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.

Yuletide traditions

Spirit of Christmas

QPAC, Concert Hall

December 16 – 17

QPAC’s longest running event “Spirit of Christmas” is one that never disappoints. With musical theatre stars Courtney Monsma and Alex Rathgeber at the helm, there are musical highlights aplenty, however, the most memorable of its aspects is the marvel of the iconic Concert Hall in all of its seasonal glory (and lighting design by Ben Hughes). “Spirit of Christmas” is spectacular in its aesthetic, especially when all of its components come together: the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (under the baton of Musical Director Simon Kenway), the celebrated QPAC Chamber Choir (Choral Director Timothy Sherlock) and Voices of Birralee (Director Jenny Moon), one of Australia’s finest children’s choirs.

The program is one of many highlights. An early goosebumpy one comes courtesy of a triumphant ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. As the upper voices chorus before being joined by others, the boisterous hymn is elevated by the powerful accompaniment of Emma Hadfield on the venue’s lofty 6500 pipe Klais Grand Organ, and then join in by Voices of Birralee, processing onto the stage from the stalls.

And when the organ is added in support of Rathgeber’s rousing delivery of the hopeful hymn ‘The Holy City’, his resounding vocals really are lifted up to His gates to sing Hosanna in the highest, on a sea of unison voices and orchestration. There is a similarly infectiously-uplifting liturgical sensibility to the jubilant ‘Ding Dong, Merrily on High’ Hosanna in excelsis outset of the QPAC Chamber Choir’sThe Glory of Christmas (medley)’.

After a Welcome to Country from guest artist Waveney Yasso, and a lovely ‘Christmas Overture’ from the orchestra, the 2022 program of joyous Christmas songs and carols unfolds with feature of both traditional and more modern ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ type tunes of this most wonderful time of the year.

Beautifully-voiced Queensland Conservatorium musical theatre graduate Jacqui Dwyer gives us a brightO Christmas Tree’ and Monsma brings buoyant vocals to ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’, to the joy of younger audience members (along with a concluding confetti drop). And while it might not be the season for snowmen, the QSO again reminds us of what lovely weather it is for a sleigh ride together, especially in its light orchestral piece ‘Sleigh Ride’, which primarily showcases the percussion section, yet is full of spinning cello fun along with its musical depiction of jingling sleigh bells, whip cracks, clip clops and even a whinnying horse.

The strings section is given its own chance to shine in a delicate Ukrainian composition for that section of the orchestra alone. Thought its almost mournful tone, on paper, might appear out of place amongst the more jubilant Christmas numbers, its tranquil take into a special Christmas message works well. The words in question, delivered by The Salvation Army’s Major Scott Allen underscore the sentiment at the core of the show through their reflection about connection, the bonds that unite us and bringing together communities.

“Spirit of Christmas” is a celebration of the many such things that embody the Christmas spirit. The mix of hymns, much loved classics and popular Christmas songs offers both opportunity for celebration of the true meaning of the festive season and appreciation of our stunning orchestra and vocalists in share of beloved holiday favourites.

Understandably, the popular concerts were again officially sold out prior to their performances. The good news, however, is that you can still enjoy the experience, (or relive it again) from the comfort of your home this Christmas Eve. Spirit of Christmas on Digital Stage free live stream is available from 5.00pm to midnight AEST on Saturday 24 December, Christmas Eve for its messages of peace, love and joy to endure that little bit longer.

For full details go to  https://www.qpac.com.au/event/spirit_of_christmas_digital_stage_22

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Off the wall seasonal celebrations

A Cracker Kransky Christmas

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

December 13 – 24

Esk’s oddball musical trio Mourne, Eve and Dawn Kransky are back at QPAC, just as quirky as ever, up for a party and ready to celebrate the festive season in “A Cracker Kranksy Christmas”. The fictional trio of The Kransky Sisters (in reality Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns) has a cult following, evident in the show’s many return audience members who are met with the same shtick of off-beat, macabre stories accompanied by cover versions of popular songs, with different content this time around.

Put-upon youngest (half)sister Dawn (Carolyn Johns) is as straight-faced as always, but has now found an occasional vocal voice. Johns is not only superb as the stony-faced (but not no-nonsense as we see in curtain call) Dawn, but she provides the trombone bed upon which the group’s unique musical stylings are built. Her trombone is the main conventional instrument, along with a 1960’s reed keyboard played by Johnston as Eve, with sounds also coming from bizarre items like a kitchen pot, toilet brush and musical saw.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, the trio’s shows represent a marriage of curious stories with a host of uniquely homemade arrangements of popular songs gleaned from their old wireless, or in in his case the radio of the pest-remover employed to rid their previously discussed Airbnb of an infestation. The resulting mixed musical set list includes numbers from Salt-N-Pepa, The Spice Girls, AC/DC and even a stripped back Britney Spears featuring a serene handsaw accompaniment.

Things start strongly as they get the musical party started. Then the storytelling begins as, through the lens of the sisters’ sheltered view of the world, we are also told about accidently opened packages the misadventures arising from their neighbours, exorcisms and alike, before moving into their traditions of tree decorating and an honouring of treasured items like the RSL’s their portrait of the Queen.

Terrific comic timing and never-waning droll dialogue delivery, makes their anecdotes even more entertaining as lacking any normal cultural context, their accidently innuendo-laden allusions take place alongside ease from dialogue into the lyrics of musical numbers. It’s a rich tapestry of suggestion, word play and punny humour very cleverly crafted together to make the show’s 90-minutes duration fly by in what seems like the quickest of time. And even when audience interaction starts to stray into heckler territory, Annie Lee, as Mourne handles it well to smooth things back on track in tell of their story of Christmas preparations and then lost love, scrub turkeys and such.

While is seems strange that the show has not been updated with any real mention of the Queen’s passing, it is still one of the kookiest of Christmas parties you are ever likely to experience, especially if you are the lucky audience member chosen to become the fourth sister for a ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ tambourine-along. And it seems like audiences are certainly agreeing as not only are shows for the off-the-wall Christmas experience selling out fast, but an extra matinee has now been added on Wednesday 21 December to meet demand.

Seasonal circusing

Jingle (JACs Entertainment)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

December 15 – 23

“Jingle” is described as an all ages magic, cirque, singing, dance and comedy Christmas show spectacular for anyone from 1 – 100 to enjoy, and it is not long into its 70-minute show time that it becomes evident that this is indeed true.

Things start strongly with a dynamic soundscape pumping out commanding compositions of this-time-of-year classics as we are taken into the amazing edge-of-your-seat feats of acrobatics with a new take on the Christmas story of “The Nutcracker” courtesy of an expressive contortionist and hand-balancing routine from Soliana. The Powerhouse Theatre offers a perfect platform to showcase all range of circus acts, with its raked seating allowing even those towards the back of the stalls, an impressive view of the scale of their heights, the beauty of their choreography and uniqueness of their execution. And the aerial acts are even more striking because of this, especially when we see an performer not only showcases climb and wrap tricks but roll up, rather than just the usual free-fall dropping down, their silks.

There is no real theme to the show, apart from entertainment. The over a dozen incredibly-talented performers all have impressive, unique skillsets which combine in a potpourri of entertainment, with internationally acclaimed juggler Cody Harrington standing out as a clear crowd favourite as his incredible tricks build upon each other in their brilliance. Clearly, this new Christmas show really is one for all ages with guide, internationally acclaimed comedy host Magician Dom Chambers, engaging with children and adults alike, particularly with his card tricks and sleigh-of-hand magic. There is also some fun audience participation from both children and adults.

Music numbers are appropriately themed and delivered with style by powerhouse vocalist Ellen Reed. Her ‘You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch’ is a teasing testament to her talent, and her late-show ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is heart-warming, but still melancholic.  Familiar in sound, but still very much its own, it is a glorious light-and-shade version that scales to great vocal heights yet also allows for some sit in the essentially quite sad holiday staple.

While, ‘Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let It Snow!’ does not feature in her set list, before things end, it does joyously filter down upon us as the perfect punctuation point on a richly aesthetic experience. Lighting lushes over each number to give it a distinctive feel and costumes contribute much to the often impressive visuals, such as when aerialist Katrina Lilwall, ascends to high above the stage, suspended in the air by her hair as she swings about and performers acrobatic poses, while winged in angel attire. It is a stunning, standout moment that encapsulates the sumptuousness of the combined artistry of the show.  

Bigger and better than its Brisbane Festival “Cirque O L I O” work, “Jingle” is like a mini Cirque du Soleil show for the whole family. Like a chocolate box of only the best assortments, it gives us an array of Australian-based circus, song and dance (from impressive tap to ballet numbers and even twin dancing reindeers) in a magical festive holiday treat. And its diverse, creative entertainment will surely stimulate the senses and entertain the passions of audiences of all sorts during its extended holiday run.

Holly-time folly

A Very Naughty Christmas (Woodward Productions)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

December 1 – 17

Think you’ve been good this year? Well, “A Very Naughty Christmas” will soon fix that. Brisbane’s favourite adults-only yuletide comedy is back, more ridiculous than ever and now in its intimate new home of La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre.

A winter wonderland has never been so hot when, shadowed away, Brisbane’s sexiest carollers wholesomely tell us to have ourselves a merry little Christmas, before launching into a string of yo mama type jokes escalated to the extreme to get audience members into the unique franchise’s feels-so-good-to-be-bad holiday spirit. The 80-minute 18+ musical Christmas comedy show, is now in its sixth year, which means its traditions are well and truly established. From an Andrews Sisters type number with a twist to an all-male “Mean Girls” ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ intro tease into a pumping twerking type number, familiar nods are there for repeat offenders to appreciate. There is also a sacrilegious story time share of the real tale of Christmas, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, with audience ‘volunteers’ making its nativity scene amongst the most memorable parts of the evening.

The adults-only tone of the show also remains well and truly intact, with its political incorrectness, dirty language and low brow humour all crafted together with wonderful wit. Stephen Hirst again has a charming appeal as the cheeky Nick, and his pants are off almost immediately with his introductory, almost gospel-esque ‘Back Door Santa’ number. And later there is his cleverly-crafted, innuendo-laden, suggestive ho ho ho share about what Mrs Claus potentially gets up to at the North Pole et al.

The ensemble cast of scantily clad performers share in bringing us all sorts of salacious segments as cast regulars Hirst, Emily Kristopher, Aurélie Roque, and Shay Debney are joined by newcomers Ethan Jones, Em Whitefield and Taylah Ferguson. And while all performers are very good at what they each do, Debney is both a standout and an audience favourite as he scampers around as Santa’s poor put-upon elf, especially in his bounce about in ‘Six White Boomers’.

A live band (Dominic Woodhead on keys and guitar, Tom Collins on guitar and bass and Chris Evans on drums) helps in bringing to life the show’s soundtrack of Christmas classics as never heard before, and providing the bed upon which vocalists lay some splendid harmonies including in the traditional closer ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’. Yaxley, in particular, showcases some strong vocals in ‘Never Fall in Love with an Elf’, delivering the number from the Broadway musical based on the beloved 2003 movie about Buddy the Elf with a combination of wry pizazz and heartfelt lament. And thanks to Kristopher, you will likely never listen to the Divinyls quite the same way again.

Things are updated in light of 2022 events with lyrical mentions of Elon Musk and an attempted Tik-tok type of rebranding of Santa. After we hear about how Santa discriminates according to socio-economic status in this time of cost-of-living concerns, there’s also a high-energy Christmas can-can reminder of the shopping centre and family lunch elements of the most wonderful time of year, cresendoing into a spelling out in choreography moves, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ style.

With numbers featuring burlesque, tap and even some riverdance moments, there is something for everyone in “A Very Naughty Christmas”… apart from the easily offended. If you like having a laugh, partial nudity and a mixed playlist of classic carols to modern pop, the irreverence of “A Very Naughty Christmas” is sure to get you in the mood for the silliest of seasons. Its mischievous celebration of the season of holly is full of filthy, frisky folly, making it the perfect escape from your festive season stresses, for return and newbie audience members alike.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

Festive fave

Spirit of Christmas

QPAC, Concert Hall

December 17 – 18

“Spirit of Christmas” sees the QPAC Concert Hall decked out with boughs of holly et al, ready for some fa la la la la seasonal jolly, and after being welcomed to country by Aunty Raelene Baker, a glorious ‘Christmas Overture’ continues the theme with showcase of the versatility of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra as we are taken from, for example, the tenderness of ‘Silent Night’ to a jovial ‘Jingle Bells’.

While carols are at the heart of the annual celebration concert, its program consists of a mix of seasonal musical offerings from a range of performers. Two of Australia’s leading musical theatre stars, Amy Lehpamer and Lucy Maunder headline the concert with humour and energy, joining a host of special guests in uplifting song, beautifully supported by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Musical Director and Conductor Simon Kenway and the celebrated voices of the QPAC Chamber Choir.

Recent Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Bachelor of Musical Theatre graduate Hanlon Innocent makes the charming simplicity of José Feliciano’s ‘Feliz Navidad’ an infectiously joyful experience, with his touch of Spanish rhythm and style, maracas and all. Maunder makes seasonal staple ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ melodically bittersweet, both poignant in its yearning, yet also hopeful. And the beauty of her lingering vocals is complemented by the soothing sounds of its light but building orchestration. Lehpamer’s bright vocals bring a buoyancy to ‘We Need a Little Christmas’ that captures the heartfelt joy and happiness of the popular holiday season song.

The program is one of many highlights. An early one comes courtesy of the 28-voice QPAC Chamber Choir’s triumphant ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. As the upper voices chorus before being joined by others, the boisterous hymn is elevated by the powerful accompaniment of Eduarda Van Klinken on the venue’s iconic, magnificent 6500 pipe Klais Grand Organ.

While choral music plays an essential role in musical experience of the Christmas season, the night’s biggest ovation, comes for guest tenor Rosario La Spina’s share of the 1906’s powerful anthemic carol ‘O Holy Night’. His performance of the rousing Christmas hymn hits every note exquisitely. Indeed, the ease with which he sails from its placid beginnings to its robust high notes is the stuff of goosebumps, worth the price of admission alone. And the perennial holiday tune is also elevated by the QSO’s climactic build-up to full instrumentation.

The Concert Hall has never looked better. Lush greens and reds light the space appropriate to the season, with golds adding to both the aesthetic and narrative of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which is playfully presented by Lehpamer, Maunder and Innocent.

While celebratory in tone, at the core of the show’s sentiment is an inspirational message of peace and love. This is underscored by delivery of a special Christmas Message by The Salvation Army’s Major Scott Allen, with his words about the Christmas rush and understandings of peace leading things easily into the Miniature Overture from Tchaikovsky “The Nutcracker” and its particular showcase of the orchestra’s woodwind and brass sections. Meanwhile, the light orchestral piece ‘Sleigh Ride’ showcases the percussion sections with its musical depiction of jingling sleigh bells, whip cracks, clip clops and even a whinnying horse. And a Christmas version of ‘Seasons of Love’ from Jonathan Larson’s acclaimed, award-winning rock musical “Rent”, arranged by QSO cellist Craig Allister Young, makes for a beautiful concluding message about the way to quantify the value of a year in life.

While Sydney has Carols in the Domain and Melbourne its Carols by Candlelight, in Brisbane it is QPAC’s “Spirit of Christmas”. And clearly, there is a reason why the concerts have been presented every year since 1985. The mix of hymns, much loved classics and popular Christmas songs offers both opportunity for celebration of the true meaning of the festive season and appreciation of our stunning orchestra and vocalists in share of beloved holiday favourites. And everyone can relieve its magic through a free digital broadcast of the concert on Christmas Eve by tuning in to the Spirit of Christmas Digital Broadcast here at 7pm AEST on Friday 24 December to watch this festive favourite from the comfort of your own home.

Photos c/oDarren Thomas