Friday, 3 November 2017

WAAPA Showcase (3 November 2017)

From Stephen Sondheim to David Mamet; Kander & Ebb to Peter Shaffer; Jason Robert Brown to Patrick Marber... you're unlikely to see as diverse a selection of acting excerpts and musical theatre numbers in two hours as you do at WAAPA's annual Showcase.

The W.A.A.P.A. Friends Of The Academy Showcase night is one of my favourite dates on the Perth theatre calendar as we get to say goodbye and celebrate the graduating musical theatre and acting students. I actually find it inspirational to witness the talent on display after three gruelling years of study and knowing that this marks the transition point from student to professional career.

As always that talent is across the board excellent. Congratulations to each and every one of you and all the best for your future endeavours and careers.

If I may offer a limited selection of favourites from the night...

Acting Showreel scenes:

A delightfully quirky scene featuring Katherine Pearson as an unusual theatre patron encountering Martin Quinn's somewhat bewildered director after the premiere of his play.

Spider-Man meets Catwoman in a very well written scene that highlighted the talents of Jack Scott and Laura McDonald with a nice array of emotions and underlying message. The writing was so perfectly suited to the actors' strengths I was delighted to discover Scott himself had written it.

Acting scenes:

An oft encountered pairing who have excellent onstage chemistry, Roy Joseph and Laura McDonald, in an excerpt from John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. I loved the physicality of the scene, their accent work, and the clear, crisp action changes. Many other scenes saw blocking where the actors were too far apart in key dramatic and/or emotional moments. Here, Joseph and McDonald were literally in each other's face which heightened the potency of the scene. 

Sasha Simon's fierce performance playing opposite Mitchell Bourke in a scene from People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan. The focus is squarely on Simon as her character fights for help on her own terms. A smart decision therefore to have Bourke (who sets the table nicely) sitting angled away from the audience so that she was featured.

Musical Theatre numbers:

One of my absolute joys at the theatre is being surprised. That is often the case when someone who maybe hasn't been featured as much in the last couple of years blows you away in a jaw-on-the-floor moment. Here it was Chloe Bremner's performance of Behind These Walls which was superb.

Finn Alexander taking a song written for a female character - Sondheim's Losing My Mind from Follies - and making it his own in an exquisite performance. Brave choice, excellent execution that paid off in spades.

I have to also mention the musical accompaniment on piano from WAAPA's own Kohan van Sambeeck that was a non-stop, hour long tour de force.

In the days to come agents and managers and talent scouts and all sorts of other people will make decisons based on what they see at the final Showcase in Perth tomorrow night and then in Sydney and Melbourne. On the evidence of tonight I look forward to reading of agent signings and then casting announcements, both screen and stage, from here on in.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

Once We Lived Here - The Blue Room Theatre & Western Sky Theatre (25 October 2017)

At the question and answer session following the Wednesday night performance Ryan Dawson (who plays Burke) and Megan Kozak (Lecy) indicated how difficult it is to sing with their natural Australian twang. They explained that most musicals are delivered with either an American or leastways neutral accent given the predominance of the US as a generator of this type of entertainment. How refreshing then to hear the unique sounds and vernacular of a homegrown Aussie musical no matter how difficult to maintain. There are lyrics and rhymes in Once We Lived Here that you wouldn’t hear created anywhere else in the world. For that alone this is a notable entry in the modern musical canon.

But the show is much more than that. The setting is utterly Australian – the country farm and its inhabitants battling the elements and themselves to eke out a living. In many ways it reminded me of the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre production simply called Farm from a couple of years ago. Life is bloody tough on the land. Families toil for generations in conditions that would make the average city dweller blanch. There is a fierce loyalty and bond to that land and to each other. Those loyalties are constantly tested and this is where we get to the heart of the musical. 

Times are tough for the McPherson clan. The sheep farm is failing as is the health of the matriarch Claire (Sharon Kiely). Oldest daughter Amy (Taryn Ryan) has managed the farm ever since the death of her father some eight years earlier. Amy's siblings Lecy (Kozak) and Shaun (Joshua Firman) return to the property to be with Claire in what may be her final days. Former farmhand Burke (Dawson) also arrives at 'Emoh Ruo' though his motives are questioned by Amy. Hard earned truths and tragedy ensue as these five distinctly drawn characters interact in the furnace of the drought afflicted environment and competing memories of their shared history. Events of the past are revisited. Revelations made. Futures put in flux.

