Freaky family fun

Freaky Friday (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

June 17 – July 2

The musical comedy “Freaky Friday” is based on the celebrated novel by Mary Rodgers and the hit Disney films of the same name. Though a contemporary update, the mother-daughter body-switching story follows much the same storyline with its rousing opening number ‘Just One Day’ introducing the characters and setting up the narrative.

11th grader Ellie Blake (Carly Wilson) wants nothing more than to participate in The Hunt, an annual all-night scavenger hunt that she’s determined to win because her crush Adam (Elliot Gough) is the new List Master. Her only problem is that it is set to take place on the night of her busy widowed mother Katherine’s (Della Days) wedding rehearsal dinner. As the equally frustrated and angry mother and daughter fight and plead for each other to change, tension crescendos to their shared grip of a giant hourglass and suddenly, neither of them is the same as they once were. And so begins the very freaky Friday that sees them journeying in each other’s bodies (and discovering more about each other’s lives), full of hilarity as the duo scramble to assimilate to the new experiences that ensue.

The supporting cast is excellent. Kirsten Sparks is of particular note as one of Ellie’s best friends, goggle-eyed and jelly-kneed in her own adoration in presence of the adorably cool Adam, while AJ Betts brings a commanding stage presence to villainous mean-girl Savannah. This is, however, Wilson and more so, Days’ show and it is their performances that define it. Days inhabits the role of a mother inhabited by a flanneletted and angsty teenager usually bickering with her younger puppet-obsessed brother Fletcher (Samuel Barrett). Through changing vocal tones and physicality, she captures the hyperbole and chaos of her teenage daughter’s daily dilemmas, but also, as things progress, reveals her growing maturity in appreciation of her mother’s stresses. Indeed, Days demonstrates excellent comic timing in her play of a sassy teenager trapped inside an adult body, especially in Katherine’s resulting attempts to quash shows of affection from her fiancé Mike (Mike Zarate). Days’ vocal prowess is touching and powerful as required, combining wonderfully with Wilson’s equally commanding signing voice for a bluesy ‘Bring My Baby (Brother) Home’, Act Two’s show-stopper.  

Like a Disney style “Heathers”, “Freaky Friday” is full of catchy songs (music by Tom Kitt and song lyrics by Brian Yorkey), brought to versatile life by an accomplished orchestra whose back of stage reveal in encore is to much audience acclaim. Steven Days’ musical direction celebrates the varied sensibilities of the score, such as Act One’s ‘I’ve Got This’, where the two decide that they have to pretend to be one another until a second magical hourglass can be found, both thinking that the other’s life is easier, which has a swaying calyso feel. This makes moments when the music overwhelms ensemble vocals, such as in ‘Oh Biology,’ all the more frustrating.

Clay English’s choreography is lively, elevating ensemble scenes such as school numbers and the second act scavenger hunt. Scenes similarly switch briskly between domestic and high school locations, aided by Sherryl-Lee Secomb set design of simple outlined stage pieces (like in a comic book), which sees kitchen cabinets easily rotate into high school lockers, allowing for both swift transitions and for the strong performances of its two leads to appropriately take centre stage. Attention to detail in costuming is also commendable in its role in conveying the changed personas of mother and daughter, as, for example, the mother in daughter Ellie’s body no longer carries her backpack over one shoulder and the teenager now in her mother’s body doesn’t take long to tie a jacket around her waist.

“Freaky Friday” is a fabulous musical, full of fun for all. Under Secomb’s dynamic direction, the family-friendly show offers Beenleigh audiences a triple treat of talented cast, infectious songs and lively musical numbers. There is some lovely messaging too, not just as the duo discover their unique strengths and learn to love and appreciate each other anew, but through ‘teenager’ Ellie’s urge to her teenage friends not to be ashamed of their bodies, which makes it even more worthy of a visit.

Photos c/o – Vargo Studios

Highlights of hope

Oliver! (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

18 June – 2 July 

A lot of Savoyard’s production of the musical “Oliver!” happens in the shadows; the dark and dramatic visit to Victorian London’s murky underworld begins with its cast of downtrodden workhouse orphans marching from the stalls onto the stage in want of food, glorious food and it does not shy away from the story’s gritty violence. Yet the reimagining ultimately shines a light on just how timeless the musical is, particularly in terms of its brilliant score, which is full of favourite numbers.

Based on the Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “Oliver Twist”, the musical is a story about holding onto hope in the darkest of times in its tell of the story of the young orphan, Oliver, and his struggles against the, often cruel world within which he lives. After daring to ask for more food at the workhouse where he is lodged, he is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker before escaping to London where he finds himself accepted by a bunch of thieves and pickpockets, led by the elderly Fagin. Unsuited to a life of crime Oliver soon discovers that leaving Fagin’s gang and starting anew won’t be so easy.

With a multi-generational cast of over 50 performers, the show features an abundance of talent. Jeremiah Rees is wonderful as opening night’s eponymous hero, ethereally good-natured in juxtaposition to the squalor of his environment, but also plucky with moral determination. His pure, angelic voice epitomises his innocence, as evidenced in his main ballad, ‘Where is Love’ in which he longs for love and the mother he never knew.

Under David Harrison’s artistic direction, the production is layered with vivid characterisations. Warryn James is well-cast as Fagin. His performance is compelling in its energy and humour as he plays games and jokes with his pickpocketing students, often through song. Priyah Shah is also a standout in the range she brings to the kindly character of Nancy, member of Fagin’s gang and sympathetic lover of the sinister antagonist Bill Sikes (Raymond Gillmore). Her lead of Act Two’s opener ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, makes the rollicking old tavern song infectious to us as much as the boisterous low-life ruffian customers on stage in a “Les Miserables” ‘Master of the House’ type way. Her strong vocals are no better seen than in Nancy’s torch song, the powerfully despairing ‘As Long as He Needs Me’, in which she attempts to convince herself of Bill’s love, leaving the audience spellbound. Indeed, her shows of strength but also vulnerability ensure that Nancy is presented as a complex character to be considered beneath the veneer of her defence of brutal Bill’s abuse.

Oliver Dobrenov gives us a charismatic, cockney child-gang leader, Artful Dodger, confidently leading many ensemble numbers and Rod Jones and Phillipa Bowe are gloriously hyperbolic in their early show play off each other as the self-important beadle of the poorhouse where the orphaned Oliver is raised and the sharp-tongued widow Mrs Corney, especially in their saucy interplay into ‘I Shall Scream’.

The show is filled with harmonious chorus numbers. The communal ‘Consider Yourself’ when the ensemble assembles together, is a glorious highlight. Unfortunately, ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ when Oliver is introduced to Fagin and his boys falls comparatively short on Opening Night, courtesy only of significant microphone issues that plague things from Fagin’s entrance. James does well to not only work through the ongoing crackles and static, but persevere without amplification amongst a sea of other voices, which detracts from the animation of his triumphant recall of successfully executed crimes.  

Under Jacqueline Atherton’s considered musical direction, a lively orchestra advances the plot with songs and underscoring, utilising a range of melodies to represent the different characters, as well as reminding us of the virtues of the musical’s most-known tunes. Kim Heslewood and team’s costume design adds texture and movement alike, from the colourful toff pop of the Artful Dodger’s jacket to the petticoat ruffles of dancer dresses, while Lynne Swain’s makeup design contributes much to the gothic sensibility of early scenes, particularly those featuring the Tim Burtonesque funeral owners, Mr and Mrs Sowerberry (David Harrison and Hannah Davies). Carlie McEachern’s lively choreography includes its own detailed highlights, such as in the chimney sweep moves within an Act Two ensemble number and Sherryl-Lee Secomb’s set design makes good use of the space, allowing for locations to pop open from within its facades.

This is an excellent musical revival, full of highlights and everything needed to entertain its audience, including nod to the melodramatic imagery and rhetoric that characterised the Victorian stage of its setting. While finding the drama with the text means including its depictions of domestic violence and alike, this is handled well, making it still suitable for younger audience members, after some pre-emptive conversations. Social satire aside, however, what is most resonate about this “Oliver!” is its theme of resilience and hope that things will get better, which makes it at-once inherently British in its sensibility but also universal in its ultimate impact.

