Tuesday 31 December 2019

The Choir of Man, REVIEW coming Friday Jan 3, 2020.

I will post my review of The Choir of Man this coming Friday Jan 3, after it hits print.
 Suffice to say, see it before Jan 12  in Melbourne or wherever it goes after that. KH
Front-George Bray & Ben Langridge_image credit David & Chris Cann
Front-George Bray_image credit David & Chris Cann

Friday 20 December 2019

Chicago, Dec 19, 2019 ****

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
At State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Feb 23, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
This is a short review and it is NOT published in Herald Sun. KH
Alinta Chidzey, Jason Donovan, Natalie Bassingthwaighte
It's saucy. It’s sassy. It’s sexy. It’s Chicago, and it’s back on stage in Melbourne with a celeb-studded cast and plenty of seductive and vivacious dancin’ and singin’.

This Australian production of Kander and Ebb’s musical, is based on the New York production and the choreography captures the essence of Bob Fosse’s unforgettable, pulsating, almost indecently sensual choreography.

Alinta Chidzey is a stand-out as the spicy, feisty murdering Velma Kelly. Chidzey is a genuine triple threat – singer, dancer, actor – and her rendition of All That Jazz with the ensemble was almost a show-stopper – at the start of the show.

Natalie Bassingthwaighte is pert and impish as Roxy Hart, the newest murdering bimbo in gaol and Velma’s rival for public sympathy generated by outrageous lies from their publicity machine. As well as being a television celebrity, she can dance and sing!

Leading their ‘fake news’ campaigns is Billy Flynn sheister and merchandiser, played by Jason Donovan (Yes, that Jason Donovan!) who depicts Flynn as less the grubby, grasping, grinning and villainous game show host and more as the smarmy, smiling and acquisitive, corporate CEO.

Casey Donovan, with her great stage presence, a bold and versatile voice, wows the audience as Matron Momma Morton, singing When You’re Good To Momma. Momma will do anything for her inmates/girls – for a price.

Cell Block Tango is always a highlight in Chicago and the six women, led by the inimitable Chidzey, make their six chairs blush with their suggestive choreography and the audience cheer at their versions of the various murders they have committed.

Chicago is a hoot, and this is a fun and mischievous version.

by Kate Herbert

Anna REVIEW, until 22 Dec 2019 ***1/2

by Bagryana Popov, presented by La Mama Theatre 
at La Mama Courthouse, until Dec 22, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

This review also published in print in Herald Sun on Friday 20 Dec 2019 (not online). KH
Bagryana Popov_Anna_ pic by Justin Ko

In her solo performance, Anna, Bagryana Popov depicts the grim and perilous world of Bulgaria during the Stalinist Soviet era when government surveillance and spying on loved ones was the norm.

Anna, the narrator and central character, is married with one child and is a writer of children’s stories. At the beginning of the play, Anna is an old woman who recalls the desperate period from 1949 to the early 1950s when she was manipulated by the Secret Police to act as an informer.

Popov tells the story through Anna’s eyes, but also populates the stage with eccentric characters, including an ugly bureaucrat and his weaselly assistant, Secret Police, a shrill neighbour and Anna’s husband’s mistress, amongst others.

The first half of the piece, deftly directed by John Bolton, is particularly compelling, disturbing and often funny as we laugh at the sheer absurdity of the bureaucracy confronting Anna as she negotiates a Catch 22 situation involving money deposited in a bank account in her name.

Although the second half feels less cohesive – perhaps because there is less narration by older Anna to thread it together – there are some quirky and engaging scenes with Popov portraying Anna’s fantastical fairy tales, her escalating isolation, poverty and, eventually, her paranoia.

Popov is known for her work with the Bulgarian women’s choir, and she incorporates into the narrative several Bulgarian songs that evoke a sense of place and imbue the characters with colour.

In the sparse set design (Lara Week), towering, grey filing cabinets cast long, forbidding shadows, while gloomy lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) accentuates the bleakness of this secretive and dangerous totalitarian world.