There is a truthfulness here that is commendable and while emotionally fraught, resonates with authenticity. There are no easy victories, no glib story beats. This heightens the joy we experience when these characters find even the smallest moment of happiness or deliver the briefest of smiles. The humour is distinctively Australian, at times laugh out loud hilarious, and a coping mechanism for the ever present harsh realities of country life.

Behind all this there is a spirit that infuses the musical that strikes me as quite special given it is counter-intuitive to what could be perceived as the general bleakness of the premise. It celebrates the strength and resilience of these characters and of those who choose to makes sacrifices, personal, professional and emotional, to work in the country. The love between siblings, and between a mother and her children, also rings out loud and clear. It's an impressive and ever present energy. 

The Book, Music and Lyrics are by Matthew Frank and Dean Bryant who, as was remarked at the QandA, are country lads. The structure involves cutting between two timelines - the present and eight years early when a key event shaped who these people have become. I admit, I was a little disoriented when the first 'flashback' occurred but once I keyed into the device it was fine. In this I was aided by the lighting design and notable change in performances - Shaun, for example, is only 13 years old in the flashbacks.

I very much liked that Frank and Bryant found a simple yet creative way to deal with exposition in the early going as Lecy uses a handheld camcorder to capture her feelings on returning to the farm and to interview her siblings. It works because it reveals so much about Lecy, the materialistic girl who fled to the bright lights of the city. It also sets up the family dynamics as the others react to her posturing. 

The music, beautifully played by the three piece band of (Musical Director) Joshua Haines on piano, Harry Love (guitar) and Luis Santos (double bass) in a room off to one side, is evocative and perfectly balanced with the vocals. So much texture is created here. The songs move the story forward and give us character insights aplenty. There's wonderful use of reprises to buttress emotional beats and recurring motifs for each character. Highlights include Ryan's Gotta Fix The Pump and As Far As The Eye Can See, Firman's haunting The Shearing Shed, and the moving The Leaves of Summer. Then there's the showstopper We Like It That Way that opens the second half in hysterical fashion. The cast sang superbly in the small space.

The dramatic heft of the Book means that the five performers have to show off some serious acting chops to go along with the impressive vocal talent. Foremost in this is Ryan who plays the practical, responsible daughter who, in many ways, is the replacement for the father that is so sorely missed. Ryan, one of the brightest stars in Perth's independent theatre scene, is simply terrific. There is a sequence where her character Amy finally lets all the bottled up emotions explode into life to quickly cut to a moment of happiness in the past which is just as swiftly undercut back in the present. The emotional range on display in a maybe 5-6 minute sequence is extraordinary.

By contrast, Kozak imbues younger sister Lecy with self-absorbed snark, and overt flirtatiousness when it comes to Burke. There is a certain desperation that bubbles under all this which becomes clearer in the second half. I'm a big fan of the off-beat comic energy Kozak brings to her performances and director Andrew Baker utilises it well here never letting it verge into caricature. 

Joshua Firman does incredibly well with a tricky role - as the larrikin 13 year old who grows up to be the cruising-through-life Shaun with a gnawing sense of emptiness that festers. Firman has charm to burn so it's intriguing to see the restraint deployed in the present day sequences. He nails the cheeky, boyish enthusiasm of We Like It That Way and his work with Dawson in Guitar Lesson is excellent. Firman also has such a joyous singing style when let loose that is a pleasure to experience.

I had not come across Kiely or Dawson before but both round out an excellent cast. The former oozes maternal love and protection as Claire, never allowing the character to be defeated by either her illness or the past. It is a performance of great integrity and decency that anchors the production. Likewise, Dawson's Burke is a voice of reason amongst the emotional tumult. His character is a multi-faceted link to the McPherson children that sees him display fatherly concern towards Shaun; care for Lecy whilst rebuffing her advances; and notably a tenderness mixed with some tough love towards Amy. Again, he gives the character an aura of down to earth decency.

