Pee-ple perfection

Urinetown (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

May 5 – 27

Urinetown is a kind of mythical place… like Venice, but different, filled with symbolism and things like that. But despite its titular significance, we won’t become directly acquainted with its reality until into Act Two of “Urinetown”, according to Officer Lockstock (Lachlan Clark), the pontificating policeman who grimly welcomes its audience, with assistance from 12-year-old street urchin Little Sally (Abby Page). From them we are taken to the first setting of Phoenix Ensemble’s show and told that a 20-year drought has caused a terrible water shortage, which has rendered the idea of private toilets as unthinkable. In immediate introduction to its meta style of calling out clichés and parodying genre tropes, that is all we are really given because overloading us with exposition could really kill the show.

As the action opens upon the filthy Public Amenity #9, the backstory unfolds as to the megacoporation control of Urine Good Company (or UGC). To control water consumption, people have to pay to use the amenities and harsh laws mean that if payment cannot be made, an offender is taken to Urinetown, never to return. Hopelessly down and out, and living in fear, the poor turn to the story’s dashing hero Bobby Strong (an excellent Isaac Tibbs), to stage a revolt in fight for the freedom to pee “wherever you like, whenever you like, for as long as you like, and with whomever you like.”. Along with just-returned-from university Hope Cladwell (Lauren Clark), who happens to be the beloved daughter of UGC’s corrupt CEO Caldwell B Cladwell (Caleb Holman), he embarks on a journey of love, justice and following his heart, only to be tested as secrets are revealed and alliances are fraught along the way to righting the wrongs of their world.

The self-aware satirical comedy musical “Urinetown” (with music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis) is likely to be unlike anything you have seen on stage, not just because it was the winner of three 2002 Tony Awards, including Best Book and Score, but due to its contrast of an infectiously merry score with the confrontation of its themes about climate change and corporate corruption. The story is full of clever twists and the less actually known of details the better, in order to fully appreciate the skill of its subversion of expectations.

A talented cast brings the story’s colourful characters to life. Lachlan Clark’s accomplished comic timing ensures that Longstock’s tongue-in-cheek commentary lands as intended and Page captures the plucky spirit of irreverent quasi-narrator Little Sally, often questioning Longstock as to the show’s logic, colouring his deadpan delivery style. Holman is formidable as the tyrannical Cladwell, especially in his ‘the powers that me’ attempts to justify the controlling consumption that characterises what the society of the story has become. Tibby makes Bobby a sincere and charismatic rebellion leader, ensuring that his heart-felt (#literally) romantic connection with Hope appears credible (in musical terms at least), despite its velocity. And Lauren Clark easily takes Hope from innocent new company fax/copy girl to a determined revolutionary. Also of particular note is Zoe Costello as Penelope Pennywise, the tough jaded warden of the poorest, filthiest town urinal.

Costello gives us an early show highlight in her belt out of “It’s a Privilege to Pee”, reminder of water’s worth in the brave new world of the story’s setting. Her voice is strong in sustain of its high-energy, offering up reminder of the bright tone and sustained notes expected of classic musical theatre numbers. Meanwhile, Tibbs’ tenor is flexible throughout and Clark is appropriately sweet-voiced as Hope, which makes their ‘Follow Your Heart’ a lovely duet of their fall in love moments. Indeed, these principal cast members’ vocals are the most pefect of any Phoenix show I have seen and their vocal amplification is handled with perfect clarity without any lapses in sound. Full ensemble numbers are, likewise, well harmonised. Performers all work together as a strong team, while also embracing their featured moments to shine, with Angelina Mustafay, in particular, showing a consistent reliability in her every energetic appearance as poor rebel Robby The Stockfish. Their collective step-up to assume responsibility for so much of the comedy of Act Two’s telling is not only refreshing, but ably handed.

