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