Props to Andrew Baker and fledgling company Western Sky Theatre for staging a two hour Aussie musical at The Blue Room and assembling such a talented cast, band and production team (shout outs to Rhiannon Walker for the rustic set design and costumes and Katrina Johnston for the lighting design). His intention is to mount productions that attract talent that is either from WA or trained here. If this opening salvo is any indication we are in for many excellent productions. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Bali - The Last Great Hunt (18 October 2017)

You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye - Glenn Frey & Don Henley.

Those lyrics from the Eagles song The Last Resort floated across my consciousness during a bravura sequence in this preview where Chris Isaacs's character describes the sights of an unexpected road detour in Bali. I won't spoil the impact by providing further details other than saying it offers a telling commentary on our relationship with the popular island destination and its effect. 

Indeed, only a cursory summary of the plot of Bali will be given here as the joy is in the consummate storytelling which needs to be experienced firsthand. To wit, this is the continued adventures of Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corgan (Isaacs) who we first met in the award winning FAG/STAG in 2015. This time Corgan's mum is holding her 60th birthday celebration week in Bali and the lads are along for the ride. Each show signs of reluctance though for completely different reasons. 

On the surface this is a witty comedy but like its predecessor the control of tone is exceptional with exquisite observation, raw emotion that is earned, and sequences like the above that are gut punch effective. Fowler and Isaacs have an immensely likable rapport and as writer/performers have total command of the material. The audience can be belly laughing one moment to pin drop silent the next. That roller coaster emotional journey for the characters and the audience is an outstanding feature of both plays. 

Many of the same techniques from FAG/STAG are used - contradictory points of view in the retelling as the two characters recount moments quite differently. Often for comic effect; critically for deeper insight into who they are, how they perceive the world, and why. The actors are again seated on stools with a table in between where there are a variety of drinks. The other significant prop is the ubiquitous mobile phone (I seem to learn of a new app from Jimmy's character every play!). 

It is a deliberately sparse set. The world is created by the vivid writing and delivery, Scott McArdle's lighting design, and Nathan Jamieson's subtle sound design. I love the level of authenticity in the script with such fine detail not only in describing the Bali locales but also in the well rounded characters and their interactions. I have a complete picture of, for example, Corgan's mum in my head without her ever appearing onstage. Set-ups are paid off handsomely and the parallel revelations for both characters are emotionally true and, particularly in Jimmy's case, devastating. 

Smartly, they are on a raised platform as the angle of the raked seating in the Subiaco Arts Centre Studio isn't always ideal for the best viewing experience. It shouldn't be a problem here and the intimate space is perfect for this style of storytelling. There is an honesty that is compelling - in the depiction of male friendship; sex and sexuality; consumerism; casual racism; western world entitlement; homophobia; drugs; and the crucial events in our past that shape us. It's also damn funny precisely because there is so much we recognise that resonates with us.

As a bonus, Bali includes perhaps the most impassioned defence of a (not very good, sorry Corgan) Hollywood movie that you are ever likely to hear. It's these surprising beats and unexpected turns that make this feel so real. The other thing is, I damn well like these characters!

This is not only a worthy companion piece to the terrific FAG/STAG but perhaps even better. The offshore setting allows Fowler and Isaacs to explore varied aspects of their characters and expose new vulnerabilities and strengths. It's a wonderfully written, performed, and staged piece of theatre. 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - WAAPA (16 October 2017)

Ah, musical theatre, what a great educational resource you are! My knowledge of American presidents has grown exponentially over the past few years due to Assassins (Midnite Youth Theatre Company, 2015) with its clutch of dead and almost dead presidents (as English Bob says mockingly in the movie Unforgiven, "Now, a president... well I mean... why not shoot a president?"), Clinton: The Musical (Black Swan State Theatre Company, 2016), the ubiquitous Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton: An American Musical, and now, the second year's first standalone musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

The American obsession with the office of the presidency, its inhabitants, and their legacies is perhaps an odd cultural phenomenon as seen through Australian eyes but one ripe for creative interpretation and reimagining. The four shows above use, respectively, a carnival sideshow setting; an actual split personality; the language of rap; and here, the world of a self-absorbed emo rockstar.

I admit, it took me a while to zero in on the tone of this production. In its opening salvoes it is spectacularly politically incorrect particularly towards the Native American Indians. This had me squirming more than a little. Jackson, a former general, founder of the Democratic Party, and a populist president (1829-37) is a polarising figure in presidential debate mainly due to his treatment of the native tribes and his support of slavery. The 'bloody' moniker is not unearned.

The comparisons to the current incumbent are, to be frank, scarily prescient. Especially when you consider this was written a decade before Donald Trump's ascendancy. Jackson, the 7th president, wanted to overthrow the system run by 'corrupt aristocrats' and, as was shown here, fiercely for American nationalism and bitterly opposed to the English, Spanish, and Native American Indians, forcibly resettling the latter westwards. He was the Trump of his day... with much better dialogue.

The show started to click for me during the number Illness As Metaphor where Jackson (Jarrod Griffiths) and his soon to be wife Rachel (Stacey Thomsett) cut and bleed each other as a demonstration of their love. It's a metaphor, get it? From then on I settled into the, more often than not, outrageous retelling of Jackson's life and political career.

Not only is this a pungent satire on the crass nature of political populism but a pointed commentary on musical theatre tropes as well. In an inspired moment Jackson starts to sing about his feelings on losing his first bid for president - a classic musical theatre technique to allow us insight into a character's emotional state - only to be interrupted by several of his political rivals vocalising their own feelings over the top of him. This is followed by a 'montage' like sequence to show the passage of time, again skewering more conventional narrative devices.

Indeed, all sorts of devices are thrown at the wall to see what sticks starting with the rear wall of The Roundhouse Theatre itself. This was plastered with posters and photos of many former presidents including Obama, Bush 43, Clinton, JFK. The path to the highest office in the land isn't perhaps so different for any president after all. There's even a weirdly complementary song to Hamilton's The Room Where It Happens with The Corrupt Bargain as behind closed doors shenanigans lead to Jackson being bilked of the presidency at his first attempt.

Other deliberately off-kilter choices for the period included the crippled Storyteller (Amy Fortnum) riding around on a motorised scooter; the Bandleader (Josh Reckless) wearing a Ramones t-shirt; the use of a modern day phone/intercom on the presidential desk, and even a disco ball makes an appearance. Once I latched onto the "all bets are off" nature of the production these elements, while raising an eyebrow, actually worked reasonably well.

The four piece band (Craig Dalton on Keyboard, Tom Purdy - Guitar, Ty Barwick - Bass, and Liam Hickey on Drums) is at the back of the stage with a microphone set up to replicate, in several songs, a concert feel for featured singers. The band is, again improbably, part of the action as Jackson declares them to be his Cabinet. They played well, especially the more upbeat bass and guitar driven numbers.

The conceit of President as Rock-Star-In-Chief is given a wonderful workout by Griffiths who dominates proceedings. He is rarely off stage, is charismatic and belligerent in equal measure, and sings well with appropriate swagger. There was also a lot to like to about his acting, notably in the, admittedly rare, serious moments such as when he confronts the Native American Black Fox (Jarrod Draper) about further compromises and betrayals of his people.

Others to shine: Fortnum as the cheerful provider of historical facts even when deprived of her scooter and having to haul herself across the stage; Thomsett gives a lovely rendition of The Great Compromise as Rachel forces her husband to choose between politics and their marriage; Josh Reckless who comes to the fore in the last third as the Bandleader particularly with Second Nature and leading the finale; Jessica Clancy as the Announcer who is like the political pundit of the day (and interesting that there are no less than three characters who provide overt narration); Prudence Daniel who featured with the deceptively sweet sounding yet rancorous Ten Little Indians; and Todd Peydo (John Quincy Adams), Elise Muley early as Frederick, and Imogen Howe all caught the eye in lesser roles/the ensemble.

It's a wild kind of show that runs for 90 minutes with no interval. It lost some of its bite and energy during the second half as Jackson assumes the presidency. There are too many sequences with citizens asked for their opinion on issues of the day to demonstrate he is a man of the people. The point is well taken and didn't need repeating before they turn on him. I did like, however, the choreography that was, at times, reminiscent of the all out assault of 2015's Urinetown.

Finally, special mention to the young actress who played Lyncoya in a delightful portrayal that was an audience favourite.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Threepenny Opera - WAAPA (14 October 2017)

Attitude. The very best productions have it. Clearly discernible, unapologetic, and totally embraced by all involved. The third year acting students bring it in spades with what turns out to be a perfect ending to their formal training at WAAPA. There is a cockiness and surety here that is undeniable.

Initially I had thought the prototypical musical was an odd choice for the acting cohort given the vocal demands but it turns out be an inspired one. It suits the group personality of this graduating class like a 'fancy glove'. As one audience member put it after the show, "they owned the space".

And what a glorious space it is.

This is why you make the Edith Spiegeltent a permanent addition to the performance venues on the ECU Mount Lawley campus. For productions exactly like this. The atmosphere and sense of history adds immeasurably to the aura of a classic piece of theatre. So much so that visiting director Craig Ilott dispenses with the need for set decoration with the exception of, as Roy Joseph's messenger amusingly put it, "these fucking mannequins". The two of which were totally extraneous to proceedings anyway.

Instead, the 8 piece band, conducted by visiting graduate Kohan van Sambeeck, is nestled at the rear of the tent with a thrust-like stage jutting into the centre of the space. In a smart move, the audience is situated within the inner circle of the spiegeltent so there are no cluttered sight lines. We're right on top of the action. Or, as I discovered, the action is occasionally right on top of us!

The outer circle and booths were the province of our players. This gives the production an immersive quality for the audience as characters prowl and cavort around us with multiple entry and egress points to and from the stage. There is the feeling of a fully formed world that exists beyond the strictures of the performance space. A colourful, bawdy, exotic world full of villains and dames; vagabonds and, well, to put it indelicately, ladies of dubious reputation. But something more as well - as if we're transported in time to how The Threepenny Opera might have been experienced in decades gone by.

In a simple device the setting of scenes was left to characters wielding cardboard signs (and to our imaginations). I must say the furniture was ever so fancy in the stables of my mind's eye! But more than that, a sense of time and place was evoked by make-up and costuming. The use of white face paint for all; the women provocatively attired; the men all singlets with smart pants and braces; not to mention a range of beggar chic that would make Oliver Twist blush.

Most impressive of all the performers were, as another audience member put it, "balls to the wall" in their characterisations. This was a chance to 'go big' and they lapped it up. In another smart move actors were mingling with the audience before the show started; being cheeky, friendly, inviting. It set the tone - that attitude - of the production right from the get go. A relaxed confidence that you couldn't help but feel and respond to. Thank you Laura McDonald, Sasha Simon, and Katherine Pearson for the chats.

To top that all off there were many fine singing voices with Natasha Vickery (Polly Peachum), Skye Beker (Lucy Brown) and Katherine Pearson (Jenny Diver) excelling in this regard with notable contributions from Rhianna McCourt who belted out Ballad of Sexual Dependency with savage contempt and, of course, the notorious Macheath, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, who acquitted himself well with the challenging lead vocal role.

This is generally described as a 'play with music' so there is ample opportunity to show off the acting chops. With such a rogue's gallery of characters to inhabit this provided all sorts of treats. Kudos to Macheath's henchmen - Charles Alexander, Kingsley O'Connor, Elliott Giarola and Mitchell Bourke - who provided a touch of menace, more than a dash of comic relief, and worked together well especially during the stables sequence.

McCourt and the booming-of-voice Martin Quinn, as Celia and J.J. Peachum, were the Thenardiers of their time in an immensely enjoyable double act. I loved the swagger McCourt gave Celia and Quinn, as Present Laughter also demonstrated, plays pompous rogue with aplomb. Vickery added lovely touches to perhaps the only virtuous character of the lot such as fussing over the decorum of her surroundings - carefully brushing dirt off the steps leading to the stage before sitting for example. She also has a stand out moment singing Pirate Jenny.

Fryer-Hornsby gets to show the greatest range, imbuing his Mack the Knife with an almost cavalier attitude that crumbles when the hangman's noose beckons. I wasn't as convinced about the character's reputation as a ladies man but there is charm here and he worked well with Jack Scott's Tiger Brown, especially during the Canon Song, a fun demonstration of male camaraderie. Scott plays the police chief with a sense of haplessness that I later learned was partly modelled on Inspector Lestrade from the BBC's Sherlock.

