Nothin’ but a rockin’ good time

Rock of Ages (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

October 5 – 27

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“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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Razzle dazzle drag

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical (Michael Cassel Group and Nullabor Productions in Association with MGM on Stage)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

September 26 – November 4

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Finally, after playing 135 cities in 29 different countries around the world, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical” has sashayed itself to Brisvegas for the show’s Queensland premiere season. Based on the now-iconic 1994 Oscar-winning Australian film, the musical is the story of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus in Sydney bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime. As audience, we join them for the journey in the broken down old bus they christen as Priscilla, as they ‘Go West’ to the back of woop woop and beyond, with along-the-way social interactions, mechanical setbacks and some surprisingly amusing roadkill.

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The reason for the journey is for Sydney-based drag queen Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose (David Harris) to visit his estranged wife, Marion (Adele Parkinson), the mother of his young son, Benji, by bringing his act to her casino, which will give Benji the opportunity to finally meet his father. Tick invites former Les Girls showgirl, transgender woman Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), whose husband has just died and also asks fellow performer Felicia (Euan Doidge) along for the ride, much to Bernadette’s chagrin. The unlikely friends may have been thrown together by circumstance, but it soon becomes apparent that their similarities are more than just skin-deep as all are desperate to escape the Harbour city’s club scene in some way.

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Like its big-screen source material, the show is filled with anthemic disco-era classic songs like ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘I Love the Nightlife’ and ‘Finally’, but also, comparatively a lot of narratively-unnecessary musical filler, starting with Miss Understanding’s (Blake Appelqvist) over-the-top drag take of ‘What’s Love Got To Do with I’. Even ‘A Fine Romance’ now seems like an unnecessary interruption to give dialogue-mentioned backstory as to Broken Hill based mechanic Bob’s (everyone’s favourite flamin’ galah, Ray Meagher of “Home and Away” infamy) nostalgia towards a years-ago Les Girls visit.

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Other additions, like a poignant ‘True Colours’ and rousing ‘We Belong’ realisation of the importance of family in all of its forms, are more effective, especially in ebbing and flowing audience emotions and cementing the tale as a first-and-foremost story about mateship, self-discovery and acceptance. Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Clé Morgan add much to the show’s songbook as the three divas who descend from on-high to lead chorus numbers with their powerful vocals, to which the drag performers lip-sync.

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All the music, however, is secondary to the spectacle of costumes on show. Indeed, this is a musical of much colour and movement, featuring an array of more than 500 costumes and 200 headdresses, often (as with dialogue) in nod to its on-screen origin and Australiana-with-a-twist theme.

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The costumes are across-the-board exceptional in their avante guarde over-the-top detail and little surprises and although, at times, it seems like Act One has a ‘going through the motions’ type feel, the way that a final tour stop show sometimes does, its ‘I Will Survive’ pre-interval number is a real highlight courtesy of its visual spectacle.

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Tony Sheldon returns to reprise the role of sassy and acid-tongued, but still classy desert queen Bernadette, one which has earned him both Tony and Olivier nominations amongst his 1800 times playing the role. Along with David Harris as Tick, he anchors the show with a poise that serves as effective contrast to Euan Doidge’s exuberant and energetic Kylie-come-lately Felicia. And together they banter believably like the family that they become.

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Along with the scathing wit of its dialogue, which is very funny, humour comes from the colourful characters encountered along the way en route to Alice Springs as light-hearted contrast to the attitudes and actions of homophobic locals. In particular, notable scenes come courtesy of Emma Powell as butch bogan Black Stump barmaid Shirley and Lena Cruz as Bob’s out-of-place wife Cynthia, complete with a popping ping pong number that even those already familiar with the film will find hugely entertaining.

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At times, it is easy to recognise this as a 10th anniversary celebration tour. Although the show is visually dynamic and full of fun, its colour and movement cannot compensate for the passing of time that has made its content more homogenised. While it may not be as spectacularly camp as when it first appeared on stage in southern states (and where I first experienced it at Sydney’s Star City Casino), this “Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical” is still a spectacle and a trip that many will want to jump on-board for, because what is not to love about a show that celebrates dancers dressed as pink paintbrushes and candled cupcakes amongst other razzle-dazzle displays.

