Deck the stalls

79939213_10158199950018866_7036287020859129856_n.jpgThe festive season always means a theatre pause and reflection as to the year’s greatest applause. A Broadway break enabled experience of my new favourite thing in Dear Evan Hansen, which is now up there with Rent as my musical mecca, along with other 2019 faves Hamilton and Mean Girls. Closer to home, however, amongst the usual 100+ shows seen, there are a number of memorable mentions.

Most Entertaining

  • The Gospel According to Paul in which Jonathan Biggins brilliantly portrays the love-him-or-hate-him Paul Keating.
  • 100 Years of the History of Dance (as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale), another solo show, this time from Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons.

Best musical:

  • Sweet Charity – the perfect start of year show from Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.
  • the ridiculously funny Young Frankenstein, Phoenix Ensemble’s stage version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof and parody of both the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.
  • The Book of Mormon– the ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical is still the funniest thing around, even in repeat experience.

Best musical performance:

  • Naomi Price as the titular Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, a role that appears as if written for her.

Best dance

Best cabaret

Best independent theatre

  • Ghosts – The Curator’s homage to great Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen’s controversial play was innovative in its layers of scathing social commentary.

Best comic performance

Best dramatic performance:

  • Patrick Shearer for his powerful and precise performance as the bohemian artist son Oswald in Ghosts.

Most moving

  • Love Letters – the heart-warming story of two people who share a lifetime of experiences through the medium of handwritten letters, presented at Brisbane Arts Theatre by real-life married couple Ray and Melissa Swenson.

Best AV

  • Project Design Justin Harrison’s dynamic projection designs represented a key component of Kill Climate Deniers’ vibrant realisation.

Best new work

  • The relatable guilty pleasure of FANGIRLS – like a witty young adult novel set to music and full of glittery fun, complete with important messages.

Favourite festival show

Notable mention to:

  • Rocket Boy Ensemble’s Reagan Kelly for its killer opening monologue chronicle of night out in the valley
  • Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for its incredible stagecraft of illusions and magic beyond just that of the expelliarmus sort.

Jumping Jack smash

From Johnny to Jack (The Little Red Company)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 15 – 16

When Luke Kennedy begins his “From Johnny to Jack” John Farnham show with musical recall of how one is the loneliest number, it serves as an instant reminder of the extensive catalogue of Farnsie hits. Even so, the work, which charts the greatest comeback in Australian rock and roll history, offers some unexpected song discoveries as its first act takes us through then little Johnny Farnham’s teen pop icon popularity and then decline. Although necessary to the narrative, the act drags a little through musical numbers from “Charlie Girl” and “Pippin”, however, duet with Stefanie Caccamo for ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’ adds some interest. (Caccamo also later gives a commanding performance of the clean-cut star’s second number one hit, ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’).

Act Two opens to a rocking ‘Playing to Win’ and nostalgic Little River Band medley of numbers in signpost of when Johnny becoming John after meeting legendary music manager Glenn Wheatley. Before long, the anthemic ‘You’re the Voice’ has audience members on their feet for the finest of feel good singalongs. And who needs a bagpiper when you have Jonny Ng from Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, the other star of the show, on violin, breathing beautiful new life and love into the novelty song ‘Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)’. In fact, all members of the world-class band are outstanding from the show’s opening musical melody. And Stephen Ward’s guitar solo makes ‘Help’ another highlight, working in conjunction with Kennedy’s strong, soaring vocals to give it an added depth. Sam Gibb’s lighting also works wonderfully to transition the music and moods of the show’s medleys.


“From Johnny to Jack” is not just a worthy celebration of the only Australian artist to have a number one record in five consecutive decades, but a great vehicle for Kennedy’s talent. In particular, it showcases his incredible range as he effortlessly slides between up-tempo and lingering songs alike, sometimes sounding very much like the King of Pop himself. But it is the ballads that allow his passionate voice the best opportunity to linger. His vocals sit in the moments of ‘Burn for You’ with an emotion to tear at your heart, while the gentle touch of ‘Please Don’t Ask Me’ is emphasised by his stirring vocal sounds. And both numbers are made all the more memorable thanks to Ng’s evocative violin accompaniment.

Once Johnny becomes Whispering Jack, a tight Act Two flies by in what seems like the shortest of times, with return audience members noting the show’s improved pacing compared to earlier realisations. Unpredictably not leaving ‘You’re the Voice’ to be the show’s encore, proves to be a spot-on decision, leaving room for a fabulous concluding medley of the smash hit songs audience members are expecting to hear in Whispering Jack revisit.

When, early in Act One, Kennedy uses ‘Don’t You Know It’s Magic’ to introduce “From Johnny to Jack” as a journey through the greatest untold story in Australian musical history, it seems entirely appropriate, because experience of this smash of a show is, indeed quite magical. Its jumping energy and feel-good, heart-warming celebration of one of his country’s best-known and most popular performers is so infectious that it immediately has you wanting to bring all your friends along to experience it again.