Then there's Roy Joseph who delivers the play's infamous Deus Ex Regina as I like to call it. The Queen herself, on her coronation day no less, ensures that crime does indeed pay. Joseph, following the constant breaking of the fourth wall throughout the production, plays up to the silliness of the reversal in a gloriously over-the-top declaration that had some of his fellow cast members struggling to hold back laughter. Nice assist from Mitchell Bourke with equine inspired antics. 

In all, a marvellous production that had me leaving the magical world of the spiegeltent behind with a smile humming what else but Mack The Knife.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

First Date: Broadway's Musical Comedy - Blak Yak Theatre (23 September 2017)

Director Lorna Mackie has a knack for bringing quirky, lesser known musicals such as 2014's The Great American Trailer Park Musical, 2015's Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, and last year's Bad Girls to Perth's community theatre stages. First Date fits comfortably into that tradition; a funny look at the pitfalls, embarrassments, and epiphanies of the blind date. Not only that, Blak Yak being a theatre company without a permanent home often comes up with interesting alternative venues for their shows. In this case the Shenton Park Community Centre which proved quite the intimate locale. As an aside, it was amusing to see a portrait of a much younger Queen Elizabeth II hanging high above the onstage antics. Perhaps Her Majesty would have approved and hankered for a burger.

Mackie also attracts the cream of Perth's community theatre performers with several here having lead role experience - Tom Hutton, Cassie Skinner, Helen Kerr, Therese Cruise, and reigning Finley Award Winner for Best Male Musical Performer Mitch Lawrence; the first four of whom were also in Bad Girls. Joining the cast were Arianne Westcott-King, James Hynson, and Jason Nettle.

In essence this is a two-hander - guy meets girl at a restaurant on a first date - that is surrounded by a colourful group of real and imagined characters. In some ways it felt like a musical version of 90's sitcom Herman's Head with a comic sensibility that reminded me of Spamalot (Aaron is Jewish, Casey is decidedly not) and there was even a little Avenue Q thrown in with an unexpected 'cameo'.

Hutton is the awkward BDV (blind date virgin) Aaron and Skinner's 'serial dater' Casey is all sass and confidence. On the surface. Over the course of drinks and a meal they get to learn more about each other with the help of the wait staff, reincarnations of mothers and grandmas, intrusions by imagined best friends, sisters, ex-lovers, and, in the modern age, technology itself.

This gives plenty of opportunity for the ensemble to shine in several funny set-pieces but the success of the production rests on the interaction between Aaron and Casey. In this I was impressed with the acting of both Hutton and Skinner who bounced off each other nicely, displayed good comic timing, and gave layers of doubt and vulnerability to their characters amongst the observational comedy and, at times, sheer shtick. Not to mention sporting credible American accents and the ability to freeze mid-ingestion of a pickle.

It's an odd musical in that the songs are liberally shared around with the two leads not often given prominence. Skinner does get a featured moment with the first act closer Safer which she belts out to great effect. The five piece band was nestled alongside one wall right next to the audience. Indeed I was about a metre or so from the keyboards in my second row seat. The sound balance, on the whole, was very good and I was delighted that the drums were suitably muted. Several musicals staged at venues without a pit have been cruelled by overpowering drum work.

The wireless microphones were occasionally problematic with Nettle suffering the most in this regard. The poor pickup often left him singing unamplified but he showed great composure (and style) in soldiering on. The intimate nature of the venue meant that nothing too much was lost though the rapid-fire lyrics were sometimes difficult to follow.

Of the supporting cast Mitch Lawrence was excellent as Aaron's best friend Gabe with faux indignation and 'bro advice' turned to high. Helen Kerr plays the ex that Aaron must get over with "I'm too good for you" insouciance though it's her appearance as Google - yes, the search engine itself - that cracked me up during a role call of social media in The World Wide Web is Forever.

James Hynson is a scene stealer as The Waiter (and accomplice for the guest cameo) with his I'd Order Love kicking off the second act in style. Arianne Westcott-King had a twinkle about her as Casey's hectoring sister Lauren and was light on her feet with a little tap for good measure. Therese Cruise adds colour as a drunk at the bar and as the Jewish Grandmother from Hell in the Pythonesque The Girl For You while Jason Nettle plays the over-the-top gay friend Reggie with swagger.

As I often find with comedy musicals there is always a more serious or tender song that stands out from the frivolity and here it's Hutton and Kerr (as Aaron's mother) singing The Things I Never Said which was a standout. Hutton also has a featured moment in the second act with In Love With You.

Mackie at the start of the show encouraged the audience to hoot and holler throughout and it's that kind of musical. Funny, over-the-top, but with some perceptive insights into the dating game and strong performances all round. A fun night.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Best Bits - WAAPA (17 September 2017)

Simply wow!

I haven't had as much fun in a theatre all year as I did with the graduating musical theatre students' final production before Showcase. I certainly haven't laughed as hard or as consistently at anything else, theatre or otherwise, for quite some time.

It is the usual custom for the graduating students to 'take the piss' out of their major 2nd and 3rd year productions during Best Bits. But this cohort has many gifted comic performers and as a collective they have impeccable timing and mischievous sense of humour. The send-ups of Rent, Heathers, 42nd Street, and Chicago were exceptional and there were even a few sly Bring It On references interspersed throughout the program. What is most impressive amongst the inspired satire is an understanding of the weaknesses in story or structure or character that is ripe for the picking.

It also reminds us of the many tremendous performances we've witnessed over the last two years. Most notably Kelsi Boyden in Rent; Monique Warren in Heathers; Mackenzie Dunn in 42 Street; and Boyden again with Jenna Curran in Chicago. Looking back it has been a strong slate of musicals with compelling female characters.

That's not to say the male students have been any less stellar as Finn Alexander (Today 4 U from Rent), Nick Errol (Freeze Your Brain from Heathers); and Luke Haberecht leading the charge in reminding us of the glorious tap dancing from 42 Street demonstrated.

This wasn't solely about making us laugh however. In a generous program that stretched over two hours there were plenty of opportunities for the students to show off their acting and singing skills. Dance, other than the tap from 42nd Street, wasn't as featured.

I liked that a lot of the songs had a lead-in requiring the performers to display their acting chops. The second half also included many more serious pieces to give a sense of emotional range. Indeed, it was an eclectic selection of songs from a remarkably varied smorgasbord of musicals. I was even teased with a snippet from Hamilton. Brief, all too brief!

The two standout moments in this section were -

A beautiful rendition of Falling Slowly from Once by David Cuny (also on guitar) and Monique Warren (on piano). Extra points for difficulty as Cuny dealt with an unexpected broken guitar strap mid-song; and

A powerhouse vocal performance by Cameron Steens of Dust and Ashes from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The company adding backing vocals from the upper walkway elevated this further.

But there were so many highlights. To name a few:

Luke Haberecht delivering the rapid-fire, tongue twisting lyrics of Cole Porter's Let's Not Talk About Love with aplomb.

The accent work of Meg McKibbin and Daisy Valerio in singing The History of Wrong Guys (Kinky Boots) and I Have Confidence (The Sound of Music) respectively.

Some inspired mania by Joshua White during The Brain from Young Frankenstein.

A deliciously phlegmy (not a term I hope to ever repeat!) If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof by Tom Gustard.

Benjamin Almon Colley bringing The Roundhouse Theatre to enthralled silence with Tomorrow Belongs To Me (Cabaret).

A lovely, authentic moment between Bailey Dunnage and Daisy Valerio as the former sang World Inside A Frame (Bridges of Madison County).

A couple of real character numbers written by Sondheim - Jenna Curran's scathingly delivered The Ladies Who Lunch (Company) and Mackenzie Dunn effortlessly handling the black humour of Worst Pies in London (Sweeney Todd).

During the show costumes and props, once they were used, were placed in large wicker baskets and suitcases. The symbolic packing up after three long years. Final bows were quite emotional but the applause was enthusiastic and well earned.

See you on the other side in a few months time on stages here, over east, and who knows, maybe throughout the world. As Alexander Hamilton would say... just you wait...