Saturday 31 December 2005

Saturday Night Fever, Melbourne, Dec 31, 2005

Saturday Night Fever 
Adapted for stage by Nan Knighton
 Produced by  Robert Stigwood, Adam Spiegel Productions, ICA and David Atkins (OK)
Where and When: State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne from 31 December 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 31, 2004

It's official - the Bee Gees melodic, funky tunes still have audiences donning their Boogie Shoes in 2005.

The 1977 movie of Saturday Night Fever was a rocking success for both Bee Gees and producer, Robert Stigwood who is a producer of this stage adaptation.

The show rocks. Adam-Jon Fiorentino plays Italian stallion, Tony Mareno, with a huge grin and plenty of hip grinding.   His character looks uncannily like Travolta from the white suit and the finger-pointing pose right down to the strut.

The dancing features in this production directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. Fiorentino is a powerful, passionate and skilful dancer. His moves are faultless and he is a charismatic leader of a very polished dance corps.

He sings as Tony too but, as a singer, he makes a fantastic dancer. His voice is competent but his upper register is shaky.

There are a couple of raunchy voices. As Annette, the teenager who will sell her body for Tony, Monique Montez sings a bold version of If I Can't Have You.

Playing Tony's hapless friend, Bobby C., Darren Tyler belts out Tragedy with rocking style.

Renae Berry (OK) warms up as Stephanie, Tony's upwardly mobile Brooklyn broad hitting her straps in her solo song, What Kind of Fool and in a rousing duet, Nights on Broadway, with Montez.

Tony's clan of Brooklyn boys (Sean Mulligan, Christopher Parson, Nigel Turner-Carroll and Tyler) are a seething mob of testosterone-soaked machismo. They make Boogie Shoes and Jive Talkin' live again.

Dale Pengilly plays D.J. Monty with hilariously predatory disco sleaziness and plenty of buttock wiggling.  

Tony and Stephanie's More than A Woman duet is charming but the dancing gets a gold star in the Disco Dance competition at Monty's Odyssey 2001 disco.

Fiorentino and Berry's duet is romantic and pretty but the pulsing Hispanic duo takes the disco cake.

The narrative is thin and much of the movie's drama is removed from this adaptation. Bobby C's despair about his pregnant girlfriend climaxes in Tragedy but the painful issues of Tony's family and brother, Frank, (Mitchell Butel) the lapsed priest, are glossed over unsatisfactorily.

The chorus numbers, Stayin' Alive, You Should Be Dancin' and Jive Talkin' are topped by the spectacular dance finale in which the entire audience gets up to jive in their seats.

Saturday Night Fever is a grand way to dance in the New Year.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 30 December 2005

Twelfth Night, Botanical Gardens, Dec 30, 2005

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, Dec 30, 2005 to Feb 24, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Glenn Elston’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s comic-romance, Twelfth Night, returns to the Botanical Gardens this year with some new cast and a different location.

Yet again, the Gardens provide a beautiful backdrop for the play that is set on the twelfth night after Christmas, the eve of Epiphany, January 5.

Twelfth Night is a raunchy Shakespeare play for those who avoid the wordier tragedies. Shakespeare’s script has a dark and sometimes vengeful edge to it that Elston omits from this entertaining summer production.

In the style of Shakespeare’s other comedies, the play incorporates mistaken identity, cross-dressing, separated identical twins, a lovelorn master, a grieving mistress and plenty of bawdy, naughty servants.

A peppering of modern colloquialisms, (OK) musical references and jokes makes it accessible to all.

Count Orsino (Hugh Sexton) pines and persists with his unrequited love for the unresponsive Lady Olivia (Shireen Morris) who grieves for her dead brother.

The twins, Viola (Gemma Bishop) and Sebastian (Tony Rive), are shipwrecked on the shores of Orsino’s court, both believing the other drowned.

 For some reason never specified, Viola dresses as Cesario, a boy, and takes a position as servant to Orsino. She becomes his confidante and conveyor of his love missives to Olivia who mistakenly falls in love with the boy-girl.

The dense poetic language is made comprehensible and fun for an audience unused to Shakespeare.

