School is in!

School of Rock (GWB Entertainment)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 12 – 28

SOR_AUSTRALIA_4054_EDIT_v001.jpg

‘Rock got no reason, rock got no rhyme,’ the titular song of “School of Rock” tells us. The rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Julian Fellowes lives up to this observation from its opening number, ‘I’m Too Hot for You” by the band No Vacancy. It is quickly evident also that one of the band’s players in not like the others as guitarist Dewey Finn (Brett Hill) repeatedly attempts to upstage the lead singer, with his antics leading to him being kicked out of the band he formed. Those familiar with 2003 film on which the musical is based know the story from there.

SOR_AUSTRALIA_4944_EDIT_v001.jpg

Things go from bad to worse for the failed wannabe rock star when, urged on by resentful girlfriend Patty (Nadia Komazec), his friend Ned (John O’Hara) suggests he pay some rent or move on from his stay with them. Luckily for Dewey he lands a gig substitute teaching at the prestigious Horace Green, where expectations of excellence mean that the pressure is on, even if it is only under his pretense of being the actually-qualified Ned.

SOR-Australia.jpg

On appearances, the match is far from a good fit. In reality this is true, until Dewey discover the musical talent within his class and sets upon turning the group of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. But can he succeed in getting them to the Battle of the Bands without discovery by their parents and the school’s administration, especially as he starts to develop feelings for headmistress Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lebpamer).

SOR_AUSTRALIA_4359_EDIT_v001.jpg

Hill brings likeability and self-deprecating humour to the lead role in balance to the expected Jack Blackish mania of likeable loser Dewey masquerading as Ned, which strikes a chord with younger audience members especially. And his adult cast co-stars offer solid support, especially Lebpamer as strict Headmistress Ms Mullins, whose Act Two lament of lost chances, ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’, is magnificent. However, the show is really all about the insanely talented children’s cast touring with the production. A lot of the show’s comedy comes from the kids’ interactions with Dewey as their unorthodox, not-actually-qualified teacher, and the young performers more that rise to the occasion, in delightful highlight of their characters’ personalities as Dewey helps them all grow in confidence.

SOR_AUSTRALIA_5427_EDIT_v001.jpg

Of particular note, Stephanie Kipnis as Summer, makes for a convincing, feisty feminist ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ overachiever, allocated the role of the band’s manager. Remy Grunden gives the best face as bassist Katie and Kempton Maloney gives his everything to the role of epic drummer Freddy; he consistently draws the audience eye not just due to him taking the brunt of the responsibility for the musical time and rhythm but due to his infectious personality-filled performance in making the drum set shine.

SOR_AUSTRALIA_1299_EDIT_v001.jpg

Given the calibre of the talented young performers, ‘You’re in the Band’ serves as an early standout as Dewey discovers the class members’ genuine talents and puts together the instrumentals of the band, with then also backup singers, roadies, security and styling. A pre-show announcement from Andrew Lloyd Webber himself assures us that the multi-talented young performers really are playing the instruments live, which after seeing their level of skill in even this one early number, still seems difficult to believe.

SOR_AUSTRALIA_0893_EDIT_v001.jpg

The powerful rock anthem ‘Stick it to the Man’ (because if you wanna rock, you’ve gotta get mad at the Man) serves as another of the score’s most memorable and catchy of numbers, both initially in Act One and in reprise, making it clear to all that school is well and truly in. And the band’s battle competition entry, ‘School of Rock’, written by lead guitarist Zack (ferocious guitar wonder Zane Blumeris) is an another fun, rock-inspired exuberance with ‘dope’ shy but sensational singer Tonika (Chihana Perera) on vocals. Beside these noteworthy numbers, however, there are a lot of ‘filler’ songs in the story’s conversion from screen to stage. Yet while the narrative is still pretty flimsy, its presentation is slick; things are kept moving by some of the swiftest and most seamless scene transitions you will ever see on stage.
SOR_AUSTRALIA_2983_EDIT_v001.jpg

While it is not particularly memorable in the modern musicals mix, “School of Rock” is alive with energetic colour and moment, and therefore, full of fun for young and old audience members alike. Although its plot might be thin, some lessons are learned along the way as everyone discovers their true selves, resulting in some satisfying core messages. As Andrew Lloyd Webber himself notes, it is “a story about the empowering force of music…. of how music bring joy to people’s lives and how it can change people for the better”. Accordingly, the celebration is a must-see for all the family, especially coming on the heels of the non-family-friendly “Book of Mormon” season.

Advertisements

Oz energy

The Wizard of Oz (Harvest Rain)

Brisbane Entertainment Centre

July 12 – 13

Untitled-1_0002_Wiz_of_Oz_0039.jpg

It seems that there is no place like home for Harvest Rain with the company’s return to Brisbane with this year’s arena spectacular show, “The Wizard of Oz”, the most ambitious yet in terms of its scale with an amateur mass ensemble of over 500 performers joining a professional principal cast at the Brisbane Entertainment centre. The result is a bright production full of colour and moment for all ages to enjoy.

0004_Woz-4.jpg

Before the wildly imaginative “The Wizard of Oz” morphs into the technicolour tale we all know from its iconic 1939 musical fantasy movie treatment, it starts with a sepia washed scene, detailed down to even Dorothy’s ‘blue’ gingham dress, as things open in Kansas where farm folk, Uncle Henry (Matty Johnson) and a particularly youthful Aunt Em (Aurelie Roque) attempt to convince young Dorothy (Carly Bettinson) of the need to hand over her dog Toto after he bites nasty neighbour Miss Gulch (Bil Heit)…. until a tornado strikes in impede of Dorothy’s attempt to run away. It is an opening scene full of foreshadowing through introduction of three farm workers, Hunk (Chris Geoghegan), Hickory (Michael Nunn) and Zeke (Josh Whitten), the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion’s alter egos, and the wonderful Professor Marvel (John Wood). Before the tornado sends the farmhouse spinning, however, we are treated to the show’s signature ballad, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, in which Dorothy sings of the need to find a place where there isn’t any trouble, after failing to get the others to listen to her story.

Along with an exploding soundscape and Craig Wilkinson’s wall-to-wall video realisation and animations courtesy of a 9-metre high LED screen backdrops to the set, we are taking through experience of the twister. Then we are awashed with vivid colour, making it clear that we are not in Kansas anymore but rather over the rainbow in the Land of Oz, where Dorothy’s house has landed not just in Munchkinland but on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. While Dorothy is initially greeted by Good Witch of the East Glinda (Aurelie Roque) and troll-haired ensemble munchkins sneaking out from all sorts of nooks and crannies to gleefully sing in celebration of the Wicked Witch’s ‘Ding Don’ demise, her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Bil Heit) is seeking revenge, not so much for Dorothy ‘turning her sister into a house’, as her ‘take’ of her sister’s ruby red slippers. And so, on Glinda’s direction, Dorothy sets out to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where she can ask the Wizard of Oz (John Wood) to help her get back home. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow (Chris Geoghegan) in need of a brain, Tinman (Michael Nunn) who desires to have a heart and a Cowardly Lion (Josh Whitten) in need of courage, who accompany her to Emerald City so they can also ask the Wizard for help.

0003_Woz-3.jpg

With effervescent songs such as ‘Follow the Yellow Bring Road’, ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ and ‘Merry Old Land of Oz’, there are plenty of opportunities for big choreographic numbers often filling the three basketball court sized space. Indeed, the big ensemble numbers serve as justification of the show’s spectacular descriptor, however, more so than previous arena spectaculars staged at the Brisbane Convention Centre, this also means that other numbers play in a comparatively empty space, which only distances the audience from any emotional engagement.

0000_Woz-5.jpg

Under Dennett Hudson’s musical direction, the music sounds sharp, especially when showcased in initial Overture and Entracte as we resume the story in the Emerald City where things aren’t actually so wonderful, given the Rafferty’s rules behind the smoke and mirrors of the Wizard’s situation. While Act Two takes the audience to some darker places with liquidation of the Wicked Witch, it also features the standout ‘The Jitterbug’ musical number, cut from the MGM movie. The spirited number makes for a wonderful experience thanks to the older ensemble dancers’ on-point, in unison execution of Callum Mansfield’s lively choreography.

Like its backstory show “Wicked”, the “The Wizard of Oz” is sprinkled with malpropisms for humorous effect, though also, on opening night, some less deliberate dialogue lapses. And a smattering of intertextual additions allow additional opportunities for humour. The witches do a good job in their respective roles, even if these are a little jarring in their stray away from cannon. Glinda is more sassy than saccharine and the Wicked Witch is a cackling caricature, not particularly concerned with her sister’s demise. When serious technical issues see the opening night performance stopped, however, their ad-libs in eventual resumption of the show help everyone to move on.

Untitled-1_0000_Wiz_of_Oz_0056.jpg

Bettinson does a decent job as the show’s adolescent protagonist, however, it is her companions that steal the most audience attention, Whitten as the nerveless lion, Nunn as the heartless Tin Man and particularly Geoghegan as her first friend, the lively but mindless Scarecrow. In particular, Geoghegan stands out thanks to his physicality, convincingly flopping about the place as if really made of hay and his duet with Bettinson, ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ is a memorable, energetic explanation about what each wants from the Wizard. Ultimately, however, there is a clear camaraderie conveyed as the four venture together into the forest of lions and tigers and bears.

Harvest Rain’s “The Wizard of Oz” offers audiences a change to spend some time with a favourite story. It captures the nostalgic sweetness of the original tale but balances it with an integral energy and dynamic design aesthetic that gives each scene a distinct, detailed palette. And its ensemble encore of ‘Over the Rainbow’ serves as an ideal reminder of its excellent score, making it a charming way to end school holidays.

Portrait perfection

The Gospel According to Paul (Soft Tread)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

July 9 – 13

TheGospelAccordingToPaul_PhotoBrettBoardman_000971.jpg

Staging of a well-appointed study nods to the sophisticated tastes of the protagonist of “The Gospel According to Paul” as we are introduced to the man himself (#notreally) Paul Keating, if Paul Keating did stand-up, because the show’s early minutes represent an absolutely hilarious rip into our recent run of fellow PMs and observations of how political leadership should look.

This is the show in which writer/performer Jonathan Biggins brilliantly portrays the love-him-or-hate-him PJ Keating in what its program notes is “the first three-dimensional, unauthorised autobiography written by someone else”. Stand-up sensibilities aside, we soon settle into a slideshow of his early years growing up in Bankstown, leaving school at 14, and fledgling Labour Party career, including driving his own bus when campaigning for the seat of Blaxland, through to his time in the spotlight as Treasurer giving the country ‘the recession we had to have’ and then as the 24th Prime Minister of Australia …. all interspersed with insight as to his personal obsessions and very funny observations about the current state of Australian politics.

TheGospelAccordingToPaul_PhotoBrettBoardman_001886.jpg

The history lesson of sorts is also broken up by the occasional song and dance number and some flashbacks to certain pivotal political moments, where Biggins skilfully switches to assumption of Keating’s younger self in delivery. Biggins is a gifted mimic in all instances; his comic timing is exact and his performance is incredibly nuanced in terms of its physicality and through his use of the slightest of gestures and most perfect of pauses and emphasis. It forces the need for conscious reminder that this is not actually the man himself.

With Keating’s zinging sardonic humour at its core, “The Gospel According to Paul” is a well-written and incredibly funny experience that will exceed any audience expectations. The show is about so much more than just fiscal and monetary policy; it is full of fabulous one liners about political personalities of the past and also of our current crop, but also observation of the state of the world in general and how Twitter, for example, will be the death of democracy. Its intimate setting and conversational tone are not only appealing, but mean that it easily flies in what seems like the shortest time.

Biggins in such a skilled performer that he can easily take us from hilarity to pin-drop moments of poignancy in discussion of PJK’s personal-life regrets around his family and marriage to Anita. And his redeliver of part of the Redfern Speech declaration that it was we who did the dispossessing seems especially still significant given the show’s timing during NAIDOC Week.

TheGospelAccordingToPaul_PhotoBrettBoardman_001761.jpg

A 90-minute solo show is a tough ask for a performer, especially with a meticulous script weighted with details of past events and political personalities as is the case with “The Gospel According to Paul”, however, this represents no barrier to audience engagement. The show’s writing is incredibility clever, even if some down-south suburb jokes don’t land too well with the Brisbane audience and it seems incomplete without an update mention of Hawke’s recent passing. Of course the unpleasant water under the bridge between Keating and his brother-in-arms Bob Hawke makes an appearance in his recollections and reflection of their years as a team, including how it all was undone by ‘that’ Kirrabilly agreement.  Besides the big stories like this, the show is full of facts and not-recently heard names, interesting in themselves or in recollection of the time, depending on audience vintage.

