Monday, June 30, 2014

MANAGING CARMEN



Written by David Williamson
Directed by Denis Moore
Produced by Christine Harris & HIT Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan
June 24 – 28, 2014

Review by Len Power 24 June 2014

David Williamson gives us yet another entertaining and thought-provoking play with ‘Managing Carmen’.  A psychologist employed to help a young Melbourne football star overcome his shyness with the media ascertains the star’s dark secret.  He likes to cross-dress and not just privately.  He wants to go out dressed as a woman occasionally.  This news horrifies his manager who is concerned at the potential loss of income to the football club if this secret gets out and there’s already an aggressive journalist stalking the player for a good, negative story.

Played on an attractively simple living room set designed by Shaun Gurton, the lighting plot by Jason Bovaird cleverly suggests other locations as the plot moves through a number of short scenes.  Director, Denis Moore, wisely keeps the pace moving swiftly until the momentum carries us to an enjoyably farcical ending.

The director and his strong cast capture every nuance of the interesting characters and make every laugh count.  There were great performances from Brandon Burke as the harried club manager, Hannah Norris as the psychologist and Annie Last as the worldly-wise girlfriend, Clara.  They were matched every step of the way by Jamieson Caldwell in the difficult role of the cross-dressing football player and Trent Baker as the sleazy journalist.

The plot works well as a comedy bordering on farce but I found myself questioning whether a star footballer would really risk a lucrative career just to have a potentially dangerous night out in a dress and, if he was straight, as he states early in the play, why did he want to go out and flirt with men in bars?  Anyway, it’s just a comedy with a serious plea for tolerance under the surface and should be enjoyed just for what it is.

It’s been very interesting catching up with the new David Williamson plays over the past few years.  He seems to be on a roll with clever story ideas peopled with strongly recognizable Australian characters.  Good production values and excellent casting seem to be a signature of Christine Harris & HIT Productions shows and I recommend this one and suggest you keep an eye out for more shows from this company in the future.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 29 June 2014 from 5pm.

Friday, June 27, 2014

THE LAST IMPRESARIO





Directed by Gracie Otto
Palace Cinemas from 26 June 2014

Review by Len Power

Australian actress, Greta Scacchi, calls Michael White, ‘the most famous man you’ve never heard of’.  Gracie Otto’s documentary film changes all that with an in-depth look at the man’s career and provides a fascinating look at the man himself.

Michael White is a British theatrical impresario and film producer whose list of credits includes many of the most memorable shows of the past 50 years.  He produced shows that, in their day, would not have been touched by other more traditional West End producers.  In his personal life, he personified the Swinging 60s in London.

Amongst his productions were, ‘Oh! Calcutta!’, the notorious erotic revue, the original stage version of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ and the film version, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’.  He was also responsible for Anthony Shaffer’s smash hit, ‘Sleuth’ and the London productions of ‘A Chorus Line’, ‘Crazy For You’, ‘Annie’, ‘Beauty And The Beast’ and the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.  He introduced the dance companies of Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch to London audiences and was responsible for various avant-garde productions, many of which had him at logger-heads with British censorship at the time.  Bankrupted in 2005 and suffering ill-health since then, Michael White nevertheless continues to be an icon in the theatrical world.

Following a chance encounter with Michael White, Gracie Otto gained his permission and co-operation to make this documentary about his extraordinary career and his life.  The film is particularly strong on the details of his cutting edge productions and there is excellent use of graphics and film clips to illustrate the narrative.

The film is less successful where Gracie Otto attempts to gain information from the man himself about the touchy subjects of his gambling, drug-taking and failed business ventures.  Her direct approach during interviews seems to antagonize her subject who is not all that forthcoming to begin with.

The director gained access to a huge number of celebrities who were willing to talk to her about Michael White, everyone from Kate Moss to John Cleese to Yoko Ono.  Many of them provide interesting insights into the man, often revealing intriguing details about themselves.

The film is a compelling look at a fascinating period of theatrical history and at a man who influenced the direction of theatre and show business generally over a long period.  For anyone with an interest in theatre history and/or good celebrity gossip, this film is a must-see.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Home Front

Link to Canberra Times review.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/the-home-front-review-20140619-zse6r.html?skin=text-only

Alanna Maclean

Managing Carmen

Link to Canberra Times review HIT's production of Managing Carmen

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/review-of-david-williamsons-managing-carmen-boys-will-be-girls-20140625-zskvk.html

Correction: 'Hannah Norris’ character Jessica is the therapist and Annie Last (Clara) is the girlfriend.'  (Dean Drieburg, Associate Producer, HIT Productions)

This was the reviewer's error. 

