McCaw moments

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“Any Moment a new musical by Bradley McCaw” The Concept Recording, is a new work from award winning writer/performer and emerging composer Bradley McCaw. Set over the course of 24 hours, the work begins at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and moves throughout a single town, hearing stories from various individuals as the clock tumbles toward a New Year. Its inspiration from the famous John Lennon quote, ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’ is clear in this narrative premise and through-line exploration of what a minute in time truly represents.

It starts as we meet four strangers; a young man running away from home, a woman at a party, a truck driver heading home to his family and a new mother with her crying child in the cresendoing ‘Twenty More Till​’, which tantalises with suggestion of the spectacle that sets great opening musical numbers apart from the humdrumness of others.

The recording is inspired by hit musicals like “Songs for A New World,” and “Closer Than Ever,” and the musical influence is seen across the familiar feel of its 11-song soundtrack. There is humour too, in, for example, ‘My Phone’, in which two strangers (Judy Hainsworth & Shaun Kohlman) sing about their most prominent personal relationship and Emily Kristopher’s cute rendition of the bright and breezy ‘Rovers Song’, in which she sings as a young girl explaining her parents impending divorce, to her dog.

It is the ‘big’ numbers, however, that are the most memorable especially in their feature of performances by some of the finest performers from our musical theatre stages. Kurt Phelan implores his character to move on, as his ex gets married at the Church across town in ‘A Church on Murphy Street’, a tender, emotional highlight, that is both sentimental and soaring. And Lizzie Moore is exhilarating in sassy Sutton Foster-esque vocal presence in the final song, ‘Hard to Keep a Good Girl Down’, in which a woman unpacks the ending of her marriage.

Across its track listing, “Any Moment a new musical by Bradley McCaw” The Concept Recording features much variety and many musical highlights dependent upon personal preferences. While the recording aims to not showcase a Complete Final Musical Theatre work, it provides us with enough hint as to what “Any Moment” could be, to only want more. Lucky Melbournians will get the exclusive first look at the new work in celebration of its release at Chapel off Chapel this June as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

Sweet dreams are made of this

Sweet Charity (Understudy Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 24 – February 10

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With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon and choreography from Bob Fosse, “Sweet Charity” is, understandably one of the greatest of Broadway musicals. Yet, far from being a big, razzmatazz affair, it is essentially a simple and tender story, which makes it an ideal fit for Brisbane Powerhouse’s intimate Visy Theatre. Actually, perfection is also a far-from-hyperbolic descriptor of the show by Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.

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Charity Hope Valentine (Naomi Price) is a girl who dreams of being loved, despite the continuous misfortune of relationships handed to her by ‘the fickle finger of fate’. One day after work as a dance hall hostess at New York’s Fandango club, she, by chance, meets the film star idol Vittoria Vidal (Andy Cook) and is bewitched by his charm and riches, until his lover Ursula (Lizzie Moore) returns into his world. With hope that her life is changing for the better, Charity seeks out some cultural enlightenment, however, gets stuck in a broken elevator with shy, claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist (Stephen Hirst). Romance is sparked, despite her worry that he will not approve of her career choices and she lives… hopefully … ever after.

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Often I find myself judging a show by how long in it is before I find myself glancing at the time. With “Sweet Charity”, however, I found myself so caught up in its all-round entertainment that the only distraction of which I was aware was the face-ache caused by the smile and laughter that it induced. Unlike many perhaps, I knew little of the musical beyond recognition of its big-ticket number ‘Big Spender’. Rather than being performed by Charity herself, however, this is a sensual ensemble number by her fellow hostess dancers in proposition of the audience. Instead, her turn with a familiar tune comes courtesy of the energetic ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, in which she reflects on her marvellous luck as she spends time with Vittorio. The scene that finds her hidden away in a closet of his luxury apartment while he reconciles with his glamorous girlfriend is a hilarious showcase of Price’s impeccable comic timing, exact exaggerated facial expressions and spot-on awkward movement.

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The role of Charity Hope Valentine appears as if was written for Price and in conjunction with its comedy, she easily conveys the character’s enduring innocence and irrepressible optimism with a warmth that makes her immediately endearing to the audience. She also plays the poignancy of its final, vulnerable scenes with emotional sincerity. Price is vocally versatile too and always on-point, whether in the introspective reflection of ‘Where Am I Going?’ or the lively elation of ‘I’m a Brass Band’. And by the standing ovations offered, it appears that I am not alone in thinking so.

