Super(trooper) celebration

The Ultimate ABBA Experience (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

May 5 – 15

‘70s Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA never performed inBrisbane (the band’s 1977 tour took them only to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth), but the city is clearly full of dancing queens. With an audience featuring some fans in disco jumpsuits (but alas not cat dresses), the group’s enduring popularity is immediately clear at Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience”. This sparkliest of celebrations of the enduring pop sensation rightfully takes place under a giant mirror ball, beginning with burst forth of the quintessential, ‘Mamma Mia’. And waving arms, tapping feet and smiling faces are evident throughout the audience from this very first number.

Also clear from the outset is the excellent musicianship of the accompanying orchestra, Cadenza Chamber Players, under conductor, musical director and arranger Lucas D Lynch. Their sharp sounds construct the advance harmonic song scaffolding upon which the performances are built, ensuring that every number is musically textured according to its place on the emotional gamut of ABBA tunes. The orchestra’s strings guide us into the Nordic melancholy of ‘SOS’, beginning a tribute to the band’s greatest hits compilation album, complete with gold aesthetic and huge ABBA lettering (designer and emcee David Lawrence). And a symphonic lead-in to Lawrence’s late-show ‘I Had a Dream’ shows the tremendous talents of the orchestra. A commonality through much of ABBA’s music, whether it be as a ballad or rock anthem, is the piano and repeatedly Lynch also expertly fabrics each song’s unique percussive sound around us.

Energy is infectious and under Maureen Bowra’s direction (and also choreography) the show’s almost two hours duration flies by with audience sing and clap alongs and rise to dance to dynamic numbers like the synthy ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ that roars things into interval. Bowar’a choreography is full of vitality, using the full space and all levels of the stage, resulting in some standout moments, such as a moving tableau of the ensemble across the stage in ‘Money, Money, Money’ poses.

The show includes a number of surprises, including lyrical dance as accompaniment to a wistfully nostalgic ‘Fernando’ and a vibrant dancer burst of colour to brighten the steady instrumental build and lavish vocal layering of ‘Chiquitita’. Costumes work well with Tom Dodds’ lighting design and Ben Murray’s sound design to dazzle within each aesthetic palette, reflecting the multiple moods of the night’s set-list.

Talented singers Simon Chamberlain, Michael Nunn Jess Purdy, Nate Stevenson, Ellen Tuffley and music arranger Samantha Paterson show impressive control of the numbers’ intricate vocal harmonies, performing with power and passion. Nunn, in particular, helps to make highlights of an early, swaggersome ‘Rock Me’ and a pounding, flirtatious ‘Does Your Mother Know’. It is, however, Paterson’s uplifting ‘The Winner Takes It All’ that serves as the biggest vocal highlight, with appropriate mid-song applause and huge concluding ovation. The number, which represents the epitome of the band’s personal lyrics, requires a delicate balance given its pop balladry but despairing lyrics, and Paterson not only brings to it a vocal strength, but respect enough not to over-embellish its essential emotions.  

Jennifer B Ashley, Chloe Kiloh, Daniel Terribile and assistant choreographer Luke Woodrow (assistant choreographer) are not only skilled, but have appealing stage presence. Ashley and Terribile, in particular, convey a clear enthusiasm for every moment in their every facial expression. Each number is received with the joy it is shared, even in the case of lesser known songs like ‘So Long’, ‘Head Over Heels’ ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘As Good As You’, which segues seamlessly into the unapologetically disco-esque pace of an alliterative ‘Voulez-Vous’ full of infectious ‘ah haha’s’, and the irresistible glam-pop pinnacle of ‘Waterloo’.

Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience” is pure gold entertainment… a brilliant production, with lively choreography, super trooper costumes, immaculate musicianship and on-point vocal performances, and it is appropriate that the highly entertaining concert encores to thunderous applause, such is the ABBA-solute feelings of joy it conveys in time-of-your-life celebration of the iconic band’s essential pop classics.

Photos c/o –  PiF Productions

R&H homage

The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein (Lynch and Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

October 15 – 16

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein were two of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Together, they created 11 musicals amongst a body of work in the 1940s and 1950s that has become known as the golden age of musical theatre. More so than any composer and lyricist who have written for the stage, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs have become standards of musical theatre repertoire and celebration of some of these beloved tunes is at the core of Lynch and Paterson’s “The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein”, which sees these treasured musical theatre songs performed alongside Cadenza Chamber Players.

