Monday, March 31, 2014

THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG



Scott Irwin and Teagan Wouters
Book:   Neil Simon

Music: Marvin Hamlish

Lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager

Presented by HIT Productions.

Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre until 5th April 2014.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This charming little musical, written by Neil Simon and purportedly based on the real-life relationship of composer, Marvin Hamlish and lyricist, Carole Bayer Sager, scored a huge success in Australia in the 1980’s when Jackie Weaver and John Waters toured endlessly in the original, rather more lavish, Australian production.

Fond memories of this production, first seen when Rhonda Burchmore was among the back-up singers, and later, when it played in the Canberra Playhouse, and Donna Lee was one of the back-up singers, and another later production starring Peta Toppano and Barry Quin, which also played the Canberra Theatre Centre, and yet another production, sans backing singers, at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney starring Simon Burke and Georgie Parker, were revived by this elegant little touring production now playing in the Q in Queanbeyan, also minus the backing singers.

Terence O’Connell, who both designed and directed this production, has wisely elected to keep his show firmly grounded in the 1970’s when telephones and dictaphones were the norm, men wore flairs and women tottered dangerously in sky-scraper high platform shoes. The show follows the travails of wise-cracking composer, Vernon Gersch (Scott Irwin) and offbeat lyricist, Sonia Walsk (Teagan Wouters) as they gingerly negotiate a relationship, both business and personal.  There is a third person in this relationship, Sonia’s ex-boyfriend, Leon, who we never get to meet, but who is hilariously omnipresent throughout the show.

O’Connell’s uncluttered, elegant setting and finely detailed direction serve the production well. Scott Irwin is a delightfully dorky Vernon Gersch. The songs suit his excellent baritone, and Neil Simons’ rather dated but still chuckle-a-minute dialogue allows him plenty of opportunity to display his finely honed comedic timing.

Teagan Wouters is deliciously ditsy as Sonia Walsk, the lyricist with a penchant for wearing theatre wardrobe left-overs, and plagued with an over-developed maternal instinct. Together they manage Neil Simons’ script with flair and negotiate some potentially cheesy moments with panache, developing a convincing onstage relationship which is both charming and entertaining.

Musical Director, Alistair Smith, seated inconspicuously at a baby grand piano upstage, and employing some judicious over-dubs in lieu of the aforementioned backing singers, provided the musical accompaniments, which on opening night occasionally threatened to overwhelm the singers.

A special bonus is the presence of former Canberran, Roni Wilkinson, seen in silhouette at various moments during the show carrying out her stage-management duties efficiently and relatively inconspicuously.
 
It is unlikely that we are ever likely to see a full-scale professional revival of this musical, so for those who have never seen this show, this nicely mounted production by HIT Productions provides a very welcome opportunity to experience it, while providing for the rest of us, a nostalgic reminder of what a delightfully  pleasant evening of music theatre it provides. 
                                                         Photo: Garry Moore

           This review appears in Australian Arts Review   www.artsreview.com.au
 

They’re Playing Our Song by Neil Simon

They’re Playing Our Song by Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager.  Produced by Chrstine Harris & HIT Productions, directed by Terence O’Connell, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 28 – April 5, 2014

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 28

I thank Scott Irwin (as Vernon Gersch) and Teagan Wouters (as Sonia Walsk) for giving us a pleasantly entertaining performance of this 1979 play with songs, which surely must be one of Neil Simon’s least stageworthy efforts.

Simon’s strengths were first recognised in the previous decade (Barefoot in the Park 1963 and The Odd Couple, Tony Award 1965), and much later with his Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for Lost in Yonkers, but I fear that this association in between times with composer Hamlisch (A Chorus Line) and lyricist Sager fell into the old theatrical trap of self-indulgence.  Simon was certainly playing their songs, but the resulting script is dramatically thin and entirely sentimental.

Though Simon was famous enough for the romance of their lives to run for a couple of years in New York, London and even in 1980 at the Theatre Royal in Sydney – starring John Waters and Jacki Weaver – I suspect that Hamlisch and Sager knowingly ‘used’ Simon to write the ‘book’ for their ‘musical’ as a pot-boiler.

