Alive and welcomed

The Sound of Music (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Twelfth Night Theatre

June 3 – 12

Perhaps best known for the film adaptation starring Julie Andrews, “The Sound of Music” is a perennially-popular musical standard. The last musical Rodgers and Hammersten created (Oscar Hammerstein passed away nine months after it opened on Broadway in 1959) is a long one, but one with lots of story and many musical reprises and, as Queensland Musical Theatre shows, it is still as entertaining as ever.

Based on the real-life tale of the von Trapp family and their escape from Austria on the eve of Nazi Germany’s annexation of the country in 1938, the story is of Maria (Lara Boyle), a woman who during her convent training is dispatched to be a governess for the strict Captain Von Trapp (Nathaniel Currie) and his seven children Liesl (Holly Komorowski), Friedrich (Josh Cochrane), Louisa (Freyer Griggs), Kurt (Beau Bruback), Brigitta (Darci Allen), Marta (Alessia Lily Monteverde) and Gretl (Harriet Straus). Her genuine nature means that Maria brings music and love back into the home, discovering herself how it can bloom even in the most unexpected places as she endears herself to the children and eventually their father, despite his courtship of Baroness Schraeder (Kate Retzki).

Things get political in Act Two as Nazism and the eventual occupation of Austria by Germany casts a more immediate shadow over all their lives with the fiercely patriotic Captain unable to agree with his music agent and producer friend Max (Kris Brennan) about acquiescence to the inevitable German takeover. Even amongst the seriousness of the von Trapps’ predicament, however, experience of the musical is filled with the songs we all know, which, in itself, presents a challenge. Still, this production shows how even a well-known and beloved musical such as this can be given a new life through fresh takes. In particular, Isabel Byrne’s choreography gives us a dynamic demonstration in numbers such as ‘Do-Re-Mi’, in which Maria teaches the children the basics of music, as well as her ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ attempt to distract their fears during a thunderstorm. Also enjoyable is the much-loved ‘So Long Farewell’ routine when the children say goodnight to party guests with a song, later reprised at a tense Nazi talent show. And Deian Ping’s costume design of hued colours also adds to the visual treats on stage.

The singing is sensational throughout, spoiled only by some on-occasion minor microphone issues. The opening number in the abbey with the nuns’ austere singing, powerfully led by Kathryn Bradbury as Mother Abbess, sets the tone. With a rich operatic, perfectly-controlled voice, the building melody of her inspirational solo ‘Climb Every Mountain’ becomes a glorious goosebumpy triumph into interval. And her contribution to the playfulness of the nuns’ complaints about Maria’s absentminded whimsy in ‘Maria’ shows her versatility. When the Mother Abbess joins Maria in song for ‘My Favourite Things’, it is, therefore a particular treat given Boyle’s own delightful vocals.

Both vocally and in performance, Boyle captures the lovable free-spiritedness of the failed-nun Maria. From the opening swell of its titular song as Maria frolics in the Austrian alps, she brings an effervescent energy to the iconic role. Her voice is crisp with joyful optimism, reassuring us from this early Act One number, that the cherised musical is indeed in safe hands. And while we celebrate her journey from the beginning, over time, Currie also endears the initially-uptight Captain to us, softening him in Act Two with undertones of vulnerability in an expertly-controlled performance.

Also worthy of particular mention is Quinn Chambers as Rolf, the first love of eldest daughter Liesl. His smooth voice is very easy to listen to, providing moments of lightness in ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’, our first glimpse at the pair’s courtship. Kristie Rabbitt makes for a wonderful Srn Margaretta, kindly excusing Maria’s flibbertijibbertry singing in abbey et al. The children, meanwhile are pure delight in bringing their respective personalities to life, especially Bruback who dances about with joyous enthusiasm, responding gushingly to Maria’s now-presence in their lives.

From its rapturous curtain call applause, it is clear that “The Sound of Music” still stands as a welcomed crowd favourite. Under conductor Julia Whiting’s musical direction, the orchestra effectively supports the performers with a nice sound balance, allowing us to be enthralled by the familiar melodies as much as the vocal performances. Indeed, when the already-abuzz packed audience collectively sings along out loud to the overture lead in to act two, our hearts are alive with the joy of its music.  

