Let the James begin

Skyfall (The Little Red Company)

South Bank Piazza

September 14 – 18

As soon as its recognisable bah-dup bah-daaaah belts out to signpost the start of The Little Red Company’s blink and you may miss it Brisbane Festival season of “Skyfall”, the audience is ready to let the James begin. Its tag line promise of it being a license to thrill soon rings true too as, taking the concept of cabaret entrances to new heights, Luke Kennedy kicks thing off in full suave spy mode.

Anyone who has experienced a Little Red show knows of the company’s characteristic attention to detail. In this instance, the delivery of that trademark give to audiences of that little bit extra is realised also in Naomi Price’s entrance, which is totally in keeping with the seductive allure at the centre of the Bond film franchise. Indeed, Queensland’s leading couple of song both exude style as they swagger about the stage (and amongst the cabaret seating section of the audience), martinis in hand. And fabulous as Price’s ‘200 metres’ of tulle costume may be, her re-emergence in a golden tux is all sorts of fabulous as she sings of the man with the Midas touch.

Although the couple have only one duet together, their playful, punny banter about Bond Girl names and alike, and interactions with audience members keep things light. For all the opportunities that the South Bank Piazza space provides, however, it also comes with its limitations and its cold and cavernous space is not particularly conducive to the cosy intimacy that cabaret experiences typically provide. Things are shaken up by appearance of guest stars joining for some numbers. Drag act The Slaying Mantis appropriately allows us to feel her presence in the crowd during ‘Goldfinger’ and Lai Utovou oozes silky vocals in his smooth ‘The World is Not Enough’.

Iconic brassy orchestral stabs from an eight-piece horn section give numbers their signature sounds, in work with the company’s usual band quartet of Mik Easterman on drums, Scott French on Bass, Michael Manikus on keys and Jason McGregor on guitars. Kicking off with the spy’s swinging instrumental main signature theme, the band is always on-point, and are appropriately given individual moments to shine, such as Shannon Marshall’s triumphant trumpeting in Kennedy’s ‘Thunderball’ and Jeffrey Reid’s alto saxophone work in Price’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ power ballad.

The musical highlight happens, however, in a bombastic ‘Live and Let Die’ thanks to Easterman’s dynamic drums, which make it easy to appreciate the song’s honour of, in 1973, being the first Bond song to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Indeed, as we experience the epic masterpiece’s build to a fiery explosion of instrumentation, its pulse its infectious.

High energy numbers are tempered with some tender tunes like Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, which Kennedy delivers with haunting beauty. The sleek, boldly bare performance conveys a real pathos, especially in his impressive falsetto, that makes it one of the night’s best vocal performances. Price is given many moments to shine, none more so to when we are taken into the conclusion of the 70 minutes show courtesy of its titular tune, which provides a swirling lush and moody reminder of her previous “Rumour Has It” Adele tribute show.

“Skyfall”, which has been created by Adam Brunes and Naomi Price adds to the company’s catalogue of unique music-driven theatrical experiences. It is an energetic celebration of the spy film franchise’s massive music that leaves audience members thoroughly entertained. And its mashup encore tribute leaves us not only wanting more, but also wondering when the company’s ‘Sex Bomb’ show is happening.

Songbook soundtrack

Your Song (The Little Red Company)

Judith Wright Arts Centre

April 22 – May 1

When the little red company opens the world premiere of “Your Song” with the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road numbers, ‘Bennie and the Jets’ and ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)’, the jubilant energy, both on stage and amongst the top-taping, clapping-along audience, has an infectious ‘not wanting to go to work tomorrow’ feel. The lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam is a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour (helped by Jason Glenwright’s lively lighting design). And it is a standard of excellence is maintained throughout the show’s 90-minute duration.

“Your Song” sees the company of talented singers and musicians tackle Elton John’s biggest hits. However, far from being a typical tribute show (no-one takes on the role of Elton John) creators Adam Brunes and Naomi Price have affectionately woven the music and lyrics created by Elton John and Bernie Taupin around connected, often deeply personal memories and stories shared by people who have been intimately affected by the music. It is a formula that works incredibly well as, in her directorial debut for the company, its artistic director and co-founder Naomi Price, crafts a taut show that encourages the audience to consider the music megastar’s unforgettable global hits anew, with songs being cleverly chosen from the performer’s catalogue to not only illustrate his musical versatility but connect intrinsically to the core, often heartfelt message of the real-life stories.

