R&H homage

The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein (Lynch and Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

October 15 – 16

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein were two of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Together, they created 11 musicals amongst a body of work in the 1940s and 1950s that has become known as the golden age of musical theatre. More so than any composer and lyricist who have written for the stage, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs have become standards of musical theatre repertoire and celebration of some of these beloved tunes is at the core of Lynch and Paterson’s “The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein”, which sees these treasured musical theatre songs performed alongside Cadenza Chamber Players.

From the outset, the concert’s overture sweeps us into the mood for its melodies as we are reminded of the smash hit songs from the duo’s string of hit musicals such as “The Sound of Music”, “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel” and more. The musical sensibility is also clear from Act One’s outset with soprano soloist Samantha Paterson connecting immediately with the audience in a lively ‘Getting to Know You’ from “The King and I”. Indeed, the light-hearted charm that typifies a musical’s appeal is evident throughout, from the playful whistling of a happy tune to the in-turn vocal sequencing of musical tones to each performer in ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and its exploration of the major musical scale. And then we are taken to the South Pacific with mezzo soprano soloist Meg Hamilton leading ‘Wonderful Guy’ with humour, heart and vigour, before the male chorus launches into the playful and plucky companion number ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’, further reminding the audience of the unique fusion of Rodgers’ musical comedy and Hammerstein’s operetta that characterise their work.

Bringing Broadway’s legendary musical showstoppers to life, is a cast of four dazzling vocalists and a powerful professional chorus. The lead vocalists, Samantha Paterson, Meg Hamilton, Travis Holmes and Elliot Baker are talented and charismatic. In particular, tenor soloist Holmes is a resonant presence. His ‘Soliloquy’ from “Carousel” in which the now-jobless antihero reveals his inner passions and fears upon learning he is about to become a father, is an epic musical monologue of humour and pathos and he handles its emotional transition with aplomb, connecting with the audience through his strong, but also sensitive voice. Its resulting momentous applause could well be the show’s highlight… until his climatic ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ from “The Sound of Music”. The inspirational song about discovery and following one’s dream is delivered with a vocal drama that complements its slow musical build from hopeful searching to rewarding happiness. And Elliot Baker’s rich baritone sounds effortless wrap themselves around ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, making the love-at-first-sight song, smooth, but also sincere, in its romantic sentiments.

The cast’s voices combine to produce some wonderful harmonies, such as in support of Hamilton in ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and then all together in encore of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from “Carousel”. It is an appropriate ending, not just due to its dramatic display of complex harmonies but its essentially optimistic message. The emotional peak of Act II in “Carousel” has become a global anthem that strikes a chord during tough times, reminding of the resilience needed. It is a hopeful and emotionally-impactful punctuation of the soaring scores that occupy the bulk of the show’s two acts.  

The Cadenza Chamber Players orchestra conducted by Lucas D. Lynch makes every number lushly memorable, whether it be playful or contemplative in tone. And its string section of violins, viola, cello and bass fuse together to deliver some especially exquisite flighty sounds in later “The Sound of Music” numbers. Strong production values also see Tom Dodd’s lighting design complementing the sentiment of the themes on show, twinkling us into the enchanted evening and warming us into the bright golden haze on the meadow of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, as Elliot Baker shares Curly Mclain’s enjoyment of a wonderful day out West in “Oklahoma!”

The timeless music of Rodgers and Hammerstein changed theatre forever and Lynch & Paterson’s sophisticated production serves as a reminder of the duo’s cement of iconic status. The joyful homage is also a showcase of the talents of some magnificent vocalists and the stunning live orchestra of Cadenza Chamber Players. Its only disappointment is that there are only two performances.

Golden ticket treat

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (John Frost for Crossroads Live)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

September 2 – October 3

After being within days of opening night at the start of pandemic lockdown #1 last year, the achocalypse of multi-Helpmann Award nominated musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has finally made it back to QPAC, and as experience of its magical wonder reveals, it has certainly been worth the wait.

The fanciful story starts with Willy Wonker (Stephen Anderson), the eccentric owner of the Wonka Chocolate Factory, explaining to the audience that he’s searching for a suitable successor to run his empire (‘The Candy Man’), which he will do, it later emerges, through running a competition that will see five golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars across the world. With Wonker working in disguise at one of the global brand’s small stores, initial songs run through without much dialogue as interlude as the audience is also introduced to the story’s protagonist, Charlie Bucket (Flynn Nowlan on opening night, in a role shared with Phineaus Knickerbocker, Cooper Matthews and Edgar Stirling) and his poor family’s life of cabbage soup, Grandpa Joe’s (Robert Grubb) tall tales and Charlie’s dreams of inventing the next big thing in confectionary.

