Friday, 31 July 2009

Life’s a Circus , MAgnormos, July 31, 2009 ***

Life’s a Circus 
Music and Lyrics by Anthony Costanzo, Book by Peter Fitzpatrick
Produced by Magnormos
Theatreworks, July 31 to Aug 9, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun

MELBOURNE LOVES A MUSICAL and we are fortunate to have Magnormos, an organisation that promotes new Australian music theatre. The Magnormos Prompt! Musicals Program is currently staging a new, boutique musical called Life’s a Circus, with music and lyrics by Anthony Costanzo and book by Peter Fitzpatrick.

Costanzo’s music is a close relation of popular, contemporary musicals we know and love and the voices of the three actor-singers in this production (Chelsea Plumley, Cameron MacDonald, Glen Hogstrom) blend perfectly and provide some thrilling harmonies and rousing choruses. Kris Stewart’s direction is slick and polished, keeping the focus firmly on the voices and music. Christina Logan-Bell’s architectural design and evocative lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw enhance the production. 

As resident director of Wicked in Australia and founding director of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Stewart knows about fostering new music theatre. With a bigger production and budget Life’s A Circus would have a live orchestra, but the recorded backing is effective and Costanzo’s composition and musical arrangements are successful.

The story deals with not only an unusual love triangle between three circus performers but also the existential crisis of 30-somethings considering their choices in life, work and love. Tightrope duo, Vivien (Plumley) and David (Hogstrom), embark on another world tour with the slightly shabby Grande Illusion Circus troupe. Alex (MacDonald), the new, young circus clown, attracts both Vivien and David and their secret trysts and mixed messages form the basis of the romantic triangle.

In addition to these main characters, four circus performers (Vaughan Curtis, Annabel Carberry, Stephen Williams, Shannon McGurgan) provide a mostly silent chorus and some exhilarating feats of acrobatic skill and very funny, physical clown routines with choreography by Kate Priddle.

I saw a preview of the production and it is clear that plenty of script development took place during rehearsal and will continue during this season. The performers are warm and engaging, many of Costanzo’s songs are compelling and the show has great potential to grow.

The circus metaphor becomes a little laboured in both the narrative and lyrics, the narrative and dramatic arc need some attention and there is more than one ending. But the show is well sung and has some great tunes and entertaining moments.

By Kate Herbert

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