West Side spectacle

West Side Story (Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment)

QPAC, Lyrics Theatre

July 24 – August 22

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, “West Side Story” is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time. And Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment’s production of the classic recreates its beautiful blend of all of these elements in a vibrant and textured take that balances the contrasts of its story of gangs and love.

The plot, which borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is of the doomed love story of two characters who fall in love despite being from enemy houses. On the streets of 1950s Upper West Side New York these houses are the urban gangs of the Jets and their rivals, the new Puerto Rican immigrant Sharks. Former Jets member Tony (Nigel Huckle) meets and instantly falls in love with Maria (Sophie Salvesani), the young sister of the Sharks’ leader Bernardo (Temujin Tera). The two attempt to keep their love a secret, however, as the feuding gangs prepare for a rumble, their loyalties are tested with heartbreaking consequences.

The musical starts in a glorious fashion with the ‘Prologue’ opening dance number featuring the Jets’ dancing, which both sets the tone and arcs to the rumble that ends a lengthy Act One. Director/Choreographer Joey McKneely’s demanding routines remain true to the original style and are slick and spirited as, in the opening number, the gang members fly through the air as they enact athletic yet graceful ballet moves and long extensions, but also frenetic energy, like the fast-footed feats of the roughneck Pontipees in the barn-raising dance sequence of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.

Dance represents an integral part of the storytelling to signpost the tension between characters and to express the excitement of budding romance, in contrast to later frustration and grief. And the choreographic storytelling is skilfully executed by the highly-talented ensemble. Every 1950s beatnik finger snap, flick of the wrist, sharp stomping foot and long leap is precise and evocative. The Sharks girls’ sizzle in a lively, Latin-inspired ‘America’ of swishing skirts and fiery flamenco foot-stomping, as they in-turn mock their current world and that from which they have come in trade of one island for another.

There is chorographic grace amongst the rapid moves of the show’s rich jazzy numbers, thanks to a score that is filled with moments of light and shade. Lyrical ballet moves convey romance and innocence, with Act Two’s ‘Somewhere’ serving as an alternative reality highlight with both Sharks and Jets gang members, costumed in all-white, entering a magical ballet sequence, “An American in Paris” style. Making full use of the stage in sensitive echo of the earlier, explosive ‘Dance at the Gym’ they use a circle configuration and contemporary stylings of light-hearted, carefree movement to morph from small groups to build to a larger harmonious one.

The whole show is very choreographed; not just the dance sequences, but how the dancers move across the stage, and how the staging changes. Several large set pieces recreate 1950s New York with its synonymous apartment fire escapes, seamlessly joining as necessary to create a Juliet balcony for Tony to scale.

Lighting is rich, awashing the stage with a lush blush to soften the lovers’ first meeting and darkening its violet in low key lighting foreshadow of what is to come as they fantasise about being together and married in ‘One Hand, One Heart’. Renate Schmitzer’s costume design emphasises the youth and innocence of Tony and Maria against the bold palettes of the different gangs, which see the passionate Puerto Ricans in vibrant reds and purple, and the angry Jets in more muted earth tones and denim.

There is a clear youthful energy to this “West Side Story”. Connor McMahon is a memorable Baby John, the youngest member of the Jets gang and Nathan Pavey displays an impressive stage presence as self-styled expert Snow Boy, both in dance and comic moments alike. Angelina Thomson is sensational as Maria’s feisty friend Anita, who is girlfriend of Bernardo. Not only is her dancing exciting, with her use of costume movement only adding to its fervour, but the physicality with which she enlivens the emotion of her angry tirade to Maria against Tony, ‘A Boy Like That’, is palpable.

Huckle brings an immediate softness to the idealistic Tony and his delivery of Act One’s romantic ‘Maria’, when Tony learns the name of the girl with whom he’s fallen in love, is beautifully operatic in match with the score. Salvesani also has a stunning voice. Her Maria is pure hearted and innocent, but also strong-minded, and her solid vocals see us treated to a powerful ‘I Have a Love’, assertion to Anita as to the power of the feeling.

While the book of “West Side Story” may not hold up as well as the score, the musical is still a beautiful meld of Broadway dance and opera. Leonard Bernstein’s legendary score dazzles in its blend of jazz, Latin and classical inspirations to create definitive musical theatre numbers. Even the upbeat ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, allows the cast members in smaller roles to have a slapstick moment in the spotlight as they play-act in vaudeville style, interaction with the local beat cop who has no patience for the gangs’ conflict, courtesy of Stephen Sondheim’s playful lyrics. And under Isaac Hayward’s Musical Direction, the orchestra is dynamic in its delivery of Bernstein’s memorable score, resulting in well-deserved ovation at the show’s end.

“West Side Story” is a must-see musical event for both long-time fans and those new to the classic alike. It presents a faithful revival of the original work with spectacle, energy and vibrancy. Its rich score in both vivacious in its moments, but also lingering its emotional melodies while the rest of the world fades away. And while its star-crossed love story may end with sadness, the electrifying journey to its tragedy is one that Brisbane audiences are privileged to have the opportunity to experience.  

Photos c/o – Will Russell

Contemporary collision

Collision (Casus Circus)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

July 14 – 18

What happens when you mix three circus performers and three street performers? Than answer lies within experience of “Collision”, and the answer is absolutely appealing. As theatre-goers of this oft-called circus city, audience members familiar with pioneering contemporary circus company Casus Circus know to expect something special, however, the collaboration with urban street dance mover and shaker Mad Dance House, under the direction of Natano Fa’anana, takes it to all sorts of new levels.

Things start curiously, pre-show with a bunch of green grapes pedestaled amid a binge of blue lighting. The fruit becomes a playful motif that features from time to time, but doesn’t contribute much beyond its frivolity. So, it seems to be an authentic introduction to a show that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously and thus is infectious in its appeal… along with moves leading to ‘that’s amazing” type audience commentary.

Ché Pritchard’s choreography is impressive, in both its boldness and subtly. The first of a range of short scenes starts with the ensemble of performers Ela Bartilimo, Riley Colquist, Sam Evans, Ben Garcia, Amy Stuart and Wanida Serce lined across the stage, making small individual movements before morphing into one being to animal across the space. Immediately, there is a lot going on, with restrained integration vigorous Shiva sorts of traditional Indian hand gestures and shades of sitar sounds apparent in its initial soundtrack.

The dynamic soundtrack (Music Dessign by Natano Fa’anana, Jesse Scott, Che Pritchard and Andrew Haden) heightens things from there, including with some ‘Superstition’ and Salt-N-Pepa familiarity. Truly wonderful mashups and snippet hints at familiar beats vibrantly add to the transformative effect of what is occurring on stage. The sentiment is not all one-note though, with sound and lighting combining to create an early intimate, lyrical moment in the ‘rain’ before Wanida Serce (who we saw in Pink Matter’s “The Type” last year) explodes into a vigorous dance number. And her costume is sensational! Indeed, all of the costumes are striking, while still being simple and versatile.  

“Collision” is first class in its consideration of a distinct and exciting aesthetic to match the on-stage showcase of acrobatic and athletic prowess. There is no narrative focus to the show, however, abstract as it might be, there is not denying its energy in the celebration of the performers’ physical languages. The choreography demands athleticism and the performers all rise to its risk-taking challenges, putting their bodies on the line for our entertainment.

Acrobat Amy Stuart is sensational in her provision of a slick early highlight which sees her simultaneously balancing and twirling multiple hula hoops. She also shows formidable strength and focussed control in anchor of a later human tower of the three female performers. Circus acts are all executed with precision. Ela Bartilomo’s aerial rope work and her elevated hand balance routine, in which she intertwines as one with Riley Colquist is a mix of strength, skill and beauty. Colquest is an astonishing contortionist of extreme flexibility and enticing facial expressions that tease the audience during a balancing routine upon the tallest platform heels you are ever likely to see.

Dance numbers are also appealing in their whimsy. There is a dance off to Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha’ while apparently awaiting a bus (#asyoudo), and Sam Evans gives us a brilliant robotic routine, especially in rapid rewind. At one point he also astonishingly routines with just his chest and torso as instruments. Even when miming a circus performance, he is thoroughly entertaining. Ben Garcia, meanwhile, amps up the audience even more with a late breakdance show of impressive power moves, which only adds to the infectious energy of the show’s experience.

Even as individuals spin out of line to a soundtrack of frenzied static, there is still a clear sense of the performers working together in what turns out to be a perfect partnership. “Collision” is a charismatic and thrilling showcase of our city’s contemporary circus and street dance talent. And best of all, you don’t need to know a lot about dance to enjoy it, know it is good or be proud of it as a Brisbane collaboration.

Playing with the patriarchy

Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

July 14 – August 7

Opening night performances often end with a standing ovation, sometimes as a slowly staggered act of obligation. In the case of the conclusion of Suzie Miller’s brilliant “Prima Facie”, however, Queensland Theatre audience members are immediately on their feet in an acclaim of thunderous applause that lasts through three curtain calls. It is an especially significant display of praise given that the riveting 100-minute tour de force indictment of the legal system is a one-woman show.

While it may be a little play in scale, “Prima Facie” is clearly about big #metoo type of ideas. What makes it ultimately gripping, however, is the storytelling skill of its performer Sheridan Harbridge, who plays 30-something Tessa, a self-described ‘bastard defence lawyer’ at the top of her game who likes to work hard and play hard. “The law is the law,” she says and as she has been taught, this is what she trusts, above even her own instincts. It’s a mantra that has abided as a key part of her successes as a criminal attorney… successes that have seen her esteemed by the promised prestige of new chambers.

The story is told entirely from Tessa’s point of view. The clearly-confident, cool-headed criminal defence barrister has worked hard to rise from working class origins to succeed in the upper class private school world of the law, which both legitimises and humanises her as a character. Her ruthless addition to the adrenaline of cross examination of witnesses is clear from the outset as she reveals in her charismatic retelling of courtroom experience of the game of law and flashes back to early law school days, with Harbridge effortlessly assuming a range of distinct characters with which to enliven each anecdote. It’s a very funny ease in what is ultimately a confronting tale in its truths, because while Tessa is initially unfaltering in her belief that the law is a tool for justice, something life-altering happens to her that betrays the beliefs at the core of her identity.

Before we realise, the story has darkened when, Tessa is sexually assaulted by a co-worker and she is forced to feel firsthand the trauma of experience within a system that fails so many women. And as Tess reports the crime and prepares for her day in court, this time as a witness, it becomes clear just how much a woman’s experience doesn’t fit the male defined world of the law. The role of Tessa is a challenging one, not just as it brings with it the load of carrying a one-woman drama of such lengthy duration. And Harbridge shows an incredible emotional range and expert control over every performance element in her share of what is a compelling character study.

Staging in appropriately simple; Renee Mulder’s set design focuses us on a lone swivel chair on a raised platform “Mastermind” style, while projections signpost the sometimes non-linear timeline. The choreography of movements around the platform adds much to audience engagement in Tessa’s tale, especially in work with Trent Suidgeest lighting design. Blue shades steel us into the trauma of Tessa’s recollections and warms things back to the present from which her retrospect is being presented, including as she is giving her testimony in court.

The play is well-constructed and effectively paced to take the audience from the humorous to the harrowing, but also in its arc of motifs and mentions. Though mostly told through Tessa’s narration of everything that is happening, even this is authentic, with occasional focus on small observational details alongside the big. Miller’s script considers language carefully meaning there is a truth to seemingly the simplest of lines, such as the heartbreak of Tessa’s emotional contemplation of how to tell her mother what has happened. They are brought to full poignant potential by Harbridge’s faultless performance as a determined woman, tormented by attempts to almost cross examine herself in question of her own memory, as much as by those employed to challenge her credibility. And when she speaks her truth outlining all she had lost, late in the show, it is an inspiring manifesto from within her damaged sense of self.

“Prima Face” is a crafted contemporary theatre work, controlled in its tonal shifts and offsets. The hard-hitting play not only scrutinises the Australian legal system, sexual consent laws and the burden of proof (and the impact of these upon victims), but forces contemplation of a system clearly defined by patriarchal values, through an engaging empathetic lens. And while it is piercing in its social commentary, it is also highly accessible for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Indeed, Lee Lewis’ detailed direction provides spaces enough to support audience members in their own contemplations as to what is right and fair within a legal system that, although organic, is currently faulty in its failure of so many silenced women.

The critically lauded and awarded show has had a previous life; it was written in 2017 (before the #metoo movement) by former lawyer Miller, and it is unfortunate to reflect on how little has changed in this time with regards to the patriarchal justice system catching up to society’s needs. And while extended restrictions may have meant no usual opening night celebrations, we must be of course be thankful to still have the chance to access live theatre, especially when it is as exceptional as the powerful and provocative “Prima Facie”.

Photos c/o – Griffith Theatre Company

It might be love

Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 14 – August 21

Before Oasis triumphed the British working-class, there was Madness, the prominent ska Camden Town band of the late 1970s and early 1980s, who, if you are of a particular vintage, you may know from their appearance in two episodes of the cult BBC sitcom “The Young Ones”. Beyond this, the prominent band is known for its ‘nutty boys’ fusion of traditional Jamaican ska music with elements of punk rock and new wave, resulting in a run of hits and madcap music videos… all of which are captured in the award-winning jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of the chart-topping group.

In Brisbane Arts Theatre’s hands, the musical starts strongly with two of the group’s biggest hits, ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Our House’, which serve to orient the audience to the story through well appropriated lyrics. ‘House of Fun’ is about coming of age, telling the story of a boy on his 16th birthday trying to buy condoms at a chemist and it is here where we meet the lad in question, Joe (Oliver Childs). With a book written by playwright Tim Firth, the story then follows the life of the schoolboy from that night when he makes the decision on a whim to break into a building development overlooking his North London home to impress his girlfriend, Sarah (Kyra Stratford). When the police arrive, Joe has to make a decision that will change his life. Overseen and narrated by Joe’s father (Shaun King), events are shown through a “Sliding Doors” lens as Joe embarks upon two alternative paths of seven years from that fateful night, that of the ‘good’ Joe who gives himself up and the ‘bad joe’ who leaves Sarah to escape. The ensuring tales of love, loss and growing up are explored as he navigates right and wrong to the music of Madness. It is a combination of the silly and serious enhanced by lyrics that often make thoughtful observations on the everyday concerns of working-class London, making it, at times, more of a morality tale than a romantic comedy.

The very talented Childs gives an authentic portrayal of the story’s likeable protagonist, realising the two Joe Caseys with a consummate skill that means he is just as believable as the smooth-talking and shallow scammer as he is when playing the unfortunate underdog loner Joe. His voice works well for Madness songs like ‘The Sun and The Rain’, and he is full of enthusiastic energy, in spite of the many characterisation changes and quick costume swaps needed in accordance with his alternative realities. Indeed, in Act Two, he deftly takes us from jubilation to desperation in the blink of an alternative reality eye. There is also an endearing comradery evident between Joe and his friends and surrogate brothers Emmo (Oliver Catton) and Lewis (Devon Henshaw). Catton, in particular gives a charming performance as the simple-minded but good-natured and boisterous Emmo.

Natalie Mead is another standout as Joe’s loyal and loving Irish Catholic mother Kath. Like Stratford as Joe’s kind and gentle girlfriend Sarah, she showcases strong vocals in Act Two’s dramatic moments. The entire ensemble is infectious in its energy, making Act One’s closer, ‘Baggy Trousers’ a highlight. The ode to school days is an organised mayhem of rolling school desks and high-energy rebellion of the “Matilda” ‘Revolting Children’ sort.

The use of a half circular revolve stage as part of the set allows for the efficient inclusion of different locations (such as when Joe takes others driving in his ‘not quite a Jaguar’ car) and swift set piece transitions allows scenes to progress smoothly with quick and clever changes showcasing the two stories’ scenarios. Indeed, Kiel Gailer and Tim Pierce’s design is quite clever in its realisation, working with Fiona Black’s lighting design which themes the respective stories and Frances Foo’s detailed costume design, which coordinates the colour palettes of each story, even including 2 Tone label black and white check motifs.

Directed and choreographed by Ava Moschetti, with assistance from the company’s artistic director John Boyce, the show includes many vibrant numbers the platform the band’s enthusiastic signature distinctive jerky dance moves. And with the accompaniment of the accomplished band (Musical Director Gabby Fitzgerald), it is all a lot of fun. Even the quirky little love song of ‘It Must Be Love’ is given a delightful duet realisation.

While “Our House” may explore themes of love, loss, family, responsibility and growing up, it is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, including a number of nods to Madness music videos, including ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ red fezzes and an ‘Our House’ bearded housewife. Clearly, this is an easy show at which to have such a very good time, even if its Madness songs often sound quite similar. Despite winning the 2003 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, it received lacklustre critical reviews, which may explain why it is so rarely seen on stage. (The rescheduled 2021 Arts Theatre production represents its Queensland premiere). Yet, it is definitely worth a visit. Not only will you be supporting the iconic Brisbane Arts Theatre in its much publicised face of an uncertain future, but you may be surprised at how many Madness songs you actually know, beyond just those from “The Young Ones” … and the result might just be love.

Superstar splendour

Jesus Christ Superstar (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

July 9 – 18

Within minutes of Lynch & Paterson’s production of the mega musical cultural phenomenon “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the show’s triumph is clear. The Twelfth Night Theatre is appropriately staged so as to include showcase of the orchestra and the ‘Overture’ only entices with their expertise. Precision in the synchronisation of the accompanying ensemble’s dance movements confirms the professionalism of production and then Jesse Ainsworth’s final note in Judas’s ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ cements both the vocal calibre of the show’s performers and electrifying tone of the enduring soundtrack.

Set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s pop-rock score, the sung-through musical’s story is loosely based on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’s life, from preparation for the arrival of him and his disciples in Jerusalem through to his crucifixion. It began life as a rock opera concept album in 1970 and it is wonderful to witness the production’s nod to this origin. A rich ‘70s aesthetic is evidenced through Anita Sweeney’s palette of earth-toned costumes, complimented by stage detailing, geometric designs and Bohemian hippie styling. And the realisation of the priests with glam rock allusions is iconic, especially when they rumble that “This Jesus Must Die”. Director Maureen Bowra’s nuanced choreography of the group’s smallest of isolated movements gives them a signature style that stands as one of the show’s highlights.

The highly dramatised story’s depiction of the political and interpersonal struggles between Judas and Jesus (Simon Chamberlain) not included in the Bible means that strong performers are required for these pivotal roles and in this regard Ainsworth and Chamberlain do not disappoint. Chamberlain is a clean-cut Jesus whose crisp vocals contrast nicely against Ainsworth’s rough rock star sounds. His portrayal of the freethinking leader is one of conviction, emotion and vocal intensity, particularly in the epic anthem ‘Gethsemane’. The powerful, emotionally-charged number in which Jesus wrestles with his doubts in the Garden of Gethsemane has been named by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the most difficult song to sing he has ever written and Chamberlain rises to its critical challenge in show of both belting desperation and vulnerability through falsetto. Indeed, his desperate, falsetto cry of ‘Why should I die?’ is goosebump inducing.  

As Judus, Ainsworth similarly has some of the musical’s most difficult tracks, appropriately given the plot’s focus on Judus’ dissatisfaction with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples. And from his first appearance, he commands the stage with his indignation. Samantha Sherrin is a standout as Mary Magdalene. Her vocals are strong and compelling, bringing warmth to the character in an empathetic performance. Her heartbreakingly vulnerable ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ in which Mary acknowledges that she is in love with Jesus, and how it frightens her, is another moving Act Two highlight.

There really are no weak links in the cast of performers. Shannon Foley layers Pilate with humanity as he satisfies public opinion by having Jesus whipped in ‘Trial Before Pilate’ before reluctantly agreeing to his crucifixion, and his Act One ballad, ‘Pilate’s Dream’ showcases his commanding operatic timbre. And a stellar Tom Markiewicz sparkles in the comic relief of Herod through the flamboyant King’s suggestive self-titled solo request of Jesus to prove his divinity. Ensemble energy is also high, especially in the short Act One, which includes an evangelical-like ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus greets the happy crowd in contrast to Caiaphas’ preceding declaration of the need for the leader of the twelve disciples’ death for the greater good, and the ensemble take their celebration into the stalls.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a show of musical contrasts, such as when we are taken from floating flute sounds to a rocking guitar realisation in the prevailing ‘Damned for All Time”. And its dynamic score is powerfully conveyed courtesy of musical directors Samantha Paterson and Lucus D. Lynch, and under Lynch as conductor of the vigorous orchestra. The score is full of energy, but also tempered with emotional pauses to afford the audience chance to catch its breath. Strings notably lighten Mary’s tender anointment of Jesus in ‘Everything’s Alright’ and though ‘Superstar’ is not necessarily the spectacle that it could be, the orchestra makes it musically glorious from the first moments of its iconic opening fanfare.

While percussion propels a lot of the majestic score, its strings and brass sections crescendo us through the climatic crucifixion to the stirring instrumental ‘John Nineteen: Forty-One’ accompaniment of the stark image that ends the dramatic second act. After earlier bathing Judus’ betrayal in rich reds, Tom Dodds’ lighting design uses the elegance of bright white illumination to aid in transfixing the audience through this appreciation of the humanity at the heart of this time-honoured show, encouraging contemplation of its larger themes around faith.

While it may be a compact length for a musical, Lynch & Paterson’s pacy production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is jam packed with splendid reminders as to why the show has enjoyed such a long life. This is a well-crafted, well-performed and highly engaging version of the timeless rock musical. Its eclectic musical score is thrilling and its depiction of figures like Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate as flawed characters is absorbing. 

Photos c/o – PIF Productions

Fizzy fun infection

The Wedding Singer (David Venn Enterprises)

HOTA, Home of the Arts

June 18 – 26

It’s 1985, a time of denim, ruffles, leather and lace, oversized gadgetry and technicolour everything… and “The Wedding Singer” has it all in abundance. The musical comedy, based on the hit 1998 rom-com movie of the same name staring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, celebrates it all. And while it may not necessarily be as charming as its source material, the on-stage trip down a memory lane of perms, pastels and parachute pants is still loads of fun.

The plot is essentially that of the movie. The title character, New Jersey’s Robbie Hart (Christian Charisiou) is a life-of-the-party wanna-be rock star who fronts a wedding band with his two buddies, bass guitarist Sammy (Haydan Hawkins) and keyboard player George (Ed Deganos), revelling in the notion of happily ever after… until he is left at the alter by his fiancé Linda (Kirby Burgess). His resurrection from an ensuring bitter depression (resulting in ruin of others’ weddings through his morose lyrics and lacklustre performances) comes from a connection with kind-hearted waitress Julia (Teagan Wouters) who unfortunately already has a Wall Street boyfriend, Glen (Stephen Mahy).

While things take a while to gain momentum, the story (book by Tim Herlihy, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay) is soon moving along with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, including some huge power ballads, like the hyper-emotional breakup letter ‘A Note From Linda’ and her later ‘Let Me Come Home’, where, looking a lot like the girl from ‘November Rain’, Burgess belts out her epic vocals accompanied with some sexy Whitesnake vixen moves.

Another highlight comes courtesy of Act One’s ‘Causality of Love’ from Robbie and Company. The dynamite number encapsulates the show’s high energy and tight dchoreography, complete with some ‘Thriller’ moves that are absolutely in sync across all of the dancers. Of-the-era references abound throughout the musical, in Michael Ralph’s choreographic nods to movies like “Flashdance” and music videos like Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, but also within the lyrics of the upbeat opener ‘It’s Your Wedding Day’. And its soundtrack certainly reflects the eclecticism of the era, with recognisable musical sensibilities from new wave, dance-pop, glam metal and even some rap (‘Move That Thang’) from Robbie’s sassy grandmother Rosie (Susan-Ann Walker).

Kim Bishop’s nostalgic costume design also catalogues the era in all of its excess… with puffy sleeves, sequins and polyester, plus, in particular in the punchy ‘It’s All About The Green’, shoulder power dressing when Robbie tries to get a job on Wall Street like Glen in order impress Julia. And Nathan Weyers’s low-fuss set design is entirely appropriate in its backdrop of all the action and colour, especially in the show’s later scenes which see Robbie and his friends teaming up with a group of Vegas impersonators to attempt to stop Julia’s wedding to Glen. Indeed, this becomes a real highlight as audience members reconcile which celebrities are being impersonated on stage, thanks to the talents of the ensemble as much as the costumes and Drew-Elizabeth Jonstone’s hair and make-up design.

Filling the shoes of the characters of an iconic movie is always going to be a difficult task and while Charisiou and Wouters do a good job, once they are settled into their story, the most dynamic appearances come courtesy of the supporting characters. Nadia Komazec is an absolute delight as Julia’s pocket-rocket personality-plus friend and fellow waitress Holly who, in contrast to Julia, is uninhibited and forward. Her comic timing brings about many of the show’s laughs. And although not terribly bright, but terribly persistent in his attempts to reunite with Holly, Sammy’s well-meaning support is what ultimately shines through in Hawkins’ performance, making him an endearing audience favourite for more than just his Bon Jovi hair.  

“The Wedding Singer” is a feel-good musical that, under Alister Smith’s direction, doesn’t take itself too seriously in its colourful celebration of everything ‘80s. With a lively score (Musical Director Daniel Puckey) and energetic performance, there is much to love about its infectious, fizzy fun, making it the ultimate either reminder of or insight into the era of excess.  

Photos c/o – Nicole Clearly