Modern monologuing

Bombshells (Productions Theatre Company)

Pip Theatre

January 28 – February 4

“Bombshells” begins with the familiar frenzy of mother-of-three Meryl (Julie Berry) taking the audience through her busy day in almost stream-of-consciousness style as she throws herself together in disorganised morning chaos. It is the first in the show’s series of six monologues featuring women on the edge as they try to muddle through life wearied by self-doubt. In the case of the opener, the journey is full of familiar tropes in that clichéd-because-it-is-true way, as Meryl questions everything from supermarket selections to missing socks, and shares the pressure she feels to appreciate the little moments of motherhood.

While it’s a rather one note realisation, the main weakness in this first story comes mostly from text. It seems a strange choice, for example, to have a monologue with so little personalisation and perhaps a wasted opportunity to rather talk to unnamed ‘the baby’ as an organising feature. Also, dialogue of the “I’m vacuuming” type is really not needed when the character is pushing a vacuum cleaner around. We seem to spend a lot of time in Meryl’s experience, (initially and in revisit), however, when we are moved on to her sweet, all-alone and emotionally-fragile Cactophile neighbour Tiggy (Libby Harrison), the Productions Theatre Company play really finds its groove.

With little obvious connection between the six monologues beyond some thematic commonalities, the formulaic scenes appear more as standalone vignettes. Tiggy’s are presented to us through framing device of a speech to the Cacti and Succulents League, which soon ventures into how tending to the plants has provided her a sense of belonging over trying recent times. In Harrison’s capable hands, there is appreciated light and shade to Tiggy’s story. While her accompanying PowerPoint slides and obvious nervousness at speaking in public bring much comedy, there is pathos too as more is revealed about how the hobby has brought her through personal troubles as her veneer slips into crescendoing angry rant about her husband Harry’s betrayal. Alongside its hilarity, however, there is a real depth of meaning to her cacti presentation, full, as it is, of metaphors about how nothing stays the same. This also allows Harrison to show great range within her performance, including a vulnerability in longing for the comfort that comes from long term companionship

Next we move on to enormously talented youngster Mary O’Donnell (Alexis Beebe), aka the Liza Minelli of St Bridget’s, who is preparing for a competition with determination to defeat her nemesis with a meticulously-crafted “Cats” number… until disaster strikes forcing a very funny ‘the show must go on’ last minute substitution song and improvised routine. This is a detailed performance from a supremely talented character actor.

Nuance is also seen in Beebe’s contrasting Act Two scenes as proper, plaid-wearing professional reader Winsome, in which she outlines her resigned-to widows routine and unrealised want for affection with an engaging use of pace, pause and emphasis to authenticate the storytelling. Indeed, there is such realness to the subtle, controlled tones of the character she creates in her talk about the expectations that come with life’s later paths, that we could easily see a play about her alone. This is where Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s skill of acute observations and social satire again shines as, alongside Winsome’s honest explanation of the loneliness that comes from being a one again after so long being a two and want again for a fellow decision maker, there is a layering of judgy quips as to the contradictions of other widows’ behaviours and evocative description of the totally unexpected event that reignites her.

Generally, the move of story to local settings works well. The show’s themes are, after all, universal. However, mentions of North Carindale and Norman Park, jar with the image of a New York receipt and mention of maple leaves. And while it could also be tighter in early execution, Act Two, is a real delight in its presentation also of excited about-to-be-married Theresa’s (Libby Harrison) realisation that perhaps it is not all about the dress after all, in addition to visiting fading American cabaret performer Zoe Struthers (Julie Berry), attempt to strut her stuff on the comeback stage. And Beebe’s Winsome is worth the price of admission alone.

“Bombshells” premiered at The Melbourne Theatre Company in 2001 (with Caroline O’Connor playing all six roles), but it contains no real anchor in time apart from a passing mention of being post 9-11, which suits a work with such universal themes of at its core. Aside from its messages about women’s liberation, the play is also, however, about loneliness, serving as a reminder to reach out to others, regardless of what their facade may suggest, about how they really are travelling.

Who’s the boss?

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza (The Farm)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

January 24 – 28

Previously acclaimed works from Dance theatre company The Farm means that expectations are high for their new subversive piece “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza”, which has been created by Kate Harman, Michael Smith, Gavin Webber and Anna Whitaker. The immersive event is occurring in Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre, but not as we may know it, with the space opened up and requiring audience members to move about the action, standing, sitting on the ground and maybe even participating in the provocation themselves.

Immediately, we are divided to a chosen side to observe the back and forth interaction of performers committed to their either correct or otherwise share of the chorus of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’. Like watching a coin being continuously flipped, see them alternate sides to establish the boss as the aesthetic around them slowly adjusts towards proposition about how we form meaning and the flaws that this might expose.

Meaning can be drawn at many levels thanks to the Inception-like layering of the show’s satire and sometimes metatheatrical address to (and direction of) the audience, marshalling the crowd into their dance positions as required. There are clearly multiple levels, with the work evoking, as the creators have summarised, the head, heart and guts of passion.Its focus on misunderstandings that come from contradictions means that the show is filled with binary oppositions across its ever facet, not just the obvious Tiny Dancer / Tony Danza or Star Wars / Star Trek sort, but aesthetically in the silver or gold wrapping of participants and descent of warm golden lighting into murky green blackness (lighting design by Govin Ruben) to transition from the long initial sequence.

Extremes are seen too when the frenzied movements that emphasise a pumping soundtrack, are dialled down to a serene stillness in which we dare not breath too loudly. As frantic as things may seem at times as energy escalates, at its core it is all quite crafted and controlled, even when we are picking our side in a Jetts vs Sharks type dance battle of sorts from growing audience-turned-recruited-performer groups, ably fronted by all-attitude leaders Kate Harman and Michael Smith.

This is a physical and physically demanding, well-choreographed show, and dance artists Harman and Smith push themselves to extremes to create meaning through their bodies, when controlled in close proximity to not collide, but then united in unison when floor work sees them move fluidly as one. The result is unique entertainment in encouragement of consideration if art is life or life is art, through a lens in which the rules of traditional theatre or even dance no longer apply. And while its titular framing device appears less as an integral thread and more as a top-and-tail function, it does lead to joyous ultimate shared celebration (and sing along) to the misquoted line from Elton John’s song, during whichTony may just make an en masse appearance.

As a bold, brash and non-conforming piece, “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza” serves to challenge theatre norms and showcase some fine dancing skills. Indeed, with an ambiguous start and false finish, it will keep you guessing throughout and on-your-toes in wonder about what has just happened, what is currently unfolding before you and where things may be going, as much as appreciation of the obvious dance skills on display.

Rebellion reclamation

Spring Awakening (Millennial Productions)

Ron Hurley Theatre

January 20 – 29

To open an ensemble show with a solo number is a big ask of any performer. In the case of “Spring Awakening”, Nykita O’Keefe, as the innocent and confused Wendla, gives us a plaintively lamentful ‘Mama Who Bore Me’ reassurance that its daring narrative is in good musical hands with Millennial Productions. The sweetly-sung opener not only establishes the calibre of this production of the controversial musical, but conveys the yearning and frustration that underpins the emotions of its characters who are precariously positioned between childhood and adulthood, yet ignorant to what really awaits.

Bolding bringing an uncompromising text such as this to life also represents a challenge. The 1891 German play turned Tony Award winning rock musical puts teen sexuality, domestic and sexual violence, and suicide front and centre as it chronicles late 19th century German students on a journey of teenage self-discovery and coming-of-age anxiety in what is ultimately a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion.

A dominating tree may be bare, its leaves scattered across the stage, but clearly there is much life still within the story being told. In Millennial Productions’ hands, ensemble numbers like ‘Totally Fucked’ serve as catchy blasts of infectious blah blah blah blah blah blah blah echoing energy, which brings Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s stomping rock score to life with the high-energy movement of thrashing teen angst. Combined with Taylor Andrews’ decisive design aesthetic and dynamic direction, it means there is much to celebrate about this truly ensemble work.

Things start strongly as the primary characters of soon-to-be intertwined relationships are introduced. Scenes are swift in their transition from Wendla’s plead to an unhelpful mother to be told the facts of life, to a monotonous Latin drill where we meet our other two leads. The headstrong Melchoir (Damien Quick) leaps to defence of his anxious friend Moritz (AJ Betts), so traumatised by puberty that he can’t concentrate on anything. Lauren Bensted’s stylised choreography is particularly impressive in the resulting, ‘All That’s Known’, in which Melchior reflects on the shallow narrow-mindedness of school and society, as the ensemble of schoolboys move in unison upon and around their schoolroom formation seating.

Musical numbers all make good use of all opportunities of the space as they express the characters’ inner worlds. Melchior’s atmospheric number ‘The Bitch of Living’, about desire and anxiety (and masturbation), for example, can be conveyed in switching perspectives between multiple scenes, to keep audience members totally engaged.

“Spring Awakening” is an ensemble musical and the vocal prowess of this production’s performers blends beautifully in its ensemble numbers, such as the gorgeously soaring concluding ‘The Song of Purple Summer’ surmise that the seeds are planted for a new, open-minded, informed generation. Even smaller numbers showcase some crisp harmonies. O’Keefe’s voice is beautifully flexible and it works well with Quick as they both hit all the right emotional points in their characters’ reflection upon a shared moment of intimacy in an emotionally charged ‘The Guilty Ones’.

Earlier, as the soulful but essentially sad Moritz, struggling to satisfy his family’s expectations (and understand his erotic dreams), Betts is of strong voice too, particularly in ‘Touch Me’, during which the group share of their respective desire for physical intimacy. Betts is, in fact, the standout performer of the night, with charming energy, intense passion and empathetic characterisation. Also of note is Rae Rose who gives Isle a rage-filled sadness, when she sings opposite Liv Hutchins as Martha, of suffered abuse. And Emily Rohweder and Caleb Holman effectively jump in and out of all the adult roles within the musical’s dark storylines.

While lighting choices aren’t always clear, shadows and silhouettes adds layers to the overall aesthetic. Andrews’ costume design works well to effectively capture details of this punchy and emotional story of morality and sexuality. Though the stakes are higher in Act Two, which focusses on the consequences of the characters’ actions, the outcome is still an ultimately optimistic one as light is shone upon a no-longer bare tree in highlight that hope is still possible for mistakes not to be repeated.

“Spring Awakening” is a complex and daring landmark musical work of beauty, tragedy and hope, full of symbolism and contemplative universal themes around communication and change. Its sensitive material (the show comes with warning as to its inclusion of sexual situations, explicit language and scenes depicting violence and suicide), is handled well in this production, not scandalised or sensationalised, but shared in a way that conveys a clear respect for the original text. And its impact is elevated by the intimacy of the comfortable Ron Hurley Theatre, which allows for its moments of pathos and humour to fly by to its ultimate reclamation message that whoever you are, whatever you’re experiencing, it can be okay.

Photos c/o – Clear Image Photography

Tudor triumph

Six

QPAC, The Playhouse

December 30 – February 19

“Six” is a worldwide musical phenomenon unmatched in the juggernaut speed with which it has acquired its cult following (especially given the theatre shutdowns of recent years). Arising from humble origins (it was originally conceived as a production for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 by Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss), it now has over 500 million soundtrack streams worldwide, 3 billion Tik Tok views on #SIXtheMusical and two Tony Awards including Best Original Score…. so it comes with some big audience expectations, and they are absolutely met.

The highly anticipated high-octane one act (75 minutes) pop musical is more concert than traditional musical as Henry VIII’s divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived (to use the mnemonic) wives ex-wives take to the stage. These are not, however, the Tudor names, fames and faces we might already know. Instead, this is history overthrown as we are introduced to the stories of the women of his story, divorced, beheaded, died live! The ensuing (and ingenious) framing premise is a contest outlined in its defiant ‘Ex-Wives” opening number; the queen who has had the worst experience (as voted by the audience) shall take the crown as the pop sensation to lead the band.

The show’s seriously catchy soundtrack starts strongly and never lets up. Indeed, its contemporary pop music of layered synth sounds is different to what audiences might usually hear in a musical. Yet, while its punchy tempo and dance oriented sensibility are frenetic, there is light and shade in its multi-styled score (which draws inspiration from a range of modern female artists).

As modest third wife Jane Seymour, (the only one he truly loved) Loren Hunter delivers a heartbreaking Adele-inspired power ballad, ‘Heart of Stone’. Her beautiful voice not only soars in its heights but captures the emotional vulnerability at its core concern over the conditional nature of their love. Meanwhile, group number ‘Haus of Holbein’, that satirises women’s beauty standards in lead into the next-up entrance of Anna of Cleves’ (Kiana Daniele), is a pumping neon-lit rave-like highlight.

The presence of the live ‘Ladies in Waiting’ four-piece band of all female musicians adds another layer to the musical’s ultimate themes of female empowerment. Claire Healy and Heidi Maguire on keys, Kathryn Stammers on drums, Debbie Yap on guitar and Jessica Dunn / Ann Metry on bass, who remain on stage for the duration in add to the pop concert scenario, not only provide the base for a multi-genre soundtrack, but are given their own moments to shine, such as when drum beats are given in the Catherine of Aragon’s (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza) bold ‘No Way’.

Although each talented Tudor Queen turned Pop Princess is given her own number in which to reveal her truth, the performers are all on stage for the entire show. While all six are obviously extremely talented, Kiana Daniele is a clear audience favourite as Anna of Cleves, evoking her edgy badass feminist Queenspiration of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna in ‘Get Down’ revelling in Henry’s rejection of her for not living up the expectation of the portrait of her painted by Hans Holbein, which results in her annulled marriage and consequential lavish independent woman lifestyle. Kala Gare is likewise popular as ‘that Boleyn girl’, Anne, not just in her catchy ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’, but sorry not-sorry mockery of Aragon and sassy banter with likewise beheaded Howard (Chelsea Dawson). And her play-up of much of the show’s innuendo generates some of the biggest laughs.

While they harmonise together well, each queen also presents a unique colour-coded look, personality and sound. Phoenix Jackson Mendoza kicks things off with a riffing tell of Catherine of Aragon’s story of devotion through a Shakira and Beyonce-inspired number about her marriage annulment and threat of being shipped off to a convent. Her angry refusal to contemplate being replaced means that she is confident that after 24 years of loyal marriage, she has done it the toughest.

Chelsea Dawson, meanwhile, brings a youthful vibrancy to the role of pretty-in-pink Katherine Howard, singing of her alleged affair in ‘All You Wanna Do”, but also having us consider her abuse due to the structures around her. And Vidya Makan gives us a quietly feminist Katherine Parr who, like Angelica in “Hamilton” leaves us with a very musical theatre-ish sounding anthem ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’, chronicle of losing true love, being widowed and lacking any choice in response to a king’s command, before questioning the competition and having her worth defined by him when she herself has done so much.

Characterisation comes not just by each individual queen’s number, but is embedded in every interaction with each other (and us) through knowing looks and alike. And because it is a concert musical rather than a standard book musical, there is no fourth wall, meaning that the queens sometimes interact with the audience. The show is full of one-liners and witty irreverent lines and wordplay in its string together of genius lyrics and its handful of country and city specific mentions aren’t particularly jarring. Its score, too, features clever inset of nursery rhyme type nods in its musical motifs and uniquely styled songs.

While it may all effortlessly come together, everything about “Six” is intricately crafted. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is always snappy in its precise accent actions and in formation movements, meaning that ever performance is vital, even if it is in back-up singer mode. Tim Deiling’s lighting is dynamic in conveying each queen’s themes with colour palette nods without causing rainbows of distraction, culminating in brilliant golden illumination of the final right royal ‘Megasix’ remix mashup of each queen’s solo in assert of their own individuality in take back of their stories. Emma Bailey’s striking set design also works with Gabriella Slade’s already-iconic historically-inspired costumes to authentically create the spectacle of a pumping pop concert.  

Layered in its social satire, this fast-paced modern retelling of the lives of queens for too many years lost in his-story is a fun, cheeky show with some racy content as the Queens tease each other about traumas and abuse. Like soon-to-be-seen “Hamilton”, “Six” talks directly about history (knowing Tudor history is not a prerequisite) and also includes some girl power themes as integral to its storytelling. These are equally positioned rather than marginalised female characters celebrating their own individuality

In the case of “Six”, the ravers really are right. Although succinct, this is a vibrant and dynamic musical with a side of herstory thrown in, making for empowering uplifting and rock solid entertainment that should not be missed. And QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre is an appropriately intimate enough venue to allow its audience to become fully absorbed in the triumph of its infectiously boisterous, celebratory atmosphere.

Photos c/o – James Morgan

Over and over 100 out

With Covid still causing disruptions, I was surprised to ultimately make it along to over 100 shows again this year. Here are my highlights from the 2022 Brisbane theatre year.

1. The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

The Queensland premiere production of Larry Kramer’s largely autobiographical “The Normal Heart” was absolutely absorbing and inspirational in its unflinching look at the horrific time in our history that was the start of the AIDS epidemic.

2. A Girls Guide to World War (Musical Theatre Australia)

Inspirational, also, was Musical Theatre Australia’s tell of the true story of some amazing women forgotten by our history. The February show, which was my favourite then for most of the year, was richly rewarding in both its entertainment and education about the courageous and compassionate real life humanitarian adventurers at the core of its story.

3. Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall)

My 2022 Brisbane Festival highlight, the grand Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall co-production was an exquisite world-class design-led theatre experience, as much a celebration of the craft of storytelling as a retell of one of the Western canon’s oldest narratives

4. The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s bright revival of Wesley Enoch and John Rodgers’ joyful musical was a historical work of a particular time, but also a story of love, hope, heartbreak and the shared humanity of these emotions, easy to watch and love.

5. 42nd Street (Queensland Conservatorium)

There was much to also love about Queensland Conservatorium’s massive musical production of “42nd Street” as its assured performances, quality orchestrations and show-stopping ensemble production numbers captured the spirit of the show’s era and also the grand musical genre.

6. Oliver! (Savoyards)

Savoyards excellent musical revival was full of highlights and everything needed to entertain its audience around the troublesome aspects of “Oliver!” to a resonance of resilience and hope.

7. The Last Five Years (La Boite Theatre Company) 

La Boite’s two-hander share (in two different directions) of the ill-fated five-year relationship of aspiring artists was certainly clever in its alternate musical narration, however, was also slick in its use of space and tight in its telling thanks to the moving performances of its charismatic performers and musical stylings of its varied, bitter-sweet score.

8. Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

The Disney spectacle that came to life on the Lyric Theatre stage was a celebration of imagination, and, thus, an unforgettable production that could easily be seen again and again, making for a “Mary Poppins” anew for the whole modern family.

9. Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner (La Boite Theatre, Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre)

Just before the floods came, there was this fierce and furious coproduction, sharp in its satire of cancel culture and appropriation in a viral world, but also wickedly humorous.

10. First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The hard-hitting storytelling of Queensland Theatre’s landmark blockbuster season closer was elevated by an epic soundscape and dynamic lighting to take us into a world not previously seen on stage…. the last days of Australian troop involvement in Afghanistan.

And of particular note….

Best Drama – The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

Also the most moving and thought provoking production of 2022, Ad Astra’s “The Normal Heart” allowed us to bear witness to each stage of the play’s centrepiece romance as it played out in unfiltered vulnerability, raw anger, complex beauty and undeniable love, against the backdrop of a community living in fear of AIDS.

Best Comedy – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

The one act “Hidden in this Picture” (from the pen of Emmy Award-winning playwright Aaron Sorkin), which appeared as part of Villanova Players’ intermezzo series, was full of over and over again laugh-out-loud moments emerging from the increasing hyperbole in share of what was essentially a duologue inset with simple interjections.  

Best Cabaret – Women in Voice

The 2022 outing of this Brisbane institution was the best yet in its curated program of different musical styles from its empowered female performers.

Best Dramatic Performance – Vivien Whittle – Gaslight (Growl Theatre)

Whittle was simply wonderful as the vulnerable, tormented and humiliated Bella, whether bustling about in fleeting, naive belief that all is well or blubbering in flustered confusion after being raged at by her psychologically-torturous husband Jack.

Best Comic Performance – Troy Bullock – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

Meanwhile, Bella’s gaslighting husband Troy Bullock gave the funniest performance as a first-time director Robert, intent on obtaining an Oscar-winning shot in for his movie’s final scene, until three cows make appearance along with the hundreds of extras.

Best Musical Performance – Priyah Shah – Oliver! (Savoyards)

Shah’s show of strength but also vulnerability ensured that her Nancy was not just a kindly, but a complex character and her strong vocals left the “Oliver!” audience equally impressed in rollicking tavern sing-a-long and torch song numbers alike.

Best duo – Marcus Corowa and Irena Lysiuk – The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

The chemistry between Corowa and Lysiuk was not only evident in their protagonists’ duets, but warmed the audience into investment into the blossom of their childhood friendship in to more after his post-WW2 return to Brisbane.  

Honourable mention to Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Darcy Rhodes – Into The Woods (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Morphett-Wheatley and Rhodes were audience favourites as they dynamically pranced about in pantomime-esque play off each other’s bravado energy as two-dimensional princes attempting to one-up each other in argument.

Best EnsembleHeathers: The Musical (Millennial Productions) 

Millennial Productions’ debut musical was a highly professional independent production, in part due to its strong performances, with nobody holding back even in edgier scenes. There were no vocal weak links as each performer was given an opportunity to shine and there was a clear level of focus in all performances, resulting in no missed beats within the show’s tight rhythm. 

Best Independent Production – Boy, Lost (Belloo Creative)

The years-in-the-making tell of the true story of one family’s loss and redemption was also an ensemble production with its actors playing multiple characters (including themselves at moments), jumping in and out of different roles with simple prop or costume enhancements, yet, as an audience, we always knew what was happening as we moved through its tightly-woven emotional journey.

Most fun – All Fired Up (Box Jelly Theatre Company)

The show so nice, I ended up seeing it twice to contemplate if a trip to the ‘80’s and a chat with your 15-year-old self really can solve a mid-life crisis? With a live band perfectly capturing the nostalgic energy of the era it was all incredibly feel good, fun and funny.

Best Staging – Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall) 

The mythical magic of “Holding Achilles” may have been multi-layered, but this was built upon a performance space reminiscent of classical Greek amphitheatres with staging exposed to the audience, in contrast to the modern technology used to sometimes literally soar the story along with aerial artistry.

Best Sound and Lighting Design – First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The sound and lighting design elements of “First Casualty” were likely worth the price of admission alone. Paul Jackson’s lighting design transformed the space and its surfaces to tell the show’s many multifaceted narratives, while sound design by Brady Watkins and THE SWEATS added to the onstage action, whether dynamic or subtle in tone.

Best Choreography – Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

Matthew Bourne’s and Stephen Mear’s “Mary Poppins” choreography (recreated for the Australian production by Richard Jones) filled the Lyric Theatre stage with a burst of moving bodies, brooms and brushes in spectacular, precise, fast-paced numbers like ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘Step in Time’.

Together in talent

Home for Christmas (JD Production Company)

The Old Museum

December 16

There are many highlights to JD Production Company’s “Home for Christmas”. Most of them are musical, but the standout for me comes when its headliner Josh Daveta, talks about the joys of being able to gather together and welcomes those who might have come along to the concert alone. In this smallest of show moments, the sentiment of the one-night-only celebration of the festive season is truly summarised. There’s an essential generosity of spirit to the whole venture with Daveta appearing on stage at the Old Museum not only with The Sequins singers, but guest performer Asabi Goodman and the Brisbane City Gospel Choir, in celebration of the diversity of representation through the common language of music.

A jazzy ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ introduction eases the audience to the concert’s start before the gospel choir (conducted by their musical director Tosin Adewumi) gives as an appropriately angelic ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, featuring Montana Lara, from in front of a packed stage of talented performers. Like their later ‘Silver Bells’ featuring Kelly Keim, it features some glorious vocal layering, and also, in this early instance, s impressive keyboard accompaniment to set the serene scene (keyboard 1 Musical Director Paula Girvan). And while this is a classic rather than Mariah version, the Songbird Supreme does make a later appearance. Anyone who knows Daveta would expect no less. ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is then a joyous percussion-filled continuation of the show’s spirit and my favourite of the night given its gospel vibes and resulting infectiously spirited clap-along. It is also the first showcase of Daveta’s razzle dazzle festive costumes, designed by Joel Dunkley.

The concert features a mix of musical styles as well as performers. Straight from the “Hairspray” stage, when she is playing Motormouth Maybelle as part of the musical’s Australian tour, Goodman absolutely owns The Manhattan Transfer’s ‘Operator’, giving us a gutsy gospelesque take with her Aretha-like belt. Indeed, her voice is so stellar as to elicit an almost visceral response from in-the-moment, absorbed audience members who can’t get enough of her talent.

Cassie George shares a strong jazzy cover of ‘Last Christmas’, meaning that those still going with whamageddon remain safe and Aya Valentine gives us a beautiful ‘The Christmas Song” courtesy of a delicate arrangement with feature of Harvey Blues on guitar. Light and shade is provided by numbers like Daveta’s heartfelt and wholly beautiful ‘Miss You Most (at Christmas Time)’ and Tallis Tutunoa shares a lovely sway-along ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ still-relevant wish for a year without any fear.

Across all numbers, the incredible 11 piece band is given ample moments to shine, both collectively and as individual musicians, especially in an Ella Macrokanis led, eventual all-in ‘Joy to the World’ and then a full-of surprises (#inagoodway) ‘Joyful Joyful’ crescendo towards the concert’s all-too-soon conclusion.

There is much to enjoy and also celebrate about “Home for Christmas”, which is now in its fourth year. The first show of Daveta’s freshly launched company JD Production Company is one of sequins, candy and Jingle Bell Christmas cheer in abundance, but also some of the best talent we have in this city, so be sure to mark any of its future outings in your end of year calendars.