Musical mettle

Mettle, Moxie & Melody (Etch Events)

Cudo

May 15 – 19

Presenting a new musical as part of the annual Anywhere Festival is always going to be brace undertaking, especially in the case of a work like “Mettle, Moxie & Melody”, which from its start is pretty much sung straight through in full musical style for its first 20 minutes or so. Although the varying vocal skill of its performers means that some songs are in competition with the backing soundtrack, this initial section does serve to showcase the work’s potential as much as Merilee E’s standout vocals.

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Merilee E is Stella, an overqualified, underemployed phone sales worker who loves to write music. Along with young mother Renae (Courtney Farrar), realising that she can’t rely on her video-game addicted husband and Evie (a dramatically-strong Xoe Lee-Archer), whose budding romance results in family tension, she represents a modern day damsel-in-distress.

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Through the show’s opening song, ‘Something More’ we are introduced to each of them, before hearing more of their situations in turn. Fearless Evie is hoping for a ‘New Beginning’, determined that there is something more waiting for her, away from having to reveal her sexuality to her conservative mother. Renae is dealing with a sick baby as well as a distant husband. And Stella is living a half-life of KPIs and competencies in work towards realising the dream of a house on the hill with her husband. There are more complications to follow from their initially-established conflicts, but not until the outset of Act Two, rather than as enticement into interval. However, essentially this show is just their stories, exaggerated as the true experiences are, presented with the help of supporting characters from Clarise Ooi, Taylor Jean Day, Juanita Van Wyk, Anina-Marie Warrrener and Lawson Schafer in double husband duty.

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The music and lyrics (and also book), by local Brisbane composer Anina-Marie Warrener, feature a range of styles, from the moving ‘Lullaby’, beautifully delivered by Courtney Farrar to a random song and dance number, ‘Sales Zest’ about Stella’s need to suck up the humdrumness of day-to-day work and show some sales fizz. However, songs often stall around repeat of just one emotional idea, rather than progressing things along narratively, which, cumulatively, feels somewhat repetitive.

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“Mettle, Moxie & Melody” advertises itself as being about three strong young women discovering their inner dragons in a musical traversing marriage, sexuality and careers, and its clear female empowerment message is certainly appealing both in premise and realisation, even if we have to wait until the final number, ‘Once Upon a Time’ for revelation of the meaning of its cumbersome title.

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One of the great things about the Anywhere Festival is discovery of different venue locations around the city’s nooks and crannies. For shows like “Mettle, Moxie & Melody” there is also the benefit of its excellent value for money for a show of substantial length. It’s just unfortunate that its over advertised time run meant that on Thursday, at least, the last three scenes and songs were delivered in competition with the on-time show occurring in the next-door theatre space.

 Photos – c/o Gemma Lancaster

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The mix of mirrors and hearts

The House of Mirrors and Hearts (Kleva Hive)

Metro Arts, Lumen Room

May 15 – 18

Appropriately, the Australian premiere season of the chamber musical “The House of Mirrors and Hearts” features a set of mirrors centre stage. Also immediately clear is the heart of the narrative, mother Anna (Fiona Buchanan), who is clearly the vibrant centre of the family whose story the show explores… that is until tragedy strikes. Fast forward seven years and the mirrors no longer gleam she tells us in the ‘The Passing of Seven Years’; the family is now operating on the bitter brink of destruction, driven by secrets and lies. The arrival of a lodger, Nathan (Christoher Batkin) forces confrontation of the emotions that Anna and her daughters Laura (Bonnie Fawcett) and Lily (Abigail Peace) have been suppressing since the accident that changed their lives.

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Traumatised by what has happened in their history the three women are living a dysfunctional disaster of their own design, spiralling towards self-destruction. It is all quite sad really and it is a credit that the production doesn’t ever judge its characters, even if we do. Alcoholic Anna is now far from the caring mother established pre-incident, relying on ‘Something for the Pain’ to keep her sane. It’s a meaty role that Buchanan sinks her teeth into, however, the show’s standout performances come courtesy of her daughters, Fawcett as the quiet and introspective Laura and especially Peace as the brazen Lily, looking to dull her pain with meaningless sexual encounters and alcohol.

