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...

Hit Parade: Defying Gravity Turns 30! - WAAPA's Defying Gravity & Guest Performers (16 September 2017)

Three words immediately spring to mind after witnessing a rousing matinee perfomance of the WAAPA percussion students, returning alumni, and special guests:

Inspiration. Joyous. Family.

The last was mentioned by two of the students - Nanna Faulkner and Pavan Hari - at the post show interview held by the Friends of the Academy.

It's clear this is a tightknit group by the way they interacted on stage and even listening to some of the banter in the interval. That extended to returning graduates Joshua Webster & Catherine Betts (the duo that performs under the moniker Kaboom Percussion), Marcus Perrozzi, and Ian Robbie who were all given raucous acknowledgements.

Then there's Tim White, the Head of Percussion at WAAPA, who shares genuine enthusiasm and passion for the music and his students. Faulkner admitted she has called him 'dad' more than once and it's not difficult to see why as White exudes such a genial nature.

The joy was equally evident - the zeal with which students, alumni, and guests alike performed was writ large on their faces. The big grins, the concentration, the relief, the shouts and hollers.

And what joyous music it is - from full on aural assaults of massed drumming to melodic original compositions to delicate reinterpretations of Bach on the marimba, the diversity was astonishing. Inspiration was what I felt as a result. The talent, eye-hand coordination, the creativity and invention, the timing and synchronisation. Amazing. 

Inspiration for all of us - students, staff, and audience - came by way of world renowned percussionist Kuniko Kato. She was clearly revered by the students after spending a fortnight giving master classes as part of the thirty year anniversary celebrations. The three pieces she performed - the multi-percussion Rebounds, the atmospheric Fratres inspired by the chanting of monks in ancient times, and the aforementioned Bach cello suites were mesmerising but all in completely different ways. The first was a robustly physical piece that became increasingly complex in its drumming patterns; Fratres was a multi-layered exercise in mood; and the combination of Bach and marimba demonstrated the sheer beauty of music.

Other highlights:

The smile of relief from graduating student Laura Harris and reception from her fellow students as Harris completed the first piece of the afternoon in style. She also showed great composure during Fratres when it seemed there was a technical malfunction and she changed to another vibraphone with minimal disruption.

The flourish with which Tom Robertson finished the jaunty Log Cabin Blues on xylophone which he crushed in a dazzling display.

You will never see a bigger grin than Pavan Hari's as his world premiere composition Dark Lotus was met with rapturous applause. His piece not only incorporated vibraphone and other percussion instruments but also cello and violin. Not content with that, two dancers complemented the beauty of the music with the beauty of the human body in motion.

Tim White giving the first head of percussion, Gary France, a warm hug after France led the perfomance of Bonham, an ode to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

When you not only hear music but you feel it - the sheer waves of sonic vibration during another world premiere - alumnus Marcus Perrozzi's Momentum on taiko drums; and the massed drumming of the whole company led by another alumnus Iain Robbie celebrating the rhythms and traditional sounds of Papua New Guinea and the south-west Pacific. The frenetic attack of the latter was punctuated by a snapped drum stick sailing over Robbie's shoulder.

A captivating and inspirational couple of hours followed by birthday cake in the lobby (it was yummy too!). Happy 30th anniversary Defying Gravity. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Radio Active - WAAPA (14 September 2017)

A terrific showcase for the vocal and musical talent amongst the now 200 strong cohort of contemporary music students. A fun time for the audience with an eclectic mix of songs from artists as varied as Toto to Beyonce. But an early highlight puts this all in context. Mia Matthiessen gave an excellent performance of the haunting Grandma's Hands by WAAPA alumna Meg Mac who is currently on a national tour with a hit album riding high in the iTunes charts. That's where the bar is set for these students - the possibility, one day, of a recording contract, album sales, hit singles, national tours and beyond. Heady stuff.

The musicianship of the band with rotating members was excellent. The vocal talent of the singers was uniformly outstanding. The stagecraft and how to work an audience, for many, is still a work in progress though there were a couple of natural performers in Zain Awan and Nicholette Chew. We also gained a brief insight into the personality of and inspiration for many of the singers as they introduced songs by their colleagues.

The first set was dominated by female vocalists with the second half leaning a little more to the male singers. Both sets were very good and I should mention the other students who make a night like this work - sound and lighting design, stage management, and the oft unsung arts managment front of house.

My other highlights:

Beyonce's Halo by the remarkable Ritchell Lim with backing vocals by the WAAPA Gospel Choir.

A blistering rendition of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River by Zain Awan, both vocally and in sheer style.

A moving version of Sia's Chandelier by Lani Melrose who proved a crowd favourite with a down to earth enthusiasm for her craft and the evening.

The band rocked out to Detroit with Cameron Hayes prominent on lead guitar.

Katie Reid presented an extraordinary arrangement of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill using her voice to lay down and layer a live 'backing track' of increasing complexity.

James MacCallum flashed rock star credentials with Allen Stone's Satisfaction, again with the band kicking into full on rock mode.

Nicholette Chew brought the pizazz and the pipes for Beyonce's Daddy's Lessons.

Radio Active is a rare synthesis of audience and performers' enjoyment and is a great couple of hours to spend with possibly tomorrow's stars, standards from the past, and hits from the present.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Choice Cuts - WAAPA (9 September 2017)

A greatest hits 2015-2017 megamix to help raise money for the upcoming showcases and to celebrate three years of studies coming to an end.

In that spirit of learning here's what I gleaned from this hour long revue...

In what surely will become the industry standard, Martin Quinn's pre-show announcement to the audience did more than merely remind me to check my landline, but filled me with confidence that in case of an emergency ECU's multitude of physicians would save me.

Quinn later explained, whilst disguised as a Noel Coward character, the latest state of the art theory in how to write a play. Apparently it involves a basket, a river, and a 7 day wait. Revolutionary.

Corpsing is a skill best taught in a safe, supportive environment such as The Roundhouse Theatre. Mitchell Bourke, Roy Joseph, and Katherine Pearson excelled under extreme provocation; baskets, hats, melodies and all.

If you're not doing Shakespeare with rap are you even doing Shakespeare at all?

Why hand someone a business card when you can surprise them with a hat instead as Jack Scott so ably demonstrated.

One cannot truly experience their first kiss without a little one hit wonder pop embellishment. Even if you're a doomed Jewish girl.

Stephen King has it all wrong. Clowns aren't scary at all. Unless you get dragged onstage pre-show and asked if you have a "tight 5 minutes".

The lyrics of Mack the Knife, suitably altered, prove a fitting send off for this graduating class. Until, you know, their last show in October, The Threepenny Opera.

This was a fun, breezy, hour long restrospective and the chemistry of this group is very strong. It's a really good graduating class.

