Saturday 19 November 2022

A Christmas Carol REVIEW 18 Nov 2022 *****


A version written by Jack Thorne, conceived by Matthew Warchus

An Old Vic production

At Comedy Theatre Melbourne until 29 Dec 2022

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: *****

This review is published only on this blog with a radio review on Sat 19 Nov 2022. KH

David Wenham and Ensemble_pic Jeff Busby

Matthew Warchus’s exhilarating, multi-award-winning production of A Christmas Carol, adapted from Dickens’ ripping yarn by Jack Thorne, is a very Christmassy feast of carols, choral harmonies, mass bell ringing, snow, faith, hope and charity and even a veritable feast of fruits, vegetables, meat platters, puddings and breads all sliding down from the balcony along draped sheets to the stage and into wicker baskets. Yes, real food – mostly.


The pre-show musical entertainment also includes actors walking around with mince pies and tossing mandarins to audience members who wave furiously at the actors to get their hands on the mandies.


Thorne’s version of Dickens’ story extracts crucial moments, takes licence with some dialogue, and omits some characters and scenes because, let’s face it, Dickens’ book would take many hours to perform in full.


Ebenezer Scrooge, played with relish by the virtuosic David Wenham, is a miserly old moneylender who thinks Christmas is ‘humbug’ (Wenham says the word only once in this show) and who underpays and makes unreasonable demands on his dutiful, hard-working office clerk, Bob Cratchit, who lives in poverty with his wife and many children including Tiny Tim (Theo Watson-Bonnice on opening night).


Scrooge also reviles the carol singers at his door and sends his kind nephew away. He fears everyone wants his money.


Wenham is magnetic and credible as the wizened, growling, unpleasant Scrooge. He seems almost to be folded in upon himself to avoid all human contact. His transformation from this stone-hearted old grump into the skipping dancing benefactor is swift but credible and his 180-degree change triggers the truly joyous Christmas celebration that follows.


The supporting cast is superb with Debra Lawrence as the wry, pert, elderly Christmas Past, and Samantha Morley as the critical, chivvying Christmas Present. The entire cast takes the role of Christmas Future – a group of black-clad veiled ghostly figures – then Scrooge’s late sister, little Fann, (Emily Nkomo) takes Scrooge to view his own, lonely funeral at which he learns his lesson of love and kinship.


Anthony Harkin is compelling as Jacob Marley and his warm, velvety baritone is welcome in the final song, Nicholas Kong is playful and engaging as Fezziwig and Sarah Morrison is warm and composed as Belle, Scrooge’s past love.


We marvel like children at the gloriously atmospheric set design (Rob Howell) of tumbled lanterns and drop lights, falling snow, Scrooge’s money boxes and secret compartments in the stage floor, and the evocative, often spooky, sometimes festive lighting.


There’s live music, song, dancing, snacks, tears and laughter. A Christmas Carol is a wonderful a Christmas tonic that reminds us of those who struggle to make ends meet. In London and here, moneys are collected and donated by the show to charities for the poor. Wenham spoke with warmth about donation to Foodbank. Collection boxes were at each door. 

by Kate Herbert 

David Wenham Ebenezer Scrooge

Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward -Young Ebenezer Music cello bass

Melanie Bird Jess

Benjamin Colley George

Andrew Coshan Fred

Bernard Curry Bob Cratchit

Anthony Harkin Father / Marley

Nicholas Kong Fezzwig

Stephanie Lambourn Mrs Cratchit  Mandolin

Debra Lawrance Ghost of Christmas Pasty

Samantha Morley  Ghost of Christmas Present

Sarah Morrion Belle

Emily Nkomo Little Fan

Cameron Taylor Nicholas

Alexis Abela, Sasha Hampson, Evie Rose Hennessy, Theo Wason-Bonnice Tiny Tim

David Wenham, Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward, Emily Nkomo_pic Jeff Busby


Ensemble_pic eff Busby

Thursday 17 November 2022

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat REVIEW 16 Nov 2022 ***1/2


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice

Produced by Tim Lawson with Michael Harrison by arrangement with The Really Useful Group

At Regent Theatre, Melbourne until 29 Jan 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***1/2

This review is published only on this blog but I will do a radio review on Arts Weekly on either Sat 19 Nov or Sat 3 Dec. 