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There is a lot of drama to “The House of Mirrors and Hearts” and the on-point expression and movement of all cast members, not only conveys much feeling, but allows us to be taken, if only for short interludes, out its small stage space. Indeed, the cast of seasoned local performers, is excellent. The confines of the intimate Lumen Room space, does do a disservice to the show’s material though. While having a stage packed with props does work towards conveyance of the confusion that is at core of the family’s now-existence, having characters emerging and retreating to the side of stalls area, is somewhat of a distraction, especially early on when the passage of time is signposted by change of actors from Tyallah Bullock as Young Laura and Isabel Davies as Young Lily, to their contemporary selves.

The musical, which first opened to critical acclaim off West End in 2015, has a real “Blood Brothers” type of feel to its sensibility, infused with some humour. It is a challenge however, to go from solemnity to comedy and take audience members along with you and musically, the cumbersome rhyme of ‘Something for the Pain’ is not enough to make such a seamless transition. Perhaps it is because of the space restrictions, that the bawdy possibilities of this early Act One number are not fully exploited. Still, it is a memorable experience all the same.

Despite its dark themes, the live music, which comes courtesy of Pianist Kather Gavranich, Flautist Greta Hunter and Cellist Anna Brookfield, squashed together at back of stage, is beautiful and very different from your standard musical fare. But the score comes without any real standouts apart from ‘Something for the Pain’ which serves as a lonely reprieve from an otherwise apparently repetitive and bleak score. There are vocal highlights, including Fawcett’s Act Two soaring reflection on the beauty of breaking of things and when the ensemble harmonises in the song’s progress, however, varying vocal levels in both dialogue and songs sees some Act One lines lost even to those audience members in the initial rows.

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The biggest concern of the mixed-bag of a show, however, comes through no fault of this production. The plot is quite confusing with twist and turns not entirely straightened out. “There are truths told in the shadows” we are told in reappropriated reprise of Chris Kellet’s ‘Little Bird’ song. Indeed, the secrets of which the characters sing hang over every conversation meaning that the intrigue that veils over Act One takes too long to move from tension to problematic attempt at an unrealistic resolution.

Regardless of any issues in the show’s writing, “The House of Mirrors and Hearts” represents a wonderful undertaking. Kleva Hive’ musical theatre incubator program has provided a welcomed opportunity to bring a new musical work to Brisbane and we can only await their August show, “Salt”, a localised adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play “The Lady from The Sea”, complete with original Australian compositions.

Disney delights

Beauty and the Beast (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

May 3 – 25

Despite them being problematic from the perspective of modern political correctness, there is a huge affection from Disney musicals. This is evident not only in Phoenix Ensemble’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” enjoying a sold-out season, but from the start of show applause from the all-age audience members packed into the Pavilion Theatre’s new seating bank. The stage is bursting sometimes too with the show’s big ensemble numbers occupying all of the its space, even spilling into the stalls. But it all begins, after a quick opening flashback, with just the one… the Beauty of the title, Belle (Mannao Madar) showcasing share in song of her wish to live in a world full of adventure, like in her books.

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When her inventor-father, Maurice (Tony Paull) goes missing, Belle braves the woods in order to save him. When she discovers that her father is being held prisoner, she runs to his aid and confronts the captor Beast (Michael Mills), eventually courageously agreeing to trade places and become his prisoner instead. Those familiar with the Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name, from which it was adapted, know the story behind how the Beast came to be; he was once a spoiled prince, but has been placed under a spell. The occupants of his castle are also cursed and so now must suffer life as animated objects. So, the candlestick, Lumiere (a standout Jason Ianna) and stuffy mantle clock Cogswoth (David Morris) unite with others to bring the sweet but strongminded Belle and belligerent Beast together to break everyone’s curse.

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With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (Book by Linda Woolverton), the show features many gorgeous musical numbers, despite some occasional varying vocal levels. Madar is always poised as the vibrant and spirited Belle with a spectacularly strong voice that meets every challenge. As the Beast, Mills showcases some soaring vocals also, especially in his ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ lament about being set to stay a monster forever if he cannot open his heart. And as the Beast becomes more humanised early in Act Two, he adds some nice touches of humour.

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Particularly the male members of the ensemble work together to produce some stirring harmonies, evident in vibrant production numbers like ‘Be Our Guest’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Gaston’, the latter led by Elliot Gough as Le Fou. The song about the conceited cardboard character who vies for Belle for all the wrong reasons is an early highlight in its introduction to Josh Nixon’s appropriately over-the-top performance, all swaggersome stance and malpropismed dialogue, by character dimwittedness more than design.

