Stirring up a Christmas classic

A Christmas Carol (shake & stir theatre company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

December 7 – 20

Shake and Stir’s “A Christmas Carol’ begins with a tune, the ironic ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ (because there is little about which to be merry for those suffering in Victorian era poverty). Still, it’s a lovely yuletide introduction, before it is interrupted by protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge (Eugene Gilfedder) and his famous humbug exclamation.


Fast forward to Christmas Eve seven years later after the death of Jacob Marley and we see the money-lender Ebenezer again, a cold-hearted penny-pincher who despises Christmas, tight-fisted and hunched over his accounts counting his coals and cursing the happiness of others, despite being rich enough not to be miserable. In his disdain for do-gooders and desire to just be left alone, he is clearly far from merry… just ask his long-suffering clerk Bob Pratchett (Lucas Stibbard).


After Scrooge is visited by his dead former business partner (Bryan Probets), now bound for eternity in the chains of his own greed after a life of hoarding his wealth and exploiting the poor, three other ghosts, of Christmas Past, Present and Future show Ebenezer the error of his ways. He consequently changes to see Christmas as a charitable and forgiving time of togetherness.


Nelle Lee’s wondrous adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novella conveys a storybook feel, enhanced by the in-schools experience of many of its ensemble, which enables a craftedness of appeal for children and adults alike. At times, there is a pantomime atmosphere, not in the “he’s behind you!” sensibility of the peculiarly British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre, but rather in the all-encompassing spirit and sentiment of a traditional tale told in way that allows families to share in a theatre experience.


QPAC’s notoriously chilly Playhouse Theatre in this instance suits the bleakness of the story’s shadowy staging and accompanying haunting soundscape. The large stage space is used to full and frenetic advantage, particularly in the flurry of early set transformations, that sees almost Escher-like creation and disassembly of sets while in use, as gothic house frames are precisely positioned to project laneways and interiors alike.


The most highly impressive moments, however, come courtesy of the crucial design efforts of Jason Glenwright (Lighting), Chris Perren (Sound) and Craig Wilkinson (Video) in awakening the story’s supernatural forces, particularly through its ghostly visions. Although there may be a couple of frightening moments for the youngest of viewers (the show is recommended for children eight years and over and includes warning about its supernatural themes, haze, smoke, strobe effects and loud music), it is these production values that keep this “A Christmas Carol” innovatively fresh. Not everything is big and bold, however. The pathos of ‘all skin and bones’ Tiny Tim, the youngest song of Bob Cratchit, gravely ill as his family cannot afford to properly treat him on the salary Scrooge his father, for example, is captured perfectly in his ingenious representation.


The last time I saw “A Christmas Carol” on stage, I found it bothersome that in realisation of his salvation, Scrooge sent a passing youth to buy a turkey for the Cratchit family’s Christmas meal, without giving the errand-boy any funds. Thankfully, in this show, the request is accompanied by some coins. It is but a small detail of course, but one that reflects the overall care the company takes in all of its productions, for it is the combination of these smallest considerations which ultimately group in production of such consistently high-quality work.


 Under Michael Futcher’s direction, everything about the show is tight and well-paced to maintain engagement of young and old alike. Many of the show’s hardworking cast members play multiple roles with ease. Gilfedder is perfection as the cantankerous Scrooge, both in his mostly-dour demeanour and when he excitedly transforms into a kindhearted person. And Probets is also wonderful as all four of the ghosts, often bringing an infectious sense of pantomime whimsy to his realisation of their characters. His Ghost of Christmas Past, in particular, is a jolly delight of impish, gleeful energy.


I have never really been “A Christmas Carol” fan, apart from maybe the Muppet’s movie version (because I’m not totally heartless). Clearly, I am in the minority though; the Victorian morality tale of an old and bitter miser who undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of an evening, remains a classic holiday story despite being written in 1843. That this company can ignite the imaginations of the young and not-so, to regard its charm anew is a wonderful testament to their energy and spirit. Hopefully it will form part of a Christmas show ritual as audiences obviously cherish the tradition of its story and the endurance of its themes. Its tell of compassion, forgiveness, redemption and the might of kindness is made even more powerful by its humour and heart, making it maybe even better than the Muppets.

