Splish slash panache

Singin’ in the Rain In Concert (Prospero Arts)

QPAC, Concert Hall

November 11 – 13

Even as opening credits run on QPAC’s Concert Hall stage screen, there is some uncertainty as to the show “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” will unfold. There is immediate reassurance, however, as the open scene reveals that the fresh production will be playing out the 1952 MGM musical’s familiar scenes, songs and dialogue. With an orchestra situated centre stage, the performance of the film’s light-hearted story occurs across multiple levels with swift appearance and disappearance of the only necessary props to establish scene locations and facilitate its storyline, which follows that of the much-loved classic film (arguably the greatest movie musical of all time) which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 

The story is of popular silent film star Don Lockwood (Bobby Fox) and his devious co-star Lina Lamont (Georgina Hopson). When Don meets independent chorus girl Kathy Selden (Angelique Cassimatis), Lina does all that she can to keep the couple apart, which is made especially difficult when Kathy is secretly (from Lina) co-opted to voice Lena’s dialogue in the Monumental Pictures’ first talking picture in response to rival Warner Bros’ enormously successful “The Jazz Singer”.

Under Cameron Mitchell’s direction, the production honours the film version by retaining its characterisation and comic scenes and skilfully replicates some of the original, highly entertaining choreographic sequences, such as when Don walks Kathy through a soundstage in show of how romantic scenes are set for the screen. The resulting ‘You Were Meant for Me’ musical number is lovely in Ben Hughes’ lighting design of sunset pink and purple hues as Kathy stands before it on a prop ladder. The musical’s iconic imagery of the ladder, lamppost and alike all make appearance and thanks to Brisbane’s award-winning optikal bloc and Craig Wilkinson’s video design, we are even given rain-soaked road puddle splashes in its whimsical titular pre-interval number.

The all-new sensational concert version of the musical, which is appearing exclusively in Brisbane, is the brainchild of new local production company Prospero Arts, whose mission it is to showcase local talent alongside nationally acclaimed performers. And the talented cast members are all on-point in their characterisations. Hopson is sensational as the triple threat ‘can’t sing, act or dance’ Lina. Her heightened portrayal of Don’s conniving co-star receives the most laughs, both in possessive conviction that the contrived romance between her and Don is actually real and especially when she is attempting to film scenes for the new talking picture. Her Act Two number ‘What’s Wrong with Me’ is a delight of deliberately bad notes and selfish sentiment, touched with a little pathos that ensures she is endeared to rather than aliened from the audience.  

As the contrasting pure-hearted and plucky aspiring actress Kathy, Casssimatis has a lovely, silken-toned singing voice. From her initial mock of Don for his melodramatic acting style through to later reciprocation of his romantic affection, she is always appropriated spirited in her energy, creating a delightful character contrast to the abrasion of Lina’s grating manner.In terms of duos, however, Fox and Mark Hill (as his childhood friend Cosmo) own the stage, especially in their fast-paced comedic truth-revealing ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ tap routine. The irreverent ‘Moses Supposes’ is, similarly, a spectacle of precise in-unison complex tap dancing and absurdist tongue-twisting wordsmithing, as Don and Cosmo respond to the dreary process of vocal exercises.

Hill has a tough gig recreating Donald O’Connor’s cheeky Cosmo role, however, he does so with addition of his own touches. His big ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ number in attempt to cheer up Don after his first encounter with Kathy, is appropriately energised and paced in replication of the routine’s most memorable moves, in balance with some clever adaptation. With Hill’s exuberant energy and honed comic timing, the consummate jokester of Cosmo is soon a crowd favourite. Fox is a prolific talent who sashays about the stage with appealing poise. As an accomplished dancer, he is a perfect choice to helm the highly professional cast and his singing vocals are splendid. The leads are also ably supported by an also-talented ensemble cast, including a notable Michael Tauhine as distinguished studio head RF Simpson and Gabriel Tiller as the impatient director of Lina’s calamitous attempt at filming a talkie.

The show is full of expected humourous moments. The ‘yes, yes, yes, no, no, no’ mis-dubbed film scene is hilarious as always, however, as funny as the animated raincoat dancing is within ‘Good Morning’, nothing is as joyous as the sight of Fox, Hill and Cassimatis taking flight together in the number’s extended tap routine usher in of a new day.