NB: The word 'technicolor' in the title uses US spelling. KH

Euan Fistrovic Doidge (top) with Paulini (front centre) & ensemble. Photo supplied.


Before Jesus became a Superstar for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the pair wrote a cantata in 1967 for a school choir based on the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. So, this begat their enduring stage musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.


Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob who gave him a coat of many colours. This made Jacob’s other 11 sons jealous, so they tried to kill Joseph then sold him into slavery. He was imprisoned, but his talent as a dream interpreter brought him to the attention of the Pharaoh who, when Joseph predicted and solved the problem of the impending seven-year famine in Egypt, made Joseph his right-hand man.


After decades of school and amateur theatre versions of the show, Laurence Connor’s revamped production has a ready-made audience, and his new staging caters shamelessly to families by casting children in featured adult character roles that, in previous interpretations, were played by seasoned musical theatre performers.


Even more shameless is the Australian production’s casting of Shane Crawford, former AFL footballer and footy show presenter, as Pharaoh. Suffice to say that, as an actor-singer, Crawford makes a good footballer. Evidently, Trevor Ashley takes over the role after Melbourne which will elevate Pharaoh’s Elvis-inspired Song of the King to appropriate heights of Elvis-ness. This is a song that should, but does not, leave the crowd cheering.


The show is sung-through, meaning that it has no dialogue, so the story and characters are revealed through the 20+ songs that are a pastiche – one might say mish-mash – of disparate styles from country hoedown, to French chanson, ‘50s rock, calypso and pop ballad.


Paulini’s powerful voice and composed, almost relaxed performance give weight to the Narrator who, surrounded by seated, attentive children, introduces the show with a sung Prologue. She moves the story along with interpolated lyrics, songs and snatches of other characters including Jacob, Joseph’s father.


Playing Joseph, Euan Fistrovic Doidge is an experienced musical theatre performer, albeit not usually in the leading role, who delivers an impassioned interpretation of the soaring lament, Close Every Door to Me, when Joseph is imprisoned, and the gentle tune Any Dream Will Do in which Joseph reflects on his dreams and his coat of many colours.


The catchy tunes keep coming with Jacob and Sons, There’s One More Angel In Heaven and the rowdy, fun, up-tempo number, Go Go Joseph. But the highlight of the show was the audacious performance, magnetism and vocal dexterity of Daniel Raso leading Joseph’s 11 brothers in Those Canaan Days, a French-inflected ballad infused with yearning for those days before the famine and with a French Can-Can inserted into the song for a contrasting hoot.


The set and costume design by Morgan Large are bold and vivid with spectacular echoes of ancient Egypt, while the choreography by Joann M Hunter is sassy and as eclectic as the songs.


There is a cuteness factor of children playing adult roles and wearing cheesy beards, but the show loses impact and nuance without all roles being played and sung by capable adult performers.


Despite the shortcomings of the production, Joseph is almost fail-safe after all these decades of success, so it’s virtually guaranteed a summer audience in Melbourne.


by Kate Herbert 

Euan Fistrovic Doidge. Photo supplied.

Paulini & children. Photo supplied.


Narrator -Paulini

Joseph - Euan Fistrovic Doidge

The Pharaoh - Shane Crawford (Melbourne season only)


Sarah Dimas, Matt Douglass, David Duketis, Ashlee Hammerin, David Hammond, Jackson Head, Alex Hyne, Hanlon Innocent, Nat Jobe, Heath Keating, Nicolas van Litsenborgh, Avigalle Mendoza, William Motunuu, Courtney Murray, Catrina Ralph, Daniel Raso, Annabelle Rosewarne, Asmara Soekotjo, Gabriella Tooma, William Tukia Edwards, Nicole Vella, Stephanie Wall.


Creative Team

Morgan Large (Set and Costume Designer),

Ben Cracknell (Lighting Designer),

Gareth Owen (Sound Designer)

Richard Mawbey (Hair, Wigs & Makeup Design).


Monday 14 November 2022

Sunshine Super Girl REVIEW 12 Nov 2022 ***1/2


Sunshine Super Girl by Andrea James

By Melbourne Theatre Company & Performing Lines

At Southbank Theatre, the Sumner until 14 Dec 2022

Reviewer: Kate Herbert


This review published only on this blog with a verbal review on radio 3MBS on Sat 19 Nov 2022. KH

Ella Ferris -Sunshine Super Girl -pic by Paz Tassone
Sunshine Super Girl, written and directed by Andrea James, is an exuberant and engaging performance about Australia’s own tennis champion, Evonne Goolagong Cawley (Ella Ferris) who won Wimbledon twice in her career and, in doing so, won the hearts of Australians.


It can be difficult to successfully translate a biography into a stage play because a life does not usually have a clear dramatic trajectory, but James’ task was made easier because Goolagong’s life had significant high points and a dramatic arc.


The play begins with Goolagong’s impoverished life in country NSW with her large, loving Aboriginal family, to being talent spotted by a tennis coach then transported to Sydney, away from her family, where she trained hard, went to school and went on to play and win major tournaments around the world. She was the first black woman to win a major tennis tournament in South Africa.


The MTC Sumner Theatre is transformed into a tennis court with audience on two sides who means that the stage action is dynamic, swivelling and swinging 360 degrees to allow the actors direct their performances to both sides of the stage area.


The production begins and ends with a short and lyrical narration by Evonne as she sits by a fishing pool near her home and relates her story. The dialogue is light and uncomplicated, even when Evonne is forced to deal with her friends who are members of the Aboriginal Advancement League who demand that she use her hard-won celebrity for political purposes, a task she rejects. Her view is that playing and winning at tennis is her political contribution,


The tennis is depicted metaphorically in stylised choreography (Vicki Van Hout, Katina Olsen) that captures the essence of tennis strokes and the balletic or athletic quality of fine players that include not only Goolagong herself, but Margaret Court, Chris Evatt and many other skilful opponents.


Ferris is delightfully breezy, sunny and credible as Goolagong and when the character wins Wimbledon for the first time and raises the cup overhead, the opening night audience cheered and applauded as if we were witnessing the actual tournament. We’re all on her side from start to finish!


The capable cast creates a physical world through movement and the actors also play characters in Evonne’s life: Jax Compton is loving and believable as Mum; Lincoln Elliott is versatile as Evonne’s husband Roger and Dad; Katina Olsen is pert as Barbara; and Kirk Page shifts from comic to dramatic as Larry and Mr Edwards.


Sunshine Super Girl has warmth and vibrancy and is a good example of a successful biographical play and a production that encapsulates the life and achievements of Australia’s indigenous tennis superstar that preceded Ash Barty.


by Kate Herbert

Katina Olsen, Ella Ferris Kirk Page Sunshine Super Girl -pic by Paz Tassone


Evonne -Ella Ferris

Mum and Ensemble -Jax Compton

Roger, Dad and Ensemble -Lincoln Elliott

Barbara and Ensemble -Katina Olsen

Larry, Mr Edwards and Ensemble -Kirk Page



Director Andre James

Movement director & additional choreography - Katina Olsen

Original choreography -Vicki Van Hout

Set and Costume Romanie Harper

Lighting Karen Norris

Composition Sound Design -Gail Priest






Emilia COMMENT 11 Nov 2022


Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This show could not be fully reviewed as I did not see the second half. i.e. No stars allotted.

