Licenced to thrill again

Skyfall: The Music of James Bond (The Little Red Company)

QPAC, Concert Hall

July 15 – 16

Those who saw Brisbane Festival’s “Skyfall” at the South Bank Piazza in 2021 know how enticing a musical celebration of the music of James Bond can be in The Little Red Company’s capable hands. In return season at QPAC (rescheduled due to flood impacts upon the Concert Hall) “Skyfall: The Music of James Bond” still has a license to thrill, only this time with walls, and amazing acoustics that enriches its sounds from the first introduction of Luke Kennedy in ‘Licenced to Kill’.

Just like its source material films, this is a show that gets bigger and better with every outing, with this season featuring additional numbers and an onstage team of 19 singers, dancers and musicians, including special guest vocalists Rebecca Cassidy and Mat Verevis joining Queensland’s first couple of song Naomi Price and Luke Kennedy.

Cassidy adds some impressive operatic soar to numbers like ‘The World is Not Enough’, the main theme and opening song for the 1999 Bond film of the same name (originally performed by Scottish-American rock band Garbage), which weaves in touches of the James Bond theme at the end of its composition. Verevis, meanwhile, croons away in ‘80s love ballad ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and delivers an exquisite ‘No Time To Die’, giving the dark and moody theme a vocal reverence befitting Daniel Craig’s final outing and 007.

Once again, Kennedy’s share of Sam Smith’s tender ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, is a highlight thanks to its haunting beauty, especially encapsulated in his impressive falsetto. Indeed, Kennedy’s vocal dexterity is on show throughout the evening, including in some impressive note holds.

With guest performers, this season is more concert than cabaret fare, but it is still just as entertaining, in-part due to the hostess-with-the-mostest banter (and solid song performances) from Price, including with drag performer Beverly Kills (recently announced as a contestant of Season Two or RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under) who assists in share of a memorable ‘Goldfinger’.

With the assistance also of dancers Bridie Anstee and Shani Sweetnam, there is a lot going on, but celebrating the music of James Bond remains central and it is appropriate the band is positioned in raised, tied staging allowing for full viewing opportunities. Thanks to the considered arrangements of Maitlohn Drew and Brydon Stace, all sections of the band are given their moments to shine in punctuation of the vocal performances. Damian Sim’s keys add dynamism to Shirley Bassey’s tribute to the man with the Midas touch, Martha Baartz’s alto saxophone elevates Price’s cheeky ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and Josh Sinclair gives a smooth early trumpet testament to the fight going on and on in “Thunderball”. Mik Easterman, meanwhile, has never been better, delivering an essential accompaniment of Kennedy’s bombastic ‘Live and Let Die’, which electrifies the audience into interval.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting design characters each number with distinction, spotlighting along to the fatal sounds of broken dreams in a red-soaked ‘A View to a Kill’ and sparkling the entire Concert Hall for Price’s spectacular ‘Diamonds are Forever’. And the fashions (Zoe Griffiths, Wil Valor, The Hemmingbird and Urbbana) are again spectacular, especially Price’s glitzy gold tuxedo.

“Skyfall: The Music of James Bond” is full of infectious energy, culminating in its on-your-feet mashup encore tribute. The explosive reimagining of the Bond catalogue, created by Adam Brunes and Naomi Price, is a celebration not just of iconic Bond bangers, but a showcase of some of the city’s best musical talents. Diamonds are forever, but sadly this show is not! Thankfully, hungry-for-more audiences can rejoice in the return of the company’s Matilda Award-winning musical celebration of Elton John’s iconic songbook, “Your Song” for an encore season at QPAC in September.

Photos c/o – Steph Do Rozario

Broadway babies’ brilliance

Defying Gravity

January 8

QPAC, Concert Hall

Internationally acclaimed star of Broadway and London’s West End, Caroline O’Connnor is an Australian musical theatre legend about to tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen for the Sydney season of “9 to 5: The Musical”. And her appearance at QPAC’s “Defying Gravity” is certainly cause for celebration. Indeed, her defiant belt of ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ represents one of the concert’s most triumphant of many memorable moments. A smorgasbord of showstoppers is on offer throughout, including the show’s titular big “Wicked” number which makes appearance, with Naomi Price and Irena Lysiuk in duet, as opening to Act Two.

Weaving the numbers together are personal and career stories. The dazzling O’Connor, in particular has a wonderful, personable stage presence that eases the audience into her tell of performing in front of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, and as an Olivier Award nominee. And the associated numbers that are presented represent a varied mix of musical sensibilities. Act One includes an early detour to France courtesy of the epic “Les Miserables”, including a nimble, rollicking ‘Master of the House’ by Price and then O’Connor which reverberates around the theatre, before segue into a serene ‘Bring Him Home’ from special guest Luke Kennedy, in reminder of Valjean’s anguish while sitting among the barricades. And as Kennedy’s beautiful vocals astonishingly soar but also maintain the song’s delicacy, the audience holds its collective breath.

Irena Lysiuk does an excellent job, stepping in as a late replacement for Amy Lehpamer, sharing highlights of Lehpamer’s career, such as from “Dusty – The Dusty Springfield Musical”. In particular, her simultaneously serene and soulful share of Sara Bareilles ‘She Used to Be Mine’ from “Waitress” is beautifully compelling, doing justice to its emotional content.

The setlist features musical hit after musical hit with one big moment after the next. There are brilliant bangers peppered throughout such as Price’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ which gives swelling vocal gravitas to the iconic “Evita” anthem. And it is marvellous to have Price and Kennedy share the stunning signature love song ‘Falling Softly’ from the gentle folk musical “Once”. Full of understated, unassuming beauty, their duet conveys both strength and fragility at the core of the song’s emotional lyrics and is absolutely stunning in its expose of the vulnerability at the core of opportunity.

Ever the versatile performer, Price also gives us a sassy, attitude-filled ‘Domino’ from the jukebox musical “& Juliet”, featuring the songs of Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin, infectious in its upbeat energy, while her ‘The Winner Takes It All’ transports us beyond the ABBA classic’s usual mournful, broken-hearted melancholy to reorchestration with more percussive force.

Like Lysiuk’s saxed-up “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady”, O’Connor’s gorgeous ‘Time Heals Everything’ from the little-known “Mack and Mabel” not only illustrates her stunning vocal range, but offers opportunity to showcase the incredible band, conducted by multi-talented musical director James Dobinson, while on piano himself.

“Defying Gravity” is a hugely entertaining concert from three brilliant Broadway babies (and guest), that presents all range of numbers for musical fans, from shows as eclectic as “Chicago” and “Little Shop of Horrors”. Not only are its performers obviously happy to be on stage, but its audience members are clearly rejoicing in the two-hour show’s opportunity to experience their powerful talents.

Photos c/o – Stewart Tyrell, PhotoCo

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).