From the outset, the concert’s overture sweeps us into the mood for its melodies as we are reminded of the smash hit songs from the duo’s string of hit musicals such as “The Sound of Music”, “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel” and more. The musical sensibility is also clear from Act One’s outset with soprano soloist Samantha Paterson connecting immediately with the audience in a lively ‘Getting to Know You’ from “The King and I”. Indeed, the light-hearted charm that typifies a musical’s appeal is evident throughout, from the playful whistling of a happy tune to the in-turn vocal sequencing of musical tones to each performer in ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and its exploration of the major musical scale. And then we are taken to the South Pacific with mezzo soprano soloist Meg Hamilton leading ‘Wonderful Guy’ with humour, heart and vigour, before the male chorus launches into the playful and plucky companion number ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’, further reminding the audience of the unique fusion of Rodgers’ musical comedy and Hammerstein’s operetta that characterise their work.

Bringing Broadway’s legendary musical showstoppers to life, is a cast of four dazzling vocalists and a powerful professional chorus. The lead vocalists, Samantha Paterson, Meg Hamilton, Travis Holmes and Elliot Baker are talented and charismatic. In particular, tenor soloist Holmes is a resonant presence. His ‘Soliloquy’ from “Carousel” in which the now-jobless antihero reveals his inner passions and fears upon learning he is about to become a father, is an epic musical monologue of humour and pathos and he handles its emotional transition with aplomb, connecting with the audience through his strong, but also sensitive voice. Its resulting momentous applause could well be the show’s highlight… until his climatic ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ from “The Sound of Music”. The inspirational song about discovery and following one’s dream is delivered with a vocal drama that complements its slow musical build from hopeful searching to rewarding happiness. And Elliot Baker’s rich baritone sounds effortless wrap themselves around ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, making the love-at-first-sight song, smooth, but also sincere, in its romantic sentiments.

The cast’s voices combine to produce some wonderful harmonies, such as in support of Hamilton in ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and then all together in encore of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from “Carousel”. It is an appropriate ending, not just due to its dramatic display of complex harmonies but its essentially optimistic message. The emotional peak of Act II in “Carousel” has become a global anthem that strikes a chord during tough times, reminding of the resilience needed. It is a hopeful and emotionally-impactful punctuation of the soaring scores that occupy the bulk of the show’s two acts.  

The Cadenza Chamber Players orchestra conducted by Lucas D. Lynch makes every number lushly memorable, whether it be playful or contemplative in tone. And its string section of violins, viola, cello and bass fuse together to deliver some especially exquisite flighty sounds in later “The Sound of Music” numbers. Strong production values also see Tom Dodd’s lighting design complementing the sentiment of the themes on show, twinkling us into the enchanted evening and warming us into the bright golden haze on the meadow of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, as Elliot Baker shares Curly Mclain’s enjoyment of a wonderful day out West in “Oklahoma!”

The timeless music of Rodgers and Hammerstein changed theatre forever and Lynch & Paterson’s sophisticated production serves as a reminder of the duo’s cement of iconic status. The joyful homage is also a showcase of the talents of some magnificent vocalists and the stunning live orchestra of Cadenza Chamber Players. Its only disappointment is that there are only two performances.

Superstar splendour

Jesus Christ Superstar (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

July 9 – 18

Within minutes of Lynch & Paterson’s production of the mega musical cultural phenomenon “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the show’s triumph is clear. The Twelfth Night Theatre is appropriately staged so as to include showcase of the orchestra and the ‘Overture’ only entices with their expertise. Precision in the synchronisation of the accompanying ensemble’s dance movements confirms the professionalism of production and then Jesse Ainsworth’s final note in Judas’s ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ cements both the vocal calibre of the show’s performers and electrifying tone of the enduring soundtrack.

Set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s pop-rock score, the sung-through musical’s story is loosely based on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’s life, from preparation for the arrival of him and his disciples in Jerusalem through to his crucifixion. It began life as a rock opera concept album in 1970 and it is wonderful to witness the production’s nod to this origin. A rich ‘70s aesthetic is evidenced through Anita Sweeney’s palette of earth-toned costumes, complimented by stage detailing, geometric designs and Bohemian hippie styling. And the realisation of the priests with glam rock allusions is iconic, especially when they rumble that “This Jesus Must Die”. Director Maureen Bowra’s nuanced choreography of the group’s smallest of isolated movements gives them a signature style that stands as one of the show’s highlights.

