R&H homage

The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein (Lynch and Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

October 15 – 16

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein were two of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Together, they created 11 musicals amongst a body of work in the 1940s and 1950s that has become known as the golden age of musical theatre. More so than any composer and lyricist who have written for the stage, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs have become standards of musical theatre repertoire and celebration of some of these beloved tunes is at the core of Lynch and Paterson’s “The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein”, which sees these treasured musical theatre songs performed alongside Cadenza Chamber Players.

From the outset, the concert’s overture sweeps us into the mood for its melodies as we are reminded of the smash hit songs from the duo’s string of hit musicals such as “The Sound of Music”, “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel” and more. The musical sensibility is also clear from Act One’s outset with soprano soloist Samantha Paterson connecting immediately with the audience in a lively ‘Getting to Know You’ from “The King and I”. Indeed, the light-hearted charm that typifies a musical’s appeal is evident throughout, from the playful whistling of a happy tune to the in-turn vocal sequencing of musical tones to each performer in ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and its exploration of the major musical scale. And then we are taken to the South Pacific with mezzo soprano soloist Meg Hamilton leading ‘Wonderful Guy’ with humour, heart and vigour, before the male chorus launches into the playful and plucky companion number ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’, further reminding the audience of the unique fusion of Rodgers’ musical comedy and Hammerstein’s operetta that characterise their work.

Bringing Broadway’s legendary musical showstoppers to life, is a cast of four dazzling vocalists and a powerful professional chorus. The lead vocalists, Samantha Paterson, Meg Hamilton, Travis Holmes and Elliot Baker are talented and charismatic. In particular, tenor soloist Holmes is a resonant presence. His ‘Soliloquy’ from “Carousel” in which the now-jobless antihero reveals his inner passions and fears upon learning he is about to become a father, is an epic musical monologue of humour and pathos and he handles its emotional transition with aplomb, connecting with the audience through his strong, but also sensitive voice. Its resulting momentous applause could well be the show’s highlight… until his climatic ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ from “The Sound of Music”. The inspirational song about discovery and following one’s dream is delivered with a vocal drama that complements its slow musical build from hopeful searching to rewarding happiness. And Elliot Baker’s rich baritone sounds effortless wrap themselves around ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, making the love-at-first-sight song, smooth, but also sincere, in its romantic sentiments.

The cast’s voices combine to produce some wonderful harmonies, such as in support of Hamilton in ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and then all together in encore of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from “Carousel”. It is an appropriate ending, not just due to its dramatic display of complex harmonies but its essentially optimistic message. The emotional peak of Act II in “Carousel” has become a global anthem that strikes a chord during tough times, reminding of the resilience needed. It is a hopeful and emotionally-impactful punctuation of the soaring scores that occupy the bulk of the show’s two acts.  

The Cadenza Chamber Players orchestra conducted by Lucas D. Lynch makes every number lushly memorable, whether it be playful or contemplative in tone. And its string section of violins, viola, cello and bass fuse together to deliver some especially exquisite flighty sounds in later “The Sound of Music” numbers. Strong production values also see Tom Dodd’s lighting design complementing the sentiment of the themes on show, twinkling us into the enchanted evening and warming us into the bright golden haze on the meadow of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, as Elliot Baker shares Curly Mclain’s enjoyment of a wonderful day out West in “Oklahoma!”

The timeless music of Rodgers and Hammerstein changed theatre forever and Lynch & Paterson’s sophisticated production serves as a reminder of the duo’s cement of iconic status. The joyful homage is also a showcase of the talents of some magnificent vocalists and the stunning live orchestra of Cadenza Chamber Players. Its only disappointment is that there are only two performances.

Bohemian Brilliance

Rent (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

February 26 – March 12

Jonathan Larson’s ‘90s musical “Rent” is a modern classic of the type that has people returning to see its original Broadway run more than once (or maybe that was just me). So to see its bohemian brilliance on show, as is the case with Beenleigh Theatre Group’s compelling take, is always a pleasure.

“Rent” is a glorious work, or rather rework of Puccini’s popular opera “La Boheme”, set in the Lower East Side of New York. Its celebratory portrayal of a group of poor artists and addicts living hungry and frozen under constant shadow of AIDS was ground-breaking in contrast to the then traditionally conservative nature of most musicals. But times have changed and although the work is still full of vitality and poignancy, its effect is far less hard-hitting. What remains, despite the tyranny of time, is the appeal of its musical score, full of refrains of its memorable numbers.

Accordingly, the lengthy show is full of musical highlights including lovers’ duet ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ between Maureen (Allison Nipperess) and Joanne (Morgan Garrity) and Joanne’s duet with Maureen’s former lover Mark (William Boyd), ‘Tango: Maureen’, featuring not just some powerhouse voices, but a showcase of the performers’ comic timing. The ultimate, however, is the fabulous ensemble delivery of ‘La Vie Boheme’ which is choreographed to perfection to provide a vibrant visual tableaux in support of the two-part celebration of bohemianism and its ideas, trends and symbols.

RENT pic.jpg

Performers showcase varying vocal ability but are all energetic in performance. Boyd anchors the show as its pseudo-narrator, struggling documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen. Not wanting to sell out to the mainstream film industry her prefers to view the world through a lens than engage in it, conveying an everyman sense of awkwardness. As his roommate Roger, a struggling musician who is HIV positive, Travis Holmes is first-rate. His musical hope to write one meaningful song to leave behind, ‘One Song Glory’ is outstanding and, unfortunately, his duets with Emily Corkeron as his love interest Mimi, suffer because of his comparative excellence. Indeed, her voice, while capable, does not seem to have the sustained power required to belt out her attempt to go ‘Out Tonight’ and seduce Roger, meaning that the potentially show-stopping number falls flat amidst an array of Act One highlights.

As the sweet and generous young drag queen and street percussionist Angel Dumott Schunard, Alex Watson takes the audience on an emotional journey from joy to sorrow and although his ‘Today 4 U’ musical boast is breathy in its energy, the chemistry between him and Matthew Dunne as his love interest, computer genius, professor and vagabond anarchist Tom Collins, is endearing, particularly in their lovely number ‘I’ll Cover You’. As sassy performance artist Maureen Johnson, Allison Nipperess is not only of strong voice but expressive to delicious comic effect, particularly in delivery of the performance piece ‘Over the Moon’.

Set design serves the space well, using scaffolding and platforms to recreate the gritty look of New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, including transforming a section of the auditorium floor to become a New York subway. Especially considering the size of its ensemble cast of over two dozen performers, choreography is impressive in its seamlessness, particularly in its many ‘big’ numbers. Poignant parts are handled well too, allowing for the tragic ramifications of its narratives to be sensitively realised in Act Two.

Although somewhat sanitised, Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Rent” is a wonderful example of ensemble theatre at its best, with all elements combining in performance as passionate as the story’s characters. The company should be congratulated on their bravery of musical choice and dynamic application to all aspects of the production.