Monday 29 June 2009

The Burlesque Hour Legends , June 25, 2009 ****

The Burlesque Hour Legends 
by Finucane and Smith
At  fortyfivedownstairs, June 29 to August 2, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

BEWARE! The Burlesque Hour will knock your socks off - and probably a lot of other clothing too. The five extraordinary women in this gob-smacking cabaret spend much of the show in varying degrees of undress ranging from kimonos to underwear and, well, nothing at all.

But burlesque is not only about feather dances and sassy strip teases. The cast teases us with their idiosyncratic and modern, almost satirical version of burlesque that blurs the lines between cabaret, vaudeville, sex shows, performance art, physical theatre and a rock concert.

Creators of this and previous Burlesque Hours, Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith, say that they want to “cherish and challenge their audiences”, and they do exactly that. The crowd is excited, cheering and whooping, grinning ear to ear and gaping with astonishment and sometimes shock at the visual, physical and verbal content of the acts.

Finucane has a penchant for drenching herself and the crowd with fluids, to the degree that the front row is given plastic ponchos to protect them from spraying milk. Her final act, Queen of Hearts, is a marvellous new take on the burlesque artiste who wears nothing but balloons. 

Maude Davey gives a riveting, brazen and challenging rave about the female body, while displaying her own lithe frame. She later slouches on wearing an extravagantly feathered headdress and sings You Don’t Make Me Feel Like I’m A Woman Anymore while dancing like a 70s skinhead.

Yumi Umiumare brings the precision of her Japanese Butoh dance background to Mouth Piece, a compelling
Physical performance that is as shocking as it is beautiful and her martial arts strip is inspired.

There is a hilarious drunken trapeze act by Jess Love that makes swinging trapeze interesting again and Harriet Ritchie and Holly Durant’s sexy big-bosomed dancers are a riot. The first fortnight features special guest, Ursula Martinez, who prattles rapidly in Spanish, plays Spanish guitar, sets her bikini on fire and does magic involving a hankie disappearing into unexpected orifices. Upcoming special guests will be Paul Capsis and Toni Lamond.

The Burlesque Hour leaves you gaping and cheerful. If you are sensitive about language or uncomfortable with nudity, this may not be your show. But it is confrontational, impudent and disrespectful for all the right reasons.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 27 June 2009

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, June 27 ****

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story 
Written by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson
The Palms at Crown, June 27 to July 23, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jun e27, 2009

BUDDY HOLLY DIED in 1959 at 22 after producing dozens of hit tunes in a couple of years. In a strange confluence of events, the opening of this 50th anniversary production coincides with the death of Michael Jackson. 

Both are credited with changing popular music in their time. A chilling coincidence is that Buddy was the first white singer to appear at the Apollo Theatre, Harlem, the place that launched Jacko.

Another formidably talented 22 year-old, Scott Cameron, plays Buddy. Cameron started playing guitar at 5 and his playing surpasses Holly’s own skill.  He reproduces Buddy’s unusual vocal quality, his leaping stage antics and peculiarly attractive geek appearance. He may not be the most experienced actor, but Cameron does not disappoint as Buddy.

Cameron is supported by a superb cast that includes: Luke Tonkin as the booming Big Bopper, Flip Simmons as writhing Ritchie Valens and James Nation-Ingle and Simon Bentley as The Crickets. The stage band is tight and versatile directed by Peter Laughton, and the chorus is impeccable. One star turn is rich-voiced Clare Chihambakwe (OK) as Ruby at the Apollo.

The show tells the story of Buddy’s rise from Country and Western singer in Lubbock, Texas to a Rock and Roll star. He dumps a lucrative contract at Decca to record with Norman Petty (Gerard Carroll), in New Mexico. After ten hit songs, he marries Maria Elena (Laura Bunting) and goes solo.

The finale is an exhilarating rock concert, Buddy’s final performance in Clearlake, Iowa. Knowing that Buddy, Big Bopper and Valens died that night in a plane crash heightens the excitement and tragedy for the audience who are on their feet bopping and singing by the end.

It is a treat to hear Buddy Holly’s hit songs, including love ballads It’s So Easy, Think It Over and Words of Love, Raining in My Heart and Heartbeat. But it is the rockin’ numbers that hit the spot: Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby, Oh Boy. The finale includes the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba and finishes with Johnny B Goode and Oh Boy. 

What would Buddy Holly be producing now if, in two short years, he made such a mark on rock and roll history?

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 24 June 2009

The Birthday Party , MTC, June 24 ***1/2

The Birthday Party 
By Harold Pinter, Melbourne Theatre Company
 Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, June 24 to August 1, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on
Stars: ***1/2

The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter’s first full-length play, was written in his youth in 1958, but it established Pinter’s idiosyncratic style. 

Although it is not the best of his plays, it has all his hallmarks: barely masked violence, male aggression, tense pauses that heighten both the comedy and menace; sudden changes of topic and comic non-sequiturs in his dialogue; and the sense that his characters are trapped in a claustrophobic environment. He may have loathed the term, but Pinter was already “Pinteresque”.

Julian Meyrick’s production captures the threatening atmosphere and the playful silliness of the script. Pauline Whyman is particularly delightful as Meg, the child-like landlady who asks only for a simple compliment for her Corn Flakes and fried bread.

Gregory Fryer plays Meg’s husband, Petey, with a quiet and obliging air. The pair runs a boarding house by the sea with only one lodger. When Isaac Drandic, as the secretive Stanley, first appears for his breakfast, the trio engages in teasing banter. But Stanley’s acerbic retorts and lack of courtesy to Meg provide a hint of impending darkness.

And danger is looming. Two thugs arrive to take a room for the night and it is clear that they are here for Stanley. Meyrick’s production shifts positions at this point. Stanley is afraid, the atmosphere becomes ominous, Louise McCarthy’s heavy, grey interior looms and Darrin Verhagen’s music becomes unsettling.

Marshall Napier is chilling as Goldberg, the smug boss thug. He is a bragger, an abuser, a smiling villain who steps through the door, taking control like a Mafia boss. Glenn Shea, as his offsider McCann is the muscle of the duo, and he has the bulk and the scent of violence of a killer. The two embody the simmering brutality inherent in this play.

Meyrick’s production explores the variations in rhythm of Pinter’s dialogue and narrative, shifting pace rapidly and changing gears frequently between comedy and drama. The rhythm falters a little in the second half but rights itself by the end of the play.

The setting is moved from coastal England to Australia and the casting of indigenous actors accented this choice. Initially the casting appeared to be what is known as “colour-blind”, but there was a fleeting reference to aboriginal language in McCann’s poem. The play didn’t need it. The actors spoke for themselves.

By Kate Herbert

Friday 12 June 2009

Lobby Hero , June 12, 2009 ****1/2

 Lobby Hero 
by Kenneth Lonergan, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Red Stitch Theatre, Chapel St, St. Kilda, June 12 to  July 11, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

There is something compelling and profoundly moving about Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero. Four ordinary people struggle to live according to their own moral code. How do we decide what is right and wrong, how to serve ourselves while not damaging others, or how to make the best of what we are given?

The Oscar winning screenwriter sets his play over several nights in the claustrophobic lobby of an American city apartment block. Jeff (Tim Potter), the night shift security guard, spends his time reading and waiting for his mentor and boss, William (Christopher Kirby), to visit on his rounds. Bill, (Daniel Frederiksen) a successful city street cop, and his rookie partner, Dawn (Eryn-Jean Norvill), drop by each night.

Lonergan’s script is beautifully crafted, with an impeccably structured narrative and sensitive, funny and vividly observed dialogue. Each character springs to life fully drawn, complete with complexities, contradictions and mistakes.

Denis Moore’s production is delicately wrought, balancing comedy with drama, and creating deceptively simple rhythms in both the story and characters. Shaun Gurton’s design provides two stark spaces: the cold, grey, apartment lobby and a cage-like exterior doorway.

Potter is on stage almost the entire two hours and he is riveting, capturing the vulnerable boyishness of Jeff, his playful humour and his moral dilemma when faced with telling the truth about his friend’s lie. Potter has an impish quality but balances this with Jeff’s soul-searching and grappling with right and wrong.

As William, the fine, upstanding citizen who takes seriously his role of Security Captain, Kirby is dignified and captivating. His entire physicality embodies the anguish that William experiences as he faces his demons and tries to protect his family.

Frederiksen as the hero-cop, Bill, has the brittle quality of a grimy, jaded, street cop accustomed to getting his own way. He is smarmy, dangerous and fiercely loyal to his friends and colleagues – when they play his game.

Norvill captures the girlishness and dogged ambition of the young officer, Dawn. She is desperate to be a good cop and to please her partner, She is faced with the decision to save her own skin or hurt others, and who can tell whether her actions were on the side of the angels?