However, in this production at least Terence O’Connell and the performers realised that putting on an overlay of comic stylisation was the best way to go for them as actors, and to concentrate on the music.  We could always applaud them as singers for their musicianship.

Which reminds me that it is not clear in the program who was the excellent keyboard player behind the scrim, sometimes dimly lit.  Was it Alistair Smith, named as Musical Director?

Because the songs now seem terribly dated and old-fashioned, and with so little dramatic development in the script beyond a few fairly obvious one-liner jokes (and regular name-dropping of Elton John), Wouters and Irwin had to work hard, so here are some nice pictures of them:


Scott Irwin - Vernon Gersch in They're Playing Our Song

Teagan Wouters - Sonia Walsk in They're Playing Our Song



Adelaide Fringe 2014: The Bunker Trilogy


Top of Form
Agamemnon. Morgana. Macbeth. Directed by Jethro Compton. Produced by Jethro Compton in association with The Centre For International Theatre and Joanne Hartstone Ltd. Marlborough Street. Adelaide.

Reviewer: Peter Wilkins



With its Best Theatre Award under the arm, Jethro Compton’s company dismantles the World War 1 trench, constructed in a city warehouse and returns to England with its highly acclaimed The Bunker Trilogy. I have already written about Agamemnon, the first in the trilogy, but it would be remiss of me not to place this stunning piece of work in the context of the entire trilogy. Compton and his team have devised an ingenious theatrical event, most timely because of the occasion of the centenary of the commencement of the First World War.

Each work, inspired by Aeschylus’s Oresteia, the Arthurian legend and Shakespeare’s Macbeth concerns itself with war and its impact on those who wage war for greed, power, national security or in hatred. Agamemnon examines the effect of war on those who wage it, those who serve it and those who are left behind to cope with its consequences. Human need turns to human requital for perceived wrongs. In Morgana, war’s inevitable impact on relationships exposes courage, cowardice, command and the nature of human behaviour under the stress of war.

Unlike Agamemnon and Morgana which adapt the myth to give it resonance in the circumstance of the Great War, Compton decides to stage Shakespeare’s actual text in the bunker. Macbeth is after all a noble and courageous soldier, condemned by his fatal flaw to a vengeful fate. Perhaps this realises the possible imperfection of any deviance from the original perfection. Perhaps it is because Shakespeare’s tale of ambition and destruction would only suffer by comparison.

Whatever the motive, the decision to stage Shakespeare’s play lends a rather perplexing note in the context of the entire trilogy. This in no way denigrates the talents of Compton’s team of three male actors and the one female, all of whom perform in more than one of the trilogy and some in all three. The acting is exemplary and immediate, powerful in its proximity and riveting in its intensity. As audience, our involvement is inescapable as the actors breathe life into their characters within a couple of metres from us, and at times almost upon us as they sweep past the front benches in a moment of high drama.

The crowded setting is perfect for a sense of absolute inclusion and for the creation of suspense in Agamemnon, tension-relieving humour, counterpoised by moments of school day intimidation in Morgana and violent ambition in Macbeth. The Bunker Trilogy is a cleverly constructed conceit that leaves an audience in no doubt as to the intention to illuminate war in its many guises. In Agamemnon, the bunker also acts as the English home of the soldier who has enlisted and deserted his wife to serve his country as well as the trenches that lead off stage to No Man’s Land. In Morgana, the bunker also serves as Morgana’s village.

The names of the characters leave us in no doubt of their references. Arthur (Hayden Wood) is the commanding officer. Lancelot (Sam Donnelly) serves as lieutenant and Gawain (James Marlowe) is the inexperienced private, who seek the Holy Grail of love and is eventually sacrificed on the brutal field of battle. The audience is at first beguiled as they are invited to join in Christmas carols and are entertained by vaudeville routines and jokes that recall the schooldays of the three schoolboy friends. Gradually the play turns into a baiting game of bullying as Lance taunts Gawain while Art can feel himself losing his grip when Lance reveals his love for Art’s wife Gwendoline.

