Cross-cultural comedy-drama

Good Muslim Boy (Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

July 12 – August 4

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Amongst the vibrancy of contemporary Australian theatrical works, “Good Muslim Boy” stands tall as one of merit. The Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre stage adaptation of the 2015 prize-winning memoir (and 2016 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards winner) of the same name by Iraqi-Australian actor, comedian and writer Osamah Sami is not set in Australia, however, but rather a wintery Iran where Osamah’s father has taken him on pilgrimage. The trip is Osamah’s father’s attempt to recharge and reconnect his son with his roots, in response to his failing arranged marriage and hedonistic Western lifestyle as judged by the suburban mosque community at which his father is imam.

The holy land holds little appeal for Osamah who, despite being born in Iran, speaks Arabic, but not fluent Persian. So while his cleric father is moved at The Imam Reza holy shrine in Mashad, Osamah is more interested in taking selfies and trying to catch up on sporting scores from back home in Australia. When tragedy strikes during the trip, there’s no time for emotion as Osamah attempts to work around the bureaucratic nightmare of pilgrim season Iran to return home to Australia without overstaying his visa.

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The life-changing and life-defining story is recounted by performer, cowriter and co-creator Osamah Sami himself, on stage, (along with Rodney Afif and Nicole Nabout, in a multitude of character roles). And what an extraordinary and absolutely absorbing story it is. Its 85-minute duration is one of sustained tension that remains wisely unbroken by an intermission, but is effectively juxtaposed by humour, frequently through the range of often comic characters identifiable to anyone who has travelled in the chaotic Middle East.

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The three-handed comedy-drama is realised in its energetic and compelling performances. As a young man torn between his obligation to be a good Muslim boy and his passion for the arts and the escape of storytelling evoked by his father’s tales, Sami makes audiences feel (rather than just feel for) his frustration as he is transformed into a stronger man. Aend his presence on stage leading us through his journey both creates a direct connection of shared moments and makes the show all that more special.

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Naout and Afif are clearly versatile performers in their swift switches in and out of countless both male and female characters (some who not even have any dialogue) that come into Osamaha’s story, presenting sharp delineation between characters, occasionally assisted by minimal, simple props. Although Nabout shows enormous range in shift, for example, from Osamaha’s eight-year-old daughter in Australia to a slow-moving octogenarian in Iran, Afif is particularly memorable as Osamah’s principled father. His measured performance makes his mix of dad jokes and wise words of regard for others most endearing, especially in his awareness and attempted support of his wayward son.

The solitary set belies its inventive staging as a perspex bus/tram stop shelter of moveable parts is changed at lightning speed into all sorts of locations. This not only allows the episodic story to pace along through its many short scenes, but it shows how the performer’s characterisation is primarily what drives the narrative. Ben Hughes’ lighting helps audiences along the emotional journey, warming into focus flashbacks in reminder of earlier situations, such as when Osamah’s father recalls life as an Iraqi living in Iran during the armed conflict between the two nations. Lighting also works well with Phil Slade’s composition and sound design to develop location and atmosphere such as in creation of a beautiful moment when Osamah awakes to a sunrise call to morning prayer.

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“Good Muslim Boy” is a big story full of small moments around its themes of family and relationship with faith. Indeed, there is a touching humanity to its minor moments, including share of an incident and explanation of how charity can destroy a poorer man’s pride. The autobiographical piece maintains the great heart that is the essence of the memoir that is itself dedicated to Osamah’s ‘father, confidant, friend and absolute hero’.

This is a little play that leaves a big impact, at once gripping and fascinating in its ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ reality. Crafted by Janice Muller’s direction, the heavy subject matter is handled well and enhanced by a skilful comic touch of also light and lively scenes to sit alongside heavier ones in tell of a refugee experience, making for a dramatic and touching theatre event that will not only rivet for its duration but resonate long afterwards in memory of its insight into universal themes beyond the specifics of faith.

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Star Wars score!

Star Wars: A New Hope In Concert (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 7

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Before there was Harry Potter (which the QSO have also celebrated in concert), there was an even more iconic story of a hero’s journey. Not only this, but “Star Wars” brings with it one the most famous signature soundtracks of all time, making it perfect fodder for musical celebration courtesy of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, performing John Williams’ musical score live to the 1977 film “Star Wars: A New Hope”.