Photos c/o – Sharyn Hall

Alive and welcomed

The Sound of Music (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Twelfth Night Theatre

June 3 – 12

Perhaps best known for the film adaptation starring Julie Andrews, “The Sound of Music” is a perennially-popular musical standard. The last musical Rodgers and Hammersten created (Oscar Hammerstein passed away nine months after it opened on Broadway in 1959) is a long one, but one with lots of story and many musical reprises and, as Queensland Musical Theatre shows, it is still as entertaining as ever.

Based on the real-life tale of the von Trapp family and their escape from Austria on the eve of Nazi Germany’s annexation of the country in 1938, the story is of Maria (Lara Boyle), a woman who during her convent training is dispatched to be a governess for the strict Captain Von Trapp (Nathaniel Currie) and his seven children Liesl (Holly Komorowski), Friedrich (Josh Cochrane), Louisa (Freyer Griggs), Kurt (Beau Bruback), Brigitta (Darci Allen), Marta (Alessia Lily Monteverde) and Gretl (Harriet Straus). Her genuine nature means that Maria brings music and love back into the home, discovering herself how it can bloom even in the most unexpected places as she endears herself to the children and eventually their father, despite his courtship of Baroness Schraeder (Kate Retzki).

Things get political in Act Two as Nazism and the eventual occupation of Austria by Germany casts a more immediate shadow over all their lives with the fiercely patriotic Captain unable to agree with his music agent and producer friend Max (Kris Brennan) about acquiescence to the inevitable German takeover. Even amongst the seriousness of the von Trapps’ predicament, however, experience of the musical is filled with the songs we all know, which, in itself, presents a challenge. Still, this production shows how even a well-known and beloved musical such as this can be given a new life through fresh takes. In particular, Isabel Byrne’s choreography gives us a dynamic demonstration in numbers such as ‘Do-Re-Mi’, in which Maria teaches the children the basics of music, as well as her ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ attempt to distract their fears during a thunderstorm. Also enjoyable is the much-loved ‘So Long Farewell’ routine when the children say goodnight to party guests with a song, later reprised at a tense Nazi talent show. And Deian Ping’s costume design of hued colours also adds to the visual treats on stage.

The singing is sensational throughout, spoiled only by some on-occasion minor microphone issues. The opening number in the abbey with the nuns’ austere singing, powerfully led by Kathryn Bradbury as Mother Abbess, sets the tone. With a rich operatic, perfectly-controlled voice, the building melody of her inspirational solo ‘Climb Every Mountain’ becomes a glorious goosebumpy triumph into interval. And her contribution to the playfulness of the nuns’ complaints about Maria’s absentminded whimsy in ‘Maria’ shows her versatility. When the Mother Abbess joins Maria in song for ‘My Favourite Things’, it is, therefore a particular treat given Boyle’s own delightful vocals.

Both vocally and in performance, Boyle captures the lovable free-spiritedness of the failed-nun Maria. From the opening swell of its titular song as Maria frolics in the Austrian alps, she brings an effervescent energy to the iconic role. Her voice is crisp with joyful optimism, reassuring us from this early Act One number, that the cherised musical is indeed in safe hands. And while we celebrate her journey from the beginning, over time, Currie also endears the initially-uptight Captain to us, softening him in Act Two with undertones of vulnerability in an expertly-controlled performance.

Also worthy of particular mention is Quinn Chambers as Rolf, the first love of eldest daughter Liesl. His smooth voice is very easy to listen to, providing moments of lightness in ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’, our first glimpse at the pair’s courtship. Kristie Rabbitt makes for a wonderful Srn Margaretta, kindly excusing Maria’s flibbertijibbertry singing in abbey et al. The children, meanwhile are pure delight in bringing their respective personalities to life, especially Bruback who dances about with joyous enthusiasm, responding gushingly to Maria’s now-presence in their lives.

From its rapturous curtain call applause, it is clear that “The Sound of Music” still stands as a welcomed crowd favourite. Under conductor Julia Whiting’s musical direction, the orchestra effectively supports the performers with a nice sound balance, allowing us to be enthralled by the familiar melodies as much as the vocal performances. Indeed, when the already-abuzz packed audience collectively sings along out loud to the overture lead in to act two, our hearts are alive with the joy of its music.  