The references to the Arthurian legend are glaringly obvious and are enriched by a knowledge of the source, while still elucidating the themes within an integral theatrical experience.

War in all its facets is cleverly interwoven throughout the trilogy, clearly demonstrating its effect on individual soldiers and their responses, on the relationship between soldiers in the face of battle and death and on those who remain behind, and the women in particular.

 Clytemnestra (Bebe Sanders) enacts an extreme vengeance to punish her husband for his indiscretions. Leaving her for the battlefield and having an affair with a Belgian prostitute. Hardly just cause for murder, but these are extraordinary times and people are compelled to commit extraordinary acts. Our willing suspension of disbelief is justified in the knowledge that war changes people.

Morgana (Bebe Sanders) weaves her spell and leads Gawain to his death. Lady Macbeth too wields her power over her soldier husband and yet is drawn inextricably into his web and ultimately his fate. Compton’s view of war offers no redemption and we are struck by its inane futility and damaging consequence.

In The Bunker Trilogy’s Macbeth, there is no surprise. There is some juxtapositioning of text and action with Macbeth’s defiant command to “Hang out our banners on the outward walls” commencing the performance, and concluding his terrible deeds in the inevitable cycle of Fate’s journey. There are imaginative touches, having the witches portrayed as soldiers in gas masks and Siward appearing in a gas mask as a prophet of doom to announce the arrival of Birnam Wood.

To audiences less familiar with the text, The Bunker Trilogy version of Shakespeare’s tragedy may be gripping and powerful, and expressive of the destructive force of “vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself” Perhaps any attempt to adapt Macbeth to an imagined story as Compton has done with Agamemnon and Morgana would simply have trivialized the plot and themes of the Scottish play.

However, as I said, there is no denying the ingenuity of the concept, the outstanding acting, the powerful impact of the bunker setting and the strong production values that contribute to a piece of theatre that is absorbing, illuminating, moving and memorable long after one leaves the theatre.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

TWELFTH NIGHT


Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Ed Wightman

Canberra Repertory, Theatre 3

28 March - 12 April, 2014

 

Review by Len Power

 
It’s apparently thirty years since Canberra Rep did a Shakespeare play and the last one they did was, you guessed it, ‘Twelfth Night’.

Shakespeare’s comedy is set in a mythical kingdom called Illyria.  The story concerns a shipwrecked brother and sister, a gender bending disguise, a rather cruel practical joke and a Duke and a Lady with romance on their minds.

Ed Wightman’s attractive production plays out on a clever and flashy set designed by Quentin Mitchell.  The show boasts some excellent performances.  Standouts were Sam Hannan-Morrow as an audience-pleasing and rather modern Sir Toby Belch, Lainie Hart as a very funny and quirky Olivia, Peter Holland as a delightfully dopey Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Jerry Hearn as a hilarious and ultimately pitiful Malvolio and Tim Sekuless, singing nicely and giving a performance of great appeal as a kind of wandering minstrel rather than the usual Court Fool.  There were some uneven performances amongst other cast members who were not up to the demands of the text.

Lighting design by Chris Ellyard worked well apart from an unfortunate opening night glitch that plunged the cast into almost darkness for a few moments.  Full marks go to the cast onstage at the time who continued on as if nothing had happened.  The costume designs by Heather Spong were colourful and suited the 1930s setting.  Unfortunately the dress worn by Kate Blackhurst was not very flattering and that worn by Lainie Hart had some hem problems.  Malvolio’s funny costume with the yellow stockings and cross-garters served the actor very well and delighted the audience.

The director’s idea to set the play around the 1930s worked fine.  It’s been well-staged and moves smoothly at a good pace.  The choice of songs from the era rather than the words as published in the text was a nice touch and added atmosphere to the play.  Scene changes were well planned and executed.  However, there seemed no point in having a woman play the role of Fabian dressed as a man.  This caused some confusion as the plot also required Viola to appear, for good reason, as a man for most of the play.

Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining and frequently quite funny production of one of Shakespeare’s more accessible plays.  It’s good to see Canberra Rep producing one again after all these years.

 
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM’s ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 30 March 2014.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A 'Seagull' for all time

THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekov Directed by Geordie Brookman. The Space. State Theatre Company of South Australia. Adelaide Festival 2014.

Reviewer  Peter Wilkins
Photographs by Shane Reid

Geordie Brookman’s production of The Seagull for the State Theatre of South Australia dazzles with its blinding clarity. Chekov’s world of characters caught within the confines of their circumstance is captured with such insight, such immediacy and such universal recognition of the complexities of the human condition that it startles with its contemporary relevance.

 
Chekov’s tragicomedy about a young country girl, Nina, played by Lucy Fry, who is destroyed by her infatuation with the famous, self –obsessed writer, Trigorin ( Renato Musolino) transcends time to etch the fate of rural  pre- Russian Revolution community firmly into our twenty first century consciousness. Brookman’s production brings Chekov’s characters forward to the middle of the twentieth century, but Ailsa Paterson’s 1950’s costuming still retains the flavour of the fashion of the late nineteenth century, thus lending the production and the characters a timeless quality. The use of popular songs, played by the doleful Medvedenko (Matthew Gregan) though anachronistic to the ear enables a modern audience to reflect on the sorry state of the lonely, the unfulfilled and the inconspicuous. There was a moment of utter pathos when Medvedenko is about to venture alone into the snow for the long walk home that I could have imagined Cellophane Man from Chicago playing in my mind. Such is the power of this interpretation to strike a resounding chord of relevance.

 
Set and lighting designer Geoff Cobham realises with stunning effect Brookman’s desire to involve his audience utterly in every moment, every nuance, every familiar resonance of this brilliant production.

I have only ever seen The Seagull played out upon a proscenium stage or at least front on to an audience. Brookman has decided to play the production on a traverse stage in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s black box theatre, The Space. Audience sit on either side, completely absorbed in the action that happens between them. Characters retreat when not in the action to a caged living room setting above and alongside the seating and in full view of an audience. Our engagement is inescapable.



Our identification immediate and impactful. We are drawn inexorably into the very hearts and minds of real people, living out their real lives and coming to terms with the real challenges of their circumstance. We share their humanity in a thrilling state of compassion and reaction. Hilary Bell’s adaptation breathes contemporary life into every word and action of Chekov’s characters. Certain servant characters have been abandoned, giving more scope to the roles of such characters as Masha’s parents, Shamrayev (Chris Pitman) and Polina (Lizzy Faulkland). There is an economy of theatrical force that dispels distraction or superfluity and allows actors and audience to share a clarity of motive and response. Yet again, in performance, adaptation and direction, The Seagull becomes a play for our time and for a world entrapped by the impotence of disarmed will.

The Seagull is a play about longing, about love and about a society, bound by the traditions and mores of the past. Its origin upon Stanislavski’s stage was one of challenge, risk, daring, confrontation and innovation. Brookman too shakes off the shackles of expectation and complacency. His actors draw us into their world with such conviction that we are riveted by their performances and completely involved in every moment of their lives.



Nor does the company subject an audience to the two dimensionality of the characters, but rather exposes a complexity that compels their behaviour and powerlessness to change. The characters come to life with the forcefulness of their passion (Rosalba Clemente’s larger than life  Arkadina), one moment shrieking with theatrical histrionics, the next cradling her tormented son; the frustration of their inertia (Paul Blackwell’s Sorin), the desperation of their longing (Matilda Bailey’s Masha), the stoicism of their tradition (Chris Pitman’s Shamrayev), the equilibrium of their reason(Terence Crawford’s  Doctor Dorn), the self-doubting agony of their ambition (Xavier Samuel’s Konstantin), the self-indulgent egocentricity (Musolino’s Trigorin), the gullible victim of incomprehensible natural forces (Fry’s Nina) and the victim of social stereotyping (Lizzy Faulkland’s Polina)

The Seagull is an actor’s drama, played out to hold the mirror up to nature with truth and prophetic vision. This State Theatre of South Australia production under the inspired and intelligent direction of Artistic Director Geordie Brookman has created a Seagull for all time.