There is much marvellous clowning and bawdiness on the part of Brendan O’Connor as Sir Toby Belch, the drunken lord, with Adrian Dart as the foppish wimp, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

This duo is a highlight of the production. Their goofy slapstick antics are hilarious when they secrete themselves to observe the effect of their practical joke upon Olivia’s pompous servant, Malvolio. (Ross Williams)

Williams, as Malvolio is suitably mordant and self-important, hilarious in his yellow stockings and sympathetic when incarcerated by the fools.

Morris has an exotic and regal quality as Olivia and Peter Hosking as Feste the grim jester, makes a strong MC for the show.

Gemma Bishop is competent as Viola, playing a girl dressed as a boy falling in love with a man. Terri Braban, as her servant Maria, is lively.

Phil Cameron-Smith’s great skill with language and powerful, understated stage presence brings great dignity to the small role of Antonio.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 29 December 2005

The Wind in the Willows, 20th Anniversary, Dec 29, 2005

 The Wind in the Willows 
adapted from Kenneth Grahame
The Australian Shakespeare Company 
 Botanical Gardens, Gate F, Dec 29 to Jan 28, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 29, 2005

The Wind in the Willows in the Botanical Gardens celebrates its 20th anniversary this season. It is still a hoot for kids and adults.

The script is adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s very English children’s story, but this version is riddled with local references and Australianisms for all ages.

We receive sticky labels entitling each of us “Rabbit” then our host, The Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers), entertains us with gags and songs.

The Botanical Gardens play a major role. The opening scene is played before the real lake, which plays the role of the fictional River. The gardens behind us play the frightening Wild Woods.

Chief Rabbit is joined by his arch-enemy, the snivelling, twitching Weasel, (Robert Jackson) whose aim is to overrun Toad Hall with his weasel family.

Rabbit and Weasel taunt each other, tease the adults, titillate the children and teach us a song that involves waggling our ears, wiggling our noses and singing “whispering willows.”

Before we meet the infamous Toad of Toad Hall, (Andrew Dunne) we are introduced to Ratty (Ezra Bix), the amiable, picnicking water rat. He invites Mole (Charlotte Strantzen), the meek little homemaker, to join us on an adventure.

By this time the children are totally involved in the fantasy of the River animals and await the arrival of Mr. Toad.

But there are more madcap characters to meet. Badger (Alan King) is like an old, reliable army general who cannot abide noise and fuss and can lead a battle with only rabbits and assorted animals for soldiers.

Then comes Otter (James Stafford), a perky, slightly dim water creature who is looking for his errant son, Portly (Otis & Arky Elston).

When Mr. Toad appears he is no disappointment. Dunne plays Toad with a pompous presence and a marvellous singing voice.

Ratty no longer arrives in a rowing boat and Otter does not appear out of the lake in a wetsuit but the show is still hilarious, charming and has some fun participation for the kids – and adults.

The battle for Toad Hall is a riot with weasels being pummelled and tossed over the walls and the children love the songs and adventures.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 18 December 2005

Musical Theatre Round Up, Melbourne, 2005

Musical Round Up 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Published in Herald-Sun, Melbourne

If you are all presuming my top pick of the musicals this year was The Lion King, presume again. No one show takes the prize this year; try as I would to find one with all the ingredients of a great musical.

The major shows were adaptations of movies. Does nobody have an original idea any more?

Saturday Night Fever started the year with a bang and featured the pick of The Bee Gees songs. The chorus numbers, Stayin' Alive, You Should Be Dancin' and Jive Talkin' were only topped by the spectacular dance finale that compelled the entire audience to jive in their seats.

However, the narrative was thin and much of the drama in the original movie was removed from this adaptation.

The opening of The Lion King was a 20-minute feast of dance, song and puppetry. This production looked gorgeous. The direction, body puppetry and choreography were innovative and the African musical pieces and singers were the highlight for me. My reservations were with most of the Elton John music and the thinness of the script that was borrowed from the animated feature.

Another show using fabulous pop songs was Mamma Mia, in its return season.
The show was stolen by the sassy trio of Sophie Paladino, Jenny Vuletic and Emma Powell wearing shiny 60s suits and singing Super Trouper. Yet again, the finale was a huge success.

The Production Company wins accolades for its concert productions of Oklahoma and Sunset Boulevarde, Where are our new Rodgers and Hammerstein?

Long live the musical – in whatever form!

