Take the cast of Les Miserables, half of whom are WAAPA graduates; their musical director Geoffrey Castles along with four other members of the orchestra; throw in a little star power with event patron Ben Elton; add the enthusiasm and organisational skills of Eponine herself (Kerrie Anne Greenland) and you end up with what can only be described as a spectacular fundraising concert at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre. The sheer magnitude of talent on display was breathtaking.
The number 30 was a significant one for the evening. WAAPA’s world renowned musical theatre course turns thirty this year and what a way to kick off yearlong celebrations by showcasing so many of their graduates. 2015 also marks the 30th anniversary of the original West End production of Les Miserables. Obviously the only sensible thing to do was to celebrate 30 years of musical theatre with a roster of thir--, um, 16 songs. (I suppose 30 songs was asking too much!)
The fundraising aspect involves WAAPA hosting the Musical Theatre Educator’s Alliance Conference in the middle of this year, the first time it has been held in the southern hemisphere. What with the launching of the Jackman-Furness Foundation last year and now this conference it’s an exciting time for the Academy.
To the show and we are greeted by our hosts Kerrie Anne Greenland, Lara Mulcahy, Rodney Dobson and Ben Hall with a rousing rendition of Live in Living Colour from Catch Me If You Can. The tone is set early with plenty of light-hearted banter, Mulcahy in particular proving adept at the witty one-liner and adroit comic timing. A post musical theatre career as a stand-up comedienne beckons!
There then followed a series of songs which was quite the eclectic mix with musicals as diverse as Phantom of the Opera to City of Angels, and Parade to Dr. Zhivago represented. What I loved though is that members of the ensemble were given equal opportunity to shine and you quickly come to realise the firepower a production like Les Miserables has. Every member of the cast is a fabulously gifted performer in their own right. The show as a whole was brilliant across the board but some of my highlights were:
Lisa Sontag and Matthew Heyward worked wonderfully well together in a funny performance of That Face from The Producers. This is given a reprise of sorts when Lara and Ben decide to interview them about what it’s like to be an understudy on Les Mis. Oh the jealousy you have to endure, Lara, the jealousy!
Mischana Dellora Cornish and Ben Hall crushed Rita’s Confession from The Lucky Stiff with Cornish especially impressive in a virtuoso performance.
While the ensemble cast members were relishing the spotlight Simon Gleeson and Hayden Tee reminded everyone why they are the headline stars of Les Mis (as Jean Valjean and Javert respectively) with a superb rendition of Lily’s Eyes from The Secret Garden. The power and control from both is simply first class.
Joshua Robson followed with a powerful Bui Doi from Miss Saigon backed by some eleven of his male colleagues. The massed voices made for a riveting aural experience.
Likewise, Chloe Zuel was supported by her female colleagues as she brought plenty of sass to a boisterous performance of Raise Your Voice from Sister Act.
Patrice Tipoki gave the penultimate performance with a stirring Defying Gravity from Wicked before Ben Elton was called onstage to share his thoughts about the importance of WAAPA in developing future generations of musical theatre stars.
It was therefore a treat to see the second and third year students onstage for the finale of One Day More. What was even better was when they moved to the front of the stage as if being anointed by their celebrated predecessors. The combined might of the Les Miserables cast plus some forty students singing the crowd pleasing song ensured a standing ovation as the show closed.
Some other thoughts:
The five piece orchestra was excellent. Well done to Geoffrey Castles (Piano), Laura Tipoki (Keyboard), Katherine Gillon (Keyboard), Anna Pokorny (Cello) and Bronton Ainsworth (Drums).
The humour and genuine camaraderie throughout the show elevated this to something quite special.
I am contractually obligated to mention (because I told her I would!) that Kerrie Anne Greenland gave a “Cher-like performance” with at least 6 costume changes on the night.
It was a delight to briefly talk to some of the performers afterwards including Kerrie Anne, the elegant Elisa Colla, and Simon Gleeson who simply can’t shake Javert forced to sing opposite him even in concert!
Likewise, it’s always a pleasure chatting to some of the WAAPA students whose year commenced today. What an inspiring and perhaps daunting experience tonight was for them. This is the bar they have their sights set on as they continue the extensive, world class training at the Academy.
This was a magical night and a timely reminder of the power of musical theatre at its very best to move and enthral us.