Sinatra satisfaction

Seven on Sinatra

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 2

With a stellar cast of some of Brisbane’s greatest songstresses in celebration of the Leader of the Pack, “Seven on Sinatra” is a real night to remember as Liz Buchanan, Jo Doyle, Jacqui Devereux, Bethan Ellsmore, Rebecca Grennan, Claire Walters and Melissa Western do it their way with a swing band of the Sands Hotel Copa Room sort.

With a catalogue of 200 career chart songs, Sinatra leaves the ladies copious crooner choices and the show’s selection of swinging tunes and suave sounds allows every performer their chance to shine, from the melodically charming ‘It Had to Be You’, now of “When Harry Met Sally” association to the ultimate love song to love, ‘Moon River’. And the result is a show of many highlights with some stunning vocal ranges giving the songs new life and depth, including Ellsmore’s beautifully ethereal take on the swinging ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, Devereux’s ‘You Can’t Take that Away from Me’, at once tough and tender in its mix of joy and sadness, and a declarative ‘That’s Life’ that Western makes all her own in belt to the back of the room. In every instance the power and pure emotion behind each number is clear, with the overall mix of ballad and uptempo numbers working well.

Seven on Sinatra.jpg

It’s not all solos though; the magic begins with a ‘That Old Black Magic” duet and ends with an encore of a shared ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. The range of songs from the canon of the most important and influential American standards not only allows the songstresses to showcase the memorable melodies, but gives the live band opportunity to shine. And shine they do, in numbers like, ‘Night and Day’, for example, where the jazz musicians breakaway with multi-layered, seductive soundscapes, worthy of mid-song recognition applause. And amidst the smooth sounds are fun moments too like an interesting take on ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and surprises such as when Doyle emerges from the crowd to croon a syrupy ‘Strangers in the Night’.

Frank Sinatra is one of the most influential popular singers of the 20th century, not just because of the longevity of his success, but his cement of many of the songs that occupy the American Songbook. This show not only includes the most essential Sinatra songs, all impeccably arranged, but showcases the strong technique of some talented vocalists. Indeed, with seven styles of singing, “Seven on Sinatra” offers satisfaction for everyone, be they a Frank fan or not, sure to satisfy in its mellifluous melodies and show of how Sinatra is Sinatra and why we love him still.

Songs for you

Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 3

brisbane-powerhouse-Queenie-2017-2-1178x663.jpeg

From the moment “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” opens with cabaret chanteuse Queenie van de Zandt sharing its titular song from a lushly-lit Powerhouse Theatre, it is clear that the night is going to be a very special experience. It’s an appropriate opener for a show that shares the story of a life often spent in heartbreak, that of musical legend Joni Mitchell… a life of childhood hospitalisation with polio, art school abandonment, depression and unwed motherhood.

Given the Canadian singer-songwriter’s status as both an esteemed pop vocalist and composer, Mitchell’s songs are incredibly special, especially in their powerfully personal storytelling, and in Queenie’s hands, their poetry is made all the more apparent, allowing the sold-out audience to appreciate anew their narrative appeal. Inset with voiceovers representing those close to Mitchell, the setlist is perfectly curated to chart the emotions of the star’s extraordinary life. This also allows Queenie to stay in role, but of own voice, as Mitchell, relating experiences with a mix of humour and pathos as she speaks to, rather than at, the audience. Indeed, despite being played in the large Powerhouse Theatre, there is a really intimacy to the show’s revelation of the truths behind some of Mitchell’s most hauntingly-confessional songs.

Musically, numbers range from the light touch of ‘Little Green’ to the catchiness of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and the jaunt of ‘Twisted’. There are emotional moments too during songs about the baby daughter Mitchell gave up for adoption when she was an impoverished Toronto folk singer. In each instance, the live band adds their own appeal to Mitchell’s sometimes unusual musical arrangements.

Queenie van de Zandt is known as an artful storyteller and emotive vocalist and in both of these regards she more than delivers. Her voice is in top, translucent form, befitting a recapture of Mitchell’s delicate, ethereal vocals, in tribute rather than mimic of the icon. And her depiction of the folksy sound of songs like the quintessential counter-culture anthem ‘Woodstock’ is sublime in its affection.

Along with musical director Max Lambert, Queenie has created something beautiful in “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell”.  Its exploration of Mitchell’s songs, stories and art, makes it is easy for even the uninitiated to appreciate how the peerless provocateur created a soundtrack for the Woodstock generation. Indeed, the show is not just for fans of Mitchell’s songbook and legacy, but also for all lovers of music and storytelling as only a live show can provide. “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” serves also as evidence of how songs can continue to live in spirit and melody when of such lyrical and compositional sophistication, meaning that when its opening number makes mention that ‘there is a song for you’, it’s a promise that is entirely true.