In this 21st century, many people still live under despotic regimes, suffering surveillance and forced to keep secrets and speak in whispers to remain safe and free.

Anna is pertinent in our world because the Bulgaria of the 1950s and its Secret Police may be just a change of government away.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday 19 December 2019

REVIEW of ANNA coming tomorrow!

My REVIEW of ANNA by Bagryana Popov  will be online here tomorrow, Friday 20 Dec 2019!

At La Mama Courthouse till Sun Dec 22.
 Stand by.

From Media Release:
'Written and performed by Bagryana Popov, ANNA is the result of years of research into historical documents, the dossiers of the Bulgarian Secret Police, and interviews, interwoven with the fantastical dark stories of a children’s writer Popov read as a child'

Bagryana Popov_Anna_ pic by Justin Koh 

Tuesday 3 December 2019

I Shot Mussolini, Nov 28, 2019 ***

By Alice Bishop, by Le Poulet Terrible, presented by La Mama
At La Mama Courthouse, until Dec 8, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***
This review also published in print in Herald Sun on Tues Dec 3, 2019. (not online)
Heather Lythe as Violet / Greg Parker as Pennetta (ensemble at rear) by Renan Goksin
The Honourable Violet Gibson, an Irishwoman, shot Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, in Rome in 1926, but, despite her best intentions, injured only his nose.

Based on this little-known, true event, I Shot Mussolini, written and directed by Alice Bishop, uses source material including The Irish Baron’s Daughter and Mussolini’s Nose by Richard Collin, and is a fascinating, often funny, sometimes tragic story of the ailing, ageing, and privileged Violet Gibson (Heather Lythe).

This episodic play begins with Violet’s apprehension, then charts her ensuing incarceration, using stylised action, a parade of characters and some witty dialogue.

Violet, a wealthy Irishwoman who converted to Catholicism, manoeuvres a path from botched assassination attempt, through police interviews, psychiatric assessments and even consultations with various saints who she views as her co-conspirators.

Lythe plays the eccentric Violet with an impeccable Irish accent, and is compelling, disturbing and credible as this cunning woman who feigns madness, confesses to political conspiracy, or tilts into genuine delusions and religious mania.

The ensemble, wearing black and white, plays multiple roles as nuns, police, judiciary, journalists and saints. The acting quality varies and some of the Italian accents are patchy, but there are some stand-outs.

Greg Parker is commanding as the dignified, persistent Chief Superintendent Pennetta, Michael F. Cahill is stately as defence counsel, Ferri, Bridgette Burton quirky as Violet’s companion, and Marco Lawrence comical as the gesticulating Radoani.

The sparse, black and white design, evocative projections (Salvador Castro) and dim lighting (Stelios Karagiannis), create a dreamlike quality, accentuating Violet’s foggy, distorted perception of the world.

Despite its unevenness, this production leaves us wondering how the world might have changed had Violet succeeded, and hearing Mussolini’s rambunctious speeches and his rabid supporters chanting, ‘Viva Il Duce’, reminds us that Fascism is only a vote away.

by Kate Herbert 
Heather Lythe as Violet  by Renan Goksinn

Designer Salvador Castro
Lighting Stelios Karagiannis
Sound Nat Grant
Bridgette Burton -Mary McGrath Violet’s companion,  Other roles
Michael F. Cahill - Ferri Defence counsel,  Other roles
Marco Lawrence - Ranaodi,Fiat Salesman,  Other roles
Matthew Moloney – Mussolini and Magistrate,  Other roles
Anthea Davis, Sophie Lampel- Other roles

Monday 25 November 2019

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Nov 22, 2019 ****

Book by Terrence McNally, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, based on novel by Manuel Puig
By Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until 28 Dec 2019  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
 Review also published in Herald Sun, Tues 26 Nov 2019 & online Mon 25 Nov. KH
 SPIDER WOMAN-Adam-Jon Fiorentino, Ainsley Melham_ photo Jeff Busby_
Kander and Ebb’s musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman, will make you laugh, sigh, gasp, then laugh again at this story of horror and torture juxtaposed with high-camp, movie fantasy.
Based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel, with John Kander’s music, Fred Ebb’s lyrics and book by Terrence McNally, this is a funny, moving, political and fantastical show, directed with wit and sensitivity by Dean Bryant and with playful choreography by Andrew Hallsworth.