From the time the in the live symphonic concert experience begins with ‘20th Century Fox Fanfare’ over the opening searchlight logo, it is clear that the audience is in for a very enjoyable evening. It is more experience than show and a shared one at that as audience members join in reactions to the film in addition to the music, in reminder of the original film’s humour and the relatability of its quintessential alien cantina scene, for example.

Legendary composer Williams’ epic score is as memorable as it was ground-breaking in its change of film music; it not only earned an Academy Award for Best Original Score, but the American Film institute lists it as number one amongst the 25 Greatest American Film Scores of all time. Luckily Conductor Benjamin Northey mentions in the evening’s introduction that the orchestra welcomes the audience to show appreciation during the movie as countless times applause is needed to acclaim the QSO’s spectacular work in bringing the instantly recognisable score alive after a 40-year embargo on adaptations of Williams’ work.

Ovation comes too, not just at the end of musical numbers but as iconic characters make their appearances in the story of a civil war ‘a long, time ago in a galaxy far, far away’. When, searching for a lost droid, young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is saved by reclusive Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and so begins to discover his destiny. With Rebel forces struggling against the evil Galactic Empire, Luke and Obi-Wan enlist the aid of hotshot pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and, joined by the quirky droid duo R2-D2 and C-3PO, they set out to rescue Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and make use of stolen plans to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon.

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Over 60 QSO musicians brings the mythic storytelling to life through their presentation of the epic musical score, beginning with the glorious grandeur of ‘Main Title’, otherwise known as the emotionally-charged ‘Daaah dah dahdahdah daaaaah dah’, arguably the most recognisable theme in cinema history. Although the score is sweeping, it gives many different instruments their times to shine. Indeed, there is light and shade as the music softens momentarily, only to then soar in musical narrative, underpinning the film’s important moments with memorable melodies in follow of Richard Wagner’s compositional technique of using leitmotif method, meaning that music relates to a character or a thing.

‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ uses violins and light sounds to show the gentle hope that underpins her struggle against the Empire, while ‘The Death Star’ theme uses brass and percussion to convey a military theme. The Imperial motif (not Vader’s theme which does not come until later in the series) is drama-filled, allowing us to sense Darth Vader’s brooding menace as the dark lord is confronted by Leia for the first time.

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The beautiful concert suite ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ is extremely touching thanks to its multiple melodic upper string and French horn sounds, adding a sense of solitude to the Princess’s capture by Darth Vader. And it is particularly poignant with oboe sounds when R2-D2 plays Leia’s holographic message for Obi-Wan Kenobi. The beautiful score swells, too, with, the noble ‘Force Theme’ (also known as Ben Kenobi’s theme or Luke’s theme) which showcases the orchestra’s wonderful string sounds, most notably when it is first heard in the emotional Binary Sunset scene when the young, eager-for-adventure Luke watches the twin suns of Tatooine set behind the horizon, having just left dinner with his (adopted) parents where his Uncle has asked him to stay for one more harvest, meaning that he can’t go and join the rebellion.

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Although the famed cantina-band song is played on-screen, the score is filled with memorable moments. Strings send us into combat with the rebel alliance, only to then complete with horns in a bombastic good vs evil battle. It is a challenging task for the musicians as the orchestra plays for most of the movie’s duration, however, the QSO’s members are more than up for the task, particularly during the demanding battle sequences.

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‘The Throne Room/End Title’ finishes things on a magnificent note. The Royal Award ceremony in the Great Temple on Yavin 4 the morning after the Battle of Yavin, for Princess Lisa Organa to bestow medals of bravery to honour Luke Skywalker for firing the shot that destroyed the Death Star, as well as Han Solo and Chewbacca for helping during the battle, begins with a brass fanfare of trumpets which leads into a formal processional version of ‘The Force Theme’ as the award ceremony begins. And then there are the final credits, which are a real highlight. (This is one movie for which you want to stay for the credit duration).

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Having the score played live to the film is a special experience that shows how without its music, the movie that began it all would probably be just another space movie. And the world-calibre Queensland Symphony Orchestra do an outstanding job in showing this and doing the original London Symphony Orchestra’s score justice.

“Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert” is marvelous for so many reasons. It is at-once a celebration of a classic movie and an iconic soundtrack, a show for lovers of cinema and classic music alike, made all the more joyous by its shared experience. It illustrates the power of music to evoke emotion alongside on-screen performances without the need for words, making the on-screen drama all the more riveting through its sweeping strings and building percussion, as if we are enjoying the story’s nuances for the first time. And is a great way to introduce young people to the stunning display that is live classical music. There is no denying the audience buoyancy brought about by the live score, with attendees of all ages delighting in not only the show itself but the pre-show photo opportunities with the foyer’s roaming cast of characters. Now we only have until December 1 to wait until the intergalactic greatness continues with “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Concert” which will include what could be one of the most famous pieces of cinema music of all time in ‘Darth Vader’s Imperial March’.

Soul legend love

At Last: The Etta James Story

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 27 – 30

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Etta James’ sassy soul anthem ‘Tell Mama’ may reassure listeners to ‘tell mamma about it’, but when Vika Bull begins Act One of the smash hit show “At Last: The Etta James Story” with the funky, high-spirited number, it is the audience who has desire to hear more.

Bull’s love for James is clear and immediately her dynamic vocals compel as she invests her heart and soul into this unforgettable show, in celebration of the soul legend’s life, work and voice that in Keith Richards’ words, “could take you to hell or take you to heaven”. Over the course of two hours, Vika is joined on stage by some of Australia’s finest musicians to tell the turbulent but remarkable story of the artist formerly known as Jamesetta Hawkins, including her tumultuous youth and time as Chess Records first major female star and periods of petty crime, drug addiction, poverty and psychiatric hospitalisation on the road to becoming a six-time Grammy Award winning music icon with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, who continues to inspire artists’ today.

The narrative concert careers us through the jazz and blues singer’s chaotic life and 30 albums, as it nestles narration between some of her most beloved songs, in show of how her music transcends genres. It is a story set to history and it is wonderful to hear this reflected in the soundtrack’s different styles as it takes us from to doo-wop of James’ first, 1954, R&B hit ‘Roll with Me, Henry’ (re-titled ‘The Wallflower’ when Modern Records decided the original title was too explicit) through to the sounds of ‘70s soul funk in ‘Out on the Streets Again’.

Vika Bull is absolutely sensational. Her force-of-nature voice is ideal for recreation of James’ distinctive sound. She sings every number fiercely and with her entire body, soaring her guteral vocals to the rafters. And while ‘In the Basement’ best suits her sound, her vocal versatility means that her rawness and emotional expression enlivens snappy jazz and raunchy blues numbers alike, luring audiences in love songs and laid-back, slow-burn ballads.

Act Two’s ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ is goosebumpily good. Bull’s moving expression of the sad song about the one you want wanting someone else, is passionate and heartfelt. And her smoky ‘Fool that I Am’ and sorrowful ‘I Want a Sunday Kind of Love’ are likewise beautiful. And there is, of course, James’ sultry signature song and popular wedding number, the titular ‘At Last’ from her 1960 debut album. In Bull’s hands the immortal song is appropriately poignant in its vulnerability. She also sizzles through ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You, and uses her high-octane vocals to take ‘W.O.M.A.N’ and James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ to fantastic, feisty places.

Bull is a generous performer who personally gives her all, yet still celebrates the musicianship of those on stage along with her, members of the seven-piece ensemble, The Essential R&B Band, led by John McAll. And while collectively they are excellent, particularly in their add of big band sound to Act One’s closer, ‘Sugar on the Floor’, it is marvellous that band members are all given their respective moments to shine. ‘Tough Lover’, features an impressive trumpet solo by fellow narrator Tibor Gyapjas and Anton Deleca adds saxophone swing to ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’. On piano, McCall attaches an upbeat feel to make ‘Lovesick Blues’ all the more invigorating and Act Two opens with an impressive guitar solo from Dion Hirini, leading the audience into the raw and earthy ‘Come to Mama’.

“At Last: The Etta James Story” is a slick show, as one would expect from a production that has already experienced such national and international success; yet it never feels like performers are going through the motions. Indeed, its energy is infectious, especially in showcase of the cross-selection of James’ various styles. The songs sizzle compared to the in-between narration, especially thanks to Bull’s stunning performance and right from the beginning of the show’s first number, it is apparent that her efforts will be received with a well-deserved standing ovation. This is a show for Etta James fans of course, but also for music lovers too and it is one not to be missed.