All that razzle dazzle jazz

Chicago (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

September 29 – October 13

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Everyone knows six time Tony Award winning musical “Chicago”, if only from its 2002 movie. And it is little wonder; the Kander and Ebb classic has a score full of iconic, toe-tapping tunes in homage to the music of the 1920s. Its popularity is evident in Savoyard’s virtually sold-out season of the show prior even to its start. And after opening night, it is easy to appreciate why.

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Firstly, the company allows the show, first and foremost, to be about its music. The marvellous elevated orchestra (Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne) not only takes centre stage visually but is wonderfully showcased in both the overture and finale of the spirited show. And from the moment they lead us from overture to ‘All That Jazz’, as vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Joanna Nash) welcomes us to mid-1920s Chicago with tell of how she murdered her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together, we are well and truly in the mood, even if it is a somewhat sedate take of the seductive opener.

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It is not just the musical’s iconic status that is grand. And despite the production’s over 40 cast members, things never feel claustrophobic on stage. In fact, the ensemble numbers really shine in their razzle dazzle. And Act One’s ‘Cell Block Tango’ in which inmates describe the circumstances that led to their imprisonment, showcases Desney Toia-Sinapati’s creative choreography that allows its monologues’ punchlines to shine amongst expressive vocals without losing its Bob Fossey feel. And it is not only a choreographic style that is evident; costumes are era-evocative in their detail with art deco-esque touches to the dance attire of the Tango’s merry murderesses for example. Staging is similarly visually imaginative, especially in Act Two’s courtroom circus scenes.

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While the story is primarily of publicity-hungry murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Heidi Enchelmaier), in Cook County Jail competition to outwit each other and obtain more media fame, it is enhanced by its cast of supporting characters. In this instance, Danika Saal may not be all Mamma Morton sass, but she does do vocal justice to the saucy, show-stopping outline of the Matron’s mutual-aid corruption, ‘When You’re Good to Mama’. Joshua Moore makes for a youthful Billy Flynn (the very reason Hugh Jackman passed on the movie role). The masterful (but costly) lawyer seems more slick than suave in his shiny suit, but again, his vocals are excellent in unfeeling rather than charismatic croon about how all he cares about is his love of money (‘All I Care About’). Another less exuberant number comes from Roxie’s discarded, downtrodden husband Amos who laments his chronic invisibility in ‘Mr. Cellophane’. Rod Jones not only makes the solo wistful in sentiment, but manages the balance of pathos and humour required of the role.

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Ultimately, however, this is a show about celebrity criminals, Velma and Roxie. Heidi Encheimaier is excellent in conveying Roxie’s transformation from a nobody chorus girl ‘dumb mechanic’s wife’ to brassy, brazen celebrity after she murders her nightclub regular lover Fred.

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Encheimaier’s performance is not so much as a vulnerable little-girl-lost but a woman of single-minded ambition, and the result is compelling despite her character’s dislikeable self-absorption and her goofy animation as dummy atop Billy’s knee as her press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating her version of the truth while she mouths the words in ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’, is one of the show’s highlights. And she is superb in songs of her own voice too, especially in share of her narcissistic satisfaction with being the name on everybody’s lips in realisation of her fame fantasy, ‘Roxie’.

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While Roxie is trying to get to vaudeville, vampy Velma Kelly has already been a star there. And Joanna Nash is dynamic in her vibrant stage presence as the slinky vixen, both vocally and physically. Her singing voice is era-appropriately smoky but strong, and she moves about the stage with an infectious, lithe energy. This is especially evident in her desperate musical attempt to entice Roxie to refashion the sister act, ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’, in which she acrobatically recreates both parts of the dance duet, along with improvised musical accompaniment of saxophones and alike.

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“Chicago” is a solid-hit Broadway musical of the old-school sort, not just in its 1920s setting, but its sensibility of razzle dazzle jazz hands song and dance, even if its purpose is to satirise American values, corruption and cult of the celebrity criminal. While opening night of Savoyards “Chicago” suffers from some sound issues, these are minor and don’t spoil what is an entertaining evening for all, especially given its additional humour, such as is courtroom re-enactments of Roxie’s crime. Indeed, in its tribute to its music and libretto, under Sherryl-Lee Secomb’s direction, this “Chicago” is an over-the-top and whole-lot-of-fun night out in affection of the art of murder.

