full flight. It’s a story of courage and resilience, with a twang of iconic Australian humour.

The New Theatre presented this play with spectacular excitement. The production was very well casted, as each actor played their character to the full- an element not to be forgotten which really helps the audience immerse in the context of the play. Moreover, they’ve got a stellar cast, of experienced, enthusiastic women, whose excitement for the show was infectious and really lifted the performance. Debra Bryan’s portrayal of Connie, the resident outsider, set my teeth on edge- she was just such a brilliant villain of sorts, until of course, we see some humanity and we sympathise with her. Hannah Raven Smith and Amanda Laing were a marvellous pairing, bouncing off each other, with excellent comic timing. The cast was a delight.

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The play explores the microcosm of Warrabadanga, which represented the Australian experience during the 1940s. I was quite impressed with the authentic costuming and historically accurate references. It’s so refreshing to see a play that champions strong women in a distinctly Australian setting. The actors managed to make the contextual Australian vernacular effortless, like using ‘sheila’ and ‘drongo’ in a realistic sense. While a great night out at the theatre, I really felt that the play was a learning experience as well, like watching a period drama film or the like. Commendations to the set and prop department, who created set pieces that helped us imagine the spaces, wherever the actors were; a biscuit factory, a hill overlooking a quarry, a chook shed.

The play was a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows. We followed the women through their turmoil, as they dealt with personal histories and private angst, and how they intertwined and gossiped, as close-knit communities do. We saw their deflation when the biscuit factory was proposed to be shut down, and we triumphed as they discovered newfound resilience and set their minds on saving the lifeblood of the town. The youngest characters had very real aspirations, and their energy was shared by all. I think the most impressive part of this play was that playwright Linda Aronson gave these characters texture and vitality, and the New Theatre gave them life.

The play seemed to lose pace and momentum towards the end of the plotline. Nevertheless, it ended with a bang, with three dance acts, all glittery gold. The main musical numbers were very well choreographed and ended the play on a high with tap-dancing and singing. This play showcased distinctly Australian human stories. I recommend it to all.

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Image credit: 

https://www.facebook.com/events/771057799670036

http://newtheatre.org.au/dinkum-assorted-pics/

West Side Story- Chatswood Musical Society.

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Chatswood Musical Society presents, West Side Story, a classic musical with sweeping Sondheim lyrics, high-energy action and heart-breaking romance. The musical is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in 1950’s New York.

Chatswood Musical Society really captured the electricity of youth culture.  They channelled a lot of their focus on the conflict between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the rowdy American Jets. The choreography in the rival dance scenes was fierce, enthusiastic and well executed, and the brawls were organised chaos, as they should be.

The strong women were the most impressive for me. Fiery aggression from Susana Downes as Anita really brought passion and emotion to the stage. Anthony Levin and Michaela Leisk were wonderful as Tony and Maria, especially considering that both roles would be very demanding as they require a youthful innocence and some of the most memorable numbers in the show. Their acting was very convincing and I found myself clutching my chest as their star-crossed fate was twisted and muddied. Michaela’s voice was particularly spectacular, it was beautiful and precise.

As with any opening night, the performance had it’s share of hiccups, with an unruly set and a delayed start time (due to Sydney’s inclement weather). The cast did well to cope with these onstage hurdles, and the chorus numbers were abuzz with energy and excitement. In their prospective gangs, the cast seemed to be having excellent fun causing a raucous and provoking each other. Their enthusiasm was infectious and carried through to the audience. While the orchestra wasn’t as crisp or clean as previous adaptations I’ve seen, they set the atmosphere and accompanied the singers well.

While rowdy gang violence is one aspect of West Side Story, I wonder whether the excessive violence was necessary.  There was a particularly graphic scene toward the end of the musical, which I found inappropriate for a general family audience. The scene is a pivotal plot point, where Anita travels into hostile territory to give a message to Tony, however I feel the scene could’ve been adapted more tastefully. West Side Story is a tragic love story, but I felt I couldn’t connect with the ending because I was still in shock, as the final moments snowballed into tragedy.