Merry Widow magnificence

The Merry Widow (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

June 22 – 20

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From the raise of its curtain, it is clear that Opera Queensland’s production of Hungarian composer Franz Lehár’s popular musical “The Merry Widow” is a lavish one. The dramatic set is of an opulent French Art Nuevo period as Act One takes audiences to a Paris embassy ball, where gold glamours in the bold geometry of the decor’s decadent act-deco detail, but also the epaulettes et al of the military costumes of Pontevedrian diplomats and the gorgeous gown of the titular Hanna Glavari (Natalie Christie Peluso)

The beautiful widow Hanna is from the tiny Balkan state of Pontevedro (a stand-in for Montenegro) and her homeland is approaching bankruptcy. The story follows the efforts of Pontevedrin officials at the embassy, primarily the ambassador, Baron Zeta (Jason Barry-Smith), to compel her to marry one of her fellow citizens rather than an enamoured Parisian. And despite his now self-distructive life swimming in pink champagne with the grisettes of Chez Maxime’s supper club, the idealistic Count Danilo (David Hobson) is deemed to be the most fitting suitor. But Hanna and Danilo have a history that sees the story of love in its many guises take some twists and turns (including an expected wedding of the Parisian sort, but not to whom you may expect) along their road to falling in love again.

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Like an Astaire/Rogers Hollywood movie, the narrative is filled with feisty exchanges, mistaken identities and misunderstandings as much as love scenes, with the comedy of confusion cresendoing in Act Two. It’s like a comedy of Noel Coward type manners with operatic melodies… light-hearted and a little bit naughty in its risqué innuendo.

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Justin Flemings adaptation of the libretto is wickedly witty in both its sentiment and creative Cole-Porter type rhymes. And its pithy one-liners are deliciously realised in Hugh Parker measured delivery as Embassy Secretary, Njegus, who mocks the French before becoming ‘Quite Parisian’ himself. Hobson is a humorous drunk when the audience is introduced to the hot-tempered diplomat Danilo and Sam Hartley and Andrew Collins add vaudevillian laughs as Huey and Duey duo, embassy attachés Bogdanovitsch and Pritsch. Then, when a male septet performs ‘Women’ (wonderfully also later reprised by the full ensemble), it is a highly entertaining Monty Python meets MGM musical moment.

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Peluso is captivating as Hanna, easily conveying both her elegance and cheeky spirit. Her crisp soprano sounds soar through the Lyric Theatre, yet she is also affecting in the sentimental love song ‘Vilja, o Vilja’. Opera veteran Hobson is a dashing and suave Danilo, bringing a solid but sweet lyric tenor to his numbers. Together they work well, both theatrically and in vocal duet, most memorably in ‘I Love You So’, the famous Merry Widow Waltz. Also of note is James Rodgers as Camille, French attaché to the embassy and romancer of Barones Valencienne (Katie Stensel). His smooth vocal sounds are richly romantic in capture the character’s blindly-devoted love.

Musically, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra achieves a delightful bright and dynamic Viennese sound, particularly in its strings. The operetta is, however, more than its famous waltz and the orchestra also more than rise to the occasion of its rich and colourful European folk tunes.

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The almost three-hour show, includes two 20 minute intervals, which may seem indulgent, but only until the distinct aesthetic of each act is revealed (Set Designer, Michael Scott-Mitchell). Act Two in Pontevedro is stunningly set against the impressive impressionist backdrop of a Monet waterlily painting with the women dressed in florals and soft colours. Then there is Act Three’s mirrored, metallic-silver shine of Maxine’s where Hanna is hosting a party.

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Not only does the shorter final act feature Hanna’s stunning cabaret-esque entrance, but it opens with an exhilarating, energetic dance number which see dancing waiters with champagne-laden trays can-caning and the club’s girls funning about in frou-frou pink peekaboo tutus. The chorus line numbers not only showcase the dancers’ excellent execution but also the work’s impressive choreography (Graeme Murphy Shane Placentino). Indeed, it is a show of interesting routines that, although eclectic in range from elegant waltzes and folk-inspired routines to sultry Cabaret teases and a Fosse-like while glove showcase circle around Hanna, are all outstanding.

