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.

Glee goes high tech

Be More Chill (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre

October 30 – November 21

Immediately, audiences know they are in for something special at the Queensland premiere production of “Be More Chill”. Beenleigh Showgrounds’ tin shed has been impressively transformed with elaborate production values for Phoenix Ensemble’s production of the cult hit musical, with a deliberateness to the detail that only adds to the dynamic aesthetic. From the interval soundtrack of electronic music numbers to the visible cords of its lighting setup, the audience is, in every way possible, transported to the world of the fresh, contemporary musical.

“Be More Chill” is an exciting sci-fi teen musical comedy that takes the adolescent angst of “Dear Evan Hansen” and adds some artificial intelligence. It is a musical rooted in contemporary adolescent issues during our social-media-driven age, however, it goes beyond digital culture challenges to also explore universal themes of family and friendship. The show, which is based on a novel by Ned Vizzini, is engaging from its first ‘More than Survive’ ‘c-c-c-come on’ refrain as social outcast Jeremy (Christopher Batkin) wonders if someone can help him. As a high school loser, he is bullied every day by Rich (Adam Goodal), the most popular kid in school, which does not help his ambition to impress his big crush, theatre-obsessed Christine (Juliette Ebert) who only has eyes for handsome school jock Jake (Daniel Lelic). Jeremy’s home life isn’t happy either; his father (Stephen Morris) has barely bothered to fully dress himself since Jeremy’s mother walked out on the family. At least he has a solid friend in Michael (Macca Kelly) with whom he shares an interest in video gaming.

When during rehearsal for the school production of ‘A Midsummer Nightmare (About Zombies)’ (which becomes a show-within-the-show parody), Jeremy becomes jealous of Jake and Christine’s flirtation and finds himself being offered information about the secret behind Rich’s social success: a SQUIP gray oblong pill that implants a supercomputer in pill form that tells you what to do and say in order to boost your popularity! (#itsfromJapan) In attempt to be more chill, Jeremy buys himself a pill and gives it a shot, only to be met with conflicting voices in his head, arguing for dominance over his free will. Thanks to a megalomaniacal microprocessor (Michael Mills), that sounds like Keanu Reeves, Jeremy suddenly becomes the cool kid in school, attracting the attention of those who previously ignored him. But his newfound popularity comes at a price, including alienating his former best friend so is the SQUIP more than he can swallow?

There are no weak links among the energetic cast. It is a particularly physical show for Batkin yet he maintains a demeanor that epitomises a stereotypical high school nerd. Also caricatures, are the Queen Bee and her Beta minion characters who are energised by Taylah Mclennan and Ellen Axford. Indeed, the supporting cast is full of talent. Mills conjures some amusing reactions as the personal life coach that only Jeremy can see. Goodall’s relish of his Ritch role is infectiously appealing, particularly in the show’s closing scenes and Morris is a crowd favourite in dual roles as Jeremy’s dad and the over-the-top I-hate-teaching-high-schoolers-mediocre-drama teacher Mr Reyes, making Act Two’s ‘The Pants Song’ an absolute highlight.

The biggest standout, however, comes in the form of Kelly’s Michael and it is wonderful to see his talent celebrated in melancholy Michael’s eponymous second act ballad “Michael in the Bathroom,” about hiding, alone and nervous, at a party. Not only are his vocals sweetly on-point but the equip the number with a heavy emotional punch beyond what audiences familiar with its 2019 Tony’s parody might expect.

While ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ serves as a clear emotional and musical high point, the show is filled with fun, upbeat numbers, including the title tune and ‘Upgrade’. The early foreshadowing number, ‘Two-Player Game’ is a peppy song from Jeremey and Michael about playing videogames, having each other’s backs and dreaming of being College cool, while Act Two’s mammoth entire company opener ‘Halloween’ ode to the ultimate party has a catchy appeal like that of ‘Who’s House is This?’ from fellow teen musical “Mean Girls”. Indeed, one of the show’s virtues is its score, which is filled with likeable songs written by composer-lyricist Joe Iconis and it is easy to appreciate the movement that took it from a little show in New Jersey to off Broadway and then Broadway proper thanks to fandom for its original soundtrack taking it viral with hundreds of millions of streams.

In this realisation, the live music, under Hayley Marsh’s musical direction, equips the rock and pop style soundtrack with an added retro feel. Creative AV design from Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne adds depth to scenes and Justin Tubb-Hearne’s costume designs embrace the cartoonishness sensibility of the show’s essential appeal. Joe Tracz’s book gives the audience many laughs, often in unexpected comic moments, without sacrificing sincerity, including a lot of drama nerd humour beyond just sight of a post-apocalyptic Puck. But what else should be expected from a quirky show whose first line of the opening number is: “I’m waiting for my porno to load.”