There is no better way to kick off your Christmas season than with the defining tale of the holiday in the English-speaking world, brought to magical life in a brand-new adaptation. With live musicians (Composer Salliana Campbell), yule-tide carolling, innovative video design, lavish costumes and, of course, snow, “A Christmas Carol” has something for everyone, even those who imagine themselves to be more bah humbug than Christmas Carole.


Love and murder at first sight

North by Northwest (QPAC and Kay & McLean Productions)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

November 27 – December 9

“There’s an interval about an hour in, just after the plane crash and fire,” the usher explains as we enter the Lyric Theatre for “North by Northwest”. And true-enough, remarkably the show absolutely does justice to the visually-iconic late-period Alfred Hitchcock classic chase film of the same name. Not only do see our hero ambushed by a crop duster in a cornfield, and attempt a literally cliff-hanging escape down the faces of Mount Rushmore in the suspense of an attempted across-America escape, but a human creation of the film’s opening title sequence design of titled blocks and a playful nod to the film director’s signature cameos. Indeed, immediately it is clear that the show’s complex film projections and blue screen technology special effects, are going to recreate for us all that is ionic about the 1959 movie.


The Cold War-era story tells of the efforts of C.I.A. chief of sorts, The Professor (Robert Menzies) attempting to force the hand of a group of enemy agents by placing an invented Caplan character on their trail. Savvy advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Matt Day), played memorably in the film by Cary Grant, lands himself in trouble when he is mistaken for the mythical Mr Caplan and kidnapped. As his life is thus thrown into chaos, he is chased across the country as he attempts to avoid capture, meeting a beautiful and mysterious love interest, Eve Kendall (Amber McMahon) along the way.


It’s a confusing account. Veteran Hitchcock actor Grant himself noted how baffling he found the film’s screenplay. This production cleverly captures even this ambiguity through simple, but skilful, representations like moving giant fans in as aircraft noise in the scene when The Professor explains what the plot is about and why the mysterious, villainous Vandamm (Jonny Pasvolsky) is hunting Thornill.


Carolyn Burns’s script adaptation is not word perfect, but it does capture the film’s sharp dialogue, particularly in the quick quips of often forward sexual banter. And the typical Hichcockian situations are evident from the outset, despite a more hurried pacing, that brings added comedy to the bustling busy scenes and quick-change set pieces.


Most impressive, is the way in which cinema effects are created live by the cast against green screen backdrops either side of the stage and integrated into the show through video screen projection. In nod to the early days when special effects came courtesy of miniature set models, these almost dodgy dioramas work a treat, allowing for a drunken car drive down twisting mountain roads and fantastic real-life Mount Rushmore reveal. All the while, the central live action remains the focus; rather than serving as novelty, the projections are integral to the storytelling, especially in progressing the narrative along with show of newspaper headlines and alike.  Clearly, there is a very modern appeal to this “North by Northwest”, but it not at expense of the old-school suspense and charm the is at the core of the film. The experience is filled with era-evocative details such as the costuming recreation of Grant’s loose-fit, iconic stylish suit.


The story also includes an array of secondary and passer-by characters, courtesy of the hardworking support cast. Brisbane’s own Christen O’Leary, for example, jumps in and out of roles and accents with ease. The primary cast bring excellent performances to what are essentially paper-thin characters. Pasvolsky makes for a smooth arch-villain and McMahon is every bit a put-together platinum blonde leading lady who could tease a man to death without half trying, albiet with a little more assertion in modernisation of the character. And while not as suave as the glossy Grant, Matt Day is certainly of the type, bringing a likeable charm to the debonair central character in all of his roles: the outraged Madison Avenue man who claims he’s been mistaken for someone else, the fugitive from justice, supposedly trying to clear his name of a crime he knows he didn’t commit and a peevish lover, stung by jealousy and betrayal. And his delivery is on-point with the overarching tongue-in-cheek tone, with line after line landing with one-liner appeal.


Another authenticity comes from the show’s musical score which takes the audience through chases, suspense and love. From the whip and wail of the opening title-sequence overture, the musical story develops in compliment of the narrative and define of its situations and emotions. But the soundscape is also smartly silent when it needs to be too and without music or other sounds, the immensity of the crop-dusting sequence makes it a memorable lead in to intermission.


“North by Northwest” is a dynamic, highly-creative show from a clever group of cast and creatives. While some microphone cue lapses were evident on opening night, the show will obviously settle into its season as it is otherwise seamless in every regard. Presenting a play in the large Lyric Theatre is an unusual undertaking and “North by Northwest” is particularly ambitious given the action that defines the famous film, but as QPAC CEO John Kotzas noted, the theatre is only as big as our imagination, and in its precision and awe in attention to detail, “North by Northwest” fills audience imaginations and recollections, for although allusions will be appreciated by those familiar with the film in some way, audience members who don’t have this prior knowledge, won’t miss out either. The well-paced two-hour show (under Simon Phillips’ tight direction) offers a nice balance between action, romance and comedy, but with a considered restraint that never allows the cloak-and-dagger chase storyline to descend into farce. And the result is a must-see show of love and murder at first sight.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Don Giovanni drama

Don Giovanni (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, The Playhouse

October 19 – November 3

Opera Queensland’s “Don Giovanni” promises to be a striking production and truly, the aesthetics of the work are impressive, beginning with opening projections that allow the exhilarating score’s initial overture to be appropriately showcased. Although they are less clear when used in the show proper, they still add depth to the story’s dramatic themes and working class Victorian London setting.

There is drama too in the opera’s initial pivotal scene, when after leaving the bedroom of soon-to-be married Donna Anna (Eva Kong in her Opera Queensland debut), the titular Giovanni (Duncan Rock) is confronted by and kills her father, the Commendatore (Andrew Collis). From these early hues of death, things warm as Hayley Sugars struts on stage in an opulent orange ensemble; Anna Cordingley’s contemporary Victoria costume designs represent another highlight with Giovanni’s lush blue coat making him prominent against ensemble shades. A heavily raked stage adds dimension and lighting creates some stunning visual imagery, such as when our antihero is silhouetted against a doorway. So striking are the show’s visuals, that the aesthetic on stage often distracts from follow of the surtitles being shown above (The Mozart opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles).


Fortunately, the story is a simple one. Giovanni, a wealthy young and debauched nobleman, travels the world seducing women and casting them aside. After he kills Donna Anna’s father he mocks a statue of the slain father. To his surprise, the statue later appears as a ghost who gives Giovanni one last chance to repent. He refuses and is sent to hell as punishment.


The comedic opera about the Don Juan’s sexual exploits (the opera serves as a version of the Don Juan legend), is filled with familiar motifs of the Shakespearean sort with attempted window wooing, masquerading and disguised identities, and a supernatural haunting. However, given its misogynism, it is a problematic undertaking, especially in recent times in which the misconduct of men has been so in the spotlight. Its unprincipled protagonist is a serial womaniser and rapist, hunting women throughout Europe, and while this production is said to be set in the context of 2018 and the #metoo movement, Giovanni’s philandering is still celebrated as an art form in numbers such as ‘Madamina, il catalogo è questo’, in which his servant Lepereeo (Shawn Brown) clownishly lists the aristocratic playboy’s catalogue of European conquests (1003 in Spain!) as evidence of his insincerity to Donna Elvira.

Conducted by Johannes Fritzsc, The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is high-calibre as always, expertly infusing each supporting character with their own musical motif. Of particularly note is the exhilaratingly dramatic sounds of its darkly rhythmic final number soundtracking of Giovanni’s descent into hell. British/Australian bass baritone and rising international star Duncan Rock, who has previously sung the role of Don Giovanni several times, makes his Australian principal debut as the long-haired Lothario, roaming the stage with an alluring appeal in contradiction to this unscrupulous, scoundrel behaviour. With shirt off for portions of the show he is more Jamie Fraser muscle than traditional opera lead. And he is not only one on stage sans some items of clothing….


Under Lindy Hume’s direction, this Giovanni’s descent into hell is given a #metoo take as a group of naked and semi-naked volunteer women, representing the ‘avenging furies’ drag him to his death as part of the punishment for his life. While this creates a spectacle for consideration, however, it doesn’t necessarily work, coming across as a heavy-handed inclusion for provocation’s sake.


QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre setting offers “Don Giovanni” audiences a move intimate experience than Opera Queensland’s most recent productions. It is a long show, as operas are, however, while it is not of a grand scale, as a work that is considered by many to be Mozart’s greatest, it is still offers a satisfying enough experience, particularly for those new to the story and genre alike. While its attempted #metoo take may not resonate due to its tacked-on feel, it does still provide a catalyst for discussion and ultimately the quality of both its Opera Queensland cast and Queensland Symphony Orchestra musicianship, and the aesthetics of its production, largely transcend the disappointment of its unrealised dramatic intents.

Razzle dazzle drag

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical (Michael Cassel Group and Nullabor Productions in Association with MGM on Stage)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

September 26 – November 4


Finally, after playing 135 cities in 29 different countries around the world, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical” has sashayed itself to Brisvegas for the show’s Queensland premiere season. Based on the now-iconic 1994 Oscar-winning Australian film, the musical is the story of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus in Sydney bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime. As audience, we join them for the journey in the broken down old bus they christen as Priscilla, as they ‘Go West’ to the back of woop woop and beyond, with along-the-way social interactions, mechanical setbacks and some surprisingly amusing roadkill.


The reason for the journey is for Sydney-based drag queen Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose (David Harris) to visit his estranged wife, Marion (Adele Parkinson), the mother of his young son, Benji, by bringing his act to her casino, which will give Benji the opportunity to finally meet his father. Tick invites former Les Girls showgirl, transgender woman Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), whose husband has just died and also asks fellow performer Felicia (Euan Doidge) along for the ride, much to Bernadette’s chagrin. The unlikely friends may have been thrown together by circumstance, but it soon becomes apparent that their similarities are more than just skin-deep as all are desperate to escape the Harbour city’s club scene in some way.


Like its big-screen source material, the show is filled with anthemic disco-era classic songs like ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘I Love the Nightlife’ and ‘Finally’, but also, comparatively a lot of narratively-unnecessary musical filler, starting with Miss Understanding’s (Blake Appelqvist) over-the-top drag take of ‘What’s Love Got To Do with I’. Even ‘A Fine Romance’ now seems like an unnecessary interruption to give dialogue-mentioned backstory as to Broken Hill based mechanic Bob’s (everyone’s favourite flamin’ galah, Ray Meagher of “Home and Away” infamy) nostalgia towards a years-ago Les Girls visit.


Other additions, like a poignant ‘True Colours’ and rousing ‘We Belong’ realisation of the importance of family in all of its forms, are more effective, especially in ebbing and flowing audience emotions and cementing the tale as a first-and-foremost story about mateship, self-discovery and acceptance. Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Clé Morgan add much to the show’s songbook as the three divas who descend from on-high to lead chorus numbers with their powerful vocals, to which the drag performers lip-sync.


All the music, however, is secondary to the spectacle of costumes on show. Indeed, this is a musical of much colour and movement, featuring an array of more than 500 costumes and 200 headdresses, often (as with dialogue) in nod to its on-screen origin and Australiana-with-a-twist theme.


The costumes are across-the-board exceptional in their avante guarde over-the-top detail and little surprises and although, at times, it seems like Act One has a ‘going through the motions’ type feel, the way that a final tour stop show sometimes does, its ‘I Will Survive’ pre-interval number is a real highlight courtesy of its visual spectacle.


Tony Sheldon returns to reprise the role of sassy and acid-tongued, but still classy desert queen Bernadette, one which has earned him both Tony and Olivier nominations amongst his 1800 times playing the role. Along with David Harris as Tick, he anchors the show with a poise that serves as effective contrast to Euan Doidge’s exuberant and energetic Kylie-come-lately Felicia. And together they banter believably like the family that they become.


Along with the scathing wit of its dialogue, which is very funny, humour comes from the colourful characters encountered along the way en route to Alice Springs as light-hearted contrast to the attitudes and actions of homophobic locals. In particular, notable scenes come courtesy of Emma Powell as butch bogan Black Stump barmaid Shirley and Lena Cruz as Bob’s out-of-place wife Cynthia, complete with a popping ping pong number that even those already familiar with the film will find hugely entertaining.


At times, it is easy to recognise this as a 10th anniversary celebration tour. Although the show is visually dynamic and full of fun, its colour and movement cannot compensate for the passing of time that has made its content more homogenised. While it may not be as spectacularly camp as when it first appeared on stage in southern states (and where I first experienced it at Sydney’s Star City Casino), this “Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical” is still a spectacle and a trip that many will want to jump on-board for, because what is not to love about a show that celebrates dancers dressed as pink paintbrushes and candled cupcakes amongst other razzle-dazzle displays.

En Massse excellence

En Masse (Circa)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 19 – 22


The adverb en masse means all together. It is therefore, not only an artsty, but an appropriate title for the latest work of world renowned Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Circa. The new work, in world premiere at the Brisbane Festival features not only Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz’s trademark masse of humans intertwined throughout part of the piece, but a collective of artforms curated together to become its advertised wild, tender and savage ride. The contradictory aspects come courtesy of its ambitious presentation of two visions of humanity at its extremes through circus settings of Schubert’s “Winter’s Journey” and selections from his collection “Swan Song”, as well as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. And the contrast between the works is clearly evident, making “En Masse” a show that is well a truly one of two halves.


Act One sees Schubert’s exquisitely dark songs of loss and love shared by leading English tenor Rob Murray as acrobats from Circa’s legendary ensemble bend between anarchic energy and exquisite loss. There is a sense of disconnection as performers lie strewn across the front of the stage, contorting as they are drawn back behind the barely-raised scrim. When it is lifted, the atmosphere is still bleak as we see initially 10 and then just one performer in a translucent plastic cube, trying to the shape and control its claustrophobic containment of him, before realisation of the futility of resistance.

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The grim, apocalyptic feel is evident in every aspect of the stylishly minimal design aesthetic, including Murray’s dishevelled appearance as a vagrant watching the action. But it is also all about contrasts as violently aggressive, almost epileptic, angular movements follow frenetically from the fluidity of lyric and tender moments and the operatic calm. And the ebb and flow of the solo, duo, trio and group pieces continues in accent of the music, allowing it to shape key moments but also play more of a support role where necessary.


Things brighten in Act Two which sees the stage erupt with the energy of Stravinsky’s controversial ballet “Rite of Spring”, which is played live in a piano duet by acclaimed pianists Tamara-Anna Cislowska and Michael Kieran Harvey while acrobats are pitted in a life-and-death struggle between group and victim. The first-ever circus setting of the orchestral work makes an impact from its opening moments, as the focus is moved from the intimate to the more expansive as the illusion of the cube containment is amplified to encasement of the large Playhouse stage. Within it, performers still pyramid atop each other, jump into and over each other and are dragged about, but there is a definitely sense of divergence as they explore the familiar, but still astounding work’s depiction of a wild pagan spring ritual, rising and falling impressively in canon and dominoing in unison.


As with any Circa show, it is easy to appreciate the company’s high regard. Not only are all members of the group of 10 hugely talented acrobats remarkably skilful in every aspect of their delivery of the physically demanding show, but their intense and sustained focus throughout is astounding, and also intriguing. And it is impressive to see the interchangeable strength of male and female performers in catching and carrying each other around.


Clearly Brisbane audiences love joining to rejoice in the successes of our own ‘little circus company that could’ and its domination of the artform; I do not think I have ever seen the Playhouse foyer so abuzz with busyness before a show and forget trying to get hands upon a highly-sought-after program. It seems the audience know that even if you have seen Circa before and so you think you might know what to anticipate, their shows will not only be gripping but also still amaze with something new and exciting. In this instance it may be when a performer walks across the front of the stage with bent-over feet to become their own pointe shoe, or when a tower of three men topple forward into a roll, or maybe when a woman does a one-handed handstand while balanced on top of a two-man tower. (Given the number of audible reactions from the audience during the show, the list could definitely go on.)

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This is what Circa does and it is what they with excellence. While giving physical language to these classical scores is an interesting exploration, the performance’s theatrical aspects and addition of a narrative of sorts both adds to and, at times, detracts for this core business, but this see-saw reaction is probably appropriate given the contrasts so integral to the essence of the work. Even to those unfamiliar with the Schubert and Stravinsky and especially to those unacquainted with Circa, this is a show or rich reward that, like so many others, we are lucky to have as part of this year’s festival.

House party provocations

Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 12 – 15


I thought I knew what I was in for with “Home” from its blurb…. “On an empty stage, a house is conjured from nothing. You watch it fill room by room as generations of inhabitants go about making the house their home.” I also knew that the Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects’ work contains virtually no dialogue, which had me concerned, given how easily my mind can sometimes wander from the on-stage action without words to keep it in-check. This was, however, far from the case, given the intrigue of the execution of its unique premise.

The dynamic show has an intimate introduction as a man (Geoff Sobelle) begins to build a house out of wooden frames on the bare Playhouse stage. Before long we are wowed by the appearance as if out of thin air (Illusion Designer Steve Cuiffo) of the beginnings of a bedroom, fragmented in memory. Then, magically, an open-fronted, two-story house is built on stage using an actual house frame (Set Designer Steven Dufala) and furnished for its everyday use and transformation into a home. Props appear and characters change almost instantaneously meaning that it takes some time to even fully realise how many performers are involved in its inexplicable construction. It’s an ambitious concept, especially when executed without words, but with it comes remarkable reward, as under the skilful direction of Lee Sunday Evans, the company creates a spectacle unlike any other you are likely to see on stage.


The Illusion is, in part, achieved through the show’s sustained, astounding choreography (David Neumann). With French farce frenzy, performers are simultaneous in their timed entrances and in unison in action as they all duck and weave, for example, around each other in morning bathroom routine, as the multiple characters who have lived in the house at different times. As the sun rises and sets on new days, we see all of the house’s residents at once, going about their daily putting-out-the-rubbish type routines and suffering through the discomfort of summer heat and rainy weather alike. And the sentiment of the piece is clear as the home’s inhabitants celebrate, suffer and live, making the place their own with addition of photos on the stairway wall, adding their own design to the study and even just in going through their own unique morning routines. So while it is the story of a house, it is also about bigger thematic concerns about the stuff of life as we are provoked to considered what it means to create a home…. All without words. It is quite a powerful experience.


Along with the everydayness of occupants’ routines come momentous events as a dinner party becomes a surprise birthday celebration and then a graduation, wedding, fancy dress do and finally a funeral. And as an audience we are invited along with mass audience participation of all sorts, not just in rig of the party lights over the Playhouse stalls, but on stage as partygoers and performers. And how appropriate, for me to have a QPAC stage debut featuring a scene under the covers in bed, given my preference for #septemberisnosleep as a Brisfest hashtag.