While the score of “Urinetown” isn’t particularly memorable as a whole of even a sum of its parts, in experience of the show, its songs are all quite wonderful. Every one has its own style, with numbers covering multiple interweaving genres. And musical theatre fans will appreciate its nods to iconic musicals. From Act Two’s titular opener, which is very “Fiddler on the Roof” in its sensibility to the following Fosse-like “Chicago” feel of the high-octane dance number ‘Snuff That Girl’, there is a differing energy to their musical allusions. Following a pacy, almost patter song ‘Mr Cladwell’ introduction of Hope to her co-workers, Holman channels King Herod type mockery in his ‘Don’t Be the Bunny’ random tell of little bunnies at a toll booth in offer of metaphoric advice to his daughter, and there is even a Les Mis Act One finale, complete with revolutionary flag of appropriate making.

Under Benjamin Richards’ musical direction, the orchestra enlivens every number within the challengingly diverse score. Richards is energetic on keyboard, adding much vitality to the experience of numbers such the gospelesque audience-favourite cry for freedom ‘Run Freedom Run’, which is well chosen as a hallelujah curtain call revisit. And, on reeds, Monique Matthews provides the smooth clarinet sounds to add a soul not so often seen in musical scores. And Breanna Gear’s costume design vividly captures the contrasting, but each tonally-themed aesthetics of the disparate rich and poor groups as well as the characters within them, putting the pretty and perky Hope, for example, in an appropriately prim and proper pussy bow blouse, until her due-to-being-in-love transformation.

Experience of “Urinetown” can best be described as unexpected. This is acknowledged in one of its self-referential moments when Little Sally suggests that bad subject matter or a bad title even could kill a show pretty good. It might not be (as Officer Lockstock surmises) a happy musical, but it is a hilarious one. It is very clever in foreshadowing and sophisticated in its witty humour, even when in the form of vaudeville gags and low-brow laughs. The result is a very funny night out, especially in Act Two, in its dialogue, but also imagery of cartoon violence. Then there are the pantomimic in-unison ensemble reactions that lead us towards its ultimate altruistic messaging about free access for all and not just the wealthy few. Under Hayley Gervais’ insightful direction, like any good allegory, it works on many levels, all of them entertaining, meaning that whether your take-away be of its social satire, parody of the art from of musical theatre or just entertainment in or of itself, this Phoenix Ensemble show will not disappoint. The light-hearted, lesser-known work is highly creative and a must-see for musical theatre fans looking to expand their experience of the genre.

All aboard in Beenleigh

Anything Goes (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre 

March 3 – 22

The SS American luxury ocean liner is ready for boarding in Beenleigh as a close to two-dozen strong cast of characters sets sail for “Anything Goes” on a transatlantic trip from New York to London. Amazingly, however, the tin shed stage doesn’t feel overcrowded, thanks to Phoenix Ensemble’s trademark clever set design (in this case by Andy Kennedy), which sees the ship’s decks opening up into state rooms as needed, yet also serve as platform for the show’s spectacular titular Act One close.  

The hilarious and heart-warming Tony Award winning musical’s narrative is a lightweight one, complicated just enough to ensure its play out of madcap mistaken identities, disguises, blackmail attempts and witty one-liners as in between of its familiar songs and lively dance numbers. Firstly, there’s nightclub cabaret singer Reno (Jaime O’Donoghue) and her self-proclaimed ‘dime-a-dozen’ pal Billy Crocker (Zach Price), assistant to gruff elderly millionaire Elisha Whitney (Rod Jones). Broken down stockbroker Billy has stowed away on-board to be near his love, debutant Hope Harcourt (Kristen Barros), who is actually engaged to the wealthy, but bumbling Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Jordan Ross), at urging of her mother Evangeline (Nat Box), in seek of the resulting financial advantage.

The musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, was written in 1934, and has been revived many times. Not just of its time, this “Anything Goes” celebrates its era (which makes the inclusion of occasional modern references more jarring thanjoking.) While some dialogue and lyric mentions of the Jimmy Durante and Bo Jangles kind are nuanced in their of-the-time-ness, there is still a lot of laughs to be held, such as when Public Enemy Number…13! gangster Moonface Martin (Tristan Vanyai) attempts to cheer up a depressed Billy by telling him to ‘Be Like The Bluebird’, complete with increasingly irritated ballet dancer accompaniment. Under Miranda Selwood’s direction, the show never takes itself too seriously and a ‘soft’ start to each act that sees the audience being entertained by musical numbers and then interaction in petty-crim card tricks, only adds to the joy of the whole experience.

The tremendously talented O’Donoghue is a delight as the charismatic, free-spirited lapsed evangelist Reno. Flawless in song and dance, she aptly portrays her character as both a confident knockabout and glamorous kitten, and commands the stage in every number. Her strong vocals are pitch-perfect and controlled in their confident belt of Broadway-esque musical numbers and her Act One duet, ‘Friendship’, with Vanyai’s Moonface is a superb vaudevillian showcase of both performers’ magnificent comic talents. Vanyai’s characterisation of the buffoonish gangster disguised as a preacher is another show highlight, particularly in work with Vivien Wood as sultry Jersey gangster’s moll Erma. Their interplay, along with the pickpocketing antics of petty crims Spit (Aaron Anderson) and Dippy (Julie Eisentrager), ensures that thre is always something to look at.

Ross is an absolute hoot as the goofy fish-out-of-water Evelyn, trying to learn, but repeatedly mangling, American idioms in his speech. And Price is appropriately lovesick as protagonist Billy, who smuggles himself aboard the luxury cruise liner to make his intentions clear to the girl who got away from him. His ‘Easy to Love’ and later iconic ‘It’s De-Lovely’ duet with a sweetly-voiced Barros as Hope, also shows his impressive vocal register.  

Everyone gets a musical number as the show’s characters deal with the ramifications of trying to connect, meaning that there are ample opportunities for the band (under conductor Jacob Cabanough) to shine. The small band gives big band sounds throughout, presenting not just the individual character of songs, but adding a brassy vibrancy to of-era numbers such as Act One’s ‘There’s No Cure Like Travel’, in which the crew of the vessel prepare to set sail. And Jared Lehmann, in particular, gives more than a touch of Tango to Act Two’s ‘The Gypsy in Me’, in which The Earl reveals his Romani ancestry.

Of similar energy, the spirited gospel number ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’, performed by Reno one night in the ship’s nightclub, begins Act Two proper with a bang with all of its brassiness and gospel sounds. The sermon song is a standout of choreography, with Bec Swain’s design suiting its energy, sentiment and sensibility (almost up there with the razzle-dazzle, tap dance marathon of ‘Anything Goes’, which is hands-down the best musical number I’ve seen at a Phoenix show). Although sometimes ill-fitting in the ensemble, costume design captures the era of the story’s setting, especially in the glamourous evening attire of ‘Blow, Gabrielle, Blow’, and the art deco design motifs of Reno’s gowns are a standout at establishing the era.

There is something quite special about the sentiment of this all-singing, all-dancing vehicle for Cole Porter classics. Indeed, its mix of sweetly romantic numbers and energetic slapstick comedy sections, ensure that this big, bright and bold “Anything Goes” has something for everyone looking for some high-energy, fabulously feel-good musical escapism…. After all, as one of its most famous numbers surmises, “it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely”.

SpongeBob silliness

The SpongeBob Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

August 5 – 27

Those with even just passing familiarity with the iconic Nickelodeon, animated tv series “SpongeBob SquarePants”, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, should have some idea of what to expect from its 2017 musical adaptation. As expected, from its ‘Bikini Bottom Day’ opening number, which sees SpongeBob (Clark Kent Bryon-Moss) awakening to welcome the day with his pet sea snail Gary, it’s all energetic colour, movement and pool noodle kelp silliness.

