Thursday 31 December 2015

Willows, 3 Little Pigs & Shakespeare reviews coming soon

In the next few days, I'll post reviews of:
  • The Wind in the Willows in the Botanical Gardens, Melbourne
  • The Three Little Pigs, a UK musical for families
  • Shakespeare's Best Bits from Australian Shakespeare Company that is also in the Gardens.
After that, there'll be no new reviews until end of Jan.

Someone else is covering Fiddler on the Roof for me.
Head Chief Rabbit (Roscoe Mathers), Toad (Ryan Hawke), Ratty (Leigh Piper)_Pic Matt Deller


 Shakespeare's Best Bits - cast
 Production pics still to come.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Musicals upcoming in 2016 - Melbourne

Musicals in 2016

Here is a list of large-scale musicals that will hit Melbourne stages in 2016 or shortly thereafter. I have not included all cabaret or chamber-style musicals. KH 

Jan 2 - The Three Little Pigs (UK family musical) 

Jan 5 - Fiddler On The Roof

Jan 20 - Ladies in Black, MTC
Sat Feb 7 - Ghost The Musical

March - Matilda

May  - Sound of Music 

May - Heathers the Musical 

May - Singin' in the Rain 

August - Little Shop of Horrors

August - We Will Rock You

Oct - Kinky Boots

 Jan 2017 - Book of Mormon


 These three open in Sydney Aug-Sept 2016 and we hope we see them in Melbourne soon after: 
 My Fair Lady


Dream Lover

Musical Theatre Wrap-Up 2015 - Melbourne

By Kate Herbert

Hoorah! In 2015, people flocked to the parade of musicals that filled our illustrious venues in this theatre-rich city and they are already are lining up for tickets for 2016, suggesting that Melbourne may be once more be the hub for musical theatre.

This year, we saw newly-minted shows, sparkling new productions of old standards, Australian productions of major international musicals, chamber pieces and hybrid shows that straddled musicals, cabaret, opera, theatre and dance.

Although nothing amongst the 20+ musicals warranted 5 stars from this crusty reviewer during 2015, there were plenty of 4&1/2 and 4 star productions.

1. The Production Company produced two 4&1/2 star shows with the first being Dean Bryant’s inventive production of Neil Simon and Cy Coleman’s classic, Sweet Charity. This provided a star vehicle for Verity Hunt-Ballard’s myriad talents and she was irrepressible, funny and vulnerable as Charity Valentine in a performance that is funny, melodramatic and, finally, tragic.

2. The second hit for Prod Co was Nice Work If You Can Get It, with its reinvention of a catalogue of George and Ira Gershwin songs in a 21st century book by Joe DiPietro. Nice Work was impudent, boisterous, beautifully sung and performed and allowed us to hear Gershwin tunes in a cunningly wrought musical.

Esther Hannaford played tomboy bootlegger and fugitive from justice, Billie Bendix, with charming naiveté and gangling awkwardness.

3. The Lion King returned to wow Melbourne again with Julie Taymor’s remarkable production design that included vivid masks, costumes and puppetry that created the illusion of an African animal kingdom.

The African-influenced opening chorus, Circle of Life, is the most rousing of Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs in this family musical based on Disney’s 1994 movie.  Buyi Zama as Rafiki, the mandrill, almost stole the show with her ebullient, cheeky characterisation, exceptional comic delivery and rich voice.

4. Another highlight in 2015 was Belinda Davids channelling Whitney Houston in The Greatest Love of All, thrilling the audience with her consummate vocal control, staggering four-octave range and exhilarating performance of Whitney’s hits.

5. Anything Goes, Cole Porter’s 1934 musical, was effervescent soda laced with bourbon and Caroline O’Connor was the big fizz in the production, bringing her formidable singin’ and dancin’ and idiosyncratic characterisation to the role of Reno Sweeney, a vivacious club singer who moonlights as a dodgy but sexy evangelist.

Other hot 4-star shows included City of Angels, Love Repeating, The Rocky Horror Show, of course, and the wild card Comedy Festival musical at the Spiegeltent, The Three Mikados.
City of Angels: Chelsea Plumley & Amanda Harrison

The year ends with another version of Cats and the new but nostalgic Georgy Girl featuring the music of The Seekers. (See reviews of these shows on this blog.)

 Now it’s time to start booking for the swathe of 2016 musicals and I’m hanging out to see Tim Minchin’s award-winning Matilda, based on Roald Dahl’s story, the Tony-Award winning Kinky Boots and let’s applaud the singing and tapping (and on-stage plumbing) in the new production of Singing In The Rain.

See a list of musical for 2016 in next post.

By Kate Herbert

Theatre upcoming in 2016 - 3 shows in Melbourne

By Kate Herbert

Now, there are a few plays that I look forward to in 2016 and these include:

1. Disgraced, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner by Ayad Akhtar, focuses on a volatile dinner party that breaks the cardinal rule that religion, politics and race are not safe dinner conversation. Nadia Tass directs it for Melbourne Theatre Company.
2. Peter Evans will direct the Bard’s Othello for Bell Shakespeare, in which Ray Chong Nee will play the Moor of Venice as he vents his jealousy and violent love.
3. The marvellous Jenny Kemp is directing Abi Morgan’s Splendour with a cast that includes the equally compelling Belinda McClory at Red Stitch. 

by Kate Herbert

Theatre Wrap-Up 2015 - Melbourne

See next post for three theatre shows upcoming in 2016 in Melbourne. KH
Although no theatre shows scored my elusive 5 stars in 2015, two international productions and a local production of an Irish play claimed my accolades with 4½ stars, while a handful of shows received 4 stars.

1. The production that still haunts me was Bronx Gothic (4½ stars), written & performed by the mesmerising Okwui Okpokwasili who brought this solo piece from New York to the Melbourne Festival.

Okpokwasili’s startling, solo performance was visceral and punishing for both performer and audience. 

She lovingly created a tortured but beautifully wrought, emotional and physical landscape that was a metaphor for pubescence and the intimate life of children on the verge of sexual discovery.

2. Running a close second was 1984, a stage adaptation by UK company, Headlong, of George Orwell’s 1949 book that foreshadowed a dystopian future that resembles our present.

The production conjured a compelling, theatrical landscape while provoking vehement political discourse and its sense of impending doom, mental torment, Shakespearean violence and graphic torture was unnerving.

The direction was uncluttered and seamless, the adaptation synthesised Orwell’s message into a concise script, clear concept, searing narrative and credible characters that were all delivered by an impeccable ensemble.

3. The 4½ star local production of The Weir by Irish playwright, Conor McPherson, featured realistic characters whose barely masked fears and flaws drove both drama and comedy in this play set in a village pub in the West of Ireland.

Directed by Sam Strong, The Weir is successful because of its skillful writing and acting (Peter Kowitz, Ian Meadows, Robert Menzies, Greg Stone, Nadine Garner), humour, humanity and bold willingness to explore the primitive fears lurking within us all.

4. Piece For Person and Ghetto Blaster (4 stars) encapsulated Nicola Gunn’s tantalising, entertaining, ridiculous and often bewildering performance style.

Gunn is an eccentric, charming and mischievous performer and this idiosyncratic performance was a collision of stylised movement with vivid, direct-to-audience storytelling about a woman who witnesses a man throwing stones at a sitting duck.

5. At Red Stitch, Nadia Tass directed The Flick (4 stars), Annie Baker’s fly-on-the-wall view of three cleaners in a shabby cinema that resists swapping from 35mm films to digital movies.

Baker’s cunningly wrought dialogue crackles with wit and illuminates characters (Ngaire Dawn Fair, Kevin Hofbauer and Ben Prendergast) in a surprising series of vignettes performed among the empty seats of the fleapit movie house.

By Kate Herbert
See next post for three theatre shows upcoming in 2016 in Melbourne. KH

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Georgy Girl REVIEW, Dec 22, 2015 ****

Georgy Girl - The Seekers Musical
Book by Patrick Edgeworth; Music & Lyrics by Judith Durham, Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley, David Reilly, Malvina Reynolds, Paul Simon, Tom Springfield & others
Produced by Richard East & Dennis Smith
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, Dec 22, 2015 until Feb 21, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars:  ****
 Herald Sun News posted a version of this online tonight and tomorrow in print.  KH
All pics by Jeff Busby
If you remember the 1960s and loved The Seekers and their thrillingly rapid rise to international fame as a supergroup, you’ll sing along with every tune in Georgy Girl - The Seekers Musical.

All four real members of The Seekers were in the opening night audience and they joined the exceptional cast on stage for an emotional curtain call that attracted a spontaneous standing ovation.

The production, directed by Gary Young, features plenty of memorable Seekers’ songs including: I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, The Carnival Is Over and the Oscar-nominated Georgy Girl – all written by Tom Springfield, Dusty’s brother – and Someday One Day by Paul Simon.

Their story begins in Melbourne where suburban girl, Judith Durham (Pippa Grandison), was singing jazz in clubs when she made history by joining a band of three local lads: Athol Guy (Glaston Toft), Keith Potger (Phillip Lowe) and Bruce Woodley (Mike McLeish).

The show indirectly draws parallels between the retiring, self-conscious and conservative Durham and Georgy, the girl who, according to the song lyrics, is ‘scared of changing and rearranging’ herself.

The music is the highlight of this spanking new production and the four leads channel the tight harmonies and folksy melodies of that inimitable Seekers sound while also replicating their squeaky-clean looks.

Monday 21 December 2015

Cats Review, Dec 20, 2015 ***1/2


Music & Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possums
Book of Practical Cats, produced by Lunchbox, David Atkins and Really Useful Group
Regent Theatre, Melbourne until Jan 29 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3&1/2 
Review also online at Herald Sun Arts & a version in News pages of Herald Sun in print today, Monday Dec 21, 2015. KH
 Cast of Cats, Melbourne
The kitty-cats of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning show, Cats, are back at the Regent Theatre after a five-year absence and these energetic felines are still capering and prowling with impressive agility.

Delta Goodrem features as Grizabella, the ageing glamour-puss, in Associate Director Joanne Robinson’s Australian production that recreates the 2014 West End revival by Trevor Nunn and his original, 1981 creative team.

Despite the undeniable and worldwide popularity of Cats with its adoring audiences, many of its critics, both professional and amateur, believe that its flaws outweigh its successes; people seem to love or hate Cats.

Gillian Lynne’s revitalised choreography is spectacular, the stylised junkyard design (John Napier), costumes and make-up are impressive, and a couple of Lloyd Webber’s songs – especially Memory – are outstanding.

The lyrics, narrative and diverse characters that echo the human world are all based on T.S. Eliot’s poems for children in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats from 1939.

Eliot’s poems are strung like a washing line, with one kitty character following another, linked by a thin narrative thread.

Goodrem, the much-loved pop princess of Australia, has a sweet, pretty voice with a fine tone and  control in her upper register and, although her lower register lacks strength, she shows her vocal power in the final bars of the reprise of Memory.

However, her depiction of the tattered outcast, Grizabella, when performing Memory has limited nuance and emotion and lacks the requisite musical theatre style and delivery for a song that should give the production its heart and is probably the only tune from Cats that lingers in our memories.

The role of Grizabella needs to express the aching nostalgia of the old cat pining for her heyday, but Goodrem seems more tentative than vulnerable in the role.
 Delta Goodrem as Grizabella; photo Will Braden

The Jellicle Cats are in a tumbledown junkyard celebrating their annual Jellicle Ball, a boisterous choreographic pageant that precedes Old Deuteronomy’s (Jason Wasley) announcement of the lucky cat to be awarded a tenth life.

These kitties cavort, miaow and purr amongst the seats of the Regent, titillating the audience.

Daniel Assetta’s Rum Tum Tugger is an updated, street-smart, urban rapper, Brent Osbourne and Dominique Hamilton are a sassy duet as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, Joel Pitterman is robust as Growltiger, Wasley is dignified as Old Deuteronomy.

Matt McFarlane is an imposing stage presence as Munkustrap, the fearless protector of the cat clan, Christopher Favaloro performs Mr Mistoffelees’ balletic pirouetting with staggering athleticism and Jennyanydots, performed by Holly Meegan, has a newly choreographed tap routine.

The impressive orchestra, led by Paul White, is a powerful but unseen character in this show and it fills the theatre with rich sound.

However, the list of irritations is long: the poetic meter scans poorly in some songs, much of the music is predictable, the narrative is flimsy, the villain, Macavity (James Cooper), is much anticipated but rarely seen while the Siamese soldiers in the operatic Growltiger scene belong in the King and I.

Is the popularity of cats so enduring because of its music, or its sassy and accomplished dancing – or could it be that cat-lovers make up a hug percentage of the audience and they see their own pet kitties in the characters? ‘Oh, I know a wicked, sneaky cat like  Macavity !’ and ‘My cat is just as cute and cheeky as Jennanydots!’

Remember that Cats Make Us Laugh Out Loud was number one with TV viewers this year. Is it possible that cat-lovers are also theatregoers?

Despite the fact that it polarises audiences and has the occasional, schmaltzy moment – namely the final elevation of Grizabella to the Heaviside Layer – Cats remains a visually impressive and diverting song-and-dance entertainment for its legion of fans.

By Kate Herbert
 Demeter & Bombalurina

Jo-Anne Robinson - Associate Director /Choreographer
Paul White -Musical Director

Cast includes:
Grizabella - Delta Goodrem
Rum Tum Tugger - Daniel Assetta
Mr. Mistoffelees - Christopher Favaloro
Jennyanydots - Holly Meegan
Old Deuteronomy - Jason Wasley
Skimbleshanks - Ross Hannford
Demeter - Amy Beresford
Macavity /Admetis- James Cooper  
Mungojerry- Brent Osbourne
Rumpleteazer - Dominique Hamilton
Munkustrap - Matt McFarlane
Growltiger -Joel Pitterman