The incredible cast of Marcus Corowa, Irena Lysiuk, Luke Kennedy and Andy Cook (Corowa and Cook in their Little Red debuts) are superb in their vocals, and also musicianship with Corowa and Lysiuk giving a guitar duet of Elton’s lively and likeable 1976 number with Kiki Dee. Corowa also especially impresses in a soulful ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’, which is layered with melancholic yearning thanks to his richly textured vocals. And Lysiuk’s vocals are as lovely as ever.

Throughout the show, light and shade are factored into the curation not only of the set list but its anthology of stories, which allows for a beautiful rendition of the ballad ‘Daniel’ by Music Supervisor Kennedy and a captivating stripped-back ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ from Cook. Indeed, this captivating number is one of the show’s highlights, with Cook’s astounding voice creating a mesmeric performance that is worthy of admission alone. Cook is a thoroughly entertaining and energetic performer who not only can make the word shandy sound seductive but execute a full splits drop of which any drag queen would be proud. And his versatility easily takes us from a big-voiced, buoyant tease into the introduction of ‘Crocodile Rock’, complete with La la la la la la audience chorus contribution, through to the heartfelt sentiment of its story’s context.

It is to their credit that all the performers tell the show’s stories so engagingly that it is easy to forget that they are not of their own experiences. Lysiuk, in particular, is a charming storyteller who provides a lot of the show’s humour, including through on-stage synchronised swimming and a most-memorable reveal during ‘Tony Danza’ ‘Tiny Dancer’. And her fabulous energy makes it easy to consider ‘I’m Still Standing’ anew as a feminist anthem (#yeahyeahyeah).

As always musicians Mik Easterman on drum, Michael Manikus on keyboards and OJ Newcomb on bass provide strong support for the vocalists. In particular, Manikus shines in his realisation of the songs of one of the most iconic piano players in modern history, including through his rapid-fire ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)’ and funky ‘Honky Cat’.

Described as ‘the songs you know, the stories you don’t’, “Your Song” represents a clever concept, realised by outstanding performers along with first-rate original arrangements from Maitlohn Drew, Alex Van den Broek and the cast. It is a slick show full of entertaining energy, heart and humour and when the company’s mega-mix encore tradition sees audience members on their feet in elation, it is easy to appreciate the good reasons why this has been the fastest selling show in Little Red history, requiring the scheduling of additional performances. Not only does “Your Song’ remind us of the works of an incredible artist who has soundtracked our lives, but in, in the little red company’s hands, it creates an emotional connection that may catch us aware and linger long afterwards.  

Photos: c/o Steph Do Rozario

Rom-com rejoice

There’s Something About Music (The Little Red Company)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 24 – 27

There’s something about music in movies, especially those songs that have defined iconic romcoms. Luckily for Brisbane audiences, the little red company has crammed their best bits together in “There’s Something About Music”, now showing in second attempt at a season at Brisbane Powerhouse after its inaugural May 2020 outing was COVID cancelled.

After a pre-show soundtrack teen rom-com tease of the “I Want You to Want Me’ and ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ sort, Naomi Price and Lucy Maunder bust out with ‘Just a Girl’, No Doubt’s first single and “Clueless” classic, wearing plaid ensembles and over-the-knee socks in full visual embodiment of the quintessential ‘90s favourite. It’s an early indication of the attention to detail that typifies the company’s productions and adds additional interest as we realise the deliberate parallels to Price’s later beautiful yellow evening dress and Maunder’s off-the-shoulder red opera gown and white elbow gloves.

With ‘bend and snap’ snippets within Legally Blonde’s “Perfect Day” feeling-on-top-of-the-world opener and Bridget Jones’s pyjama-clad clasp of a vodka bottle before discovery of its companion Chaka Kahn, there is much to appreciate in the show’s small details as much as its showstopping numbers. Indeed, creators Adam Brunes and Naomi Price have crafted together all the genre’s recognisable tropes in the cleverest of ways, peppered all the while with some self-deprecating humour to keep the audience thoroughly entertained.

With every song sounding like it could be the finale, there is a high energy throughout as things move from a frenetic ‘One Week’ in which Luke Kennedy and Mat Verevis trumpet the song’s clever wordplay in rapid-fire interplay, through a full company ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” more-than-just-musical tribute to Heath Ledger’s charm in the iconic Shakespeare retelling of “10 Things I Hate About You” towards a lively ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ singalong to rival that in its famous “My Best Friend’s Wedding” scene. Still, as all great shows are, “There’s Something About Music” is curated to include a balance of light and shade in its moods and it is when things change pace that audience members are treated to the most memorable of the night’s musical numbers from the show’s versatile performers.

