Broadway babies’ brilliance

Defying Gravity

January 8

QPAC, Concert Hall

Internationally acclaimed star of Broadway and London’s West End, Caroline O’Connnor is an Australian musical theatre legend about to tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen for the Sydney season of “9 to 5: The Musical”. And her appearance at QPAC’s “Defying Gravity” is certainly cause for celebration. Indeed, her defiant belt of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ represents one of the concert’s most triumphant of many memorable moments. A smorgasbord of showstoppers is on offer throughout, including the show’s titular big “Wicked” number which makes appearance, with Naomi Price and Irena Lysiuk in duet, as opening to Act Two.

Weaving the numbers together are personal and career stories. The dazzling O’Connor, in particular has a wonderful, personable stage presence that eases the audience into her tell of performing in front of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, and as an Olivier Award nominee. And the associated numbers that are presented represent a varied mix of musical sensibilities. Act One includes an early detour to France courtesy of the epic “Les Miserables”, including a nimble, rollicking ‘Master of the House’ by Price and then O’Connor which reverberates around the theatre, before segue into a serene ‘Bring Him Home’ from special guest Luke Kennedy, in reminder of Valjean’s anguish while sitting among the barricades. And as Kennedy’s beautiful vocals astonishingly soar but also maintain the song’s delicacy, the audience holds its collective breath.

Irena Lysiuk does an excellent job, stepping in as a late replacement for Amy Lehpamer, sharing highlights of Lehpamer’s career, such as from “Dusty – The Dusty Springfield Musical”. In particular, her simultaneously serene and soulful share of Sara Bareilles ‘She Used to Be Mine’ from “Waitress” is beautifully compelling, doing justice to its emotional content.

The setlist features musical hit after musical hit with one big moment after the next. There are brilliant bangers peppered throughout such as Price’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ which gives swelling vocal gravitas to the iconic “Evita” anthem. And it is marvellous to have Price and Kennedy share the stunning signature love song ‘Falling Softly’ from the gentle folk musical “Once”. Full of understated, unassuming beauty, their duet conveys both strength and fragility at the core of the song’s emotional lyrics and is absolutely stunning in its expose of the vulnerability at the core of opportunity.

Ever the versatile performer, Price also gives us a sassy, attitude-filled ‘Domino’ from the jukebox musical “& Juliet”, featuring the songs of Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin, infectious in its upbeat energy, while her ‘The Winner Takes It All’ transports us beyond the ABBA classic’s usual mournful, broken-hearted melancholy to reorchestration with more percussive force.

Like Lysiuk’s saxed-up “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady”, O’Connor’s gorgeous ‘Time Heals Everything’ from the little-known “Mack and Mabel” not only illustrates her stunning vocal range, but offers opportunity to showcase the incredible band, conducted by multi-talented musical director James Dobinson, while on piano himself.

“Defying Gravity” is a hugely entertaining concert from three brilliant Broadway babies (and guest), that presents all range of numbers for musical fans, from shows as eclectic as “Chicago” and “Little Shop of Horrors”. Not only are its performers obviously happy to be on stage, but its audience members are clearly rejoicing in the two-hour show’s opportunity to experience their powerful talents.

Photos c/o – Stewart Tyrell, PhotoCo

Beginning with a bang

Sex Shop

Brisbane Arts Theatre

January 6 – 15

Between the appropriately-propped red hot set and pre-show soundtrack of ‘Sex Machine’, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ and ‘Like a Virgin’ et al, the scene at Brisbane Arts Theatre is well and truly set for the naughty night out that is independent artist and theatre-maker, Jake Moss’ one act play, “Sex Shop”. While initially it is unclear if the on-stage character bobbing along to the tunes is an employee or customer, it is soon apparent that the self-proclaimed sex beast is the former, about to hand over the shift to 18-year-old Adam (Eamon Kingston).

The tongue-in-cheek play follows the journey of Adam as he navigates his first day on the job at an adult store. Through a series of vignettes of varying length, we meet the variety of characters that Adam interacts with on his initial day, discovering also their many different stories. Under Moss’s nimble direction, things move swiftly through the show’s series of often very funny scenes. But there is also some surprise poignancy to layer things and allow us time to stop for breath.