It was also witnessed by, unless I'm mistaken, Perth girl Katherine Langford who might have ended up on this very stage if not for successfully auditioning for the show that has made her a star, 13 Reasons Why.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Momentum - WAAPA (29 August 2017)

The unexpected gem. There's at least one every year. A show you maybe don't know much about and have little or no expectaton for that turns out to be a theatrical treat. Momentum, a self devised piece by the 2nd year actors under the tutelage of visiting director Andy Paris, is such a production.

Based in the Moment Work technique this is the presentation of a collection of stories using movement, dance, lighting, props, costuming, audio and multi-media elements, utilising the whole of the Enright Studio space to support and enhance the text. These are the stories of the actors themselves, drawn from or inspired by their own personal experiences.

In its shape and construction Momentum is reminiscent of Love and Information, currently being performed by the 3rd years. However, there is an emotional authenticity and rawness here that is compelling in its honesty. The whole troupe have shared insights into pivotal moments in their lives and it's this vulnerability and generosity that makes Momentum a remarkable work.

Not so much Love and Information as Memory and Fears. Parents feature heavily in these memories, a combination of the traumatic, touching, and insightful. Fears are portrayed in relationships with parents, friends and possible lovers as well as touching on anxiety, bullying, suicide, domestic violence, identity, religion, and sexuality. That may sound 'heavy' but the creativity in the staging and the universal themes explored resonant deeply and keep this totally engaging.

There are also moments of humour including an hilarious 'guest star' appearance by Bobby De Niro himself and a little slapstick here and there.

Music is supplied by the divinely voiced Mia Morrissey on guitar as well as, wait for it, Duran Duran whose Hungry Like the Wolf I never thought I'd hear in a WAAPA production! Jessie Lancaster adds vocal support towards the end showcasing another fine voice.

This truly is an ensemble piece however I'd also like to recognise Teresa Moore's distinctive dancing throughout; Cameron Rouse's opening monologue that sets everything up and gives the actors 'permission' to own their stories and for the audience to embrace them; and the work of Sam Corlett who attacked his story about masculinity with complete fierceness.

The intimacy of the black box Enright Studio is perfect for this type of production and I'd highly recommend attending one of the last two nights this week.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 28 August 2017

Chicago - WAAPA (28 August 2017)

By scheduling a bona fide musical blockbuster in the last slot of 2017, WAAPA has eschewed the choice of lesser known productions over the last few years (The Beautiful Game, Carrie, Merrily We Roll Along). The results are surprisingly uneven.

Make no mistake, the songs and score are first rate and I was heartened to see a 15 piece orchestra under the baton of David King that played well. Special mention to the trumpet players Jack Sirett and either Matthew Smith or Benn Hodgkin.

The characterisation and staging though were very vaudevillian. This is not a slinky, sexy production by any means, more a heightened satirical romp that left me oddly disconnected from the material.

The opening number All That Jazz was strangely lifeless and Cell Block Tango suffered mightily with the over-exaggerated portrayal of the Merry Mistresses of Murderess' Row.

The show did settle into a strong sequence of scenes/numbers from A Little Bit of Good to We Both Reached For The Gun to Roxie and the second half was much more convincing particularly with the trial sequence.

Director Crispin Taylor and guest Choreographer Michael Ralph made Jenna Curran work her backside off as Velma Kelly in a physically demanding performance. Kelsi Boyden, an always expressive performer, impressed as Roxie and Laura Jackson also caught the eye as Mama Morton. I didn't quite get the pathos of Amos from Finn Alexander though, again, he was mainly played for laughs.

David Cuny was suitably slick as Billy Flynn but the choice of a boxing themed introduction to the character jarred. Tom Gustard stole the show with the Mary Sunshine number A Little Bit of Good. Nick Errol makes the most of his cameo as Fred Casely in great style.

A colourful confectionery that had its moments but needed a more hard-boiled edge to truly convince.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Love and Information - WAAPA (26 August 2017)

The first time I saw a production of this play - a series of rapid fire vignettes over 90 minutes - I described it as a Showcase on Speed. That was last year with a new collection of performers at Curtin University. This time it is with the graduating class at WAAPA. My opinion has not changed.

The difference, however, is that I have seen this troupe of actors for the better part of two years over a half dozen or so productions.

The play itself keeps me at arm's length - I have no empathy or connection with any of the dozen upon dozens of characters as there is no narrative, no arcs, no backstory, no connective tissue, only a fleeting glimpse at a series of circumstances, the context of which is illuminated on the set. From that standpoint it is purely an intellectual exercise with the (tenuous) link between all these moments being thematic in nature.

What is interesting though is that my empathy and emotional connection is with the actors themselves. They are given a myriad of different roles and scenarios to play, some seconds long, some a decent length scene. It demands a range of emotions and is a nice acting challenge. To see these students now on the cusp of professional careers rise to that challenge is the true pleasure of this play. In effect it IS a precursor to the end of year Showcases that will catapult them into the next stage of their acting journeys.

The other hook is in the execution. Associate Professor Andrew Lewis directs this with the same multi-layered approach as he attacked 2015's Macbeth. There are two musicians perched in each upper corner of The Roundhouse adding live music, recorded tracks, and aural effects; there are projections of scene titles and images on the set; and that set itself is a clever two level construction with compartments and scrim covered openings that allow for all types of creative configurations buttressed by the lighting design. Lewis is also very good at using the whole thrust stage space at the venue.

It all comes to what feels like an arbitrary stop as the play is unconnected to normal structures and story-telling rhythms. However, it was satisfying to see this group together all smiles at the conclusion. The two standouts in the Saturday matinee for mine were Audrey Blyde and Sasha Simon. Many a fine singing voice was also on display which bodes well for The Threepenny Opera in October.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 21 August 2017

Switzerland - Black Swan State Theatre Company (21 August 2017)

An emissary from a New York publishing house (Giuseppe Rotondella) is dispatched to Switzerland to convince reclusive crime novelist Patricia Highsmith (Jenny Davis) of The Talented Mr. Ripley fame to sign a new contract.

A bold move to stage a two-hander at an hour forty five minutes with no intermission in the Heath Ledger. The massive stage space was wisely reduced with a monolithic bunker design that sloped upwards from (audience) left to right which I took to hint at the title's terrain but mainly gave a visual indication of the power dynamics at play. This was consistent early with Davis always 'above' Rotondella as befitted their comparative status (and the distance between them also seemed calculated) but that spacing lost its discipline later in the play with the first 'crossing' of less impact than one might have thought.

The decorated Davis is suitably caustic as Highsmith and newcomer Rotondella is all wayward gestures as the callow intruder into her literal bunker-like mentality. But those default positions for a play that talks about and explores, amongst other things, transformation felt too rigid for too long.

More interesting were moments of contrast - seeing Highsmith unexpectedly enjoy 'show tunes' and especially become immersed in moments of introspection. Likewise, Rotondella comes to the fore in the latter stages when his character takes on a stronger, more confident tone and the power dynamic is altered.

Those transformations needed to be sharper and the timing in only the second preview felt off. That should shake itself out over the run with the back and forth becoming crisper and the shifts more clearly delineated.

There were moments you could see where the play will really hum - the delight Davis gives Highsmith when she deduces Edward Ridgeway's background; the two of them plotting the next Ripley novel; and the interaction in the final act.

As a writer I also enjoyed observations and commentary on the process of writing and the relationship between an author and the world and characters they create.

At this stage the play didn't quite fire on all cylinders for mine but that's what previews are for and once this finds its rhythm and with the talent involved will be a tidy two-hander with an appropriate denouement.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

An Almost Perfect Thing - The Blue Room Theatre & Gabrielle Metcalf (16 August 2017)

An exceptional script performed with precision and emotional depth by a stellar cast of Daisy Coyle, Nick Maclaine, and Andrew Hale.

The tale of a young woman newly escaped from being held captive for 7 years, her captor, and the journalist who brings her story to light told in two separate timeframes that overlap and mirror each other in execution, theme, and consequence.

Three damaged souls seeking control, recognition, and love in ways that are not so dissimiliar in a psychologically astute script that is engrossing.

An unusual running time at 100 minutes for a play at the Blue Room (with a brief intermission) but worth the experience as the acting is first rate and the material complex and dramatically rewarding.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Friday, 21 July 2017

Coma Land - Black Swan State Theatre Company & Performing Lines WA (20 July 2017)

There is no doubt that local playwright (and director here) Will O'Mahony is a pre-eminent talent when it comes to crafting dialogue that dazzles, is fast-paced, dense and thoroughly entertaining. He loves having his actors deliver rat-a-tat barrages of facts and figures at high speed and his style favours repetition of key phrases and lists, point/counterpoint, as well as sly word play.

It is undeniably evident that O'Mahony loves words and language. What a gift that is for both his performers and the audience (though getting the rhythms and pace right must place all sorts of demands on the former).

Accompanying the sizzle is a sizeable 'chunk of gravity' though of the dramatic not physics kind. His plays explore interesting themes in an intriguing way, usually with a bitter-sweet emotional core. He has certainly served his 10,000 hour apprenticeship in mastering his writing gift.

The cast embrace the material - an exploration of loss, letting go, chasing perfection, and the expectations of parents and their children - within the framework of characters inhabiting this fantastical space while in a coma.

Morgan Owen is excellent playing a quintessential O'Mahony character in Penguin and generally handles the machine gun dialogue well. Working out the pauses for laughs will come with further performances. O'Mahony also knows when to slow down the verbal assault which emphasises the lovely contrasts as Owen modulates her delivery in volume, tone, and speed depending on dramatic or comedic beats.

Experienced comedian Ben Sutton adds brilliant timing and off-beat delivery to his unexpected character... as a panda. Yet it is the most off the wall character that delivers telling insight as revelations and epiphanies are made.

Kirsty Marillier's matter-of-fact delivery for the lamplighter character of Boon works well and she has a couple of notable scenes with Humphrey Bower who plays Penguin's Dad with paternal concern tinged with sadness.

Amy Mathews adds exuberance as Jinny, another coma patient who acts as almost a mediator between several of the other characters.

There was only one slight miss-step for mine - a cathartic emotional moment which is beautifully conveyed by Bower is drowned in a swell of unnecessary music. It jarred as the sound design for the rest of the play was far less intrusive.

The writing and the acting is top notch in an unexpected tale which is emotionally and thematically rich. I enjoyed it very much.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

42nd Street - WAAPA (20 June 2017)

Forty specks of dust on a stage. 

Twenty graduating students; another twenty who will be in their place the exact same time next year.

Yes, when "you put all those specks of dust together... you have something alive and beautiful that can reach out to thousands of people..."

And so it proves in this spectacular mid-year production at the Regal Theatre.

There is perhaps nothing more exhilarating at the theatre than witnessing a mass tapdancing routine. I confess I'm sucker for it and here you don't get one, or two, or three, you get several tightly choreographed explosions of movement, colour and straight up, unabashed enthusiasm. It's a joy to watch. Plus this - you will rarely see that number of performers together on stage at the one time outside of this combined flexing of WAAPA's MT muscles.

"...who cares if there's a plot or not when they've got a lot of dames!"

Sure, the plot even with the 'play within a play' structure is hardly groundbreaking and follows a well trodden path. But who cares? Every set piece is exquisitely staged and performed so the skeleton on which it all hangs is, certainly for me, of secondary concern.

"...you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!"

It's perhaps not so difficult to draw parallels in this statement between the fictional character Peggy Sawyer and the performer who plays her, Mackenzie Dunn. Dunn displays true triple threat talent - singing, dancing, and acting - and like Peggy is destined to have a big future. The other standout for me was Lucy Ross as the bitchy, aging star Dorothy Brock who will be usurped by Peggy. Ross sings exquisitely and is all swagger and attitude to burn.

Others to impress - Tom New as irrepressible Billy Lawlor; Joshua White as the demanding Julian Marsh; Laura Jackson as Maggie Jones; Kelsi Boyden who brings the charisma with her Ann Reilly; the sharp dancing of Luke Haberecht as Andy; and a lanky comic performance by Ben Colley as Bert.

But then everyone is excellent and the dancing is fabulous as is the orchestra.

When I left the theatre there were a couple of teenage girls tapping on the footpath. If I wasn't already smiling that just capped the evening off.

If you don't leave the Regal grinning from ear to ear after this show seek medical attention. Immediately. I'm serious. Go to nearest medical facility NOW.

Highly recommended though I expect tickets will be extremely difficult to get.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 19 June 2017

Petits Fours - WAAPA (19 June 2017)

An eclectic quartet of bite-sized theatrical treats ranging from political satire (The Election) to an exploration of film set dynamics (Remarkable), amusing canine empowerment (The Emancipation of Alice Paws) and lastly, arthouse portrait of a hedonistic artist (Self Portrait, Masturbating).

All written by local playwrights, in order, Finn O'Branagain, Gita Bezard, Chris Isaacs, and Hellie Turner and directed by Julia Jarel, Nicole Stinton, Trudy Dunn, and Susie Conte respectively.

My pick was Remarkable which started off as a pisstake of the egos one might find on a film set (of a hilariously poorly written script) but turned into a most interesting commentary on the depiction of sex, nudity and violence and, critically, the ways male filmmakers pressure actresses into doing their bidding for less than altruistic motives. A fascinating angle emerged around who was portrayed as complicit in this. Unsettling and perceptive.