Directed by Aarne Neeme, Biggins conveys an essential humility to Keating, making the realisation more than just a caricature. Still, there is a clear strength of character at the core of his on-point characterisation, evident in his discussion of what leadership is really about, defense of his decisions and reflection on his legacy resulting from reforms such as the Native Title Act and APEC regional leaders’ forum.

“Judge me not for who am I but what I did,” ‘Keating’ suggests as the evening draws to a close and there is an obvious political persuasion in accompaniment of this request, however, you don’t need to be of a particular political position to appreciate the brilliant theatre on show in this sparkling night of entertainment, evidenced by its deserving standing ovation.

Photos c/o – Brett Boardman

Psychodrama provocation

Equus (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra

July 5 – 20

It isn’t often that a production has more notoriety than the work itself however this may well be the case with “Equus”. The 2007 revival of the play famously served as vehicle for Daniel Radcliff’s first on stage appearance in attempt to shed his clean-cut Harry Potter image, along with his clothes, which alone makes it a bold choice for Ad Astra’s latest production. To their credit, however, this is not a company that shies away from the challenge of a rarely-seen play.

65273055_374218859897478_3786732928122224640_n.jpg

The ambition of the complex psychosexual drama is evident when Act One opens to prominent child psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Dysart (Richard John Murphy) desperately considering the value of grief to a horse. By his own admission, this doesn’t make a lot of sense so he soon restarts to take us back to where the story manifests with magistrate Hesther (Eleanor Ginaldi) asking him to take on the case of 17-year-old Alan Strang (Angus Thorburn), who has been convicted of blinding horses with a metal spike.

After agreement, Dysart interviews Alan and his parents. As the sessions progress, Alan responses in a series of vivid flashbacks and we learn of his preoccupation with religion inspired by his mother Dora (Michelle Carey), his father Frank’s (Peter Cattach) subjective judgement and a particular encounter with a horse on a beach. Slowly Dysart becomes increasingly fascinated with Alan’s past emotional experiences. Accordingly, experience of the multi-layered narrative is a long one and during Act One it feels that way as its exposition takes its time to lead the audience to its crescendo re-enactment of events of the night in question when Alan’s understanding of the horses as being representative of God leads to confusion between adoration and sexual attraction.

65523597_374221583230539_4041437816058544128_n.jpg

Although still harrowing, things make a little more sense in Act Two where provocation focusses more on the passion of Alan’s worship rather than attempted determination of his supressed rage, through recall of his relationship with co-worker Jill (Claire Erueti). However, there is confusion in some aspects of the show’s identity; Dysart talks of the Scottish North and wonders about visiting Australia after earlier Alan has been singing quintessentially Australian advertising jingles whenever initially questioned.

“Equus” is a talky, quite static play, which staging in the round enlivens in many ways, even if performer use of the audience space gives some audience members repeated blind spots. The most notable aspect of the staging is, however, the stylised representation of the horses courtesy of performers using skeletal frames for heads, with commitment to conveying the animals’ physicality.

65391136_374220809897283_4747619817790373888_n.jpg

Peter Shaffer’s 1973 psychodrama about a disturbed teenage boy who blinds horses has courted controversy ever since its first staging. Over forty years later and it is still unsettling subject matter, however, in Ad Astra’s hands it is at least tempered by many compelling moments, thanks mostly to Thorburn’s intense portrayal of the introverted, vulnerable protagonist Alan. Murphy also effortlessly carries a lot of the show’s weight as the psychiatrist whose own personal life is far from satisfying, walking a fine line between being patient and stern in his interactions with the troubled teen. Carey also gives audiences some memorable moments as a mother burdened between vindication and guilt.

Certainly, the subject matter of “Equus” means that it is not a play for everyone. While it may leave you with a sense of discomfort, the twisted story of a boy’s love for horses is theatre at its boldest, raising questions of freedom, religion, sexuality, pain and blame, meaning that no matter how much time has passed the story remains relevant and a production well worth a look.

As good as Gold

City of Gold (Queensland Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

June 29 – July 20

66075540_10158606235100744_8808608848966320128_o.jpg

Early into Meyne Wyatt’s semi-autographical play “City of Gold” feisty activist Carina (Shari Sebbens) speaks at a press conference following a peaceful protest/riot in Kalgoorlie, condemning vigilantism and demanding justice. We need to wake up and listen in order to heal, she tells the unseen media and also the show’s audience. It’s a call to attention that is embedded throughout the essential world premiere work which sells itself as a battle cry from the front line of Australian identity.

65879476_10158606234705744_5410720510109548544_o.jpg

The execution of this core message is incredibly crafted in the show’s reference to politics and particular issues like the closure of aboriginal communities, the abuse of aboriginal youths in the corrections system and calls to change to date of Australia Day. Mention of Adam Goodes even makes an appearance in an Act Two opening monologue from Breythe (Writer Meyne Wyatt) in question of his place as an Indigenous Australian in the entertainment industry and share of the reality of lived experience for Indigenous Australians.

66353475_10158606234135744_1521861188198072320_n.jpg

Young actor Breythe left Kalgoorlie with a determination to make it big. Though he has made occasional appearance on “Home and Away”, he’s found himself starring in a controversial Australia Day advertisement. Returning home to Kalgoorlie with new shoes and craft beer preferences, he finds himself alienated from his country, community and siblings Carina and especially brother Mateo (Mathew Cooper). Both individually and together we see the trio struggle in the immediate aftermath of their father’s (Maitland Schnaars) death.

65840545_10158606235630744_9008083554147500032_o.jpg

‘I didn’t expect it to be so funny,’ a shared audience whisper exclaimed after the show’s initial scene, during which Breythe is on set filming the troublesome Australia Day advertisement. The show’s humour is not only unexpected but very effective in creating a shared experience through laugher that continues throughout the production. The story’s vernacular is such that listening to its dialogue often feels like eavesdropping on an intimate conversation as family members open up their world to the audience. The sibling banter is absolutely authentic, including conversational arguments seemingly over nothing. This not only facilitates a lot of the show’s wry humour but makes its wallop of an ending even more stunning.

66013630_10158606234180744_2779277872727064576_o.jpg

While some opening night lines are lost in the rough and tumble of dialogue delivery, this will surely settle as the show’s run continues. The main performers are equally excellent in their characterisation. Wyatt is compelling as the charismatic, conflicted protagonist Breythe, while Cooper gives a powerhouse performance as his angry brother Mateo, showing us the shocking extent to which all that glistens is not, in their city of gold. Sebbens brings conviction to the role of Carina and Jeremy Ambrum gives us many of the show’s funniest moments through his perfectly pitched often throw-away line delivery.

66018468_10158606234440744_4634688853947449344_o.jpg

“City of Gold” is very good theatre in its speak to race relations in this country right now, in way that isn’t preachy or teachy. This is helped by Tony Brumpton and Jason Glenwright’s sound and lighting, which work well together to unobtrusively create impressions in complement of the action on stage. Through its themes alone, the show is packed with provocation. Its heavy subject matter is made even more affecting by its basis in writer Wyatt’s own experience. Accordingly, there is a universal appeal to its deeply moving moments and emphasis of the importance of being together and making connection. Under Isaac Drandic’s direction, the idea of family resonates and there is a genuine honesty to the show’s attempt to articulate the experience of grief and regret of not being present for a parent’s passing.

65730205_10158606234750744_1940435094409838592_o.jpg

“City of Gold” is not just urgent and important, but accessible theatre that serves to help make sense of a world that makes no sense at all. It is also very entertaining and thoroughly deserving of its opening night standing ovation and repeated curtain calls, meaning that it will surely shine bright as one the year’s Brisbane theatre highlights.

Photos c/o – Stephen Henry

Soldier stories and songs

Yank! (Understudy Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

July 4 – 14

Yank is the name of a weekly magazine that was published by the United States military for and by its servicemen from 1942 – 1945. It’s the magazine where an awkward young man called Stu (Andy Johnston) partners with photographer Artie (Eli Cooper), who is also ‘light in the loafers’, to report stories.

66127690_1354985257988188_6036157672137424896_o.jpg

After Stu’s call-up, before he goes off to join his squad in basic training, his mother (Naomi Price) gives him a journal to record his time in the service. It is this journal that a modern San Francisco man finds at the outset of “Yank”, a World War II Love Story (Music by Joseph Zellnik, Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik). The journal’s discoverer doesn’t know much beyond Stu’s entry into the military with feel that he doesn’t fit in. And so we are transported back to young protagonist Stu’s story and his acceptance of being a gay man at a time where being gay was a crime, which initially comes through his relationship with all-American Mitch (Alex Gibson-Giorgio). Unfortunately, however, the two are separated by Stu’s secondment to Yank, where he flourishes under unapologetically flamboyant Artie’s life mentorship.

62444115_1354985294654851_5290801857814331392_o.jpg

The ensuing love story explores what it means to fall in love and struggle to survive, in a time and place where the odds are stacked against you. And under Director Ian Good’s stewardship, it is a moving account. There are some truly tender moments between the raw recruit and closed-off Mitch, dubbed by all as ‘Hollywood’ due to his essential likeability.

65913763_1354986484654732_1966891397168496640_o.jpg

Gibson-Giorgio is mesmerising as Mitch, even when a broken man or struggling with his demons, and his rich vocals make the beautiful ‘A Couple of Guys’ a resonating expression of the men’s dream of life in a ‘house of perfect size for a couple of regular guys’, even if only in their imaginations. Johnston takes audiences on an authentic emotional journey from coy almost-19-year-old around the older and more assured Mitch, to self-secure survivor. And like Gibson-Giorgio, his voice is glorious.

66282472_2546841662015444_1179379594071900160_n.jpg

There is no weak link in the cast. Distinct characters within the squad are brought to vivid life but not overplayed to caricature territory. And their lively ‘Your Squad is Your Squad’ (like peas in a pod) is a memorable punch of vigor, full of playful personality. Naomi Price is memorable, not just as the only female of the cast, but through her musical transport of audience members to the 1940s, in catchy love songs like the jumping boogie-woogish ‘Saddest Gal What Am’ and gorgeous ballad ‘Remembering You’. Indeed, she not only looks that part thanks to Elizabeth Ball’s on-point costume design, but her voice is era evocative in each distinct number.

65864961_1354985491321498_326023361052278784_o.jpg

The lavish swinging score features of-era song stylings of all sorts, and mention must be made of the show’s band (under the musical direction of Trevor Jones), which is spot-on in provision of perfect 1940s sounds to accompany the bright harmonies. The show’s lively early titular number about the service man’s journal is a standout, gripping the audience from the outset and setting high expectations that are fully realised. But the varied score also allows for a well-curated ebb and flow of energy; a crooning ‘Betty’ about the boys’ fascination with pin-up girls like Betty Grable (whose bathing suit image made her the number-one pin-up girl of World War II) slows things down ahead of the spirited ‘Click’ tap duet, where photojournalist Artie educates Stu in how to recognise and hook up with other gay soldiers, which is an explosion of wonderful skill and physical charisma.

65786811_1354985634654817_841064745288073216_o.jpg

Simple but versatile staging sees a collection of wooden crates used to create a range of settings from bunk beds in the barracks to their shower stalls and the bar in which Stu first meets Artie. And choreography impressively makes the most of the intimate Visy theatre setting, especially in ‘light on their feet’ dance numbers like ‘Credit to the Uniform’.

66020721_2546841602015450_6165996504885493760_n.jpg

By Act Two the soldiers are being sent to the front line, but that is not the tale’s only trauma as the story takes a more serious look at the consequences of the characters’ actions and the harsh realities of being outed as being gay in the army at that time (inspired by Allan Bérubé’s book of oral histories “Coming Out Under Fire”, the musical is based on the true hidden history of gay soldiers during World War II).

65973319_1354986147988099_7987938790243041280_o (1).jpg

As things travel towards the story’s moving conclusion, we are both touched and inspired by its commentary about the legacy of brave acts of survival, knowing that Understudy Productions has certainly done justice to the Australian premiere of the work with a credible but not cliché realisation. “Yank” is a compelling story, emotional in and of itself, without need to be overtly positioned as a political commentary and in this regard particularly, the company should be commended. This “Yank” is a human story, but still an important one that needs to be told to avoid reoccurrence, and this audience-self-realisation is integral to its success.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

Finding Fidelity

High Fidelity (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

June 28 – July 13

61609187_2362068150521108_1319948122708770816_n.jpg

Music-loving record shop owner Rob (William Boyd) is a self-centred, self-confessed everyman in his thirties going through a painful re-evaluation of his life and lost loves, with a little help from his music, in the hope of finding real happiness. By day, Rob holds court at his record store, which is where “High Fidelity” opens with one of its highlight numbers, the catchy ‘Last Real Record Store on Earth’. By this, we are also introduced to ‘musical moron twins’, his co-workers Barry (Lachlan Clark) and Dick (Isaac Tibbs) and learn of Rob’s breakup with lawyer Laura (Katya Bryant) who is now in relationship with new-age interventionist Ian (Bradley Chapan).

Their stories are ones that many know well; “High Fidelity” is based on British author Nick Hornby’s instant-hit 1995 novel and the 2000 film adaptation, which starred John Cusack and became a cult classic. As in their earlier incantations, armed with their collective encyclopaedic knowledge of all things musical, the trio of characters compile top five lists for every occasion, so of course Rob’s breakup prompts him to song with ‘Desert Island Top 5 Breakups’, as said women from his history sass about the stage. Things slow after the ballad ‘Ready to Settle’ when we find out the details behind Rob’s breakup, but Act Two momentums along in journey through a range of musical styles (This is a musical whose score is original but pays tribute to existing bands or songs, with influences for each listed in its program).

Act Two is full of musical highlights. ‘Conflict Resolution’ represents a wonderful parody number, on repeat, as Rob reflects upon alternative ways that he could have reacted during an uncomfortable conversation with Ian. Its Guns ‘N’ Roses, Beastie Boys and Snoop Dog segments are each as entertaining as each other in their distinction and give Aaron Hamilton a change to shine on drums. Parody also appears in a fantasy sequence, ‘Goodbye and GoodLluck’, during which Bruce Springsteen materialises to advise Rob how to be like The Boss. The number not only has the icon’s energy and distinctive rousing rock sounds, bit it even features appearance of The Big Man Clarence Clemons and a ‘Dancing in the Dark’ style Courtney Cox pull up onto stage to dance along.

Across the show, the small band does a stellar job with musicians often playing multiple instruments. Act Two’s opener ‘I Slept with Someone/Lyle Lovett’ offers opportunity for Tess McLennan to provide a softer, violin touch to the soundtrack, however, the lyrics of songs like ‘She Goes’, in which mutual friend Liz delivers some harsh home truths to Rob about his macho act, become difficult to decipher under the band’s boom. On-stage there is a clear energy to the songs and pleasing harmonies in the big choral numbers that see the company come together.

The trio of diverse record shop workers are brilliantly played, drawing upon but not allowing their performances to be defined by their famous film archetypes. Clark’s brash Barry is somewhat unlikable but undeniably funny in his angry, arrogant mania. Tibbs makes the painfully shy Dick a standout character, capturing his awkward insecurity in his every heightened reaction, especially in attempt to talk with women. Boyd is a relatable, flawed Rob and his conversational monologues to the audience from centre stage go some way towards capturing the story’s integral introspection, however, ultimately the production suffers somewhat due its departures from the story’s emotion for the sake of comedy.

While the story’s central pop culture threads are still evident, its honest observations about human relationship aren’t as readily apparent. Although Rob says he has changed from one who speaks with passion about the power of a well-curated mixtape to remedy all, we don’t really see his new-found emotional intelligence emerging, perhaps because of all the distractions on stage. Some moments are very funny, however, the laughs come mostly through throw-away lines not central to their scenes. And although little background details (beyond just seeing the “Beaches” soundtrack in the Hip Hop section) add amusement, there is a fine line between these being incidental additions and distractions from the main action

It’s little details that prove to be the show’s undoing. While it attempts to pay homage to the music of geek culture, appearance of a Little Dum Dum Club tshirt in the ensemble, brings era authenticity into question. And although scene transitions are swift, choreography is a little rough around the edges and doesn’t always exploit the possibilities of the space.

As a musical “High Fidelity” will not be to everyone’s tastes as it includes course language and partial nudity. In some ways it is easy to understand how the Broadway production of the show closed after 18 previews and 13 regular performances, given its lyrics’ unimaginative rhymes of the ‘I’d be making fun of them …. I’m really one of them’ and ‘Now you finally got a winner. Did you even cook her dinner’ sort. And while though the iconic line ‘which came first the, music or misery’ makes appearance it seems that Rob’s unhappiness and this fidelity to its source material have been sacrificed for the sake of comedy, meaning that the narrative wears a little thin. It is not without its charm though and music still stands strong as a central theme, resulting in at least numerous opportunities for nostalgic indulgence courtesy of the record covers on display.