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Opening Night was a sold out show and I imagine the season will shortly follow suit. Things are busy on stage also, thanks to the production’s large cast, however, the stage never feels overcrowded, even in the ensemble numbers, in which movement generally appears effortless. Clever choreography (Dan Venz) provides an added element to the entertainment with nod to its era and also the precise and provocative Fosse style of snaps, swivels, thrusts and glamourous gestures, but also a modern touch. The brilliant ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ dance routine is a Fosse and Fellini (the musical is based on the Italian director’s film “Nights of Cabiria”) infused imagining that is worth the price of admission alone. It also highlights the vibrant musical arrangements (Musical Director Shanon D Whitelock) that characterise the production’s slick realisation of the musical’s jazzy score and swing from song to song. And it is difficult not to be enticed when the ensemble moves into the audience such as in Act Two’s knockout gospel-like number, ‘Rhythm of Life’, in which Charity and Oscar spend a date at a church run by a group of hippies. Although the number doesn’t have any real connection to the central story, its comprehensive scale and slick execution mean that this hardly matters.

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The success of Understudy Productions’ “Sweet Charity” is that it simultaneously works on every level and in every way, however, it could not succeed without a strong personality in the lead role which demands someone who can act, sing and dance in equal measure. And in this regard, the company could hardly have made a better choice than Naomi Price. While she sparkles, however, it is not at expense of the strong supporting cast. The main players, especially, all convey a strong stage presence. Andy Cook is deliciously over-the-top as lothario movie star Vittorio, especially when his mannerisms are even more heightened in interaction with demanding girlfriend Ursula (an appropriately melodramatic Lizzie Moore, who also impresses as Charity’s frank and streetwise colleague and friend Nickie). In a contrast to his recent roles, Stephen Hirst plays Oscar with warmth and sweetness that makes you genuinely want things to work out for them, right from their beautifully played first meeting. And Elliot Baker is magnetic as the mysterious Daddy Brubeck, cool and funky guru leader of the Rhythm for Life Church.

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Like the character of Charity herself (I’m not sure if I want to be her or be friends with her), this production is utterly charming. By focusing on Charity’s optimistic and hopeful nature, co-directors Kris Stewart and Maureen Bowra have crafted an appealing story of a confident, quirky and determined young woman. Like her, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously which is the essence of its joy, with both hilarious situations and little unexpected comic touches that only make its experience more endearing. Indeed, the effervescent production bursts onto the stage with a vitality and contemporary energy and perspective that means that the now dated pre-feminist text can still entertain as escapism.

Talented truths

The Last Five Years (Wax Lyrical Productions)

Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse

October 7 – 17

strings.jpgWhen the opening music of “The Last Five Years” mourns with string sounds it suggests that Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed 2001 musical is far from a happy story. This may ultimately be accurate, but in its tell of the doomed romance between lovers Jaime, a writer whose career is on the rise and struggling actress Cathy, it is certainly an honest and engaging one and not just in its inspiration from Brown’s failed marriage. And in Wax Lyrical Productions’ hands the musical two-hander is certainly heartbreaking as it traces their relationship from opposite ends.

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Initially it takes some effort to follow what is happening, without knowing of its complicated chronological twist, that sees Jamie’s (Kurt Phelan) story moving forward in time, while Cathy’s (Lizzie Moore) is portrayed in reverse. Once comfortable in the format, however, the show’s 90 minute duration flies by, through love at first sight to marriage breakdown and all that goes in between and it is easy to become absorbed in the musical storytelling, which provides an intimate look at the rise and fall of a relationship from infatuation to disillusionment.

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There’s not much of a plot, with only its melodically rich soundtrack and no dialogue. The sensational score requires performers with endurance, emotional range and soaring vocals. And in this regard, Phelan and Moore are spot-on, bringing clarity to the narrative and engagement to its storytelling.

