Century’s choice

Fortunate as we have been in Queensland this year, I was able to experience exactly 100 shows in 2021 and though I am thankful for every single one of them, there are of course some that stand out as favourites.

1. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

2. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, Queensland Theatre’s landmark production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

3. Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

As the Queensland Theatre play that audiences waited a year for, “Triple X” provided a commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality that was funny, honest and powerfully moving.

4. Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s production of Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” was a riveting 100-minute one-woman tour-de-force indictment of the legal system, appropriately acclaimed by the thunderous applause of three curtain calls.

5. Of Mice and Men (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” served as a poignant reminder of not only the heartbreak of its story and themes, but of how classics are classics for a reason.

6. Fourthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.

7. The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production, “The Producers” was self-aware and hugely entertaining with distinctive musical numbers and laugh-out-louds a-plenty 

8. Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

The precision with which all elements of the three consecutively unfolding stories of BC Production’s “Anatomy of a Suicide” unfold made for a powerful exploration of the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women.

9. Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra” was elevated in interest through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where events occurred in complement to the onstage action alongside the original dialogue.

10. Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, inspired by his real experiences working in a funeral home was not just an examination of what it means to die in the 21st century, but a very funny and moving night of entertainment at Queensland Theatre.

And of particular note….

Best Performance:

Glace Chase – Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Playwright, Glace Chase was magnetic as the candid Dexi in “Triple X”. Bold but vulnerable, she made Dexi complex in her multi-dimension and identifiable in her inner conflicts, with a portrayal that added immensely to the emotional effect of the show’s unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Oliver Childs – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Oliver Childs not only showed a talent for characterisation in his realisation of the two Joe Caseys of the alternative realities of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s “Our House”, but his enthusiastic energy and vocal delivery worked well to encapsulate the spirit at the core of the jukebox musical’s experience.

Best Musical – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

It was easy to understand why Spotlight Theatrical Company’s season of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” sold out before even opening, given the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members.

Best Ensemble – The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

With a cast all pushing their eccentric performances to their full potential, Altitude Theatre’s The Producers was high-energy and immensely entertaining throughout.

Best Music – Creedence Clearwater Inspired Featuring Proud Mary (QPAC)

Proud Mary gave QPAC audiences a reminder of just how good live music is with an infectious 2-hour rock back to a time when the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival was the soundtrack of a generation.

Best Cabaret – Your Song (little red company)

The little red company’s world premiere of “Your Song” was a lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam in a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour and unquestionable on-stage talent.

Cleverest – Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions) 

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” had a lot going on in its Brisbane premiere. As the stories played out side-by-side, switching across stage sections, episodic scenes danced together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts, making for a cleverly crafted provocation around ideas associated with legacy.

Best New Work – Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

While Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, deals with a number of heavy themes, it is a well-written, emotionally rich play that offered a refreshing take on a young man’s story.

Most Fun – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of Madness didn’t take itself too seriously, including through its number of nods to band’s music videos, making its experience all sorts of infectious fun.

Funniest – Fouthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Thanks to performances in the face of its changing narrative, the hilarity of shake & stir theatre company’s “Fouthcoming” never stopped.

Special mention goes to the post show-within-the-show discussion of La Boite Theatre’s “Caesar”, which provided the funniest scene of the year, through its absolutely hilarious TikTok livestream nods to the Brisbane theatre scene.

Most Thought Provoking – Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” provided a thought-provoking exploration of experience and impact of living with a rare neurological disorder, for sufferers and their families alike.

Best Stage Design Staging – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Intimate traverse staging allowed audience members to become fully immersed in recognition of the stunningly rich aesthetic and, appropriately for a play set in revolutionary France, its cast of real-life fierce female characters to burst down its fashion runway.

Best Costume Design – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Attention to detail added to the dynamism of the experience of this Curators show with lush pink and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveying a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

Best Sound Design – Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Electra” was elevated by a vivid, atmospheric sound design that both heightened audience suspense and fevered its story’s foreboding.

Best Video Design – Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

The blockbuster video design of Queensland Theatre’s “Boy Swallows Universe” both gave us Brisbane iconography and nooks and crannies alike, but bled its imagery into the story’s themes.  