The show is all about Adam, and Kingston certainly holds the show together, virtually never off stage. As he struggles within himself as a virgin giving product advice to others, we can certainly feel his awkwardness. And his recreation of iconic movie movements in attempt to fill the boredom of no-customer slow moments in the day, is very entertaining, particularly his mimicry of Alan Rickman’s signature vocal cadences. 

On the whole, “Sex Shop” is very cleverly written. Humour also comes from Adam’s physical reactions as much as his verbal interactions with customers, with verbalisation of his interior monologue often capturing the collective audience thoughts at the time. Accordingly, at 60 minutes’ duration, this millennial sex farce is an accessible, easy-to-watch show for open-minded audience members not easily offended by its rude and crude subject matter.

As its promotional materials warns, the production contains coarse language, adult themes and is DEFINITELY not for kids. For those who dare, however, “Sex Shop” is a wonderfully naughty start to new year.

Thousand tops

With 2020 being largely taken out of the mix, it has taken me just over 8 years to review 1000 shows as Blue Curtains Brisbane. And my top 10 favourites from within them, appropriately feature shows from 2013 to 2021… a mix of comedy, cabaret, musicals, theatre and festival fare.

1. Delectable Shelter (The Hayloft Project)

The Hayloft Project’s 2013 out-of-the-box black comedy, “Delectable Shelter” literally took place in a box as bunker at Brisbane Powerhouse in its claustrophobic tell of five doomsday survivors planning a utopian society. With ‘80s power ballads and hilarious homages to their ancestors from later descendants, there was so much by which to be entertained in the anarchy of its apocalyptic storytelling, making it my absolute favourite.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National Theatre of Great Britain)

In 2018, the National Theatre of Great Britain provided QPAC audiences with an unparalleled insight into the mind of someone living with an autism spectrum condition with their acclaimed production of Mark Hadden’s much-loved novel. Inventive, imaginative stage design which saw the floor and all three walls of the boxed-in set transformed into mathematical graph paper, provided many visually memorable moments authentic to experience of the show’s London production.

3. All My Love (HIT Productions)

HIT Productions’ sensitive “All My Love” chronicled the fascinating and little-known relationship between the larger-than-life writer and poet Henry Lawson and the radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, taking its audience along an evocative journey about the people beyond their words, but also their passion in a “Love Letters” type way.

4. Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre)

The musical so nice, Queensland Theatre programed it twice. With stunning visuals and costumes, a soundtrack featuring over 20 original Tim Finn songs and humour, the Helpman-Award-winning musical took audiences into both the glitz of a high-end 1950s department store shop floor and the personal lives of its employees with infectious wit and charm.

5. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The Curator’s 2021 drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

6. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company)

In 2016, Daniel Evans’ gave meaning anew to Shakespeare’s depiction of the Machiavellian King Richard III through bold exploration of its story’s silences, gaps and biases and dynamic discovery of new character depths and unexpected provocations.

7. Hamnet (Dead Centre)

As part of the 2018 Brisbane Festival, Ireland’s Dead Centre used audio visual technology in combination with live performance to give us the perfectly-pitched and movingly thought-provoking story of Shakespeare’s one son (just 11 when he died), knowing that he is just one letter away from greatness.

8. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

My favourite ever Queensland Theatre show…. More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, the company’s landmark 2021 production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

9. California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)

The 2016 Spiegeltent saw audiences treated to the first Brisfest appearance of the cool-cat cabaret crooners of the “California Crooners Club”. The energetic and charming show from genuine, generous performers (led by concept creator Hugh Sheridan), was a marvellous mixed bag of old, new and original numbers curated together and harmonised like familiar favourites.

10. Forthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.

And….

Special mention to La Boite Theatre Company’s “Still Standing”, which in 2002 and 2003 presented a music-filled immersion into the Brisbane rock scene of the 1980s as counter-culture to the repressive Bjelke-Petersen regime that although I saw before starting reviewing, still stands as my favourite ever Brisbane theatre experience.

Century’s choice

Fortunate as we have been in Queensland this year, I was able to experience exactly 100 shows in 2021 and though I am thankful for every single one of them, there are of course some that stand out as favourites.

1. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

2. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, Queensland Theatre’s landmark production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

3. Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

As the Queensland Theatre play that audiences waited a year for, “Triple X” provided a commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality that was funny, honest and powerfully moving.

4. Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s production of Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” was a riveting 100-minute one-woman tour-de-force indictment of the legal system, appropriately acclaimed by the thunderous applause of three curtain calls.