West Side Story is playing at the Zenith until November 21st.

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Image credit: Geoff Sirmai

http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/community-theatre/west-side-story-heads-north-chatswood

The Frogs

UTS Backstage presents the Australian premiere of ‘The Frogs’, a musical adapted by Steven Sondheim and Burt Shevelove, based on the play be Aristophanes. The musical follows Dionysus on his way into Hades to bring his literary idol, George Bernard Shaw, back from the dead. Backstage’s performance of this musical had great production value and was presented as a cohesive team effort. As a comedy, this play had both a light and dark side. The dynamic cast was entertaining in their quick repartee and comic timing. Their slapstick humour helped create a vibrant atmosphere and as a Sondheim the dialogue was heavy with wit and the lyrics were pregnant with meaning.

The second half of the show saw the musical come to a crescendo in a heated debate between George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare, with the God of Drama and Wine, Dionysus, moderating. For me, the building of tension, the sharp dialogue and the commitment of the lead cast made this scene the highlight of the performance. The energetic cast gave relevance to Aristophanes’ classic Greek play, creating a social commentary that criticises modern apathy and slacktivism.

Commendations to the set design (set designer, Emily Burke), for being innovative with their use of space of the Monkey Baa, Darling Harbour. As an epic Greek quest, there were many costume and set changes that were central to the plot, and these were achieved by sourcing props, for example Charon’s boat (through the Styx) from Opera Australia. Their attention to detail added to the atmosphere as well, for instance the shining of a light through a clear bucket of water created a more realistic sense of travelling down the river to Hades.

Further credits go to Chris McKay as this was his first musical as Director, and his team. The dance numbers and sneaky acrobatic sequences, choreographed by Emily Newberry, were well placed and provided a visual break from the gag-laden dialogue. As with any live performance, there can be technical issues on the night in terms of audio balancing. However, I was impressed by the cast’s excellent resilience as they acted professionally and without distraction. Commendations to the actors for performing with integrity and dignity- chorus and leads respectively.

Backstage’s production of ‘The Frogs’ is an entertaining night out and a great achievement, really capturing the satirical nature of Sondheim’s adaptation of a Greek classic.

For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/UTSBackstage

Photographer: Stephen Godfrey

Photographer: Stephen Godfrey

Helpmann Awards 2015

On 27thJuly, bejeweled actresses, sharp comedians and mysterious magicians, among others, braved the bitter winter chill to waltz the red carpet of the 2015 Helpmann Awards. For some, it was an exciting first and others a veteran walk, yet regardless of their experience with the Awards night, it was all agreed upon that this night was a prestigious honour and a significant night for the Australian live performing Arts Industry.

The Helpmann Awards is an annual award presented in honour of Sir Robert Helpmann to commemorate his memory and achievements. It recognises distinguished artistic achievement and excellence in the many disciplines of Australia’s live performance sectors. Nominees came from categories such as physical theatre, dance, theatre, classical music, opera, cabaret, comedy, contemporary music and musical theatre. This year, the red carpet was graced by the best of Australian performance art with celebrities such as Cosentino, Rhonda Burchmore, David Campbell, Kate Miller Heidke, Cate Blanchett and awards host Todd McKenney.

Les Miserables cast, photographer Anthony Smallwood

Les Miserables cast, photographer Anthony Smallwood

Les Miserables, which has performed over 400 shows this season alone, won five awards including Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Kerrie Anne Greenland’s performance of Eponine in Les Miserables is one that had much of her audience in tears. When asked about what advice she would give to up and coming amateur musical actors, she said, “keep doing it if it makes you happy. That’s the thing that’s always driven me- it’s something that makes me really, really happy, so I’ve been doing it for over 20 years now and this is my first professional show.”

