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

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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).

Little red relief’s roll out

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 4 (The Little Red Company)

April 17

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Initially my plan was to just review the first three episodes of “The IsoLate Late Show”, but then the little red company took things to another level, rolling out episode four from the show’s new La Boite Theatre home, still sans audience obviously, but with some bang-on production values, especially considering the challenges of the current situation.

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Immediately, the night’s dancing theme is evident with a ‘Shut Up and Dance’ duet from Luke Kennedy and Naomi Price, with guitar hero Jason McGregor’s accompaniment making the power pop song all the more irresistible for a sing-a-long. And, in keeping with the theme, the audience is also treated to a dance number from The Dream Dance Company, to remind us of the self-reward of aesthetic appreciation in disposition development, such is the little red company’s commitment to showcasing a wide range of talented creatives in whose hands our artistic future lies.

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Lai Utavout continues to set the tone with a visual extravaganza to disco anthem ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, complete with remote musical accompaniment, however, the show is, as always, far from one-note. Irena Lysiuk again gives us some light and shade in a stripped-back Jonas Brothers number and Naomi Price chanteuses us through Norah Jones’ jazzy ‘Turn Me On’, showcasing her vocal versatility and eclecticism, while McGregor and Bobbie Lee Stamper join in guitar collaboration to share a flawless take of the gorgeous Beatles classic ‘Blackbird’, bring back memories of Price’s La Boite show “Lady Beatle”.

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Stamper also continues the dancing theme with some smooth Springsteen sounds, live from Sydney. Everyone’s favourite elf (courtesy of “Christmas Actually”), Tom Oliver gives us harder rock in a comfortable robe and slippers with a bitter but groovy ‘Lonely Boy’, before joining with Kennedy for a standout, soaring ‘As The Days Go By’ duet of towering vocals, because Braithwaite makes everything alright.  Indeed, it’s a show of duets this week with Kennedy and Price also giving a spectacular ‘Shallow’ of moving melody in accompaniment of the powerful and poignant pop ballad’s stunning musical contrasts. Things never drift too far from the dance theme though with a socially (distancing) responsible version of ‘Dancing in the Street’ teasing us into a lycra and leg-warmer ‘Physical’ from Lysiuk and Price before a ‘Toxic’ extravaganza home school of rock showcase sees even members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata bringing us Britney as we’ve never before seen.

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The arts sector being unsupported by the government stimulus package means an uncertain future for creatives and the industry itself for the foreseeable future. Tuning in to “The IsoLate Late Show” and donating to the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD allows audience members to show this suffering industry that though they have been ignored, they are not forgotten. Not only do we get to share in celebration of the evolution of this show over such as short amount of time, but we are treated to a weekly reminder that as the days go by we do get a bit closer, even if we are still socially distanced apart.

Little red relief 3.0

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 3 (The Little Red Company)

April 3

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Continuing with its new Friday night tradition, episode three of “The IsoLate Late Show” feature throwback to some of performer Naomi Price’s previous shows, this time from its very first number, which sees the acclaimed performer delivering a ‘Rumour Has It’ that you might not have heard before, even if you have seen her portrayal of pop idol Adele in the celebrated show of the same name.

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The Little Red Company’s online live concert series for a covid-19 world also again features Luke Kennedy on vocals and Jason McGregor on guitar banding together with some virtual-world guest drops-ins as they aim to raise money for Queensland’s creative workforce who are facing perilous loss in the wake of the virus. Rather than Johnny Farnham, this week it is ‘Johnny Be Good’ (with energetic guitar from McGregor) that showcases Kennedy’s vocal versatility, especially when considered in conjunction with his later stripped-back, bring-on-the-feels ‘Time After Time’. The Queen of quarantine, Irena Lysiuk gives us a less angsty take of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ than audiences may be used to, while Mat Verevis shares a tender take of Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are’.

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Among others, Tom Oliver returns to remind us that everything is gonna be alright with a catchy Thirsty Merc number and Lai Utavout and Rachel Everett-Jones come out of their cabin fever to share a melodic ‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart’ singalong, complete with cameo from baby Zion. Indeed, the performers present a diverse set list, which evens includes some country stylings from Price with ‘Follow Your Arrow’, Kacey Musgrave’s now-trademark song about self-acceptance and not worrying about whether others judge your life choices.

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Members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, are again on-hand as part of a collaborative finale take of the ultimate Starship anthem. There is even a spot of magic, quite literally, as Christopher Wayne of The Naked Magicians joins in from quarantine after return from the group’s US tour, to showcase a trick. And Brisbane indie pop band Sheppard share their new number ‘Somebody like you’, as well as their debut album’s infectious first single ‘Geronimo’.

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Until such time as curtains rise again, “The IsoLate Show” is there for everyone to join together for both entertainment and fundraising purposes. All funds raised are administered by the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD – Queensland’s leading performing arts charity – and go directly to a suite of actors, singers, musicians, directors, writers, designers and more who have been affected by this catastrophic hit to the arts, so why not spend your Friday night knee deep in the hoopla with, and helping ,some theatre friends?

Little red relief 2.0

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 2 (The Little Red Company)

March 29

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Fresh from last week’s first IsoLate Late Show, the little red company were back on Friday night with episode two, albeit in a more striped-back format, thanks to updated social distancing and gathering requirements, because as experience continues to show, a lot can change in a week. Staying in may be the new black, but particularly for those who live alone, it can be an unusually lonely occurrence, especially if it is in contrast to typical time out theatring, which makes the experience of this new concept cabaret show all the more rewarding.

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It’s like an unplugged version of a performance proper, coming to us from another lounge room, but while the number of performers may be lessened, the entertainment is still as present as ever as Naomi Price and Luke Kennedy are joined by superstar guitarist Jason McGregor to share some creatives vs corona love. While the 90-minute show includes cabaret classics, there is also a covid19 twist to some of its numbers, including ‘Penny Lane’ appearing as dedication to the essential workers of our new-normal society. And reappropriated Katie Perry lyrics see Price bopping us through ‘Quarantine Dream’.

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While last week’s performers drop in via video, including members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, in accompaniment to Luke Kennedy’s epic ‘Into the Unknown’, this week’s show is really about Price and Kennedy. The pair is in fine vocal form, showcased particularly in gleeful (#seewhatIdidthere) duet + dog share of Journey’s cheesy but convincing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. They lift the classic rock number’s sing-along melody to become a spiritual anthem for people not to give up, which is obviously an important message during this current crazy time of coronavirus.

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Another highlight comes courtesy of the peak harmony of Kennedy’s crisp vocals in The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Give Me the Beat Boys’, which easily carries at-home audience members away in drift-away sing-a-long. And Price’s ‘Valerie’, done properly, the only way to do it, Amy Winehouse style, is enlivened with jazzy riffs and electrifying high-tempo guitar rock-out courtesy of McGreggor. Light and shade comes from McGreggor’s emotion-filled accompaniment to ‘Songbird’, to take us back to Price’s recent, but now a lifetime ago encore run of “Christmas Actually”. Throwback to Price’s other 2019 encore show at La Boite Theatre, “Lady Beatle”, comes courtesy of a final, vibrant Beatles mix, cresendoing into ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to let the evening go.

As its finale surmises, “The IsoLate Late Show” is guaranteed to raise the smile because, let’s face it, isolating is more fun with friends. Not only this, but it serves as an important ongoing reminder, also, about how arts matter and how members of this crippled industry need our support. With that in mind, you can continue to enjoy the full show, knowing that donations are still welcome at www.theisolatelateshow.com.