Kate Herbert

Tuesday 13 December 2005

To Miss With Love, Store Room, Dec 13, 2005

To Miss With Love  
Written and performed by Christina Adams
Store Room, Fitzroy Nth, until Dec 18, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you are, or have ever been, a high school teacher, Christina Adams’s docu-comedy, To Miss With Love, will be all too familiar. It is a laugh-out-loud identification theatre for teachers – or anyone who was ever attended a high school.

Adams manages to effectively combine direct address to the audience with reconstructions of classroom and staff room incidents.

The audience is sometimes addressed as recalcitrant students or members of staff, at others as if in a lecture on the first year out teacher.

The writing, by Adams, is witty, unaffected and well observed. She uses slide projections to display fabricated statistics about the first year teacher: “82% of first year teachers enter a classroom believing they are prepared and confident.”

In the classroom scenes, she shifts effortlessly between herself, the teacher, and some archetypes of Australian students. Mario is Italian, seductive, uninterested in learning but obsessed with Holden cars.

The Year Sevens are enthusiastic and motivated while the Year Tens are lethargic, moody and hormone charged.

Her characterisations of recognisable students are hilarious. We see them manipulating the teacher, avoiding work, taunting each other and staff, using their mobile phones for ridiculous reasons and trying to somehow make school the life they want.

Adams’ depictions of older teachers are scathing. She is particularly harsh on those who criticise the new teacher and judge her on the behaviour of her boisterous class.

The anxious principal who is nervous speaking to groups, is a delightful, impotent, sniffing character.

Her portrayal of the school camp is frighteningly accurate and reveals an embarrassing moment for her in front of the students.

The voice-overs of school principal and students are often funny and allow other characters into the space without Adams being required to inhabit them.

Although there are other, more theatrical ways to present this material, Adams, with director Monica Dullard, finds an engaging, direct style that allows us into the school environment and the teacher’s psyche.

Adams obviously loves her mad, bad and silly Year Tens But students can be cruel to teachers. To Miss With Love is a very fine teacher’s revenge.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 8 December 2005

Ron Present … Gilding the Turd, Dec 8, 2005

Ron Present … Gilding the Turd
by Roderick Poole
La Mama, Carlton,  December 8 to 18, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Roderick Poole is theatrically inventive; he co-founded Primary Source, a group that rolled a huge wheel down Swanston Street in a Melbourne Festival years ago. He founded Strange Fruit, an outdoor theatre company that performs aerial choreography on top of four-metre poles.

In contrast to the expansive, physical, outdoor group productions, Poole performs alone in the tiny space of La Mama with his feet jammed into a wooden box. Yes, his movement is restricted to swaying to and fro because his feet are literally trapped in round holes in the top of the box. It is strangely reminiscent, in a minimalist way, of the figures atop the huge, waving poles of Strange Fruit.

Poole is Ron, an old Aussie bloke who is obviously fond of a drink – hence the swaying. He is also pretty attached to his smokes and lights one from the other or leaves them hanging precariously from his lip, ash dripping to the ground.

Ron is an old codger, a battler, a boozer, a dreamer, a fighter. He mutters potted philosophy and tales of his past as he smokes his darling ciggies. The only thing he loves as  much as smoking is footy and a fight – and probably a beer.

We sit tucked around the foot of his box as he prattles to us like old friends. He runs a few dreams he had past a young man in the audience, asking for interpretation. He gets none.

He asks if any of us ever thought of topping ourselves and suggests it is too hard on the loved ones.

He mentions Irene, his wife, who “wore her patience like a fur,” and, later, he describes simply her death.

All the puff is gone out of Ron. He re-enacts his last prize fight punch for punch. He biffs and smacks with right crosses and upper cuts to the ribs until he is knocked out.

The humour is grim. He reminisces about fighting at the Somme and tells us he was a surgeon there. He cut off a soldier’s gangrenous arm, only to discover he cut off the wrong limb.

Ron may be an old geezer with an addled brain, but he raises some issues and offers us the opportunity to “look inside a bloke’s head.” It is worth the look.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 7 December 2005

As You Like It, Green Cyc, Dec 7, 2005

As You Like It  by William Shakespeare 
Green Cyc

 Como House, South Yarra,  December 7 to 18, 2005

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on December 7

There are always obvious assets in outdoor theatre – and significant disadvantages. Green Cyc’s production of Shakespeare’s romance, As You Like It, has both.

