Worth the wait

Waiting for John (the little red company)

Wynnum Opera House

November 15

“Waiting for John”, it’s a very clever title for the little red company’s show at the inaugural Wynnum Fringe Festival, even more so given the location of its debut performance at the former Wynnum Baptist Church, aka the weekend’s Wynnum Opera House. The show, which unites three apostles of Australian music – Mat Verevis, Mark Sholtez and Luke Kennedy, sees the trio performing original music and songs by famous Johns, including songs we all know but maybe have forgotten.

It is not long before the show’s concept is highlighted courtesy of a John Lennon classic. As the John repertoire expands through John Legend and alike we are also (partly due to an audience request segment) given opportunity to clap, click and sing along to all sorts of forgotten classics such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, ‘Ring of Fire’ and a brilliant ‘Bennie and the Jets’ showcase of Verevis’ vocals and keyboard skills alike. And Kennedy also leads an energetic ‘Chain Reaction’ feel-good call back to his hugely-entertaining King of Pop tribute show “From Johnny to Jack”.

In compliment to this, we also hear some original songs from all three performers for the first time. Kennedy’s ‘Calling Me Home’ is a relaxing reflection on regret with slow percussions emphasising its easy-like-Sunday-evening listening appeal. Similarly, a sample from Verevis’ new EP showcases his smooth vocals and sweet falsetto. And Mark Sholtez’s stripped-back ‘Mockingbird’ is full of emotional conviction.

Perhaps a surprise highlight comes from the show’s final number, which sees Kennedy share an enticing take on Olivia Newton John’s timeless love song ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, full of harmony in its heartbreak. While it is over all too quickly, it is a lovely way to end a show so full of nuance and overwhelming talent from a boy band unlike any you have probably seen before. Indeed, the intimate evening not only brings together its accomplished performers for a concert of biblical proportions, but it gives glimpses into the process of communication that song writing enables, which adds a little bit extra to its appeal.

QSO ’21

Orchestral music is back in full force in 2021, with Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) last week unveiling a season of 18 concerts, all to be performed in the Concert Hall at QPAC, including three commissioned world premieres and headlined by the acclaimed Maestro series; a collection of 10 world-class classical celebrations. 

The season fittingly will open in February with a special event, “QSO Favourites”, celebrating favourite pieces as nominated by audience feedback. From Mozart’s Overture from “The Marriage of Figaro” to Gershwin’s “An American In Paris” and Ravel’s unforgettable “Bolero”, this promises to be a wonderful program for both avid listeners and those looking for a life-changing experience alike.

Another revisit is coming courtesy of April’s “Cinematic – Heroes and Heroines” special event concert featuring a mix of blockbuster movie music and tunes from films as diverse as “The Avengers” and “The Man From Snowy River”. Similarly, Shakespeare’s plays will again provide the inspiration for a blockbuster Music on Sundays in May, “Shakespearean Classics – Music Inspired by the Bard”, including Mendelssohn’s iconic music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Prokofiev’s extraordinary ballet music for “Romeo and Juliet”.

Also, in May, will be “Musical Theatre Gala – Broadway to West End” featuring soloists sopranoLorina Gore and tenor Simon Gleeson (along with two emerging Musical Theatre soloists from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University), with the full power of a large orchestra, treating audience members to the music of theatre favourites such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and the more recent “Frozen”.

In an Orchestra first, three world premieres will be staged in 2021, commissioned by QSO and all by Australian composers.Over the weekend of 30 April and 1 May, QSO musicians Irit Silver and Alison Mitchell, will perform a world premiere double concerto for flute, clarinet and orchestra, by Australian composer Gordon Kerry during the “Pictures at an Exhibition” performances. In June, “Epic Sounds” will feature the world premiere of a new work by acclaimed Australian didgeridoo player and composer William Barton, in a performance that also features Wagner’s dramatic Overture to “The Flying Dutchman” and the “Symphony No.5” by Sibelius. Fittingly, too, Season 2021 will also see Queensland Symphony Orchestra again travel throughout Queensland to perform, educate and inspire, an important part of the company’s commitment as the state orchestra. 

Soloists performing with the QSO in 2021 include one of the greatest pianists Queensland has ever produced in the internationally acclaimed Piers Lane, revered didgeridoo artist William Barton, dynamic young violinist Grace Clifford, one of Australia’s leading woodwind playersoboist Diana Doherty, organist Joseph Nolan, and Australian sopranos Emma Pearson, Lorina Gore and Rebecca Cassidy (Opera Queensland Young Artist). Queensland Symphony Orchestra musicians will also, of course, take centre stage with solo performances for Concertmaster Warwick Adeney, Section Principal Flute Alison Mitchell, Section Principal Clarinet Irit Silver, Principal Tuba Thomas Allely and Acting Section Principal Cello Hyung Suk Bae.

Leading the conductor line-up is the Orchestra’s celebrated Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch, together with dynamic Australian conductor Dane Lam, Umberto Clerici, Elena Schwarz, Benjamin Northey, Max McBride, Alexander Briger, Benjamin Bayl, and of course hosting Music on Sundays, the irrepressible Guy Noble. Celebrated Conductor Emeritus of the Seattle Symphony Ludovic Morlot will also join the Orchestra as the only international artist for the season to make his Queensland Symphony Orchestra debut to conduct “Song to Symphony” in November and the Season Closing Gala, “Four Last Songs”, in December.

As previous QSO concerts have shown, listening to a live orchestra concert is not only a captivating aural experience, but it is one that can take audience members on an emotional journey along with its sweeping musical arrangements. For those wanting to join in the season’s celebration of live performance and its power to inspire us and draw us together, subscription packages are on sale now online at http://www.qso.com.au Single tickets, meanwhile, are on sale from Monday December 14.

Emperor et al excellence

Beethoven’s Emperor (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

November 20 – 21

One of the best things about attendance at a QSO concert is the respect that symphony attendees show to both the performers and their fellow audience members, meaning that not only are there applause outbursts only at the end of each piece, but appropriate silences to allow for their every note to be appreciated. This is especially valuable in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s stirring “Emperor Concerto” (the only concerto that the German composer did not play in public), in which guest solo pianist Daniel de Borah quietly explores its main themes of single-note stillness ahead of full orchestra swells of affirmation, almost as if in slow motion.

Clearly, this is a pianistically challenging piece, moving, as it does, from slow movements of tender fragility to others of vivid robustness. It is easy to float away in the joy of the slow movements in particular and the first piano entry is a spine-tingling moment. And under the baton of QSO’s Conductor Laureate Johannes Fritzsch, the concluding movement counterbalance this wonderfully with a rhythmic burst of syncopated energy.

It is Ottorino Respighi’s gloriously-vivid four-movement symphonic poem “Pines of Rome” (second in a series of his three tone poems known as the Roman trilogy), however, that leaves the concert’s lasting impression and it is easy to appreciate the Italian composer’s regard one of the best-loved, most-often recorded and widely performed of all composers of the 20th century. The vitality of the work’s charming melodies beguiles the audience from its beginning. Its depiction of pine trees in four locations in Rome at different times of the day and as silent witnesses to the city’s history is descriptive and colourful from its zesty outset with its first sparkling movement’s portrayal of children playing through a fanfare of woodwind and brass with the chase of swirling strings and flutes, announcing the playful atmosphere. It’s an almost Disney-esque soundscape as the movement gathers a twinkling tempo along with the children’s colourful glee thanks to horns and trumpets trading in excitement.

Without pause between its movements, texture then builds through quiet and sombre French horn moments before the third, lighter, nocturne, movement, is signalled by daydreamy string tones so soft as to sound almost imagined and a whistling, singing nightingale sound (the first instance of a pre-recorded sound forming part of a musical score). When the tempo increases to a pounding beat, it is to fantastic fanfare percussion sounds to show the burst forth of a triumphant army.

With balconied brass and thundering Klais Grand organ adding magnificent scope from its towering architectural dominance above the stage, the movement commands our attention. Indeed, the tremendous cacophony of full orchestra opulence mean that this is an excellent showcase for the orchestra and an appropriate conclusion to the last maestro concert for 2020. It is a thrilling, dynamic climax to both the evening and year.

Photos c/o – Peter Wallis

Holidays hope

The Holidays (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

November 14 – December 12

With stone fruit now on sale and schools this week farewelling their Senior students, it is clear that summer holidays are but a whisper away. For many in this COVID-19 year, Christmas holidays will mean a road trip to a regional destination, which makes Queensland Theatre’s world premiere production, “The Holidays” (which was postponed due to the pandemic) now particularly timely. And as the show begins with Dad Bob Holiday (Bryan Probets), his wife Summer (Louise Brehmer) and their son Oliver (Matthew Ianna in a Queensland Theatre debut) embarking upon a hours and hours journey to the beach house of Bob’s unseen eccentric artist father, we are reminded of our own similar summer road-trip experiences, thanks to its Aussie music soundtrack of Chisel and Australian Crawl et al that serves as a through-line from even the pre-show ambiance within the Bille Brown Studio.

What the work also captures is the meander of a leisurely long summer day. Laidback pacing means that while there are hints as to the reasoning behind the trip and the notable absence of Bob’s father from the scene, we are a frustrating two thirds of the way into the 80-minute work before any specifics are revealed. On its own, this could serve as a hindrance to audience engagement, however, storytelling is supported by innovative sound and audio-visual elements that balance the lack of action on-stage once the Holidays arrive at their unspecified Queensland beachside town.  

The beach represents an escape for Oliver and all he wants to do is spend time there. When he does, he speaks directly to the audience, who are transported along with him, in a literally wave of sight and sound courtesy of an all-Queensland creative team. Nathan Sibthorpe’s stunning av projections create a sense of immersion, not only taking the audience to the beach, in work with Sean Foran and Matthew Erskine’s composition and sound design, but elevating on stage action by illuminating it on screen, showing the canvases of artworks being discovered by Oliver as he searches through the mysteries of his grandfather’s seaside shack.

As the story is told through almost-teenager Oliver’s eyes, his parents are not entirely likeable in their constant dismissal of his attempts at communication, clarification and recognition, however, in Probets’ and Brehmer’s hands the characters are given more depth than this just this reading. Probets’ restraint appropriately conveys stern Dad Bob’s complexity and burdensome struggle with becoming engulfed by grief while still fathering within his own family. And Brehmer is a bright as her character, Summer Holiday, as she attempts to support her husband and buoyant her boy.

The standout, however, is Ianna. The newcomer is incredibly talented and easily holds audience command as he breaks the fourth wall for direct address and share of this thoughts and feelings, and guides us through assistance in building his imaginative world through restrained moments of audience participation. He captures Oliver’s feelings of being lost and confused as a consequence of his parents’ attempts to protect him from their family’s reality, however, without any dialogue nod as to his exact age, it is difficult to fully appreciate his turmoil.

The 2019 Queensland Premier’s Drama Prize winner is a tender and hopeful exploration of family relationships and associated notions of connection, memory and legacy. David Megarrity’s writing skilfully take us from the frivolity and humour of dad jokes, mum dances and a pack of puns to foreshadowed poignancy associated with big and deep subject matter. Laidback disposition aside, “The Holidays” is a beautiful play in its account of relationships between a father, son and grandfather and its later scenes are particularly moving as Megarrity draws its strings together in a one-dialogue-line bow to bring tears to many eyes. Indeed, the charming, simple story of real people and their relationships ensures “The Holidays” its own legacy… for shore.  

Photos c/o – Morgan Roberts

Random acts of fineness

Dionysus (Tom Oliver Productions)

Wynnum Opera House

November 14

“It will random cabaret acts and probably a bit naughty”….It turns out that my pre-emptive summary to Saturday night’s +1 was an entirely appropriate summary of what was in store for us in worship of the god of wine, theatre and ritual madness at Wynnum Fringe Festival’s “Dionysus”. For a start, three of its early scenes feature a giant fridge box. To finish, there is an uplifting (#literally) “Dirty Dancing” routine unlike anything you are likely to have seen before, especially in its ultimate deflation. In between, is a whole lot of weird and wonderful stuff and the fact that it is being presented in the festival’s newly-claimed Wynnum Opera House just makes the irreverence of its content even more deliciously ironic.

Brainchild of Festival founder Tom Oliver, Brisbane’s own variety show is certainly a night of eclectic entertainment, featuring, on this occasion, Monty Pythonsque euphemistic word play in a phallic-themed duologue (Alan & Alan), performance poetry (Maddi Römcke) and two guys in a box (Andrew Cory and Leon Cain) on a very normal day of contemporary dystopian contemplation.

Hosted by Las Vegas regular Mario Queen of the Circus, the show features some of Brisbane’s finest cabaret performers from a range of creative backgrounds. World’s greatest Queen fan Mario is a beguiling emcee who sets the standard from the outset in share of his finely tuned 3-ball juggling and lip-sync routine to ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. He not only projects a rock show energy to match the number’s soundtrack, but his jokey through-show banter confirms that his expertise is in comedy as much as circus.

Melon the Human (Thomas Stewart) bookends this opening act nicely as he continues the circus theme through to the show’s conclusion with his awkward object manipulation and unique object juggling. While some acts continue on a little longer than is needed in that recent “Saturday Night Live” sort of way, the show’s all-sorts character means that it is not too long before another act is taking the stage.

Folk singer/songwriter Chanel Lucas’s musical numbers include some beautiful originals, showcasing her pure and gentle vocals in a way that makes us stop and recalibrate with the world. Her share of Amos Lee’s ‘Black River’ lamentation becomes an audience singalong, especially its verse about sweet whiskey taking cares away. It’s fitting considering that the show’s namesake is the god of all things wine, but it also symbolises the general merriment of its sold-out audience of festival goers, shared in their experience of a great night out.

While the spectacle of circus acts is impressive, this show is about more than this with up-to-date political references carefully included here and there adding an extra layer to its adults-only appeal. Combined, it all adds up to one very entertaining non-traditional experience, perfectly suited to this inaugural fringe festival.

Compulsion capture

Songs of Compulsion (Lucinda Shaw)

The Outpost Bar

October 16

More than just setting the scene for the seminal story of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, is one of the best emotional crescendos in song. Those not in agreement may just not have seen Lucinda Shaw’s version, which occupies place as one of the many highlights of her Queensland Cabaret Festival Show “Songs of Compulsion”. As her vocals cry out from its sparse introduction in capture of the sorrow, regret, and frustrations of those coming to terms with mortality, audience members know they are experiencing something wonderful. It’s an epic call-back also to one of Shaw’s previous performances in Electric Moon’s 2016 Cabaret Festival show, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” and the set is characterised by a nice balance between time-honoured favourites and original numbers.

The intimacy of The Fortitude Musical Hall’s The Outpost Bar serves as the perfect location in which to experience Shaw’s mesmeric vocal textures. The venue is everything you’d expect from a basement jazz club (if it were upstairs) seductive red and black décor and a grown-up cocktail list accompaniment to graze up against the slow, jazzy numbers on stage. Indeed, its David Lunch-esque ambiance suits the lingering lyricism and tender musical tones that appear as if they are happening in slow-motion, even as Shaw’s powerful vocals reach for the ceiling. This is especially the case as her robust voice rises up and take us down to a tender refrain in Scott Walker’s darkly brilliant ‘My Death’ toast to our inevitable demise, meaning that the audience is enraptured through to its very last note.

True to Shaw’s legacy, the setlist also includes ‘Best Boyfriend’, by local ‘90s feminist folk band Isis (of which she was a founding member) which has this year been released in a rare mix coupled with and even rarer live B-side. In curation with the evening’s other numbers, it illustrates not only her vocal versatility, but a chameleonic style that transcends even to musical accompaniment (by frequent collaborators Mark Angel – guitars, Terry Dixon – bass and James Lees – piano), which ranges from Spanish-style guitar to tambourine and even idiomatic cowbell sound to call our attention. And while the show seems to be over before we know it, as a community craving the vital human connection the comes from live performance, we are happy to be able to support and celebrate the arts again together if only for this 50 minutes.