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.

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

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?