It is regrettable that this production cannot be seen throughout the nation. It deserves the recognition that NT Live has given to the productions of England’s National Theatre, and those who saw the production during the Adelaide Festival of Arts can count themselves fortunate to have seen a Seagull of which Chekov and Stanislavski would have been proud. 

 

  

 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST



Adaptation from Ken Kesey's novel by Dale Wasserman
Directed by Tom O'Neill
The Acting Company in association with Shadowhouse Pits
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre
March 18 - 29, 2014

Review by Len Power 18 March 2014

It seems everyone knows the 1975 film of Ken Kesey’s novel, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ with its memorable performance in the central role of Randle P. McMurphy by Jack Nicholson.  As a result, any actor playing this role now faces the challenge of comparison with that film performance.  The performance of Louise Fletcher as the formidable Nurse Ratched is also etched indelibly in people’s minds from the film version.

Based on the 1962 novel, the play adaptation by Dale Wasserman was produced on Broadway in 1963 with Kirk Douglas in the leading role.  An exploration of individualism and rebellion against conformity, its setting amongst inmates in the type of psychiatric institution hopefully long gone was inspired, creating an opportunity for strong, involving and ultimately chilling drama.

The rather clichéd characters of the inmates at the beginning of the play was a concern but the actors in this production were able to show more depth and sustain their characterisations as the play progressed.  Well cast physically, Ben Drysdale, in the challenging role of Randle P. McMurphy, gave a strong performance that could have done with more light and shade in his vocal delivery in the first half, but which was highly effective after interval as the drama deepened.  barb barnett as the formidable Nurse Ratched played the role with a quiet intensity but her energy levels and voice volume wavered here and there.

Amongst the inmates, Paul Robertson was outstanding as Chief Bromden, and Joshua Bell as the sad Billy Bibbit was very moving.  Actually, in this large cast, every actor was well-chosen and gave strong, committed performances.

The set design by Charlotte Stewart effectively evoked a psychiatric institution of the time that lacked any human touches for the inmates.  The lighting design by Michael Richards complemented the action as did the sound design by Evan Croker and the costumes by Kaila Smith were suitably dowdy and looked well-lived in.  The live music accompaniment by composer/pianist, Steven Bailey, was an excellent idea and added much to the atmosphere.

Director, Tom O’Neill, has produced a thoughtful, well-staged production of this now classic story.  His good work on characterisations becomes clear as the play progresses.  The second half is particularly involving.  You come out of this play thinking, ‘Surely this kind of thing can’t happen today?’  And, unsettlingly, you know deep down that it can.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 21 March 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

HANDA OPERA ON SYDNEY HARBOUR - MADAMA BUTTERFLY


Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour.

Media preview Wednesday 19th March 2014.

Season: March 21 to April 13 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Despite a weather forecast to the contrary, Sydney turned on one of its balmiest autumn nights for the media preview of this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour.  

This exquisite new production of "Madama Butterfly" has been created by the Spanish creative team La Fura deis Baus, especially for this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, and is the third in the series, following spectacular productions “La Traviata” and “Carmen”.

What is so impressive about this production is how well the concept respects and serves the opera while giving it an aggressively contemporary treatment.  This Cio-Cio-San (Hiromi Omura) is no prettily preserved butterfly pinned and displayed as an example of the style and customs of old Japan. In this production she’s a spunky modern miss, who is working as a geisha when she meets Pinkerton. She has butterfly wings tattooed on her back, tattoos on her legs and wears shorts and tee-shirts around home.

Pinkerton (Georgy Vasiliev) is now a property developer who becomes infatuated with Cio-Cio-San on a visit to Japan, never has any intention of marrying her but goes through a Japanese wedding ceremony as a means to an end.


