Friday 31 January 2014

Private Lives, MTC, Jan 31, 2014 ***1/2

By Nöel Coward, Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, Jan 31 until March 8, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Full review will appear after publication in Herald Sun online today, Fri Jan 31, 2014, or in print. KH
Nadine Garner and Leon Ford

In his 1930 comedy of manners, Private Lives, Nöel Coward drapes a gossamer-thin veil of wit and flamboyance over two spiteful lovers, allowing us to laugh at their awful behaviour without feeling too politically incorrect.

By some cruel fate, divorced couple, Elyot (Leon Ford) and Amanda (Nadine Garner), meet again while both are honeymooning with their new spouses in a luxury, French hotel, and their volatile relationship is reignited with disastrous results.

Their rekindled passion sends them fleeing, in a flurry of deceit, to Amanda’s Paris flat where they sip cocktails, dance to gramophone records and lounge about in the languorous afterglow of lust – until the bickering and slapping starts all over again.

Coward’s notorious ‘theatricality’ – these days unmasked as campery – litters the play with his inimitable, entertainingly witty banter, acerbic arguments, clipped articulation, flamboyant costumes and dandyish behaviour.

Ford is suitably cool, sophisticated, foppish and acid-tongued as Elyot while Garner balances posturing elegance and delicious seduction with slapstick.

Their coupling tumbles amusingly from glamorous teasing, posing and pouting, into irrepressible passion that escalates into bitter acrimony and absurd violence.

Despite their characters’ narcissism, cruelty and infantile tiffs, Ford and Garner manage to make them charming and sympathetic.

Lucy Durack is delightfully prim, pretty and demanding as Sibyl and John Leary gives dowdy Victor a feisty edge when he challenges Elyot to fight.

Julie Forsyth almost steals the show in her inspired cameo as French maid, Louise, who sneezes, scoffs and stumbles in a consummate, understated clown act.

Although Sam Strong’s production is set in the 30s, he incorporates contemporary songs with some period tunes that are all played on piano and sung by this versatile cast.

The modern music may engage younger audiences with this period piece, but Coward die-hards may be less enamoured of such musical updating.

The performances are accomplished and colourful and the production enjoyable, but the level of languor, vanity and flamboyance could go up a few notches to make it, well, more Cowardish.

The second act seems to spins its wheels with Elyot and Amanda’s repetitive dialogue until the fighting starts and the deserted spouses arrive.

The elaborate, realistic design (Tracy Grant Lord) emphasises 1930s opulence, and Strong’s use of the revolving stage provides some hilarious opportunities for door-slamming farce, although it is a bit dizzying after too many twirls.

This is a diverting production that may entice a new audience to a love of Coward’s wry humour and 1930s style.

By Kate Herbert
 John Leary, Nadine Garner, Leon Ford, Lucy Durack
Director Sam Strong; 
Set & Costume Designer Tracy Grant Lord;
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson; 
Composer Mathew Frank;
Assistant Director Tanya Dickson

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Diamonds Are For Trevor, Jan 28, 2014 ****

By Trevor Ashley & Phil Scott
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, to Feb 2, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****  
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Wed Jan 29, 2014 and in print. KH
Trevor Ashley in Diamonds Are For Trevor

With his huge singing voice, glittering gowns and histrionic gestures, Trevor Ashley cunningly delivers both a celebration and a parody of Shirley Bassey – sorry, Dame Shirley Bassey.

Diamonds Are For Trevor is another screamingly camp success for Ashley who makes a fine living singing in drag, playing blousy women such as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, or gay icons including Bassey and Liza Minelli.

The show is titillating and raunchy, funny and mischievous, extravagant and excessive.

Ashley’s depiction of glamorous chanteuse, Bassey, combines acerbic and witty criticism of her egocentrism with remarkably powerful vocal stylings that channel Shirley’s distinctive, rich tone, idiosyncratic articulation, quirky vibrato and extensive repertoire of famous songs.

Several of his renditions of Bassey tunes leave the audience gaping in awe or clapping like seals at
his melodramatic endings and phenomenal upper register.

The audacious Ashley performs this opulent trash with pizazz, dressed in a parade of flamboyant, lamé gowns (designed by Oscar nominee, Tim Chappel) that echo the sultry sensuality of Bassey in her heyday.

The production, directed deftly by Craig Ilott, is a representation of, and tribute to Bassey without being strictly an impersonation although his over-the-top arm movements and teeth-baring grin are pure parody.

Using his vocal flexibilty and broad range, Ashley sings memorable versions of 18 Bassey hits including Goldfinger, Never, Never, Never, This is My Life, History Repeating, and an unforgettable version of Diamonds are Forever.

Then he almost dislocates a hip doing a vigorous bump and grind as he belts out the outrageous Big Spender.

The script, written by Ashley with collaborator, Phil Scott, is clever and provocative, with hilarious gags and one unexpectedly poignant scene about Bassey’s daughter who suicided.

An accomplished 14-piece orchestra led by conductor and piano player, Geoffrey Castles accompanies Ashley on-stage.

If you love a bold, vivid drag show with a touch of style, lashings of humour and some big, belting Bassey tunes, Diamonds Are For Trevor is the show for you. He’s a gem – a sparkly and ostentatious gem.

By Kate Herbert

Saturday 11 January 2014

Angelina Ballerina The Mousical, Jan 15, 2014 **1/2

Adapted by Miranda Larson from Katharine Holabird’s books
Produced by Nick Brooke Ltd & BOS Productions
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, Jan 15 to 19, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 15
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published in print in Herald Sun on Sunday Jan 19, 2014. KH
Sophie Summers, Tyler Scott, Katherine McNamara, Joanna Gregory, Darren Burkett, Miracle Chance, 
 photo by Greer Versteeg 

Angelina Ballerina The Mousical has a captive audience of pre-schoolers because it is based on Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig’s hugely successful children’s books and animated TV series.

However, despite having a couple of entertaining chorus numbers and a simple message about the joys of collaboration, this UK production is inconsistent in quality and the under-five target audience lost focus intermittently, becoming wriggly and chatty.

It’s very cutely called a “mousical’ because, well, what else would you call a show with dancing and singing mice?

Angelina and her mousey friends live in the village of Chipping Cheddar, attend the Camembert Academy (yes, lots of cheese references), and win the opportunity to appear on their favourite TV show, Dancing With Mice. Cute! 

Angelina is nominated Dance Captain, but realises that she can’t develop the choreography alone and that her team of dancing mice must collaborate with each other to incorporate ideas from both the boys and the girls.

The mice finally make everyone’s dreams come true by merging boys’ and girls’ ideas to create monster princesses and space fairy pirates.

The group numbers are the strongest and most engaging for the children, especially Hey There Camembert and the perky finale with its simple lyrics about sharing: “Together, together, we just get better.”

The six youthful performers, led by Joanne Gregory as Angelina, play the likeable characters with appealing cheerfulness, but they have varying ability as dancers and singers.

Gregory, as the sweetie-pie Angelina, provides the expected classical ballet elements in the choreography.

Supporting Gregory are Katharine McNamara as scatty Alice, Sophie Summers as Gracie who likes sparkly things, Miracle Chance as Vikki who loves fairies, Darren Burke as Marco who is obsessed with superheroes, and Tyler Scott as AJ, the Hip Hop kid.

Disappointingly, Miranda Larson’s direction is unimaginative, with frequent and unnecessary movement of scenery, the songs are unmemorable, lyrics often inaudible, choreography unexciting and there was minimal interaction and participation for the tiny tots.

However, the target audience of 3 year olds will forgive the bumpiness of this production because of their adoration of their animated dancing hero, Angelina.

By Kate Herbert

Angelina Ballerine books written by Katharine Holabird, illiustrated by Helen Craig

Joanne Gregory Angelina
Sophie Summers Gracie likes sparkly things
Katharine McNamara Alice and Ms Mimi
Miracle Chance as Vikki loves fairies
Darren Burke as Marco costume superhero boy
Tyler Scott as AJ Hip Hop

Director and writer Miranda Larson
Choreographer Matthew Cole
 Composer Barrie Bignold
Set and costume Isla Shaw

 Angelina Ballerina The Mousical, Joanna Gregory, photo by Greer Versteeg 


Wogboys, Jan 12, 2014 ***1/2

Princess Theatre, until Feb 2, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 12
 Review also published in print in Herald Sun on Tues Jan 14, 2014. KH
 L-R Vince Colosimo &  Alex Dimitriades

If you grew up in a Southern European family where the furniture was covered in plastic, your school lunch smelt funny and nobody spoke English in your house, Wogboys will make you feel at home – or give you nasty flashbacks.

 Our family is 50% Italo-Aussie so a lot of it all feels scarily familiar.

The original, 1980s show, Wogs Out Of Work, reclaimed the word “wog”, launched a new brand of identification comedy for second generation, European immigrants, and propelled Nick Giannopoulos into a lucrative stage and screen career based on “wog humour”.

Wogboys recycles plenty of Giannopoulos’s old but funny material and clever comic delivery, the most hilarious of which are his Greek cleaning woman and his reminiscences about a Greek childhood.

These solo routines are scattered amongst episodes set during the late 1990s during the carefree life of the “wog boys”: Steve (Giannopoulos), his cousin Chris (Alex Dimitriades), and Italian friends, Frank (Vince Colosimo) and Dominic (Frank Lotito).

Steve convinces his pals to help cousin Chris pay off his gambling debt by dealing drugs, a plan that goes right off the rails, as expected.

This narrative stretches 20-minutes of material to a patchy 90 minutes, which creates some spongy scenes, clunky story links and a weaker second half, but it also provides some funny character moments and gags.

Many of the jokes and stereotypes are clearly out-dated but still get big laughs from the audience, although the script is crying out for some younger characters and topical references to the behaviour of current second or third generation migrants.

But the gags about the drug-dealing Greek mum disguising her drugs as bonbonniere or making a bong from an Ouzo bottle are crowd-pleasers.

Colosimo’s Italian Stallion, Frank, is an hilarious throwback whose life at 40ish is still built around picking up chicks at Chasers Night Club and listening to old disco tunes and George Michael.

Dimitriades, whose comic skills are a revelation, handles a gag with finesse and almost steals the show in the final minutes doing a bizarre but credible caricature of Samuel L. Jackson in a Tarantino-esque movie, then tops it off with a riotous, James Brown-style soul number.

Lotito begins shakily with a rather shrill characterisation of Dominic, the nerdy, mamma’s-boy chemist, but he hits his straps in the final sketch when channelling Joe Pesci.

Although Hollie Andrew is a capable performer, unfortunately her character is both under-utilised and underwritten and looks like a token female addition.

After two movies and a TV series based around the “wog boys” theme, this is the first stage show in a decade and it certainly had the capacity crowd hooting and hollering.

By Kate Herbert
  Nick Giannopoulos


Nick Giannopoulos
Vince Colosimo
Alex Dimitriades
Frank Lotito
Hollie Andrew

Big Bad Wolf, Jan 11, 2014 ***1/2

Written by Matthew Whittet
Windmill Theatre, presented by Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Lawler Theatre, until Jan 25, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 11
 Review also published in Herald Sun on Friday, Jan 17, 2014. KH
 L-R  Emma J Hawkins Patrick Graham, Photo by Tony Lewis.

It’s hard to make friends at the best of times but, when you’re a big, bad wolf, it is must be like pulling teeth – or canine fangs.

In Big Bad Wolf, Matthew Whittet’s play, Wolfy (Patrick Graham) is the antithesis of the fearsome, fairytale wolf that huffs and puffs or eats Grandma in a single gulp.

Graham’s Wolfy is a goofy, naive and very lonely Vegemitarian who writes poetry, likes “peoples” and doesn’t ever eat them, despite the wishes of his authoritarian mother-wolfmaster (Kate Cheel).

However, every person and animal in Alarmville runs screaming when they see Wolfy, so he has no friends – except for a non-wolfist, performing flea – until he meets equally friendless Heidi Hood (Emma J. Hawkins).

The simple message for the audience of children over 5 is not to judge people by their outward appearances because, even if people look different, they can still be your friends.

Heidi and Wolfy’s friendship develops secretly to avoid criticism and alarm in the village but, finally, they join forces to win the town poetry tournament and Heidi introduces Wolfy, the talented poet and pacifist, to the people.

Graham successfully plays Wolfy as a sympathetic, gentle and oafish clown with a peculiar German accent and childlike playfulness.

Hawkins is feisty and athletic as Heidi Hood, a distant cousin of Red Riding Hood, and charms the children with her celebratory dance and acrobatics.

Kate Cheel courageously depicts all other characters including the narrator, TV newsreader, a fluffy bunny puppet, the invisible flea, a talking couch and a tree, but her range of character voices and her comic skills are limited.

Whittet’s writing is sometimes a little lacklustre, but Big Bad Wolf is chirpy, warm entertainment for littlies.

By Kate Herbert

Patrick Graham (Wolfy)
Kate Cheel (Narrator, Couch, Rabbit, Grandmaster Wolf, TV Reporter, Tree, Flea)
Emma J Hawkins (Heidi Hood)

Director Rosemary Myers
Designer Jonathon Oxlade
Lighting Designer Chris Petridis
 Movement Carol Wellman Kelly
 Sound Designer Harry Covill
 L-R Patrick Graham, Kate Cheel, Emma J Hawkins. Photo by Tony Lewis

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo, Jan 7, 2014 ***1/2

By Erth Visual and Physical Inc. written & directed by Scott Wright

Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, Jan 7 to 19, 2014

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun, Jan 9, 2014. KH
If you ever wanted to hug a carnivorous dinosaur then Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo, a simple but inventive puppet show, is just the ticket.

Kids are invited on stage to stroke cute baby dinoosaurs, hypnotise an inquisitive Leaellynasaura, catch a mega-dragonfly, and one little boy even sticks his head into the mouth of an enormous, toothy Australovenator.

It sounds risky, but this show, written and directed by Scott Wright, is all safe, cute fun with a few joyfully scary bits to make the children (5 years +) squeal with delight.

Compere, Michael Cullen, is the most charming palaeontologist imaginable, and he cleverly weaves fascinating dinosaur facts into his introductions to the various creatures, all of which were indigenous to Australia 65 million years ago.

Three puppeteers (Andrew Blizzard, Sam Hayes, Samantha Hickey,) skilfully manipulate and animate the animals (designed by Steve Howarth), breathing life into them as they walk, run, attack, purr and roar, until we forget that they are not flesh and blood.

Dinosaur Zoo is a smart, educational piece that demonstrates how museums can use entertainment to encourage children to learn more about our great, extinct fauna.

The two Leallynasauras are uncannily lifelike with their huge eyes, ungainly but realistic, emu-like walk and scaly reptile hide.

The carnivorous Australovenator, the skeleton of which was discovered in Victoria only 8 years ago, is a huge hit with its sudden, menacing rushes at the child-wranglers, its huge, ripping teeth and fearsome roar.

“What do carnivores eat?” “Meat,” shout the children. ”And what are kids made of|?” taunts Michael. “Meat,” they shriek excitedly.

The ridiculously long-necked Titanosaur, a herbavore with a peanut-sized brain, was a fun addition, but it seems as if the show, at 45 minutes, needs a couple more dinosaurs to feel complete.

However, if the kids want more, they can pet some critters in the foyer after the show – then go home and read up on dinosaurs on their I Pads.

By Kate Herbert

 Andrew Blizzard with baby dino

Sunday 5 January 2014

Grease, Jan 5, 2014 ***1/2

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey, with additional songs by Barry Gibb & John Farrar
Produced by John Frost
Her Majesty’s Theatre, from Jan 6, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 & 1/2
Review also in Herald Sun News online (Sunday Jan 5) and in print  (Mon, Jan 6). KH

Slick back your quiff, slip on your bobby-sox and rev up the Chevy because Grease is back in town.

The 1978 movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John made the soundtrack famous but, at the Melbourne premiere last night, the audience bopped along to their favourite tunes including the sexy, upbeat You’re The One That I Want and Grease Is The Word.

In this production, local star Rob Mills is cocky and sultry as good-looking Danny Zuko and Gretel Scarlett is an appealing Sandy, evolving from wholesome, girl-next-door to smokin’ hot minx in skin tight black.

 Rob Mills & Gretel Scarlett. Pic by Jeff Busby

The energetic chorus supports Mills and Scarlett’s spirited duet, Summer Nights, and Scarlett’s fine voice is highlighted in the romantic Hopelessly Devoted To You.

This version, directed by David Gilmore, is the fifth major, Australian production of Grease since 1972, the same year that Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1950’s jukebox style, teen musical burst onto Broadway and challenged the old, show tune musicals.

It is set in 1959 in the fictitious Rydell High School, where shy, new, Australian student, Sandy, falls for high school Romeo and ‘greaser’, Danny.

Although this custom T-Bird show goes into overdrive during the many memorable songs, it stalls unforgivably during the scenes where the pace and timing are often sluggish, dialogue clumsy and physical comic business awkward.

Despite shining during their songs, there is no chemistry between Mills and Scarlett so the Sandy-Danny relationship feels flat and uncomfortable.

Stephen Mahy, as Danny’s scowling pal, Kenickie, has a magnetic stage presence and resonant, versatile voice and steals the first act with Greased Lightnin’, supported by the sidekicks, Roger, Doody and Sonny (Duane McGregor, Chris Durling, Sam Ludeman).

Todd McKenney takes the prize for biggest ham and steals the second half, singing Beauty School Dropout in silver lame and wig.

Val Lehman’s Miss Lynch is suitably brusque and school-teacherish, but Bert Newton looks miscast as DJ Vince Fontaine,

The on-stage band is tight as a drum, Arlene Phillips’ choreography is vibrant, Terry Parsons’ design is glitzy neon littered with 50s icons.

If you are willing to forgive the flaws, this show is damned entertaining and will heat up Melbourne’s summer nights for the whole family.

By Kate Herbert
 Pics by Jeff Busby

Rob Mills - Danny
Gretel Scarlett - Sandy
Anthony Callea - Johnny Casino
Stephen Mahy - Kenickie
Lucy Maunder - Rizzo
Todd McKenney - Teen Angel
Bert Newton - Vince Fontaine
Val Lehman - Miss Lynch