Wednesday 31 January 2018

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical, Jan 30, 2018 ****1/2

Book by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott, music by various artists 
Presented by Michael Cassel Group & Nullabor Productions, with MGM On Stage
Regent Theatre, no closing date but must close by May 2018. 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun News on Wed Jan 31, 2018, and in Arts/Lifestyle (online & print) on Thurs Feb 1, 2018. KH
L-R: David Harris, Tony Sheldon, Euan Doidge
Slap on your false eyelashes, bouffant wigs, sequined gowns and stilettos because Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is back and it’s chock-a-block with camp innuendo, cheeky choreography and eye-poppingly garish costumes.
Simon Phillips’ irreverent production is a feast of absurd lip-syncing and classic, disco tunes including: It’s Raining Men, I Love The Nightlife, I Will Survive and Shake Your Groove Thing.
This effervescent night belongs to its accomplished, vivacious leads (Tony Sheldon, David Harris, Euan Doidge) who play three drag queens going on tour in a battered bus to Alice Springs to put on a kaleidoscopic drag show for yobs in pubs!
Sheldon uses old-fashioned comic timing, double-takes and face-pulling in a well-measured performance as Bernadette, an ageing transsexual, veteran drag artiste yearning for middle-class elegance and normality.
Harris balances Tick’s sassy, drag persona, Mitzi, with Tick’s real life vulnerability, and his rendition of I Say A Little Prayer poignantly captures Tick’s pining for his unknown son.
Doidge completes the trio as the audacious Felicia, the outrageous, young drag queen who delivers sultry versions of Hot Stuff and Better The Devil You Know.
Blake Appelqvist is outstanding as mischievous Miss Understanding, belting out What’s Love Got To Do With It?, while Robert Grubb is sympathetic as Bob, the outback mechanic, and Lena Cruz is a firecracker as his ‘mail order wife’, performing her hilariously vulgar (and racist?) Pop Muzik routine.

Below the stage, the tight band (arrangements, Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy) performs the disco tunes with gusto, while the three Divas (Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen, Clé Morgan), with their exceptional voices, command the space overhead.
A talented ensemble shines in musical numbers featuring vibrant choreography (Ross Coleman, Andrew Hallsworth), vividly kitsch costumes and unwieldy headdresses (Tim Chappel, Lizzy Gardiner), while the evocative production design (Brian Thomson) and lighting (Nick Schlieper) complete this gaudy production.

Melbourne, grab a vodka martini and strap yourself in for a lavish, crass, high-camp road trip on a glittering bus called Priscilla.
By Kate Herbert 

Director: Simon Phillips

Designer: Brian Thomson
Musical Director: Stephen Gray
Arrangements: Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy
Choreographers: Andrew Hallsworth and Ross Coleman
Costumes: Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Lighting: Nick Schlieper
'I Will Survive' - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons
Euan Doidge as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette - 'Les Girls' - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons

Saturday 27 January 2018

Strangers In Between, Jan 24, 2018 ***1/2

Written by Tommy Murphy, Midsumma Festival
At 45downstairs, until Feb 11, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2
Kate Herbert reviewed a preview performance with the permission of the producers. 
Review also published by Herald Sun in print on Fri Jan 26, 2018 & possibly later online (Lifestyle or Arts).
STRANGERS- Wil King (left) and Simon Burke_Pic credit is Sarah Walker-

Strangers In Between by Tommy Murphy is a funny and poignant ‘coming out’ story about Shane (Wil King), a naive youth who seeks a new life in King’s Cross after fleeing his family home in country Goulburn where being gay is unacceptable.

Shane is an innocent abroad in a messy, noisy, unpredictable city, and King effectively captures
the wide-eyed, childlike confusion and frantic nerviness of this lad who doesn’t even know how to wash his own clothes and can’t work the cash register at his job.

Although he is fearful of living in The Cross, with its population of prostitutes, bikies and drug dealers, Shane eventually finds support and solace in his new friends / mentors: an older gay man, Peter (Simon Burke), and the younger, street-savvy, Will (Guy Simon).

In Murphy’s 2006, award-winning script, the dialogue is fast moving and witty, with pithy, often mischievous observations about being a gay man living in The Cross.

The characters confront the blurred boundaries of their relationships, and struggle to understand whether their bond is based only on lust, or has evolved into friendship and a sense of responsibility and community.

Burke’s nuanced, detailed performance as Peter is a highlight, and he sympathetically embodies this older man who is lonely, generous, but needs love and friendship as much as the next person.