Nothing is simple in this life that is riddled with moral choices – not even in the lives of simple people.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 11 June 2009

Busting Out! June 11, 2009 ***1/2

 Busting Out! 
Written by Emma Powell, AG Productions
Athenaeum Theatre, June 11 to July 4, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Boobs are bustin’ out all over in Busting Out! This is the new, improved, lifted and separated show about bazookas, norks, jugs and fun bags. D-Cuppetry, the first incarnation in 2006, was women’s answer to Puppetry of the Penis.

Writer-performer, Emma Powell, with her bosom buddy (sorry), Bev Killick, revamped the show. It now has a glossy design, a bigger sound and a huge video screen to enlarges a double-D cup to something inexplicable. Many original visual gags are still present but seen through the lens of a camera in technicolour and 3D – or 36D (sorry).

The 2006 show was cute, a bit naughty and very daggy and the women have maintained its simple charm for the second half of this show. The start of the evening almost steers it up a very wrong path. It opens with no boobs at all, but with Killick’s bold and crass stand-up routine that would sit better in a late-night, boozy, comedy bar. Her fast patter dragged shrieks from the audience and was peppered with colourful language and more references to genitalia and bodily fluids than a rugby locker room.

After a rather premature interval, the charming, goofy bosom gags come thick and fast. The girls get their girls out and manipulate them like putty into hamburgers, doughnuts, stubby holders, crying babies and even a wide mouth frog. Ah, the versatile mammary. They even have names for each breast.

The singing gives this show pizzazz. Powell has a rich, powerful voice while Killick does a mean Tina Turner.  The show is filled with music featuring various female singers fashioned out of bosoms and blown up on screen.

Powell’s breast appears as Roberta Rack singing Say A Little Prayer For You. Killick’s does afunny rap about mammograms. Two boobs do a parody of Anni-Frid and Agnetha from ABBA singing Mamma Mia –ironic because Powell toured in the musical, Mamma Mia.

They could skip the stand-up and go straight to the boobs if they are not performing in a grog-soaked bar – but then, maybe I’m just a bit prissy these days. The crowd laughed, roared and applauded. They even got on stage and took their bras off. And that was the blokes. Seriously.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 4 June 2009

Avenue Q, June 4, 2009 ****

 Avenue Q 
Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty
Where and When: Comedy Theatre, from June 4 , 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

AVENUE Q is the Tony Award winning love child of a threesome between Sesame Street, wicked South Park and urban grunge musical, Rent. Picture Muppets with booze and sex and you have Avenue Q. 

This slick, funny Australian production is deftly directed by Jonathan Biggins and set in a shabby, low-rent, tenement block designed by Richard Roberts.  The versatile cast of singer-actors is exceptional. All but three also manipulate puppets, which makes a fascinating performance challenge.

It is a mystery how writers, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, got away with blatantly ripping off Jim Henson and portraying Gary Coleman (Cherine Peck). But Marx is a lawyer so he must have dotted his i’s The street, songs, cute lessons and the characters all echo the Muppets. There is a Trekkie Monster (Luke Joslin) instead of Cookie Monster, Lucy T. Slut (Michala Banas) replaces Miss Piggy and Rod, the gay banker (Butel) and his scruffy, room mate, Nicky (Joslin) parallel Bert and Ernie.

And here the show departs on its own adult tracks. Bright-eyed college graduate, Princeton (Mitchell Butel), laments his unemployability in his song, What Do You Do With a BA In English. He meets his low rent neighbours on Avenue Q, including soon-to-be-lover, the furry geek, Kate Monster. Everybody feels like a loser in this street when they sing the very funny, It Sucks To Be Me.

A very tight, off-stage band plays the vivacious, poppy tunes. The lyrics are cunning and cheeky rather than wicked. Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist is a simple but insightful commentary on contemporary racism and political correctness.

There are several poignant songs. There’s A Fine, Fine Line, sung by Banas, is about love and friendship while Nicky’s buddy song to Rod, If You Were Gay (but I’m not gay), is a sympathetic acceptance of his gay friend.

But there are plenty of rollicking numbers. The Internet Is For Porn is a big, raunchy rock tune. One of the wildest scenes involves the entire cast singing You Can Be As Loud As You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love) while Kate Monster and Princeton get down and dirty in a puppet way. It’s the funniest puppet sex scene since Team America. Another highlight were the sweet-faced and devilish, Bad Idea Bears.

Butel is compelling, funny and multi-talented playing Princeton and Rod, and is perfectly matched by Banas who plays Lucy T. Slut as well as Kate Monster. They perform some extraordinary acting feats by simultaneously playing two characters each.

 The show is a riot albeit a bit too long.

By Kate Herbert