The highly dramatised story’s depiction of the political and interpersonal struggles between Judas and Jesus (Simon Chamberlain) not included in the Bible means that strong performers are required for these pivotal roles and in this regard Ainsworth and Chamberlain do not disappoint. Chamberlain is a clean-cut Jesus whose crisp vocals contrast nicely against Ainsworth’s rough rock star sounds. His portrayal of the freethinking leader is one of conviction, emotion and vocal intensity, particularly in the epic anthem ‘Gethsemane’. The powerful, emotionally-charged number in which Jesus wrestles with his doubts in the Garden of Gethsemane has been named by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the most difficult song to sing he has ever written and Chamberlain rises to its critical challenge in show of both belting desperation and vulnerability through falsetto. Indeed, his desperate, falsetto cry of ‘Why should I die?’ is goosebump inducing.  

As Judus, Ainsworth similarly has some of the musical’s most difficult tracks, appropriately given the plot’s focus on Judus’ dissatisfaction with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples. And from his first appearance, he commands the stage with his indignation. Samantha Sherrin is a standout as Mary Magdalene. Her vocals are strong and compelling, bringing warmth to the character in an empathetic performance. Her heartbreakingly vulnerable ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ in which Mary acknowledges that she is in love with Jesus, and how it frightens her, is another moving Act Two highlight.

There really are no weak links in the cast of performers. Shannon Foley layers Pilate with humanity as he satisfies public opinion by having Jesus whipped in ‘Trial Before Pilate’ before reluctantly agreeing to his crucifixion, and his Act One ballad, ‘Pilate’s Dream’ showcases his commanding operatic timbre. And a stellar Tom Markiewicz sparkles in the comic relief of Herod through the flamboyant King’s suggestive self-titled solo request of Jesus to prove his divinity. Ensemble energy is also high, especially in the short Act One, which includes an evangelical-like ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus greets the happy crowd in contrast to Caiaphas’ preceding declaration of the need for the leader of the twelve disciples’ death for the greater good, and the ensemble take their celebration into the stalls.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a show of musical contrasts, such as when we are taken from floating flute sounds to a rocking guitar realisation in the prevailing ‘Damned for All Time”. And its dynamic score is powerfully conveyed courtesy of musical directors Samantha Paterson and Lucus D. Lynch, and under Lynch as conductor of the vigorous orchestra. The score is full of energy, but also tempered with emotional pauses to afford the audience chance to catch its breath. Strings notably lighten Mary’s tender anointment of Jesus in ‘Everything’s Alright’ and though ‘Superstar’ is not necessarily the spectacle that it could be, the orchestra makes it musically glorious from the first moments of its iconic opening fanfare.

While percussion propels a lot of the majestic score, its strings and brass sections crescendo us through the climatic crucifixion to the stirring instrumental ‘John Nineteen: Forty-One’ accompaniment of the stark image that ends the dramatic second act. After earlier bathing Judus’ betrayal in rich reds, Tom Dodds’ lighting design uses the elegance of bright white illumination to aid in transfixing the audience through this appreciation of the humanity at the heart of this time-honoured show, encouraging contemplation of its larger themes around faith.

While it may be a compact length for a musical, Lynch & Paterson’s pacy production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is jam packed with splendid reminders as to why the show has enjoyed such a long life. This is a well-crafted, well-performed and highly engaging version of the timeless rock musical. Its eclectic musical score is thrilling and its depiction of figures like Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate as flawed characters is absorbing. 

Photos c/o – PIF Productions

Top and tail treats

Rather than jinx things again with a post about the shows I am most looking forward to seeing in the year to come (at least we got Emerald City and Be More Chill), I take this time of year as an opportunity to reflect on the theatre year that mostly wasn’t. From its top and tail months, these have been my highlights of the 40 rather than usual 140(ish) shows seen:

Best dramatic performance

  • Richard Lund’s layered, contained performance as recent art school graduate Ken, assistant to abstract expressionist American painter Mark Rothko in the two-hander Red from Ad Astra.
  • Jayden Popik’s bold and powerful Queensland Theatre debut, as Declan in Mouthpiece, the company’s must-see return to the QPAC stage.

Best Staging

  • Set Designer Bill Haycock’s transformation of the Ad Astra’s small theatre space into an artist’s studio complete with an imposing set of replica canvasses, in John Logan’s Red.
  • Chloe Greaves’ detailed production design of fragmented country-house rooms jigsawed together for QUT’s early-in-March presentation of Anton Chekhov’s seminal Three Sisters.