Performances were uniformly strong throughout all four plays but my picks from each - Lily Stewart as the kinetic emcee of The Election; William Bartolo as the writer-director in Remarkable whose character initially seemed innocuous/pompous enough until darker motivations emerged; Shannon Ryan in a fine physical performance as the mouthy pooch in The Emancipation of Alice Paws; and Thomas Jackson as the outraged and conflicted Oskar in Self Portrait, Masturbating.

Good to see so many of the 3rd year MT students in the audience on their night off from 42nd Street supporting their acting colleagues. 

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Present Laughter - WAAPA (17 June 2017)

I had a great time with this Noel Coward comedy - witty and elegant this featured a handsome set, was stylishly costumed, briskly paced, with many wonderful performances by the third years.

Foremost was Martin Quinn as Garry Essendine with the trio of Natasha Vickery, Rhianna McCourt, and Laura McDonald all excellent.

Sasha Simon and Mitchell Bourke give notable support; the latter exhibiting the physical comedy and mannerisms of a young John Cleese.

The Q&A afterwards featuring Quinn, Vickery, Set Designer Kelly Fregon, and Stage Manager Radek Rubinski gave insight into the construction of the play both from a performance and technical perspective.

A classy production all round.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Sally Burton Awards (6 June 2017)

An entertaining evening of Shakespearean delights as the graduating acting class vied for the two $2000 awards courtesy of Sally Burton, widow of the legendary Richard Burton.

Stephanie Somerville (as Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part 3) and Mitchell Bourke (as the eponymous king from Richard II) were deserving winners and the standard was high across the board including an inspired excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

If there was, implausibly, any lingering doubt about the talent pool at WAAPA the "light entertainment" provided by 2nd year actors Mia Morrissey and Adam Marks surely dispelled that with an exclamation point.

Morrissey blew the doors off The Roundhouse Theatre showcasing a superb singing voice that gave the audience collective chills in a holy ****! kind of moment.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Life is a Cabaret! - WAAPA (3 June 2017)

45 (classical voice) students accompanied by David Wickham on keys with many among their number also providing musical accompaniment from guitar to accordion, clarinet to banjo. Marshaled by director and accomplished WAAPA graduate Brendan Hanson who kept a watchful eye on proceedings at the rear of the sun-drenched Edith Spiegeltent.

The students and even Hanson himself were colourfully attired as denizens of their 'Cabaret Carnivale'. Jugglers, a gorilla, stilt walker, belly dancer, ladies of the night, men in drag, women in body hugging splendour.

Above all, glorious voices especially when the whole company was deployed to stunning effect in the intimate space.

This was playful, at times a little sexy, satirical, and, especially after the interval, raucous and jaunty.

The highlight for mine came after biting satirical commentary on the Trump-Putin bromance with a stunning version of Sting's 'Russians' with full choral accompaniment and two ballet dancers adding a touch of class. The contrast in tone was unexpected and sobering.

Hanson added a highlight of his own with a rendition of 'Port of Amsterdam' and the finale left the audience with a note of hope before we exited the magical Edith and re-entered the world where Trump serenading Putin is unfortunately all too real.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me - Irish Theatre Players (27 May 2017)

A fascinating psychological profile of three diverse characters kept hostage chained to the floor in a room in Lebanon. The grimness of the circumstances is leavened by humour (some admittedly quite dark) and creative ways to alleviate the boredom and fear they experience.

I also found the production interesting in terms of different acting styles. Paul Davey and Manuao TaAotonga, both excellent, gave naturalistic performances that drew me into the claustrophobic world in the opening sequence. Grant Malcolm, however, delivered a very theatrical turn that wrenched me out of that world and jarred with the other two for mine.

Quite long with the second half not having the same visceral impact after a change in the character dynamics.

As always, the Irish Club puts on a good spread at interval.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Lighthouse Girl - Black Swan State Theatre Company (4 May 2017)

Playwright Hellie Turner revisits familiar territory after 2015's WAYTCo commissioned production of The Dreaming Hill for the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Daisy Coyle played a nurse in that production and has since appeared as the lead in another of Turner's plays, last year's explosive Project Xan and now as Fay Howe in The Lighthouse Girl.

She is terrific here in a dual coming of age story - that of the eponymous character and of Australia itself as innocence gives way to the 'baptism of fire' on the shores of Gallipoli and the harsh realities of war writ both large and personal.

Just as in Project Xan, Coyle projects a radiant innocence and decency that is compelling. Clearly, writer and actor have gelled creatively and it will be interesting to see what may come in future endeavours.

Coyle is joined by a crack cast of newcomers and stage veterans. The play itself feels very much a throwback to old-fashioned storytelling with its own guileless charms. We know what awaits the troops steaming off to war and portents of doom are therefore flickering beats instead of heavy-handed assaults.

The characters represent aspects of the Australia of its day. Coyle and Murray Dowsett (as the gammy legged Joe Taylor) are innocence personified, the latter with a good willed Ocker sense of humour but with a touch of wisdom as befits the older pre-war generation.

Giuseppe Rotondella and Will McNeill are the larrikin spirit of the young country; two outback tearaways off to see the world and chase adventure as they sign up for war. Their chemistry is excellent, forged over the last three years together at WAAPA.

Then there's Benj D'Addario as the widowed father of Fay and Alex Malone, the older sister of McNeill's Jim Finch. They serve important functions as the voices of concern and reason (in the former's case from hard won experience) which grounds the other two strands.

The ending is well executed as 'growing pains' turn to inevitable tragedy but mostly this is a gentle and good-natured tale driven by an immensely likable central performance.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Megan Washington & WAAPA Jazz Students (6 April 2017)

Before we begin we need to clarify a few things.

1) This was not a gig. This was not a recital. This was a CONCERT. We, the audience, were therefore 'concertgoers' and Megan and the students were 'concert performers'. I thought she explained this very concisely.

2) The aforementioned concertgoers, by overwhelming acclamation, were deemed by Megan to be... "lovely". And so we were. We didn't chat during songs or anything!

3) Not being familiar with the two time ARIA winning singer-songwriter - I'm past the age where I know what an ARIA is let alone who wins them - I discovered over the course of the night that she is a major talent with a fabulous, distinctive voice, engaging stage presence, and a knack for writing songs with smart lyrics and surprising origins (I learnt more about the mating habits of gorillas than I perhaps might have expected). She also wields a mean set of hands on the piano.

4) I further discovered she has a sly sense of humour. Yes, I was "that guy" in the front row. What can I say, you made me laugh. You're welcome!

All this, along with the talented jazz students, instrumentally and vocally, added up to an excellent evening of jazz standards and original songs.

I very much liked that there were different combinations used throughout the roster of 15 songs - a big band combo; a vocal ensemble; two separate band ensembles; and her solo moments on piano. Megan allowed us to see a vibrant personality with that sense of humour, off-beat stories about the creation of a couple of songs, and even a joke to stretch for an instrument change. She is a very expressive performer with physical movement and hands aflutter in Cocker-esque style passion.

Highlights included a stunning acapella rendition of Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek; the first solo number Skeleton Key; and first half closer Fisherman's Daughter with Michael Ellis again impressing on guitar after last month's Bebop. The set following the interval took things up another notch with a most unusual ballad; her original composition How to Tame Lions with the Vocal Ensemble adding real oomph; and a smashing Valerie as the vocals soared and Ensemble 2 cranked up the beat with Chris Musitano featuring on trumpet.

As Megan herself remarked, she only arrived in Perth on Monday and to have such excellent musical backing in that short a time frame and from students no less speaks volumes to their talent. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Lord of the Flies - WAAPA (21 March 2017)

Straight off the bat, this is the most ambitious public debut production I have seen for a 2nd year MT class in the past four years. The first slot is always a play but usually incorporates song and dance in one form or another. Apart from some rudimentary choreography this is an unvarnished acting challenge dealing with a classic tale. Further complicated by the fact that the cast alternates each night after interval!

For the first half I saw the 10 member female cast and then 9 of the 10 male students after the break. Those familiar with the novel/tale will know which character is missing.

I can appreciate the experimental nature and the fact we get to see almost the entire group in one sitting. But it comes at a cost given the demands being made here.

Before we get to that, the design elements are strong from lighting and sound to the multi-level set that is made up of various elements such as compacted suitcases, parachute, sails, netting, airplane tyres and a couple of easter eggs for the keen of eye. Thank you Production Manager Dames Long for the brief inspection after the show. There is a reveal that is well disguised then executed and the ubiquitous pig's head is a substantial prop along with the other iconic item, the conch shell.

To the performances and this is where the MT students are stretched. I can recall either at an Open Day or WAAPA Tour seeing first year acting students doing an exercise where they played young children and then old people. This is how the opening sequences felt and well into the first half with over-exaggerated movement and voices, compounded by the female students playing young teenage males. It felt like an extended acting exercise.

This settled down after the killing of the pig when the plot takes on more serious undertones. Alessandra Tonkich increasingly comes to the fore as Jack upping the confrontational nature of the character. Imogen Howe and Stacey Thomsett also provide grunt as members of Jack's army of hunters.

Crystal Haig's performance of Piggy almost felt like she was channeling Matt Lucas and this muddled the tone for me coming across as caricature. Alexandra Cornish was a preppy and very English Ralph and I liked Prudence Daniel's and Emma Bradley's stillness as Simon and Percival respectively. Daniel didn't quite nail the difficult dual nature of her character, however, on confronting the 'Lord of the Flies'.

The second half is much shorter and it's fascinating to see the changeover to the male students who automatically and inevitably bring a more robust physical presence as matters spiral out of control and into open conflict. It would be fascinating to see how they handle the 'innocence' of the opening 'chapters' (I was ambivalent about the projection of chapter numbers and titles onto one of the sails). Andrew Coshan made an immediate impact as a striking Jack and Jarrod Griffiths fared better as Piggy.

The play ends with what felt like another acting exercise as the male students, their characters confronted by the enormity of what has occured, break down and start to weep. It's gutsy to hold on them for so long standing there slowing disintegrating before our eyes but then that's the point.

This production asked a hell of a lot of its cast and while the results were varied the sink or swim approach should serve them well in terms of the acting leg of their triple threat training.


*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 20 March 2017

Heathers The Musical - WAAPA (20 March 2017)


WAAPA is at its most adventurous in recent years with the choice of production in the first slot of the graduating MT class. Heathers proves to be no exception. Based on the bitingly satirical 1988 cult movie that starred Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty, this captures the over-the-top tone perfectly while retaining the wry observations about teenage suicide, bullying, and depression with what was, at the time, almost a prescient foreshadowing of school massacres.

It's dark subject matter but the surface level presentation is infectious rock music with subversive lyrics; a riot of colour in staging, lighting, costuming, and rear screen projections; and exuberant choreography befitting the age of its characters. It's a fun show with energy and black humour to burn.

Monique Warren gives a star turn in the role made famous by Ryder. She sings superbly, looks fantastic, and I was impressed by her acting throughout. It is an eye-catching performance. Nick Errol is the square-jawed nemesis who nicely plays the arc from cool outsider to something far more deadly. His Our Love is God is a highlight.

Jenna Curran makes her mark as the Queen Biatch and ruling Heather until misfortune strikes. It's a delightfully venomous portrayal. The other two Heathers are played with swagger and style by Daisy Valerio who has a standout moment with the aching Lifeboat while Meg McKibbin assumes the red scrunchie of supreme bitchiness as the body count mounts.

Other highlights:

David Cuny's and Tom Gustard's hilarious Blue; Laura Jackson's beautiful solo Kindergarten Boyfriend; Cameron Steens' and Benjamin Colley's boisterous My Dead Gay Son; and Mackenzie Dunn cutting loose as Ms Fleming in Shine A Light.

As always, David King marshalls a fine orchestra in what is a cracking rock score and no less than Andrew Lewis himself directs this with great pace and playfulness.

A wildly entertaining start to this cohort's final year.


*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Blind Giant is Dancing - WAAPA (18 March 2017)


Hail and well met second year acting students! I look forward to getting to know your work invidually and as a collective over the next two years.

Your inaugural public performance in the newly refurbished Roundhouse Theatre accompanied by a welcoming 80's Greatest Hits soundtrack (it's been a while since I've heard a song by Kajagoogoo... actually, did they record more than one?) was certainly ambitious. A tale of the disintegration of a man, dressed up as a political drama; the disintegration of a marriage; and the disintegration of a family.

That all three strands swirled around the one character meant that Adam Marks who played Allen Fitzgerald had an enormous workload and acquitted himself well.

Here's the thing though. I simpy didn't like Stephen Sewell's writing. Characters felt more like positions than organic people; the political shenanigans were confusing with a late plot twist that was implausible; the dialogue was overly florid and didactic; and the interpersonal relationships verged into melodrama and didn't feel credible.

The play, at over two and a half hours, was also very long with those three strands only briefly intersecting to add any sort of dramatic heft. There were a lot of philosophical musings about love, religion, truth and freedom all coloured through a political lens that was hardly subtle.

Having said that, alongside Marks, I liked the work of Lily Stewart who played Fitzgerald's wife and was saddled with a lot of the clumsiest dialogue. The role demanded a range of emotions and while early scenes were a little awkward she handled herself with increasing confidence.

Others to impress were Michael Cameron as the main political antagonist; Jimi Rankin's initial scene played with scene chewing relish; Luke Smith's Ramon, Chile accent and all, though having the most socialist character be a Chilean exile was symptomatic of the overt nature of the piece; and Jarryd Dobson came into his own in the second half as the younger Fitzgerald brother. Thomas Jackson and Jessie Lancaster had their moments as the Fitzgerald parents.

The set was cleverly constructed with several compartments and sliding panels and it was a stylishly costumed show, the men's suits in particular.

It was an interesting introduction to this class who showed plenty of promise but ultimately the play didn't resonate for me.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Bebop - Jamie Oehlers and the WAAPA Jazz Students (16 March 2017)

What a way to commence WAAPA's 2017 performance season with the very first public show in the glorious Edith Spiegeltent now on the ECU Mount Lawley campus after its stint as home to La Soiree during Fringe. It is a venue that is fast becoming one of my favourites with an old world charm that is unique in Perth. 

Add a night of bebop jazz by two talented ensembles of students, a cider from the bar to be enjoyed during the show (a first), and good acoustics from my 4th row seat and this was an enjoyable start to the year.

Standouts from Set 1 were Chris Musitano on trumpet and Malachi George on guitar with the highlight being Lover Man, sung by Reece Clark with smooth as 60 year old Scotch style.

Set 2 gave that song a run for its money as the "quintessential bebop tune" with Thelonius Monk's 'Round Midnight featuring Daniel Khaimov on alto saxophone though the latin flavoured Barbados was the highlight for mine. Standouts were Adriane Galante on clarinet and 18 year old Michael Ellis on guitar.

But everyone played well with plenty of solos and engaging introductions by Oehlers and Galante as respective 'emcees' for their sets.

There are far worse things to be doing on a Thursday night than sitting in a venue with atmosphere and history to burn listening to a distinctive style of jazz, drink in hand, marvelling at the talent of the students and that 'old guy' Jamie Oehlers, Senior Lecturer and a mean sax player in his own right.


*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Chicago - Koorliny Arts Centre (18 February 2017)

It's fair to say Kander & Ebb's classic is one of my favourite musicals - great songs, great music, sexy, slinky and sassy with that other musical theatre giant Bob Fosse adding his unmistakable stamp.

It's a pleasure to report then that today's sold out matinee was a real treat and a fine start to Koorliny's community theatre season.

Now, despite, ahem, entreatments to get me back in the reviewing game, let me instead nominate some of my many highlights...

The orchestra added the sass and swagger and I was particularly impressed with elements you don't usually hear such as banjo and accordion. Props to Emily Gelineau on violin and a cracking brass section.

Elethea Sartorelli was excellent as Velma Kelly with two standout sequences in I Can't Do It Alone and When Velma Takes The Stand.

Helen Kerr came into her own vocally with My Own Best Friend and was the linchpin in several memorable sequences, particularly We Both Reached For The Gun and Me and My Baby.

Jon Lambert was a most sympathetic Amos giving the character's signature song Mister Cellophane impressive pathos.

David Wallace made for a slick and laid-back Billy Flynn with Razzle Dazzle another well staged sequence courtesy of choreographer Allen Blachford's work which was exemplary throughout.

Callan Kneale threatened to steal the show as Mary Sunshine and both Tate Bennett and Ruth Bennett caught the eye in various roles.

Finally, a highlight for followers of community theatre - Sartorelli and Rachel Monamy (a ballsy Mama Morton) - both recent Finley Award winners, sang the hell out of the duet Class.

Funny, sexy, with a roster of great songs the few remaining seats for next weekend will not last long.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Friday, 17 February 2017

Top Five Shows - Fringe World 2017

That's me done for Fringe for another year. A relaxed and entertaining run of 17 shows that I enjoyed very much. Thank you to all the performers, musicians, and the raft of people behind the scenes making it all work so smoothly.

Now, as anyone who follows me knows, I like a good list so here are my Top 5 shows and some notable contributors...

1. LA SOIREE - Led by Captain Frodo and The English Gents with a plethora of superhuman individuals this is like The Avengers of Fringe shows.

2. THE ONE BY JEFFREY JAY FOWLER - My tip for the Martin Sims Award for best local production.

3. WHEN HE GETS THAT WAY - The unexpected gem of my festival experience with a cracking script and a duo of great performances.

4. WRONG DIRECTION - The raucous boy band pisstake that was so wrong it was oh so right.

5. A HOT HARLEM ROMP - Powered by a white hot jazz band this had style to burn.

There were many fine performances but a few in particular that caught my eye...

GEORGIA KING - Terrific in The One playing a woman aghast at the prospect of marriage and all its ramifications.

JEFFREY JAY FOWLER - While I wasn't as big a fan of Price Tag, that play, The One and a reprise of Fag/Stag mark Fowler as a significant writing presence at this year's Fringe.

Special Mentions:

Gabriel Fatin - provided superb accompaniment on piano in the classy Minor Major Marlene.

Lisa Louttit - a wonderfully calibrated comic performance in When He Gets That Way.

Lucy Ross - her rendition of Amazing Grace alone blew the doors off The Brisbane in her very funny musical Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.

Kimberley Harris (as Kimberley Diane) - excelled in a thoroughly charming one person show about chasing your dreams.

Mark Storen - added significant musical chops in The One as well as being a terrific counterpoint to King.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fringe World 2017 - Spiegeltent Spectaculars (8 & 12 February 2017)

A Hot Harlem Romp - Perth Cabaret Collective (8 February 2017)

A white hot nine piece band under the command of Jessica Herbert; the irrepressible Jessie Gordon on vocals and sequins with partner in crime the suave 'don't ask me to dance' Mark Turner; joined by performers from Sugar Blue Burlesque adding pizzaz and plumage, this is slinky, sexy, sassy, saxy, bright and brassy.

Watching this in the De Parel Spiegeltent was like stepping into a Speakeasy and it's no wonder songs from Cabaret and Chicago featured.

This whizzed by, indeed it ended a little abruptly at the 50 minute mark. I could have settled in for an evening of 'jazz and liquor' in this thigh slapping, toe tapping romp. A great way to kick off an evening at Fringe.

La Soiree - La Soiree Australia (12 February 2017)

Warning, superlatives ahead.

Last year I was comp'd to review this Fringe World behemoth. I was so impressed that this year I bought 'posh seat' tickets to take mum and dad along for mum's birthday.

Favourites Captain Frodo and Hamish McCann remain to be joined by a bevy of new acts with some truly spectacular inclusions. We had great seats, the service was excellent, and the show was yet again amazing.

La Soiree is a jaw dropping mixture of grace, power, strength and precision with a liberal addition of hijinks and tomfoolery.

The show is perhaps at its best when it goes vertical - McCann's poledance routine is fast becoming legendary; aerialist Katharine Arnold was stunning on the rope in more ways than one; Bret Pfister is coolly efficient and precise on the suspended hoop; and the English Gents reign supreme, this time with a new tower of strength to accompany McCann.