Luke Kennedy is effortlessly suave in Harry Connick Jr’s ‘It Had to Be You’, from the finale scene of “When Harry Met Sally”. As captivating as his smooth vocal sophistication is, however, the show’s standout musical moment comes from Verevis’ pitch-perfect delivery of Des’ree’s soulfully sentimental ‘Kissing You’ from the contemporary soundtrack to 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet”. His serene representation of the love theme’s essential emotions both signals his assured vocal maturity and masterfully captures the collective breath of the audience. Not only are the performers ably supported by the onstage band of Mik Easterman (drums), Scott French (guitars), Michael Manikus (keys), Jason McGregor (guitars) and  OJ Newcomb (bass), but the variety of numbers means that the musicians are also given particular moments to shine, such as when Scott French accompanies an appropriately floppy-Hugh-Grant-haired Kennedy in a simple but beautifully melodious ‘She’ themed “Notting Hill” nod.

Jam packed with trips down memory lane, “There’s Something About Music” is filled with witty banter, unrequited love and even a happy-ever-after nuptial, meaning that, like a quality mix tape, the show has something for everyone… not just romantic comedy tragics. The celebration of films that defined the rom-com genre and their soundtracks is full of feel-good fuzzies and infectious energy alike. And thankfully audiences leave from its final Wilson Phillips clap, sing and dance along “Bridesmaids” number knowing they don’t have to hold on too long to see the company’s provocative new production of Elton John’s iconic songbook, “Your Song”, at The Judith Wright Centre in late April.

Photos – c/o Jade Ferguson

Worth the wait

Waiting for John (the little red company)

Wynnum Opera House

November 15

“Waiting for John”, it’s a very clever title for the little red company’s show at the inaugural Wynnum Fringe Festival, even more so given the location of its debut performance at the former Wynnum Baptist Church, aka the weekend’s Wynnum Opera House. The show, which unites three apostles of Australian music – Mat Verevis, Mark Sholtez and Luke Kennedy, sees the trio performing original music and songs by famous Johns, including songs we all know but maybe have forgotten.

It is not long before the show’s concept is highlighted courtesy of a John Lennon classic. As the John repertoire expands through John Legend and alike we are also (partly due to an audience request segment) given opportunity to clap, click and sing along to all sorts of forgotten classics such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’, ‘Ring of Fire’ and a brilliant ‘Bennie and the Jets’ showcase of Verevis’ vocals and keyboard skills alike. And Kennedy also leads an energetic ‘Chain Reaction’ feel-good call back to his hugely-entertaining King of Pop tribute show “From Johnny to Jack”.

In compliment to this, we also hear some original songs from all three performers for the first time. Kennedy’s ‘Calling Me Home’ is a relaxing reflection on regret with slow percussions emphasising its easy-like-Sunday-evening listening appeal. Similarly, a sample from Verevis’ new EP showcases his smooth vocals and sweet falsetto. And Mark Sholtez’s stripped-back ‘Mockingbird’ is full of emotional conviction.

Perhaps a surprise highlight comes from the show’s final number, which sees Kennedy share an enticing take on Olivia Newton John’s timeless love song ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, full of harmony in its heartbreak. While it is over all too quickly, it is a lovely way to end a show so full of nuance and overwhelming talent from a boy band unlike any you have probably seen before. Indeed, the intimate evening not only brings together its accomplished performers for a concert of biblical proportions, but it gives glimpses into the process of communication that song writing enables, which adds a little bit extra to its appeal.

A-Live and IRL

The IsoLate Late Show: Live! (The Little Red Company)

Logan Entertainment Centre

October 24

Surprisingly, only a small percentage of the audience at “The IsoLate Late Show: Live!” at Logan Entertainment centre have actually seen the juggernaut success which entertained over 300 000 fans online during lockdown through Friday night live streams (joined by some famous friends) on The Little Red Company’s Facebook page. By the end of its #irl in-real-life celebration of all things cabaret, it is clear that everyone, however, is a fan.

Following sold-out shows at this year’s Brisbane Festival, the band has regrouped with a stellar line-up of special guests, including all your favourites from the original series Rachel Everett-Jones, Irena Lysiuk, Tom Oliver and Lai Utovou, along with Michael Manikus on keys, Mik Easterman on drums, OJ Newcomb on bass and Jason McGreggor on guitar.

In person, the essence of the powerhouse cabaret remains central from the opening ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ number from cabaret super couple Naomi Price and Luke Kennedy. And even with socially distanced seating and restrictions on audience dance, the communal experience of live music and theatre remains infectious, thanks to the energy of all performers as numbers pep up with Jason McGregor punching out a sizzling ‘Need You Tonight’. And Tom Oliver’s ripping ‘(Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind’ in a kinda sorta nod to the AFL grand final occurring elsewhere in the South East sees him revelling in the change of pace with McGregor crunching its rock riff on guitar. It’s a banger of a show that also sees Price and Kennedy do what they do best with audience favourite numbers from their individual cabaret shows “Rumour Has It” and “From Johnny to Jack”.

As always, the show is full of interesting moments of light and shade, including when Rachel Everett-Jones delivers a tender take of Guns N’ Roses’ monster hit ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ in lullaby tribute to Baby Zion, the weekly star of the online show, and a later anthemic tribute of ‘Respect’ from Price to all the unstoppable women making a difference in the world. Collaboration and a shared stage are always at the core of Little Red Company shows and this is seen from the outset, when, with a little help from his friends, Utovou bursts forth with a tremendous early vocal and visual highlight in a Baz Luhrmann style ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, making us all feel as if we are joining in disco celebration at the costumed Capulet feast. The live version of the show also sees Price, as the show’s host, bantering with the audience with her usual quick-witted humour, and also a segment of audience requests which sees Kennedy revisit an earlier ‘I’m Too Sexy’ invitation.

The Little Red Company continues to position itself as a tour de force within the arts industry. More than this, however, their advocacy for the necessity of the arts is a reminder to everyone about its vital role within our collective human experience. And “The IsoLate Late Show: Live!”, while at its most wonderful in real life, is also a reminder that we can continue to enjoy its online versions.

IsoLation appreciation

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 10 (The Little Red Company)

May 29

ffe4bee3-0800-4b71-b95c-16f692ef951a-2-1024x535

Proving that isolation’s more fun when you do it together, the little red company has, for the last 10 weeks, been banding together with other talented performers for an online live concert series to raise money for Queensland’s creative workforce who are facing perilous loss in the wake of COVID-19’s catastrophic hit to the arts industry. The concept concert, “The IsoLate Late Show”, is not only entirely philanthropic, but also immensely enjoyable for audiences watching its weekly Friday night live Facebook broadcast. And appropriately, its final episode sees both a set list of audience requests from the past 10 weeks and the show’s core artists making music in the same (socially distanced) space. Not only are they finally making music together in real life, but they are doing it on the stage at Brisbane’s beloved art-deco music venue the Tivoli theatre. And with tons of tinsel and a razzle dazzle jacket, the atmosphere is sparkling as they set towards an ultimate $100K fundraiser goal for the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD.

Amongst its reflection on the last ten weeks of shows from home, Episode 10 of “The IsoLate Late Show” enables its own highlights, especially thanks to its bigger space and increased performer numbers. The duets are what make our dreams come true, from Luke Kennedy and Lai Utouvou’s Hall and Oats to Tom Oliver and Irena Lysiuk’s ‘Kids’ and a feel-good ‘Time of My Life’ closer from Kennedy and the show’s host Naomi Price to remind us that nobody puts the arts in the corner.

Numbers also provide opportunity to give live band members their moments to shine. Tom Oliver’s epically-rock ‘My Sharona’ allows Jason McGregor to show some impressive guitar riffs and, helping Luke Kennedy doing what he does best in Farnham’s ‘Age of Reason’, Michael Manikus is a maestro on keys. Naomi Price, too, is on-point in show of her versatility, from a high-energy ‘River Deep Mountain High’ opener to a croony ‘Make You Feel Your Love’ gentle and sweet take back to her Adele cabaret show “Rumour Has It”.

There is eclecticism to the show’s set list of audience requests, curated together in the most magnificent of ways, taking audiences from Rachel Everett-Jones and Lai Utouvou’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’, full of pep courtesy of its quick paced vocals and trademark percussion, to Tom Oliver’s infectious disco energy, being finally allowed to do a Bee Gees number.

Songs are also strategically selected with on-point messages, appropriate for these uncertain times. Quarantine Queen Irena Lysiuk gives audiences another stunning Cher number with a beautifully-arranged ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, while Rachel Everett-Jones offers reminder that it’s going to be bright and sunshiny on the other side of these dark and difficult days, with ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. The strings musicians of Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, remind us of both our wonderful world and the wonderful art form that classical music can be with a moving arrangement of Satchmo’s signature song and, appropriately for the season’s finale, Luke Kennedy and Rachel Everett-Jones’ ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ makes for a spectacular high point.

After ten weeks of tireless effort assembling and delivering theatre to our lounge rooms, the cast and creatives of “The IsoLate Late Show” deserve only the most hyperbolic of acclamation for reminding audiences of both Brisbane’s talent and an industry that is determined to still stand. And for that, we should be we should be dancing in appreciative celebration indeed (#takeitfromTom).