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“The Merry Widow” is a feast for the senses thanks to its considered approach to every aspect of the glamourous production. When, for example, nightclub scene action freezes behind front-of-stage interaction, it creates a sumptuous tableau. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes are also richly realised as part of a bigger aesthetic. Ladies sweep about Act One’s ballroom in fishtail evening gowns on the arms of dapper gentlemen, without any restriction to their moment.

There is a reason why “The Merry Widow” is not only a staple of most opera companies, but the fastest-selling Opera Queensland production in over a decade. The work is extravagant to hyperbolic degrees, yet also highly accessible in its narrative, including a twist in the tale of the widow’s millions, and as it is both sung in and has subtitles in English. Under Graeme Murphy’s direction, it represents collaboration of the very best sort. Indeed, with a cast of around 50 singers and dancers, the opulent operetta is certainly magnificent, both is in its vibrant realisation and playful, irreverent tone. It is lively and entertaining down to smallest detail, so serves both as an ideal introduction to the artform, and confirmation of its beauty, especially in its breathtaking full ensemble numbers.

Happy housewifery

The Real Housewives of Brisbane

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 24 – August 6

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Joanne (Jessica Meyer), Gillian (Babette Bellini), Lulu (Hayley Fielding), Beezus (Elizabeth Horrowitz) and Penny (Lauren Evans) are the equally loved and feared glamourous Real Housewives of Brisbane. One by one they introduce themselves at the start of the Brisbane Arts Theatre musical of the same name, in parody of the US media franchise of shows that document the lives of a city’s affluent housewives. In the true tradition of the franchise, one day the women are besties, the next day, enemies. And they all have secrets, beyond just their ages and details of their cosmetic works.

The story starts with the group taking time out of their brunching and ladies-lunching lives, to gather at on-the-outs housewife Poppy’s final soiree. The funeral home doesn’t only serve as the perfect selfie backdrop (#amen) but also the location of Poppy’s beyond-the-grave decree that Joanne is the new head housewife. Though the most senior of the ladies, Beezus is shocked, Joanne is not surprised at all; her life is so amazing that even she’s jealous of it.

The resulting narrative unfolds with authentic nods to the motifs of the guilty-pleasure genre that trashbaggery tv tragics will appreciate. On-screen snippets of interview/confessional moments punctuate the on-stage action to assist in transition between scenes and add an appreciated touch through their Brisbane scene backdrops to the ladies who are, of course, always plugging a latest endorsed product of the ‘face yoga mat’ sort. These form an integral component of the reality genre and therefore a necessary part of the storytelling process, however, once the backstory of the ladies’ complicated relationships, both within the group and with others, is shared, things move from the tv show structure to a narrative of its own making, albeit with some recognisable plot lines such as when, like Teresa from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” a Brisbane housewife and her husband are charged with fraud. Not only that, but there is the intrigue of infidelity and a rat in the ranks of the group, spilling their sex, lies and secret lives online.

Musically, the show is a mixed bag. The irreverence of songs with lyrics like “we tuck and then we nip… sometimes we skinny dip” suits the show’s fun feel, but, ensemble songs like ‘Bully Them Back’, as well Act One’s introductory number, fail to realise their potential due to a lack of collective vocal power. In solo numbers, there are some celebratory moments; Jessica Meyer finishes Act One strongly with sing of the tragedy of her life and, after intermission, Elizabeth Best delivers a strong, jazzy number to open Act Two to her fundraising charity Bitch Ball for deaf dogs.

“The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is full of funny moments and, of the ladies, Elizabeth Best is a standout as the straight-faced, cynical housewife-elder Beezus. In character contrast as Lulu, Hayley Fielding is also dramatically very good in conveying the cavalier ‘new-nose, new-you’ attitude of the always-medicated, newly-divorced housewife Lulu.

It is the supporting cast who are given the most to work with in terms of character though, and Reagan Warner and James Burton make a meal of even the smallest of comic opportunities. Proving his versatility, Warner goes from playing John Proctor in the theatre’s recent “The Crucible” production to becoming, amongst other things, a funeral director, apathetic shoe store worker, Moroccan spiritualist (because every Real Housewives season has a sun and fun vacation trip away) and most memorably an over-the-top fitness instructor leading an absolutely hilarious bouncing ball routine as a show highlight. Burton is similarly very funny in his various roles, particularly in show of lap dance boot camp moves as part of sex therapy with his Christian wife Penny, who remains oblivious to his flamboyance. Unfortunately, the men’s characters also showcase the dodgy wigs that seem to be trademark for an Arts Theatre show, though at least in this instance they sort of fit with the stereotypes that populate the parody.

Unfortunately, another staple of Arts Theatre shows seems to be sound issues and opening night of “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is no exception to this. Indeed, significant sound concerns sometimes detract from overall enjoyment, especially in Act Two where a chunk of time is spent with songs and dialogue shared in competition with crackling audio static.

Although not the slickest of shows, “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” has a tongue-in-cheek appeal that makes it perfect for an easy-to-watch girls night out. It is full of fun and comfortable humour with digs at Ipswich and the Gold Coast, and a cat-fight of course. Like the tv genre it parodies, it is a wonderful guilty pleasure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is, therefore, recommended as a very happy couple of light-hearted hours.

The reign of rebel rock

We Will Rock You

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 2 – July 28

“We Will Rock You” is an ambitious show, especially for an independent theatre company. Yet, despite the accordingly variable talent levels on stage, Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production serves as a treat for classic-rock fans.

The Orwellian-esque dystopian rock musical, which is filled with about two dozen Queen songs, takes place 300 years into the future of earth, now named the iPlanet, controlled by Globalsoft leader Killer Queen (a fabulous Natalie Mead), where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same, rock is unheard of and all musical instruments have been banned. Enter hero Galileo Figaro (William Toft), who just wants to break free and, after dreaming of a world with rock music, sprouts the lyrics of past songs without knowing their meaning or origin, including the first few lines of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (a device which adds much humour to Ben Elton’s tongue-in-cheek script, before becoming overdone).

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When the rebel is captured by the Killer Queen and her chief crony, Police Commander Kashoggi (Liam McDonnell) he meets the sassy, smartmouthed Scaramouche (Katie Rouston), another rebel thinker who won’t conform to Globalsoft’s ways so is mocked by her peers for just wanting somebody to love. After escaping, they team up with a rebel gang of Bohemians, including Brit (Mackenzie Kelly) and Oz (Row Blackshaw), who are searching for items they think will make a musical instrument.

It is a narrative of convenience to allow for inclusion of feature of some of Queen’s all time biggest hits because, as a jukebox musical, “We Will Rock You” is all about the music and while some members of the ensemble project a lacklustre lack of energy, there are a number of strengths from the lead performers.  William Toft brings an impressive vocal range to Gallileo’s songbook, rocking with bombastic sounds to the famous one-two-three beat of ‘We Will Rock You’, but also offering a soft, soulful touch in uplifting duet with Scaramouche, ‘You’re My Best Friend’. Row Blackshaw, too, is vocally very strong as Oz, but nobody else has the commanding stage presence of Killer Queen Natalie Mead, and not just due to her amazing costume pieces (costume design by Erin Tribble and Frankee Walker). She simply ignites the lyrics of the band’s first international hit, ‘Killer Queen’ with soaring vocals.

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Liam McDonnell gives his dialogue an appealing Riff-Raff-like sinister slink, but is underused in duet with Mead of the funky ‘Another One Bites the Dust’.  Mark Tuohy’s appearance as Buddy Holly, leader of the archeologically-clueless bohemians, whose literal interpretations muddle the mythology of the analogue past’s cherished artefacts, appears all too short. His wistfully reflective delivery of ‘These Are the Days’ equips the ballad with much melancholy, making the audience want to hear more of his smooth vocals.

“We Will Rock You” requires a big musical sound and in this regard the show generally delivers, although some sound issues affect the fluency of transitions. There are lighting lapses too, like missed spotlights and combining stage lighting with shine-out to audience during moments of musical emphasis which seems a little amateurish.

“We Will Rock You” has always been an audience favourite, since it opened in London’s West End in 2002 without critical acclaim. It’s certainly contrived and overlong, but still an enjoyable night out in either reminiscence of or introduction to the many beautifully crafted and unapologetically bombastic songs of the iconic four-piece hard rock band, even if the show has moved its setting to the USA and, accordingly, worship of Elvis rather than Queen lead singer and flamboyant showman Freddie Mercury as messiah. Indeed, as audience members clap, swap and sing along, it is clear that Queen’s kind of magic still reigns for many.

