Frankenstein funnery

Young Frankenstein (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

February 1 – 23

“I’ve never seen it, but it is Mel Brooks so should be funny.” This is how I attempted to entice a +1 along to Phoenix Ensemble’s production of “Young Frankenstein”, the stage version of Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof. It is quite an apt summary actually; the musical is very Brooks and very funny in its witty parody of the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.

The story of “Young Frankenstein” (officially known as “The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein”) closely parallels that of its source text. Despite attempts to distance himself from his heritage, American professor of neurology Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced at his insistence as Fronkensteen) is lured back to Transylvania to settle his grandfather’s Victor’s estate. Once he arrives, he is tempted to stay by faithful hunchback, and grandson of Victor’s henchman, Igor (David McLaughlin) and yodelling-lab assistant Inga (Vivien Wood). Soon Frederick is lured to join the family business and repeat his grandfather’s experiment of implanting a new brain in the body of a giant corpse, thus enlivening The Monster (Brendan Dieckmann).


Along the way, there are laughs aplenty and the spectacle of ensemble song and dance number entertainment, such as the multi-styled ‘Transylvania Mania, a doozie new dance phenomenon invented on the spur of the moment to distract angry villagers from the sounds of the awakened monster. But the early highlight is when the duo of Frederick and Igor unite ‘like Ginger and Freddie… or meatballs and spaghetti’ in ‘Together Again (for the first time)’ a delightful send-up of a musical comedy double act number. As in this song, clever lyrics and mischievous rhymes showcase much of the show’s not-so-subtle double-entendred innuendo, which is also often enhanced by the nuanced looks and gestures of McLaughlin who is always on-point as Igor.


This is a dynamic group of performers who all convey an exuberant comic charm through their apparent understanding that comedy only works if it is played played straight.  As Frederik, Zach Price is pure musical theatre in both his vocals and physical style, particularly seen in his nervous awkwardness around the buxom assistant he has working under him (cue puns a-plenty, all intended), until his untouchable high-maintenance fiancée Elizabeth (Samara Martinelli) reappears on the scene. In complement, McLaughlin is a simply sensational as the impish sidekick Igor. All bug-eyed, bent-over and clown-like, he commands attention, even when as backdrop to the main on-stage action. His non-sequitur comedy and comments contribute much to the show’s hilarity, both in dialogue and song.

Fiona Buchanan’s performance as mysterious violin player Frau Blucher, the stern housekeeper of the estate, is also spot-on. She is not only hilarious in in her straight-faced intensity, but her Cabaret-esque tell of her past with the late Victor in ‘He Vas My Boyfriend’ is another genuine musical highlight. And while The Monster barely speaks a word, in Dieckmann’s hands, the character is a riot, especially as he progresses from pitiful to new-and-improved, in the top-hat-and-tails Fred Astaire-style tap number, Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. His barely coherent bellows are hilarious even in repetition and the eventual full ensemble chorus number stands strong as Act Two’s highlight.


Impressive harmonies characterise each of the musical numbers; the entire cast showcases excellent vocal abilities, not just in comic numbers but melodic songs like Act Two’s early ‘Listen to Your Heart’ from Wood as Inga. Musical numbers are also enhanced by Hanna Crowther’s quick choreography which interacts well with a simple scenic design that allows for some great gimmicky moments. Initially music competes with vocals in audience introduction to the villagers of Transylvania Heights in ‘The Happiest Town in Town’, however this soon settles to its place in support. Some microphone cue lapses and static also occasionally interrupt enjoyment, but these can be evenly forgiven given the otherwise overall excellence.


Unlike Brooks’ hit musical “The Producers”, “Young Frankenstein” is very much an ensemble vehicle and Phoenix Ensemble has assembled an absolutely stellar cast, meaning that experience of the show flies by in a well-paced flood of laughter and song. This is, indeed, a monster of a show and while it may be old-fashioned in its shtick, its energetic fun is so shamelessly silly that you can’t help be caught up in the madcappery of its high-quality low comedy. It is not often that audience members probably leave an amateur show already wanting to see it again, however, the funnery of experience of “Young Frankenstein” is so impressive that this is very much the case, in fitting with it being among the best amateur productions I have ever seen.


