BTG’s notorious BNC

Bonnie & Clyde (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

November 15 – 30

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“Bonnie & Clyde” starts at its end, with the image of its titular American criminal couple sitting in a car, dead, accompanied by some energetic Bluegrass sounds (‘Prologue’). Before long, however, we are transported from the Louisville location of the folk hero couple’s final run’s end to their younger, hopeful Texas selves. At 10-year-old Bonnie’s (Denyella-Sophia Duncan) father’s funeral, the young girl shares her fantasy movie-star ambition, which is inset with young Clyde’s (Kieran McGinlay) juvenile delinquency and career criminal aspirations through idolisation of Billy the Kid and Al Capone (‘Picture Show’). Fast forward five years to the meeting of the car loving criminal Clyde (Connor Hawkins), just escaped from prison with his brother Buck (Brad Kendrick) and Rowena waitress Bonnie (Lauren Conway) and the rest, as they say, is history… only a history about whose detail we perhaps know very little. And so we discover the lover’s story as they journey from robbery to murder and folk hero status.

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Depression times are tough in the 1930s of Bonnie and Clyde’s two-year crime spree, with the businesses failing, banks collapsing and many people out of work. Still, as Clyde graduates from theft to murder, Bonnie agonises back and forth about following him down a fatal path (‘Too Late to Turn Back Now’), ultimately finding herself seduced by her growing fame as a ‘ravishing redhead’. As the tag-line from the also-named “Bonnie and Clyde” 1967 movie surmises, “they’re young, they’re in love, they kill people”. This also aptly sums up what goes on in the musical realisation of Bonnie and Clyde’s story. Still, under Kaitlyn Carlton’s strong direction, it is a pacey and engaging show, helped along by multi-media display of real-life newspaper headlines in chronicle of the ill-fated couple’s robbery spree and on-the-run rampage.

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While there are no real standout songs with the score, the music of “Bonnie & Clyde” (Composer Frank Wildhorn) works well in telling the show’s story, with its smooth combination of rockabilly, blues and gospel numbers. Under Musical Director Julie Whiting, the polished orchestra is flawless in its musical transitions. ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’ conveys an infectious gospel energy courtesy also of Preacher Stuart Fisher’s compelling vocals (wonderfully revisited in Act Two’s opener ‘Made in America). And Act One’s finale, ‘This World Will Remember Us’, which sees Clyde convincing Bonnie to smuggle a gun into his cell so he can break out of prison, is a jaunty showcase of the talents of Liam Madden (drums/percussion) and versatility of Annie Silva (fiddle/mandolin/banjo) who both impress as standouts from the show’s very first number. Well-balanced orchestrations lay a solid foundation for the singers, never overpowering the vocals. And the beautifully orchestrated score is complimented by the honesty and emotion that the performers find within the music.

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Bonnie and Clyde’s mutual infatuation is obvious in their unquestionable loyalty; they convey a chemistry even as they quarrel (their favourite form of foreplay). Connor’s Clyde may be no bed or roses but he is charismatic. Indeed, despite his unlikeable actions and sometimes questionable treatment of Bonnie, audience members are on his side thanks to Hawkins’ magnetism. And his prison cell lament towards the end of Act One, ‘Raise A Little Hell,’ is a powerful moment thanks to his strong vocals. Conway, too, is vocally impressive, especially in her delicate Act Two solo, ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’, in which Bonnie passionately declares that she’d ‘rather breathe in life than dusty air’.

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Conway also impressively overcomes the inherit challenge of eliciting audience emotional investment in a character that spends the entire show making poor choices and determining herself to die by Barrow’s side. Indeed, there is much to like about the vigour she brings to the character, as her zealous anti-heroine rebellion is also boldly that of a woman in a time when women were not afforded equal rights. Kendrick captures the juxtaposition of Buck simple, but simultaneously complex supporting character, devoted to his wife Blanche (Katya Bryant) yet also eager to conspire with his daring brother. And Bryant gives a measured showcase of Blanche’s morality, love for her husband and fear for his safety, particularly platformed in the honest and heartbreaking ‘That’s What You Call a Dream’.

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Simple yet inventive staging (Production Design by Bradley Chapman) allows for swift set changes, although cohesion sometimes suffers due to missed sound cues and severe lighting switches. Mary Oliver’s costumes are, however, a standout. Outfits are era-evocative without being clichéd and appropriate to history’s most stylish bank robbers, with channel of Bonnie’s iconic beatnik beret and striped sweater blouse alongside general 1930s form-fitting, softly tailored style pieces.

“Bonnie & Clyde” is an interesting exploration of an infamous couple we know but not really. It’s also, however, a story about American dreams, giving it an ongoing resonance beyond its depression era setting. While its songs aren’t particularly memorable in and of themselves, this musical serves more as a complete experience than a sum of its parts. While, as Clyde’s sister-in-law observes, the characters deserve each other, Lauren Conway and Connor Hawkins give us memorable portraits of the notorious duo, making this “Bonnie & Clyde” quite the triumph.

 

Retro rave

X-Stacy (Moreton Bay Theatre Company)

Neverland Theatre

May 24 – Jun 2

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Margery Forde’s “X-Stacy” is a classic. The powerful 1998 play, which is aimed at young audiences, explores rave culture and illicit drug use in Brisbane, and in Moreton Bay Theatre Company’s hands it is clear that two decades later, its realness, rawness and honesty still stand strong. This is a dynamic production that captures rave culture (as much as possible without a particularly crowded dance floor). The atmospheric staging starts from before entry even into the theatre, with an at-door bouncer to approve entry to the glow-stick braceleted audience members. The Neverland Theatre is pumping with techno music and strobe lighting as we are welcomed to ‘The Church’ of the Brisbane club scene. Mal Boal’s on-point sound design continues after a Gregorian-ish religious chant with the instantly recognisable, hypnotic melody of the unofficial mid-90s hymn ‘Children’, which is effectively revisited ongoingly during the show as a motif of the optimism and euphoria of ravers glimpsing towards an anticipated beautiful future.

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It is at the Crystal Nightclub that we meet the now-tortured Ben (Connor Hawkins) and then Zoe (Katie Clarke), a passionate new-to-town aspiring DJ who then becomes boarder with Ben and his mother Annie (Alison Telfer-McDonald). Through this we learn of what happened to Ben’s sister Stacy (Ruby Sanders), and why he is so angry at his mother for allowing Stacy’s room to be re-occupied. In Director Elodie Boal’s hands scene transitions to flashback and forward follow seamlessly, making it easy to follow the non-chronological storyline, even if some in-club conversations get lost its distinctive soundscape.

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Forde’s script is a crafted one, layered with meaning, and it is wonderful to see this reflected also in the production’s attention to detail, such as the clever lighting transition from church alter cross into crystal logo to signify its now nightclub setting. Its UV and neon coloured costumes also work well to capture the essence of its era.

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Hawkins is excellent as the troubled Ben, a sometimes sooky adolescent (often in interaction with his mother), grieving and guilt-ridden over ‘loving Stacy to death’, but then playfully immature in flashback to everyday interactions with his younger sister. Indeed, with Sanders, the sibling dynamic is authentically conveyed.

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Telfter-McDonald is another standout in her realisation of many of the play’s gripping moments of real emotional intensity. So poignant is her at-end explanation of the routines she has created to get through her grief as a mother, that a number of audience members are seen to be wiping away tears. There are earlier dramatic highlights at her hand too, such as when she confronts her rebellious daughter about her drug taking with friend Jenna (Ebony Hamacek). Clarke settles into the role of the feisty Zoe, delivering some well-timed and very funny one-liners and Arun Clarke establishes the early mood as the swaggersome, self-obsessed, but also troubled DJ Fergus.

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Tight pacing means that the show’s 90-minute duration flies by in what seems like the shortest of time, which is particularly impressive given the play’s thought-provoking and challenging themes. The link between spiritual ecstasy and drug fuelled ecstasy, which is church-going Anne’s subject for her university study as she tries to understand her daughter’s addiction is evident but not overdone and it is easy to appreciate through Ben’s descriptions, how for many there is an aspect of spirituality and religiosity to raves as ritualistic gatherings with a DJ as the spiritual leader. And while decision has been made with reason to have different performers play the roles of DJ Fergus and Father Paul (Trent Sellers) from the local church assisting the family through process of their grief, this change from the norm of many production having one actor play both roles, looks like a missed opportunity to further emphasise the parallels between the church and club culture. Playing the priest role in Irish accent, also seems like succumb to an easy stereotype.

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While its language and cultural exploration may now be dated, “X-Stacy” has a truth at its core and themes that still resonate, making it worth the trip and effort to find Moreton Bay Theatre Company’s home base in North Lakes. Boal has fashioned an accurate subculture depiction without defaulting to indulgent retro-esque nostalgia, and still gives her characters room to tell their own stories. In her hands, this “X-Stacy” is a compassionate story about trauma that not only entertains in a multitude of ways, but also encourages new conversations about unfortunately still very relevant issues.

Anniversary score!

Oklahoma! (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

November 16 – December 1

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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.