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As aspiring actress Cathy, the multi-talented Moore moves from lament of the end of her marriage in ‘Still Hurting’ to the show’s most memorable number, the witty and upbeat ‘A Summer in Ohio’ parody of showbiz life and the exquisite torture of waiting for Jaime to visit.

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As Jaime, Phelan is charming, charismatic and vocally compelling from his first appearance onstage to share song of his excitement at encountering the ‘shiksa goddess’ of his dreams, moving through time towards the unhappiness of his unravelled marriage. His versatility is engaging, particularly in characterisation within ‘The Schumel Song’, where, as they celebrate their second Christmas, he tells Cathy of a new story he has written about an old tailor, in which he shows his gift for comedy. Indeed, whether the song is comic, gentle or agonised, Phelan creates an unforgettable experience through his outstanding performance, meaning that while you may see the show for the music, you will tell others to go to see him knock it out of the park.

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Live on-stage music (courtesy of Shanon Whitelock, Joel Woods, Ruth Donovan, Wayne Jennings, Ruby Hunter and Conall O’Neill) draws upon a number of musical genres to provide emotional resonance, while Jason Glenwright’s lighting design transports audience members from moments of triumph to turmoil and tenderness, including when at a single point in the middle Jaime and Cathy’s stories converge and we see them happy and singing together in ‘The Next Ten Minutes’ after Jamie has proposed. Countless (necessary) costume changes also contribute to the sensibility of each relationship phase. Indeed, under Zoë Tuffin’s direction the production is packed with nuanced nods and subtle suggestions as to the passage of time, which is appreciated in contribution to audience understanding.

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With humour, heart and a triumphant combination of cast and creative talent, Wax Lyrical Productions’ “The Last Five Years” certainly does not disappoint. In fact, it will probably stay with audiences long after the actors have left the space, in contemplation of whether we are more Jaime or Cathy or a little bit of both, such is the universal appeal of its thematic truths.

Photo c/o – Joel Devereux

More Moore Minogue

On A Night Like This – The Erin Minogue Story (Charming Rebel)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 27 – 28

This is it…. the moment for which the other, other Minogue sister Erin has been waiting – a call from Dani’s assistant and request that she join her famous siblings on tour, far away from Frankston, where she runs the Erin Minogue fame school for ages 3 – 8 (#nevertooyoung). And boy is she excited as she shares her story with the Brisbane Powerhouse crowd.

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As the fictional Erin, Lizzie Moore is every bit the bubbly optimist. Rather than resenting Kylie and Dani for their successes or obsessing over her own missed YTT audition, she is proud in boast of their achievements, defending Dani’s as astute business woman because she does have her own Target line after all.

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Although the show is filled with much humour, often at Dani’s expense (‘her’ hilarious tweets shared on screen are but one example), it is the music that is most memorable, particularly the manner in which songs are remixed to make them Moore’s own. And later songs in particular offer a wonderful opportunity for her to showcase her powerful vocals, with ‘On a Night Like This’ and ‘Better the Devil You Know’ resonating through the Visy Theatre space. In ballad too, Moore makes her vocal mark with a heartfelt ‘I Believe in You’, in departure from the song’s original Eurodisco sound.

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The biopic cabaret features more than just a Minogue setlist. Accompanist D’arren (Brad Rush) delivers a punchy ‘Suicide Blonde’ introduction to chronicle of Kylie’s Michael Hutchence inspired metamorphism from singing budgie to pop temptress and joins with Erin for some Stock Aitken Waterman sentimentality care of ‘Especially for You’, complete with cheesy action accompaniment. Jason Donovan features too, in music and narrative, providing an appealing nostalgia for those audience members of a certain vintage. (Why hasn’t any done a Kylie and Jason themed cabaret? #justsaying)

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Like Kylie and Jason’s teen romance, “On a Night Like This” is a show full of froth and bubble(gum pop) (#inagoodway). The show remains largely unchanged from its earlier outing, at the expense of opportunities to update some of its non-Minogue references (lip-sync fail mentions of Brittney Spears for example), but all the good stuff remains.

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With audience ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ sing-along and jump up, jump back hip swing share in debut single dance, it’s a perfect inclusion for the end-of-summer celebration of queer arts and culture that is Melt. Full of bubble and bounce it’s a peppy, pop, comedy cabaret insight into a non-existent celebrity sibling and her entirely untrue story, that is guaranteed to make you happy when you’re feeling blue, if you give it a chance now.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

Provocation at play

Other Women (Charming Rebel and Wax Lyrical Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

November 25 – December 3

Cabaret can change the world and with Lizzie Moore at the helm, it can do so by reminding us that what we do has consequences, that change is possible and that we all matter. This is not the Moore of “On A Night Like This – The Erin Minogue Story”, as she shares early in the provocative “Other Women” a sultry, lingering ‘Cherry Bomb’, stripping away the hard rock sensibilities of its story of a girl who is lots of trouble, to present The Runaways’ signature song as a slow burn. It’s a sizzle that continues as she struts about the show in burlesque corset, complete with sexy purr and perfect poise. Her timing, too is flawless as sexual double standards are exposed in more interactive moments.

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There is no fourth wall here as the important feminist questions are asked, such as ‘if a man is a stud, what is a woman?’ Audience participation takes Moore into the crowd to illustrate the misogynist double standards of song lyrics. Delivered in spoken word, out of context, these are surely shocking (especially from The Beatles), but still, the segment goes on a little too long past the last point having been made.

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The message of “Other Women” is clear in its communication without the need for over-zealous production elements. Yet, the circus-cabaret still entices with a live three-piece band, circus soloists and burlesque cheek. And Freyja Edney, Rosie Peaches, and aerial artiste Eliza Dolly are all wonderful in their respective roles.

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Contemporary circus artist, Edney, for example, goes from demure 1950s housewive to hoop performer, each absolutely entertaining, while burlesque beauty Rosie Peaches leaves a lasting impression with her final solo act, which is a lingering striptease number to Etta James’ ‘At Last’.

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The show features a diverse mix of songs from artists like Burt Bacharach, Peaches and Prince that not only showcase Moore’s vocal versatility, but facilitate exploration of promiscuity and our contradictory views towards women and their sexual behaviour. From her take of Goldfrapp’s ‘Ooh La La’, filled with glitter lust playfulness to her sassy belt of Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’, Moore’s vocals are outstanding in every eclectic instance.

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While, by her own admission, Moore cannot speak for other women, she can speak to them, and men too. As such “Other Women” becomes proof of how a more than a century old artistic form can still resonate with audiences, even when ‘full of dirty words’. Although ‘preaching to the converted’ Wonderland Festival crowd, its celebration of pussy power is certainly empowering in its message that she’s not your competition or your property but, rather, just another woman.

Shakespeare in song

Kiss Me Kate (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, Concert Hall

November 12

As the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, 2016 has seen many of the Bard’s plays brought to theatrical life as part of the global celebration of his work. But perhaps it has been a case of saving the best for last with Opera Queensland’s final production of the year, “Kiss Me Kate”. The semi-staged concert version of Cole Porter’s multi-award winning musical based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” features colossal collaboration as the company is joined by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and a dynamic cast of singers and actors to bring the classic of American theatre to life.

From the moment of its opening number of Hattie (Lizzie Moore) and company singing showbiz anthem ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’, the Porter features are on show with both catchy melodies and bold, witty lyrics (Porter is one of the few composers who wrote both words and music).  And when (as was the maxim for musicals of the golden age) Act Two opens with a big syncopated dance number “Too Darn Hot” it doesn’t matter that it does not contribute to the plot, such is the addictive appeal of its jazzy 1940’s sound.

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The backstage musical revolves around a disastrous Baltimore production of “The Taming of the Shrew”; newly divorced actors Lilli (Cheryl Barker) and Fred (Peter Coleman-Wright) are the show’s bickering couple Katharine and Petruchio, both onstage and off. Add in some secondary characters, such as  Lois (Naomi Price) who plays Bianca, Katharine’s younger sister unable to marry until her shrewish sibling has found a husband, her off-stage suitors and a pair of gangsters (Bryan Proberts and Shaun Brown) intent on collecting a gambling debt from Fred and you are in for a whole lot of fun.

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Barker and Coleman-Wright are wonderful as the warring lead couple, each with their own commanding stage presence. Barker is appropriate feisty on stage as the shrewsome Katharine; proud and haughty, she is sharp-tonged in her song ‘I Hate Men’ and full of violent threats in her titular duet with Petruchio. There is melancholic beauty in her vulnerability in delivery, of ‘So in Love’ and also Coleman-Wright’s reprise of the number, with vocals that resonate with the song’s tragic resignation of unrequited love.

In her dual roles of Lois Lane and sweet Bianca, Naomi Price’s vocals are also excellent. As the charismatic actress she is the quintessential airhead ingénue, with a blunt and brassy accent of the Cyndi Lauper sort, but absolutely charming in all that she does.  With equal prowess, she delivers the tender ballad ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ to her boyfriend Bill (Jason Barry-Smith), who had just missed rehearsal because he was gambling, and later brings cheeky personality to ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ in which she defends her faithfulness to him despite seeing and accepting gifts from wealthy men.

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Cole Porter’s tuneful score is full of fabulous numbers and under the baton of Guy Noble, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra brings them to glorious life, from the gentle string sounds that accompany ‘So In Love’ to the creation of the light-hearted mood of ‘We Open in Venice’ and the buoyancy of ‘Where is the Life That Late I Led’. However, sound issues spoil some song delivery, distracting from the performance when opening lines are lost. It would be helpful, also, to have a song list included in the show’s program. Jason Glenwright’s lighting awashes the Concert Hall with luscious blues and purples and Josh McIntosh’s costumes twirl about the place to convey a real sense of its time. Even the posture and presence of performers help to take the audience back to its era.

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As a tribute to Shakespeare, the show includes borrowed lines like Hamlet’s rub. And then there is ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, which, thanks to its encore ensemble delivery will earworm with audiences for days. The humourous ditty from Probets and Brown as the dim debt-collecting thugs, is packed with puns and malapropisms and delivered with delicious vaudevillian sensibility as it explains how to pick up women though the type of forced rhymes that resonate through much of Porter’s lyrics (think ‘Let’s Fall in Love’).

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“Kiss Me Kate” is full of colour and movement as its large ensemble scatters the action amongst the orchestra and amid the whirl of props being danced on and off stage. Indeed, under the direction of Kris Stewart, performers make good use of their limited space. To present any take of “Kiss Me Kate”, semi-staged or otherwise, is sure to be an ambitious adventure (the show won the first Tony Award presented for Best Musical in 1949), but given the success of their 2015 “Candide”, this show was always going to be safe in Opera Queensland’s hands. The result is not just a triumphant comical marriage of Shakespeare and Porter, but also of orchestral and musical excellence that feels equally fresh as it does of its time.

Photos c/o – Steve Henry

Moore Minogue

On A Night Like This – The Erin Minogue Story (Lizzie Moore)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

June 15

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You can’t escape the songs off your youth, but as “On A Night Like this – The Erin Minogue Story” shows, why would you want to? The biopic cabaret from Lizzie Moore includes pop numbers like Kylie’s ‘Hand on your Heart’ and Jason Donovan’s duet ‘Especially for You’. There’s even a Danni hit ‘This Is It’ (don’t worry, there isn’t very many of them).

As the fictional other, other Minogue sister, Erin has lived her life on the periphery of fame. She is not bitter; she’s opened the Erin Minogue fame school for Frankston’s brightest stars aged 3 – 8 (#nevertooyoung). However, she longs to be reunited. After all, she was dancing for free for Kylie long before the Logies. As she shares her lament, audience members are taken back to where it began and then on a decade by decade visual and musical journey through the lives of her superstar sisters. Indeed, the show makes the most of every interaction available: banter with the pianist D’aaren (it rhymes with L’Oreal), video interludes and audience participation that includes an all-in Locomotion number of chug a chug a motions and swinging hips.

But  as the story of two sisters and another sister, the show is about more than just the music, as Erin shares many (often humourous) imagined early memories from the days of auditioning for YTT, seeing her sisters’ soapies success and Kylie’s Inxsory ‘Suicide Blonde’ blossoming.

“On A Night Like This” is a deliciously entertaining step back in time (#seewhatididthere). Lizzie Moore is a peppy performer whose energy and humour are wonderfully infectious. When it comes to a joyous night of musical escapism to the nostalgia of youth, you should be so lucky (lucky, lucky, lucky) to experience the Erin Minogue experience.