The dynamic and critically acclaimed stage musical (with 12 Tony Award nominations) sees SpongeBob amongst the motley inhabitants of the fictional benthic underwater Pacific Ocean city of Bikini Bottom (beneath the real-life coral reef Bikini Atoll) face the total annihilation of their world, thanks to threatened eruption of the inconveniently located volcanic Mount Humongous. SpongeBob, his bestie Patrick Star (Harley Roy) and his squirrel friend, Sandy Cheeks (Ebony Banks) devise a scheme to keep it from erupting. But the supervillain Sheldon J Plankton (Joshua Moore) has other plans. As chaos and corruption ensure under the doomsday clock’s countdown, lives hang in the balance until a most unexpected hero rises up with a message about the life-saving power of optimism!

Kyle Jarrow’s book allows for the apocalyptic story to be fleshed out in a figurative way with social satire though science deniers, ineffectual politicians, an alarmist journalist and corrupt business people. This never detracts from the Phoenix Ensemble production’s essential sensibility and vibrant aesthetic. There is always something interesting to look at. Props are incredibly creative, Justin Tubb-Hearne’s costume design works with hairstyling and make-up to give each character a unique sea creature look and each character / group of characters (a school of sardines for example) has distinct physicality.

Even with all of its allegorical inclusions, the musical’s optimistic message remains at the forefront, with Act One’s closing number, ‘Tomorrow Is’, written by The Flaming Lips, reminding of the value of a moment. With an original pop and rock-infused score by a long list of legendary songwriters, including Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, the show is full of catchy musical motifs and a selection of original songs from across a range of musical styles. ‘BFF’, in which SpongeBob attempts to cheer up an upset Patrick by reiterating that they are best friends forever, is clearly country in in sensibility and ‘Super Sea Star Savior’ in a gospel-tinged chronicle (complete with tambourines) of Patrick’s appointment as cult leader to worshiping sardines, believing him to their saviour from the volcano. ‘When the Going Gets Tough’ in which the villainous Sheldon tries to convince the citizens to enter an escape pod as cover-up for he and his wife Karen’s (Kristen Barros) secret scheme to hypnotise citizens into liking what is served at their Chum Bucket restaurant, features an impressive speed rap. However, while in and of themselves, these numbers are all good, the eclecticism makes for a lack of musical cohesion overall.

Though momentum lags a little, Act Two gives the best vocal performances. Banks’ voice is strong in Sandy’s encouragement of SpongeBob to use karate knowledge to conquer climbing the volcano in ‘Chop to the Top’ and Roy’s voice is gently divine in John Legend’s ‘(I Guess I) Miss You’, in which he voices how nothing feels quite right without SpongeBob, corny lyrics and all.

Bryon Moss shows commendable commitment to the demanding role of the musical’s perky yellow sponge everyman protagonist, gleeful in his always-grinning over-the-top reactions and bouncing about in exhausting eternal optimism. Our sympathies, however, are with Zach Price’s Squidward Q Tentacles, downtrodden in his depression as the loser nobody likes he becomes a clear audience favourite, especially when his dream of performing is finalised realised in a colourful ensemble tap number of magenta Muppet-esque sea anemones.

Banks is solid as scapegoated squirrel Sandy, the Texas scientist and karate expert (because yes, there’s a squirrel under the sea) and Roy is wonderful as SpongeBob’s dim but brawny best friend Patrick whose scenes as accidental cult leader saviour to the sardines, give us some of the show’s funniest moments. The standout performances, however, come from Moore and Barros as evil genius Sheldon and his digital wife Karen the Computer. They complement each other well, not only in costumes layered in detail, but in their appealing chemistry and interplay as he gleefully gloats about his plans for domination. Moore’s comic performance is excellent, full of outrageous physical expressions and a mania that makes all eyes draw to him in his every scene.