Then, as the story works its way through Act One, there is revelation of the five all-access golden ticket winners from around the world, who, along with a parent, have opportunity to tour Wonka’s factory. There’s the gluttonous Bavarian beefcake, Augustus Gloop (Jaxon Graham Wilson) and his mother (Octavia Barron Martin), the tenacious, pampered Russian ballerina princess Veruca Salt (Karina Russell) and her always-obliging father (Simon Russell), the self-absorbed social media celebrity and self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Pop’ (in nod to her gum-chewing) Violet Beauregard (Tarisai Vushe) and her enthusiastic father manager (Madison McKoy), the angsty tech-addict gamer Mike Teavee (Taylor Scanlan) who hacked his way to receipt of a golden ticket, along with his neurotic suburban housewife mother (Johanna Allen); and eventually, Charlie and his Grandpa Joe.

Staging is cleverly compact, initially at least, in creation of the Bucket’s home, where Charlie and his widowed mother (Lucy Maunder) live with Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine (Katie McKee), but also Grandpa George (James Haxby) and Grandma Georgina (Ana Mitsikas).

Monograms are cleverly woven into the design, not just in the façade of the Wonker factory, but into Charlie’s ramshackle residence, Violet’s velour tracksuit and the Louis Vuitton pattern that backdrops Veruca’s appearance. And then, in Act Two staging is all colour and movement as it takes us on a mesmerising joyride through the incredible inventions within the chocolate factory.  

The resulting first appearance of the Oompa-Loompa factor workers, imported by Wonka direct from Loompaland, becomes a real highlight, drawing joyful reaction from those unfamiliar with the on-stage version of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1964 children’s novel. It is to everyone’s delight that they appear a number of times during Act Two to sing about the children’s poor behaviour.

Visual effects also provide a little bit of magic, especially around the dynamic introduction of Mike Teavee with accompanying technicolour chronicle of his mother’s ‘50s housewife style of substance use in attempt to cope with Mike’s cyber antics. Also, when Mike’s obsession with electronics overcomes him and he is shrunk down to the size of a chocolate bar after being sent into Chocolate Television, projections show him jumping from screen to screen in full video game mode.

Japhy Weideman’s lighting design similarly works well to razzle dazzle us as required, such as when Charlie’s discovery of a golden ticket after buying a Wonka Bar with some dropped money, sees Grandpa Joe determining to get out of bed for the first time in years to accompany him on the factory tour (‘I’ve Got A Golden Ticket’). And Mark Thompson’s costumes design takes us from the sad patchwork fabric of Charlie’s day-to-day life, to the ostentation of Wonker’s wonderland.

Nowlan gives a perfectly-pitched performance as the good-hearted Charlie, humbly sniffing used chocolate wrappers in the newly opened Wonka shop a the end of his street. He captures the heart and soul of the character, including the inherent goodness that sees him rewarded from among the group of otherwise ungrateful golden ticket recipients.

Anderson nimbles about the stage as Willy Wonker, capturing his eccentricities in his energy and speech of malprpisms and word mis-ordering, but also his darker character shades as he reacts blasély, bordering on gleefully as during the factory tour, the four other children cannot resist their impulses towards misbehaviour and are consequently removed in darkly comical ways. And the supporting cast are similarly all excellent in their respective roles.

All aspects of the show combine in a lovely balance of humour with the show’s essential heart. Charlie’s bedridden grandparents provide a Greek chorus of commentary, often punctuated by deadpan one-liner delivery from a cynical Grandpa George, which operates in juxtaposition to eternal optimist Joe’s hyperbolic stories, often featuring an Australian flair. Indeed, the exaggeration of the comic characters is integral to the show’s appeal to audience members of all ages, down even to the Euan Diodge’s matter-of-fact spruiking of second-hand vegetables as local beggar-woman Mrs Green.

The soundtrack features a range of numbers. And while songs like Act Two’s techno-esque ‘Vidiots’ is certainly catchy, it is the more restrained numbers that best showcase the talent of the orchestra (Musical Director David Piper). This includes the sweet ballad ‘If Your Father Were Here’, in which Mrs Bucket describes how their lives would be better if Charlie’s father were still alive, in help to stretch Act One out towards arrival of the golden ticket winners at the factory. Expectedly, perhaps, it is the melody of the iconic ‘Pure Imagination’, sung by Wonker as the group are taken behind the factory’s gates of astonishment, the leaves the most lasting musical impression, along with his tender final ‘The View from Here’ in which he tells Charlie of his grand prize as the two soar high into the air in a great glass elevator.