Interesting to note that David Williamson seems to have changed the names of these characters. Picked this up while i was doing the review but the reference has not come to hand. 

Alanna Maclean 
 

Monday, June 23, 2014

SHOWTUNE


Presented by Canberra Repertory Society.

Theatre 3 until 5th July

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 
 
 
Ben Hardy - Liz de Totth- Michael Moore -Janelle McMenamin - Nathan Kellie
 
Featuring around forty of Jerry Herman’s best songs from eight of his most successful Broadway shows, this production of “Showtune” boasts a hard-working ensemble cast of twelve performers, including musical director, Leisa Keen.

The songs are presented, not as scenes from the shows for which they were written, but cleverly grouped to expose fresh nuances in the lyrics. They’re performed, without connecting dialogue, on a stylish set designed by Andrew Kay, with lots of colourful costumes by Christine Pawlicki, and some impressive, well-rehearsed ensemble numbers, which have been cleverly staged by director, Jordan Kelly to disguise the lack of dance skills in his well-drilled cast. The scene changes are imaginative and snappy.

However, “Showtune” is about the songs, and many of Herman’s songs were written to showcase the talents of highly skilled Broadway star performers. Despite their best efforts, no-one in this cast possesses either the vocal skills or stage presence to do the solo songs justice. “Time Heals Everything” and “Shalom” expressively performed by Leisa Keen, accompanying herself at the piano, point the way.  

But despite strong performances from Liz de Totth, Sarah Hull and Janelle McMenamin, and entertaining moments from Ben Hardy, Nathan Kellie and John Kelly, it is Jordan Kelly’s brilliantly staged and well-sung ensemble numbers that make this show worth braving the Canberra cold.  
 
This review was published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on June 21, and will appear in the print edition out June 25.
 

 

SHOWTUNE



Conceived by Paul Gilger
Directed by Jordan Kelly
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Canberra Rep, Theatre 3
20 June – 5 July, 2014

Review by Len Power 20 June 2014

Traditionally, Canberra Rep have eased us into winter with a musical offering, most recently, the series of ‘Jazz Garters’ reviews.  This year, Canberra Rep’s musical offering is something different.  ‘Showtune’, a review celebrating the words and music of Jerry Herman, was conceived by Paul Gilger and first performed in San Francisco in 1985 and has been seen in a number of cities internationally since then.

Jerry Herman is one of the great Broadway show composers.  A feeling of optimism underlies the majority of his songs no matter what is being sung on the surface and that makes them tremendously appealing.  In ‘Showtune’, the forty songs from the list of eight Jerry Herman musicals are presented in medleys and solo numbers without any linking script.  It’s up to the director to find a way of giving these sequences meaning outside the show they were written for.

In this production, Jordan Kelly, the director, gets it right only here and there.  Too often the cast members just stand and sing a song that means nothing out of context.  It comes alive when the cast have props to help them, as in the ‘Movies Were Movies’ number where the cast simply have a box of popcorn each.

The singing and dancing by the cast on opening night was a bit tentative.  Hopefully that will settle down as the run progresses.  There were, however, some highlights.  Leisa Keen and Michael Moore gave us a heartfelt ‘Song On The Sand’ from ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ and Liz De Totth got right under the skin of ‘I’ll Be Here Tomorrow’, one of the less well-known Herman songs from the failed musical, ‘The Grand Tour’.  Sarah Hull was hilarious as the very pregnant Agnes Gooch who had ‘made some connections’ in ‘Gooch’s Song’ from the musical, ‘Mame’.  It was an inspired idea to have her then, huge baby bump and all, join the ensemble dancing ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’.  Janelle McMenamin was especially touching in her duet ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ with Michael Moore and Ben Hardy showed great comic timing here and there during the show and gave us a nicely controlled and sweetly sung ‘It Only Takes A Moment’ from ‘Hello, Dolly!’

Leisa Keen provided expert musical accompaniment on piano throughout the show and beautifully sang one of Jerry Herman’s best songs, ‘Time Heals Everything’, from ‘Mack And Mabel’.

The set by Andrew Kay was functional but, for a musical review, it seemed under-utilized by the director and, with few props to add colour, it looked a bit drab.  Costumes by Christine Pawlicki were mostly fine but Michael Moore’s white jacket still needs some work.

There is much to enjoy in this Jerry Herman review.  Every song is memorable and it’s great to hear them all in one show.  It’s not perfect but you’ll have a nice evening out at this one.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 22 June 2014 from 5pm.

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014

THE RAAH PROJECT

The New Score

Festival Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 21 2014


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins




Tamil Rogeon and Ryan Ritchie - THE RAAH PROJECT


Tousle-haired Ryan Ritchie of internationally acclaimed THE RAAH PROJECT still can’t believe that he has pulled off the grand finale of the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. With a little help from his friends that is: collaborator, Tamil Rogeon, stellar backing vocalists iOTA, Kylie Auldist and the phenomenal Kate Ceberano, joining the concert as a final appearance at her final Adelaide cabaret Festival as Artistic Director and to top it all off 23 superb musicians from the Adelaide Art Orchestra.      

Singer, Ritchie and violinist,Rogeon take turns to conduct the orchestra as they re-arrange and re-imagine some of the world’s greatest songs. Ritchie opens with a primal arrangement of Massive Attack’s Teardrop. This is going to be a very special event! It is soon followed by Kate Ceberano’s scream from the soul in Wild is the Wind, a version of the Ned Washington number that Ceberano makes her very own, “It was good in rehearsal,” Ritchie says, “but that is ridiculous.”

That’s not all that’s ridiculous. IOTA’s haunting, eerie voice soars high above the audience in the song All of Your Things. Auldist fills the theatre with her soul. The audience sits, transported by the music, seduced by the song and carried along by Ritchie’s larrikin swagger and bourbon thirsty nonchalance. I am not a musician, but I find myself beguiled by modern classical sounds of an orchestra, swayed by the challenge of invention and singers imbued with the spirit of their song. THE RAAH PROJECT’s The New Score takes us beyond the expected and leads us into what Ryan calls the Dark Arts,  that light our way to the new.

The two people sitting next to me have not returned after interval. Fools! THE RAAH PROJECT has new surprises in store. I slip in to the empty seat to escape the head that had obscured my view. The haunting, seductive orchestral sweeping sound and genre bending song give way to popular sway. Hip hop takes to the stage, as Ritchie solicits random words from the audience to construct his hip-hop verse. The words come as the lights go up on the auditorium; Love , pancakes, computer, avocado, vodka, Adelaide and several more and Ryan Ritchie  spits his halting verse into the microphone. The words begin to flow and soon the hip hop rhythm of his imagination gives cohesion to the random vocabulary and the audience breaks into appreciative applause. Ceberano steps forward to announce their surprise guest and in a flash of stardom, Darlene Love takes the stage with her four backing vocalists and musical director, Michael Jacobson and for the next 20 minutes the powerhouse of pop and rock thrills with her song and her spirit. Audience leap to their feet to pound the beat of Mountain High – River Deep. The Festival Theatre goes wild.

The mirror ball sends its patterns across the theatre. The orchestra, under Rogeon brings in the improvised rhythms of Jazzbar 2025. Is this the sound of the future or the imaginings of a time when freedom will find her style? The Adelaide Art Orchestra merges and then slides away as strings, percussion, woodwind and brass find distinctive voice in the improvised score and the extraordinary final event of the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival comes to a close amidst an applauding, cheering wave of adulation. The bold challenge has found conquest in THE NEW SCORE.

I barter over a Vinyl in the foyer and Ryan Ritchie kindly strikes a deal. The CDs are all gone by the time I arrive. He who hesitates, but there is a stature to a vinyl that a CD can never hope to have. My house can now be filled with the sounds that thrilled tonight. Next door in the Piano Bar, patrons sit to hear the next generation of cabaret performers as some members of the University of South Australia’s Cabaret Intensive Workshop Week strut their song upon the tiny stage. The magic of tonight’s performance of The New Score and other cabaret performances I have seen during my visit to Adelaide in the festival’s final week fill with hope the future for the cabaret artists of tomorrow.   