Photos c/o – Creative Street

Five years feels

The Last Five Years (La Boite Theatre Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 30 – June 18

Often there is a delight to going into shows unprepared as to what is about to unfold. In the case of Tony Award-winning playwright Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” however, it is valuable to know of the work’s unique premise as this allows for full appreciation of the craftedness at its core. And under the dynamic direction of Darren Yap (with musical direction by James Dobinson), celebration of this remains central to La Boite Theatre’s return of the musical to the Queensland stage.

The 90-minute two-hander follows the ill-fated five-year relationship of aspiring artists, novelist Jamie (Robert Tripolina) and actress Cathy (Danielle Remulta) … in two different directions. Cathy tells the story from the end of their marriage; Jamie begins from when they first meet, and, as the musical unfolds, Cathy moves backward in time to the beginning of the relationship while Jamie moves chronologically toward its inevitable end. Their alternate musical narration is all very clever, not just in how the characters share space but not time, apart from a one-scene, mid-show point where the share a song at their wedding (‘The Next Ten Minutes’), but in overlap also of themes and lyrical motifs.

With Jamie’s experience of career success emerging in comparison to Cathy’s struggles, contrasts are soon apparent, and creative choices work well to enhance this through steely lighting of Jaime’s late show laments in juxtaposition to Kathy’s bright beginning (lighting design by Ben Hughes), cleverly also singing goodbye but with another meaning. Effective use of space allows for multiple entry and exit points for characters at all levels. In what is some of the Roundhouse Theatre’s best staging, we are even seasonally lit into the couple’s second Christmas. Props pop seamlessly into and out of the story and costumes changes are barely noticed, such is the slick momentum of its scene changes.

At the beginning Tripolina has the easiest job as emerging novelist Jamie, engaging the audience immediately with his joyful hope as he bounces through the jaunty ‘Shiksa Goddess’ about his delight to be dating outside his Jewish heritage. Tripolina is a charismatic performer who makes for a charming Jamie, even in later scenes as the older and wiser, then successful author must admit that his marriage is at an end. His performance is energetic and built upon a foundation of strong vocal talent. His upbeat ‘Moving Too Fast’ contemplation of life with Cathy seeming too good to be true is a rollicking rockabilly-esque highlight, especially as he grabs a guitar and heads to the heights of the space occupied by the live band of musicians.

Remulta has some moving moments as struggling actor Cathy, a woman betrayed by a divorce she is only beginning to understand, such when sitting along contemplating her emotions in contrast to Jamie’s move-on in ‘Still Hurting’. They are also both adept at delivering comedic moments which land well. ‘A Summer in Ohio’ allows for some entertaining characterisation from Remulta as Cathy writes to Jamie from Ohio describing her life and eccentric colleagues, and there is much humour as she shares the inner monologue accompanying a failing audition experience.

The show is full of insightful but also quirky lyrics, such as in Jamie’s catchy little Christmas story of Schmuel, Tailor of Klimovich, as metaphor for his support of Cathy. Brown’s bitter-sweet score features a variety of song styles. Musical director James Dobinson’s piano is the show’s lifeline, providing the heartbeat of Cathy’s number ‘See I’m Smiling’ and her determination to fix their marital problems, before leading us into Jamie’s move in with her and thankfulness as to how everything is going well.

Instead of the usual dramatic tension that comes with not knowing how things will unfold, music fleshes out and colours in the story’s drama through some rich orchestrations from violinist Annie Silva, cellists Dr Danielle Bentley and David Friesberg, along with Joel Woods on guitar and Patrick Farrell on bass guitar. This makes for a stirring soundtrack.

Production is tight, meaning that the show seems to be over in what feels like the quickest of times, such is its humour and the poignant honesty of all of its feels. Indeed, despite making such versatile use of the possibilities of the Roundhouse Theatre space, things still seem very intimate and emotionally moving in its prompt to ponder if perhaps it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Photos c/o –  Morgan Roberts

’81 fun

9 to 5 The Musical

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

May 22 – July 2

Based on the original 1980 film of the same name starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, “9 to 5 The Musical” is a workplace revenge comedy that follows the story of three women, each subjected to sexual discrimination and inequality in the workplace. Their takedown of male chauvinism appropriately begins, via pre-recorded video with Dolly Parton (who wrote the music and lyrics) herself, introducing the audience to the story’s leading ladies and taking us into its opening, iconic title song.

This is the world of 1981, complete with of-era mentions of Atari et al. Chauvinism abounds in the workplace with unequal pay, sexist jokes and a yet unnamed, but still very real, glass ceiling for female executives, which sets the scene for a gender battle between the three disgruntled office workers Violet Newstead (Marina Prior), Doralee Rhodes (Erin Clare) and new employee Judy Bernly (Casey Donovan) and their narcissistic boss Frankin Hart Jrn (Eddie Perfect), the president of Consolidated Industries.

Tired of being passed over, harassed and disrespected the three women take their revenge by holding their boss captive while they run company under his guise. Under them, things are transformed and productivity increases. The workplace literally lightens up with Tom Roger’s set and costume design taking us from the monochromatic office of Act One to splashes of ‘80s neon and a lot of fun. Indeed, design elements bring about much the musical’s experience. The stage, for example, is framed by a string of boxy of-era computers and smooth scene changes means things move swiftly, especially during a slickly choreographed hospital scene of many moving parts and bodies, both dead and alive.    

A perfect cast fronts an energetic ensemble. There is a good chemistry between Prior, Donovan and Clare, especially as they bond over their fantasies of enacting revenge on their sexist boss and they are all given independent moments to shine. Prior is sharp as the smart widowed mother Violet, constantly being passed up for promotion in the boys’-club world. Frustrated, but not bitter, she engages us with her wit.

Clare is wonderful as the initially-misunderstood sexy country gal Dorale, secretary to Hart. She captures her blend of warm optimism and no-nonsense comic timing, and her ‘Backwoods Barbie’ playful plea to not be judged by her looks, is vocally strong, with a lovely balance of light airiness and a nip of grit. And Perfect seems to be loving every minute of his time as the smarmy sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot boss, always attempting to seduce Doralee. One of the show’s comic highlights, however, comes courtesy of stage icon Caroline O’Connor’s antics as the infatuated Roz, culminating in the fantasy tango sequence ‘Heart to Hart’ in which she confesses her obsessive love and fantasies to Hart.

The star of the show, however, is Casey Donovan. In a departure from her previous musical roles, she plays Judy’s soft-spoken meekness to wide-eye perfection as she embarks upon her first foray into the working world after her husband runs off with his secretary. Donovan makes Judy’s change into a force of reckoning believable in the subtlety of its transition. Her Act Two power ballad, ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ is an emotional highlight, moving some opening night audience members to leap to their feet is deserved end-of-song ovation.

“9 to 5 The Musical” is a fast-paced, energetic slice of nostalgia. And while it may be a pantomime-ish delight, there is still a degree of substance through some of its still-unfortunately-ironic comments about equal pay for equal work and the addition of epilogues, again told through video appearance of Parton, in which it is revealed how the character’s lives progressed into the future. For all its silliness and occasional contradictions, there is a clear, overriding message of feminist empowerment, captured in numbers like Act Two’s ‘One of the Boys’, in which Violet dreams of being a female CEO and the earlier ‘Shine Like the Sun’ which sees the three leads’ voices blending beautifully.

With no songs as memorable as its catchy titular number, the soundtrack of “9 to 5 The Musical” largely blends together. Still, the musical preserves the key elements that made the original film such an audience favourite. It is full of iconic lines and moments to delight those who are familiar with the source material, and for those who aren’t, it is still a whole heap of fun.

Photos c/o – David Hooley

Schapelle circusry

Schapelle, Schapelle – The Musical (Century & Piano Room)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

May 24 – June 5

With a band dressed in tropical holiday garb, behind a XXXX-can perimeter, there is an immediate relaxed feel to Brisbane Powerhouse’s Underground Theatre. It’s time to pack a rashie and some Reef coconut oil to head off from Brissie to Bali as, after a sell-out season at the 2021 Sydney Comedy Festival, the smash-hit “Schapelle Schapelle – The Musical” makes its Brisbane Comedy Festival debut.

The fast-paced musical comedy is a satirical exploration of Australia’s weakness for media sensationalism, as told through the life of Schapelle Corby upon her arrest for drug smuggling in Bali in 2005. Fictionalised, but featuring pivotal actual events and verbatim elements, it is hyperbolic in its parodies from the very outset, with its caricature of the Corbys as an archetypal ocker Aussie family, especially ‘bogan Santa’ Mick (Mitch Lourigan), father to young, hot naïve Queenslander Schapelle (Kelsi Boyden).

But first there are the Walkley Wokley Press Association awards and the ambition of the Channel 19 news team when the idea of Shapelle’s story of being caught smuggling drugs in her boggie board in Bali, is pitched to the editor and chief, played by Mitch Lourigan. For at its core, this is what this musical is about and, accordingly, it serves as a reminder of how Australia loves to idolise a criminal… especially a young, white, pretty one. (When Corby’s story is pitched to the editor and chief, his first question is, “is she a looker?”)

While the divisive Schapelle’s 2004 arrest at Denpasar’s airport and subsequent trial, conviction, incarceration and eventual release forms the stimulus for expose of the country’s media circus scramble for the story, it is her sister Mercedes who is central to so much of this retelling as she rallies the Australian media while assuring Schapelle that she’s ‘got this’. And Ruby Teys is simply sensational as the manic, screechy knock-off Juicy Couture connoisseur Mercedes. Her never-waning energy and commitment to all-the-time open mouthed exaggerated facial contortions make her character an absolute standout. And along with some spot-on comic timing, she showcases some impressive vocals, including in her very funny ‘Big Sis, Little Sis’ song routine attempts to reassure Schapelle. A number that sees Mercedes going three rounds in an interview with Jack Dodds’ journalist Raymond, is one of the show’s strongest, featuring as it does, its two standout performers. Dodds does not miss a beat as Raymond and his early moments on stage as Schapelle’s brother and chip off the old man’s block Mick are absolutely hilarious.

If ever there were roles to overplay, this is them and the show not only leans in to but revels in them, presenting typical Aussie larrikin figures with which we are all familiar. Emily Kimpton shows her versatility as mother Roseleigh Corby and also Schapelle’s Bali Nine cellmate Renae Lawrence. Indeed, she gives a dynamic performance, particularly in her Act Two opener duet with Boyden about the panel beater and pageant queen’s friendship (until it wasn’t), which is a real highlight. And Alice Litchfield is unstoppable as a ruthless journalist and host of “A Current Debate”, especially is her switch from mania to amplified unflappable façade as the cameras are switched on.

The ensemble cast is a certainly a talented group. The musical’s book was written by Mitch Lourigan, Gareth Thomson, Jack Dodds and Abby Gallaway, with music by Jack Dodds, Gabbi Bolt and Tim Hansen, and Gareth Thompson providing lyrics. Things lag a little mid-way through Act Two as we are jumped into worries about Schapelle’s mental health in a hallucinatory sequence (including appearance of Julia Gillard and Lindy Chamberlain) in one of the show’s most upbeat numbers, but overall things move along quite well.

This is a lively and infectiously-energetic show. The witty, often tongue-in-cheek lyrics are very clever, especially in inserting early 2000s references, and director Abby Gallaway’s choreography is entertaining in its creativity. The on-stage band is banging and the musical score is catchy, featuring a range of genre-riffs from a gospel-like media journalist celebration of having the story and the marketability of its Ganja Queen, to a ballad of regret from Boyden as Schapelle lamenting the passing of her father. And Boyden is a strong protagonist, with the vibrant voice that is especially showcased in Act One’s ‘Bali’.

For all of its over-the-top campness, “Schapelle Schapelle – The Musical” is a cleverly crafted and obviously self-aware production.A play on the oft-mentioned “Rochelle, Rochelle the Musical” from “Seinfeld”, it is particularly clever in its punctuation of its fictionalised storytelling with recreation of some key actual events, such as Schapelle’s physical reaction to hearing the court’s verdict. What the show doesn’t do, however, is present a position on her guilt, focussing instead on lampoon of the exploitative journalism at the core of our country’s fascination with the story, at times, literally tap-dancing around its truth, whatever that may be.