The one that you want

Livvy and Pete

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 3 – 4

Livvy and Pete.jpg

It’s merriment all around as award-winning cabaret artists Michael Griffiths and Amelia Ryan present The Songs of Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen, “Livvy and Pete”, complete with maracas, sequins and “Grease” iconography, befitting the gay abandon promised in its introduction. And the result is both a celebration of the Aussie icons’ songbooks and a perfect show of the duo’s on-stage chemistry as they banter with the audience and each other in storytelling about both the titular Livvy and Pete and their own lives too.

Appropriately, mention is made of Newton-John’s recent breast cancer return, and also too of Ryan’s burgeoning ‘cabaraby’ bump, which becomes star of the show itself in the aerobics-era smash ‘Physical’, complete as the number is with authentic fluro lycra costuming and moves in precise recreation of the controversial film clip.

“Livvy and Pete” is not the slickest of shows, but that’s actually what makes it so special. Like Michael Griffiths’ previous cabaret works, it’s casual feel and audience responsiveness adds to its appeal as especially Griffiths warmly engages with the audience in between the musical memories. And sing-alongs don’t get more joyous than to ‘Summer Nights’, ‘I Go to Rio’ and the anthemic ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.

It’s not all froth and bubble though. Frivolity aside, there are some poignant moments. ‘Arthur’s Theme’ of being caught between the moon and New York City is like a nice big warm hug of nostalgia and in Griffith’s hands, as he sits singing at piano, Peter Allen’s autobiographical ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ offers audiences a wonderful opportunity to revisit its lovely lyrical and melodic genius. Then there is Newton-John’s moving ‘I Honestly Love You’, written for her by Allen, and also the Cliff Richard love song duet ‘Suddenly’ in which her golden voice honeys tenderly through the “Xanadu” soundtrack song. Indeed the similarity of Ryan’s voice to Newton-John’s is uncanny, especially in a mashup number of country hits in celebration of her life before “Grease”, in which she perfectly captures the blend of strength and sweetness that define the musical icon’s sound.

“Livvy and Pete” is very much a festival show; its hour-long duration is full of communal fun. It not only captures the essence of a time of sequins and jumpsuits, but demands your attention as perhaps only a pregnant woman roller skating to the cult classic ‘Xanadu’ can do. The idea of tribute to two of our country’s greatest entertainers is inspired and thanks to Griffith’s consummate storytelling skill and Ryan’s physical comedy, its realisation is not to be missed. This ultimate feel good show is the one that you want to see and maybe take your mum along to.

Comedy chaos

The Really Real Housewife of Surfers Paradise (Lisa Lachelle)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 2

18835687_10155404894253866_7960273818756956043_n.jpg

The Real Mercedes DeLuca-Jones (Lisa LaCelle) is glamourous, fabulous and filthy rich. So when The Real Housewives franchise announces open auditions for a Gold Coast reality show, she sets upon a mission to be invited to join the cast. It’s only a matter of time; she just like Gina Liano, apart from the whole lawyer thing. For future fans of the fictional franchise, it’s totes exciting… infectiously so with the Visy Theatre busting at its seams with many liquored up ladies out to share its good time tell of Mercedes’ desperate attempt to hang onto her youth and make her mark in the world.

Act One begins as a casual chat, with Mercedes outlining her quest and sharing stories of her George Clooney desires, her hubby Gregory and home-stay exchange students. When in Act Two, the focus changes to tell of Gregory with an exchange student, the show becomes all the better with second-half highlights including her musical explanation of how a cockroach featured as catalyse for her marriage breakdown and determination to arise from loneliness to make a second sashay coming.

Unfortunately, however, the one woman comedy cabaret is more comedy than cabaret. And when it isn’t, there’s still not a lot of singing with only occasional song snippets of recognisable but reappropriated tunes. The comedy is strong throughout thanks to the work’s well-written script, peppered with pop culture references and euphemistic speak. As musical therapist to the middle-aged misfit, accompanist Peta Wilson adds to the comedy with reactions and interjections alike and LaCelle is committed in performance at Mercedes, bringing lots of funny to her over-the-top character’s every little nuance and easily moving off script to respond to some of the rudeness of audience’s disruptions. At times, however, timing could we better managed to allow for the laughter that often ends up rolling over forthcoming jokes.

Although not the slickest of shows, “The Really Real Housewife of Surfers Paradise” has a real spirit to cater for the glam and ordinary folk alike. As a comedy it is great; as a cabaret, not quite as much, not that its late show crowd minded when caught in the comic chaos of Mercedes’ crumbling world and quest for reality show salvation.

Privileged pleasure

The Kingfisher (Javeenbah Theatre Company)

Javeenbah Theatre, Nerang

May 26 – June 6

It is countryside England where Lady (Evelyn) Townsend (Viviane Gian) arrives from her dim husband’s funeral to revisit love long-ago lost with successful novelist and unconfirmed bachelor Sir Cecil Warburton (Chris Hawkins), who lives in his dotage by the river with his long-serving and dedicated, but also pompous and petulant butler Hawkins (Graham Scott). It is a privileged world of slippers, service bells and after-dinner drinks, but also one of unrealised dreams and concealed emotions, well-suited to the comedy of manners style that defines the Javeenbah Theatre Company’s “The Kingfisher”.

widow.jpg

William Douglas Home’s words are sometimes verbose but certainly witty, generating many a laugh in themselves, but especially when brought marvellously to life by the performances of each of the three-hander’s actors. Indeed, in the hands of this skilled cast, the script stands the story on its merit, meaning that the excessively detailed and stunning in-itself staging is not only unnecessary ,but at times distracting in its novelties, like water feature sounds of the river by the garden. And although costumes are on-point, conspicuously-aging makeup also sometimes make it difficult to focus solely on the story being shared. Still, where the humour is showing a little age, the cast has done a great job in exploiting every opportunity to general a laugh.

butler.jpg

Under Nathan Schulz’s direction, performances are excellent, especially in the physical scenes that start Act Two. Graham Scott makes it immediately clear that his character dislikes Evelyn’s sudden reappearance. Passive aggressive but also far from subtle, his perfectly-time reactions and expressive body language convey more than any words could. As the object of his abhorrence, Viviane Gian is perfect in her reluctance to let her guard down and initial oblivion to Hawkins’ taunts. However, it is Chris Hawkins who anchors the production with a natural and engaging performance as the tale’s protagonist, nostalgically wanting to recapture past days of kingfisher watching under the beech tree. And he is at his best in show of his range through eruption in an Act Two angry rant in response to Hawkins’ meddling into his marriage proposal to the new widow.

protaonist.jpg

“The Kingfisher” is a delightfully British story, yet its light-hearted examination of the need for person fulfilment is so universal as to engender audience contemplation long after the show’s finish. In the hands of Javeenbah Theatre Company, both its story and its message are pleasantly brought to life, making it easy to appreciate its characters’ wants to chase a second summer despite having had the first flush of youth long ago pass by. For an entertaining experience in a comfortable theatre, “The Kingfisher” at Javeenbah is best not missed.

Contemporary connections

Swallow (E.G. & Metro Arts)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

May 25 – June 3

In story, “Swallow” is about when strangers cross paths. Thematically, however, the work gives audiences so much more to contemplate. And the result is a challenging but rewarding experience thanks to the excellent execution by all involved in the production.

Hermitted in her home, Anna (Elise Greig) is in need to focus, frenetically completing self-decided projects in search for peace, yet yearning to travel to places she will never go. For her, going crazy is busy business, especially when you’ve been shut up inside for a couple of years and who said smashing things up was a bad thing anyway? In an apartment somewhere below her, Rebecca (Julie Cotterell) is recovering, both physically and emotionally, from a nasty breakup with an arsehole ex, comfortable in her pain. Then there is Sam (Helen O’Leary), who has found identity but not acceptance. While each is struggling, having been smashed up by life, in discovery of each other, they just might be able to save one another.

connections.jpg

The journeys of each of the three characters are fragmented, but as an audience we still engage with them, because of, rather than despite their flaws. This is thanks to the outstanding performances of all three cast members; their performances are so riveting to watch that we become invested in their stories even from the play’s enigmatic start.

Staging is sparse but detailed with jumbles of broken materials around each character’s initial space. Things are not static, however, with each character constantly moving, even when not directly involved in a scene. Lighting design builds from darkness in support of this, using shadows to create interesting shapes, which works with the appropriately evocative soundscape to create a memorable aesthetic. Everything is beautifully deliberate as character stories slowly intersect. Poetic monologues parallel and intersect through common and revisited metaphors and motifs of isolation and fragmentation of items and understandings alike, established in initial scenes before narrative interconnection is appreciated.

always moving.jpg

Stef Smith’s writing is dense but also lyrical in is creativity and Kate Shearer’s directorial decisions are so detailed as to desire a further viewing to appreciate all of the nuances of choice, like to have fragile feathers falling as snow in reference to earlier dialogue mentions. Indeed, “Swallow” takes audiences to unexpected and unique places in its share of relevant messages around the importance of real relationships and the quality contemporary connectivity that lies elusively behind closed doors and smartphone screens.

