Finding Fidelity

High Fidelity (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

June 28 – July 13

61609187_2362068150521108_1319948122708770816_n.jpg

Music-loving record shop owner Rob (William Boyd) is a self-centred, self-confessed everyman in his thirties going through a painful re-evaluation of his life and lost loves, with a little help from his music, in the hope of finding real happiness. By day, Rob holds court at his record store, which is where “High Fidelity” opens with one of its highlight numbers, the catchy ‘Last Real Record Store on Earth’. By this, we are also introduced to ‘musical moron twins’, his co-workers Barry (Lachlan Clark) and Dick (Isaac Tibbs) and learn of Rob’s breakup with lawyer Laura (Katya Bryant) who is now in relationship with new-age interventionist Ian (Bradley Chapan).

Their stories are ones that many know well; “High Fidelity” is based on British author Nick Hornby’s instant-hit 1995 novel and the 2000 film adaptation, which starred John Cusack and became a cult classic. As in their earlier incantations, armed with their collective encyclopaedic knowledge of all things musical, the trio of characters compile top five lists for every occasion, so of course Rob’s breakup prompts him to song with ‘Desert Island Top 5 Breakups’, as said women from his history sass about the stage. Things slow after the ballad ‘Ready to Settle’ when we find out the details behind Rob’s breakup, but Act Two momentums along in journey through a range of musical styles (This is a musical whose score is original but pays tribute to existing bands or songs, with influences for each listed in its program).

Act Two is full of musical highlights. ‘Conflict Resolution’ represents a wonderful parody number, on repeat, as Rob reflects upon alternative ways that he could have reacted during an uncomfortable conversation with Ian. Its Guns ‘N’ Roses, Beastie Boys and Snoop Dog segments are each as entertaining as each other in their distinction and give Aaron Hamilton a change to shine on drums. Parody also appears in a fantasy sequence, ‘Goodbye and GoodLluck’, during which Bruce Springsteen materialises to advise Rob how to be like The Boss. The number not only has the icon’s energy and distinctive rousing rock sounds, bit it even features appearance of The Big Man Clarence Clemons and a ‘Dancing in the Dark’ style Courtney Cox pull up onto stage to dance along.

Across the show, the small band does a stellar job with musicians often playing multiple instruments. Act Two’s opener ‘I Slept with Someone/Lyle Lovett’ offers opportunity for Tess McLennan to provide a softer, violin touch to the soundtrack, however, the lyrics of songs like ‘She Goes’, in which mutual friend Liz delivers some harsh home truths to Rob about his macho act, become difficult to decipher under the band’s boom. On-stage there is a clear energy to the songs and pleasing harmonies in the big choral numbers that see the company come together.

The trio of diverse record shop workers are brilliantly played, drawing upon but not allowing their performances to be defined by their famous film archetypes. Clark’s brash Barry is somewhat unlikable but undeniably funny in his angry, arrogant mania. Tibbs makes the painfully shy Dick a standout character, capturing his awkward insecurity in his every heightened reaction, especially in attempt to talk with women. Boyd is a relatable, flawed Rob and his conversational monologues to the audience from centre stage go some way towards capturing the story’s integral introspection, however, ultimately the production suffers somewhat due its departures from the story’s emotion for the sake of comedy.

While the story’s central pop culture threads are still evident, its honest observations about human relationship aren’t as readily apparent. Although Rob says he has changed from one who speaks with passion about the power of a well-curated mixtape to remedy all, we don’t really see his new-found emotional intelligence emerging, perhaps because of all the distractions on stage. Some moments are very funny, however, the laughs come mostly through throw-away lines not central to their scenes. And although little background details (beyond just seeing the “Beaches” soundtrack in the Hip Hop section) add amusement, there is a fine line between these being incidental additions and distractions from the main action.

It’s little details that prove to be the show’s undoing. While it attempts to pay homage to the music of geek culture, appearance of a Little Dum Dum Club tshirt in the ensemble, brings era authenticity into question. And although scene transitions are swift, choreography is a little rough around the edges and doesn’t always exploit the possibilities of the space.

As a musical “High Fidelity” will not be to everyone’s tastes as it includes course language and partial nudity. In some ways it is easy to understand how the Broadway production of the show closed after 18 previews and 13 regular performances, given its lyrics’ unimaginative rhymes of the ‘I’d be making fun of them …. I’m really one of them’ and ‘Now you finally got a winner. Did you even cook her dinner’ sort. And while though the iconic line ‘which came first the, music or misery’ makes appearance it seems that Rob’s unhappiness and this fidelity to its source material have been sacrificed for the sake of comedy, meaning that the narrative wears a little thin. It is not without its charm though and music still stands strong as a central theme, resulting in at least numerous opportunities for nostalgic indulgence courtesy of the record covers on display.

Virtually Victor victorious

56706156_2268390369888887_5550147350539796480_n.jpg

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.

Anniversary score!

Oklahoma! (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

November 16 – December 1

46441631_10157064609173866_7174035766027223040_n.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing The Doll justice

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (BeenleighTheatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

April 13 – 28

couple.jpg

Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” begins with an old-fashioned movie projection in throwback to times ago when rolling Jaffas down the aisles and canvas chairs were the norm. It is an appropriate introduction to a work that is very much of its time, yet also universal in its themes of loyalty, friendship and tradition. Thorough its projection, we learn the backstory to the beginning of the iconic and ground-breaking 1955 Australian play. For the previous 16 years, cane cutter mates Roo and Barney have, for the five-month layoff each year, soared like eagles down from the sun to celebrate frivolously with their Melbourne barmaid girlfriends. Since the men last returned up north, Barney’s longtime lover, Nancy, has married a city man so Olive has invited a co-worker, the widowed Pearl, to partake in the tradition in Nancy’s place.

pearl meeting.jpg

This segues into a prim and proper Pearl (Claire Wigley) peering from the window of the modest Carlton terrace house recreated on stage.  Dressed in a sombre black ensemble, she seems to conflict with the colourful chaos of the world into which she’s been invited. Olive, (Jan Nary), however, clings to a reality that cannot continue, symbolised by the kewpie dolls that have been gifted to her by beau Roo (Andrew Alley) each year in tradition. With an eagerness that properly belongs in youth, she sees the five month layoff each year as making the other seven months worthwhile, such is her gospelised view of their shared history and determination to recreate that past, even though Nancy has left the arrangement behind to marry someone other than Barney (Ian Johnson).

nostalgia.jpg

After the men’s arrival settles to their normality there are more words than action as backstory is revealed in conversation;  Roo has been usurped as team leader to the younger upstart Johnnie Dowd (who, when he later visits, and talks with next door neighbour Bubba, appears to be anything but) and is broke so has to take a job in a paint factory. As Act Two sees summer days sweltering towards new year it become clear that for many collective reasons, this summer is different from others, as although Pearl has cooled from an initial ‘Mrs Cunningham’ introduction to Barney, tension between the cane cutters only continues to simmer towards an ultimate stoush in shattering of the Australian traditional bush myth and idea of mateship.

men.jpg

Humour is well used to lighten moments which could become too heavy in melodrama or sentimentality, making this an accessible tribute that does justice to the first great Australian play. Especially Olive’s formidable, wise fool of a mother Emma (Jan Nary) is a standout in this regard, providing some wonderful comic-relief in her snide remarks. But, at its core, this is idealistic Olive’s story and as the play’s tragic hero on the cusp of middle age, Julia Lefik is energetic in evocation of Olive’s intricate emotions, making the play feel real in its highlight of the beauty in the mundane. In contrast to her romanticism, the uptight, conservative Pearl is realised with some welcome hilarity by Wigley. Alley and Johnson work well to create tension between the stoic Roo and the fun-loving larrikin lover Barney, while as Bubba Ryan and Johnnie Dowd, Katya Bryant and Jarryd Pianca add a younger flavour into the mix.

young.jpg

The sheer amount of dialogue required of the principal cast is, of itself, impressive, especially for a community based performing arts ensemble. And in their of-the-time accents, they evoke both the era’s vernacular and languid delivery of the dropped gs and missing vowels of its idiomatic language, in accordance with the work’s celebrated stark realism in portrayal of authentic working-class characters.

piano.jpg

Faithful staging is of a tatty room of worn period furniture, doilies, and wireless upon a seen-better-days upright piano, with pops of kewpie doll clutter as kitchy reflection of Olive’s childish dreams. The aesthetic was unfortunately affected by some Act Two sound issues at Sunday night’s show, but once resolved, the authentic appeal soon returned.

softens.jpg

Under Timothy Wynn’s considered direction, this realisation of Ray Lawler’s story stands the test of time as a product of its time … a time when almost every dress was to be paired with sensible black shoes and matching handbag, beer came only in longneck bottles, corned beef sandwich hors d’oeuvres were put together with toothpicks and it was ok to call a 22 year-old-girl Bubba and for her not to mind. Of course its colloquialisms and morals make it dated, but still it resonates with a modern-day audience not so much because of its quintessential Australian-ness, but more because of what it has to say about ordinary, relatable characters, their collective resistance to the fading of youth and the all-too-human gap between how they really are and how they want to be seen.

shattered illusions.jpg

‘The Doll’ as it is affectionately also known, is one of the nation’s most produced plays, such is its staying power, and whether it be as revisit or as first time audience member, its more marathon than sprint experience (the show sees a long three acts separated by two 15 minute intermissions) should prove a worthwhile one.

Behind the curtain cues and clues

Curtains (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

March 9 – 24

western.jpg

As “Noises Off” has shown us, when it comes to theatre, what happens behind the stage curtain can be more interesting that what audiences see in front, especially when it involves murder. And thanks to a revolving stage at Beenleigh Theatre Group’s Crete Street Theatre, audiences are given ringside seats to all the machinations of the musical murder mystery “Curtains”, the last big musical created by John Kander​ and Fred Ebb of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” fame.

Parody.jpg

The whodunit of cues and clues is not only a spoof of a backstage murder mystery, but doubles as a love letter to the Broadway stage. It is not set in New York, however, but rather 1959 Boston, where, at opening night of the Broadway-bound cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood of The Old West”, the talentless leading lady, faded film star diva Jessica Cranshaw (Madi Jennings) is murdered during the curtain call. Suspects abound and when the show is critically panned, the producers need to decide whether to proceed with a new lead or shut down. Carmen (Fiona Buchanan) and Sidney Bernstein (Jarryd Pianca) decide to forge ahead with lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Genevieve) in the lead, which results in rekindle of the faded romance between songwriters Hendricks and Aaron Fox (William Boyd). Enter theatre-obsessed but lonely, married-to-his-job Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Tony Campbell) to investigate the by-then series of murders, solve the show’s artistic problems and be enchanted by charming ingénue Niki (Lauren-Lee Innis-Youren) who, as understudy, is eager to make her Broadway debut.

saves the day.jpg

Although the show is a lightweight romp, as a homage to the golden age of Broadway musicals, with many nods to showbiz clichés and stereotypes, “Curtains” is an ambitious choice for any company. The show requires a large cast and there is always a lot happening on stage. Generally, it works and good use is made of the limited stage area to enable a live music soundtrack. The score has the usual musical mix of comedy, ballad and soliloquy songs and from the ‘Overture’ it is evident that the band, under conductor Julie Whiting is excellent, even if its sound initially overplays the voices on stage. But nothing can detract from the disconcerting sound moments of missed cures and microphone level issues that sometimes presented on opening night.

sassy.jpg

Quality performances add much to the show’s appeal. Jim Price nails the sarcastic comedy of the bitchy director Christopher Belling with perfectly-timed pithy one-lines. And Buchanan brings a confident humour to the role of sassy producer Carmen Bernstein, with risqué double entendres aplenty regarding her philandering husband Sidney. As the replacement leading lady, Tree is vivacious and vocally very good in the big numbers. As her former husband, Boyd is also excellent in numbers like ‘Thinking of Him’, after claiming that his now ex-wife only wants to rekindle a romance with choreographer Bobby (Dylan Hodge), the actor playing Rob Hood and Georgia’s ex-boyfriend.

couple.jpg

“Curtains” includes a number of musical highlights, including fun song and dance numbers with plenty of jokey allusions to hits like “Oklahoma!”, “Annie Get Your Gun” and alike in, for example, the up-tempo square dance number ‘Kansasland’. There is also a wonderfully nostalgic nod to Fred and Ginger greatness in both choreography and charm in the romantic ‘A Tough Act to Follow,’ sung and danced by Campbell and Innis-Youren, in which Lieutenant Cioffi lives his dream of being onstage amongst atmosphere dream-sequence-like design.

dance number.jpg

Opening night (which perhaps would have been better as a preview) hiccups aside, “Curtains” is clearly an entertaining night out. Although the whodunnit plot is improbably complicated, its theatrical send-up is so buoyant that it is difficult not be joyously bounced along its duration, especially as a fan of musical theatre from that golden age.

Allegorical excellence

Lord of the Flies (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

January 19 – February 3

IMG_8695.JPG

Appropriately heralded by an air raid siren, audience members at The Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Lord of the Flies” enter to an opening scene of schoolboys on a plane trip somewhere. Happily, they jaunt along to the sounds of ‘Run Rabbit Run’ in juxtaposition to the brutality of what is to come as in a stylised scene, they are crashed to an island.

IMG_8711.JPG

The group of boys from a mix of schools survive the crash, but find themselves deserted in the uninhabited location. Without adult supervision or guidance, they struggle in their abandon. The very-British and intelligent Piggy (Levi Rayner) advocates democratic rule and order through the symbolic use of a conch shell, but is disregarded by the others due to his physical deficiencies and muddle of words. Ralph (Jayden McGinlay), meanwhile, begins with an air of carefree adventure before becoming an initial leader. While his sensible priority is to maintain a signal fire (started by Piggy’s surrendered glasses), antagonist Jack (Nic Van Litsenborgh), a militant choir leader, is intent on hunting, using his chants to stir those in his tribe towards a savagery of self-indulgence in the absence of social mores and control to the contrary.

IMG_9063.JPG

Without societal or adult influence, the boys decide upon their own rules in initial attempts at remaining civilised but soon order begins to break down and barbarism starts to take over with the boys reverted to their base instincts under Jack’s autocratic leadership. And when anarchy reins, things move quickly; the boys’ uniforms are soon dishevelled as shirts come off, faces are war-painted and school ties become headbands and buffs “Survivor” style, in show of their decline into cruelty.

IMG_9043.JPG

William Golding’s 1954 classic but verbose story of civilisation in reverse clearly relies on some significant themes with its allegory about human impulse towards savagery. And its cast of adolescent boys more than rise to the occasion in their representation of Nobel Prize winning work. As the touted protagonist, reasonable and well-intentioned Ralph, McGinlay takes audiences on a tempered journey from boyish charm to deep despair in desperation to cling to his ideals.

IMG_8760.JPG

As his antithesis, Jack, Van Litsenborgh dominates with a gripping performance of menacing physicality and imposing vocals, especially in Act Two when he is appointed as the Chief. Although nobody from his choir boys faints under his initial command to march in line, he presents as a tantrum-throwing bully from the start in his antagonism of the whimpering Piggy, who appears more as a caricature than naïve intellectual.

IMG_8752.JPG

Other standouts include Elliot Hanscomb and Fraser Anderson as twins Samneric, especially in their attempts at rationalisation about the feared ‘beast’ in the jungle (really a dead parachutist hanging from its trees). And Liam Pert is an excellent Simon, understated in his essential symbolism of spirituality and human goodness, although his connection with nature and insight into mankind’s essential illness of latent evil is largely restrained.

IMG_8930.JPG

“Lord of the Flies” is a difficult play to stage, yet with minimalist set this imagining works well, allowing a lot of the intended symbolism to speak freely. Wood crates become multi-use props and multiple levels allow for action to take place in a variety of the island’s locations. Inventively, some of the most intense action takes place not on the stage, but on the carpeted area just in front of the audience, creating an intentionally uneasy intimacy during a viciously bloodthirsty scene in which a pig is ritualistically hunted and its head symbolically impaled upon a stick. Fighting scenes (choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr) work well, lighting accompanies stylised slow motion movements and a dynamic soundscape effectively signposts the boys’ decent to savagery.

IMG_8919.JPG

Under Bradley Chapman’s direction, Beenleigh Theatre Group have produced an excellent and entertaining production of a challenging text. It not only does justice to the main themes of Golding’s tale, but it intensely illustrates how even over six decades later, aspects of its themes remain relevant through its show of the extreme consequences of peer pressure unchecked. Is evil inherent in human nature or is it a learned trait? This is a question audience members will perhaps still be left pondering after the play, lingering in recall as is the case in experience of all the best types of theatre.

Photos – c/o Turn It Up Photography