The Bride Arrives
Hiromi Omura and attendants.
 


The Bride Arrives
Hiromi Omura and attendants.
 

The Wedding
Hiromi Omura and Georgy Vasiliev
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





The first act is played out on a huge green grassy hill, complete with a bamboo forest in the background. It makes a beautiful setting for the forthcoming wedding of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton, as we watch the catering staff efficiently convert the grassy hill into a romantic setting for the wedding.  Cio-Cio-San and her bridesmaids arrive, all gorgeously garbed in   traditional Japanese wedding garments, followed by relatives and guests; some dressed in modern fashions, others in traditional national dress.
The Bonze roughs up the wedding guests 
Hiromi Omuri, Georgy Vasiliev, Gennadi Dubinsky
 

At the height of the wedding celebrations the Bonze (Gennadi Dubinsky) arrives to berate Cio-Cio-San for changing her religion. His henchman rough up the wedding guests, who leave the celebrations in dismay. Pinkerton stands up to the Bonze, the caterers leave and Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San are left alone to declare their undying love for each other in front of a huge pale yellow rising moon.
Anna Yun (Suzuki), Hiromi Omuri (Cio-Cio-San), Jayden Lai (Sorrow)

During interval  a fascinating scene-change is  accomplished in front of the champagne-sipping audience wherein the grassy hill is replaced by partially built skyscrapers towering over a little shanty, where Cio-Cio-San now lives with her friend, Suzuki (Anna Yun) and her small son, Sorrow (Jayden Lai). Occasionally she receives visits from the American Ambassador,  Sharpless (Michael Honeyman) with news of Pinkerton.
Anna Yun (Suzuki), Celeste Lazarenko (Kate Pinkerton)
 On the roof of the shanty are two chairs where nightly Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki keep watch over Tokyo Harbour – magically represented by Sydney Harbour in all its night-time glory – unshakeable in her belief that Pinkerton will return and take both her and their son back to America.

When Pinkerton does return to Japan years later to pay Cio-Cio-San a visit, it is with an American wife in tow. He is completely ignorant of the fact that Cio-Cio-San has borne him a son in the meantime, and is now living in a shanty town surrounded by partially built high-rise buildings,  or that she had stayed true to her promise to wait for him forever.

 

During the course of this act, Sharpless arrives in an ambassadorial limousine at one point, Pinkerton and his American wife arrive and leave in a taxi, and the scorned suitor Yamidori (Sitiveni Talei) is sent packing in his luxury launch, all before the opera reaches its heart-wrenching finale. 
 As Cio-Cio-San, Japanese soprano Hiromi Omura is simply marvellous. Her voice warm and lustrous when she sings about Pinkerton, dark and dramatic as she rejects  the advice of Sharpless, hard and uncompromising as she rebuffs Yamidori’s proposal of marriage. Her acting is passionate and convincing, and her joy at the first sight of Pinkerton’s ship is palpable, as is her exhaustion and disappointment when he fails to arrive.

Russian tenor Georgy Vasiliev is also superbly cast as Pinkerton. Handsome, charming and possessing a stunning voice. The audience is left in no doubt as to why Cio-Cio-San would be swept away by this man. His eventual remorse at the realisation of the results of his thoughtlessness was touchingly portrayed.
Hiromi Omura (Cio-Cio-San), Georgy Vasiliev (Pinkerton)





The singing from the whole cast is exemplary, and the acting convincing.  Anna Yun is particularly touching as Cio-Cio-San’s warm, caring friend and confidant, Suzuki.  Graeme Macfarlane uses his considerable experience to bring depth to the role of the conniving marriage-broker, Goro.  Michael Honeyman is  excellent as the thoughtful, dignified ambassador, Sharpless,  perplexed by his friend Pinkertons’s cavalier attitude to his responsibilities. Celeste Lazarenko, in the comparatively unrewarding role of Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate, also makes a strong impression.

Although unseen until the final bows, and sensitively amplified, the huge orchestra, under the baton of Brian Castles- Onions provided a lush account of Puccini’s superb score insuring that the luscious arias and ensembles succeeded in capturing the joy and tragedy inherent in this wonderful score.

This is an intelligent,beautifully sung production of “Madama Butterfly”. Director Alex Olle’s contemporary take on this opera, supported by a marvellous set design by Alfons Flores and imaginative costumes by Lluc Castells , all splendidly realised by Opera Australia, works a treat.
The fireworks celebrating the wedding.

Presented as it is,  in the breathtakingly beautiful setting on Sydney Harbour in Autumn, it provides an operatic experience unequalled anywhere else in the world. Little wonder that people are flocking to Sydney to experience Lyndon Terracini’s remarkable concept.    
An extra performance has already been added for this remarkable production which will now run until Sunday 13th April. Don’t miss it.     

                                                              Images by James Morgan
 
























THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK




Supa Productions

ANU Arts Centre until 29th March 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 
More “Sex in the City” than “The Sound of Music”, “The Witches of Eastwick”” is a raunchy, adult musical about three unhappy divorcees who each become entangled with the same mysterious stranger in their quest for love.   

Louiza Blomfield, Kelly Roberts and Vanessa de Jager are a formidable trio of leading ladies. Each offers superb singing and a strong characterisation. Their trios are especially impressive.

Jarrad West as the mysterious interloper impresses with a strong, committed performance, but needs to dig deeper into his own undoubted personal charm to make the boorish behaviour of his character palatable.

Louiza Blomfield, Kelly Roberts, Jarrad West, Vanessa de Jager
Photo: Garrick Smith
Michelle Klempke has great fun chewing up the scenery as the interfering town busybody. She gets great support from Dennis Bittisnich as her ineffectual husband. Laura Dawson and Alexander Clubb are charming as the young lovers, while Georgia Foster playing the little girl steals the best laugh of the night with a surprise twist.

Good songs, very well sung by all the cast, arresting performances from the principals, big production numbers featuring energetic dancing, some impressive scenic elements and Rose Shorney’s taut and terrific band, should have guaranteed first night success. However,  despite everyone’s  valiant efforts, the huge technical challenges ultimately proved too much, with  principal characters too often unlit at crucial moments, stage hands much too visible, unfocussed direction and occasional moments which blurred the fine line between sophistication and tackiness. Recommended for adult audiences.
 
(This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 15th March and  appears in the March 20 print edition.) 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

LA BELLE AU BOIS DORMANT (The Sleeping Beauty)


THE PARIS OPERA BALLET.

Palace Cinema, Canberra, March 14,15,16,19.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens



Because of his huge renown as an outstanding dancer, it is often overlooked that Rudolf Nureyev was also a very fine choreographer with a passion for preserving the great ballet masterpieces. Throughout his career he staged productions of many ballet classics for ballet companies around the world, including “Don Quixote” for the Australian Ballet.

In 1989 he staged a production of “La Belle au Bois Dormant” for the Paris Opera Ballet which is featured in the current series of filmed opera and ballet performances being screened at the Palace Cinema in Canberra.

This performance was filmed at the Palais Garnier on December 16th and at that performance the role of Princess Aurora was danced by Myriam Ould Braham. Her Prince Desire was Mathias Heymann.


Myriam Ould Braham - Matthias Heymann

As you would expect, both were beautifully cast. Ould Braham looked every inch the serious faced 16 year old, nervous at having to select a partner from the four suitors on offer at the ball arranged by her parents, then radiant when she meets the prince of her dreams on awakening from a century-long nap - the inspiration for the ballet is the Charles Perrault tale but Walt Disney has made the story pretty famous too. Ould Braham is a wonderful dancer with beautiful extensions and a great line, superbly displayed by Nureyev’s choreography.

Mathias Heymann also looks and acts the perfect Prince Desire. Tall, dark and handsome, he is an accomplished, thoughtful partner as well as a virtuosic dancer.  Their grand pas de deux which climaxes the ballet is quite simply thrilling.