Under Benjamin Tubb-Hearne’s detailed direction, Phoenix Ensemble’s “The SpongeBob Musical” is good old-fashioned fun. Kids in the audience love the pre-show and interval-end interaction from Patchy the Pirate, SpongeBob’s number one fan and it is clear that Nicholas Joy is having a great time in the role. Indeed, there is an infectious spirit of fun conveyed from the buoyancy of the whole cast, especially in interaction with creative props, meaning that it works for all ages. The musical’s narrative may be weak and the running time a little longer than it need be, but experience of its moments is jubilant and ladies, gentle-fish and younger folk alike, whether familiar with the beloved animated series or otherwise, will surely appreciate the vibrant production both in terms of its heartfelt humanity and theatricality alike.

Whodunit Phoenix style

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre 

May 7 – 29

The little known “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is the final novel by Charles Dickens, originally published in 1870. Its lack of familiarity, despite being written by an author who is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, is understandable, however, given that the story was left unfinished upon his death, with only six of a planned 12 instalments having been published. With no detailed plan for a solution to the novel’s mystery, later adaptations have stepped in, including the musical of the same name, in which audience vote determines the ending.

In Phoenix Ensemble’s hands, experience of the multi-Tony award winning musical is immersive from its outset, gripping the audience’s spirit for the experience ahead. Performers interact with audience members from lead into the show’s Royal Music Hall setting and while we are seated in the stalls, before we are welcomed by the show-within-a-show’s very important stage manager and then, in keeping with music hall tradition, the charismatic Chairman (Shannon Foley), a master of ceremonies of sort who instigates the action on stage after bursting forth with the show’s rollicking opening number ‘There You Are’.

The musical is very metatheatrical, meaning that the characters of the play “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” are being played by actors of the Music Hall, within the production. It sounds confusing but it really isn’t, thanks to the Chairman’s guidance. He begins with introduction of the Jekyll and Hydeish opium-addicted and obsessed choirmaster John Jasper, played by Clive Paget (Zach Price), and through him, his young nephew Edwin Drood played by Alice Nutting (Carly Wilson), in a nod to pantomime traditions of a lead boy portrayed by a young female in male drag.

Drood is engaged to the orphaned beauty Miss Rosa Bud played by Deidre Peregrine (Hayley Marsh), who is Jasper’s music pupil and obsession, but has been promised to Drood in wedlock since they were children. Then there are also the kindly Reverend Crisparkle played by Cedric Monfcrieffe (Andrew McArthur) and two exotic sibling emigrants from Ceylon, Helena played by Janet Conover (AJ Betts) and Neville Landless played by Victor Grinstead (Puawai Herewini), which causes conflict courtesy of Neville’s attraction to Rosa.

The device of not having actors specially playing Dickens’ characters, but rather music hall performers who are performing as Dickens’ characters, allows room for much humour, in contrast to the typically dense misery of the author’s work, including in the additional musical numbers created by Rupert Holmes (of ‘Pina Colada Song’ pedigree), who is responsible for the show’s book, music and lyrics. There is a very vaudevillian feel, especially evident in the appearances of stonemason Durdles (Tristan Ham) and his nimble young offsider Deputy (Kohen Arstall) and lots of obvious side eyes to the audience, which all form part of the fun.

While the action slows a little in Act Two after we reach the end of Dickens’ original story, pantomime prevails with audience oohing and ahhing, booing and hissing as we have our input by virtue of applause and a voting process into concluding the mystery by determining the true identify of Act Two’s detective Dick Datchery, who will be our murderer (if that indeed is the explanation for Drood’s disappearance after a Christmas Eve dinner and attempted reconciliation for the Landless twins, the reverend, Rosa and Drood) and who will be our lovers (because every good musical requires a happy ending). And the ad libs and unintended moments that arise as a consequence only add to the fun of the unique theatre experience.

All performers are strong in their multi-faceted roles. Shannon Foley is an energetic master of ceremonies, who recovers easily on the occasions his punny double entendre-type audience banter deliberately falls flat. Carolyn Latter is an audience favourite as Angela Prysock playing the glamourous ruined Princess Puffer, from her bawdy ‘Wages of Sin’ musical introduction and explanation of her life as Madame of the sinister opium den frequented by Jasper, however, it is William Chen’s enthusiasm as the devoted understudy Philip Bax playing the reverend’s clerk Bazzard, that endears his character most into our affections, especially when he finally gets his moment in ‘Never The Luck’. And McArthur is wonderful as the bumbling clergyman, finding the funny in detail down to even an eyebrow raise.

While the score lacks any particularly memorable numbers, it does allow for the cast to shine. Wilson’s vocals are commanding, which is evident early in Act One from her ‘Two Kinsmen’ duet with Drood’s uncle Jasper. And Marsh brings some lovely operatic-type tones to her numbers. In particular, ‘Moonfall’ in which she sings the innuendo-heavy love song Jasper has written for her, showcases not only this, but Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Herne’s noteworthy keyboard contribution.

Other standout numbers come courtesy of ensemble pieces such as the relentless patter song ‘Both Sides of the Coin’ in which the Chairman, who is also Mayor Sapsea, and Jasper examine the dual natures of their suspicious characters before transitioning into a grand ensemble number. And Storm Fraser’s choreography does an excellent job in catering to the cast of 18, given the small tin shed space.

Also in the Act Two number ‘Settling Up the Score’, the setting of Cloisterham train station is easily evoked thanks to clever choreography that sees cases seamlessly transform from a train to a moving tableaux of daily busyness. And Liam Gilliland’s lighting design works well to darkens us to the depths of Jasper’s obsessive passion. The most memorable aspect of the show’s aesthetics, however, comes courtesy of Justin Tubb-Hearne’s lavish costume pieces. Lush colours and opulent fabrics enliven characterisation and assist in transporting the audience into the story, while providing their own visual interest.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is certainly musical theatre done differently. The hilarious whodunit mystery musical’s interactivity, allowing the audience to enter the action as the ultimate detectives, makes for not only a unique but a uniquely shared experience, fostering many interval conversations as to different theories and suspect preferences. That its Victorian-style musical hall sensibility only adds to its feeling of fun, is reason too, why this production should not be missed.

Photos: c/o – Kenn Santos / PIF Photography

Pure Phoenix imagination

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

February 5 – 27

From the initial moments of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the differences between the musical and its 1964 Roald Dahl children’s novel source material are clear. The show opens with eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonker (Joshua Moore) explaining to the audience in ‘The Candy Man’ that he’s searching for a suitable successor to run his legendary chocolate factory. Despite having no money to spend on sweets, candy-obsessed Charlie frequents a local shop and befriends the owner, unaware that he is Willy Wonka, but inspiring him in a mad idea for a competition that will see five golden tickets hidden across the world in chocolate bars.

As we meet daydreamer Charlie (Lawson Berry) telling the shopkeeper about Wonka’s career (‘Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka!’) we see some changes in his presentation too; rather than the humble, kind and optimistic Charlie of the enduring story, this is Charlie with a bothersome attitude. However, as he returns to the decrepit shack in which he lives with his mother (Zoe Costello) and four bed-ridden grandparents: Grandpa George (William Chen), Grandma Georgina (Laura Baker), Grandma Josephine (Sally Faint) and a sprightly Grandpa Joe (Shannon Foley), the story settles into familiar territory of their life of cabbage soup, tall tales and Charlie’s dreams of inventing the world’s next big thing in confectionary.

The delicious tale proceeds with the revelation of the five all-access golden ticket winners, faring from Russia and Germany to California and Midwest USA, who, along with a parent, have opportunity to tour Wonka’s factory. We don’t get to the factory until after interval though, with Act One allowing for the media-frenzied introduction of the mostly-doomed culturally-stereotyped children of Wonka’s tour, with each getting their own song.

There’s the gluttonous wurst-twirling Bavarian, Augustus Gloop (Harley Roy) and his mother (Fiona Buchanan), ready to eat their own body weight in chocolate at the factory; pampered spoiled-brat Russian ballerina Veruca Salt (Victoria Sica) and her oligarch father (Tristan Ham); the narcissistic social media celebrity and self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Pop’ (owing to her non-stop gum-chewing habit) Violet Beauregard (Ellen Axford) and her determined-to-have-her-go-viral father manager (Steven Days); the tech-addict gamer Mike Teavee (Chris Drummond) who controversially has hacked his way to fraudulently receive a ticket, and his mother (Carly Quinn); as well as Charlie and his Grandpa Joe.

It’s all very pantomime (without the audience participation) and over-the-top in its quest for laughs, especially in scenes featuring Charlie’s bedridden grandparents, that also feature some unexpected adult humour such as in Grandma Georgina’s risqué reading material and later political nods to Trump’s middle America in the media’s reporting of Mike Teavee’s ticket discovery. And performers rise to the challenge. Even from within the chorus, Aina Betts and William Chen prove themselves to be consistent standouts, always dynamic and highly entertaining.

Axford gives self-styled Violet some spunky JoJo Siwa type energy, however, it is Roy that is the biggest standout (#punintended) as the greedy Augustus, always animated to perfection, even if only in the background of scenes with mouth agape, such as in reaction to the first appearance of Wonka towards the end of Act One, or when posing tummy-forward for the media’s cameras. Indeed, it is wonderful to see Roy and Buchanan play off each other throughout, such as when Mrs Gloop tries to cajole Augustus from his sads with some spirited cheek squeezes. It’s just a shame that he topples into Wonka’s chocolate river so soon in the story.

As always with a Phoenix production, challenges to staging are accounted for inventively, particularly as the children embark on their mesmerising joyride through the incredible inventions within the chocolate factory. Justin Tubb-Hearne bright costume and sets design combine to create an onstage wonderland, making the most of the venue’s modest setting to balloon Violet, shrink Mike, create a great glass elevator and enliven a dancing chorus of almost a dozen oompa loompas through body puppetry. There is a clear attention detail in support too, with candy imagery adorning the theatre space, in support of the swirling lollypops on sale, and thematic pre-show and internal songs of the ‘I Want Candy’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ sort.

The band of Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne (keys), Laura Nicole Guiton (horn), Dale Hosking (trumpet) and Jennifer Wilson (drums) are in fine form, allowing for showcase of vocal talents. There’s some decent songs, too, from Mrs Bucket’s sweet ballad reflection of how life could have been different ‘If your father were here’ and Wonka’s tender final ‘The View from Here’ in which he tells Charlie of his grand prize as the two soar above town in the Great Glass Elevator.  Beyond this, while songs fulfil their purposes, they don’t really stand out beyond the iconic music from the 1971 film especially the beloved, melodic ‘Pure Imagination’, although Act Two’s techno-esque ‘Vidiots’ about how no one every goes back to normal after being on television, does entice with a futuristic “Be More Chill” appeal.

The biggest strength of this show, is, without a doubt Joshua Moore as the delightfully-silly sweet-talking candy man himself. He is a strong leading man whose energy never wanes in magnetic exemplification of the eccentric confectionary entrepreneur. Whimsical in his physicality, yet cutting in many of his comments, he effortlessly incorporates nonsense terms, malpropisms and mis-odering of words into his dialogue, keeping with the distinctive language characteristics of Dahl’s writing.

While the show also incorporates Dahl’s dark humour in its illustration of what happens to children who misbehave despite warnings, there is an essential innocence to it, making its experience great fun for the young (with stamina for its lengthy running time) and the young at heart willing to enter a world of pure imagination and put aside its plot holes. It is, therefore, easy to appreciate how this world amateur premiere season is already sold out.

Photos c/o – CF Photography Families

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.