Photos – c/o Chris Thomas

In good Company

Company (Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Performing Arts)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

July 28 – August 4

“Company” begins with New Yorker Robert readying himself to spend his 35th birthday celebration in the company of his mostly married friends. The musical takes place in his head at the moment he’s about to unlock the door to his apartment for the surprise of his party as he mind is kaleidoscoped with memories of past conversations with his friends and previous dating experiences.

The 1970s concept musical, based on 11 one-act plays by George Furth tells its story through a series of vignettes (with birthday party scene resets often in-between) during which Bobby gets a glimpse into the reality behind his friends’ romances in realisation of the loneliness that his bachelorhood is masking behind his ‘drive a person crazy’ demeanour (as he is unflatteringly portrayed in song by three of his girlfriends).

Thde musical masterpiece about modern marriage and its ​discontents is the work of ground-breaking American composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim so it is a show that is all about music. Its polite soundtrack is full of eclectic songs, including classics like the fierce ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’, in replacement of any real plot. Revolutionary at the time as one of Broadway’s first non-linear musicals, it earned a record-setting 14 Tony nominations and won six Tony Awards, and, in the hands of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Performing Arts cast and creatives, it is easy to appreciate why.

Brilliant orchestrations (Musical Director Heidi Loveland) ensure that the soundtrack’s easy-listening melodies and crafted refrains remain with you in hum after its experience. The ensemble’s titular opening number is not only accomplished, but establishes a compelling musical charm thanks to the strong vocals of members such as Jarrod Moore and Patrick Connolly. As the story’s protagonist, Carlo Boumouglbay’s (in a role shared with Jerrod Smith) initial vocals seem to be timidly hidden under the orchestral accompaniment, however, his Act One closing wish for someone to ‘Marry Me a Little’ is deeply emotional and his voice belts out an urgent and gripping rendition of Act Two’s ‘Being Alive’ long for intimacy and someone with whom to share his life.

This “Company” is a polished production, featuring a number of stand-out performances, particular from its ladies. Chenaya Aston is memorable as Robert’s naïve, self-described dumb, flight-attendant girlfriend, conveying the perfect use of pause and extended beat for comic effect. And Grace Royle brings a more relatable humour to the role of sweet but self-confessed square Jenny, who after loosening up while stoned with Bobby and her husband David (Lachlan Greenland) remains happy with her ‘marriage and kids’ life choices. However, as is often the case with “Company”, Kyra Thompson steals the show with her marriage-phobic portrayal of the neurotic Amy, whose ‘Getting Married Today’ tour-de-force is one of Sondheim’s most arduous songs. Not only is her frenetic delivery of the demanding patter song’s mile-a-minute manic meltdown lyrics magnificent in its list of panicked reasons why she is not getting married to Paul today as planned, but her facial expressions and body language in anticipatory overwhelm make her whole performance utterly hilarious. Indeed, under Jacqui Somerville’s direction, the show’s entire entertainment value is enhanced by considered pacing, including the prudent use of pauses.

Despite its age, “Company” is still a very funny show in songs like the ‘The Little Things You Do Together’, in which the oldest and most cynical of Robert’s friends, the multiple-divorcee Joanne (Hannah Bennett) sarcastically tells the audience about the things that make a marriage work, and also in its drama. Its second scene, for example, in which competitive couple Harry (Alex Watson) and Sarah (Julia Pendrith) strike an interesting balance between both over-the-top and passive aggressive, contains surprising physical comedy and clever verbal quips as they literally face-off against each other in culmination of their relentless niggling about each other’s weaknesses.

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Notwithstanding its lack of a traditional narrative, Act One especially flies by. And while Act Two’s pace slows somewhat, it does open with the sensational number ‘Side By Side By Side’, followed by the up-tempo ‘What We Do With Out You?’ which, although out-of-place amongst the show’s other scenes, brings a bit of Bob Fossey type Broadway to the wider-than-usual Visy Theatre stage. With razzle-dazzle sensibility, the on-point chorus line choreography in its mid-number dance break is an absolute treat, especially given the rarity of its experience in such an intimate environment.