 
Ryan Ritchie - THE RAAH PROJECT

Sunday, June 22, 2014

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL

ELISE McCANN

EVERYBODY LOVES LUCY

The Banquet Room. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 2. 2014

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Elise McCann in Everybody Loves Lucy




If you are old enough to have loved and laughed at I Love Lucy with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, you would love Elise McCann’s sparkling incarnation of Hollywood’s screwball Queen of Comedy. If you are too young to have tuned in to the ten years of Lucy’s madcap antics, sharp repartee with husband Arnaz and satirical swipes at the treatment of women in the fifties and sixties, then McCann’s tribute show with Musical Director, Nigel Ubrhbien also taking on the roles of Arnaz and Hollywood television producers is must-see cabaret fun. Acclaimed Australian music theatre performer, McCann has been touring Everybody Loves Lucy, so if it arrives at a theatre near you, indulge in some hilariously funny nostalgia or grab a glimpse at what made their final show more popular than Dwight D Eisenhower’s presidential inauguration.

Imitation is a risky art. Lucille Ball was unique, and yet McCann makes her impersonation her own. The routines are down pat, the patter timed to perfection and her quick changes executed with lightning effect. I am a little apprehensive as she flies into her opening Be A Clown Routine. This is try-hard Lucy, the slightly clumsy clown, and it is soon apparent that there is purpose in her awkwardness. Here is a comedienne, who is never afraid to play the fool. But it is when she is as sharp as a tack that we see the real Lucille Ball.

The years have passed on, as has Lucille Ball, and we now see her and the highly successful I Love Lucy through different eyes. What network could now screen an advertisement for Philip Morris or show a pregnant woman smoking one of their brand? McCann also gives an hilarious impression of Lucille ball’s advertisement for health juice Vitameatavegamin. She has obviously put in the hours, studying episodes of I Love Lucy and it shows in her quick repartee, her ballet barre work and her witty play on language with Ubrihien’s Arnaz.  Lucille Ball would have killed to have a voice like McCann’s, as she beats the blues with pick-me-up songs, Don’t Give In To A Frown from Harold Arlen and Ira Gerschwin’s Someone At Last” and Jule Styne’s Make Someone Happy.

Lucille Ball’s complex private life was hardly all sunshine and roses. We are privy to the rocky relationship with Arnaz leading up to their divorce, the battle with the studios, her struggles as a woman in the fierce world of Hollywood entertainment and her championing of the feminist cause through the character of her head-scarfed housewife.

Everybody Loves Lucy is more than McCann’s skilfully observed display of Lucille Ball’s comic routines. We are introduced to a woman, who could make the world laugh while the actress was crying inside. We meet a woman, who was much more than a clown, but a voice for independence. In an hour, McCann, Ubrihien and her musicians revive the early years of American TV comedy and the talent of a comedienne whose shows still have the power to make us laugh, to  make us think and sometimes to make us cry.

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014

BEN RIMALOWER

Patti Issues

The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 21 2014


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Ben Rimalower in Patti Issues




Inspiration can be the flame that gives fire to the performer’s art. Obsession, however, is the closed door between the artist and the audience. I chose New York cabaret performer, Ben Rimalower’s  Patti Issues in the mistaken understanding that he may be performing Broadway musical theatre star Patti Lupone’s songs within an account of his life as a gay Jewish boy. He does screech some lyrics from Evita to underline his inner torment as he struggles with his obsession with Julie Covington’s Evita Peron and her recording of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, his consequent obsession with Diva Lupone, and his fragmented Jewish family.
For just over an hour Rimalower candidly reveals his family’s dysfunction, his adoration of Lupone from afar, his meeting with Lupone , their burgeoning friendship and eventual falling out. Patti issues is also Rimalower’s indulget  catharsis. The tenuous line between therapy and entertainment. What follows is the stuf fof Soap Opera, except that it is pointedly real. Rimalower’s father leaves home to live in a series of gay relationships. Young Ben is confused by his sexuality. Perhaps ironically, or just genetically, Ben eventually comes out and embraces his sexuality. Ben’s Dad is a neurotic obstetrician, who unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Ben and sister, Lucy gradually become estranged from the father. His mother remarries, a George Rimalower, who eventually adopts Ben. Meanwhile Ben finds comfort in his fixation with Patti Lupone. He becomes an assistant to Lonny Price on a production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring Lupone, and meets his idol. His father again attempts suicide.  Ben helps Lupone with her lines and lyrics. He loses his job as a result of idolized distraction, and decides to cast Leslie Kritzer in a production of Patti Lupone at Les Mouches. Lupone is very upset and demands that the show be pulled. Ben is left distraught, unemployed and without a happy ending.