Four seasons and a hooray

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

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

January 2 – 20


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


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


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


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


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

JB2039_PhotobyJeffBusby-995x1024 (1).jpg

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


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


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

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby

Iconic encore

Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)

Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio

December 12 – 23 (and from 1 January 2019 at the Comedy Theatre)

The weekend before I went to the encore season of “Calamity Jane” at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, I watched the 1953 Doris Day/Howard Keel film (because… any excuse). It may not have been the best idea, given the western musical movie’s iconic status, however, ultimately, it doesn’t matter anyway because this “Calamity Jane” is very much its own totally tongue-in-cheek beast.


The setting is the Deadwood City’s Golden Garter Saloon, authentically created in the intimate Fairfax Studio space, which sees some audience members seated on stage as both as inn customers and an integral part of the show’s unique experience. “It’s immersive; you’ll get used to it” Calamity (Virgina Gay) tells one audience member early on in the show. We do and we love it, for this “Calamity Jane” is an absolutely joyous live performance in every regard.


The spontaneous performance is certainly random at times, particularly of its with dance inclusions and even Inception-like moments, like when visiting performer Francis Friar (Rob Johnson) arrives at the saloon to perform an audition song “from the musical Calamity Jane”. But it is all part of the infectious ‘just go with it’ philosophy that is so much of the show’s all-encompassing appeal.


At its core is, of course, is faithfulness to the characters and story assumedly (by the audience demographic), still loved by young and old alike, of the 1961 stage adaptation of the Academy Award winning movie musical. The legendary far-from-lady frontierswoman of the old American west, Calamity Jane (Virgina Gay) travels on the Deadwood stage to Chicago to fetch the star all the Deadwood City townsmen want, Adelaide Adams (Christina O’Neill). Instead she brings back Adelaide’s maid, aspiring performer Katie Brown (Laura Bunting), pretending to be the star. When Katie falls in love with Calvary lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (Matthew Pearce) who is Calamity’s sercret love, all sorts of shenanigans ensue on way to a conventional happy ever after ending for all.

This a very funny show, especially in its overt examination of the interplay of power and gender, and its increasing innuendo regarding interpretation of Calamity’s feeling for Katie, which crescendos in an after-show wedding party in the foyer where the subversive subtext exploited in the story and characters, becomes text. Seemingly so finely-tuned are the cast in work together that they not only comfortably incorporate ad-lib moments, but also make scripted dialogue seem spontaneous.


Despite Gay’s wonderful, physical, fearless, often clown-like performance, things are not all high energy madcapperty. The score (musical direction by Nigel Ubrihien) is quite simple and the soulful, folk-like ‘Black Hills of Dakota’, for example, provides a beautiful respite from other antics. All cast members are on point, even playing most of the instruments, including trombone, tuba and guitar, however, undoubtedly and deservedly this is Virgina Gay’s show.


Gay is a charming, awkward, expressive and endearing heroine, with comic nuance down to even her every glance. Indeed, in reprise of her award-winning portrayal as the feisty but transparently vulnerable Calamity, she absolutely owns the stage, but still has a wonderful love-hate bickering interplay with the softer than usual gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Anthony Gooley bringing a wonderful stage presence), in classic romantic comedy style.


When it comes to this “Calamity Jane”, since its initial Hayes Theatre run, the ravers, it seems, really are right. Under Richard Carroll’s inspired direction, the combination of its many outstanding elements make this show a dynamic delight and it is easy to appreciate the whip-cracking speed with which its encore season shows have sold out. Now it just needs to tour to Brisbane so I can both see it again and share its joy in my own raving.

Evita artistry

Evita (Opera Australia, John Frost and David Ian)

Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre

December 5, 2018 – February 23, 2019

Opera Australia’s production of “Evita” starts slowly, but understandably so given that it begins with us witnessing the 1954 state funeral of enigmatic Argentinian icon Eva Peron (nicknamed Evita). It’s an appropriate opening for a show that at-once tells a personal and political story, emphasised by the incorporation of real-life video content (design by Duncan McLean) as testament to the extent of Evita worship that is still so much a part of the emotion and iconography of experience of Argentina (where the musical has been banned).


From this opening, the recreation of the original West End and Broadway production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” then takes the audience back through Eva’s (Tina Arena) story from poverty, leaving her family as a teenager with tango singer Agustin Magaldi (Michael Falzon, with a wonderful stage presence) and through life as a fledgling actress to her self-determined assent to status as a still-revered figurehead and symbol of hope for Argentina’s working class as the second wife of President Juan Peron (Paulo Szot).