Molina (Ainsley Melham) survives the horrors of a bleak, South American prison by conjuring memories of his movie idol, Aurora (Caroline O’Connor).

Played with muscular machismo by Adam-Jon Fiorentino, Valentin, a dissident imprisoned for his Marxist views, initially cannot abide Molina’s escapist fantasies, but, eventually, they become as important to him as to his cellmate.

Melham is a charismatic ‘triple-threat’, with a rich, warm voice, and he is mischievous and camp as the vulnerable Molina who proves himself to be stronger than he, or anyone else, thought.

O’Connor dazzles with her versatility, magnetism and comic timing, drawing a wild ovation after the glitzy, Latin, Broadway-style chorus number, Where You Are, and the audience adores her hilariously histrionic death scene in Russian Movie.
Caroline O’Connor -photo Jeff Busby
Only in the Movies/His Name Was Molina, is a vivacious finale, Over The Wall is a stirring prisoners’ anthem about freedom, while Dear One is a poignant quartet between Melham, Fiorentino, Natalie Gamsu (Molina’s mother) and Elandrah Eramiha (Valentin’s girlfriend).

There are echoes of Kander and Ebb’s more famous musicals, Chicago and Cabaret, in the themes of imprisonment, dissidence, fascism and marginalised people.

While the final intimacy between Molina and Valentin occurs suddenly and, perhaps, unexpectedly, and the comedy sometimes outweighs the pathos, this production is ultimately both entertaining and touching.

by Kate Herbert

Directed by Dean Bryant

Caroline O’Connor 
Ainsley Melham
Adam-Jon Fiorentino 
Jakob Ambrose
Blake Appelqvist
Elandrah Eramiha 
Natalie Gamsu Joe Gaudion Ryan Gonzalez Bert LaBonté  Lyndon Watts

Friday 22 November 2019

Electric Dreams, Nov 20, 2019 **1/2


Written and composed by Drew Lane, based on movie by Rusty Lemorande, by Music Theatre Melbourne at Gasworks, until Nov 24, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun on Fri Nov 22, 2019. KH 
Madeleine Featherby & Tom Green, pic Teresa Madgwick
This original, Australian musical translates to stage Rusty Lemorande’s 1984 cult movie, Electric Dreams, but is only partially successful in its execution.

In 2019, nobody thinks twice about talking to their phone, computer, GPS or home artificial intelligence unit. However, in 1984, Alexa and Siri did not exist.

Following Lemorande’s Sci-Fi romantic comedy and set in San Francisco, Drew Lane’s musical is about Miles (Tom Green), a geeky architect who buys a computer after pressure from his friend, Frank (Stephen Mahy).

Miles’ entire life changes: he meets his beautiful neighbour, Madeline (Madeleine Featherby), a cellist in the San Francisco Orchestra, and his computer, Edgar (Owen James), develops artificial intelligence, starts talking and composing music.

This is a quirky conceit for a musical narrative and Lane colours the story, characters and relationships with 22 songs ranging from love ballads to rock numbers.

Several tunes are highlights, including the satirical Classical Hasselhoff that draws a parallel between Bill (Anthony Scundi), the orchestra’s Lothario, and 80’s sex symbol, David Hasselhoff.

Make It Happen is a lively ensemble number, while Mahy and Angela Scundi as Millie, are sassy and saucy singing the duet, Play With Me.

Green and Featherby have attractive voices and, although the cast’s acting is uneven, Mahy’s performance is a stand-out with his professional, easy style and warm voice.

While Lane’s script and music were developed over a long period, some dialogue, lyrics and characters are patchy, requiring further development. Act One is the more successful, but songs become repetitive in style and content in Act Two.

There are several problems: direction (Roman Berry) is unimaginative with slow cues and scene changes; and, on opening night, microphones malfunctioned and the sound level of band and voices was unbalanced.

New Australian musicals should be encouraged and, while this show is playful and diverting, when the most memorable song is the1984 hit, Electric Dreams, it is clear that the production needs more work.

by Kate Herbert 

Director -Roman Berry
Tom Green - Miles
Madeleine Featherby- Madeline
Stephen Mahy - Frank
Angela Scundi - Millie 
Owen James - Edgar
Anthony Scundi - Bill
Sophie Loughran, Zak Brown, Courtney Smyth and Aidan Nairros

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born, Nov 8, 2019 ****

Created & performed by Meow Meow, by Malthouse Theatre 
At Malthouse Theatre, until Dec 1, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****
 Review published in Herald Sun in print only on Tues Nov 12, 2019. KH  
Meow Meow

Meow Meow straddles a line between exotic, glamorous, European diva, and trashy, demented, pill-popping lush, in her Christmas cabaret, Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born.

The show, performed a month before the silly season, is Meow Meow’s Christmas offering: a frothy cocktail of cabaret songs and Christmas tunes with lashings of maudlin disappointment and recrimination.

This dysfunctional diva arrives as a hilarious, albeit irreverent parody of Mary, en route to Bethlehem (the pun’s in the title: Crisis is Born). She’s dressed in a shabby, lamè gown, sporting a pregnant belly (filled with nativity goodies), tatty halo and blow-up donkey, only to find no room at the inn – or at any reputable concert hall – for her show.

Meow Meow is a startlingly versatile singer/actor/dancer, and her effortless voice is rich, silky and dark like a brandy-soaked fruitcake.

The show starts with the confident chanteuse delivering her anti-Christmas show, staggers into a chaotic middle that is like the dreams of an addled mind, then finishes with the foggy, morning-after memories of Christmases past.

Her celebrity guests are no-shows, children keep singing at the door, it’s snowing and blowing a gale, and Santa brings useless, out-of-date gifts, so she steals her presents from audience members.

Her songs range from the Spanish love song, Un Año D’amor, to Weill/Brecht’s atmospheric Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife, 1960s ballad, I (Who Have Nothing), tunes by Nick Cave and Rogers and Hammerstein, traditional songs, plus original tunes by Meow Meow and others.

After the slightly messy middle section, we witness the most affecting moment: she sits alone, beside her band (Mark Jones, Jethro Woodward, Dan Witton), bathed in moody, blue light (Paul Jackson), singing the achingly painful, tender Would I Feel (by Meow Meow/Iain Grandage), a song of yearning for a child.

Meow Meow is exhilarating, hilarious, provocative and shambolic, and this combination cannot be explained. She needs to be seen to be believed.

by Kate Herbert

DIRECTOR / Michael Kantor
CAST / Michaela Burger, Annie Jones, Dusty Bursill, Charlotte Barnard, Riya Mandrawa
MUSICIANS / Mark Jones, Dan Witton
Meow Meow and band

Monday 4 November 2019

Ragtime, The Musical, Nov 2, 2019 ****

Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel 
at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until November 10, 2019  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Chloe Zuel and Kurt Kansley, pic Jeff Busby

Ragtime, set in the first decade of the 20th century, is a joyful and poignant musical about three families in America, and issues of race, class, immigration and injustice that, sadly, are still relevant today.

The privileged, white family (Mother, Georgina Hopson; Father, Adam Murphy) lives in New Rochelle, the African-American ragtime musician, Coalhouse Walker Jr (Kurt Kansley), lives in New York, the city to which destitute but hopeful, Jewish refugee, Tateh (Alexander Lewis), brings his daughter.

In Terrence McNally’s adaptation, based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, here deftly directed by Roger Hodgman, the differences and inequities between these families are glaring against the background of social upheaval facing America. This is expounded in short, factual interjections by historical figures, including Henry Ford, Houdini and workers’ rights activist, Emma Goldman.

The difficulty in adapting a sprawling novel is that some scenes are unnecessary or do not serve the central narrative, and this becomes evident in the second half of McNally’s book.