Fantasy and reality blur at times. There is such candor in his story that I wonder whether there is truth in the fact that after ten years apart, his father buys a ticket for a seat directly behind Rimalower at a New York show. Coincidence or contrivance? If his story is entirely true, then his family might have cause for dismay at being so candidly exposed. It could be enough for Lupone to exude what John Houseman called “her smell of the gallows” yet in the cabaret festival programme, Patti Lupone is quoted as saying of this long-running Broadway solo show, “The show’s fantastic. He’s a very talented man.” Maybe it’s I who need the therapy, but I still found the show clich├ęd.

 Stereotypes exist ,and  Rimalower’s struggles with sexuality, family issues and obsession deserve empathy, but not New York stand up bravado. Unlike the lady at the table behind me, whose laughter repeatedly crackled about my ears, I did not find Patti Issues funny. Personable perhaps, but not tender as the programme promised, and director Aaron Mark would have been wise to play the dramaturg and open the doorway to guide  Patti Issues beyond the wall of obsession.   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014


CECILIA LOW

They Say She's Different

The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 19-20  2014

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Cecilia Low in They Say She's Different



Cecilia Low sure is one helluva wild one. Her channeling of 70’s funk rock fusion queen, Betty Davis is high octane power fuelled by Low in the role of Davis and her fantastic band and vocal backing singer who take on the roles of contemporaries like Jimi Hendrix, Devon Wilson and partner Miles Davis. On stage and film, They Say She’s Different takes us back to the explosive era of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The world was changing through the liberated Sixties when Davis was emerging on the scene with her unique brand of soul and forging a new music of raw, edgy, electric-wired soul. Musical director Tony Kopa winds up the audience, Oh yeah!!~, while the ear-splitting, chest rasping and mind blowing chords of the electric guitars rip and tear through the Festival Centre’s Space Theatre.

Low takes the stage with the inner power jet force of defiant attitude. In her tight black leather shorts, knee-length black leather boots and pink puffed furry jacket, which she later discards for a slink black slip she is Betty Davis. Her body slides with erotic obsession and her voice purrs, growls and roars from a throat born to scream her independence to the world through her bluesy, funky music. Apart from the lyrics, projected upon the screen with re-enactments of Betty’s life, the lyrics of her bluesy funk become an ear-splitting sea of sounds. It is unfortunate that Davis’s lyrics should be lost to those less familiar with her songs. The show swells to the Space as though it were in a stadium, and while I am swept away by the sheer power of Davis’s music and story, I give way willingly to the bombardment of attitude.

They Say She’s Different traces Davis’s journey from the mid Sixties when she met the Chamber Brothers at the Electric Circus night club and presented her song Uptown in Harlem to them. “She just wouldn’t shut up”. It’s 1966 and the age is ready for Davis’s unique fusion of blues and soul. Throughout the one hour show, Low intersperses Davis’s classic songs, such as Your man, My Man, Your Mamma Wants You Back, and songs from her Anti Love compilation with accounts of the people in her life, such as close friend, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Reed, Muddy waters, B.B. King, Mohammed Ali and her partner Miles Davis, whom she introduced to Hendrix and revived his flagging career.

The pain, anguish and struggle of her life and the troubled, turbulent lives of her contemporaries are captured in atmospheric black and white on the screen behind the band. Here is the harsh truth of life in the heady world of her contemporaries. “it was not all glamour” Davis tells us. “It was hard work. It was emotional pain until you don’t know who you are.” The show is a lament for lost lives, dreams and fractured relationships. Betty Davis, the girl from North Carolina, who would never apologize, and paved the way for Prince, Madonna and the musicians of funk fusion, also gave the world the power to be yourself, stand tall and bear to be different.

In a show that is loud, brash, raw and powered with jet-force attitude, Low’s Davis is mesmerizing, seductive and unapologetic. Kopa’s incitement to bring the audience to their feet needed little urging. They were the possessed, transported back in time to an era when freedom moved the spirit and Betty Davis showed the way.