Under Guy Simpson’s musical direction, the orchestra is masterful, meaning that the score stands the test of time, with addition of ‘You Must Love Me’, written for the 1996 film version. As highlight, the percussive ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’ provides a pop of colour and militaristic movement before the bombast ‘New Argentina’ rallies into intermission with a big and bold company number. The score also affords memorable tender moments too, like the duet between Eva and narrator Che (Kurt Kansley), ‘High Flying Adored’, in which the price of her fame is analysed.


While her Eva is one of ambition more than vulnerability, making it difficult to elicit empathy from the audience, Tina Arena brings a big touch of star quality to the production. Her performance is passionate, both dramatically and vocally. She makes ‘Buenos Aires’ and ‘Rainbow High’ her own and is of beautiful voice in Act Two’s show-stopping ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ in recognition of the song’s stately orchestration, stirring refrain and also melodic vulnerability. Indeed, it makes for a breathtaking moment as she strikes iconic pose on the balcony of Casa Rosada, backdropped by of-the-time footage of a sea-like crowd.


Although this is Eva’s story, it is the charismatic narrator Che (in this production visually based on famed revolutionary and guerrilla leader Che Guevara, more than as an anonymous everyman) who also spends significant time on stage. Kansley is also vocally excellent, as both Eva’s conscience and the voice of the people, ensuring that the audience is given the ‘authentic’ story of the nation’s ‘spiritual chief’. And Brazilian opera singer Paulo Szot is a commanding vocal presence as the presidential Peron.


“Evita” is a show full of detail, meaning that some knowledge of the story is advisable for audience members. This also allows for appreciation of its accompanying historical images, such as newsreal footage from the Peron’s 1947 goodwill ‘rainbow’ tour of Europe, fresh off Juan’s presidential election win. Clever mid-scene costume changes also add interest, such as when a crowd of Argentine elite in judgment of Eva’s chorus girl ambition is morphed into members of the working class masses adoring of her as advocate of labour rights and charitable championing. Makeup and lighting also work well, particularly in enhancement of Arena’s poignant performance, which aids immensely in helping us regard her as a dying woman being ravaged by cervical cancer at just 33.


As with its introduction, “Evita” ends soberly, with mourners gathered around Eva’s deathbed. While this does detract from its experience, given the unusual feel of not leaving a musical buoyanted by its final number or encore, it does not diminish the all-around artistry of this homage to the life of the first lady of Argentina.

Anniversary score!

Oklahoma! (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

November 16 – December 1


If there is one thing people know about Rodgers and Hammerstein, it is that they wrote incredibly catchy songs. This was the case from the musical theatre writing team’s first collaboration “Oklahoma!” and the enduring popularity the show is certainly evident in the capacity audience at Beenleigh Theatre Company’s 40th Anniversary production.

Under Conductor Julie Whiting, the 13-strong orchestra soars the audience through the musical’s memorable melodies in its lush and full overture, as its strings glide us into the opening scene of a golden hazed meadow with corn as high as an elephant’s eye. Even with the buoyancy of ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’’ and ‘The Surrey with the Fringe on Top’, however, it takes a little while for the show to find its feet and natural dialogue rhythm of pace and pause to move the story along.

The ground-breaking musical presents a classic narrative: in 1906, in the Native American Territory that wouldn’t become the state of Oklahoma until later that same year, two men, cowboy Curly McLain (Connor Hawkins) and farmhand Jud Fry (Lachlan Clark), fight for the affections of farm girl Laurey Williams (Samantha Paterson).

The book musical evokes a range of audience emotions, including laughter. Allison Pattinson’s comic timing as the no-nonsense, respected community leader Aunt Eller sets this tone alongside Josh Cathcart’s simple, sprightly Will Parker who, having just returned from Kansas City, is full of happy-go lucky youthful exuberance in his quest to keep 50 dollars in his pocket to be allowed to marry the ‘Can’t Say No’ young Ado Annie (Terri Woodfine). Woodfine herself has perhaps the most fun on stage as the flighty, feisty Ado Annie who is in the terrible fix of trying to decide between cowboy Parker and a Persian traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Mike Zarate).

The significance of “Oklahoma!” as a musical milestone in its integration of songs and dances into the story often leads to consideration of only its quaint numbers, however, it is a show full of dark undertones. Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Oklahoma” touches on this, through presentation of ranch hand Jud as more menacing outsider than misunderstood loner. Despite his fearful character, however, Clark allows his voice to shine through. Equally excellent, Hawkins brings a naturalness to his moments as the affable and charming cowboy Curly. His rich and resonant vocals are reminiscent of matinee-idol Howard Keel himself and they provide a solid base for blend with Paterson’s accomplished sound in the romantic duo’s playful duet, ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’.

Ultimately, “Oklahoma” is all about the music and some songs work better than others and are rightly reprised. While ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ sets the sunny tone that sweeps the audience into the score, ‘Poor Jud is Dead’, where Curly goes to the squalid shack where Jud lives to talk with him, is despicable in content, with Curly’s suggestion that since Jud does not feel appreciated, he could hang himself. Not only does the scene potentially stand in direct contradiction to any unknowing audience expectations of lightweight entertainment, but it drags an already-long Act One out even more.

Act Two emerges as a livelier affair, uplifting, warm and full of infectious energy. While its fight scenes sometimes fail to connect (#literally), there is much wit to its rousing, brass-filled opening chorus number, ‘The Farmer and The Cowman’. Indeed, the second act zings with humour and song, including the titular celebration of the territory’s impending statehood, which stands as a show highlight thanks to Hawkin’s gusto lead vocals.

Although lighting evokes the varied emotions of the end-of-Act-One dream becoming nightmare sequence that sees a confused Laurey imagining a life with Curly and then Jud, its leisurely choreography is now more nostalgic than innovative. Though not a choreographic highlight like the social dance inspired ‘The Farmer and The Cowman’, the dance still tells a story, so remains necessary for the narrative’s progression.

Although the show is longer than the usual musical length, at over three hours duration, Act Two’s action at least zips along under Mardi Schon’s direction. As such, the tribute to the American frontier seems very much like a show of two distinct halves, dark and torrid subtext and folksy romanticism and optimism of community spirit. The poise between respect and irreverence may not convey a precisely defined vision, but the show’s stylish orchestrations provide a fitting homage, contagiously celebratory in its special anniversary conclusion which, in matinee performance, saw many of the Group’s 1978 cast members joining on stage with the large cast of contemporary counterparts.

Always right on Q

Avenue Q

Brisbane Arts Theatre

November 10 – December 22

Before there was “The Book of Mormon” the equally delightfully-offensive “Avenue Q” was wowing musical audiences with its witty combination of childlike whimsy and adult issues. The hilariously vulgar puppet show of sorts features similarly skilful lyrics in its balanced and catchy soundtrack, from the upbeat catchy sounds of ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ to the sentimental reflections of ‘I Wish I Could Go Back to College’.

We first meet just-graduated with a B.A. in English, puppet Princeton, he is longing to find his purpose on Avenue Q, a fictional street in an outer-outer New York borough. His neighbours include a number of fun adult and puppet characters, from the sweet Kate Monster to the offensive, reclusive internet-obsessed Trekkie Monster (and no they are not related – you racist). As if living under the control of superintendent, Gary Coleman (Natalie Mead) isn’t enough, everyone is struggling with the challenges of life; slacker Nicky and his best friend, Republican investment banker fusspot Rod (who is totally not gay) are having Bert and Erniesque roommate issues, while Princeton’s romance of kindergarten teaching assistant Kate is shaken by skanky chanteuse Lucy the Slut and the temptations encouraged by a couple of bullying Bad Idea Bears.


The foul-mouthed puppets are operated and voiced by neutrally dressed puppeteers, who are always in full view of the audience, mingling with three human actors. However, the strength of the puppet characterisation and the complexity of their unobtrusive operation mean that the audience quickly forgets about their operators. The cast delivers superb character performances, clearly comfortable multitasking across multiple roles (and multiple puppets). Joshua Moore is particularly effective in his animation of the Ernie-esque Nicky and Cookie-Monster-type Trekkie.

The three ‘human’ characters Christmas Eve (Jordan Boyd), Brian (Matt Shield) and Gary Coleman (Natalie Mead) integrate and interact with the puppets with ease. Mead, in particular, nails the sarcasm of her Gary Coleman both vocally and physically. William Toft and Kate Routson are lovely together as protagonist couple Princeton and Kate Monster. Routson’s sweet and tender vocals suit the pure sunshine of her idealistic puppet character and her Act One closer, ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’, in which she responds to commitment-phobic Princeton’s panic with a vow to no more waste her time, serves as a wonderful illustration of this

As with its format, the show’s colourful staging serves as a tribute to familiar children’s shows with a Sesame Street sidewalk of exposed brick New York terraces, however, familiarity with the homage is not essential to the entertainment value of the show. Similarly, dated jokes of a time when the internet was only on desktops and Gary What-you-talking-about-Willis Coleman was still alive still come across as funny. Clever and quirky details also add visual interest throughout, while some details (cue extended, energised puppet sex scene) can never be unseen.

Despite its raunchy hilarity, from its magical opening number, there is a warmth and humour to “Avenue Q”. And it seems that it’s a combination that right up Brisbane’s street, with the loveable furry friends making their fifth and final (for now) outing as one of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s biggest hits. As winner of the ultimate Tony Award trifecta of Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book, the irreverent show is a clever and engaging must-seem perfect for the whole family… if you are okay with your kids seeing full puppet nudity, hearing naughty words and witnessing a furry sex scene. See what the fuzz is all about again until December 22.

Nothin’ but a rockin’ good time

Rock of Ages (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

October 5 – 27


“Rock of Ages” is a jukebox musical built around classic rock songs of the 1980s (especially those of the glam metal bands of the decade), curated together to fit the admittedly-thin narrative. It may not be a musical for the purists, but, in its celebration of rock and roll excess, in Phoneix Ensemble’s hands, its experience is nothin’ but a good time.

It is 1987, in the city build on rock and roll. Along Los Angeles’ famous Sunset Strip, the fictional Bourbon Bar celebrates rock ‘n’ roll debauchery as the lifestyle of dreamers. Busboy and aspiring musician from South Detroit, Drew (Adam Goodall) just wants to rock, but every musical needs a love story so enter innocent small-town Kansas girl Sherrie (Jayde Bielby). Of course Drew has been waiting for a girl like her, but before a budding romance can begin, she engages in a bathroom tryst, wanting to know what love is, with rock god Stacee Jazz (Stevie Mac).


When Act Two opens, it is the final countdown for the bar with German developers scheming to tear down the strip’s district. The paper-thin premise brings with it one-dimensional characters such as washed-up rockers Lonny (Scott Johnson) and club owner Dennis (Frog Johnson) as protagonists against the cartoonish German villains Herz (Joel Mikkelson) and his song Franz (Beau Wharton). Indeed, the realest thing about the show is the talent of many of its performers.


Goodall and Bielby are well-cast, bringing a genuine likeability to their protagonist roles. Jacqui Power makes for a fierce Regina, tough and passionate in her bohemian activism and blistering in her vocal lead of ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, while as the owner of the strip club at which Sherie accepts work, Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga is vocally thrilling. Indeed, her ‘Shadows of the Night’ mashup with Bielby’s ‘Harden My Heart’ is an Act One highlight.


Scott Johnson is simply sensational as energiser-bunny narrator, Lonny. His energy never wanes in the demanding role which rarely sees him off stage and while his knowing parody delivery is well timed for maximum comic effect, his rough-edged vocals are also perfectly era-evocative. And Stevie Mac smoulders as the more-swagger-than-substance egomaniac Stacee Jazz, slinking through his solo, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ with Axl Rose/Bret Michaels electricity.


But every rose has its thorn and occasional microphone lapses sometimes take the audience out of the show’s moments. Otherwise, the aesthetic is on-target, apart from a rogue 1990s Incubus band t-shirt. Indeed, the production’s use of the Tin Shed space shows that it is not the size of the theatre, but what you do with it that counts. The band appears on-stage amongst scaffolding that not only gives the setting some grunge, but effectively allows for multiple cast entry and exit points. The choreography is far from ground-breaking in its simulation of the era of excess’ moves, but it is full of energy, even within its limited stage area.


Silly story aside, “Rock of Ages” is all about the music, packed full, as it is, of rock anthems and warm and fuzzy big-hair ballads alike. In each and every song of its 22 long setlist, the band (Musical Director Nick Ng) brings it, pumping out songs of the Whitesnake sort along with lighters-in-the-air Foreigner-type ballads, live and loud as they were meant to be experienced, even if initially it is at volume that sits atop rather than in support of the singing voices.

Comedy comes from rock ‘n’ roll antics, fourth wall breaks and audience interaction, mostly from narrator Lonny, but also from the deliberately over-the-top, campy characterisation of Beau Wharton as Franz from Hambug, especially in his crowd favourite number ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’. Be warned though, even though there is even a jazz hands number, its content is often of adults-only type innuendos.


As is often the case with community theatre, the cast represents a mixed bag of performance talent, however, all have an infectious, spirited energy. A show that doesn’t take itself too seriously often brings with it an automatic sense of fun and this is certainly the case with this take of the mega rock musical; you will know the lyrics and want to sing along, such is its nostalgic musical appeal.