Myriam Ould Braham - Matthias Heymann
The many huge ensemble dances are superbly executed as are the soloist’s smaller ensemble dances and specialty pas de deux.

Nureyev has based his production on the original production staged at the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg which was choreographed by Marius Petipa to Tchaikovsky’s ravishing score. He has used as much of Petipa’s original choreography as he could remember, which he has modified and expanded, to meet his particular conception of the piece. The result is an eye-popping extravaganza which provides an almost overwhelming feast for both the eyes and ears.

The lavish sets and costumes are the work of Ezio Frigerio and Francesca Squarciapino and they look quite marvellous on the massive stage of the Palais Garnier.

The high definition film print is remarkably clear, and the sound throughout was magnificent. It was just a little disappointing and disconcerting therefore when the operator at this particular showing turned on the house lights before the film had ended, washing away some of the magic. 
One now looks forward to comparing the Royal Ballet's version  of this same ballet which screens at the Palace Cinemas on April 18,19,20 and 23. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

Book and Lyrics by John Dempsey
Music by Dana P. Rowe
Musical Director Rose Shorney
Directors: Angel Dolesji & Amy Fitzpatrick
Supa Productions Inc
ANU Arts Centre 14 - 29 March 2014

Review by Len Power 14 March 2014




Supa Productions’, ‘The Witches Of Eastwick’, is the first of two musicals to be presented this year which have not been seen before by Canberra audiences.  Based on the book by John Updike, with book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, it had already been a successful non-musical movie with Jack Nicholson.  The stage musical version premiered in London in 2000 and ran for a year and a half but has never had a Broadway season.  A short-lived professional production played in Melbourne in 2002.

Three women, frustrated and bored by their mundane lives in the USA, New England town of Eastwick, share a longing and desire for the perfect male who comes to life in the form of a charismatic stranger, a devil-like character, Darryl van Horne.  Seducing each of the women in turn, Darryl teaches them how to expand the powers locked within each of them.

Louiza Blomfield, Kelly Roberts, Jarrad West and Vanessa de Jager
Co-directed by Angel Dolejší and Amy Fitzpatrick, this is an entertaining production which has good music, singing and dancing as well as strong performances from a large, enthusiastic cast.  As the three witches, Louiza Blomfield, Kelly Roberts and Vanessa de Jager, sing and act their roles with great accomplishment.  Their trio at the start of the show, ‘Make Him Mine’ was particularly well sung.  Jarrad West played and sang the devilish role of Darryl van Horne with a strong level of mystery, threat and animal sexuality.  Michelle Klemke was like a young Eve Arden in her very funny performance as the uptight Felicia, expertly singing the most difficult song in the show, ‘Evil’.  There was uniformly good work from a number of minor characters as well as the large chorus.

The set design by the two directors and scenic artist, Ian Croker, was simple and attractive with a good use of an electronic screen and projections and the scene changes worked smoothly.  Costumes designed by Suzan Cooper were colourful and suited the characters well.  The lighting design by Phil Goodwin of Eclipse Lighting & Sound added great atmosphere to the various scenes.  Jesse Sewell, the audio operator, kept the sound balance crisp and clear throughout the show.  Musical director, Rose Shorney, and her orchestra played the tricky jazz score expertly.  Choreography by the director, Angel Dolejší, was imaginative and complemented the singing.  The cast danced well and with obvious enjoyment.

The directors have done a fine job with this show.  The first act is particularly strong but the second act suffers from a fragmented book which makes the story confusing and less effective.  It’s a long show and some musical numbers, while entertaining in themselves, don’t advance the story very well.  Luckily, the directors’ work overcomes these shortcomings for the most part.

With all the good work on stage, it was very disappointing to see the director, Angel Dolejší distracting the audience around him by texting on a brightly lit mobile phone during the performance, waving his arms around and talking constantly to his co-director seated next to him.  Maybe it was part of the show?

Photography by Garrick Smith and Emma Tattam

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 14 March 2014.