In its clever storytelling and reminder to the person reflected in our mirrors to blink and breathe, “Swallow” provides a wonderful message for audiences to take away. Its holistic approach to storytelling and all-round excellent execution, make it a modern tale that everyone should see as reminder that theatre, like people, is not homogeneous, and is all the better for it.

Photos – c/o Nick Morrissey

Lady Beatle love

Lady Beatle (La Boite & The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 25 – June 3

With a spotlight cabaret seating section and shadowed stage, the preshow aesthetic of “Lady Beatle” is of Liverpoolian grey, like through the eyes of a ladybird. This is the Lonely Hearts Club, soon to be coloured with the music of the Beatles as Naomi Price bursts forth with the penultimate ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, and its hope that we will enjoy the show. It’s a particularly appropriate initial number given that opening night marks the 50th anniversary of the band’s innovative, ground-breaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Over the following 70 minutes, UK-born star Naomi Price proceeds to tell a story, but probably not the one you think you are going to hear, a story that includes tell of the lucky Lady Beetle and so much more, in nod to her personal Liverpoolian roots. Her assumed Scouse accent certainly adds to the authenticity of the experience, however, what makes the show truly engaging is her banter with the audience that is so central to a quality cabaret experience. There is a lot of comedy, much of it at George Harrison’s expense, but also surprising poignancy. However, it’s not Naomi guiding audiences through this Beatles story, but their number one fan, an ultimate outsider who loves the Beatles (even George) more than anyone.

Naomi Price in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

The kaleidoscopic soundtrack is full of highlights, thanks to the show’s incredible live music and new song arrangements, like a stripped back and absolutely beautiful, nostalgic ‘Penny Lane’, allowing the song’s story of a street near John Lennon’s childhood home, to take centre stage. The comprehensive coverage of the group’s extensive catalogue ensures that the show is packed full of favourites and there is even a rocking medley to end the night on the highest of highs.

Andrew Johnson, Mik Easterman, Naomi Price, Michael Manikus, Jason McGregor in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

In support of Price, the virtuosic band is uniformly excellent, and it is wonderful to see drummer Mick Easterman, bass guitarist Andrew Johnson, pianist Michael Manikus and guitarist Jason McGregor given their own moments to shine, such when ‘the band begins to play’ in ‘Yellow Submarine’ and in a rocking medley mix of ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Revolution’ with ‘Love Me Do’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Let It Be’. On paper, mixes like this shouldn’t probably blend, but in this show’s hands they do, meaning that ‘Strawberry Fields’ sits comfortably alongside a clap-along ‘Hey Jude’. And the result is a superb soundtrack, befitting the dynamic performer leading the stage.

Naomi Price, Michael Manikus in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

It is easy to appreciate why Brisbane loves Naomi Price. Like the fab four themselves, she is effortlessly cool and charismatic, and her voice has never been better, showing full technical and emotional range from a melodic, fantastical ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ to the lyrical linger of the experimental ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and yearning plea of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.

Michael Manikus, Naomi Price, Jason McGregor in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

In its celebration of song nuance and detail, “Lady Beatle” also becomes so much more, in examination of the peace and harmony of the messages of numbers like ‘Come Together’, ‘Yellow Submarine’ (including an organic sing-along), a hauntingly honest ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ and finally a hopeful ‘Here Comes the Sun’, which sees Price return to the stage in a rocking pants suit courtesy of costume designer Leigh Buchanan. Every aspect of the show is on-point in contribution to its overall message and appealing aesthesis. Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, for example, is everything it needs to be: bold, beautiful and perfect in accompaniment of the show’s changing musical moods.

Mik Easterman, Naomi Price and Michael Manikus in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

“Lady Beatle” shows how, as a creatives, Adam Brunes and Naomi Price can do no wrong. Although unlike their earlier “Rumour Has It” and “Wrecking Ball”, this third and final show in their pop culture cabaret trilogy, isn’t a biopic, the modern memory play’s explosion of musical colours is just a rewarding. Given The Beatles’ recognition as the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed act in popular music history, audience members are sure to come with expectations, all of which will be exceeded in what will be an infectious rediscovery of the band’s iconic, diverse catalogue anew, channelled through a sole female voice. Indeed, its song curation and story craftedness combine to make “Lady Beatle” an example of cabaret at its very best, to make you laugh, cry and smile in hope for peace, equality and love.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans