Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hairspray: The Broadway Musical - Mandurah Performing Arts Centre (17 November 2012)

What better than a pleasant drive on a Saturday afternoon to spend time with the nicest kids in town? Yes, The Corny Collins Show was broadcasting live from downtown Mandurah and my, what a turnout of talent it attracted! This was an exceptionally strong singing cast accompanied by a live band in fine form. But more of that - much more - later…

First, let’s set the scene. It’s 1962 in Baltimore and Omar Little is several decades away from picking up a shotgun in anger. Okay, my knowledge of Baltimore is a little sketchy, The Wire references aside. What we do know is that the presumptive villainess of the piece, Corny Collins Show producer, Velma Von Tussle (Natalie Burbage), isn’t down with the whole idea of racial integration. Her daughter Amber (Victoria Luxton) expects to follow the family tradition of entitlement and beauty queen status and is the featured talent along with resident heartthrob Link Larkin (Sam Chadwick). What to do then when overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad (Sam Ferguson) not only joins the show but has ideas of integrating dancers from ‘the other side of town’ including her friend Seaweed (Jason Arrow); stealing Link away from Amber; and usurping her Miss Teenage Hairspray status as well?!

Okay, the plot is as thin as a pancake left out on Kwinana Freeway during peak hour but it doesn’t matter one jot. The songs are terrific and it moves at a cracking pace. In fact it only slowed down whenever minor plot mechanics intruded especially towards the end of the first act as plans are formulated and early second act as they are (re)committed to. Other than these moments there are few dialogue heavy scenes which serve this well. This is a far more thematic piece which, at its heart, deals with the issue of racism in America at that time. It can be a little too overt and borderline preachy but I chose to see it as an outsider with a dream (Tracy) who, in striving to make that dream come true, creates a better reality for herself and those around her. An allegory for the Civil Rights movement, sure, but perhaps just as valuable for those who don’t “fit in” whatever the situation.

The vocal talent was outstanding across the board and even performers in smaller roles had an opportunity to shine. For example, in one number three performers reminiscent of The Supremes were singing backing vocals but let loose with individual bursts at the end that was jaw dropping. Natalie Burbage also gave us some vocal fireworks towards the end of Act One. So many other ‘big voices’ in the cast but special mention to Sam Ferguson who, at only 17, was very impressive in the lead role; Jason Arrow, who added a real soulful flourish to proceedings; and Ebonyelle Smith who had, in my view, the standout song, “I Know Where I’ve Been” which she hit out of the ballpark. Georgia McGivern as Penny also snuck up on me and her character perhaps went through the most significant arc.

Craig Griffen threatened to steal the show as Edna Turnblad and his set piece with Jack McKenzie (Wilbur Turnblad), “Timeless to Me”, was funny, sweet and endearing. I should mention there is a lot of humour in this, including some sly period references and innuendo that may have sailed over younger audience members but had me chuckling away happily. Natalie Burbage and Victoria Luxton were perfectly matched as mother and daughter and while Velma Von Tussle was perhaps more of an over-the-top villain, Luxton played Amber, the bitchy rival to Tracy, with the right mix of sassiness and disbelief (as events turn against her). Tate Bennett played the man himself, Corny Collins, with great charm and cockiness.

This was a big, colourful production and a live band added so much to proceedings. The costumes and choreography were fantastic and it has a cast of some 28 strong so my apologies for not mentioning them all! The only technical hiccup was a minor problem with one of the performer’s microphones towards the end but other than that it was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. I was also delighted to see a large turnout for a Saturday matinee. Such a big production comfortably inhabited the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre venue.

Lastly, two quick observations that I found quite charming – there was a young lad in front of me, maybe ten years old, who kept looking over his shoulder to try and see the “big board” the actors were “staring at” as the results of Miss Teenage Hairspray came in at the end. Loved that! And as I left a girl of maybe six was skipping through the lobby singing “you can’t stop the beat”. I’d say that is a job well done!

Congratulations to director Karen Francis and all the performers, crew and behind the scenes staff involved. A great show!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Jack the Ripper the Musical - Koorliny Arts Centre (14 July 2012)

It’s 1888 and prostitutes are being murdered by the notorious Jack the Ripper. The girls have to work to survive even though Whitechapel ain’t the saf'st place 'round no more. The men, good honest dockhands, are broke, waiting for a boat to come in while the police are confounded as the body count rises.

Fertile ground for a musical? This is, in fact, more rollicking music hall style with a healthy dash of vaudeville thrown in and it works an absolute treat. The piece itself acknowledges this with characters congregating in a music hall for regular set-pieces where everything from the Queen to all manner of authority figures are mocked.

Queen Victoria (Kate O’Sullivan) may indeed rule the realm, but the Queen Bee amongst the working girls is Marie Kelly (a luminous Victoria Luxton) who is the centre of attention for admiring customers and those who seek to ‘save’ her alike. She is flirty, feisty, tough and Luxton plays her with great confidence and has the standout singing voice with several featured songs. Marie’s main foil is Montague Druitt (Jack McKenzie) who seeks her out with Bible and seemingly good intentions in hand.

The story is actually quite thin but this didn’t trouble me as it explores the colourful world of Victorian London and the characters that populate it. The bawdy fun takes on darker tones as one after the other the working girls fall (unseen) to the Ripper’s blade. Indeed, Jack is a bit of a McGuffin for the majority of the piece until things are tied up late in the second act.

There are excellent songs delivered in rousing style by the full company in many instances; as well as some lovely quiet moments, especially “Good-bye Day” as ‘Marie and the girls’ mourn the death of Polly (Tarryn Bullock) and ‘Step Across The River’ as Marie and Lizzie (Kate O’Sullivan again) have a touching duet as Marie tries to leave her working girl life behind.

‘Rippers Going To Get You’ that closes the First Act was also a highlight as the lads warn Annie (Georgia McGivern) about the dangers of being alone at night; the ‘Policeman’s Chorus’ is hilarious vaudeville by ‘The Constables’ (in unexpected attire); and there is a fabulous set-piece skit where a plan is hatched to write a letter to dob in a troublesome character as the killer.

This is a big cast (20 listed in the programme and I apologise for not naming them all here) and the venue was beautifully set up with cabaret seating and a spacious stage with excellent set design. The costuming was as colourful as the characters and the singing was of a generally high standard.

I found this a thoroughly entertaining romp of a musical delivered with great humour and verve. For only $20 a ticket it is an absolute steal given the quality on show. So I would strongly recommend you get down to the Koorliny Arts Centre in Kwinana and enter the world of Jack, Marie and the denizens of Whitechapel while you still can.

Direction and Musical Direction: Cat Baxter

Choreography: Allen Blachford

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mine - Western Australian Youth Theatre Company (13 June 2012)

What an interestingly constructed and written play! A deliberately elliptical and obtuse first act with plenty of clues and double meanings but few if any answers as the audience is plunged into the same confusion and angst as the characters; followed by a complete change of tone in the second act that revels in being playful and comedic while slowly revealing the answers, indeed coming full circle to beautifully reprise the opening.

Special mention to Emily Cribb for delivering a brilliant, rapid-fire (almost) monologue at the opening of the second act that was cleverly written and playfully rendered.

I would love to read the text as there is a lot to chew on here. Well done one and all!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Slice of Saturday Night - Kelete Theatre Company (9 June 2012)

I had the pleasure of going to the opening of A Slice of Saturday Night at Ya Ya's in Northbridge on the weekend. This is a musical set in the Club A Go Go in 1964 where seven teenagers flirt and "navigate the rituals of teenage fashion, music, sexual mores and relationships" overseen by the owner Eric "Rubber-legs" De Vere.

It's flat out funny with excellent performances, great songs, and an off the charts energy level from the young cast. This is helped by the venue itself which is very intimate with the audience right up close to the action. There's even some impromptu audience participation (Eric likes to keep his club in good order!) and invitation to dance at one point. It was a great crowd that really was into the swing of things responding to the performers' infectious enthusiasm. And swing it does as a cheeky, vibrant, sixties mood is present throughout.

The performers were all suitably attired; the girls in short skirts with big hair and lashes; the guys all mod-Beatles wannabes. Indeed, a gentleman at my table who had seen The Cavern in Liverpool remarked that the space was remarkably similar.

The director Kelly Buckle makes full use of the venue with scenes taking place at the bar itself and characters congregating in the wings to chat, observe and give (singing) commentary on events happening on stage. There are also projected images of everything from The Beatles to Twiggy to really reinforce the iconic nature of the time period and sense of place. Even as you enter, the performers are in character and mingling with the audience which was a nice touch, cockney accents and all. Thank you 'Penny' for coming to sit and 'flirt' with me a little before the show!

Amongst the raucous plot of teenage boys looking to have some fun on a Saturday night and teenage girls looking for 'the right one' there is an underlying sweetness as well, particularly through the Rick and Sharon strand. Though that doesn't stop an hilarious pay-off to the bet that was set up right from the start that I will not spoil here! Suffice to say it had everyone howling with laughter.

This is good, fun entertainment with a cheeky nod and a wink back to a time full of great music, great fashion but still all about what do you do when you fancy someone on the other side of the bar on a Saturday night.

Directed by Kelly Buckle
Assistant Directed and Choreographed by Harriet Haddow
Lighting and sound by Ralph Southall


Eric 'Rubber Legs' DeVine - Ben Nguyen
Gary - Nate Dimmock
Eddie - Jackson Wimhurst
Rick - Jordan Willis
Bridgit - Marney Bon
Sue - Therese Cruise
Sharon - Victoria Luxton
Penny - Emily Caruso

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot - Upstart Theatre Company (6 June 2012)

Congratulations to director Patrick Downes; Desiree Crossing, Zalia Joi, Garreth Bradshaw, Braye Dial and the rest of the excellent cast of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot presented by Upstart Theatre Company.

What a play!!! Absurdist, darkly funny, bursting with ideas, pointed, subversive, dense and intricate dialogue, playful... challenging.

Three highlights (amongst many) - a powerhouse penultimate scene between Braye Dial as Judas Iscariot and Simon Thompson as Jesus; Kingsley Judd takes a beautifully written monologue at least 10 minutes long and hits it out of the ballpark; Desiree Crossing's character breaking down as she damns Satan as a liar.

Get along and catch it - highly recommended!