5. Of Mice and Men (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” served as a poignant reminder of not only the heartbreak of its story and themes, but of how classics are classics for a reason.

6. Fourthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.

7. The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production, “The Producers” was self-aware and hugely entertaining with distinctive musical numbers and laugh-out-louds a-plenty 

8. Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

The precision with which all elements of the three consecutively unfolding stories of BC Production’s “Anatomy of a Suicide” unfold made for a powerful exploration of the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women.

9. Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra” was elevated in interest through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where events occurred in complement to the onstage action alongside the original dialogue.

10. Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, inspired by his real experiences working in a funeral home was not just an examination of what it means to die in the 21st century, but a very funny and moving night of entertainment at Queensland Theatre.

And of particular note….

Best Performance:

Glace Chase – Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Playwright, Glace Chase was magnetic as the candid Dexi in “Triple X”. Bold but vulnerable, she made Dexi complex in her multi-dimension and identifiable in her inner conflicts, with a portrayal that added immensely to the emotional effect of the show’s unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Oliver Childs – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Oliver Childs not only showed a talent for characterisation in his realisation of the two Joe Caseys of the alternative realities of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s “Our House”, but his enthusiastic energy and vocal delivery worked well to encapsulate the spirit at the core of the jukebox musical’s experience.

Best Musical – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

It was easy to understand why Spotlight Theatrical Company’s season of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” sold out before even opening, given the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members.

Best Ensemble – The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

With a cast all pushing their eccentric performances to their full potential, Altitude Theatre’s The Producers was high-energy and immensely entertaining throughout.

Best Music – Creedence Clearwater Inspired Featuring Proud Mary (QPAC)

Proud Mary gave QPAC audiences a reminder of just how good live music is with an infectious 2-hour rock back to a time when the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival was the soundtrack of a generation.

Best Cabaret – Your Song (little red company)

The little red company’s world premiere of “Your Song” was a lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam in a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour and unquestionable on-stage talent.

Cleverest – Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions) 

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” had a lot going on in its Brisbane premiere. As the stories played out side-by-side, switching across stage sections, episodic scenes danced together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts, making for a cleverly crafted provocation around ideas associated with legacy.

Best New Work – Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

While Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, deals with a number of heavy themes, it is a well-written, emotionally rich play that offered a refreshing take on a young man’s story.

Most Fun – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of Madness didn’t take itself too seriously, including through its number of nods to band’s music videos, making its experience all sorts of infectious fun.

Funniest – Fouthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Thanks to performances in the face of its changing narrative, the hilarity of shake & stir theatre company’s “Fouthcoming” never stopped.

Special mention goes to the post show-within-the-show discussion of La Boite Theatre’s “Caesar”, which provided the funniest scene of the year, through its absolutely hilarious TikTok livestream nods to the Brisbane theatre scene.

Most Thought Provoking – Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” provided a thought-provoking exploration of experience and impact of living with a rare neurological disorder, for sufferers and their families alike.

Best Stage Design Staging – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Intimate traverse staging allowed audience members to become fully immersed in recognition of the stunningly rich aesthetic and, appropriately for a play set in revolutionary France, its cast of real-life fierce female characters to burst down its fashion runway.

Best Costume Design – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Attention to detail added to the dynamism of the experience of this Curators show with lush pink and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveying a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

Best Sound Design – Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Electra” was elevated by a vivid, atmospheric sound design that both heightened audience suspense and fevered its story’s foreboding.

Best Video Design – Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

The blockbuster video design of Queensland Theatre’s “Boy Swallows Universe” both gave us Brisbane iconography and nooks and crannies alike, but bled its imagery into the story’s themes.  

Ready Eddie

Eddie Perfect – Introspective

QPAC, Concert Hall

December 21

Fortunate as the arts has been in Queensland comparative to some other Australian states, Eddie Perfect’s “Introspective” marks my 100th show as reviewer in 2021. The word reviewer as opposed to critic is a deliberate choice in this statement, given the Australian singer-songwriter’s darkly tongue-in-cheekDeath To A Critic” number which tells of a fictional Shakespearean actor who plots to rid the world of all critics. The song appears as part of Perfect’s storytelling around moving his family to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and his two years working as an outsider on Broadway shows there…  and very much sums up the 70-minute show that Brisbane has been waiting through a number of COVID-related delays to experience.

The Concert Hall easily becomes an intimate venue as Perfect takes the stage without bravado, just him at the piano with accompaniment from two highly skilled musicians, Anita Quayle on Cello, and Xani Kolac on Violin. Accomplished as he himself is on the keys, the addition of the strings layer numbers with beautiful contemplation, such as in a stripped-back version of the catchy but challenging ‘Dead Mom’, the most-covered song from the musical “Beetlejuice”.

Experience writing the music and lyrics of the musical version of the ghost-with-the-most occupies a key part of the show’s content as Perfect talks about the Tony Awards nominations and ‘The Whole Being Dead Thing’ performancethat instigated the hype that saw formation of the musical’s multi-platform, multi-medium, often-online fandom, and delights the audience with the song that didn’t quite make it into the musical, ‘Death’s Not Great’, originally-conceived lyrics and all.

Conversation does not shy away from the realities of the Broadway baptism of fire that saw Perfect struggle through the creation and realisation of the experimental and critically-panned “King Kong”. Ultimately, his comfort in talking honestly about failure as much as success is refreshing. And he is an easy, engaging storyteller, whose humour and relaxed approach connects with the audience from start to finish, from a satirical song about the suburban routine of bin night, which serves as a wonderful opening tribute to the joy of being able to sneak bottles into the neighbour’s rubbish, to a Christmas-season-appropriate and close-to-home-for-many recall in song of the antics of parents putting together a trampoline in the dark.

Attention never diverts from Prefect’s lyrical creativity and pleasing vocals. Lush lighting illuminates the stage, with green and gold accompaniment to performance of ‘Australia’, the 2019 song he was commissioned to write to attract the Brexit-ed English to visit, is about as flashy at things get. Broadway composer Perfect is obviously proud of his work, and deservedly so. His song lyrics are very witty when required, but also sentimental too, as seen in his share of the tender ‘New York Fledgling’ about the starlings he observed raising their chicks on the streets of Manhattan. And the quiet storytelling style of just him at the piano allows sharp showcase of his undeniable musical talent. Curated together as they are, the numbers of “Eddie Perfect – Introspective represent a nice mix of heartfelt reflections and sometimes self-deprecating comedy. Indeed, its interesting stories and industry insights provide a great night of entertainment, well worthy of the wait.  

Photo from “Eddie Perfect – Introspective at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre – Ian Laidlaw

Celebrating administration

Reception: The Musical

Judith Wright Arts Centre

December 18

A celebration of all things administration, Reception: The Musicalshares the cabareted story of a frontline worker of adifferent sort, classical musical academy receptionist Bethany (writer-performer Bethany Simons) and her frantic day-to-day world of busy-work and customer service. Inspired by true stories from behind the front desk, this original 60-minute cabaret comedy, appearing as part of Brisbane Musical Festival, is a must-see for office workers and theatre lovers alike.

Written by award-winning Simons and leading Melbourne composer Peter de Jager, the show takes the form of a series of vignettes displaying the range of aspects to a receptionist’s life. The original score, performed by composer Peter de Jager on the piano is full of upbeat numbers like a ‘My Name is Bethany (Not Stephanie)’ introduction to our protagonist’s daily phone answering dilemmas and ‘Do You Have Sticky Tape’ because magic tape is indeed a powerful commodity.And the patter song introduction to ‘I can’t help but help’ wonderfully captures the mania of having 20 multi-tasked things going on at once.

Despite telling the story of someone glued to her desk all day, the one-woman show is full of movement, comic energy and entertainment. Simons showcases some lovely vocals, however, it is her mimicry that ensures that interest never wanes. Her characterisations of clients, subscriber audience member encounters and the eclectic characters who wander in to the foyer each day are highly entertaining through her jump in an out of characters both vocally and through nuanced body language. Indeed, this is a show more about performance than staging, which is appropriately minimal, adding to the intimacy of the cabaret.

Clever writing ensures that you don’t have to know about reception work or classical music to appreciate its humour around phone voices, overuse of acronym jargon and the processes of becoming initially acquainted with a new employer’s processes and the unique language of each industry. Indeed, the fact that the show is based on Bethany’s own, very relatable, experience as a receptionist, means that it comes with an appealing authenticity that celebrates the perks more than wallows in the repetition that comes with the role. Accordingly, “Reception: The Musical” presents an uplifting story of not just filing, photocopying and the anxiety of ‘type fright’, but the fun of all the drama that can be seen and heard from the front row seat to the office action.