With cyber-crimes and social media stars, the musical of “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” is a story of the 21st century, however, it is also one that keeps true to its origins as an ode to daydreaming. While the show incorporates Dahl’s dark humour in its illustration of what happens to children who misbehave despite warnings, there is an essential innocence to its imagination that makes it a purely joyful treat.

Brissy’s boom

Baby Boomer (Theatreroo)

Twelfth Night Basement

May 15 – September 11

Theatreroo’s performance space in the basement of Twelfth Night is one of the city’s hidden away nooks and cranny venues that turns out to be a gem of a find, with before show tunes of ‘Mac The Knife’ and Elvis et al setting the tone of the 60-minute pub theatre show to follow. And then we are in the ‘60s of Clarry Evans and Denny Lawrence’s “Baby Boomer” as Tom (TravisHolmes) is about to land back home to Brisbane, having been away for a few years, and thus wondering if the big sleepy country town has changed as much as he has.

Things move quickly as rather than staying in his narrative, a series of short songs and snippets take us through what life was like for the generation named Baby Boomer by Time magazine. Some of these early songs are very catchy. ‘When I Grow Up’, for example, is a peppy recap of some of era’s icons as they feature in the optimistic ambitions of the characters.

Another early highlight comes courtesy of a folkish song about the expanded consciousness that comes from smoking dope, which sees Matt Newnham as ‘Doc’ bringing his guitar onto stage. But often we are left wanting more and deserved applause that comes at short intervals between each number means it takes longer to settle into the show’s rhythm and be guided as to Tom’s narrative, which sees the theatre troupe member moving from the politics of student protest to an expanded horizon life overseas to avoid conscription, or put distance between him and Fran (McKiera Cumming), a relationship so subtly suggested that we are barely aware of it until this declaration. And as Tom and his friends leave adolescence behind for the volatile Cold War times to come, we find ourselves moved from the personal to the political frame of protest with reminder of the trauma of the turbulent time and experiences of conscripts in Vietnam.

Just as it covers many themes, the musical numbers of “Baby Boomer” capture an array of the era’s musical styles, which adds interest. And the performers are all excellent with pleasant and powerful vocals. Tomer Dimanstein seamlessly takes us from the sounds of the ‘50s crooners of Tom’s mother’s favour to a dramatic declaration about the realities of the fate of so many in the Vietnam conflict.

Harmony Breen and McKeira Cumming bring a lovely harmony when uniting in song about being a 1960s girl desiring self-determination in a male-dominated world and Holmes’s strong vocals are especially showcased in his impressive hold of a note in discovery of his voice while seeking inspiration to write his great Australian novel far away in Amsterdam. Musical numbers are dynamically realised by a live band and the story is supported by an array of era-appropriate costumes (Denise Toogood and Desley Macpherson), quickly changed between its many scenes.  

Theatreoo does Brisbane stories and if “Baby Boomer” is any indication, they do them well. While it is story of a generation in time, it is also one of a cherished, nostalgic place. And while it captures the sensibility of the era’s kaleidoscopic emotions, it would be great to see the stories of its featured personalities explored in finer detail with expanse of the show beyond its swift running time.

Tell us more!

Grease (Queensland Conservatorium)

Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University

August 12 – 18

With its four-storey scaffolding main set-piece (design by Adam Gardni), Queensland Conservatorium’s production of “Grease” conveys an initially stark aesthetic… until its quick transformation of bold colours and pop art imagery of its era as the show’s catchy title song sets the stage for the joyous journey ahead. And as things unfold, the scaffolding actually works quite wonderfully to accommodate the musical’s large ensemble of performers, while also showcasing the talented on-stage live band, who, under Heidi Loveland’s musical direction os flawless in bringing the show’s iconic musical to life.

The 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey tells the story of the spirited class of ’59, with focus on a core group of leader-clad greasers (the working-class youth subculture referenced it its title) and Pink Ladies girl gang members as they navigate the complex trials and tribulations of their teenage lives. While the central storyline of this production still focuses on T-Bird leader Danny Zuko and girl-next-door Sandy Dumbrowski unexpectedly reuniting, its telling comes with some interesting tonal twists, such as Sandy’s iconic final act transformation coming as a result of self-fulfilment rather than man-pleasing.

Also impressive is the production’s balance of big ensemble numbers and smaller-scale moments, such as the solos that feature predominantly in Act Two. Given the sheer size of the production’s ensemble cast, this assurance of light and shade is a testament to director Alister Smith’s restraint and experience of the show is all the better for it. When they do saturate the stage, the large scale numbers are absolutely impressive. ‘Greased Lightin’, in particular, although it appears midway through Act One, is a showstopper worthy of a big just-before-interval appearance, especially in its is cleverly-realised manifestation and transformation of the song’s namesake, an old, battered car purchased by Kenickie (Liam Head) to be remodelled into a street racing vehicle, despite the scepticism of other gang members.

There is no shortage of youthful pep amongst the performers of this Queensland Conservatorium show. As the cocky Kenickie, Head gyrates and trusts his way about the place in a solid performance, while Jaime Mollineaux gives his wisecreacking girlfriend Rizzo the complexity that the leading Pink Lady deserves. From her Elvis hip-thrusting in lead of Act One’s ‘Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee’ gleeful musical mockery of the naïve Sandy (and satire of the era’s representation of sexuality) at a pyjama party, to her masterful control in the later ‘There are Worse Things I Can Do’ poignant reveal of the vulnerability behind her sarcasm, Mollineaux brings much depth to a character that could so easily have just been a caricature. The standout vocal performance comes, however, from Lucinda Wilson as Sandy. Her ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ is a beautiful number that brings both emotional rawness and refreshing self-awareness. Sean Johnston also has his standout solo number in Act Two, when too-cool-for-school Danny, laments of his love after being abandoned at the drive-in for making advances to Sandy.

While the paired-back solo numbers reveal much as their character’s mindset, however, it is the big ensemble moments that bring the most engagement thanks to the delight of their cleverly added details of staging and lighting (Lighting Designer Keith Clark). ‘Summer Nights’, in which Sandy tells of her brief love affair the previous summer, in turn about with Danny’s retell of same events, is an early showcase of Dan Venz’s impressive choreography, which sees the T-Birds and Pink Ladies subtly switching stage sides during their hilariously different point-of-view reactions. And the uplifting ‘We Go Together’ finds its own varying moods while bursting us into interval. Indeed, the timing of the choreographed mass dance routine is immaculate. And it is wonderful to her its upbeat rhythms and high-octane synchronised dance sequence threaded throughout Act Two’s final medley.

Comic relief is weaved throughout, including from Daniel Erbacher who shows commendable commitment to the physicality that comes with realising the goofy and gullible nerd Eugene. And the show is elevated by its gender blind casting which is satirical in its approach, rather than providing a parody of some of its familiar characters. Carla Beard brings much humour to the role of uncouth wanna-be ladies’ man and T-Bird Sonny, a role usually played by a male performer, while Beau Wharton is the school’s no-nonsense old maid English teacher Miss Lynch and Elizabeth Ball is slick poser Johnny Casino, lead singer of the musical group performing at Rydell’s high school hop, who leads the full company in a more subdued than usual ‘Born to Hand Jive’. Finally, Nava Revalk makes the fantasy ‘Beauty School Dropout’ number lots of fun as the Teen Angel that delivers a morality lesson about staying at school.

While some of its themes may be problematic, “Grease” remains a durable musical pleasure and this electryifyin’, energetic show is a wonderful realisation of this. Indeed, its all-round dynamism and showcase of a soundtrack that has resonated with generations, serves as the mood-lifter we all probably need right now and the perfect mid-week pick-me-up reminder of its fun almost 40 years after its Broadway debut. The only disappointment for those wanting to see more is that its season is over all too swiftly.

Photos c/o –  Nick Morrissey

West Side spectacle

West Side Story (Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 24 – August 22

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, “West Side Story” is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time. And Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment’s production of the classic recreates its beautiful blend of all of these elements in a vibrant and textured take that balances the contrasts of its story of gangs and love.

The plot, which borrows heavily from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is of the doomed love story of two characters who fall in love despite being from enemy houses. On the streets of 1950s Upper West Side New York these houses are the urban gangs of the Jets and their rivals, the new Puerto Rican immigrant Sharks. Former Jets member Tony (Nigel Huckle) meets and instantly falls in love with Maria (Sophie Salvesani), the young sister of the Sharks’ leader Bernardo (Temujin Tera). The two attempt to keep their love a secret, however, as the feuding gangs prepare for a rumble, their loyalties are tested with heartbreaking consequences.