Best Video Design

  • Nathan Sibthorpe’s stunning video projections, creating a sense of immersion into Queensland Theatre’s world premiere production of David Megarrity’s The Holidays.

Best Musical

  • Phoenix Ensemble’s dynamic September strut out of the super-fun 2012 musical Kinky Boots.

Top moment

  • When the rollicking Pirates of Penzance in Lynch & Paterson’s In Concert production sneak up on the Major-General’s house with Catlike Tread while singing at their top of their Tarantara lungs in the eponymous parodic Gilbert and Sullivan song.

Happy Penzance place

The Pirates of Penzance in Concert (Lynch & Paterson)

Princess Theatre

February 21 – 22

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February 2020 is the perfect time to present a production of “The Pirates of Penzance”. The story features a paradox caused by the once-every-four-years occurrence of February 29. It concerns Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his mistaken apprenticeship to the titular band of tender-hearted and inept pirates. When he meets Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, the two fall instantly in love. Complications ensue of course as Frederic learns, that he was born on the 29th of February, and so, technically, he has a birthday only once each leap year and, as his indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his “twenty-first birthday”, he must serve for another 63 years.

The show is quintessentially British; set during the reign of Queen Victoria, the comic operetta occurs on a rocky seashore on the coast of Cornwall. And, also appropriately, in this concert version is the profiling of the orchestra on stage, under the baton of its infectiously passionate conductor Lucas D Lynch.

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The energy of the entire show is irresistible; making it pantomimic in nature even though its characters are thoughtfully drawn. Nathan Kneen is a charismatic larger-than-life buccaneer leader who adds much to the show’s sometimes meta-theatre approach with occasional interactions with audience members and Lynch alike. Kneen plays the role of the fashionable pirate king ‘with a pirate head and a pirate heart’, with a touch of Jack Sparrow swagger, however, resists the temptation to over camp his performance.

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Much of the show’s humour comes from Kneen and the over-the-top reactions of those around him, such as those of Ruth (Patricia Dearness), Frederic’s nursery maid when he was younger, in encouragement of Frederick to take her as his ‘beautiful’ wife. And when ‘timidly-inclined’ police march on stage in single file in the iconic, ‘No, I’ll be brave’, their animated facial expressions combine with Kamara Henrick’s clever choreography to result in all-aged engagement.

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Along with its tarantara tunes, the show is known for its patter songs, which require top-notch performers for effective delivery. Accordingly, Grant Cochman is eccentrically the very model of modern major general, delivering his trademark, witty ‘Major-General’s Song’ with an aplomb that sees audience members bopping along to the famous satire of the idea of the ‘modern’ over-educated British Army general of the period. The rapid-fire delivery of nonsensical lyrics in ‘My Eyes Are Fully Open’, featuring Frederic (Jack Biggs), Ruth and the Pirate King in ‘particularly rapid unintelligible patter [that] isn’t generally heard and if it is it doesn’t matter’ is, similarly, another highlight.

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With swashbuckling pirates and bumbling police, a dashing hero and a beautiful maiden, “The Pirates of Penzance” offers much to audiences of all ages. Indeed, Gilbert and Sullivan’s most memorable score serves as a wonderful gateway into the operatic genre. This operetta in two acts features many talented vocalists, including General Stanley’s daughters (Kayleigh Marven, Sophie Price and Belinda Ward), from their initial, exuberant and highly-melodic ‘Climbing over Rocky Mountain’ gaily tread of the measure, and a skilled orchestra that brings its timeless score to life in moments of soft strings and rousing ensemble numbers alike (‘With Cat-Like Tread’ when the pirates steal onto the Major General’s estate seeking vengeance, is a lively and incredibly likeable Act Two highlight). Along with its impressive overture, these numbers not only make it a delight for fans of Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theatre/operetta alike, but an accessible introduction to the genres.

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This is wildly entertaining show of great vitality, full of rich characterisation. Samantha Paterson makes for a formidable Mabel. Biggs is a dashing Frederic and his duets with Mabel convey a lovely tenderness. Dearness’ lovelorn nurse Ruth really comes into her own in Act Two when she is given more to do than lust over her former, much-younger charge.

In Lynch & Paterson’s hands it is easy to appreciate the place of “The Pirates of Penzance” as one of the most enduringly popular of Gilbert and Sullivan’s many comic operas, with many iconic songs, witty dialog and lyrics, its clever narrative and its memorable characters. The music is exquisite in its ability to transport audiences to a happy place of good, old-fashioned entertainment.