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Tag Archives: Vanessa De Jager

Les Misérables

les miserablesJust quietly, I think Canberra Philharmonic have outdone themselves with their latest rendering of a classic musical. I mean, it’s nothing terribly innovative, the staging is much what you’d expect for any other rendition of Les Misérables, and the set, while pleasant, goes through a few clunky moments. But the performances drawn out of these ‘amateur’ performers is nothing short of spectacular.

Dave Smith’s Valjean is a perfect match for Adrian Flor’s Javert, and the two milk Schönberg and Boulbil’s book for every hyper-sentimental note it’s worth. Their energy and focus, while admirable, is upstaged by other principals, particularly Kelly Roberts’ Fantine, Mat Chardon O’Dea’s Marius, Laura Dawson’s Cosette and Vanessa de Jager’s Eponine. Their energy filled Erindale’s cavernous auditorium, and they must be finding the run absolutely gruelling. The rest of the cast are pretty impressive too, on the whole.

I found the performance on the whole moving, and the staging, while predicable, was solid. The orchestra, though it needed to be hidden under a fully extended stage, was in fine form.

The whole evening hangs together beautifully, as evidenced by the full standing ovation with which this late-run audience honoured the splendid cast and crew. This is a great night out, and you’ve got one more week in which to get along and see it.

 
 

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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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