 This comment published only on this blog. KH

Manali Datar & Lisa Maza-Photo by Dylan Hornsby-Good Gravy Media

Let’s begin by saying that I cannot review the entire performance of Emilia because it stopped after 45 minutes when the actor playing a tepid version of William Shakespeare (Heidi Arena) said, in character something to the effect of, “Oh, I just felt something snap in my shin!” After Genevieve Picot entered stage left and attempted to improvise to cover the stoppage, an announcement asked all performers to leave the stage. 10-15 mins later, after many people had already left the theatre, a further announcement stated that the show would recommence in 15 minutes.


That was enough for me and my guest who had already left after the first announcement. Perhaps the more lively and interesting parts of the play were yet to come (according to Michael Billington’s 2018 review of the production at the Globe in London), but the first 45 minutes of this production by Essential Theatre was sluggish, with amateurish direction and acting, apart from a short and entertaining burst of choreography that merged Elizabethan dance with hip-hop. The  staging does not effectively use or fill the Playhouse stage which feels too big for the production.


The diverse cast of 13 women and non-binary actors plays all the men and women in the story, some more successfully than others. The most credible and creditable performance was by Picot who portrayed Lord Carey as a believable, well-heeled Lothario who took Emilia as his mistress then, when she fell pregnant, took care to marry her to a wealthy courier.


Shakespeare scholars have tried for centuries to determine who was the Bard’s “Dark Lady” of the Sonnets. None has succeeded in arguing a clear case. Some think/thought that she was Emilia Bassano, a woman who lived in same period as Shakespeare and who was a poet and proponent for women in a world dominated by men although England was ruled by a woman, Queen Elizabeth I.


By focussing on Bassano, playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is able to conflate contemporary issues about the roles and power of women with the 16th century story.


In the play, Emilia is played by three woman, beginning with the young Emilia played by Manali Datar, Emilia in her middle years portrayed by Cessalee Stovall, then the older Emilia, played by Rachel Maza, who provides narration from the opening scene (and presumably, the rousing call to arms of the final monologue that I did not see.)


All the privileged male characters in the first half of the show (i.e. the part that I saw) are depicted as entitled and variously simpering, sleazy or dim-witted. Shakespeare, in the first half at least, is depicted as a total buffoon.


They are caricatures that could be played with more wit and skill but end up as simplistic and even offensive male stereotypes. If the cast has greater technical performance skills, these male roles would be more effective in expressing the oppression of women in the Elizabethan period.


Go and see Emilia to see what happens to this feisty character and determine whether the production recovers from its early problems.


by Kate Herbert




 Emilia 1 Manali Datar

Emilia 2 Cessalee Stovall

Emilia 3 Lisa Maza

William Shakespeare / Man 2 Heidi Arena

Lady Margaret Clifford / Midwife / Man 1 Emma J Hawkins

Lord Alphonso Lanier / Lord Collins / Emilia (Othello) and others Catherine Glavicic

Margaret Johnson / Mary Sidney / Hester Carita Farrer Spencer

Judith / Priest / Lord Henry Carey Genevieve Picot

Lady Cordelia / Lady Anne and others Jing-Xuan Chan

Susan Bertie The Countess of Kent / Mary Bob Amanda LaBonté

Lady Katherine / Desdemona (Othello) Sonya Suares

Lord Thomas Howard / Dave / Flora Sophie Lampel

Eve / Lady Helena  Sarah Fitzgerald

Stand by Covers NazAree Dickerson, Kuda Mapeza & Izabella Yen



Director Petra Kalive

Movement Director Xanthe Beesley

Movement Associate Jennifer Ma

Set designer Emily Collett

Costume designer

Zoë Rouse Composer / Sound Designer Emah Fox and Sharyn Brand

Lighting Designer Katie Sfetkidis

Associate Lighting Designer Harrie Hogan

Production Manager Rockie Stone

Stage Manager Olivia Walker

Deputy Stage Manager Rain Iyahen

Assistant Stage Manager Amy Smith

Co-Producers Amanda LaBonté, Sophie Lampel, Darylin Ramondo & Sonya Suares

Associate Producer Trish Carlon





Saturday 5 November 2022

The Phantom of the Opera REVIEW 4 Nov 2022 ****1/2



Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Charles Hart (additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe)