Producers polish

The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

March 4 – 13

Opening Night of Altitude Theatre’s production of “The Producers” sees The Brisbane Powerhouse foyer filled with a red carpet entrance, media wall and much excitement in anticipation of failure… such is the story of fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Matt Young) who stumbles upon a seemingly failsafe scheme to profit from a flop. In partnership with timid accountant Leo Bloom (Mark Hill) and with the help of some farcical yet unaware characters, he sets upon a scam to produce what they hope will be the biggest failure in the history of commercial theatre (whose shares they can oversell), the offensive “Springtime for Hitler” gay romp about Adolf and Eva aka the worst musical ever written.

The record 12 Tony Award winning musical comes from the comic genius Mel Brooks’s stage adaptation of his own cult movie from 1968. Mel Brooks, of course, means an abundance of irreverence and over-the-top characters and every role is perfectly cast to accommodate this. Original Broadway and later 2005 movie stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick make for some big shoes to fill, but Young and Hill do so with aplomb. Young makes his energetic performance appear effortless and Hill’s anxious, awkward Leo immediately engenders audience affection. Much humour comes from the duo’s timing and together they perfect this, easily bouncing off each other’s energy and character nuances. And Rachael Ward is sublime as jiggly dancer and receptionist at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, especially in her enticing ‘When You Got It, Flaunt It’ impromptu office audition.

Director and Choreographer Joseph Simons’s vision is polished, allowing the cast to push their eccentric performances to their full potential. Particular mention should go to Patrick Conolly, playing wonderfully camp and eccentric ex-Nazi show writer Franz Liebkind dressed in lederhosen and a German Army helmet, and James Lee, playing flamboyant and critically panned theatre director Roger De Bris chosen by Bialystock in an attempt to ensure that “Springtime for Hitler” will flop. And when we hear from him as to why shows should be more pretty and witty in Act One’s ‘Keep it Gay’, his production team of staff, including common-law assistant Carmen Ghia (Alex Watson) give us many laughs, including from ensemble member Maddison Coleman as the lighting designer who gives animated face throughout.

The often politically-incorrect humour of “The Producers” draws on overblown accents, caricatures and theatre/showbiz jokes. Indeed, there are lots of stereotypes crescendoing together in the musical within a musical’s high-energy titular Busby-Berkeley-style number, which also sees the ensemble merge into from-almost-out-of-nowhere tank formation akin to the Shimbleshanks number in “Cats”. Josh McIntosh’s art deco design elements flavour the aesthetic and swift set transitions help to hold momentum as set pieces are choreographed into place. Jack Scandrett’s sound design is crisp and Ryan McDonald’s lighting works well, especially in emphasis of Max’s fast-paced Act Two jail cell recap of the plot thus far.

Even in repeat viewings, “The Producers’ provides abundant opportunities to see things anew. Under Jacqui Devereux’s musical direction, each song’s distinctive musical character is highlighted from the “Fiddler on the Roof” sounds of ‘The King of Broadway’ introduction to Max’s previous heights and the militaristically anthemic ‘We Can Do It’ in which he encourages Leo to think about the scheme, to an “On the Town” type of song start and the Fred and Gingerness of ‘That Face’, where left-alone Leo and Ulla start to fall in love. With strong vocals in every instance, each song could be considered a highlight until the next one comes along. ‘I Want to be a Producer”, for example, in which Leo sings of his secret desire to leave the drudgery of accounting is met with a huge audience response.

Musical numbers provide laugh-out-louds a-plenty from the silliness of Max and Leo’s Nazi hoedown with the tasteless show’s writer to the snippet of ‘dancing Hitler’ audition numbers and the show’s dance off between Hitler and world leaders of the Stalin sort, with the farce often amplified by quick, clever lyrics with over-the-top alliteration. Its endurance as an audience favourite is not only due to its humour, however, but its sentiment too, in acknowledgement of friendship between the two producers at core of story

“The reviews come out a lot faster when the critics leave at intermission,” Max reflects after opening and also closing night of “Funny Boy”, a musical version of “Hamlet”, early in the show. Thankfully, this is far from the case in this instance. Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production is an absolute triumph, deserving of its standing ovation audience affirmation. Indeed, the self-aware and hugely entertaining production, if it had live orchestra accompaniment, could easily take its place on QPAC’s Lyric Theatre stage as a reminder of how good and how funny the record-breaking Broadway musical is.

Broadway business

The Producers (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

September 23 – October 7

Savoyards THE PRODUCERS Media 1 Gary Rose (Max Bialystock) and Joshua Thia (Leo Bloom) Photo credit Christopher Thomas.jpg

Sometimes the business of Broadway is that you do can do everything right but still go wrong. Sometimes, the opposite can occur too…. Such is the story behind Mel Brooks’ movie and subsequent musical, “The Producers”. Failed Producer Max Bialystock used to be the king of old Broadway, with the biggest hits. Now, he has lost his touch so makes his money by seduction of elderly women as investors. ….until he stumbles upon a seemingly failsafe scheme to profit from a flop. He partners with timid accountant Leo Bloom to produce what they hope will be the biggest failure in the history of commercial theatre (whose shares they can oversell), the offensive “Springtime for Hitler” gay romp about Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgaden, aka the worst musical ever written, helmed by the worst director in New York City and with the worst actors occupying all of its roles.

Savoyards Brisbane THE PRODUCERS Gary Rose is Max Bialystock.jpg

And so the chaos begins and in Savoyard Musical Comedy Society’s production of what Mel Brooks himself describes as ‘an evening of insanity and pleasure’, the chaos is quite delicious. The show starts strongly with the two leads, Gary Rose as the very Jewish and over-the-top Bialystock and Joshua Thia as the anxious and unsure-of-himself Bloom, sharing an immediate on-stage chemistry. The production has everything a good old fashioned musical needs, particularly its tried and tested, sometimes politically incorrect, humour. Indeed, it is irreverently self-aware in its offer of something for everyone comedy-wise; there is bawdy, one-liner humour that completely works alongside wittier, more intellectual allusions and puns.

Savoyards Brisbane THE PRODUCERS.jpg

Musical numbers are quite magnificent in both their eclecticism and their production values. ‘I Want to Be a Producer’ serves as an Act One highlight, as Bloom sings of his secret desire to leave the drudgery of accounting to have his heart set afire by seeing his name in lights, complete with a chorus of supporting showgirls and an entertaining tap dance sequence. ‘Springtime for Hitler’ is another, later, example of the show’s unified choreography, staging, costumes and impressive live music soundtrack under Mark Beilby’s direction.

Savoyards Brisbane THE PRODUCERS Joshua Thia is Leo Bloom.jpg

To be a genuine success, however, the show needs to nail it with the two leads and in this regard, Savoyards’ production excels. Rose is a perfectly devious but twinkle-eyed Bialystock, while triple threat, Thia is outstanding, from the anxious and awkward Bloom of Act One through to his increasingly excitable sensibility in later sections. His embrace of every opportunity within the role’s physicality, with hilarious facial expressions and exciting physical comedy, make him enormously fun to watch.

Savoyards Brisbane THE PRODUCERS Walter Lago as Franz Liebkind.jpg

Walter Lago is a riot as Franz Liebkind, the ex-Nazi writer of the musical within a musical, at times conveying a John-Cleese-like sensibility in his normalised absurdity. Grace Glarke is appropriately faux-Swedish as Ulla, the jiggly dancer/receptionist at the newly amalgamated Bialystock and Bloom, David Morris brings immense energy and interest to the role of Director Roger Debris when stepped into the musical’s lead role and Scott Edwards is a scene-stealing Carmen Ghia, his flamboyant common law assistant.

Savoyards Brisbane THE PRODUCERS Scott Edwards as Carmen Ghia.jpg

“The Producers” was a smash hit on Broadway, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, so any intended production is going to be an ambitious undertaking, especially for an independent theatre company. This is musical theatre on the grandest of scales with a long running time and cast of over two dozen. Under Gabriella Flowers’ Artistic Direction, Savoyards have produced a polished and professional show. Hannah Crowther’s tight choreography and Sherrly-Lee Secomb’s clever set design work well to establish and quickly transition between scenes while maintaining the show’s essential energy and feel-good factor. Unfortunately, this could not distract from the ongoing sound issues on Opening Night.

Savoyards THE PRODUCERS Media 5 Photo Credit Christopher Thomas.jpg

“The Producers” puts the comedy back in musical comedy, with Mel Brooks evident in its every aspect. The show went on to become one of the biggest hits in modern Broadway memory and this production loses none of what made the original such an enormous success. Savoyards’ highly entertaining and thoroughly recommended share of the classic Broadway story is appropriately full of colour and movement, frivolity and funny, funny moments… including a pigeon named Adolf who almost steals the show. As a musically and visually stunning reminder that there is no business like show business, this is one of the best amateur productions around and, as such, should be seen by all who, like Ulla, think if you got it, flaunt it!

Photos c/o – Christopher Thomas