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As the suave and debonair castle maître d’, Ianna not only maintains accent throughout, even in lead of ‘Be Our Guest’ as requisite almost-intermission after a long Act One big ensemble cabaret number, but his interaction with flirty former maid, now French feather duster Babette (Jaclyn Johnson) is an added treat. And his measured approach strikes a nice balance to the tightly-wound Cogsworth (#punintended) whose fusspot energy is almost too pantomime.

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With puns aplenty and occasional dialogue directly to the audience, there is a real pantomime feel to this show and the playful antics of the animated knickknack and whatnot household objects just wanting to be ‘Human Again’ are a real delight to younger audience members. Scenic design works well to capture the story’s otherworldly elements with seamless scene and prop changes. And though there is limited stage space, the dance numbers are not diminished. Indeed, Amy-Rose Swindells’ choreography sees realisation of some wonderful acrobatic fight scenes. Costumes are all abundantly detailed, with performers coping well with the cumbersome get-ups of the household objects, especially young Chip (Sam Johnson) who can only rely on facial expressions, all of which are fabulously responsive, to determine his scene involvement.

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“Beauty and the Beast” is a big and bold experience, full of colour, energy and movement, which makes it easy for its audience members to be captured by the magic of imagination and theatre in unite. When it took to Broadway in 1994, it was a spectacle the likes of which hadn’t ever before been seen on stage and in Phoenix Ensemble’s hands it is easy to appreciate how, since then, it has played more performances than the four longest-running Broadway shows combined. With bold, fantastic characters, beautiful music and just the right touch of charming humour, it remains beloved for a reason as delightful entertainment for audience members of all ages.

Goodes store goodness

Ladies in Black (Ipswich Musical Theatre Company)

The Old Ipswich Courthouse

April 26 – May 5

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The award-winning Australian musical “Ladies in Black” by Carolyn Burns and Tim Finn may be relatively new, but it comes with an acclaimed reputation. Accordingly perhaps Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s production of the work is enjoying a sold out season even before its opening night. And experience of the show confirms that this is for good reason.

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The heartfelt coming-of-age story is of a clever, bookish young woman, Lisa (Bailee Scott) working as a Christmas casual at the imagined Sydney department store Goodes in the 1950s while she waits for her Leaving Certificate results, and the lives of the other women workers she meets there. And through its pleasant presentation, it is easy to get caught up in its world, familiar though now foreign, as seen by the audience reaction to Lisa’s father’s response to her desire to go to university (for this is a time when girls don’t dream of education beyond maybe Teaching College or Secretarial School).

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Charming as the story is, however, what makes or breaks this show is its music. Matthew Semple’s Musical Direction is solid and the band does an excellent job in realising the challenging score, particularly given the venue necessity to have them doing so from a different room. And the songs are as joyous as even. Catchy melodies mean that tunes like ‘I Got it at Goodes” and the catchy, titular ‘Ladies in Black’ linger long after the show has finished.

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Tim Finn’s songs cover all range of musical styles, from the sway of melodic ballads like ‘Summer Afternoon’ to the energy of Broadway-esque ensemble numbers like ‘Pandemonium’, which is wonderfully choreographed to capture the madness of the January sales experience. They are all seamless in integration into the dramatic action and the comedy of their lyrics is very clever, with lines like “I just kissed a sweet Hungarian … he’s not like all those Aussie barbarians” (‘I Just Kissed a Continental’) and “They need a break from 9 to 5 and golf’s such a gripping game” (from the ockerish ‘He’s a Bastard’, which is always a hoot of a highlight).

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The cast includes some fine musical theatre performers, all well cast in their respective roles but also easily able to harmonise well together. Bailee Scott is perfect as the wide-eyed Lisa, and conveys an endearing comfort within the role from the very first share of her musical anthem using the words of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’. Though husbands and beaus appear, this is the story of the store’s ladies and in their respective roles, these actors all more than rise to the occasion.

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As the looking for love in all the wrong places but eager to settle down Fay, Harriet Jackson showcases a compelling voice, particularly in her Act Two duo with Phillip Fitzjohn as her ‘continental’ boyfriend Rudi. Lauren Roche, too, gives a memorable performance as the childless Patty, with revealing sadness behind her smile as husband Frank goes about his weekend pub visits and golf game routines.

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Danika Saal gives the ‘crazy continental’ European Magda of Model Gowns an endearing nature, rather than slipping into a ethnic stereotype as could so easily occur, which makes it easy for the audience to appreciate the appeal of her worldly lifestyle to the eager-to-experience-life Lisa. And Chris Kellett transitions in an out of his roles as Lisa’s traditional ‘when I say no, I mean no’ father and Magda’s adoring husband Stefan, with ease. Indeed, together Saal and Kellett present a genuinely delightful duo of the #couplegoals sort. And Fitzjohn is the best Rudi I have seen yet.