Book by Richard Stilgoe & Andrew Lloyd Webber

By Opera Australia & Really Useful Group at State Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne

Season run until 5 Feb 2023

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ****1/2

This review published only on this blog with a radio review on Arts Weekly, 3MBS on Sat 5 Nov at 10.15am. KH

The Phantom of the Opera Australia 2022 - Josh Piterman, Amy Manford- PIC DANIEL BOUD

The Phantom of the Opera is a story of impossible love of a beauty, Christine Daaé (Amy Manford), by a beast, the Phantom (Josh Piterman), a man whose facial deformity has blighted his life and sent him underground – literally - to dwell in the cavernous tunnels beneath the Paris opera house that he haunts.


Directed by Laurence Connor with balletic choreography by Scott Ambler, this dazzling, new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running hit musical is bold, vivacious and beautifully designed with sets (Paul Brown) and costumes (Maria Björnson) that echo images from the Baroque, Renaissance, Commedia dell’Arte and even a tiny scene that recalls Degas’ ballerinas.


The score and orchestrations are soaring with memorable songs including The Music of the Night, Masquerade, Angel of Music and, of course, the title song.


Piterman is a rich-voiced and almost athletic Phantom, and his vocal range and tone are well-suited to the role that is described as “high baritone”, and his rendition of The Music of the Night is thrilling and potent. As Christine, the ingenue opera singer with whom the Phantom is obsessed, Manford has a bell-like soprano with a fine vibrato and a delicate, almost balletic physicality. Piterman and Manford’s voices blend beautifully in the duets of The Phantom of the Opera and I Remember/Stranger Than You Dreamt It.


Blake Bowden is a commanding presence as Raoul Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s true love, and his singing has power but also an effortless quality. A high point of the show is Bowden and Manford’s heartfelt duet, All I Ask of You.


David Whitney as Monsieur Firmin and Andy Morton playing Monsieur André are a fine comic duo of opera house impresarios who, according to the Phantom, have no idea about art and should stay in their office.


This lavish production almost topples over with its bombastic “ham” opera scenes and colourful comic characters: conceited opera diva, Carlotta (Giuseppina Grech), and Piani (Paul Tabone), her over-eating leading man.


There seems to be an imbalance between these outrageous scenes and those quieter, sinister and menacing scenes between Phantom and Christine, and the tender, more intimate and beautiful duets between Christine and Raoul. The spectacle overwhelms any subtleties in the story.


Christine is perhaps a little too worldly, even sassy, for an ingénue and the Phantom loses focus as the core of the story. There was also some imbalance in the sound quality at times, with lyrics being lost or large chorus numbers sounding crowded.


However, this is a vibrant and beautifully performed and staged production that will thrill even the jaded or those who are not Lloyd Webber fans.


by Kate Herbert 



Director Laurence Connor

Choreography Scott Ambler

Set design Paul Brown

Costume design Maria Björnson

Sound design Mick Potter

Associate Director Seth Sklar-Heyn of this new production in Australia

New production overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Macintosh

CAST (37 total)

Josh Piterman- Phantom

Amy Manford -Christine Daaé

Blake Bowden- Raoul Vicomte de Chagny

David Whitney -Monsieur Firmin

Andy Morton -Monsieur André

Giuseppina Grech -Carlotta Giudicelli

Jayde Westaby -Madame Giry

Paul Tabone -Ubaldo Piangi

Mietta White Meg Giry

The Phantom of the Opera Australia 2022 - Paul Tabone and Company - PIC DANIEL BOUD

The Phantom of the Opera Australia 2022 - Josh Piterman, Amy Manford - PIC DANIEL BOUD