Lingering letters

Love Letters (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

February 3 – 14

A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” is the heart-warming story of two people who share a lifetime of experiences through the now old-fashioned medium of handwritten letters. The epistolary work is a unique theatrical experience, not quite a play reading and not entirely a play, but very much an unforgettable event.

For those unfamiliar with the play, its premise is quite simple; two actors read their character’s letters to each other to the audience, and, in doing so, fill the gaps of time that pass, unspoken, between two lifelong friends, Andrew (Ray Swenson) and Melissa (Gloria Swenson). Through this lifetime of correspondence, the Pulitzer Prize finalist not only presents a bittersweet but compelling story, but explores the complexity of life, love and relationships.

It begins quaintly, but without over-sentimentality, with childhood birthday party thank-you notes and summer camp postcards and develops, despite budding artist Melissa’s preference for pictures over words, into letters. Although initially banal with childhood recount of mundane details, the resulting letters reveal much about their contrasting personalities, but also family dysfunction and parental expectations and as the two travel from passing notes in class to the boarding school times one would expect of those born to such East Coast American wealth and position, we are witness to their negotiation of adolescence and exploration of life’s dreams and disappointments.

As the actors read their letters aloud, the character studies take shape, creating an evocative, moving and frequently funny play that is very much of its intended time in attitudes indicated by throw-away lines. Without any physical interaction between characters, the play’s success relies significantly on is script, which is quite clever in its subtle foreshadowing and hint at the progression of time with changing content, tone and language. Clearly the two rely on each other, despite using the letters to present themselves as the person they want the other to see and as we head into intermission, we are left wondering if this will be enough.

Act Two takes us through the victories and vices of Melissa and Andy’s adult lives as overseas adventures, loss and other loves see them drift apart, while all the while remaining reliant of each other, even through their times of radio silence. As the couple traverse the milestones, melodramas and minutia of their real, everyday lives, their characters are more humanised with authentic feelings and flaws. And audience members experience every emotion along with them, such is the power of not just the script itself but the considered delivery of it.

The setup means the script is read as letters, enacted entirely from two separate desks and chairs. Indeed, it is the simplest of premises; in the words of the author, it “… needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance”. Yet it is quite absorbing, especially in the intimacy of the Brisbane Arts Theatre. Adding to this appeal is the fact that the play is being presented (as is often the case) by a real-life couple, married for over 40 years, which adds an authentic beauty to lines about being the heart of each other’s lives.

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Gloria Swenson is full of optimism and effervescent energy as the unbridled Melissa and her reactions while ‘reading’ and hearing letters alike not only emphasise their light-hearted digs and despairing revelations, but add another level to the evening’s entertainment. As her sensible diamond in the rough Andy, Ray Swenson has more to say given that his character loves writing so much. (“I feel like a true lover when I’m writing you. This letter, which I’m writing with my own hand, my own pen, in my own penmanship, comes from me and no one else, and is a present of myself to you”, he proclaims.) At times his latter delivery is a little fumbled, however, this is quickly recovered and lines are rarely lost. However, his, final, most eloquent letter, delivered almost as a monologue about how much they have meant and have given to each other over the years, packs such a powerful emotional punch that none of that really matters. Despite having seen a previous production of the show so going in fully aware of where the narrative was taking us, like many in the audience, I again exited the theatre with a face full of tears.

“Love Letters” is a simple, honest and honestly lovely piece of theatre. It will perhaps be an acquired taste for those who like their shows full of colour and movement, however, the charm of its exploration of both the beauty and tragedy of human experience is so poignantly real, that its touch will surely linger long for many members of its audience.

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Cult classic concerns

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

January 12 – February 16

“I really love the story and I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with it,” I overheard in the pre-show audience at Brisbane Arts Theatre’s take of the Australian cult classic “Picnic at Hanging Rock”. It’s hardly a surprising expectation; the story of the disappearance of three boarding schoolgirls and a teacher during a picnic at the natural attraction of Hanging Rock in 1900 has been part of the Australian psyche for over a century, engendering the kind of folklore usually reserved for stories that have basis in truth.

Although its original source material, Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, is a cornerstone of Australian literature, it is Peter Weir’s popular and acclaimed 1975 movie that has maintained the haunting story of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” as a purportedly-true tale rather than manufactured myth. And as Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production of the classic opens to a smoky stage, it appears that capture of this integral atmosphere is to be central to the retelling. Unfortunately, is not consistently the case.

Within half an hour, the girls have disappeared on adventure to investigate the geological marvel, leaving the rest of the show left to reconstructing events and presenting the aftermath from a variety of perspectives. Act One paces along well, however, things drag in Act Two as some scenes stall in crawl towards conclusion of its ultimate 180-minute duration, such as when ocker Albert’s (Williem Whitfield) cumbersome sometimes under-enunciated dialogues tumbles into itself.

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In the absence of a dreamy or eerie aesthetic, the burden of developing the supernatural terror of the story falls significantly upon its dialogue and so there are a lot of scenes, in Act Two particularly, and although the production does well to make these as seamless as possible in transition by smoothly beginning some dialogue in their final construction and in-turn lighting scened segments of the stage as required, the number of transitions does affect pacing.

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As its various incantations have shown, the story has all the ingredients of an engrossing mystery, however, these are not always fully exploited. The terror of the landscape is hinted at in the staging through appearance of the angular outline of the Victorian hinterland’s volcanic rock, however, the under-cooked gothic themes seem like a missed opportunity to have the soundscape play more of a role. Although there is more evocation of mood in Act Two, still, the only real suspense comes as the audience waits to see if the final scene is indeed the end and if the cast will be appearing for a curtain call.

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It is a shame that the actors are not given this opportunity to receive applause, as the play includes many noteworthy performances. Sandra Harman is solid as the stern headmistress Mrs Appleyard, and although some accents appear a little mixed, in contrast, Emma-Kate Reynolds gives an enticing performance as the romantic young French Governess Mademoiselle Dianne De Poitiers. Aoife Kissane is poised as the College’s wealthy prized recruit Irma Leopold and Rachael McFarland is appropriately annoying as the ungainly know-it-all younger schoolgirl Edith.

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And Reagan Warner, appearing in support roles, again shows that he is one to watch. These performers do well to engage the audience in the lengthy show, however, with overt foreshadowing and now-troublesome pre-feminist statements that evoke unnecessary audience reaction slowing things down, they have work to do to keep it pacey.

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It is not that this “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is bad, as many components are very good; it is more that it could easily have been better with increased attention to detail. Costuming is impressively authentic (though it seems it would not be an Arts Theatre production without appearance of at least one dire wig). And clever staging allows, for example, the cart ride to the picnic to be recreated to good effect, however, the turn-of-last-century sensibility is sometimes spoiled by careless oversights like a prop with visible barcode.

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It is rare that a fictional story is so widely regarded as fact, so any exploration of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is going to be compelling in its content. In Brisbane Arts Theatre’s hands, the tale is still as fascinating as ever, even if it could be told with more meticulousness.

Championing Cooke

Songs & Times of Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come (Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 31 – February 2

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“Songs & Times of Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come” begins appropriately with its titular social activist song, emerging from the show’s ethereal introductory musical sounds. It is an anthemic tease as to the legacy of influential US songwriter Sam Cooke, which the show is celebrating. Unfortunately, on its opening night at Brisbane Powerhouse, microphone issues meant that it was not the smoothest of starts, as Melbourne-based performer Gary Pinto was confined to stillness behind a standing mic, however, once the hand-held mic was sorted before song-end, it allowed the audience to witness his astounding leap into transformation to move and groove about the stage as the show’s musical repertoire requires.

It does not take long for any audience members initially unfamiliar with the detail of the US songwriter’s influence to appreciate its extent. Instantly recognisable gospel hits and soul classics establish the concert event as a wonderful experience, with Act One highlights including the sweet sway of ‘Only Sixteeen’ and surprising simplicity of ‘Wonderful World’. However, the Act One highlight has to be the clap-along celebration of ‘Jesus Gave Me Water’ by the gospel quartet The Soul Stirrers, that Cooke joined at just 19. Things slow down for some ballads, like Pinto’s own wedding waltz, ‘All of My Love’, which he glides through with effortless style, continuing iafter intermission with a melancholic ‘Sad Mood’…. but not before we are ‘Having a Party’ ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ because ‘Everyone likes to Cha Cha Cha’.

The ARIA Award-winning Pinto (formerly of Australian R&B band CDB) is an energetic and emotive performer, soulful and joyous and also entirely charismatic in that way that makes a show fly by in what seems like the shortest of times. He not only captures Cooke’s smooth vocals in share of soulful lyrics, but recreates the spirit and style of the entertainer. Pinto is also a generous performer who encourages celebration of the shared musicianship on stage as much as Cooke’s songs, with all members of the live six-piece band and horn section led by music director and drummer Kyrie Anderson, The Fabulous Champions of Soul, being given individual opportunities to shine on multiple appreciated occasions. It is this combination that enlivens the concert’s celebration of songs by or sung by Cooke, that are so clearly part of the cannon of popular music, if only because of their movie soundtrack appearances (think ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Unchained Melody’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’)

While Pinto is always relaxed in his singing, Act Two is particularly high energy, as should perhaps be expected in its celebration of ‘the inventor of soul music’. Cooke penned more than 30 US Top 40 hits, so there is extensive musical repertoire from which to choose its numbers. Primarily, the show is said to be in nod to the spirit of Cooke’s beloved 1963 concert at the Harlem Square Club, as committed Cooke fans will perhaps recognise. For those who don’t however, discussion of this in the between-song dialogue could only have enhanced the experience. Indeed, this is the one area in which the show appears to be a little lacking. I would love to have heard more anecdotes in exploration and illumination of Cooke’s life and music, as one of the most important figures in the history of popular music, like in Queenie van de Zandt’s “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell”.

“Songs & Times of Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come” may be a show with a mouthful of a title, but it is one that is well worth devouring. It a sophisticated and stylish reminder of not only the genius of Sam Cooke, but the continued influence and appeal of his music and we should be thankful for Pinto’s genuine championing of Cooke’s genius. And the aesthetic created by the lushly-lit bare brick backdrop of the Powerhouse Theatre only enhances the atmosphere and sense that you are experiencing a show of sheer quality, deserving of its adored standing ovation.

Sweet dreams are made of this

Sweet Charity (Understudy Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 24 – February 10

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With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon and choreography from Bob Fosse, “Sweet Charity” is, understandably one of the greatest of Broadway musicals. Yet, far from being a big, razzmatazz affair, it is essentially a simple and tender story, which makes it an ideal fit for Brisbane Powerhouse’s intimate Visy Theatre. Actually, perfection is also a far-from-hyperbolic descriptor of the show by Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.

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Charity Hope Valentine (Naomi Price) is a girl who dreams of being loved, despite the continuous misfortune of relationships handed to her by ‘the fickle finger of fate’. One day after work as a dance hall hostess at New York’s Fandango club, she, by chance, meets the film star idol Vittoria Vidal (Andy Cook) and is bewitched by his charm and riches, until his lover Ursula (Lizzie Moore) returns into his world. With hope that her life is changing for the better, Charity seeks out some cultural enlightenment, however, gets stuck in a broken elevator with shy, claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist (Stephen Hirst). Romance is sparked, despite her worry that he will not approve of her career choices and she lives… hopefully … ever after.

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Often I find myself judging a show by how long in it is before I find myself glancing at the time. With “Sweet Charity”, however, I found myself so caught up in its all-round entertainment that the only distraction of which I was aware was the face-ache caused by the smile and laughter that it induced. Unlike many perhaps, I knew little of the musical beyond recognition of its big-ticket number ‘Big Spender’. Rather than being performed by Charity herself, however, this is a sensual ensemble number by her fellow hostess dancers in proposition of the audience. Instead, her turn with a familiar tune comes courtesy of the energetic ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, in which she reflects on her marvellous luck as she spends time with Vittorio. The scene that finds her hidden away in a closet of his luxury apartment while he reconciles with his glamorous girlfriend is a hilarious showcase of Price’s impeccable comic timing, exact exaggerated facial expressions and spot-on awkward movement.

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The role of Charity Hope Valentine appears as if was written for Price and in conjunction with its comedy, she easily conveys the character’s enduring innocence and irrepressible optimism with a warmth that makes her immediately endearing to the audience. She also plays the poignancy of its final, vulnerable scenes with emotional sincerity. Price is vocally versatile too and always on-point, whether in the introspective reflection of ‘Where Am I Going?’ or the lively elation of ‘I’m a Brass Band’. And by the standing ovations offered, it appears that I am not alone in thinking so.

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Opening Night was a sold out show and I imagine the season will shortly follow suit. Things are busy on stage also, thanks to the production’s large cast, however, the stage never feels overcrowded, even in the ensemble numbers, in which movement generally appears effortless. Clever choreography (Dan Venz) provides an added element to the entertainment with nod to its era and also the precise and provocative Fosse style of snaps, swivels, thrusts and glamourous gestures, but also a modern touch. The brilliant ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ dance routine is a Fosse and Fellini (the musical is based on the Italian director’s film “Nights of Cabiria”) infused imagining that is worth the price of admission alone. It also highlights the vibrant musical arrangements (Musical Director Shanon D Whitelock) that characterise the production’s slick realisation of the musical’s jazzy score and swing from song to song. And it is difficult not to be enticed when the ensemble moves into the audience such as in Act Two’s knockout gospel-like number, ‘Rhythm of Life’, in which Charity and Oscar spend a date at a church run by a group of hippies. Although the number doesn’t have any real connection to the central story, its comprehensive scale and slick execution mean that this hardly matters.

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The success of Understudy Productions’ “Sweet Charity” is that it simultaneously works on every level and in every way, however, it could not succeed without a strong personality in the lead role which demands someone who can act, sing and dance in equal measure. And in this regard, the company could hardly have made a better choice than Naomi Price. While she sparkles, however, it is not at expense of the strong supporting cast. The main players, especially, all convey a strong stage presence. Andy Cook is deliciously over-the-top as lothario movie star Vittorio, especially when his mannerisms are even more heightened in interaction with demanding girlfriend Ursula (an appropriately melodramatic Lizzie Moore, who also impresses as Charity’s frank and streetwise colleague and friend Nickie). In a contrast to his recent roles, Stephen Hirst plays Oscar with warmth and sweetness that makes you genuinely want things to work out for them, right from their beautifully played first meeting. And Elliot Baker is magnetic as the mysterious Daddy Brubeck, cool and funky guru leader of the Rhythm for Life Church.

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Like the character of Charity herself (I’m not sure if I want to be her or be friends with her), this production is utterly charming. By focusing on Charity’s optimistic and hopeful nature, co-directors Kris Stewart and Maureen Bowra have crafted an appealing story of a confident, quirky and determined young woman. Like her, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously which is the essence of its joy, with both hilarious situations and little unexpected comic touches that only make its experience more endearing. Indeed, the effervescent production bursts onto the stage with a vitality and contemporary energy and perspective that means that the now dated pre-feminist text can still entertain as escapism.

So Frenchy, so fabulous

So Frenchy So Chic – Clara Luciani

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 20

As recent January weekends have reminded me, there is an egalitarian appeal to a summer Sunday session of either ales or cocktails. Regardless of one’s beverage of choice, however, there is nothing like live music to top it off and when the tunes come courtesy of luminous Paris-based musician Clara Luciani, it can only make for the most satisfying of sophisticated Sunday afternoon-into-evening outings. Judging by the appreciative crowd gathered for the first Brisbane Powerhouse show for the year, the return of “So Frenchy So Chic”, it seems many are in agreement.

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With her vintage styling and heavy-fringed brunette looks, Luciani certainly looks the part, in that effortlessly-fashionable French way. Even though most of her songs are laments about love, the charismatic Marseilles-born artist’s live show seems more groovy than glum. Indeed, those expecting a sedate experience of the laid-back smoky-jazz sort may be disappointed, through likely also happily surprised.

From the moment the show bursts to life with ‘On ne meurt pas d’amour’ there is an undeniable chic coolness that comes courtesy not only of the former member of the eccentric psych-punk band La Femme, but also the brilliant band of musicians, who names I wish I could locate to rave about in more unambiguous praise. The follow-up, more-moody and sensual ‘Eddy’ is equally musically impressive, leaving new-to-her-talent audience members like myself, excited for what is to come.

The catchy ‘Comme toi’ about love’s complications is another snappy showcase of the on-point four-piece band (which also sometimes features Luciani on guitar). The intoxication continues as things slow hauntingly with an almost-ethereal, but also earthily-deep, ‘Drôle d’époque’, which she tells us is about being a woman in these strange times. Indeed, it is a testament to this musical artist’s skill as a songstress, that she is able to take us so easily from the sad love song lament of her early-career ‘Monstre d’amour’ (Monster of Love) to the light-hearted naughtiness of the newer ‘Nue’ (Naked) – which bounces along like a good The Go-Betweens melody.

The show is full of pleasant surprises in which to delight, like the discovery of a song about the quiet beauty of flowers, ‘Les fleurs’, complete with electronic sounds that only add to its captivation. And then there is our trip along together, not to Paris, London, Berlin, Hong Kong or Tokyo, but ‘the bay’. For over seven magnificent minutes, the audience is on their feet, united in clap and dance along disco-shaded celebration of the Metronomy cover ‘La baie’. Indeed, it is a real highlight, that would likely make a better encore than Luciani’s intimate solo ‘Jean bleu’ cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Blue Jeans’.

At times richly textured, and at other spirited, despite its songs mostly being tales of broken-heartedness, “So Frenchy So Chic – Clara Luciani” is an enigmatic show, almost too difficult to describe beyond just exclamation of its marvel. While its style is undeniably and delightfully French, its experience serves as proof that you don’t need to understand lyrics to feel the joy of pure pleasure of musical moments, without burden of distracting thoughts.

Luciani says at one stage in her alluring accent, she doesn’t know English too well. This creates no issues at all, especially as the music is just so good. Add to this, its appealing authenticity and catchy charm and you have a must-see musical show. Unfortunately, this was the last stop of the alluring modern performer’s Australian tour. Like many, I certainly hope she will return sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there is always her debut album ‘SainteVictoire for recollection of a fabulous Sunday session of music.

Don’t you know it’s magic?

The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway (QPAC in association with The Works Entertainment)

QPAC, Concert Hall

January 9 – 19

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I am theatre traditionalist at heart; I don’t like puppets, audience participation…. or magic, so needless to say, “The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway” is my first (somewhat reluctant) show of its sort. And what a spectacular show I must admit it is. From the moment it begins with The Trickster (Paul Dabek) cheekily pitting two young audience volunteers against each other on stage, it is clear why the franchise is so widely acclaimed (now with tours around the world).

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Not only is the show engaging for the young people sitting throughout with mouth open, mind blown expressions and exclamations of ‘what?’ but its captivating theatricality and appealing to adults also. Indeed, it is a great family show with a good balance of adult allusions and child-friendly humour. (As a newbie, what surprised me most was how genuinely funny the show is.)

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Dabek is very witty as The Tickster. The award-winning The Mentalist (Chris Cox) is also a dynamic and charming high-energy performer as he reads the minds of audience members, astonishingly revealing obscure, specific details of their everyday lives and histories.

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There are many instances of audience participation from ‘volunteers’ of all ages and from across sections of the Concert Hall, not just the ‘business class’ of front row centre, but it is all good-natured and entertaining. These are performers at the pinnacle of their craft, as one would expect from the Direct From Broadway show. And the collective impact of their impressive showmanship is akin to that of a splashy Vegas show, amplified by a thrilling soundtrack (Composer and Musical Director Evan Jolly), punctuated by moments almost out of a Motley Crüe-esque video, complete with smoke machines and scantily-clad women.

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The show includes large-scale stunts, levitation, disappearance and daredevilry. And there is a well-balanced mix of acts; there are astonishing numbers of the traditional vaudeville sort alongside more modern magic moments. Double act, The Showman (Mark Kalin) and The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh) perform disappearing/reappearing acts and assistants are cut in half. There are sleight-of-hand card ticks and conjurations from The Manipulator (French-born Florian Sainvet), too, confidently shared courtesy of a large screen positioned above centre stage to show the magic up-close, also while The Alchemist (Leonardo Bruno) floats a rose before our very eyes.

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Things become tense in lead in to intermission as the audience holds its collective breath when Australian daredevil Sam Powers (otherwise known as The Enigma), who has joined the Brisbane season, enacts a tribute to Harry Houdini. The can’t look, but can’t look away segment sees him attempting a death defying mid-air straight-jacket escape under a flaming set of steel jaws, ready to be come crashing shut with a half-tonne of brute force.

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While numbers ebb and flow through the show’s 2+ hour duration, comparatively Act Two falls a little flat and even though its more sedate numbers are impressive, it would be nice to see it also end with a more memorable bang. Still, in the hands of these masters of magic, the experience of the very best illusion acts from around the world seems to fly by in a flamboyant spectacle of awesome illusions and sharp humour.

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Clearly, “The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway” is not only an impressively sharp and highly entertaining show, but a genuinely joyous experience for audience members of all age that illustrates the verity of Voltaire’s claim of illusion being the first of all pleasures. And as for trying to figure out how they are doing it, such contemplations soon give way to resignation that ‘it’s just magic’ to be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Four seasons and a hooray

Jersey Boys (Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG Dainty)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

January 2 – 20

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“Jersey Boys” opens with a modern pop-rap song, ‘Ces soirées-là’. The fact that the French cover of the Four Season’s ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)’ spent 15 weeks as number one is testament to the endurance of the band’s legacy. It is evidenced too by the audience response when the band’s four members Tommy DeVito (Cameron MacDonald), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) and front man Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez) first appear on stage and by the fact that so many of its audience members are returning to share in the musical’s 2+hour sensational celebration again and again. Indeed, it is a case of third production’s a charm for me, with the latest Australian tour showing that this is a musical experience that certainly stands the test of time.

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The internationally acclaimed hit 2005 jukebox musical (music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) tells the true story of the staggeringly successful Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted 1960s American pop band The Four Seasons. The chronological biography is presented in a documentary-style format that dramatises the creation, accomplishments and inevitable decline of the group, with each of the show’s ‘four seasons’ narrated by a different member of the band giving his own perspective on its history and music, with the group’s songs integrated into the narrative (‘You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions’).

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The show’s strong structure serves it well from the very first (Spring) story, told by Tommy DeVito, the band’s fast-talking, petty criminal founder. And so it paces along from the very beginning with some absorbing storytelling of the group’s early years as a blue collar band from a tough part of New Jersey, trying to find a name and sound.

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When the quartet of mismatched musicians does find its sound and their whole world explodes after two takes on a Sunday afternoon, it is absolutely joyous; ‘Sherry’ truly takes off and when it is followed in close succession by ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, there is rapturous mid-show applause. Indeed, under Steve Orich’s orchestrations and Luke Hunter’s musical direction, the iconic upbeat harmonic sounds are all on point.

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Performances are also all strong. Gonzalez is perfect as unlikely front-man Frankie and his vocals are astonishing in recreation of Valli’s exceptional four-octave range and astonishing falsetto. This is particularly evident in his final (Winter) segment of the story, and its complex and compelling ‘Bye, Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)’ in response to his strained relationship with daughter Francine (Mia Dabkowski-Chandler) and break-up with his girlfriend Lorraine (Cristian D’Agostino), and does not get better than in match with the astonishing sound of the brassy crescendo of the almost-never-released ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.

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Of particular mention also is MacDonald who is riveting in role as the group’s lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, capturing the character’s confident charisma in conjunction with his all-Jersey attitude and mob-ish hostility. Kiara Zieglerova’s scenic design of industrial scaffolding also invokes the image of urban New Jersey, which juxtaposes with back pop-art image projections and the merge between real life and archival sixties footage of the Ed Sullivan Show sort.

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As “Jersey Boys” shows, there is substantial substance beyond the froth and bubble of The Four Seasons’ upbeat pop formulaic musical style. As Act Two takes audiences through the turmoil of the personal sacrifices and group’s decline in response to music industry and mob corruption and mounting financial troubles (‘you sell a hundred million records, see how you handle it’), a strong sense of love and loyalty resounds.

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This is an energetic and entertaining production that proves that “Jersey Boys” is still a musical of merit; it is still easy to appreciate how the musical served as such an instant hit, heading straight to Broadway where it played for 11 years, winning four Tony Awards in 2006. And in amongst its heartache and humour, resounds the hooray reminder of the band’s immense musical catalogue, whose harmonies will surely stay with you long after you dance out of the theatre.

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby