Rocket Man memories

Your Song (The Little Red Company)

QPAC, Concert Hall

September 30 – October 1

The Little Red Company turns 10 this week and how appropriate it is to mark the occasion with return of one of their fastest selling shows, in one of Australia’s most spectacular concert venues. And the mood is certainly celebratory from the start of “Your Song” as ‘Benny and the Jetts’ leads into introduction of the performers returning from the show’s 2021 season at the Judith Wright Arts Centre, Luke Kennedy, Andy Cook and The Sunshine Club’s dynamic duo Marcus Corowa and Irena Lysiuk.

Along with a world-class band (Mik Easterman on Drums, Michael Manikus on piano, OJ Newcomb on bass and Stephen Ward on guitar), the fabulous foursome reminds us of why the show was the 2021 Matilda Award winner for Best Musical or Cabaret. Far from being a typical tribute show (no-one takes on the role of Elton John) creators Adam Brunes and Naomi Price have crafted a unique verbatim musical theatre experience that merges the music and lyrics of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songs with powerful true stories of heartbreak and hope, pain and passion, first loves, final moments and more.

Nuanced original musical arrangements by Maitlohn Drew, Alex Van den Broek and the cast capture not just familiarity of well-known numbers but the emotion at the core of each song in relation to its corresponding story. And the stellar cast of performers are all compelling as they gateway us into the power of Elton John’s music through the eyes of everyday people.

Andy Cook is again a standout. His stage presence is such that eyes are drawn to him throughout. Not only is his spirited energy infectious, but his strong vocals add a resonate depth to all range of numbers. While he enlivens a surprisingly poignant ‘Crocodile Rock’ to a big-voiced, spirited glam-pop celebration of life, music and memory, his astonishing voice also gives us the show’s highlight in an almost a cappella ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with the barest of piano accompaniment, enrapturing the Concert Hall audience into mesmeric awe. It is just one of many moving moments evoked through reconsideration of songs’ simple and profound lyrics.

Lysiuk’s ‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word’ evokes the raw honesty at the heart of a reflection on loneliness and Corowa’s glorious voice layers his numbers with rich emotional texture, with his ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ serving as another highlight. Meanwhile, Music Supervisor Kennedy shows his versatility through both giving a beautiful rendition of the ballad ‘Daniel’ and uplifting us into the majestic chorus of ‘Tiny Dancer’.

Characteristically for the company’s shows, everyone is given a chance to shine, including, notably, Michael Manikus during the anthemic piano build of ‘I’m Still Standing’. All of Elton John’s well-known hits make appearance, if only in medley as part of the rousing on-your-feet sing-along encore. Even the show’s titular tune is wonderfully presented in a newly-imagined way with Lysiuk’s lean-in to its simple nativity with a surprise to-boyfriend share that is full of nervous, self-conscious energy showing why she was nominated for the Matilda Award for Best Female Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in last year’s debut season of the show.

The all-true, often deeply-personal stories and secrets presented take us through a range of emotions in reminder of the power of music to evoke associated memories… like (for those of us of appropriate vintage) where we were when we heard of Princess Diana’s passing. ‘Candle in the Wind’ not only does this, but with added emphasis in light of recent royal events. And the Concert Hall acoustics ensure that the group’s harmonies are as vivid as ever.

So authentic is the performers’ storytelling, that is easy to forget that these are in most instances not their own stories. And they are so seamlessly curated together with a craftedness characteristic of The Little Red Company works, that the show’s 90-minute duration flies by in an explosive experience of at-once heart, soul and distinctive Rocket Man camp.

Photos c/o – Stephanie Do Rozario

Cabaret stylings and then some

Women in Voice

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

August 26 – 28

“Women in Voice” (WiV) has been a Brisbane institution since 1993. Surprisingly though, there are still some first timer audience members at the shows. With its diverse range of quality performers, the 2022 outing is sure to convert these to annual attendees. With Master of Ceremonies Sophie Banister as support and guide in journey through the varied sets, it soon become apparent that this year’s “Women in Voice” may well be the best one yet.

Banister is given her own musical moments, comically linked together by the theme of her thwarted quest to become a Brisbane 2032 Olympics opening ceremony performer in order to have her own Nikki Webster ‘Under Southern Skies’ moment. Metaphorically flying, however are the evening’s incredible performers, starting with Naomi Andrew, whose contemplative set highlights her soulful vocals, especially in impassioned share of Rose Royce’s ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’. Not only this, but the heartbreaking song also allows for first standout of the live band’s accompaniment, with Dr Bob Bass (bass guitar and double bass), Meg Burstow (piano), Musical Director Jamie Clark (guitar) and Paul Hudson (drums) swirling their sounds around the song’s hopeless sentiments.

The second, double-bill, segment sees regular performer Leah Cottrell, joining with Menaka Thomas in her “Women in Voice” debut, to showcase the intersection of traditional and contemporary music, drawing upon Thomas’ classical Southern Indian Carnatic musical origins. After whisking our troubles away with a sweet lullaby in her mother tongue, things become infectiously joyous with the audience clapping along to a fusion number featuring join-in from Cotterell in emphasis of the cross-cultural shared language of music at the centre of the show’s celebration. And when Thomas sings of Indian goddess Vata it is with a mixture of precision and emotion that elevates this year’s WiV to being amongst the franchise’s best, especially as it then transitions into a thumping, tempoed Cotterell-led ‘Rolling in the Deep’, complete with Vata rap and Indian dance off. It’s all very clever and lots of fun.

Not only do Cotterell and Thomas share the stage, but the featured songstresses often serve as support for each other, with assistance also from Mel Lathouras and Olivia Weeks, blending their voices together to create a harmonious bed upon which other performances can shine. Musical highlights aside, the show is also very funny. Banister’s musical recount of explanation of Brisbane to New Yorkers in terms of the most significant of films to ever be shot here, in so animated in its delivery and has such a catchy hook line, that it is difficult not to toe tap along with an accompanying smile. And her re-representation of Maria Von Trapp’s third youngest adoptive daughter Brigitta gives us an angstsy ten-year-old’s reimagining of the musical theatre classic “The Sound of Music” through the lens of unresolved middle child issues.

“Women in Voice” is about empowering women to share their voices. Accordingly, the program is curated so as to present a variety of experience levels and musical styles. Act Two features another WiV debutant, Irena Lysiuk giving a stunning operatic Italian-merging-into English version of ‘To The Moon and Back’. With trademark lush Powerhouse Theatre lighting and acoustics, it’s a commanding few moments as her flawless vocals introduce us to her proud Logan girl love of pop duo Savage Garden. In fact, the 1990s group’s popular songs make up her entire set list, albeit in reimagined forms, as she considers them through the perspective of a range of musical genres to take us through opera and a stripped back ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ to a musical theatre themed ‘Shake Me Break Me’ (with Clark punctuating things along in add to its dynamism) and a country styled ‘Affirmation’ complete with twang and a great hat. (#whatcantshedo?) And her between-song banter and share of her journey to becoming a singer (inset with Savage Garden trivia) is incredibly funny in its easy nuance, making her set another of the show’s high points.

Responsibility for rounding things out goes to larger-than-life fabulous cabaret diva Dame Farrar (Carita Farrer Spencer), who stumbles onto stage direct from her bedroom in Melbourne to give us a smashing ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. Her voice is powerful, she sure can hold a note and her commitment to the little jokes that contribute to the elaborate tapestry of her over-the-top, insult-laden characterisation throughout her set is commendable, resulting in circulating tears of laughter from the thoroughly entertained audience members.

With tight direction, cohesive tie together of ideas and finely tuned performances, the 2 hours + (including interval) duration of 2022’s “Women in Voice” has all the ingredients for a wonderful night out… extraordinarily talented performers, authentic stories, humour and songs we thought we knew presented afresh. Get tickets now … if you can

Meeting memories

Dirty Fame Flash Candles Club (Western Standard Productions)

Judith Wright Arts Centre 

June 10 – 18

Dirty Fame Flash Candles Club is having its very first meeting in the Judith Wright clubhouse and all ‘80s era fans are welcome. After pledging our allegiance, the show’s audience is moved through agenda items and commendations for watermelon carrying et al, to learn that Fran Grey (Melissa Western) is joining the executive committee. To serve, she needs to have her ‘80s movie climax initiation fast-tracked and we get to watch!

Blessed by the spirit of Swayze, this footloose foursome of girls just want to have fun and performers Helen Cassidy, Lizzie Moore, Neridah Waters and Melissa Western throw themselves into the show’s celebration of living our best lives. Western, in particular, is charming as shy spreadsheet enthusiast Fran, hesitant especially amongst the big personalities of her now fellow board members.

As Act One continues we learn of the fictional club’s foundation in a random, prolonged flashback to DFFCC’s founder and president, the right honourable Tracey Bacon’s (Neridah Waters) time working at the supermarket deli. It’s all a bit loose, but in the funnest clowning-about kind of way, including with audience involvement in a Hey Hey It’s A Knockout ‘80s movie quiz.

Things move more quickly in Act Two with its amped up audience participation courtesy of an en masse ‘Take On Me’ dance routine, testimonials and a audience club member raffle draw, punctuated by many memorable moments. Most notable of these, from an audience reaction perspective, is probably a difficult-to-describe “Labyrinth” dream fantasy sequence of Merchandise Coordinator Molly Estevez (Helen Cassidy), with a big helping hand (and then some) from Lizzie Moore as David Bowie’s Jareth the Goblin King.

Inspired by the spirit of the ‘80s, this cabaret-style comedy quasi-musical is, of course full of nostalgic nods to the era. Its iconic music hits are hinted at in dialogue and included in snippets, with a few featuring as longer numbers, such as an inventively choreographed ‘Maniac’. Recognisable pop culture props make appearance too, from “Flashdance” welding to tease of its water scene.

No ‘80s show, however, would be complete without a “Dirty Dancing” reference or two and “Dirty Fame Flash Candles Club” manages to achieve this with its own twist. Club Vice President Sam Sheedy (Lizzy Moore) gives us a sensual self-care ‘Hungry Eyes’ tribute to what every busy woman really wants and, at Western’s hilariously-animated lead, the talent-show-ending ‘Kellerman’s Anthem’ becomes a shared singalong of joined ‘hands and hearts and voices – voices, hearts and hands’. Indeed, each time the starting strains of a familiar ‘80s song fill the air, they are accompanied by the joyful sounds of nostalgic recognition from within the audience.

“Dirty Fame Flash Candles Club” may be a show inspired by Coles Radio electro synth escapism, but its nostalgia-inducing sentiments serve as proof that the ‘80s are ‘gonna live forever’ (and fly high) in all of the era’s scrunchied, crimped-hair, shoulderpadded and neon et al glory. Attendance represents an opportunity for those of a certain vintage to get their brat pack together, and potentially dress the part to take part in an infectiously-fun night of nostalgia-induced ridiculousness. Like Fran, you just might end up having the time of your life, to be send home to dance right through your life in revisit of the era’s great movie soundtracks.

Bawdy bibliophilery

The Babushka Book Club (Little Match Productions)

Judith Wright Arts Centre

March 25 – 26

Babushka is back … darker, greyer and shadier than ever with a bawdy book club celebration of all the wine and worries of the suburban middle class experience. The appropriately-named Queensland Cabaret Festival show includes tips for nailing your next literary gathering, on making yourself and your book look the part, and how to provide acceptable conversation contributions. It’s all very funny as non-much-of-a-reader, earth mother Laura (Laura Coutts) and desperate-for-a-drink Alicia (Alicia Cush) mess with sophisticated book club founder Judy’s (Judy Hainsworth) meticulous planning. That is until her ‘Torn’ admission of Jamie Fraser feelings upon recall of her “Cross Stitch”, “Outlander” introduction the bibliophile life.

As with past Babushka cabaret shows the set list features iconic pop songs mashed up and used anew (music arrangements by Alicia Cush and Luke Volker) as favourite novels of chick lit, New York Times best sellers and even well-thumbed erotic thrillers are explored. Who knew, for example, that Blondie’s light and catchy ‘One Way or Another’ is so stalkery, making it the perfect expression of Coutts’ “Twilight” inspired fan fiction plans. And Hainsworth’s gritty Eminem style rap retelling of ‘The Hunger Games’ is worth the price of admission alone.

Witty dialogue and lyrics, instrumentation, costume reveals, props and accompanying reimagined Mills and Boonish book cover backdrop imagery are all very clever (designer Penny Challen), with even throwaway type lines adding much to the trio’s distinct charactersations. This is a book club at which you most definitely want to spend time, with the only disappointment being how quickly the tongue-in-cheek experience appears to be over.

With Music Director Volker in piano accompaniment, the gorgeous vocals of these talented performers harmonise in lovely blend, such as in an early, jaunty “Pride and Prejudice” inspired tribute to white-shirt men, ‘The Bad Guy’. And the ‘totally relatable’ ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the perfect vehicle for Coutts’s exquisite operatic voice, making it a clear Kate-Bush-inspired highlight.

Also of note, is the work’s clear feminist themes. Not only are the Brontë sisters doing it for the selves, but a snappy ‘That’s Not My Name’ shout out to women authors who have penned novels under male pseudonyms, captures the uplifting spirit of its sentiment.

Indeed, experience of the “The Babushka Book Club” is a joyous journey of song, laughter and even drinking along with its take through eleven chapters of deconstruction of literary classics of all genres. Under Bridget Boyle’s lively direction, the 60-minute cabaret is highly entertaining for its duration, even for those who may only have read the movies of the novels mentioned. Hopefully, it is bookmarked for a return Brisbane season soon.

Photos c/o – Mish Photography

Hail holy queens

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves (little red company)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 17 – 20

When last in New York for a bit of Broadway, I was lucky enough to attend a Sunday gospel mass in Harlem. It was one of my most incredibly joyous travel experiences, back to which experience of the little red company’s “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, transported me back in sound and sentiment. Indeed, the show’s relive of the joy of the “Sister Act” soundtracks (appropriately in the first film’s 30th anniversary year) is sure to fill all in its audience with the light of a happy day.

The show begins with our favourite new girl band of performers (Angela Fabian, Irena Lysiuk, Prinnie Stevens and Alisha Todd) taking us to church with ‘Amazing Grace’. Lavishly costumed by designer Gail Sorronda, these sisters are certainly doing it for themselves as they preach the gospel according to Sister Mary Clarence (aka nightclub lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier) under a stained glass imaged backdrop.

Alex Van den Broek’s vocal arrangements not only acknowledge audience nostalgia for the iconic film franchise, but balance this with some interesting new momentum builds in Peggy March’s ‘I Will Follow Him’, for example, performed by the nuns’ chorus for the Pope in the original film. Also in support of the on-stage dynamism are the four apostles of music, Mik Easterman (drums), JaZZella (guitars), Michael Manikus (piano), OJ Newcomb (bass) who appropriately provide pathos or energy as needed to enhance the diverse musical program.

A gentle share of India Arie’s plaintiff balad, ‘I Am Light’, in which the four holy queens are joined by JaZZella in tender guitar accompaniment, allows an opportunity for Todd to take the lead in slowing things down, adding a richness to the tapestry of the show’s unfolding. And as the songstress share personal anecdotes as to their own journeys, including the teachers who nurtured them along the way, the result is touching but also essentiality celebratory.

Director Naomi Price and co-creator Adam Brunes have crafted a celebratory and spirit-lifting show that effectively balances sentiment and humour. And it is wonderful to see the serenely-voiced Lysiuk showing her vivacious comic side, to repeated hilarious effect, especially in her appropriation of classic Kathy Najimy et al interjections in a bouncy ‘My Guy’ (as ‘My God’).

The vocal talents of all four performers are undeniable. The celestial cast of divine divas harmonise beautifully, especially in an cappella ‘How Great Thou Art’ hymn lead in to an upbeat ‘Rescue Me’. And, together, they sizzle in testimony of a burning love in ‘Heatwave’. Fabian has a powerhouse voice and Stevens smooth vocals are elevated by a commanding, sassy stage presence that sees her leading ‘Oh Happy Day’ into an infectious congregation clap-along highlight.

With catchy heaven-sent hits from Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lauryn Hill and Tina Turner, “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, is stacked with joyful joyful moments to leave audiences holy satisfied in understanding that, as its early ‘Dancing in the Street’ number proclaims, all we need is music, sweet music. And in trademark little red company tradition, there is also some mass audience interaction and larger-scale surprises, along with announcement of their next outing, “Skyfall” in build upon their 2021 Brisbane Festival cabaret show success. Amen to that!

Photos c/o – Steph Do Rozario

Ready, set, Gold

Theatreroo Gold (Theatreroo)

Twelfth Night Basement 

From February 19

Theatre is back at The Basement with a new show, “Theatreroo Gold” set for its grand opening on January 22. And, as its pre-Christmas preview showing revealed, the show is set to be something special. Like a live experience of a mix tape of the company’s best-ofs from a mix of musical styles, “Gold” features songs from “Boadicea: The Celtic Opera”, “Utopia: The Amazing Australian Paraguayan Story”, “Macbeth: Contemporary Rock Opera” and “Live at the Trocadero”, shared by a cast of talented, passionate performers who effectively emote the experiences of their range of characters across time.

As Queen Boadicea Lizzie Moore compels us with her magnificent vocal intensity in early numbers from the epic rebellion / revenge tale “Boadicea: The Celtic Opera”, which depicts the life and times of Boadicea, the Celtic British Warrior Queen, who in 60 AD led an uprising against the Romans. And when we are taken to the contemporary rock opera of the similarly-themed Scottish play (one of the company’s most popular shows), Matt Newnham shows the versatility to take us from an early decisive Macbeth singing his insightful letter home to his Lady to the character’s later more contemplative considerations of his famous ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ soliloquy in song, with appropriately stirring musical accompaniment (Musical Director Sante D’etorre and music composition by Clarry Evans, Denny Lawrence, Micheal Lynch, Judy Stevens).

Sandro Colarelli is similarly affecting in his tender vocal share of Macduff’s mindset after discovery of his family’s fate upon the now-tyrannical King’s orders. Also versatile, Colarelli shines in lead of the ensemble’s soft-shoe shuffle vaudevillian take of the murderers preparing to execute Macbeth’s orders upon Banquo, complete with enticing everyman bowler hat moves to add to the joviality. And his energetic share of Paraguayanode to coffee brings vitality to the section of the show dedicated to

“Utopia: The Amazing Australian Paraguayan Story”, which tells the 1890s story of a group of Australians who set out South America, to establish a Socialist society. Under Denny Lawrence’s direction, excellent ensemble work ensures a lovely harmony to these numbers, however, the highlight comes in the form of a compelling late-show love song duet between Cassie George and Connor Hawkins, from the coming-of-age 1942 wartime Brisbane love story, “Live at the Trocadero”, which tells of a young singer from Townsville who finds herself working in Brisbane’s hottest nightclub during a tumultuous period of the city’s history.

“Theatreroo Gold” is full of impressive numbers, powerfully presented in the intimate performance space of the company’s new permanent home in theTwelfth Night Theatre’s Basement venue. The classy 60-minute cabaret not only highlights the very best of these four classic Theatreoo productions, but it ties each one together nicely with enough information provided to contextualise the numbers for those unfamiliar with the works. It both shares some of the interesting shows from the company’s repertoire, and also showcases its performers’ admirable talents, which, in combination, makes for a highly-entertaining experience, as is the case for all of the company’s miniaturised pub theatre versions of well-known theatrical shows.