Frodo is the wince inducing contortionist and clown supreme with chanteuse Acantha Lang adding pipes and legs forever. There are other surprises involving bananas and, let's just say, quick costume changes though Scotty the Blue Bunny was a weak link.

The show ends with the gasp worthy Leo & Ursula who add a shot of adrenaline with an act on rollerskates that has to be seen to be believed.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Fringe World 2017 - Various Locations (1, 7 & 14 February 2017)

A Leading Lady In Waiting - Kimberley Diane (1 February 2017)

For many people music provides the aural signposts to important moments in their lives - memories, significant events, people. For Kimberley Diane that soundtrack is not only for personal highlights and lowpoints but tracks a career drenched in music, notably musical theatre.

The show follows her love affair with musicals and the roles she has played and hopes to play in the future. This gives us an eclectic set of songs from traditional musicals such as Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, and Mary Poppins to a couple of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most well known songs, to Jason Robert Brown, Wicked and even a song from The Wedding Singer! All of them wonderfully sung with impressive sound quality and crispness upstairs at Rigby's.

Kimberley is personable and engaging in the intimate space and the insight and context she provides between songs is relatable and charming. Throw in more costume changes than a Cher concert and a surprise makeover and this is a celebration of the passion, commitment, and talent required to follow your dreams and idols.

And when those idols are among the biggest names in movie and theatre history you know you're in for a fabulous show.

Only one more left, Wednesday night at Rigby's. Definitely recommended.

When He Gets That Way by Ann Marie Healy (7 February 2017)

Dear Diary,

Today I bravely set forth from my well of sadness. I visited a magical place where a mistress of the house and her handmaiden regaled me with tales of Him. There was spirits/booze, a ukulele and an itsy weensy piano. I laughed gaily. Many ups and downs on the stepladder of life. Must tell friends.

Let's not beat around the bush - this is my gem of Fringe to date. Beautifully written script - witty, clever, literate, sly - given great service by two terrific performances courtesy of Lisa Louttit and Taryn Ryan. The former plays a vacuous mistress who seemingly knows nothing of real love or even life beyond the strictures of her class; the latter a servant with a peasant upbringing whose burgeoning spark of life inspires and confounds her mistress.

The device of the duelling diaries that feed off each other as the women compete over the lovely mcguffin of 'Him' is astutely calibrated both in writing and performance.

Throw in a clutch of original songs and meticulous use of blocking to represent relative status on the simple set which features a stepladder and you have a smart, funny, and entertaining play that is a must see at the Flaming Locomotive.

I can say with no hesitation, "I wasn't bored, Miss."

Cheek to Cheek - Megan Kozak & Harry Prouse (14 February 2017)

Take two talented performers, an outstanding accompanist, a roster of standards, a comfortable venue, and the threat of puppetry and you have a cabaret show that is like a cool breeze on a summer's day.

But let's face it, there are plenty of shows at Fringe that have those elements (well, except, sadly, the puppetry). What elevates Cheek to Cheek to the top ranks is the outstanding chemistry Kozak and Prouse share. There is an immediate ease to their onstage schtick as they bounce off each other with banter between songs and interaction during them.

This show has a loose framing narrative unlike last year's Dinner Is Served. Here it is their relocation to Melbourne and all the things that come with the struggle to move from 'Burritos to Broadway'. Prouse plays the straight man with consummate charm which allows Kozak to vamp in her screwball comedic style. It's a joy to watch especially those little unscripted moments that feel spontaneous and totally organic.

David Wickham adds class on keyboard with an expressive playing style that is fascinating in its own right. He also shows real joy at his stage mates' antics.

The chemistry is best exemplified during the back and forth of Anything You Can Do. Other songs include I've Got You Under My Skin, The Trolley Song, Smile, and a helping of Streisand. All wonderfully sung.

I'd tell you to rush out and buy a ticket but the run is sold out. And rightfully so.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Fringe World 2017 - Shows at The Brisbane (28 January & 9 February)

Where Be The Winged Apes? - Emma O'Sullivan (28 January 2017)

An empty waiting room outside the door to Hell. The receptionist is missing and Satan is apparently sooking behind the door. A queue of people wait to get in headed by newly deceased bus accident victim Emma in a 'sequined catsuit'.

We know it's purgatory as a) it's hot (special effects, Perth summer) and b) The Girl From Ipanema has been playing on an endless loop.

So begins a very funny one-sided conversation between Emma and Satan as she tries to gain entrance to this 'minimalist Hell'. Smart, likeable, and energetic, O'Sullivan is totally engaging as she plays up to the audience and creatively uses the door as both prop and defacto representation of Lucifer himself.

Just when I thought the premise was beginning to run out of steam, O'Sullivan pulls a reversal that is well-timed and cheekily executed as she sticks the landing with aplomb.

A fun show upstairs at The Brisbane that is destined to win Best Use of a Venn Diagram in a Fringe Show! Last show Sunday, 29 January.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner - The Immaculate Conception (9 February 2017)

I can truly say that this show engendered an epiphany with its rousing anthemic closing number that has changed the way I see the world, today, tomorrow, and the day after next.

Words that will never leave me. I could share these talismanic lyrics of wisdom but such potent life-changing advice really should be experienced in person.

Of course, the journey to such wisdom is fraught with obstacles and what better way to depict the conflicts of the world than at the time honoured saga of introducing your gay Muslim boyfriend to your Carrie-esque religious mother over dinner? The premise is pregnant with satire and conflict.

What's more, the original songs show an inherent understanding of the musical theatre form driving the narrative forward and illuminating the inner emotional lives of the characters. The Book and Lyrics by Lucy Ross who plays the mother are witty and subversive; the music by Benjamin Colley playful and expertly rendered by Tim How.

Colley plays the son nervous about introducing Ashley Rousetty's Mo to his mother. As the increasingly inebriated Gloria becomes more offensive, Mo rises to the challenge. It's funny and pointed with a healthy dose of satirical bite.

Highlights include the aforementioned ending, a blazing rendition of Amazing Grace by Ross, and a standout setpiece as awkwardeness turns to disbelieving laughter which is cleverly incorporated into song. And sing all three can with talent to burn.

One more show left this Friday night. Go see it, it could change the way you see the world. Just don't sing the closing lyrics to your pastor.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Fringe World 2017 - Shows by Jeffrey Jay Fowler (25 & 27 January)

Price Tag - The Last Great Hunt (25 January 2017)

Satire pushed to absurdist limits as Groundhog Day meets the mother of all gauche dinner parties. While any production that features Jo Morris and Nick Maclaine amongst its acting numbers as well as the oft sharp writing of Jeffrey Jay Fowler will have its moments, this left me a little cold.