4Seasons display

4Seasons (Expressions Dance Company, City Contemporary Dance Company Hong Kong and QPAC)

QPAC, The Playhouse

June 14 – 22

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“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like,” the old saying goes. With some tweaking, this pretty much describes my approach to Dance… “I don’t necessarily know what exactly they are always doing, but I do know what I find interesting”. And fortunately, there is a lot of interesting things happening in the tapestry that is Expressions Dance Company’s triple act collaboration with Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), “4Seasons”’

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It starts from audience entry into the Playhouse Theatre space, which is bathed in the blare of ‘Summer’. Under a stark sun-like light, 13 performers in muted costumes, move against an increasingly menacing musical score as the ‘sun’ fades. After an early technical fault is fixed, we see order emerge from that chaos as subtle, but uniform transitions signpost to a motif of heads turned to the top in recognition of the sun’s subjugation.

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A feeling of oppression features throughout the piece, created by Kristina Chan by CCDC, in its foreboding for a global warming future, not just through the routines themselves, but also lighting and staging, which sees fabric dramatically canopied from the ceiling (the cause of opening night’s false start) not only increasingly rippling, but slowly unfurling as burden upon the dancers. This is a dystopian future and in its extreme atmospheric conditions, suffering bodies cluster together and connect through the swell of canon moves, including on the ground, as they move languidly, as if in slow motion.

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In contrast, the night’s second piece, Dominic Wong’s ‘Day After Day’, sees side-of-stage lighting replaced by panels, in transform of the aesthetic. Dancers erupt in a frenzy of acrobatic energy and strength, which sees, for example, see a dancer impressively walking over the top of others and then down another’s chest.

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With a fast-paced soundtrack and modern, translucent white costumes, the feel is a lot cooler, especially when Bruce Wong, breathes his way around the set in the slowest of motions, walking to eventually embrace a block of ice before the piece concludes with the sound of falling rain.

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Although, like the first work, it drags on a little too long to maintain absolute audience engagement, its repeated movements, intertwined asymmetrical clustering and then explosions punctuate its course with some memorable moments.

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Comparatively, Natalie Weir’s ‘4Seasons’ (danced to Max Richter’s recomposed version of Vivaldi’s best known composition) appears to begin traditionally, with dancers appearing hued together (thanks to beautiful, coloured costumes) on stage like something from the Barn Raising Scene of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. What follows is a lot more sophisticated than the Pontipee brothers’ attempt to woo women with their newfound manners, but no less athletic in its physicality. Indeed, its blend of the classic and contemporary creates an exciting aesthetic, especially as movement waves across the ensemble with a progressive series of lifts, jumps and kicks in canon.

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Inspired by the seasons of life, it stunningly shows fours couples at different stages of their lives, love and relationships. It could be one couple or different pairings, but the distinction does not matter. What is significant is the humanity of the emotions of the experience being shared. It begins with the pure blush and intimacy of a new relationship between Alana Sargent and Ivan Chan. Things become more urgent then as they move from the eternal youth of spring to the energy and storm clouds of summer. Richard Causer and Bobo Lai convey a torn reluctance as he focuses intensely and possessively on her. With Elise May and Yve Yu, love becomes more consuming in the crimson shades of autumn as impressive lifts give way to domination. Finally, there is the mutual love of Jake McLarnon and Qiao Yang moving together in unison, but not losing their individuality.

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Amid these, there are bursts of performers running across the stage, grabbing others as they go and it is nice to see male duos and masculine energy being showcased during this, from a cast of men and women. Along with its crescendoed urgency in its conclusion, this display represents a real highlight, that leaves you lamenting that Act Two feels like it is over far too soon.

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As a celebration of the power and splendour of all things contemporary dance, “4Seasons” represents a wonderful experience for dance knowers and lay-audience members alike. And as if the beauty and grace on stage is not enough, Max Richter vibrant melodies liberate Vivaldi’s signature work from elevator musicality to a bold and virtuosic aural experience.

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Impressive attention to detail features across all pieces. Indeed, there is a connectedness both within and through all three works, which are also remarkably distinct. Sightline issues are always disappointing, but these are compensated by the fascinating fluidity of the contemporary dance on show, especially in its titular piece. With such a big aesthetic on display there is much to take from the show’s experience, which should be celebrated for its bring of the best of international dance to Brisbane.