There’s no doubt that Sondheim is a genius, and “Company” is a testament to this. The score is stellar and the songs are at once witty and wonderfully beautiful. Their complex lyrics stand the test of time, meaning that although Sondheim wrote the music so early in his career, now nearly 50 years ago, it holds up well today, so that the show only needs the subtlest of updates (such as the appearance of mobile phones in a nightclub scene). And the attention to detail is another of this production’s merits. Costumes work well to establish the diversity of characters and lighting is effective in its perceived simplicity, such as when Robert is captured in multiple spotlights in his moment of ‘Being Alive’ realisation. The conceptual musical study of contemporary relationships may no longer be innovative, but is certainly still sophisticated and very enjoyable, especially when realised by a group of cast and creatives as good as this.

Some kind of wonderful

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 13 – September 2

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“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”, is as its title suggests, is a musical tribute to one of the greatest female singer-songwriters of all time. Everyone knows Carole King’s songs, maybe without even realising it, such is the extraordinary legacy of this ordinary woman’s immense talent. This means that the show has a wide appeal, allowing each audience member to bring their own memories to its experience. For me it is recall of Murphy Brown singing ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ to her newborn son and, from the guilty pleasure of “Dirty Dancing”, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, one of the first hits King wrote in partnership with her then-husband Gerry Goffin  for The Shirelles.

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The true story of Carole King’s extraordinary rise from behind-the-scenes songwriter to solo-act stardom opens with her first concert performance in front of an audience (at Carnegie Hall no less), following the multi-Grammy-award-winning success of her landmark second studio album “Tapestry”. The story then rewinds to her early days as a piano prodigy in Brooklyn, writing music after school before becoming a professional songwriter at 16. While studying at New York’s Queens College, King (Esther Hannaford) meets aspiring playwright Gerry Goffin (Josh Piterman). As their songwriting and romantic relationships soar, they produce a considerable number of the hits of the time for artists such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, The Monkees and more.

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The show is not just about King’s life and her ultimately tumultuous marriage however; especially in Act One, it explores the idea of song writing as a commodity through chronicling the competitive friendship between King and Goffin and song-writing peers Barry Mann (Mat Verevis) and Cynthia Weil (Lucy Maunder). The competition not only adds to the drama, but allows for a journey through the music of the ‘60s as the audience is also treated to Mann and Weil’s chart successes and iconic songs, distinctive in their sounds despite the era’s desire for formulaic homogeneity. The show’s period impersonations of the artists who sang the songs make for some memorable moments. Barry Conrad, Marcus Corowa, Nana Matapule and Joseph Naim make The Drifters’ ‘On Broadway’ a razzle dazzle high-point, while Jason Arrow and Andrew Cook soar ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ as The Righteous Brothers. And the live orchestration, led by Musical Director/Conductor Daniel Edmonds includes some entertaining arrangements, such a medley of sixties songs early in Act One.

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Direction is tight and the showcase of hit songs allows not only for quick scene transitions of Derek McLane’s slick design, but changes to hair and wardrobe to chronicle the passage of time through the decade of ‘60s sweet girl groups, boy bands, crooners, doo-wop and dance songs like ‘The Locomotion’. As the sensibilities of the time change, there is increasing instability in Goffin and King’s marriage and, after Goffin’s infidelity and mental break-down leaves King yearning into intermission with ‘One Fine Day, she finds her own voice in Act Two’s earnest description of the end of a loving relationship, ‘It’s Too Late’, in move towards “Tapestry” and her triumphant 1971 Carnegie Hall performance.

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While there are no weak links in the cast, this is clearly Esther Hannaford’s show; she is tremendously talented and it is easy to appreciate her Best Female Actor in a Musical Helpmann Award win. She is effervescent as the self-confessed ‘square’, Jewish good-girl with an old-woman sensibility, conveying a perfect balance of humility and empowerment. Like her accent, her imitation of King’s singing style is uncanny, both in big numbers like the up-tempo Act Two closer, ‘Beautiful’ and the pure and emotionally-honest reassurance of ‘You’ve Got a Friend’.

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“A good song makes you feel like there is a friend in the room with you”, a 16-year-old Carole tells her mother in response to suggestion that women should teach, not write, music. Luckily for the world, she stayed true to her calling to define a career of hits as a songwriter and later singer. It is an inspiring story that makes for a must-see show that is as entertaining as it is empowering, with some wonderful comic moments too, most notably from Jason Arrow as a pop-out Neil Sedaka singing his hit ‘Oh! Carol’ (named after King after the pair dated in high school) and from the smart comebacks of straight-talking, sassy Cynthia.

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In the case of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”, the ravers really are right; it is some kind of wonderful in every single way. Indeed, like a comfortable lazy Sunday afternoon movie that can be watched over and over again, it is a toe-tapping musical experience that immediately inspires a return visit for continued appreciation of its five 2018 Helpmann Awards, including the most coveted Best Musical.

Happy housewifery

The Real Housewives of Brisbane

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 24 – August 6

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Joanne (Jessica Meyer), Gillian (Babette Bellini), Lulu (Hayley Fielding), Beezus (Elizabeth Horrowitz) and Penny (Lauren Evans) are the equally loved and feared glamourous Real Housewives of Brisbane. One by one they introduce themselves at the start of the Brisbane Arts Theatre musical of the same name, in parody of the US media franchise of shows that document the lives of a city’s affluent housewives. In the true tradition of the franchise, one day the women are besties, the next day, enemies. And they all have secrets, beyond just their ages and details of their cosmetic works.

The story starts with the group taking time out of their brunching and ladies-lunching lives, to gather at on-the-outs housewife Poppy’s final soiree. The funeral home doesn’t only serve as the perfect selfie backdrop (#amen) but also the location of Poppy’s beyond-the-grave decree that Joanne is the new head housewife. Though the most senior of the ladies, Beezus is shocked, Joanne is not surprised at all; her life is so amazing that even she’s jealous of it.

The resulting narrative unfolds with authentic nods to the motifs of the guilty-pleasure genre that trashbaggery tv tragics will appreciate. On-screen snippets of interview/confessional moments punctuate the on-stage action to assist in transition between scenes and add an appreciated touch through their Brisbane scene backdrops to the ladies who are, of course, always plugging a latest endorsed product of the ‘face yoga mat’ sort. These form an integral component of the reality genre and therefore a necessary part of the storytelling process, however, once the backstory of the ladies’ complicated relationships, both within the group and with others, is shared, things move from the tv show structure to a narrative of its own making, albeit with some recognisable plot lines such as when, like Teresa from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” a Brisbane housewife and her husband are charged with fraud. Not only that, but there is the intrigue of infidelity and a rat in the ranks of the group, spilling their sex, lies and secret lives online.

Musically, the show is a mixed bag. The irreverence of songs with lyrics like “we tuck and then we nip… sometimes we skinny dip” suits the show’s fun feel, but, ensemble songs like ‘Bully Them Back’, as well Act One’s introductory number, fail to realise their potential due to a lack of collective vocal power. In solo numbers, there are some celebratory moments; Jessica Meyer finishes Act One strongly with sing of the tragedy of her life and, after intermission, Elizabeth Best delivers a strong, jazzy number to open Act Two to her fundraising charity Bitch Ball for deaf dogs.

“The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is full of funny moments and, of the ladies, Elizabeth Best is a standout as the straight-faced, cynical housewife-elder Beezus. In character contrast as Lulu, Hayley Fielding is also dramatically very good in conveying the cavalier ‘new-nose, new-you’ attitude of the always-medicated, newly-divorced housewife Lulu.

It is the supporting cast who are given the most to work with in terms of character though, and Reagan Warner and James Burton make a meal of even the smallest of comic opportunities. Proving his versatility, Warner goes from playing John Proctor in the theatre’s recent “The Crucible” production to becoming, amongst other things, a funeral director, apathetic shoe store worker, Moroccan spiritualist (because every Real Housewives season has a sun and fun vacation trip away) and most memorably an over-the-top fitness instructor leading an absolutely hilarious bouncing ball routine as a show highlight. Burton is similarly very funny in his various roles, particularly in show of lap dance boot camp moves as part of sex therapy with his Christian wife Penny, who remains oblivious to his flamboyance. Unfortunately, the men’s characters also showcase the dodgy wigs that seem to be trademark for an Arts Theatre show, though at least in this instance they sort of fit with the stereotypes that populate the parody.