Although it is without interval, “Home” is really a show of two halves. While it is initially thoughtful in its themes, around the question of what makes a house a home, it is also full of fun, appropriate billed as a ‘magical house party’. This is true, particularly in its latter section, because how can you not have a good time when there’s a Viking in the kitchen, Santa in the study and a penguin in the dining room, all to the accompaniment of a roving brass band. Its Australian premiere is certainly another coup for the Brisbane Festival, but its season is a short one, so get along quickly to challenge your ideas about what theatre looks like (#inagoodway), whether you make it onto the stage or not.

Centenary celebrations

Bernstein at 100 (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

August 25


Leonard Bernstein is a towering figure in the musical world. Among the first conductors born and educated in the US to receive worldwide acclaim, he is remembered for his accomplishments in both classical and popular music and his colourful conducting style. And as 2018 marks his centenary year, commemoration is certainly called for, all across the world, including by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in its special event “Bernstein at 100”. The long-time musical director of the New York Philharmonic was prodigiously talented across many fields, so capturing the different aspects of his compositional character within a tribute event was never going to be an easy feat.


Surprisingly to many, the superstar composer and conductor created just one movie score, the Oscar nominated ‘Symphonic Suite’ from the searing Marlon Brando drama “On The Waterfront”, later adapted to be a stand-alone orchestral work. The unique integrated single-moment work, is, therefore an excellent choice to begin the night’s celebration.

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It is a nice selection too in its showcase beyond just the orchestra’s strings, starting with brassy horn sounds before exciting with energetic percussion drums. Soloists are showcased on saxophone and flute and then there is unite of the full scale orchestra and the visual spectacle of seeing the vista of string instrument bows moving in unison; it is a stunning start to the evening.


Strings are on show in the second Act One number also, the more playful ‘Chichester Psalms’ for Chorus and Orchestra, which significantly features the harp. The always-handy listening guide within the show’s program tells audiences of how the work was commissioned by the Very Reverend Walter Hussey, the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, and is a setting of select verses from Bible psalms.


The liturgical meaning of the passage is certainly clear in its three movements as Brisbane Chorale, Voices of Birralee and Canticum Chamber Choir voices, join towards a second movement feature of a boy in serene solo, Boy Soprano Riley Petersen.

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Timpani drums are moved to the front of the Concert Hall stage after interval, but Act Two’s opening number, begins with clarinets in conversation at a bar. The is ‘The Age of Anxiety,’ Benestein’s second of three symphonies, based on W. H. Auden’s Pulitzer-prize-winning poem about the problematic search for faith, but now more well-known than its source material.

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The work’s series of variations are clear in their exploration of a range of moods and textures as the initial lonely couple’s conversation is enlivened by the arrival of other protagonists in bar patronage and then the existential lament on their taxi ride home to prolong the party. As fragmented music unifies, a swaysome celebration is shared through jazzy sounds on way to its triumphant ending.

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Certainly, the complex work serves as a colourful highlight, particularly in witness of Andrea’s Haefliger’s dynamic pianism representing the work’s protagonist, which is almost at match with Conductor and Musical Director Alondara de la Parra’s infectious energy.


Still, it is the tremendously popular and critically successful “West Side Story” that features more prominently in popular perception of Bernstein’s legacy and it is appropriate, therefore to end with his swinging ‘Symphonic Dances’. Complete with finger clicking musicians, the numbers are as eclectic and they are energetic and the passion of their trombonist and percussionist’s introduction become the perfect embodiment of the spirit of the night’s rejoice.


To celebrate one of the major figures in orchestral conducting in the second half of the 20th century on the actual day of what would have been his 100th birthday is a wonderful treat in itself, however, in the QSO’s hands, the joy becomes infectious in share, from its opening “On the Waterfront” moments to its encore overture from “Candide”. Indeed, the virtuosic journey of “Bernstein at 100” shows that it is not only the legend that we should be celebrating, but the musicianship of the state’s accomplished orchestra as well.