The orchestra, too, is in on the fun, such as when Cosmo takes over as its conductor for part of ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ and its lively violins become fiddles for Don and Cosmo’s musical contradiction of the official version of Don’s dignified rise to fame. Under the baton of Vanessa Scammell, their orchestrations are lush and vibrant to guide audience members along the emotional journey of its varied musical characteristics, styles and tempos.

‘Broadway Melody’ is full of not only colour and moment, but robust jazz sounds in emphasis of the story’s emotional climax. The extended representation of Don’s story, which takes place within his imagination, incorporates a range of styles and, in doing so, showcases ensemble dancers along with Fox’s technical skills. It serves, too, as a reminder of Mitchell’s versatile choreography, which draws upon tap, ballet and contemporary dance. The number is also filled with vibrant costumes. Anna Handford is to be commended for her costume design throughout the show, which conveys character as much as the era of its setting. Kathy’s modest, simple dresses reflect her girl-next-door appeal, whereas, the arrival of Hollywood stars at the opening scene’s movie premiere is all sort of 1920s opulence. And when Kathy pops out of a mock cake in the upbeat ‘All I Do is Dream of You’, she is wearing a vivacious candy-pink showgirl costume.

This is a show befitting all sorts of superlative descriptors and uncharacteristically for one of such calibre there are some noticeable microphone cue lapses and resulting lost dialogue, but this serves as an inconvenience rather than a distraction from audience enjoyment. Also, while, in addition to the use of video projections to establish time and place, some minor changes are needed to move the story to a more stripped back narrative representation (such as how Don and Kathy first meet), yet these do nothing to diminish the experience for audience members who are so familiar with the source material.

It is funny perhaps that a story about filmmaking should work so well on stage, but as “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” shows, solid story and song are all that are needed for a thoroughly entertaining experience, especially when they are as enduring as this. Given how its opening night audience remained in applaused ovation even after the house lights were raised, the only disappointment seems to be that it is appearing for four shows only. Not only is “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” a splish plash celebration of song and dance talent with panache, but it serves as a reminder of both the magic of musicals and of the gone-by era of Hollywood’s golden age.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Producers polish

The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

March 4 – 13

Opening Night of Altitude Theatre’s production of “The Producers” sees The Brisbane Powerhouse foyer filled with a red carpet entrance, media wall and much excitement in anticipation of failure… such is the story of fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Matt Young) who stumbles upon a seemingly failsafe scheme to profit from a flop. In partnership with timid accountant Leo Bloom (Mark Hill) and with the help of some farcical yet unaware characters, he sets upon a scam to produce what they hope will be the biggest failure in the history of commercial theatre (whose shares they can oversell), the offensive “Springtime for Hitler” gay romp about Adolf and Eva aka the worst musical ever written.

The record 12 Tony Award winning musical comes from the comic genius Mel Brooks’s stage adaptation of his own cult movie from 1968. Mel Brooks, of course, means an abundance of irreverence and over-the-top characters and every role is perfectly cast to accommodate this. Original Broadway and later 2005 movie stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick make for some big shoes to fill, but Young and Hill do so with aplomb. Young makes his energetic performance appear effortless and Hill’s anxious, awkward Leo immediately engenders audience affection. Much humour comes from the duo’s timing and together they perfect this, easily bouncing off each other’s energy and character nuances. And Rachael Ward is sublime as jiggly dancer and receptionist at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, especially in her enticing ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It’ impromptu office audition.

Director and Choreographer Joseph Simons’s vision is polished, allowing the cast to push their eccentric performances to their full potential. Particular mention should go to Patrick Conolly, playing wonderfully camp and eccentric ex-Nazi show writer Franz Liebkind dressed in lederhosen and a German Army helmet, and James Lee, playing flamboyant and critically panned theatre director Roger De Bris chosen by Bialystock in an attempt to ensure that “Springtime for Hitler” will flop. And when we hear from him as to why shows should be more pretty and witty in Act One’s ‘Keep it Gay’, his production team of staff, including common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (Alex Watson) give us many laughs, including from ensemble member Maddison Coleman as the lighting designer who gives animated face throughout.

The often politically-incorrect humour of “The Producers” draws on overblown accents, caricatures and theatre/showbiz jokes. Indeed, there are lots of stereotypes crescendoing together in the musical within a musical’s high-energy titular Busby-Berkeley-style number, which also sees the ensemble merge into from-almost-out-of-nowhere tank formation akin to the Shimbleshanks number in “Cats”. Josh McIntosh’s art deco design elements flavour the aesthetic and swift set transitions help to hold momentum as set pieces are choreographed into place. Jack Scandrett’s sound design is crisp and Ryan McDonald’s lighting works well, especially in emphasis of Max’s fast-paced Act Two jail cell recap of the plot thus far.

Even in repeat viewings, “The Producers’ provides abundant opportunities to see things anew. Under Jacqui Devereux’s musical direction, each song’s distinctive musical character is highlighted from the “Fiddler on the Roof” sounds of ‘The King of Broadway’ introduction to Max’s previous heights and the militaristically anthemic ‘We Can Do It’ in which he encourages Leo to think about the scheme, to an “On the Town” type of song start and the Fred and Gingerness of ‘That Face’, where left-alone Leo and Ulla start to fall in love. With strong vocals in every instance, each song could be considered a highlight until the next one comes along. ‘I Want to be a Producer”, for example, in which Leo sings of his secret desire to leave the drudgery of accounting is met with a huge audience response.

Musical numbers provide laugh-out-louds a-plenty from the silliness of Max and Leo’s Nazi hoedown with the tasteless show’s writer to the snippet of ‘dancing Hitler’ audition numbers and the show’s dance off between Hitler and world leaders of the Stalin sort, with the farce often amplified by quick, clever lyrics with over-the-top alliteration. Its endurance as an audience favourite is not only due to its humour, however, but its sentiment too, in acknowledgement of friendship between the two producers at core of story

“The reviews come out a lot faster when the critics leave at intermission,” Max reflects after opening and also closing night of “Funny Boy”, a musical version of “Hamlet”, early in the show. Thankfully, this is far from the case in this instance. Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production is an absolute triumph, deserving of its standing ovation audience affirmation. Indeed, the self-aware and hugely entertaining production, if it had live orchestra accompaniment, could easily take its place on QPAC’s Lyric Theatre stage as a reminder of how good and how funny the record-breaking Broadway musical is.

Return to youth

This is Our Youth (Underground Broadway and Between the Flags)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

February 28 – March 4

Metro Arts’ converted cinema space The Lumen Room is not the most comfortable theatre for a long show. And “This is Our Youth” is far from concise, especially in Act Two when its conversations circle back over familiar dysfunctional territory as its privileged barely-beyond-teens bicker in between the drug consumption of their consequence free existence. But it is a show worth seeing for its thematic resonance and superb performances.


The story shares two days in the lives of three disillusioned youth as they run amuck in a New York City studio apartment. Warren (Jackson McGovern) has stolen $15,000 from his father, which captures the attention of his selfish and intimidating drug-dealing not-really-friend Dennis (Mark Hill), but provides Warren with the means to impress the quite clever and articulate Jessica (Bellatrix Scott).


It is the Reagan era 1980s we are told. We see touches of it in the set, but don’t always hear it in the dialogue. What we do hear, however, are the impressive cast accents. Thanks to Dialect Coach Melissa Agnew, the actors’ New Jerseyish twangs of diphthong vowels cements the show in place and add to its credibility.


The performers are all excellence. Hill gives Dennis an almost desperate, swaggersome arrogance, evident down to the smallest physical nuance and McGovern is touching as his dispirited ‘friend’ and whipping boy Warren so that we feel for him, his problems and his repeated blows, despite his privilege, and rejoice with him at hint of a relationship with Jessica. And Scott gives the fashion student a charismatic complexity as she moves from self-conscious, nervous interaction with Warren to political provocation with her observations about the nature of youth and its role in defining your later self. Indeed, it is a credit to both the script and its realisation that its clever allusions to political commentary of our time are more subtle than the usual written-to-order type of late.


In Act One, particularly, “This is Our Youth” offers up a razor-sharp comedy-drama about these three unsettled youngsters, who would now be (as it is observed in Director Tim Hill’s program notes), a privileged group of powerful while men today. The engagement it brings is not just through the quality of its performances, but its ask of great questions around these notions. Indeed, its success comes from it examination of the inherent questions in the work and interrogation of them in a way that only theatre can. As such, this deceptively-simple story of 1980s slackers deserves to be seen.