Unfortunately, another staple of Arts Theatre shows seems to be sound issues and opening night of “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is no exception to this. Indeed, significant sound concerns sometimes detract from overall enjoyment, especially in Act Two where a chunk of time is spent with songs and dialogue shared in competition with crackling audio static.

Although not the slickest of shows, “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” has a tongue-in-cheek appeal that makes it perfect for an easy-to-watch girls night out. It is full of fun and comfortable humour with digs at Ipswich and the Gold Coast, and a cat-fight of course. Like the tv genre it parodies, it is a wonderful guilty pleasure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is, therefore, recommended as a very happy couple of light-hearted hours.

The reign of rebel rock

We Will Rock You

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 2 – July 28

“We Will Rock You” is an ambitious show, especially for an independent theatre company. Yet, despite the accordingly variable talent levels on stage, Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production serves as a treat for classic-rock fans.

The Orwellian-esque dystopian rock musical, which is filled with about two dozen Queen songs, takes place 300 years into the future of earth, now named the iPlanet, controlled by Globalsoft leader Killer Queen (a fabulous Natalie Mead), where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same, rock is unheard of and all musical instruments have been banned. Enter hero Galileo Figaro (William Toft), who just wants to break free and, after dreaming of a world with rock music, sprouts the lyrics of past songs without knowing their meaning or origin, including the first few lines of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (a device which adds much humour to Ben Elton’s tongue-in-cheek script, before becoming overdone).

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When the rebel is captured by the Killer Queen and her chief crony, Police Commander Kashoggi (Liam McDonnell) he meets the sassy, smartmouthed Scaramouche (Katie Rouston), another rebel thinker who won’t conform to Globalsoft’s ways so is mocked by her peers for just wanting somebody to love. After escaping, they team up with a rebel gang of Bohemians, including Brit (Mackenzie Kelly) and Oz (Row Blackshaw), who are searching for items they think will make a musical instrument.

It is a narrative of convenience to allow for inclusion of feature of some of Queen’s all time biggest hits because, as a jukebox musical, “We Will Rock You” is all about the music and while some members of the ensemble project a lacklustre lack of energy, there are a number of strengths from the lead performers.  William Toft brings an impressive vocal range to Gallileo’s songbook, rocking with bombastic sounds to the famous one-two-three beat of ‘We Will Rock You’, but also offering a soft, soulful touch in uplifting duet with Scaramouche, ‘You’re My Best Friend’. Row Blackshaw, too, is vocally very strong as Oz, but nobody else has the commanding stage presence of Killer Queen Natalie Mead, and not just due to her amazing costume pieces (costume design by Erin Tribble and Frankee Walker). She simply ignites the lyrics of the band’s first international hit, ‘Killer Queen’ with soaring vocals.

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Liam McDonnell gives his dialogue an appealing Riff-Raff-like sinister slink, but is underused in duet with Mead of the funky ‘Another One Bites the Dust’.  Mark Tuohy’s appearance as Buddy Holly, leader of the archeologically-clueless bohemians, whose literal interpretations muddle the mythology of the analogue past’s cherished artefacts, appears all too short. His wistfully reflective delivery of ‘These Are the Days’ equips the ballad with much melancholy, making the audience want to hear more of his smooth vocals.

“We Will Rock You” requires a big musical sound and in this regard the show generally delivers, although some sound issues affect the fluency of transitions. There are lighting lapses too, like missed spotlights and combining stage lighting with shine-out to audience during moments of musical emphasis which seems a little amateurish.

“We Will Rock You” has always been an audience favourite, since it opened in London’s West End in 2002 without critical acclaim. It’s certainly contrived and overlong, but still an enjoyable night out in either reminiscence of or introduction to the many beautifully crafted and unapologetically bombastic songs of the iconic four-piece hard rock band, even if the show has moved its setting to the USA and, accordingly, worship of Elvis rather than Queen lead singer and flamboyant showman Freddie Mercury as messiah. Indeed, as audience members clap, swap and sing along, it is clear that Queen’s kind of magic still reigns for many.