It seemed that all the celebrities on the red carpet shared the same passion for the Arts in whatever field they were in. The Australian performing arts industry has such a wealth of talent that is both supported and celebrated by vibrant hubs in every state, local communities and authorities. No matter how excellent the ballet is, it’s hardly supported if it isn’t embraced by the venue and local community and so to recognise these aspects, there are awards in Best Touring Regional Production (Festival of Circa) and Destination NSW and the Sydney Opera House won Best Contemporary Music Festival.

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Nominee Matt Okine commented on the local scene for comedians, “The Sydney scene for comedians has been incredible for me… it’s a great place to get paid. People say that some of the other cities are more supportive of the ‘scene’ I guess, but you can make a living in Sydney as a comic, and not just a comic that’s on TV, but also as a comic that no-one knows about, who works hard and does clubs. I think Sydney’s got a great arts scene. It gets a battering a lot, but it’s there and it’s supportive.”

For young and old Australians alike, it’s important to celebrate homegrown talents, to give hope to future generations who are interested in becoming a part of the performing arts community, as well as making Australia a destination for creative talent. Sydney came into the spotlight with the Helpmann Awards being hosted at The Capitol and having many of the winning acts from Sydney venues. For instance The Glass Menagerie performed at the Belvoir took Best Female Actor in a Play (Pamela Rabe) as well as Best Play, while the Sydney Theatre Company won Best Direction of a Play (Kip Williams, Suddenly Last Summer), Best Female Actor In A Supporting Role In A Play (Helen Thomson, After Dinner) and Best Make Actor in a Play (Hugo Weaving, Endgame).

“We’ve got such amazing talent,” said Margaret Pomeranz. “Hollywood picks over everything that gets its head above the surface and we just keep on producing more. It’s hard combatting the huge American publicity machine and I think it’s a major challenge letting Australians know that these films are out there-then they have a chance to see them. I think that people want to support our industry. Awards nights like this really help.”

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For a list of full list of winners visit: http://www.helpmannawards.com.au/2015/nominees-and-winners

Chatswood Muscial Society presents: Into The Woods

From May 1st until May 9th, Chatswood Musical Society presents ‘Into the Woods’ at the Zenith Theatre. I was thoroughly impressed with this production of Sondheim’s hit musical.

The stars of the show were the cast. Everyone, from leads to minor leads and chorus, was electric and convincing, as they performed Sondheim’s intricate lyrics with great talent and skill. Storytelling through musical song is no mean feat, but the entire cast carried the production with such passion and emotion, it was difficult not to get swept away in the energy and melodrama of the show. The cast themselves are well-seasoned and of high calibre, with many of them having graduated from NIDA, the Conservatorium of Music,  Actors Centre Australia and Opera Australia (to name a few accolades). They were electric on stage and added great warmth and humour to an already fantastical show.

The production team should be congratulated. As amateur theatre works to a very tight budget, I was particularly in admiration of the props and how cleverly creative they were, which added to the entertainment value of the production. With limited space, this musical had seamless scene changes and the stagehands seemed to work together as a machine. Relying on lighting to distinguish scene tableaux, there was an excellent use of props that elicited a sense of creativity and imagination- a horse and carriage was imagined with two parasols and a hobbyhorse.

The Zenith in Chatswood is an excellent venue. A professional arena for good quality actors. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the sound system. Too many times have I seen theatre where the orchestra overpowers the dialogue, or the equalising and levelling needed to be adjusted. Not this venue. Thanks to Loud and Clear Audio,the sound was perfect and although the musicians were out of sight for the performers, there was great (technological) communication between the conductor and the actors. I stress these elements because amateur theatre has a tough battle with sourcing high quality equipment, but this production really showed off the Zenith in a good light. What a fantastic venue for future musical productions.

It was a pleasure to see a well-polished production of this recent hit ‘Into The Woods’. The CMS added unique elements of humour with Mary Bentley as the cow Milky White and slapstick through the acting, such as Chapin Ayres’ performance of the Witch. I recommend this as a family production and a great night out.

Image credit: https://www.facebook.com/ChatswoodMusicalSociety

Edit: Loud and Clear Audio managed the sound.