Tuesday 16 February 2016

Saturday Night Fever, The Musical. Feb 13, 2016 ***1/2


Written by Robert Stigwood assisted by Bill Oates, featuring songs by The Bee Gees and others, produced by StageArt
Chapel off Chapel, until Feb 28, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 13
NB The writer's credit (above-Stigwood) is taken from the program for this production. It does not match the credits for the original stage production. KH
Mike Snell as Tony Manero
Saturday Night Fever celebrates infectious, hip-thrusting 1970s disco music but also reveals a grim underworld that lies beneath the shiny nightlife of disenfranchised youth in Brooklyn, New York in 1979.

This production, directed by Robbie Carmellotti, is based on the West End revival (2013-14) that incorporates dialogue and songs from the 1977 John Travolta movie of the same name, simplifies the set design and features the dancers playing instruments.

The great strengths of this production are Luke Alleva’s sweltering, disco choreography, The Bee Gees unbeatable disco hits and the thrilling harmonies and rousing chorus arrangements by musical director, Tony Toppi.

The repertoire include Gibb brothers’ tunes, Jive Talkin’, Stayin’ Alive, You Should Be Dancing, Night Fever, More Than a Woman, but also the pulsating Disco Inferno (The Trammps) and Boogie Shoes (K.C. and The Sunshine Band).

Tony Manero (Mike Snell), Italian stallion heartthrob and disco dance king at Brooklyn’s 2001 Odyssey Nightclub, is obsessed by winning the club’s disco dance competition to cement his reputation as Brooklyn’s best dancer and prove to his parents and himself that he is not a bad-boy ‘loser’.

Snell is an accomplished dancer with a tuneful, upper register that suits the peppy, disco style and he captures Tony’s audacity and vulnerability, although he lacks the smooth sensuality and machismo of Travolta’s Tony.

Friday 12 February 2016

Lungs, Feb 11, 2016 ****

By Duncan Macmillan, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Fairfax Studio, Art Centre Melbourne, until March 19, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 11, 2016

 Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté, Pic Jeff Busby 
Relationships between couples can be sufficiently fraught even without the added stress of making decisions about the wisdom or ethical considerations of bringing a child into an over-populated and polluted world.

In Duncan Macmillan’s play, Lungs, we witness an apparently secure, loving couple (Kate Atkinson, Bert LaBonté) confronting their various hopes and fears about conceiving and bearing, let alone raising a child.

When the man (LaBonté) tentatively raises the idea of a baby, his partner (Atkinson) firstly questions the appropriateness of starting this conversation in IKEA, then pours out her suppressed anxieties and ethical dilemmas about putting more children on the planet.

As this smart, modern, hipster couple, Atkinson and LaBonté (two of my favourite Australian actors) are simultaneously adorable and annoying, hilarious and tragic, believable and impassioned.

They deliver Macmillan’s whip-smart, rapid-fire dialogue with impeccable comic and dramatic timing, commitment and an intense connection and collaboration as the couple.

As the highly educated, nervy and maddening woman, Atkinson vibrates with electric energy as she yammers anxiously and unremittingly, leaving LaBonté’s quieter, more circumspect, slower-reacting partner unable to interject, make his point or even think straight while she rants.

Monday 8 February 2016

The Village Bike, Feb 7, 2016 **1/2

By Penelope Skinner, by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre 
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, until March 5, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 7
Stars: **1/2
Ella Caldwell & Matt Dyktynski Photo Jodie Hutchinson
The title of The Village Bike does refer to a bicycle for getting around an English village, but you’d be right in thinking it also refers to a woman who spreads her sexual favours around town.

Playwright, Penelope Skinner, may be called a ‘leading, young, feminist writer’ in the UK, but this play seems to celebrate much that is the antithesis of feminism.

Becky (Ella Caldwell) is a young, newly pregnant schoolteacher living in an English village with her annoyingly doting husband John (Richard Davies) who, to Becky’s increasing and hormone-fuelled frustration, now avoids sex with his wife in case it harms the baby – or Becky.

When John repels her advances, Becky first assuages her physical desires by watching pornography then starts to look longingly at Mike (Syd Brisbane), the daggy plumber, and Oliver (Matt Dyktynski), the bloke who arrives to sell her a bicycle.

As her sexual needs take over, she becomes reckless and dives headlong into – well – let’s call it ‘bike riding’.

The production, directed by Red Stitch ensemble member, Ngaire Dawn Fair, has a frenetic energy that overwhelms the dialogue, characters and even the messages about the battle between individualism and fidelity, conformity and freedom.