The musical starts in a glorious fashion with the ‘Prologue’ opening dance number featuring the Jets’ dancing, which both sets the tone and arcs to the rumble that ends a lengthy Act One. Director/Choreographer Joey McKneely’s demanding routines remain true to the original style and are slick and spirited as, in the opening number, the gang members fly through the air as they enact athletic yet graceful ballet moves and long extensions, but also frenetic energy, like the fast-footed feats of the roughneck Pontipees in the barn-raising dance sequence of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.

Dance represents an integral part of the storytelling to signpost the tension between characters and to express the excitement of budding romance, in contrast to later frustration and grief. And the choreographic storytelling is skilfully executed by the highly-talented ensemble. Every 1950s beatnik finger snap, flick of the wrist, sharp stomping foot and long leap is precise and evocative. The Sharks girls’ sizzle in a lively, Latin-inspired ‘America’ of swishing skirts and fiery flamenco foot-stomping, as they in-turn mock their current world and that from which they have come in trade of one island for another.

There is chorographic grace amongst the rapid moves of the show’s rich jazzy numbers, thanks to a score that is filled with moments of light and shade. Lyrical ballet moves convey romance and innocence, with Act Two’s ‘Somewhere’ serving as an alternative reality highlight with both Sharks and Jets gang members, costumed in all-white, entering a magical ballet sequence, “An American in Paris” style. Making full use of the stage in sensitive echo of the earlier, explosive ‘Dance at the Gym’ they use a circle configuration and contemporary stylings of light-hearted, carefree movement to morph from small groups to build to a larger harmonious one.

The whole show is very choreographed; not just the dance sequences, but how the dancers move across the stage, and how the staging changes. Several large set pieces recreate 1950s New York with its synonymous apartment fire escapes, seamlessly joining as necessary to create a Juliet balcony for Tony to scale.

Lighting is rich, awashing the stage with a lush blush to soften the lovers’ first meeting and darkening its violet in low key lighting foreshadow of what is to come as they fantasise about being together and married in ‘One Hand, One Heart’. Renate Schmitzer’s costume design emphasises the youth and innocence of Tony and Maria against the bold palettes of the different gangs, which see the passionate Puerto Ricans in vibrant reds and purple, and the angry Jets in more muted earth tones and denim.

There is a clear youthful energy to this “West Side Story”. Connor McMahon is a memorable Baby John, the youngest member of the Jets gang and Nathan Pavey displays an impressive stage presence as self-styled expert Snow Boy, both in dance and comic moments alike. Angelina Thomson is sensational as Maria’s feisty friend Anita, who is girlfriend of Bernardo. Not only is her dancing exciting, with her use of costume movement only adding to its fervour, but the physicality with which she enlivens the emotion of her angry tirade to Maria against Tony, ‘A Boy Like That’, is palpable.

Huckle brings an immediate softness to the idealistic Tony and his delivery of Act One’s romantic ‘Maria’, when Tony learns the name of the girl with whom he’s fallen in love, is beautifully operatic in match with the score. Salvesani also has a stunning voice. Her Maria is pure hearted and innocent, but also strong-minded, and her solid vocals see us treated to a powerful ‘I Have a Love’, assertion to Anita as to the power of the feeling.

While the book of “West Side Story” may not hold up as well as the score, the musical is still a beautiful meld of Broadway dance and opera. Leonard Bernstein’s legendary score dazzles in its blend of jazz, Latin and classical inspirations to create definitive musical theatre numbers. Even the upbeat ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, allows the cast members in smaller roles to have a slapstick moment in the spotlight as they play-act in vaudeville style, interaction with the local beat cop who has no patience for the gangs’ conflict, courtesy of Stephen Sondheim’s playful lyrics. And under Isaac Hayward’s Musical Direction, the orchestra is dynamic in its delivery of Bernstein’s memorable score, resulting in well-deserved ovation at the show’s end.

“West Side Story” is a must-see musical event for both long-time fans and those new to the classic alike. It presents a faithful revival of the original work with spectacle, energy and vibrancy. Its rich score in both vivacious in its moments, but also lingering its emotional melodies while the rest of the world fades away. And while its star-crossed love story may end with sadness, the electrifying journey to its tragedy is one that Brisbane audiences are privileged to have the opportunity to experience.  

Photos c/o – Will Russell

It might be love

Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 14 – August 21

Before Oasis triumphed the British working-class, there was Madness, the prominent ska Camden Town band of the late 1970s and early 1980s, who, if you are of a particular vintage, you may know from their appearance in two episodes of the cult BBC sitcom “The Young Ones”. Beyond this, the prominent band is known for its ‘nutty boys’ fusion of traditional Jamaican ska music with elements of punk rock and new wave, resulting in a run of hits and madcap music videos… all of which are captured in the award-winning jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of the chart-topping group.

In Brisbane Arts Theatre’s hands, the musical starts strongly with two of the group’s biggest hits, ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Our House’, which serve to orient the audience to the story through well appropriated lyrics. ‘House of Fun’ is about coming of age, telling the story of a boy on his 16th birthday trying to buy condoms at a chemist and it is here where we meet the lad in question, Joe (Oliver Childs). With a book written by playwright Tim Firth, the story then follows the life of the schoolboy from that night when he makes the decision on a whim to break into a building development overlooking his North London home to impress his girlfriend, Sarah (Kyra Stratford). When the police arrive, Joe has to make a decision that will change his life. Overseen and narrated by Joe’s father (Shaun King), events are shown through a “Sliding Doors” lens as Joe embarks upon two alternative paths of seven years from that fateful night, that of the ‘good’ Joe who gives himself up and the ‘bad joe’ who leaves Sarah to escape. The ensuring tales of love, loss and growing up are explored as he navigates right and wrong to the music of Madness. It is a combination of the silly and serious enhanced by lyrics that often make thoughtful observations on the everyday concerns of working-class London, making it, at times, more of a morality tale than a romantic comedy.

The very talented Childs gives an authentic portrayal of the story’s likeable protagonist, realising the two Joe Caseys with a consummate skill that means he is just as believable as the smooth-talking and shallow scammer as he is when playing the unfortunate underdog loner Joe. His voice works well for Madness songs like ‘The Sun and The Rain’, and he is full of enthusiastic energy, in spite of the many characterisation changes and quick costume swaps needed in accordance with his alternative realities. Indeed, in Act Two, he deftly takes us from jubilation to desperation in the blink of an alternative reality eye. There is also an endearing comradery evident between Joe and his friends and surrogate brothers Emmo (Oliver Catton) and Lewis (Devon Henshaw). Catton, in particular gives a charming performance as the simple-minded but good-natured and boisterous Emmo.

Natalie Mead is another standout as Joe’s loyal and loving Irish Catholic mother Kath. Like Stratford as Joe’s kind and gentle girlfriend Sarah, she showcases strong vocals in Act Two’s dramatic moments. The entire ensemble is infectious in its energy, making Act One’s closer, ‘Baggy Trousers’ a highlight. The ode to school days is an organised mayhem of rolling school desks and high-energy rebellion of the “Matilda” ‘Revolting Children’ sort.

The use of a half circular revolve stage as part of the set allows for the efficient inclusion of different locations (such as when Joe takes others driving in his ‘not quite a Jaguar’ car) and swift set piece transitions allows scenes to progress smoothly with quick and clever changes showcasing the two stories’ scenarios. Indeed, Kiel Gailer and Tim Pierce’s design is quite clever in its realisation, working with Fiona Black’s lighting design which themes the respective stories and Frances Foo’s detailed costume design, which coordinates the colour palettes of each story, even including 2 Tone label black and white check motifs.

Directed and choreographed by Ava Moschetti, with assistance from the company’s artistic director John Boyce, the show includes many vibrant numbers the platform the band’s enthusiastic signature distinctive jerky dance moves. And with the accompaniment of the accomplished band (Musical Director Gabby Fitzgerald), it is all a lot of fun. Even the quirky little love song of ‘It Must Be Love’ is given a delightful duet realisation.

While “Our House” may explore themes of love, loss, family, responsibility and growing up, it is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, including a number of nods to Madness music videos, including ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ red fezzes and an ‘Our House’ bearded housewife. Clearly, this is an easy show at which to have such a very good time, even if its Madness songs often sound quite similar. Despite winning the 2003 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, it received lacklustre critical reviews, which may explain why it is so rarely seen on stage. (The rescheduled 2021 Arts Theatre production represents its Queensland premiere). Yet, it is definitely worth a visit. Not only will you be supporting the iconic Brisbane Arts Theatre in its much publicised face of an uncertain future, but you may be surprised at how many Madness songs you actually know, beyond just those from “The Young Ones” … and the result might just be love.