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Category Archives: Musical Theatre

Rent

RentEveryman Theatre has opened a fine production of a modern classic at the Courtyard.

The story of a group of impoverished friends struggling to make their name in New York under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, Rent is among the longest-running Broadway musicals, having been performed at the Nederlander Theatre from 1996 to 2008. Its historical significance (both social and theatrical) is great, and it is starting to show its age, with a few obscure lines now highlighting the changes that have come about in western society’s responses to HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in the last decade. It remains, however, a very poignant story, highly developed in character and plot; qualities that are extremely rare in musical theatre.

It can’t be denied that Rent is a big show. Nothing about it is intimate; its themes are as lofty as its music is histrionic. And its characters, while well-developed, are nonetheless representatives of archetypes more than they are individual personae. So to squeeze this vast musical into the Courtyard at the Canberra Theatre Centre is a curious choice. Perhaps it is the bite…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 6 December 2012 in Canberra Theatre, Everyman Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

 

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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It never ceases to amaze me how often producers of musicals in Canberra select the most horrible musical in the canon and then cast highly-experienced and impeccable performers to work with expert crews to try in vain to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse. I’m sorry, but I’ve already lost more than eight hours of my life to Cats, and if too many of my friends hear that someone’s doing it again this year, I will feel obliged to go along and sacrifice another four to that worthless tray of kitty litter that continues to blight our theatres. Thankfully, Phoenix Players have taken almost the opposite approach with the show I saw tonight.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a gem from that time when Broadway and Hollywood were genuinely in sync and both knew how to tell a story. In its script we meet lovable, hilarious characters who drive a generously funny plot forward with all the vim and vigour of Russell Crowe‘s interactions with service industry staff.

Chatting to first-time director, Richard Block, after the show, I was surprised to learn how many of the cast and crew were also first-timers. While there might have been the occasional glimpse of this, for the most part, these theatre virgins gave great performances led by Adrian ‘flawless’ Flor in the role of J. Pierpont Finch.

For me, the highlight of the night was definitely the rendition of Been a Long Day, which was simply charming, and really showed off the calibre of vocalists and actors this show boasts in Adrian Flor, Vanessa De Jager and Hannah Wood. The performance of this number was impeccable, not only for its vocal qualities but also because it was the only moment in the show when I felt genuinely engrossed in the moment and the characters’ experience rather than the writers’ conceit.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I enjoyed the performances of this very successful cast and their hilarious story, the misogyny of the three blokes who wrote it was never far from my mind. I have heard it said that it is a comedy, and should be interpreted as a mockery of sexist attitudes, but if there is any intention of this, it simply isn’t clear enough to allay my repulsion. Even at the time the play was written, the feminist movement was close to a century old, and it seems odd in such an age for chauvinism to be so firmly embraced, and made funny without really being mocked. So as much as I enjoy the show, its beautifully human story and its humour, the values it espouses just undermine my attempts to fully engage with its characters and their experience.

So, I have a bit of a mixed response to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On the one hand, I think it’s a great musical, carefully constructed, with excellent music (and comparable lyrics) and it’s absolutely hilarious. On the other, I find it difficult to concentrate on the humour in the presence of such misogyny! I guess I may just take things too seriously for my own good. Regardless of my indecision, though, Phoenix Players’ production is a romp, and certainly one of the best choices of musical any musical production company in Canberra has made in the last decade.

 

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Blood Brothers

There is an awful lot of speculation out there about the bonds between twins. Whether it’s about finishing each others’ sentences or remotely sensing trouble in each other’s lives, twins arouse a lot of speculation about whether certain behaviours are innate or acquired. Such speculations, I suspect, were part of the inspiration for Blood Brothers, now playing at The Q in Queanbeyan…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The Phantom of the Opera

I’m just home from Las Vegas where I had the opportunity to see The Phantom of the Opera at The Venetian. What I have found fascinating since first hearing about the production is the idea that a theatre could be constructed specifically for one show; it seems at once wasteful and devout. The ancient Greeks invented the notion of an architectural entity devoted to theatre, and three thousand years seems rather a long time to wait for a theatre devoted to one show. Las Vegas, apparently, boasts two, but I only managed to see the Venetian’s Phantom Theatre. It is a spectacular representation of Paris’s Opera Populaire, complete with wax vestiges of Parisian high society in the nineteenth century in the balconies.

The custom build has allowed for some spectacular use of the fly tower to quickly present a myriad of different scenes and aid some very clever blocking. Effects including fireworks and flame throwers as well as a dancing chandelier and a rather clever gondola, not to mention the thickest smoke I’ve ever seen, cover a multitude of sins as the performers omit all pathos to avoid making a technical error. Not that it would matter if their performances were better; the audience simply wouldn’t notice with all the smoke and mirrors around (and, I might add, not all of the smoke is intentional special effect; Nevada’s lax smoking laws mean that cigarette smoke from the neighbouring casino fills the auditorium constantly).