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With many, many musical numbers the task of staging this production is certainly an ambitious one and under Tammy Sarah Linde’s direction, it is an ambition well-realised, with good reinterpretation of the just as many scenes to account for space limitations. In fact, the work is only improved in some instances, for example in edit down of the post-interval Anna Karenina inspired dream sequence. The boutique production suits the subject matter and offers many highlights, including a stunning array of authentic 1950s frocks and alike. Even the few lighting false starts and microphone cue misses don’t detract too much from the overall impression. However, it is a shame that some of the action is difficult to see due to a combination of its presence on the stage floor and the lack of a raked stage in the heritage venue.

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This is a highly-entertaining show in all regards, experience of which flies by, even for those, like me, who have seen the show more than once before. While “Ladies in Black” is not particularly thematically innovative, in the Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s clearly capable hands, it is still full of feeling, musically well-realised and wittily presented, making it worth even a trip from Brisbane to experience its goodness.

Photos c/o – Kenn Santos

Virtually Victor victorious

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Victor Victoria (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

April 26 – May 11

After overture, “Victor Victoria” beings with a welcome of the “Cabaret” kind by resident performer Carrol ‘Toddy’ Todd (David Austin) at Chez Lui. It’s not Berlin, but rather 1930s Paris, where, we are told, there is no dream you can’t find. Toddy is the club’s flamboyant resident performer, clearly generous and with a heart of gold as he rescues down-on-her-luck, British soprano Victoria Grant (Jane Rapley). We are not in club long, however, as one of the production’s many efficient scene changes takes us to Toddy’s tiny apartment, where he has offered the penniless Victoria shelter from the wet wintry night. As a friendship is formed over tea, he comes upon a brilliant realisation: with a few superficial alterations Victoria would make a damn attractive man.

So the incredible decision is made to dress Victoria as a man and pass her off as the world’s greatest female impersonator from Poland to delight the whole of Gay Paree given her astonishing vocal range. As soon as the songstress find success in her new role, she falls for tough Chicago nightclub owner and implied gangster King Marchan (Michael McNish). He, in turn, is terrified to find himself falling for a man, so refuses to believe that Victor is as ‘he’ seems. Meanwhile his dizzy girlfriend Norma (Isabel Kraemer) is consumed by jealousy.

The musical comedy offers much of both aspects. Kraemer especially, as the shrill showgirl Norma out for revenge, gives audiences many laughs even during the lyrically lacklustre ‘Paris Makes Me Horny’. And when, by an unwelcome coincidence, King and Norma, and bodyguard Squash (Ryan Thomas) find themselves in the adjoining hotel suite to the newly successful Toddy and Victor, the ensuring “Noises Off” style cat and mouse physical comedy farce is a riot of missed opportunities, slammed doors and hidden-in-plain sight attempts to remain unnoticed.

Rapley is excellent in the complicated challenge of playing a woman playing a man playing a woman Although barely bedraggled in her initial struggle at the outset of the story, she is still delightfully endearing and vocally very impressive. Indeed, as Victoria, she is a victor, from her first song confide to Toddy ‘If I Were a Man’. Austin is charming as the genuine optimistic Toddy and the two have a great on-stage chemistry and rapport, best illustrated in their ‘You and Me’ song and dance number.

Although things are a little slow to start, Act One features the grand number, ‘Le Jazz Hot!’, which doesn’t really say much but introduces the immediate sensation of Victor to Paris café society. Despite some reoccurring out-of-step ensemble members detracting from its art deco-ish finesse, the big band centrepiece of the score makes for an opulent highlight. It’s an aesthetic that continues through to Act Two’s opener, when in Marie-Antoinette drag, Victor continues to take Paris audiences by storm in the patter song ‘Louis Says’, particularly noteworthy for its lavish costumes. Costumes are noticeably thematically considered throughout, such as when Victor meets and greets amongst a crowd of hued-pink apparel, however, musically, orchestration suffers from noticeably off-point brass sounds, from the outset of its overture.

While it is great to see an under-produced show such as “Victor Victoria” being embraced with such enthusiasm, it is troublesome nature is certainly apparent with its humour relying on the comedy of finding out someone is gay. Similarly, the way in which Victoria’s emancipation is viewed through modern audience lenses is not assured. Perhaps this is what makes it a guilty pleasure of a musical and while it may be an ambitious choice for a community theatre group, it is an ambition virtually realised in many regards, making it one of my favourite Beenleigh Theatre Group productions thus-far.

Still so rightly wrong

The Book of Mormon (Anne Garefino, Scott Rudin, Important Musicals and John Frost)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 16 – May 31

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The New York Times calls it “the best musical of this century” and Entertainment Weekly says it is “the funniest musical of all time.” Understandably the arrival in Brisbane of the outrageous nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” has been much hyped, in part due to its clever marketing campaign of reduced-price ticket lotteries and alike, but also due to good old fashioned word-of-mouth. Since seeing it in London five years ago, before “Hamilton” took to the top of the hottest show list and it was still one of the most elusive (and most expensive) tickets around, I have been one of its many ravers, equally abuzz with anticipation as the uninitiated audience members at the gala Brisbane opening night. And while it shows its age a little now, as satire so often does, it is still easy to appreciate how it stands as one of the most successful musicals of all time.

“The Book of Mormon” is the odd couple story of two mismatched young missionaries, Elder Price (Blake Bowden) and Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak) who are sent to Africa for the most important time in their Mormon lives … their mission. Naively eager to spread the divine word and help heal the world in a different place they are ill-prepared for the remote Ugandan village that they encounter, with its famine, poverty, disease and dangerous militia.

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Initially the villagers aren’t particularly interested in hearing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, until Elder Cunningham starts ‘Making Things Up Again’ to keep them from getting bored by his bible stories, reconceptualising the little he knows of the doctrine with his favourite pieces of science fiction and fantasy. Just as the missionaries begin to feel connected with the people of Uganda, the mission president comes to visit and the truth is revealed in full-throttle hilarity.

The highly offensive musical is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the creators of the American adult animated sitcom “South Park”. And in keeping with this, the show is utterly audacious in its gratuitous ridicule, pushing the boundaries between satire and stereotype in that “South Park” heyday way. It’s blasphemous, profane and very, very funny in dialogue and musical numbers alike as it makes light of various Mormon beliefs and practices, while ultimately endorsing the positive power of the church’s service. Despite its veneer of crudeness, the uncensored comedy is quite clever, often in its simplicity, down to the details of costumes and choreography, continuing even into the program. Indeed, it is a testament to the truly funny from start-to-finish experience that different versions of the same joke just seem to get funnier, such as each time that Elder Cunningham awkwardly messes up the name of his desired love interest Nabulungi (Tigist Strode).

“The Book of Mormon” is about more than just its shock value. Since its Broadway opening in 2011, it has received not just popular praise but critical acclaim for its plot and score. It is a highly-polished musical of international standard and its first 30 minutes are particularly tight, full of huge energetic numbers, starting with its catchy, upbeat opening sequence number ‘Hello’ in which doorbells chime as young missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints army practicing their spiels on mock doorsteps outside the church’s training centre in Salt Lake City, which sets a light-hearted tone.

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The show features a kaleidoscope of memorable musical numbers, often in lampoon of contemporary Broadway styles, such are the layers to its clever story craftedness. “The Lion King” is parodied and referenced, in ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ is the first truly vulgar song in the show which ends with members of the Ugandan community giving the finger to and screaming four-letter words at God. And ‘All American Prophet’ in which Elder Price testifies in a very abridged tribute as to how Joseph Smith came across the golden plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon, has a “Jesus Christ Superstar” feel to its orchestration.

Across soaring power-ballads, tribal singalongs and rock anthems, extravagant sets and choreography contribute to the world class production. Perhaps the musical’s biggest showstopper, ‘Turn It Off’, in which the young missionaries share advice on how to deal with dark thoughts (“Don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead”) comes completed with a razzle dazzle elaborate tap dance number. And when things seemingly can’t go much further, the surreal ‘Mormon Hell Dream’ sees a super spooky-wooky Satan and his minions of Genghis Khan, Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Johnny Cochran welcoming a worrying Elder Price to his perceived consequences for leaving his missionary companion all alone.

Direction is always sharp and the performances are all first-class. Bielak is masterful as the childishly exuberant Elder Cunningham, contributing much to the show’s high energy. The very versatile Blake Bowden is every part perfect, plucky Mormon poster boy Elder Price, conveying a presence even in his stature. He carries the show solo in the inspirational ‘I Believe’ proud announcement, when, after re-affirming his faith, he confronts the show’s violent warlord villain General with determination to convert him, belting out the key track with crisp, show-stopping vocals. Also of vocal note is Strode as Nabulungi, especially in her innuendo-filled soft-rock duet with Bielak, ‘Baptise Me’ and also Act Two’s ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ repreise and purely joyous evangelical company number ‘Tomorrow Is a Latter Day’.

“The Book of Mormon” is a difficult show to review because when it comes to praise it has all pretty much been said before. The ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical will not be to everyone’s tastes; it’s a very adult show and if you don’t like bad language it isn’t one for you. But if you are ready to forget your troubles for an evening and laugh until your face is sore, it’s a book that will change your life (#believethehype).

Alive and alight

Next to Normal

Brisbane Arts Theatre

February 23 – March 23

“Next to Normal” begins with a familiar modern family scene; suburban mother Diana Goodman (Carly Skelton) waits up late for her son Gabe (Christopher Batkin) and attempts to comfort her academically-anxious daughter, Natalie (Hannah Kassulke). Soon husband Dan (Adam Bartlett) rises to help prepare the family for ‘Just Another Day’. Yet their lives are anything but normal; bipolar mother Diana is at the edge of a serious relapse and her long-neglected daughter is rebelling in reaction.

Having seen the show previously, I knew that this was not going to be your standard fell-good musical, not just because of its complex and confronting themes, but its provocative lyrics and thrilling rock score. From overheard pre-show foyer conversations, it seems I may have been in the minority, meaning that while I was looking for repeat-viewing clues in its craftedness, others are able to experience its twists to full effect as Act One paces along with barely time to applaud after musical numbers.

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A critical and commercial success such as “Next to Normal” (it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but missed out on the 2009 Tony Award for Best Musical to “Billy Elliot”) is an ambitious choice for an independent theatre company, however, it is a risk that, in this case, brings great reward, largely thanks to the convincing performances of all cast members. Coming off the back of her 2018 Matilda Awards receipt of the Bille Brown Award for Best Emerging Artist, Skelton is compelling as grieving mother Diana, distanced from her dysfunctional family. Her nuanced performance comes as much from her facial expressions and body language, as her words. Indeed, it is one of power but also vulnerability and immense sadness. Her voice goes from soft and sweet to strong and forceful, with particular highlights including ‘You Don’t Know’ and ‘Didn’t I See This Movie’, when she reacts angrily to suggestion of electroconvulsive therapy by comparing the treatment to the lobotomies performed in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Bartlett is also excellent as the husband devoted to getting Diana better, even if he doesn’t know how, settling into the character in Act Two as he attempts to guide a post-treatment Diana back to the good times they had and maybe more. And when the two first sing together, it serves as evidence of this being one of the best Brisbane Arts Theatre shows I have ever seen. The show’s Tony Award winning rock-infused score is full of rhythm and energetic angst, brought to brilliant life by the show’s band (musical director Julie Whiting) and while the punchy anthem, ‘I’m Alive’, seems underdone in its power, this can almost be forgiven by the final, hopeful ensemble number, ‘Light’.

While there are some sound muffles and missed microphone cues, Daniel Benefield’s lighting is excellent in every instance, appropriate for a show in which light occupies place as such a significant metaphor. It effectively evokes both a warming nostalgia to Diana’s ‘I Miss the Mountains’ worry that her best years may be behind her and brings to vivid life her perceptions of her crazy rock-star therapist (Isaac Tibbs). Narratively it also supports transition from Diana’s hallucinations to return home from hospital to the stark reality a life she no longer remembers, working well in conjunction with Kiel Gailer’s simple but effective set design.

As a sung-through musical with only scattered lines, “Next to Normal” is a certainly a challenging production choice. Brisbane Arts Theatre has not only accepted the task but embraced its every emotional opportunity. Act Two, in particular, both captures your heart and wrings it out, even if it drags a little after the momentum of Act One, perhaps due to the show’s 8pm start time. Still there is no denying how profoundly moving this intelligent piece of theatre is in its capture of the conflicting emotions of complex issues. Under David Harrison’s mature direction, the show does not shy away from its confronting content, but is sensitive it its portrayal and despite the darkness of the story, its finale is alive and alight with hope. Still, the show comes with a content warning about is scenes surrounding issues of self-harm, grief and mental illness. If you do find anything within the show triggering, there is a list of services you can reach out to include in the program.