Stephen Flaherty’s music (Musical Director, Guy Noble) covers various styles, but the bouncing ragtime brings the stage to life in the opening tune, Ragtime, and Gettin’ Ready Rag, that both feature the entire company and Dana Jolly’s vivacious choreography.

Journey On is an exhilarating trio between Lewis, Murphy and Hopson, about Father’s departure on an Arctic expedition, Mother’s sadness at their parting and Tateh’s optimistic arrival.

Hopson’s bright, clear soprano and warm presence are perfect for the role of Mother, while Chloé Zuel, as Sarah, Coalhouse’s lost love and mother of his newborn son, brings gasps and tears from the audience with her thrilling voice and rendition of the soaring lament, Your Daddy’s Son.

Kansley has a fine voice and effectively portrays Coalhouse’s evolution from cheerfully successful, New York musician, to stubborn, racial activist, who risks all in his quest for justice.

Despite the tragedies that befall several characters, Ragtime ends on a celebratory and aspirational note with the rousing Epilogue: Ragtime.

by Kate Herbert

John May, Anton Berezin, Finn Alexander, Kempton Maloney, Georgina Hopson, Adam Murphy, John McTernan, Kaya Byrne-pic Jeff Busb

Director - Roger Hodgman
Musical Director - Guy Noble
Choreographer - Dana Jolly
Costumes- Isaac Lummis 
Set - Christina Smith 
Lighting- Nigel Levings

Kurt Kansley -Coalhouse Walker Jnr
Georgina Hopson- Mother
Alexander Lewis -Tateh
Chloe Zuel -Sarah
Adam Murphy -Father
Emma Goldman -Sage Douglas
Evelyn Nesbit -Mackenzie Dunn

Monday 7 October 2019

What Girls Are Made Of, Oct 3, 2019 ***1/2

By Raw Material, Traverse Theatre & Regular Music, Melbourne Festival 
At The Famous Spiegeltent, Forecourt Arts Centre Melbourne, until Oct 13, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun in print & online on Monday Oct 7, 2019. KH
L-R- Simon Donaldson, Cora Bissett, Emma Smith (Drums rear)  Harry Ward- photo_Mihaela Bodlovic
If your teenagers want to be pop stars, take them to What Girls Are Made Of for a reality check on the chaos and pain of the blighted success that usually follows short-lived glory.

In her musical bio-drama, Cora Bissett explores the real-life story of her own adolescent launch into minor pop stardom in the UK in the early 1990s after she responded to a local newspaper ad: ‘Band Seeks Singer’.

Wearing a Pixies band t-shirt and jeans, Bissett narrates her life, building word pictures of her teenage world that starts in a small, Scottish town then rockets her band, Darlingheart, into a record deal and tours with Radiohead and Blur – until it all goes terribly wrong soon after.

Bissett’s vivacious energy is contagious as she weaves her tale, and she is accompanied by drummer, Emma Smith, and versatile actor-guitarists, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward, both of whom populate the stage with eccentric, hilarious characters that bring the story to life with theatrical detail.

Each character is rapidly drawn with accent, gesture, attitude and posture: Bissett’s Mum’s crossed arms and optimism, her Dad’s lilting Irish brogue, the broad Scots accent and aggressive posture of their dodgy manager, and the posh English enunciation of the boys from Blur.

Interspersed amongst Bissett’s direct audience address storytelling, the live music references the bands with which Darlingheart toured, and some of Bissett’s idols, particularly Patti Smith.

Bissett wrote the script based on her own teenage diaries and news clippings, and Orla O’Loughlin’s production sets a dynamic pace for the first hour, although the rhythm and focus falter in the last 30 minutes.

A person’s life rarely has a natural dramatic arc, so a bio-drama generally needs to focus on a discrete, dramatic and vibrant period, in this instance, the band’s meteoric rise and fall.

However, the production overshoots its obvious ending by trying to encapsulate Bissett’s entire life to date, which leaves some questions unanswered and does not provide a satisfying ending to that crucial, most interesting episode in Bissett’s life.

by Kate Herbert