I’ve said in the past that I like museum pieces; and apart from some impressive special effects, there’s little more of value in this show. Any student of theatre should see it, purely to flesh out their understanding of nineteenth century theatrical culture and gain a sense of the theatre’s layout. Of course, if you’re going to Paris you could go see the real thing, and probably get a better show into the bargain. The Venetian’s production, though, is also a fine example of theatrical precision, and execution, but little more. Dead flat characterisation and mechanical and unfeeling theatrical precision from the performers sucks what little life Andrew Lloyd Webber deigned to sprinkle into his book, and leaves you with nothing more than special effects to keep you entertained.

The big theatrical surprise of my trip to the United States is that the express version of Aladdin being performed twice daily (and often more) at Disney’s California Adventure Park shows the same technical precision and impressive technical effects while also portraying the story and characters with reasonable passion. It really puts the Venetian’s production of Phantom to shame. Still, that’s Las Vegas; the bright and shiny things are a very thin veil designed to distract the observer from the soulless decrepitude of the human condition. Andrew Lloyd Webber fits in perfectly.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 9 April 2011 in Musical Theatre, Theatre

 

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42nd Street

Erindale was alive tonight with Philo’s opening of 42nd Street. The froth and bubble of Broadway is generous if not really enlightening, and the cast delivered a fine performance of a quaint old musical.

The story is that of a talented girl who dreams of singing on Broadway. Her talent noticed, she lands a role in the chorus line and when she accidentally trips the leading lady, fracturing her ankle, she manages to take her place. Woops, did I give away the ending? No, I think that was the writer…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 10 March 2011 in Australian Stage, Canberra Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

 

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Oklahoma!

Free Rain really are gracing the stage of The Q at the moment with their production of Oklahoma! The classic musical has certainly been in good hands under the direction of Anne Somes and musical direction of Leisa Keen, and the energy on opening night was simply infectious.

Despite being a musical, and a light one at that, there is some genuine depth to these characters. Jenna Roberts’ portrayal of the heroine is particularly noteworthy, but they all sit in the shadow of Tony Falla, Amy Dunham and Mathew Chardon O’Dea who shine in the love triangle. Despite being given very little to work with by the writers, they have developed an engaging story that really moves along.

I was particularly impressed with the cast’s American accents. Perhaps for the first time in Canberra, a local cast has successfully emulated a single American accent, rather than the more common practice of each cast member using an accent from a different part of the United States. It may not have been a perfect Oklahoma accent, but even the cast of the 1955 film didn’t manage that!

There is something unfortunate in the fact that, when they wrote Oklahoma, Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t see the value in the pioneering story that underlies the central love story. It leaves the love story a little hollow, and turns references to Oklahoma’s journey to statehood into quaint oddities. I think that with more focus on this aspect, the story would resonate much more deeply, and the central love story would be enhanced by a heightened sense of purpose and destiny.

In all, this production of Oklahoma!is certainly one of the better musical productions of recent years.

 

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Chess

I really must come up with a good reason why I don’t like follow spots and smoke. Normally my dislike of them doesn’t matter, but in the case of Chess, they use them right at the beginning, and they use them well! Why is this a problem? Well, if you don’t like follow spots and you don’t like smoke, but the first thing in the show is a follow spot and smoke, it distracts you from the show. It’s not a problem with a poor show, but unfortunately, The Q’s production of Chess is not a poor show, so I feel I need to justify my dislike of follow spots and smoke. One day, my prejudice will have a justification, but this is not that day. Chessis just too good.

Chess is, in many ways, poles apart from Krapp’s Last Tape, which I gushed about the night before, but it shares two important characteristics: it tells a remarkably human story, and allows an audience to engage in some depth with its central characters. That said, I think I missed some elements of that story, due to some distortion of Tim Rice’s lyrics. I am unsure whether this was a problem with enunciation or amplification, but I suspect the latter. Of course, putting such complicated sentence structures into lyrics was probably a bad idea in the first place, but in this instance it was not a fatal one, probably due to the talents of this magnificent cast.
The ensemble gathered for this production must be one of the best I have seen in Canberra, but they were not a patch on the magnificent talents of principals Stephen Pike, Christine Forbes and Lexi Sekuless. Even an old cynic like me felt goosebumps!
 
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Posted by on Thursday, 30 July 2009 in Canberra Theatre, Musical Theatre, The Q, Theatre

 

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