Outdoor theatre uses beautiful surroundings – in this case, Como Park – as its stage design. It allows audience to picnic on the grass, move from location to location and experience a mild summer’s evening.

A production can also suffer from the vagaries of the weather, problems with outdoor acoustics and the pressure on actors who must perform on rough terrain with no backstage.

Fortunately, for the opening of As You Like It, the evening is mild and fine. Como House perches regally on the slope above us. The audience settles on rugs and chairs around a fountain. As we wait for the start of the play, actors prance and play, interacting with the audience.

There are significant problems with this production by Green Cyc, a company founded three years ago by graduates of the Ballarat Academy of Performing

The production, adapted and directed by Nathan Godkin, has no clear conceptual or stylistic foundation. Shakespeare’s form, language and narrative and muddied.

In attempting to make the play “accessible” to modern audiences, Godkin inserts unnecessary doggerel to explain the story.

Each actor does his or her own thing. Characterisations are so broad that characters are two-dimensional and cartoon-like. Any magical sense of the Forest of Arden, of sensuality and romantic love is lost in the vain attempt to entertain.

As You Like It is a romantic comedy that incorporates a magical forest, four pairs of lovers, two villains, one clown and a happy ending for all. It is a whimsical, playful play but needs some sense of its darkness.

The heart of the story is the romance between Orlando (Gareth Davies) and the clever, feisty Rosalind, (Sally Plant) daughter of the banished Duke Senior.

The acting is extremely uneven but there are glimmers of potential in some of the actors such as Davies, Plant, Natalie Michaels as Celia, Nick Dubberley as Duke Senior.

Te music is too loud, the voices are too soft and the sense of budding sexuality is missing.

If you are not a Shakespeare aficionado and enjoy light entertainment in the park, this may be the show for you.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 1 December 2005

Oh Come All Ye Stressful ’05, Glynn Nicholas Group, Dec 1, 2005

Oh Come All Ye Stressful ’05 
By Glynn Nicholas Group
The Palms, Crown Casino, Melbourne, Dec 1 to 4, 9 & 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 1, 2005

Glynn Nicholas produces and hosts Oh Come All Ye Stressful, a musical and comedy Christmas show at Crown.

Nicholas, in his inimitable laconic style, comperes the evening. He incorporates barbed comments for latecomers, occasional gentle audience participation and, of course, his impeccable mime skills.

The show begins slowly but gains momentum by the end of the first half. The second half could do with some cutting.

Oh Come All Ye Stressful is a variety show and Nicholas is joined on stage by other performers: the Voluptunes, The Kransky Sisters and Imogen Kelly.

Musical Director and pianist, Mark Jones, and his capable four-piece band, accompany each act. Jones’ patter does not meet the comic skill of Nicholas but his music is exceptional.

The focus of Nicholas’s verbal comedy is the stress of Christmas. The opening title song, includes the lyrics, Oh Come All Ye Stressful, Woeful and redundant.” Nicholas continues with witty references to desperate shoppers, children’s Chrissie dreams, crowds, exhaustion and over-eating.

His stroppy French waiter takes classical French mime and warps it into his own style. He brings a good-humoured young woman on stage to serve her his mime dinner in his mime restaurant and makes mileage out of mime objects, vocal sound effects and some funny business with a used handkerchief.

He reprises his hilarious, super-sized Melbourne copper, Sergeant Smith, who warns us of terrorists tampering with the Christmas turkey and crackers.

The Kransky Sisters are a huge hit with the audience. These three women are a comic cabaret trio who look like members of the Country Women’s Association in the 1950s and sing rock songs with arrangements in the style of the Salvation Army.

Psycho Killer and We Will Rock You were a knock-out and the Michael Jackson medley had people doubled over laughing.  Their deadpan delivery, weird characterisation and clever musicianship is a delight,  

The Voluptunes are the polar opposite of The Kranskys. These three singer-dancers are the sexy-pretty part of the show. They sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and other Christmas classics. They should probably leave the comic business alone though and stick with the song and dance.

Aerialist, Imogen Kelly, performs a breath-taking act on the Tissu as well as a very strange Ziegfeld Follies style fan dance and a cheeky routine with lollypop.

Oh Come All Ye Stressful is entertaining Christmas fare. Try to sit in the front section for a better view.

By Kate Herbert