Parts of the second half of the show are less frantic as Becky indulges her desires, seduces a couple of the locals and seems happier at home with her husband – for a while.

Although Skinner gives them some funny dialogue and interactions riddled with expletives, her characters are two-dimensional and dislikable and, while she deals explicitly and graphically with issues of sexuality, her exploration of desire, love and freedom lacks depth and subtlety.

Caldwell immerses herself in the fraught world of Becky but she plays her with a relentless, disturbing and, ultimately, distracting edge of desperation that blocks any sympathy or understanding of her psychological chaos.

Saturday 6 February 2016

Ghost The Musical, Feb 6 2016 ****


Book & Lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, Music & Lyrics by Dave Stewart & Glen Ballard
Based on the 1990 movie, Ghost, by Bruce Joel Rubin
Regent Theatre, Melbourne, until March 13, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
Rob Mills & Jemma Rix

In a spectacular display of technical wizardry, tear-jerking songs and tragic romance, Ghost The Musical exploded onto the stage at the Regent Theatre last night to an enthusiastic, opening night crowd.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s book is a theatrical re-imagining of his Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1990 movie, Ghost, but it is Matthew Warchus’ inventive direction that makes this production remarkable by bringing together comic and tragic narrative threads, characters, original songs and startling illusions.

This fantasy romance set in New York City, explores the powerful emotional connection that links lovers, Sam Wheat (Rob Mills), a banker, and Molly Jensen (Jemma Rix), a sculptor, even after Sam’s death.

After a romantic dinner, Sam and Molly are mugged and Sam dies of his injuries but he remains caught in the netherworld between life and afterlife trying to communicate the truth about his murder to the grieving Molly.

Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics’ fame) and Glen Ballard’s songs reveal the characters’ inner worlds in a repertoire of styles ranging from power ballads to pop and rock, blues, soul and gospel, all played by a tight, seven-piece band.

Rix’s Molly is a sincere, sympathetic character and Rix’s expressive voice, bright timbre and impressive control and vocal range bring emotional depth to the heart-wrenching song, With You, and to Suspend My Disbelief and Nothing Stops Another Day.

Her voice blends enchantingly with Mills’ warm tones in memorable love duets including Here Right Now, Three Little Words and their final reprise of Unchained Melody (by Hy Zaret, Alex North), the song that featured in the movie’s famous pottery wheel scene.
 Jemma Rix

Friday 5 February 2016

Ghost The Musical MEDIA CALL pics Fri Feb 5, 2016


I will review Ghost The Musical tomorrow night, Sat Feb 6, for Sunday Herald Sun. I'm seeing a preview tonight as well as the opening night.

Here are some pics from Media Call in Melbourne at Regent Theatre today.

All photos by Joe Calleri.

 Rob Mills & Jemma Rix
 Jemma Rix & cast
 Wendy Mae Brown & chorus
At right: Rob Mills, Jemma Rix

Tuesday 2 February 2016

North By Northwest, Feb 1, 2016 ****

Adapted by Carolyn Burns from screenplay by Ernest Lehman (film by Alfred Hitchcock)
Produced by Andrew Kay & Liz McLean
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Feb 13, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Mon Feb 1
Stars: ****

 Matt Day & Amber McMahon

Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest is a witty chase movie blended with a spy thriller and a naughty romance and this stage adaptation successfully captures its tone and style.

Carolyn Burns’ clever script adaptation and Simon Phillips inventive direction create a deliciously entertaining and often goofy production that is a shrewd merging of cinematic and theatrical techniques.

The production is exciting, funny, imaginative and seamlessly directed by Phillips and is staged on a flexible, abstract set of stark, metal scaffolding (Simon Phillips, Nick Schlieper) that provides multiple locations when combined with cinematic rear projections.

In a case of mistaken identity, Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), an innocent but rakish advertising executive, is wrongly accused of murder and flees New York pursued by a ruthless spy, Phillip Vandamm (Matt Hetherington), who is smuggling government secrets out of the country.

Burns’ script balances the saucy suggestiveness of Hitchock’s style with original screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s acerbic dialogue, wry and playful humour and more restrained sensuality.

Day’s privileged and smug Thornhill echoes but does not imitate Cary Grant as he wryly delivers the abundant smart-alec quips, and he embodies some of Grant’s easy elegance, sense of entitlement and safe sensuality that is more cheeky than provocative.