Simon successfully balances his two roles as the sassy, attractive Will, and Shane’s tough, homophobic, but evidently repentant brother, Ben.

Set in a space empty but for a bathtub and a silvery, fringed curtain that epitomises the glitz of King’s Cross, Daniel Lammin’s production focuses on characters and their intimate, but slippery, uncertain relationships.

Occasionally, Lammin’s staging places actors in awkward positions in the space, forcing some audience members to crane their necks to view the action.

For the sensitive viewer, Strangers In Between contains graphic, confronting sexual references, but it is also a warm, engaging depiction of a young man’s introduction into the gay community.

By Kate Herbert
STRANGERS- Wil King (left) and Simon Burke_Pic credit is Sarah Walker-

Friday 26 January 2018

Nassim, Jan 23, 2018 ****1/2

By Nassim Soleimanpour 
At Fairfax Studio Arts Centre Melbourne, until Jan 28, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Fri 25 Jan, 2018 & possibly later online (Lifestyle or Arts). KH

Alison Bell in Nassim
Theatre is usually based in artifice so, in Nassim, it is startling and compelling to witness the raw, unembellished truthfulness and genuine intimacy of a totally unrehearsed actor and the humble presence of the playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour.

Named for Soleimanpour, an Iranian now living in Berlin, this startling, funny, cunningly wrought script also features him as an off-stage character whose hands are the only visible part of him projected on screen.

By the second half, Soleimanpour arrives on stage to exuberant applause, although he remains a silent, but compelling partner for his actor.

As in Soleimanpour’s previous play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, each night, a different performer reads and performs his script for the first time and, on Melbourne’s opening night, Alison Bell is the guinea pig who opens the box bearing her name, then follows his instructions.

She reads lines from a huge screen, tells Soleimanpour’s story and learns his native language, Farsi, as does the audience.

Although obviously way out of her comfort zone, Bell remains charmingly wide-eyed and compliant as she struggles to understand her role, waits for instructions and comments wryly on her predicament.

Soleimanpour is a warm, cheeky but provocative presence both on- and off-stage and, with silent, childlike giggles, he delights in teasing his actor with his tricksy, witty script that he gleefully reveals is 450 pages.

Nassim is naive, nostalgic memoir and childhood storytelling, but it is simultaneously a mischievous taunt at cleverly constructed plays and smug, actorly performances that rely on technology, rehearsal and slick direction.

Despite its empty stage and intimacy, Nassim uses technology including a live camera feed, screen projections, phone texts, family photos and even Skype.

We take our mother tongue for granted, but Nassim gently reminds us that other people’s languages elude and confuse us, twist our tongues and slip from our memories in moments but that, whatever our language, we share a common humanity.

Soleimanpour’s script is meticulously structured to predict twists or surprises, and the audience adores and applauds his audacity in a spontaneous standing ovation.

Other artists performing Nassim: Benjamin Law, Nakkiah Liu, Charlie Pickering, Catherine McClements, Denise Scott.

By Kate Herbert 
Alison Bell in Nassim

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Wicked, Jan 20, 2018 ***1/2

Music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, by Young Australian Broadway Chorus 
At National Theatre, St Kilda until Jan 27, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Emily Svarnias as Elphaba,Jasmine Arthur as Glinda

With all the leads in this production of Wicked played by teenage actors, the unlikely relationship that evolves from loathing to intimacy between two young witches is almost identification theatre for young audiences.

The compelling, emotional core of the story is the secret girlhood friendship between the witches from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba (Emily Svarnias), the sensitive, outcast, green-tinged child, becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, while her pretty, popular rival, Galinda (Jasmine Arthur), grows up to be Glinda the Good.

Svarnias compellingly portrays Elphaba’s emotional journey from shy child to young rebel to terrifyingly powerful witch, and, when she sings the challenging Gravity, her vocal control, thrilling tone and big voice belie her tender years. This 19-year old has a bright future in musical theatre.

Arthur has a charming voice and is suitably perky as the gleefully conceited, relentlessly cheerful, flirtatious teen witch, Galinda.

Robert Coates’ production, with its vibrant choreography (Jacqui Green), evocative design (Mike Fletcher) and lighting (Linda Hum), populates the stage with an overwhelmingly massive but enthusiastic ensemble aged 10 to 21 years, with a youth orchestra (musical director, Andy Coates) doing justice to Stephen Schwartz’s rich and diverse score. The total cast is 114!

