Saturday, July 26, 2014

DRESS CIRCLE - ARTSOUND FM 92.7 THIS SUNDAY JULY 27




Aarne Neeme - director of "Arcadia" 
Ruth Osborne - Artistic Director QL2
In DRESS CIRCLE this week Aarne Neeme discusses his production of “Arcadia” which he is directing for the Canberra Repertory Society and which opens in Theatre 3 this week. Ruth Osborne talks about QL2’s latest work “Boundless” which opens in the Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre on Wednesday, and former Canberran, Duncan West, tells how he came to join “Circa” which will also be at the Canberra Theatre from August 6th.

Duncan West - Circa 
Len Power will review “The Rokitelly Man” which opened in the Belconnen Theatre on Friday night; Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer has something to say about the great and powerful.

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment we present the second of two episodes featuring Jeanne Little accompanied on piano by Peter J. Casey, in excerpts from her acclaimed cabaret “Marlene – A Tribute to Dietrich”.

90 minutes of review, interviews, music and news about the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm and 6.30pm, repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm


Jeanne Little in "Marlene -a Tribute to Dietrich"

Friday, July 25, 2014

WOMBAT STEW

 A TRUE BLUE BREW OF WOMBAT STEW


Wombat Stew. Based on the book written by Marcia K Vaughan.  Illustrated by Patricia Lofts. Stage adaptation and lyrics by Gary Young. Original Score and arrangements by Paul Keelan. Garry Ginivan Attractions and the Canberra Theatre Centre. Canberra Theatre July 24 – 26, 2014.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 
The cast of WOMBAT STEW
 

Whenever a Garry Ginivan Attractions show comes to town, you know you’re in for a top-notch production for children. With previous successes such as  My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch and Possum Magic, Ginivan has earned an enviable reputation as the leading  producer of  dinky-di, true-blue stage adaptations of popular Aussie children’s books. His latest offering of Wombat Stew, based on a story by Marcia K Vaughan, is no exception. Every drop of cunning trickery from Vaughan’s story of the bushland animals’ attempts to rescue a wombat from the dingo’s stewing pot is added to Gary Young’s delectable recipe of music, songs, dance, mime and puppetry to the utter delight of the young audience.

Young’s adaptation uses the clever device of a strolling company of players to enact the story of Wombat Stew.  It is an old, familiar tradition that works exceedingly well, and readily invites the young audience to use their imagination and accept the conventions of actors playing out Dingo, Platypus, Echidna, Lizard, Emu and Koala. The Stage Manager introduces the Clap Like Thunder Players, a motley band, and roles are apportioned to the members of this travelling troupe, in an opening scene, not unlike Shakespeare’s depiction of the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night ‘s Dream, in which characters plea for their favourite part and demonstrate their prowess. Kookaburra and Wombat are presented as puppets.

A lively, fun-loving ensemble of very versatile and adroit actors enter the colourful storybook world of Wombat Stew with all the elan of seasoned professionals. Children’s Theatre is serious business, demanding the highest standards and challenging performers to enchant and excite. Clap Like Thunder Players don’t disappoint. Young’s adaptation pulls out all the stops with larger than life characters, catchy musical numbers, slick choreography and lashing of audience participation. I have always been sceptical of token audience participation, but in this production, before a large school audience of young primary age children the company encourages purposeful involvement, that never becomes gratuitous or gets out of hand. It’s all good fun, and it holds the kids’ focus as they happily engage with a story that many of them could possibly have recited by heart.

Mums and Dads will have just as much fun watching their kids’ enjoyment of seeing a favourite storybook come to life in a delightful, funny and energetic way upon the stage. And like all good tales for young and old alike there is the moral of Clap Like Thunder’s play that every child will cherish: Look after your friends.

So next time you hear that “gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy Wombat Stew is coming to a theatre near you, get on down and take the kids to the best Children’s Theatre show in town.  It’s a fail-safe recipe for a feast of fun entertainment.

 





 

 

Monday, July 21, 2014

OTELLO


Simon O'Neill as Otello
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre until August 2nd.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There can be few opera productions with a more breathtaking opening than Harry Kupfer’s masterful staging of Verdi’s “Otello”, currently being presented by Opera Australia in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera. 

Amidst the sounds of a raging storm, Otello and his courtiers burst into a war-damaged foyer, through the French windows high at the back of the stage, and tumble and rush down a huge flight of stairs. The effect looks so stunningly dangerous that you immediately want to reach for the rewind button to see how it is done. However it sets the mood perfectly for the emotional turmoil that follows as Otello succumbs to the jealousy skilfully and relentlessly fanned by his treacherous ensign, Iago.


Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian and Otelo (Simon O'Neill) argue in front of their guests.
 
The entire opera is staged on Hans Schavernoch’s single setting of a massive black and red bomb-scarred staircase dominated by a huge statue of Atlas.  For the most part this works well, as the stairs provide endless opportunities for imaginative staging of the huge chorus scenes. The bomb damage allows plenty of dark areas in which the various characters can skulk and spy.  However, it is not so appropriate for the later scenes. Surely Otello would have found a more intimate space in which to harangue and ultimately murder Desdemona.

Armenia soprano, Lianna Haroutounian, making her Australian debut taking over the role of Desdemona at just one week’s notice from Tamar Iveri, proved a pleasant surprise with her dark beauty, warm, milky soprano and captivating stage presence. One might have wished for her to show a little more gumption at Otello’s constant accusations of infidelity, but her resigned acceptance of her fate, as she sang the final “Ave Maria” was very moving.

Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian) and Otello (Simon O'Neill)
 
New Zealand heldentenor, Simon O’Neill, soon to be seen in Canberra as one of the stars of "Voices in the Forrest" at the Nationals Aboretum, and making his role debut as Otello, was a thrilling and commanding Otello, carefully shaping his interpretation as the opera unfolded. His interpretation is very physical and the moment when he plummets headfirst down the stairs is quite breathtaking. However he is a very pale Otello, which made Iago’s constant references to “the moor” a bit puzzling.

Another newcomer, tall, dark and swarthy baritone, Claudio Sgura, was an excellent Iago, oozing malevolence, and insuring the audience was never in doubt as to who was the baddy in this opera. Richard Anderson (Montano) and David Corcoran (Roderigo) offer fine supporting performances, although James Egglestone was a rather colourless Cassio.

Cassio (James Egglestone) Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian) and Emilia (Jacqueline Dark)
 
Although having little to do in the early sections of the opera, Jacqueline Dark, as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid, Emilia, was a sympathetic presence throughout, and in the final moments, following Desdemona’s murder, her spirited performance is completely compelling.  

Once again the huge Opera Australia chorus was impressive, both in the richness and accuracy of their sound, and with their attention to detail with their movement and acting. Particularly as in this production they have a rather daunting setting to negotiate while wearing at various times costume designer, Yan Tax’s splendid evening wear or large coats. AS always, the Australian Opera and Ballet orchestra, this time under Christian Badea, impressed with its spirited playing of Verdi’s magnificent score.

Despite what must have been a difficult rehearsal period, given the number of changes from the originally announced cast which offered Tamar Iveri or Nicole Car as Desdemona, Marco Vratogna as Iago and Michael Honeyman as Roderigo, none of whom are present for this season, Harry Kupfer’s superb production, under Revival Director, Roger Press, remains an impressive staging of this superb Verdi masterpiece.    

Otello and chorus
                                                                       Photos: Branco Giaca

PATYEGARANG



Bangarra Dance theatre
Canberra Theatre – 17-19 July 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 
Bangarra Dance Theatre is like no other dance company performing in Australia today. It dances to the beat of its own drum, guided by the clear-eyed vision of Artistic Director, Stephen Page. Page is not only one of the country’s most respected and innovative choreographers, but also able to clearly and ingenuously articulate his vision, as demonstrated in the standing-room only first-night pre-show forum.
Jasmin Sheppard as Patyegarang
For his newest work, made to celebrate Bangarra’s 25th  Anniversary, and presented in Canberra directly after its inaugural six-week Sydney season, Page has incorporated all the elements which make Bangarra unique. Highly -skilled dancers with a distinctive movement vocabulary, fluid, idiosyncratic choreography, superb design, original music, and excellent production values are all on show.

Determinedly abstract in its telling of the relationship between an Eora woman and an officer in the first fleet, and performed to a stunning soundscape by David Page which includes snippets of the Darug language, “Patyegarang” is both visually and aurally arresting. Within an evocative textural landscape created by Jacob Nash and lighting designer, Nick Schlieper, and echoed in Jennifer Irwin’s gorgeous sculptural costumes, the work moves fluidly and seamlessly through a series of mesmerizingly beautiful episodes, which include at one point, the smell of burning eucalypts.

Thomas Greenfield as William Dawes
 



Jasmin Sheppard is luminous as Patyegarang, and Thomas Greenfield, the only non-indigenous member of the cast, impresses as William Dawes. Both Waangenga Blanco (Ngalgear) and Elma Kris (Burulalalalung) are stand-outs for their strong presence in what is essentially an ensemble masterwork.

 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

CABARET - A SHOW BEYOND ALL EXPECTATIONS

 
Cabaret. Book by Joe Masteroff. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Music by John Kander.Directed by Jim McMullen. Musical Direction by Rhys Madigan. Choreography by Shasha Chen. Canberra Philharmonic Society through special arrangement with TAMS WITMARK MUSIC LIBRARY INC. Erindale Theatre.   July 10 - 26, 2014

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 
Angel Dolejsi as Emcee
 

It was with great expectations that I went to see Canberra Philharmonic’s production of Kander and Ebb’s musical, Cabaret, based on Christopher Isherwood’s  Berlin Stories. My expectations, not preconceptions, were not based on the Bob Fosse film with Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles, Joel Grey as the Emcee or Michael York as Isherwood’s alter ego, Clifford Bradshaw. Nor were they aroused by the excellent and well-deserved reviews of colleagues, who unanimously have enthusiastically praised Jim McMullen’s vibrant, disturbing and powerfully imaginative production. No, my expectations were engendered by a visit to the Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic’s second largest city, Brno. On my grandparent’s grave, and like so many other headstones throughout the cemetery, there are also engraved the words “In memory of” and the names of relatives who were victims of the Holocaust and whose bodies would never be honoured with dignified burial.
Mat Chardon O'Dea as Clifford Bradshaw
 

Kander and Ebb’s musical is set in Berlin at the time of Hitler’s rise to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Seen through the eyes of newly-arrived American novelist, Cliff (Mat Chardon O’Dea), Cabaret tells the story of aspiring  cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Kelly Roberts), the love and lives of the older generation , Frau Schneider (Ros Engledow) and Herr Schultz (Ian Croker), the decadent world of the seedy Kit Kat Club and the sinister rise of Nazism.  Cabaret is a tragic tale of lost innocence, futile love and a nation on the brink of racial, ethnic and human degradation. It is the mournful saga of a world that no longer exists. It is a tragic account of hope, vanquished by history’s cruel twist of fate.
Angel Dolejsi, Kirsten Haussmann and Beth Deer in "Two Ladies"
 

And did Philo’s production of Cabaret meet my expectations? Absolutely. If anything, they surpassed them beyond my wildest imagining. Here is a production that will linger in the mind for years to come. Every number from Wilkommen to Life is a Cabaret is a hit. Every character is drawn with such earnest concern for truth. Every element of production from Jim McMullen’s direction to Michelle Adamson’s stage-management, from McMullen and Ian Croker’s set design to Hamish McConchie’s lighting, from Miriam Miley-Reid and Christine Pawlicki’s costuming to Shasha Chen’s choreography, from Rhys Madigan’s Musical Direction to Peter Barton’s audio design has been thought through with meticulous regard for period, style and theme.
Kelly Roberts as Sally Bowles and the girls of the Kit Kat Club
 

What I did not entirely expect was the high level of performance from every character in this production. As the standard of musical theatre in Canberra continues to astound, audiences have come to expect an impressive level of performance. Philo’s production of “Cabaret” surpasses expectation and raises the bar even higher. Excellent casting has made this production a performance tour de force.

In a production as uniformly excellent as this is, and blessed with an ensemble as tight and talented as are the girls of the Kit Kat Club, the patrons and the principal performers, it is worth noting the high standards reached by some of the principal actors. The success of this musical in large part rests on the casting of the Emcee and Sally Bowles. In this respect Philo has triumphed. Angel Dolejsi’s Emcee is your likeable buffoon, chameleon in his shift from camp to vamp, seductive and slyly sexual, and yet with the inner sadness of the clown within the Kit Kat costume. In the final image of the Auschwitz inmate, wearing the Yellow Star of the Jew, high above the stage the audience is shocked by a stroke of ingenious theatrical interpretation into understanding Cabaret’s tragic message. This is where McMullen’s imaginative vision and Dolejsii’s performance fuse the crumbling era with the impending tragedy.
Kelly Roberts as Sally Bowles

Fragile, vulnerable, the ex patriate in search of love and admiration, Kelly Roberts is the perfect Sally Bowles. Here is inspired casting. From the soulful longing of Maybe This Time to the defiant resolve of the title song, Cabaret, Roberts is magnetic with a voice that can tug the heartstrings or excite the passion. Effective use of the follow spots brings the audience directly into her experience and we share her confusion, her longing and ultimately her resolve to defy the inevitable fate.