As a “Dear Evan Hansen” fangirl, I had a feeling I would love “Be More Chill”, even though it lacks that musical’s emotional depth. A lifetime ago in January, I named the 2020 Phoenix Ensemble production as my most anticipated show of the year to come and it has certainly been worth that wait. Experience of the show flies by, not just due to its slick production, but investment in the story’s direction; there is so much happening on stage that it is sometimes difficult to determine where to look. This is a show I could easily watch again and again, if it weren’t for the fact that its season is already sold out. With that in mind, the only question that remains is, when is the company doing “Dear Evan Hansen”?

Photos c/o – Benjamin Tubb-Hearne

Heels and feels

Kinky Boots (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavilion Theatre 

September 4 – 26

“It feels contagious” is probably not the most popular of phrases these days, even in its appearance in electric disco anthem ‘Sex is in the Heel’ in which the characters of “Kinky Boots” are being asked to embrace the funked-up ostentation of its titular footwear. It is, however, a most apt way of encapsulating experience of Phoenix Ensemble’s production of the hit musical, which captures its joy in a balance of show-stopping numbers, sassy humour and contemplative emotion alike. With Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics, along with its hilarious, uplifting book by Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein, the show delivers a strong message of acceptance, which the company delivers without moralising, making for a good time for all. Indeed, the on-stage energy of a cast finally able to perform again is infectious, ensuing that audience members leave the theatre abuzz above and beyond that of a usual opening night.

Based on the 2005 film, in turn drawing loosely on real events, the popular 2013 musical tells the uplifting story of Charlie Price (Alexander Thanasoulis), the fourth generation son in Northampton’s Price and Son shoemaking business, who reluctantly inherits the company, only to discover its financial difficulties. While in London with his obnoxious fiancée, Nicola (Carly Wilson), Charlie encounters Simon, in drag as the flamboyantly fabulous drag queen Lola (Joshua Brandon). The fabulous entertainer who is in need of some sturdier stilettos, becomes Charlie’s inspiration to not only turn around the business, but live up to his father’s legacy. As they work together, the unlikely pair find that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible, soon discovering that, when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

Phoenix Ensemble shows never disappoint and “Kinky Boots” is certainly up there with the best, thanks to possibly the strongest principal cast the company has ever assembled. Joshua Brandon has some massive shoes to fill as the larger-than-life cabaret performer and drag queen Lola, given the dynamism with which the Tony Award-winning Billy Porter originated the role on Broadway and how Helpman Award-winning Callum Francis embodied it in its UK and Australian tours. And Brandon fills them with expertise, seemingly effortlessly showing audiences how sometimes the best way to fit in is to stand out. As sassy and showy as the character is, however, it is a role that inspires love and acceptance, celebrated in the show’s inspirational ‘Raise You Up’ with lyrics like, ‘Just be who you wanna be.’ In justice to this, Brandon captures Lola’s confident charisma, while also delivering upon the more intimate moments that show Simon’s emotion and integrity, such as in the thoughtful Lola and Charlie duet, ‘Not My Father’s Son’, which outlines their shared tormented feelings towards their fathers and also showcases the clear chemistry between the two leads.

“Kinky Boots” brings with it a heavy musical load for its leads and while the production is enriched by its all-around committed cast (especially the troupe of Lola’s Angels), there are two pivotal roles on which its success rests; Lola and Charlie. Like with Brandon’s Lola, Alexander Thanasoulis inhabits the complex role of the deceptively-unassuming Charlie, bringing to it the insecurity and sensitivity needed to ensure audience engagement with the heart-warming aspects of the narrative. And his vocals are excellent throughout. In particular, Act Two’s ‘Soul of a Man’, in which he struggles with the burden of his father’s legacy, is forlorn without being self-pitiful and particularly poignant on Father’s Day weekend.

Also of particular note is Lauren Ryan, who is delightful as dorky audience favourite Lauren, the supportive factory worker who just happens to be infatuated with Charlie. Her comic timing, especially in combination with the choreography in ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ makes for one of her many memorable appearances on-stage.

Under Sherryl-Lee Secomb and Shane Webb’s direction, all elements combine in an impressive production. Desney Toia-Sinapati and Amy-Rose Swindells’s choreography is effective in big, company numbers like Act One’s closer, ‘Everybody Say Yeah’, crescendoing in Act Two’s boxing scene where the factory’s homophonic foreman Don (Tristan Ham) challenges Lola to fight him in a boxing match at the pub, one of the best choreographed numbers seen in ‘the tin shed’ of the Beenleigh Ensemble’s Pavilion Theatre home. Justin Tubb-Hearne’s costumes are flashy and fun, while his set design works smoothly throughout.

While the music of “Kinky Boots” is catchy (Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne), it generally doesn’t help the storytelling in that typical musical way. But the escapism that the show provides at a time when we need it more than ever, means that this is of little concern. Similarly, it features some perhaps-problematic tropes and dialogue mentions. Still, the overwhelming feel-good atmosphere makes for a joyous night out, especially in delight of seeing others experience the musical for the first time. And, all things considered, it is easy to understand why the season of shows is already sold out.

Photos c/o – CF Photography Families