The ensemble fills the stage, playing witch-hunting citizens of Oz, students, monkeys and denizens of Emerald City, and their chorus numbers are resounding and exhilarating.

Other featured actors include: Rishab Shrivastav as Fiyero, Emily Palmer as Madame Morrible, Taylor Troeth as Nessarose, Jackson Hurwood as The Wizard, Tristan Sicari as Doctor Dillamond and Darcy Harriss as Boq.

Winnie Holzman’s book strips away many of the complexities of Gregory Maguire’s original, fantasy novel, and the narrative is riddled with relevant, contemporary themes including bigotry, bullying, political manipulation and the persecution of those who are ‘different’.

This first, all-youth Australian production of Wicked is vivacious and enjoyable and brings youthful energy to a fantasy tale of friendship and corruption that echoes our modern world.

Kate Herbert
Jasmine Arthur as Glinda

Emily Svarnias as Elphaba

Orchestrations by William David Brohn
Musical arrangements by Alex Lacamoire and Stephen Oremus

Emily Svarnias as Elphaba
Jasmine Arthur as Glinda
Emily Palmer as Madame Morrible
Rishab Shrivastav as Fiyero
Taylor Troeth as Nessarose

Tuesday 16 January 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jan 13, 2018 ****

Adapted by Simon Stephens from novel by Mark Haddon
By National Theatre of Great Britain 
Presented by Melbourne Theatre Company & Arts Centre Melbourne 
At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Feb 25, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Su  in print (Tues Jan 16, 2018) & Probably later online. KH
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Amanda Posener, Matt Wilman, Oliver Boot. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Marianne Elliott’s imaginative, deft and seamless production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with its complex theatrical technology, transforms Simon Stephens’ script into a startling, whimsical and intermittently alarming stage production.

Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) can’t read people’s faces or empathise, screams when touched, doesn’t understand metaphor, takes instructions literally, can’t lie, is a mathematical prodigy, and lives by his own rules.

Although 15-year old Christopher’s behaviour has indicators of high-functioning autism, he is never labelled as such in The Curious Incident, Stephens’ multi-award-winning play based on Mark Haddon’s successful novel.

Christopher lives with his beleaguered but patient father, Ed (David Michaels), but, when Christopher is wrongly suspected of killing their neighbour’s dog, he embarks on his own Sherlock Holmes-style investigation, disobeying his father’s explicit instructions.

Elliott’s production is visually compelling and the cunning set design (Bunny Christie) marries with spectacular video (Finn Ross) and evocative lighting (Paule Constable) to transform a stark, black, geometric grid into a vivid, other world that allows us to enter Christopher’s mind and experience the chaos and cacophony of the contemporary world from his perspective.

The abstract staging and deluge of imagery sweep Christopher and the audience into locations as diverse as a bewildering rail network, a swirling sea of numbers, rowdy, visually over-stimulating London streets and even into the deep, blue cosmos.

Perhaps because of his abrasiveness and lack of empathy, it is difficult to engage emotionally with Christopher, but Jenkins gives a playful portrayal of this whip-smart, self-absorbed teenager who balances eccentricity with common sense.

Two characters do touch the heart: Ed, played sympathetically and poignantly by Michaels, and Siobhan, the narrator and Christopher’s teacher / mentor, played by Julie Hale who brings warmth and clarity to Christopher’s story.

One of the delights of the production is the versatile ensemble playing a profusion of roles, shifting character in an instant and transforming into inanimate objects with abstract movement (Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett), evocatively bringing to life Christopher’s environment and the confusing humans that populate it.

This major, visiting production by the National Theatre is a visual feast that takes the page to the stage by using cutting edge technology and the unembellished physicality of actors to illuminate Christopher Boone’s unexpected hero’s journey.

By Kate Herbert
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Emma Beattie (Judy) and company. Photo  BrinkhoffMögenburg
Joshua Jenkins (Christopher Boone), Matt Wilman (Mr Thompson) and Crystal Condie (Punk Girl) . Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Joshua Jenkins - Christopher (Some shows, Sam Newton)
David Michaels - Ed
Emma Beattie - Judy
Julie Hale - Siobhan
Oliver Boot
Crystal Condie
Bruce McGregor
Debra Michaels
Amanda Posener
Matt Wilman

Director- Marianne Elliott
Designer - Bunny Christie
Lighting Paule Constable
VideoFinn Ross
Movement - Scott Graham Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly
Original Fight director - Kate Waters