As the writer Clifford Bradshaw, caught up in the fearful events of the approaching cataclysm, Mat Chardon O’Dea brings the ideal tone of innocent naivety to his performance. He plays the foil to perfection as a world he cannot fully understand whirls about and engulfs him.
Ian Croker as Herr Schultz. Ros Engledow as Fraulein Schneider

The sentimental favourites are without doubt Ros Engledow and Ian Croker as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. These two experienced troupers command the stage: Engledow with her stiffly German sense of propriety and harshly powerful voice and Croker with the charming gentility of the European Jew, who also remains oblivious to the consequences of the frightful rise of Nazism. There is also excellent support from Dave Smith as questionable courier, Ernst Ludwig and Kitty McGarry as the sailor’s comfort, Fraulein Kost.

My only quibble is with Tomorrow Belongs To Me. McMullen has chosen to deliver this as a song of idealistic hope, rather than the threatening anthem of fascism. As the Nazi banners unfurl, I would have preferred this song to swell from its earlier rendition into a reprise of fanatical fervour, but that is a personal interpretation and in a production as uniformly intelligent and superbly staged as this, it is a small quibble. I did miss the smoke-filled, sweat-aromatic atmosphere of the divinely decadent Kit Kat Klub. Fake fags are a poor substitute, but the rules are the rules and we are left to use our imaginations.
"Mein Herr" at the Kit Kat Club
Sally and the Kit Kat Dancers

Canberra Philharmonic’s production of Cabaret will stand as one of the great standouts on Canberra’s Musical Theatre scene. Above the stage, the outstanding orchestra offers the reprise tunes as the enthralled audience leaves the theatre, aware that they have seen a Cabaret of the highest calibre. Director and conductor, Jim McMullen, sits at the side with a plume in his headband.  This Cabaret is a real feather in the cap for Canberra Philharmonic and the team. Don’t miss it!

 
"If You Could See Her" Emcee and Gorilla
All photography by Shae Waite

IMPROVENTION 2014



Artistic Directors: Nick Byrne and P J Williams
The Street Theatre
Wednesday 16 July to Sunday 20 July, 2014

Review Challenge Heat One by Len Power 16 July 2014

When was the last time you laughed so much that it hurt?  That was my experience on Wednesday evening when I went along to the first challenge heat of Improvention 2014’s, Canberra Impro Challenge.

Improvention is a festival dedicated to the art of Improvisation and Impro ACT is Canberra’s Improvised Theatre company which was formed in 2005 by current Artistic Directors: Nick Byrne and PJ Williams.  Impro ACT teaches and performs all types of improvised theatre, such as that seen on TV’s ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’.  The Canberra Impro Challenge is in its tenth year in 2014.

The evening presented two heats of ten performers each competing for the chance to go through to the final challenge of the heats winners being held on Sunday evening.  Performers, individually or in varying sized groups generally up to about 4, are called to the acting area and then given themes or situations they must act out completely unscripted.  The quality of performance of each item is then scored by the intensity of applause by audience members.  In addition, as the heat progresses, two judges eliminate performers on the basis of skills displayed.  This method of judgement ultimately produces an individual heat winner.

The inventiveness, spontaneity and courage of these performers is remarkable.  The theme ‘historical replay’ required performers to perform a domestic scene first normally and then repeat it as if they were in Ancient Rome, then in the Elizabethan Era and finally in the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  A lecture theme on ‘How Continents Were Made’ produced an eccentric professor stating that, ‘Barcelona was, of course, the old Yiddish word for the centre of the earth’.  A particularly terrifying challenge required performers to create and perform a play forwards and then backwards using the line ‘Hooray, a horse!’  My particular favourite required performers to produce a play with no laughs at all on the theme, ‘Feather bed factory’.  The first line offered in a very serious tone by one of the performers was ‘Here they are, the new geese…’  Of course, it got the biggest laugh of the night!

Being involved in improvisation theatre offers training in many skills and not just for actors.  You learn to think on your feet, develop strong communication and team skills and be more creative and fearless - all skills which are transferable to everyday life and work.  Impro ACT offers improvisation training courses which are well worth considering.

Even under the pressure of competition, you could see that the performers were having great fun on Wednesday night.  The audience quickly joined in with the relaxed and crazy spirit of the evening.  There were serious skills on display here by the talented performers and it was also hilariously funny.
 
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 20 July 2014 from 5pm.