The targets of the pointed barb of Fowler's writing - materialism and the corrosive influence of wealth - were handled in heavy-handed fashion for mine and didn't offer more than surface level illumination. Rich people can be pricks. Really rich people even more so.

But beware large aquatic creatures tripping on your doorstep!

The One by Jeffrey Jay Fowler - Whiskey & Boots (27 January 2017)

Two newly unencumbered people fall into each other before falling in love which leads to thoughts of marriage... which isn't as palatable to one as it is cherished by the other.

First rate performances by Georgia King and Mark Storen; the former in a layered portrayal that incorporated a level of warmth I hadn't seen from her before; the latter with an almost wide-eyed naivety that slowly turns into a hard-earned epiphany. There is an ease and believability to the characters' relationship that is compelling.

The script by Fowler is excellent. There was an 'outburst' relatively early when a specific viewpoint on marriage was explicitly stated. This momentarily made me nervous as I thought maybe the piece would turn didactic. But the excellence of the writing and acting in the set-up and characterisation had me invested in the relationship and genuinely liking each character. The perspective was handled with maturity and paid off in spades in a well executed ending.

The use of Storen's guitar playing, singing, and choice of song added immeasurably as well.

I know it's only the end of week one and there have been many well reviewed shows with no doubt many more to come but this has the Martin Sims Award written all over it. It is also a perfect companion piece for Fowler's terrific Fag/Stag.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Fringe World 2017 - Shows at The Ellington (24 & 30 January, 6 & 16 February 2017)

Minor Major Marlene - Ali Bodycoat with Gabriel Fatin (24 January 2017)

Who knew that Fringe World had a time machine and that it was located at the Ellington Jazz Club?

This tribute to the formidable career of legend Marlene Dietrich had class written all over it from Bodycoat's performance and 'severe chic' look to the superb accompaniment by Gabriel Fatin on piano to the images from Dietrich's films projectedon the rear wall.

Classic songs abound - Falling in Love Again, Just a Gigolo, Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Blue Velvet among others, beautifully sung by Bodycoat.

Highlights for me - the haunting White Grass; Fatin feeling it during One For My Baby and One For the Road; and the impish The Laziest Gal in Town.

Make 'Em Laugh - The Untold Story of Donald O'Connor by Mikey Halcrow & Jens Radda (30 January 2017)

Having recently seen a big touring production of Singin' in the Rain and the renewed interest in the original movie after the passing of Debbie Reynolds, I was primed for this show. I knew Donald O'Connor played Cosmo in the classic movie musical but little more.

This show fills in the blanks including O'Connor's first wife, military service, and his partnership with a talking mule called Francis. Then, of course, there is his portrayal as Cosmo which earned him a Golden Globe nomination and from where the famous 'Make 'Em Laugh' comes from.

Halcrow makes for a charismatic O'Connor with Radda an excellent comic foil whilst also accompanying on piano. I thought there might have been more dancing but the stage space at the Ellington is fiendishly tight.

The most impressive aspect of the show was the chemistry between Halcrow and Radda. They bounced off each other wonderfully especially recovering from the odd goof in amusing fashion.

Highlights include Halcrow's athletic routine of the title number and a surprise 'appearance' of a legendary Broadway performer.

An entertaining show that shines a light on a varied and interesting career.

Wrong Direction presented by Christopher Dean (30 January 2017)

Chris, Jason, Ben, and Cameron. Remember those names as the boy band gone bad goes global. Surnames are for one hit wonders not sure to be household names from Balga to Boise; Belize to Berlin.

This is a high energy, full on parody, raunchy as all get out explosion of boy band harmonies, dance moves, and unforgettable lyrics. Trust me, there are lyrics you will never forget.

It also showcases superb vocal work from the four WAAPA graduates who lampoon a musical sub-genre while singing the hell out of a mix of original and well known songs.

The choice to cover Boyz II Men's End of the Road early established the talent on display. This was far more than a simple pisstake. Other covers included Uptown Girl and Robbie Williams' Angels.

The originals covered body parts, secrets, an extraordinary 'hymn', and, let's just say, some taboo subjects.

And didn't the audience love it. The reception was wholehearted and raucous.

A terrific show full of sass perfect for Fringe.

Frankly Hank - Radda Productions (6 February 2017)

It is so exciting to witness a rare live performance of the original 'Northbridge, Northbridge' before some hack called Sinatra stole it and retooled the lyrics in honour of a sleepy hollow in the US.

Welcome to the 50s where brylcreem is king and Hairspray is a decade away. Where Robert Menzies is Prime Minister and political correctness is not even a glint in the eye of the most ardent SJW.

Jens Radda plays Hank Finatra, crooner, bigot, and all round cad; drink at the ready, lyrical putdown cocked and loaded. This is a high wire act of pointed satire - and by pointed I mean a shank in your ribcage - which will have you thinking, "did he really just say/sing that... and did I just laugh?"

Radda tackles gender politics, race, sexuality, and religion by distorting the lyrics of famous Sinatra songs and other standards with acerbic asides in between. That he can sing the hell out of instantly recognisable classics despite the lyrical mangling and has an inherent charm helps deliver the, at times, breathtakingly non PC content.

This will have you laughing and squirming in equal measure and as the promo's state, is definitely not for the easily offended. A gutsy show that will perhaps divide opinions but is fearless in shining a light on today's inherent inequalities by reflecting on the past.

How To Co-Host A Murder - APAN Entertainment (16 February 2017)

I'm fast coming to the conclusion that the legendary Kander & Ebb are the soundtrack of this year's summer in Perth. Their timeless songs featured in A Hot Harlem Romp; Chicago opened recently in Kwinana to glowing reviews; and here they form the backbone of a loose narrative involving dancing dames, bumbling detectives, an effusive host and domineering club owner... with a murder of the star attraction. Everyone is implicated including the audience.

It's fun and frothy with audience interaction; some 15 musical theatre songs from Cabaret to Anything Goes and Chicago to Gypsy; colourful dancing girls; and a good-natured vibe.

The vocal talent was a little uneven and there were a few sequences that got away from the cast - notably Cell Block Tango and When You're Good To Mama - however the highlights included Lloyd Hopkins' Mister Cellophane and a funny twist on Lady Is A Tramp with a playful Hamish Briggs.

Briggs was a likeable host though the setup was somewhat repetitive until the missing star is confirmed as dead. Madeleine Shaw added acting chops as Audrey and worked well with particularly Hopkins' hen pecked and lovelorn policeman.

Ben Todd was good on piano as Bobby though it was at times a thankless task with some of the 'bigger numbers' begging for extra oomph. The revelation for me was Andrea Lim as Babydoll who sang well and added character to a ditzy role. The dancers brought glamour and energy with especially Nikita D'Souza catching the eye.

A pleasant romp that was well suited to The Ellington.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews