Daveta Divadom

Like Mariah (Josh Daveta)

New Globe Theatre

March 24

Despite the infamous New Year’s Eve performance that never quite was or the drama of her “Mariah’s World” reality tv adventure, few can dispute Mariah Carey’s massive and magical voice. And from the moment of Josh Daveta’s ‘Sweet Fantasy’ entrance into “Like Mariah”, there is indeed a spirit that envelopes the room as audience and performers join together in celebration of everyone’s favourite diva, Mimi (just don’t dare mention Whitney Houston).

This is a show full of fun from the bouncy pop melody of ‘Touch My Body’ with swinging piano accompaniment from Musical Director Parmis Rose and audience ‘volunteer’ muse, to a discoesque ‘Emotions’ with channel of backing vocalist Cassie George’s incredibly high upper range vocals, amongst its 16 song set list. And when phone torches are held aloft in sway to the encore of ‘Hero’ there is perhaps no more fitting testament to the complete satisfaction of its audience members than the standing ovation that soon follows.

Those who have seen Daveta before know what a versatile performer he is. In “Like Mariah” he is as charismatic as ever in between song banter and audience interaction. And his vocals are sensational as he goes from a high octave belt to an almost whisper within the smallest of space; his soaring ‘Vision of Love’, Carey’s lauded debut single from her eponymous debut album, is worth the price of admission alone, full of cresendoes and a spectacular belting bridge.

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Songs and sentiment journey through all range of emotions, meaning that the smorgasbord setlist includes something for everyone. From a riff-filled, audience clap and sing-along ‘Always Be My Baby’ to a moving, slow-tempo ballad ‘My All’, Daventa’s controlled  bright and clear  vocals serve as the show’s biggest star, sympathetic as they are to each individual song’s key signature, tempo and style… which is entirely appropriate for a show that tributes an artist who holds record as having the most Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s by a solo artist (18), the most weeks at No. 1 of any act (79) and the chart’s longest-running No. 1 of all-time, ‘One Sweet Day,’ with Boyz II Men (16 weeks).

With the support of Rose and backing vocalists Lachlan Geraghty, Aya Valentine and Cassie George, Daveta has created something very special that will hopefully be shared again with Brisbane audiences sooner rather than later.

Loverly lady acclaim

My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and John Frost)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 19 – April 30

Since its 1956 Broadway debut to critical acclaim, Lerner and Loewe’s musical theatre classic, “My Fair Lady” has captured audience imaginations through a popular film version and numerous revivals, including the 60th anniversary production collaboration between the Frost company and Opera Australia, directed by its original Broadway (and later London) star, Dame Julie Andrews. And it is entirely appropriate that opening night of the oft-described perfect musical is met by applause of acclamation, not only in recognition of Andrews’ entry into the Lyric Theatre but as a deserving final ovation.

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Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion”, the beloved musical tells the tale of a Cockney Covent Garden flower girl named Eliza Doolittle (Anna O’Byrne) who takes speech lessons from the brilliant but demanding phoneticist Henry Higgins (Charles Edwards) so that she may pass as a lady fit to work in a flower shop and be presentable in the high society of Edwardian London. The culture clash leads to much witty dialogue; indeed, under Andrews’ direction the production elicits much humour in what is a faithful reconstruction of the original, drawing on elements of the original set designs and costumes.

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There is an immaculate attention to detail in the show’s aesthetics, including an impressive symmetry between Cecil Beaton’s costumes and Oliver Smith’s sensational set of revolves, high ceilings and delicately painted backdrops the add depth and detail. From the beauty of the black and white Ascot scene where characters have the poise of Parisian boutique mannequins thanks to Christopher Gattelli’s impeccable choreography, to the pretty pastels of the Embassy Ball which serves as Eliza’s introduction to proper society, everything is superb. Authenticity to the original means more curtain closes and set change blackouts than what is now the norm, which slows things down, however, when the stage is transformed for the ball scene before audience eyes, it is a moment worthy of the resulting applause.

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The show also features an absolutely stellar cast. O’Byrne easily takes Eliza from squawking squashed cabbage leaf to being stylish and smart as paint, capturing with equal aplomb both her cockney and later polished accents and showing a charisma and flair for comedy as the only person who cheers on a horse at Ascot, becoming fully engulfed in the hysteria of the race.

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Edwards makes the snobbish academic Higgins’s disinterest in people almost endearing as the bumbling, ineffectual romantic lead delivers many a foot-in-mouth moment in his obvious inexperience with women. And equally impressive are the supporting cast which includes the legendary Reg Livermore as Eliza’s dustman father, Tony Llewellen-Jones as the compassionate Colonel Pickering, with whom Higgens makes bet that he can transform Eliza and grand dame of Australian theatre Robyn Nevin as Higgens’ mother, at once composed and comical in her astute advice to her son.