Friday 12 January 2018

The Greatest Love of All, Jan 11, 2018 ****1/2

The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show, by Showtime Australia
At The Athenaeum Theatre until Jan 27, 2018
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4&1/2
 Review Arts online on Fri Jan 12, 2018, and later in print (date TBC). KH

All photos here by Joe Calleri.
Belinda Davids - pic by Joe Calleri
Belinda Davids’ impeccable vocal control, remarkable four-octave range and thrilling tone make her an impeccable choice to channel Whitney Houston’s extraordinary voice and distinctive style.
The audience goes wild during this tribute show, The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show, directed by Johnny Van Grinsven, as Davids pays homage to Whitney without impersonating her, performing hits from Whitney’s 29-year career that ended tragically in 2012.

The warm, engaging Davids who hails from South Africa, has an effortless, expressive and natural voice, with vocal power, precision and exceptional range that are a perfect match for Whitney’s power ballads.

The song list includes: How Will I Know, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Didn't We Almost Have It All, I'm Every Woman, Exhale (Shoop Shoop) and Step by Step, with an exhilarating finale of I Will Always Love You.

Davids’ passionate style, rich tone and breathtaking top register bring tears to the eyes, and she even masters Whitney’s signature technique of singing a single syllable while moving between notes.

A few individuals are desperate to dance, but Davids coaxes the entire audience onto its feet to groove to How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me and, later, to Dance With Somebody.
In a poignant, tear-jerking scene, Davids sings the soaring, heartbreaking I Have Nothing while, on a screen behind her, Whitney performs the same tune, wearing the same ruby gown and using the same gestures.

The tight, five-piece band, led by musical director Richard Baker, is a highlight, and Hayden Baird’s saxaphone is an evocative accompaniment to Davids’ moving version of I’m Saving All My Love.

The two male acro / hip-hop dancers are diverting, although some of the other choreography is often distracting.

The radiant, accomplished but humble Davids creates emotional and electrifying moments in this production, and her voice must be heard to be believed.

By Kate Herbert
Belinda Davids pic by Joe Calleri
Belinda Davids & dancers -pic by Joe Calleri
Hayden Baird & Belinda Davids -pic by Joe Calleri

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Masterclass, Jan 5, 2018 ****

Written by Terrence McNally
Produced by Andrew Kay & Associates PL with Kings Head Theatre London 
At Southbank Theatre, The Lawler until Jan 27, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Jan 6, 2018, & in print on Tues Jan 9, 2018. KH
Amanda Muggleton in  MASTERCLASS  pic  Kate Ferguson

In Terrence McNally’s Masterclass, Amanda Muggleton fully and fiercely inhabits Maria Callas, the great opera diva, channelling all of Callas’s fiery temperament, arrogance and vulnerability.

The play is set during one of the vocal master classes that Callas taught during 1971-72 at the Julliard School in New York, 13 years after her exceptional voice suffered irrevocable damage that ended her career.

In Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s simply and tastefully directed production, Muggleton prowls the stage calling for her ‘next victim’, or perches on a stool like a bird of prey, criticising students, verbally annihilating enemies and telling tales of her past glories and ignoble failures.

As the students sing arias from Callas’s career, she relives her performances as ‘La Divinaand also her personal disasters, her failed marriage to the much older Giovanni Battista Meneghini, and her relationship with the bullying billionaire, Aristotle Onassis.

Other than a few cracked phrases that demonstrate Callas’s damaged voice, Muggleton does not actually sing, but ghostly recordings of Callas singing Verdi's Lady Macbeth and Bellini’s La Sonnambula trigger Callas’s memories, transporting her, and the audience, to the stage at La Scala.

Muggleton is a consummate performer who, with blazing eyes and statuesque bearing, captures the passion and fragility of Callas, portraying the raw, almost skinless emotional state of the diva who seems too sensitive for the real world.

Accompanying Muggleton on stage and on piano is the exceptional musician, Dobbs Franks, who plays Callas’s quiet, obliging pianist, Manny Weinstock.

As Callas revisits her life and her singing, her three ‘victims’ trail onto the stage to receive her wisdom and tactless criticism.

Kala Gare’s sweet soprano suits pert, naive Sophie, while Jessica Boyd brings vocal power and comic characterisation to soprano, Sharon, and Rocco Speranza plays tenor, Tony Candolino, with a large dose of youthful vanity.

Audiences are fortunate to hear arias sung by Gare and Graham after curtain call, but Muggleton is the diva in this production and her impassioned portrayal of the histrionic Callas is memorable.

By Kate Herbert