Wednesday 31 October 2001

Lucky Stiff , Oct 31, 2001

Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Music by Stephen Flaherty
At Chapel off Chapel until  November 4, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is a corpse on stage throughout Lucky Stiff. Yes, a corpse. A live actor spends two hours playing dead in this US musical written in 1988 by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Let me explain. In order to inherit six million dollars from his unknown American uncle's will, young Englishman, Harry Witherspoon, (Mark Doggett) must take Uncle Anthony's stuffed, dead body (Larry Hunter-Stewart) on a jaunt to Monte Carlo.

He is pursued by a peculiar collection of persons all after the money: Rita, the rapacious ex-girlfriend and accidental murderer of Uncle, (Pamela Shaw) Vinnie, her optometrist brother (Randall Berger) and a dogged young woman, Annabel, (Elizabeth O'Hanlon) supporter of a Dogs' Home.

This bizarre premise makes for really good comic business. Ahrens' lyrics and dialogue are witty and swift. Music by Flaherty derives from the US school of musicals. It is peppy and filled with singable tunes.

Rita's Confession song is a gem. The lyrics dip and dive through her complex and hilarious confession of theft, murder and blame. Shaw, a skilful and funny musical theatre performer, is delightful in the role of Rita, the over-dressed tart.

Doggett has a certain charm as the shy young shoe salesman and his light tenor voice is a treat.

As his love interest, Annabel, O'Hanlon gets all the best songs. Her Times Like This (...A Girl Could use a Dog) allows the relentless pace of this production to slow momentarily and her love duet with Doggett, Nice, is a sweet, romantic moment.

There are some cheering cameos from the chorus members, particularly Iain Murton and Greg Ross.

However, there is a tendency to over-acting and pushing the comic characters so that there is no room to breathe for an audience. But director, Luke Gallagher, keeps the pace swift. Scene changes are snappy, choruses are jolly and the choreography (Tamara Finch) is simple and effective.

The feature of this show is the musical director and sole musician, Nigel Ubrihien, He alone, on a grand piano at the side of stage, maintains the musical background and foreground of the show. He works like a Trojan and it pays off.

The show just needs to take a breath here and there.  

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 24 October 2001

Thank God for the Idiot Box, Oct 24, 2001

Cool Cat Cabaret
 La Mama at The Carlton Courthouse until October 27, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is so much sophisticated, hyped up performance on during the Melbourne Festival, it is refreshing to see a bunch of teenagers doing a show they created themselves.

Director, Ella Filar devised Thank God for the Idiot Box with ten teens called Cool Cat Cabaret from Princes’ Hill Community Centre drama program. It is a cabaret and sketch comedy show that is genuinely funny.

It has some laugh-out-loud scenes, polished musical numbers, slick scene segues and a couple of poignant moments. Filar keeps the pace quick and the scenes short and funny.

These kids have keen powers of observation. Their absorption of popular culture is total. They have captured the essence of television shows including the syrupy pseudo intellectual teen soapy, Dawson’s Creek and the unquestionably silly Scream Test and Popstars.

The lead male from Dawson’s Creek makes us squirm with his politically correct statement, “I don’t believe the child within is gender specific.” Another keeps leaping on stage and announcing gleefully, “I’m gay!”

The outrageously deep and husky Scream Test host (Dylan Evans) takes us on scary trips inside an abandoned orphanage and a home for old Elvis impersonators.

The weather guy on the news cheers us with news that “the clouds have happy faces tomorrow”.

The actor-writers keep the parodies coming thick and fast. In one witty moment, a grandpa listens to a child cry and says, “ I wish I was teething.”

There is some very listenable live music played by Filar between scenes and as background to sketches. The opening song, written and performed by Luke Troyner,  is a very fine number with bass, violin and guitar in a Paul Kelly style. Troyner, is a classy presence on stage playing the “I’m gay! “ guy as well as a rap artist performing a song called “Bitch!”

There are  scenes about kids left at home alone, kids with drunken parents, loser mothers, no dinner and split families. So much for the happy family.

There is a peculiar convention in the latter half. A boy watching television alone, channel surfs with his remote control until finally he disappears into the screen. This is not resolved properly but could make a clever ending.

The closing musical number is a cheerful finale to a charming and cute show with some real teenage talent on stage.

Kate Herbert

Saturday 6 October 2001

Singing in the Rain, Oct 6, 2001

 by Betty Comden and Stanley Donen music by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Venue: Regent Theatre Collins Street, Oct 6, 2001 until....?
Producer: RSL Com
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The opening night crowd at the Regent Theatre burst into spontaneous applause as the onstage rain fell from the theatrical sky. My witty guest quipped, “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen an audience applaud plumbing.”

It is spectacular plumbing and what fun to see water soaking Todd McKenney’s perfectly gelled hair as he kicks water at the front row. The miniature brollies prvided were no protection.The finale has the entire cast in Paddington Bear yellow macs under big yellow umbrellas.

 “Gotta dance” is exactly how that toe-tappin’ number, Singing in the Rain, makes one feel. David Atkins with stars McKenney, Rachel Beck, Wayne Scott Kermond and Jackie Love provide us with a welcome relief from the trials of the ravaged real world.

It is a boy meets girl tale. Vaudevillian makes good in silent movies.When the first talkie changes the face of movie making forever, his career is in jeopardy.

McKenny is charming in the lead as Don Lockwood, the role made famous in the film by Gene Kelly. McKenney is all delightful teeth and smiles, dancing like a 40s hoofer.

There are moments when his singing is not note-perfect,  but Gene Kelly was no Pavarotti. McKenney is a musical theatre star since his success in Boy from Oz.

As his onstage love interest,  Rachael Beck has plenty of voice and talent to burn in the role of the pert wannabe actress, Kathy Seldon. Her solo, You Are My Lucky Star, was superb.

A major drawcard is the recognition factor. We recognise Kelly’s exceptional choreography and many songs and scenes from the movie.

Wayne Scott Kermond’s  plays Don’s vaudeville partner, Cosmo Brown, Donald O’Connor’s role.   Kermond is a skilful, seasoned and lively music theatre performer. With Atkins,he recreates the  ‘climb the wall’ dance sequence, sending the audience into paroxysms.

The “Good Morning” routine  is another recognised number in which the trio dance over the back of a couch. We sing along with Make ‘Em Laugh, Beautiful Girls, Broadway Melody and the classic word play song, Moses Supposes.

What is less successful is the slapstick and clowning. None of the three leads is a natural clown so the comedy often feels manufactured.

Which brings us to the crunch. This production feels tired. It is flat and at times lacks the intense energy required to make this kind of huge, light entertainment work at optimum level. Perhaps six months running in Sydney, getting soaked every night, has worn the cast out sooner than expected. It needs an injection of high octane pep juice.

Jackie Love’s bimbo, Lina Lamont, is a highlight. She squeaks as the vengeful, stupid silent movie actress whose shrill voice is unsuited to talkies. Her solo, What’s Wrong With Me, is sparkling, vivacious and hilarious.

Another high point was Sheree da Costa’s fantasy scene. Her dance is is sexy, lyrical and provocative.

The designers and technicians are also stars. Michael Anania’ s  set creates miniature versions of New York cityscapes and Trudy Dalgliesh’s  lighting is evocative and is echoed by whimsical fairy lights on headdresses in Paula Ryan’s wild 20s costumes.

Conrad Helfrich’s musical direction is well-supported by the band of seventeen.

This show is all bells and whistles. Take a break from your real life.

By Kate Herbert