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Also of merit is the orchestration the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, under musical theatre maestro Guy Simpson, which anchors the production, setting the scene from the opening minutes of the overture and continuing in creation of a sense of nostalgia through its diverse range of tunes.

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There is a vaudevillian appeal to many numbers, including Livermore’s completely cockney ‘With a Little Bit o’ Luck’, long for a lack of responsibility. And when he leads the ensemble in ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’ as plea to his friends not to let his drunken merriment affect his need to be prompt to his own wedding, it is one of the show’s standout numbers, joyous in its full scale celebration of song and dance.

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O’Byrne is also expert in delivery of her eclectic numbers, from the feisty frustration of ‘Just You Wait’, in which she dreams of different ways to kill Higgins, from sickness to drowning to a firing squad, to the glorious soar of ‘I Could Have Dance All Night’, which showcases her operatically trained soprano sound as Eliza floats ahigh after a major breakthrough in her linguistics lessons. And Mark Vincent’s moving, emotional declaration of love to Eliza as socialite suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill is captivating in the simplicity of its splendour.

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Everything about the show is absolutely loverly (as Eliza would say) and although it is long, this “My Fair Lady” is a first-rate revival, sure to engage long-time and fresh fans alike with its charming comedy, stunning aesthetics and masterful musicality. And it is certainly easy to understand how in its opening Australian season the production sold more tickets than any other in the history of the Sydney Opera House.

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby

Classic Karenina

Anna Karenina

QUT, The Loft

March 17 – 25

Whereas my experience of Russia was characterised by the scorch of summer in St Petersburg et al, for many, the largest country in the world, is associated with the misery of a life of brutal Baltic winters. Indeed as Anna Karenina herself says in Tolstoy’s classic novel of the same name, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

With its sorrowful tale of suffering, “Anna Karenina” is a difficult text to translate to stage; as a pinnacle of realist fiction its prose is characteristically dense and there is always the difficulty of realising its infamous train scene and capturing the mood of the bleak winters that place its narrative. The classic tell of love and marriage in Imperial Russia is also quite a complex story. Yet, in their realisation of Helen Edmundson’s adaption, QUT’s Bachelor of Fine Arts students present a stylish piece of theatre.

Set in the late 1870s, it is the story of the beautiful married woman, Anna Karenina (Bianca Saul), visiting her incorrigible brother Stiva (Aleksander Milinkovic) in St Petersburg. A chance meeting on her journey throws her into emotional turmoil and a scandalous affair with the dashing Count Vronsky (Alex Neal). When she leaves her cold husband and their eight year old son Seryozha, for Vronsky she is ostracised by Russian society, leading to some tragic choices.

Alongside this story are the tales of the bittersweet romance between rich and powerful landowner Levin (Brendan Perex-Compton) and Kitty (Annabel Harte), the woman he believes will give his life purpose, and also that of Anna’s adulterous bother and his wife Dolly (Jessica Potts) and their struggle to recover from his affair with their governess (Ebony Nave). The combination makes for an epic overall story of more than 2.5 hours duration, which requires audience commitment. Although some incidental conversation scenes could be trimmed for efficiency, the show is immediately engaging with the audience being dropped into the action of quick fire dialogue. Director Mark Radvan has extracted much humour from the script’s social commentary around gender relationships, making for a serious production that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Indeed, all performers make the most of their moments and Ryan Hodson does not even need dialogue to show the humour of his sulk away from his governess.

As the sensuous and selfish eponymous (anti-)heroine Anna, Bianca Saul captures to perfection the essence of her enchanting charm and wit, evoking audience frustration in her deathbed ask for god’s forgiveness before throwing it back in his face by fleeing to Italy without her child, yet also sympathy when she is left broken (and pregnant by her lover), suffering from potential personality disorder.

Although Anna’s story occupies most the of the narrative space, of all the tales, Dolly’s is perhaps the most devastating, as she allows herself to be convinced by Anna to remain in her unfaithful marriage despite her yearning to live beyond it. And, as Dolly, Jessica Potts gives an accordingly heartbreaking performance, playing the character’s distress with subtle dignity.

The most impressive aspects, however, as related to the show’s stylised realisation of key narrative aspects, especially in ensemble scenes such as the Part One ball scene in which Vronsky chooses to dance with Anna and the climatic steeplecase scene in which parallel is suggested between Vronsky’s mare and Anna. The choreography is very clever and engaging, enhanced by the gentle strains of Music and Movement Director Jeremy Neideck’s choices, perfectly placed to exact emotional resonance and add interest to what could otherwise have been simple, static scenes.

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Creative aspects are on-point from the bleak, mono-chromatic program design to the simple staging of black wall embossed with the play’s title in Russian, “Анна Каренина”, which make lapses in prop authenticity even more jarring in their prominence. Detailed period costumes of blacks, whites and muted greys pallet perfectly with both the steely lighting of impersonal Imperial train station scenes and the contrasting warm tones that create a cozy comfort to emotional, intimate conversations and character interactions.

Certainly this is a multi-layered text in its examination of what makes a life good, honourable, authentic and meaningful. Its thematic resonance is seen not just in its numerous film adaptations and 2015’s highly-successful ‘The Beautiful Lie’ adapted ABC mini-series, but the sold out shows that began this production’s season. If they like either stories of old or talent of new, audiences should appreciate its intensity and light moments in equal measure. And if you are after an introduction to the story, even at over 2.5 hours, it is more efficient that reading the 1000 page novel.

Parisian playfulness

Paris Combo

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 20

With pixie haircut and wearing pretty polka-dot dress, Paris Combo’s Belle du Berry is the epitome of French style and it is of little surprise that in her QPAC welcome, she explains that the show’s songs will be in French so if we don’t understand, that’s fair enough. Luckily Australian-born trumpeter and pianist David Lewis is on hand to translate, which leads to many moments of incidental humour that only add to the show’s eclectic appeal.

This is far from a typical French cabaret. Rather, the charismatic chanteuse frontwoman and her four-piece band transforms tradition by giving it a distinctly cosmopolitan twist. The program presents a variety of blended sounds from vibrant gypsy jazz, French pop, Latin syncopation and Northern African rhythms in reflection of its band members’ varied musical roots, as accompaniment to Belle’s beautiful and versatile voice.

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This diversity also allows all band members a chance to shine, from Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac’s elegant double bass playing to Potzi’s haunting guitar introduction to ‘Anémiques Maracas’ in contrast to the song’s cheeky and catchy later sounds and Lewis’ jazzy trumpeting in ‘Fibre De Verre’ and frequent simultaneous double play of piano and trumpet. And when, as she says, in the great tradition of French songstresses, Belle  leaves ‘for a glass of red’, and fellow French national François Jeannin sings, in English, Etta Jones’ ‘I Saw Stars’,  it marks just one of many memorable moments.

Although full of easy-on-the-ear sophistication, the show is also characterised by a playful attitude in both its music and between-song banter as Belle tells us about how each song is about love, introducing them with companion tales, such as, with ‘Señor’ why being single too long is ill-advised and in the title track from their latest album, “Tako Tsubo” (named after a rare medical condition colloquially called ‘broken-heart syndrome’)  about the effect of big emotional shocks. Indeed, the mix of songs from across their many albums, makes for a unique and engaging experience, especially when, in ‘If My Love’ the audience becomes the wind in the songstresses soul. The whimsicality crescendos in ‘Je Suis Partie’, complete with clap-along chorus and a ‘very dancy’ encore, during which audience members finally respond to Belle’s ‘get up and dance’ urging in embodiment of the pure entertainment that this show represents.

Paris Combo has been around for years and after experience of the quirky quintet’s unique contemporary musical stylings, it’s easy to appreciate why their Queensland debut has brought out such a crowd. Their sound is as delightful as it is difficult to define and deserving of every accolade they receive.

Reader’s Robbie

The Songs of Robert Burns (Eddi Reader)

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 16

Seeing Eddi Reader’s “The Songs of Robert Burns” is like experiencing an extended Scottish hug of storytelling and songs. The acclaimed singer and songwriter, first brought into the limelight as front woman for Fairground Attraction, is immediately very Scottish in both accent and vernacular. And her homeland inspires much of her music, particularly through her presentation of the songs of Scotland’s best-known and best-loved poet (and Johnny Depp of his age), Robert Burns, a man who at 27 years old wrote that song that makes us hold each other every New Year’s eve.

‘Auld Lang Syne” makes an appearance of course, albeit with a more traditional, bittersweet melody that is exquisitely realised by Reader’s unaccompanied a capella introduction to awed-audience silence. However, beyond this standard, who really knows what each show will bring, as she bounces around the setlist with down-to-earth authenticity that sees her admit to wearing her glasses due to misplaced contacts and tell the audience of the story behind her boho dress (part Scotland, part cabaret).

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Reader’s genuine character continues as she invites the audience into the world of Robert Burns and her own life, through share of anecdotes about meeting the Queen and knowing when she had made it, from her father’s perspective. Indeed, family features throughout the show from an early-set share of the poignant ‘Dragonflies’ in dedication to her Aunt Molly, and later thoroughly-entertaining impressions of all range of family members.

The show, is, however, all about the music as it sees Reader and her four-piece band joined by a quintet of players from Brisbane’s own Camerata. Their plaintive rendition of the familiar classic, ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose’ is stunning in its formal orchestral arrangement and, like the later ‘John Anderson’ allows opportunity for violinist Brendan Joyce and cellist Robert Manley in particular, to shine in share of haunting, delicate string sounds that allow full focus on the eloquence of Burns’ words.

While Burns’ songs, including ones from Reader’s 2003 album of the same name, dominate, the program is peppered by other equally entertaining offerings, including the lovely linger of the timeless ‘Moon River’ and snippet of Fairground Attraction’s number one single, ‘Perfect’. There really is something for everyone as Reader assimilates a range of different musical styles into a whimsical pop/folk fusion that is quite her own. The setlist also serves to showcase Reader’s astonishing voice, from the serenity of the delightfully-operatic ‘Jamie Come Try Me’ to the bawdy boldness of the cheeky ‘Charlie is My Darling’ crescendoing into a communal clap and sing-along chorus.

From the beautiful balladry and tender vocals of many of the show’s early numbers, things jig along with many a sing-along towards the infectious joy of ‘Willie Stewart’, complete with joyous accordion accompaniment and foot-stomping akin to the atmosphere of a Celtic ceidah. This is the enchantment and charm of “The Songs of Robert Burns”; it is a show that combines so many wonderful things in creation of a memorable experience to serve as soundtrack as you plan trip to bonnie Scotland. In short, Reader’s Robbie is not be missed.

Photo – c/o Ferne Millen

Cosmic complexities

Constellations (Queensland Theatre)

The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9

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Life is about choices right? Well, not really, according to British playwright Nick Payne’s “Constellations”, which is based on the scientific notion that we might be living in one of many universes which are co-existing simultaneously. It’s something to do with String Theory or Doctor Who philosophy 101 about alternative universes that exist separated only by a millisecond of time and a nanometre of space, without ever having contact.

Every moment that Roland (Lucas Stibbard) and Marianne (Jessica Tovey) share is at the mercy of the universe, meaning that there are infinite possibilities of their two lives shared in consideration of everything they have ever or never done. When they first meet at a barbecue, he says he is in a relationship and she is just making conversation. The odds of them getting together are astronomical; he is a beekeeper and she is a physicist working in the field of quantum cosmology. But when their worlds keep colliding, all the possibilities of their life together are shared, from first date to final farewell, through conversations of both varying physical proximity and intimacy.

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It is an up and down relationship reflected also in the undulating stage of celestial blue pin-pricked by light apart from during the complete blackout between some scenes switches. Ben Hughes’ lighting design serves not only to complement Anthony Spinaze’s set design but fulfils a significant narrative purpose as sections of the stage are lit to border character interactions as hint of the underlying issue that will take things in a totally different direction to initial anticipation.

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This is a play about language and initially, especially, deliberate attention is needed before the narrative’s direction makes its latter half more absorbing. This is especially so because of its organisation of often short and sharp scenes that are immediately repeated, sometimes with only slightly different emphases, sometimes with wholly different resolutions. Once settled into its unique structure, however, it is easy to appreciate the cast’s nuanced performances and Kat Henry’s subtle directorial choices that combine in its success.

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Stibbard and Tovey are both excellent and their repetition of scenes with just the slightest of transformed touch, a testament to the craft of both. And their chemistry is ample. As the neurotic academic Marianne, Tovey carefully balances vulnerability with awkward bluntness in blurt of whatever is on her mind. Stibbard’s Roland, however, is vulnerable in a more traditional sense, lovable in his sometimes self-doubt, eyes alight with enthusiasm in speak of beekeeping and devastated in his yearn for things to be different.

“Constellations” is an intelligent and powerful piece of theatre that is both a beautiful love story and an emotional delve into the mysteries that remain in our understanding of the multiverse, perfectly timed at 80 minutes without interval and perfectly prepared for without prior knowledge of its narrative journey. Although it is a slow burn at first, its humanity will sneak up on you and leave you with much to contemplate about the complexity of life, the universe and everything.

Fine funny times

I’m Fine (Rhys Nicholson)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

February 28 – March 5

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When he appears at the Brisbane Comedy Festival, Rhys Nicholson is as debonair as ever, in contrast to the not-so glamorous life of touring on the standup comedy circuit… especially in places like Tasmania, he tells the audience.

Like previous shows and indeed perhaps all quality comedy, Nicholson’s latest show “I’m Fine” is anchored by its personal subject matter (‘you’ve got to write what you know’ he emphasises) including share of his fear of dancing and tell of what his ghost story would be. From tales of the transitions into adult life, the changes that come with couple cohabitation and expose of whether health really equals happiness, Nicholson takes audiences to some unexpected and often inappropriate places. There is only touch on the political with talk of white guilt and marriage equality. Self-deprecation features as a central focus in his recall of at-school stories of initial unpopularity and later promiscuity.

While Ivan Milat backpacker jokes ensure that it is certainly not for the easily-offended, “I’m Fine” is full of entertaining anecdotes and many very funny moments as evidence of Nicholson’s charisma as a performer.