Photos c/o – Creative Street

Super(trooper) celebration

The Ultimate ABBA Experience (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

May 5 – 15

‘70s Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA never performed inBrisbane (the band’s 1977 tour took them only to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth), but the city is clearly full of dancing queens. With an audience featuring some fans in disco jumpsuits (but alas not cat dresses), the group’s enduring popularity is immediately clear at Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience”. This sparkliest of celebrations of the enduring pop sensation rightfully takes place under a giant mirror ball, beginning with burst forth of the quintessential, ‘Mamma Mia’. And waving arms, tapping feet and smiling faces are evident throughout the audience from this very first number.

Also clear from the outset is the excellent musicianship of the accompanying orchestra, Cadenza Chamber Players, under conductor, musical director and arranger Lucas D Lynch. Their sharp sounds construct the advance harmonic song scaffolding upon which the performances are built, ensuring that every number is musically textured according to its place on the emotional gamut of ABBA tunes. The orchestra’s strings guide us into the Nordic melancholy of ‘SOS’, beginning a tribute to the band’s greatest hits compilation album, complete with gold aesthetic and huge ABBA lettering (designer and emcee David Lawrence). And a symphonic lead-in to Lawrence’s late-show ‘I Had a Dream’ shows the tremendous talents of the orchestra. A commonality through much of ABBA’s music, whether it be as a ballad or rock anthem, is the piano and repeatedly Lynch also expertly fabrics each song’s unique percussive sound around us.

Energy is infectious and under Maureen Bowra’s direction (and also choreography) the show’s almost two hours duration flies by with audience sing and clap alongs and rise to dance to dynamic numbers like the synthy ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ that roars things into interval. Bowar’a choreography is full of vitality, using the full space and all levels of the stage, resulting in some standout moments, such as a moving tableau of the ensemble across the stage in ‘Money, Money, Money’ poses.

The show includes a number of surprises, including lyrical dance as accompaniment to a wistfully nostalgic ‘Fernando’ and a vibrant dancer burst of colour to brighten the steady instrumental build and lavish vocal layering of ‘Chiquitita’. Costumes work well with Tom Dodds’ lighting design and Ben Murray’s sound design to dazzle within each aesthetic palette, reflecting the multiple moods of the night’s set-list.

Talented singers Simon Chamberlain, Michael Nunn Jess Purdy, Nate Stevenson, Ellen Tuffley and music arranger Samantha Paterson show impressive control of the numbers’ intricate vocal harmonies, performing with power and passion. Nunn, in particular, helps to make highlights of an early, swaggersome ‘Rock Me’ and a pounding, flirtatious ‘Does Your Mother Know’. It is, however, Paterson’s uplifting ‘The Winner Takes It All’ that serves as the biggest vocal highlight, with appropriate mid-song applause and huge concluding ovation. The number, which represents the epitome of the band’s personal lyrics, requires a delicate balance given its pop balladry but despairing lyrics, and Paterson not only brings to it a vocal strength, but respect enough not to over-embellish its essential emotions.  

Jennifer B Ashley, Chloe Kiloh, Daniel Terribile and assistant choreographer Luke Woodrow (assistant choreographer) are not only skilled, but have appealing stage presence. Ashley and Terribile, in particular, convey a clear enthusiasm for every moment in their every facial expression. Each number is received with the joy it is shared, even in the case of lesser known songs like ‘So Long’, ‘Head Over Heels’ ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘As Good As You’, which segues seamlessly into the unapologetically disco-esque pace of an alliterative ‘Voulez-Vous’ full of infectious ‘ah haha’s’, and the irresistible glam-pop pinnacle of ‘Waterloo’.

Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience” is pure gold entertainment… a brilliant production, with lively choreography, super trooper costumes, immaculate musicianship and on-point vocal performances, and it is appropriate that the highly entertaining concert encores to thunderous applause, such is the ABBA-solute feelings of joy it conveys in time-of-your-life celebration of the iconic band’s essential pop classics.

Photos c/o –  PiF Productions

How can we resist you?

Mamma Mia! (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Twelfth Night Theatre

November 5 – 14

Since opening in London in 1999, the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!” has become a global phenomenon, with good reason. The ultimate feel-good show is the type that can be returned to again and again, such is the combined appeal of its score of ABBA hits and celebratory sentiment. Still, it is interesting to see how different companies but their own stamps on the show’s formula, and in this regard Queensland Musical Theatre’s production stands tall.

The wafer-thin plot is of a young woman’s search for her birth father. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie (Sophie Mason) tells the audience how her quest to discover the identity of her father has seen her invite three men from her free-spirited mother’s past back to the Greek island paradise they last visited 20 years ago…. on the eve of Sophie’s wedding to loyal and loving Sky (Christopher Morphett-Wheatley). Sophie assumes that she will feel an immediate connection to one of the men so that he can walk her down the aisle, however, things don’t go exactly to plan, especially as the men are reunited with Sophie’s single-mother Donna (Carole Williams). The result is a light-hearted musical comedy celebration of love, laughter and friendship. 

What makes the musical so joyful is the brilliance of ABBA’s strong story-led lyrics which weaves the songs into the storyline. Even from the opening overture montage of instrumental versions of ABBA’s hits, there is a display of excellence. Under Julie Whiting’s musical direction, the score still unfolds with some interesting touches to make it the company’s own, such as a synthy sounding ‘Honey Honey’, in which Sophie discovers her mother’s old diary, complete with intimate description of her dates with the three men, and the Greek musical characteristics that appear woven within the instrumentation of Act Two’s closer, ‘I Have a Dream’.

Bec Swain’s choreography transitions the musical numbers along with effortless efficiency, such as when Donna’s best friends, and former Donna and the Dynamos girl group, Tanya (Lisa Alsop) and Rosie (Fiona Buchanan) move us from their attempt to cheer her up with ‘Chiquitita’ to effort to convince her that she can still be the ‘Dancing Queen’ she once was in a full-scale ensemble number. The title track is similarly, smoothly punctuated by pop-up appearances of a Greek chorus of sorts and the stylised, out-of-place Act Two opener ‘Under Attack”, which sees Sophie having a nightmare, involving her three possible fathers all fighting for the right to walk her down the aisle, is up there with its best realisations. Similarly, the flipper boys of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me, elicit the most amplified audience reaction, thanks mostly to Darcy Rhodes, whose elevated performance of Sky’s goofy bartender best man Pepper steals every scene. And when he attempts to woo the much-older, thrice divorced Tanya in a fun and flirty ‘Does Your Mother Know’, his acrobatic animation makes for a standout number.

As with previous Queensland Musical Theatre shows, “Mamma Mia” consists of a large ensemble, all of whom project an infectious energy throughout. The lead and supporting roles are perfectly cast, with some obvious standouts. Buchanan is simply wonderful as the wisecracking, clumsy and fun Rosie. She dominates in her comic role, especially during Rosie’s wedding day proposition of Bill (David McLaughlin) in ‘Take a Chance on Me’’. Together, Buchanan and McLaughlin represent another highlight, given their genuine chemistry, her physical comedy and his animated facial expressions, which tell us so much more than his dialogue alone ever could. 

Jordan Ross as Sam and Peter Bothams as ‘Headbanger’ Harry, McLaughlin delivers strong Act Two musical numbers in ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘Our Last Summer’ and Williams, Alsop and Buchanan harmonise together beautifully as Donna and Dynamos. Mason has a lovely singing voice that provides some touching moments to young and optimistic bride-to-be Sophie’s journey. And in the role made famous by Meryl Streep in the movie adaptation, Williams layers strong-willed single mother Donna with some fragility in her ‘The Winner Takes It All’ admission to Sam that he broke her heart. 

While opening night sees some microphone issues and a whole lot of unnecessary theatre haze, the vitality, entertainment and engagement of this “Mamma Mia!” is undeniable. Its celebration of ABBA’s 70’s music by a cast of talented performers, creates a joyously energetic experience, which is only amplified by its now-traditional finale medley of ABBA hits and accompanying audience rise to their feet to sing and dance having the time of their lives, ‘Dancing Queen’ style.

Photo c/o – CF Photography Families

Superstar splendour

Jesus Christ Superstar (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

July 9 – 18

Within minutes of Lynch & Paterson’s production of the mega musical cultural phenomenon “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the show’s triumph is clear. The Twelfth Night Theatre is appropriately staged so as to include showcase of the orchestra and the ‘Overture’ only entices with their expertise. Precision in the synchronisation of the accompanying ensemble’s dance movements confirms the professionalism of production and then Jesse Ainsworth’s final note in Judas’s ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ cements both the vocal calibre of the show’s performers and electrifying tone of the enduring soundtrack.

Set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s pop-rock score, the sung-through musical’s story is loosely based on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’s life, from preparation for the arrival of him and his disciples in Jerusalem through to his crucifixion. It began life as a rock opera concept album in 1970 and it is wonderful to witness the production’s nod to this origin. A rich ‘70s aesthetic is evidenced through Anita Sweeney’s palette of earth-toned costumes, complimented by stage detailing, geometric designs and Bohemian hippie styling. And the realisation of the priests with glam rock allusions is iconic, especially when they rumble that “This Jesus Must Die”. Director Maureen Bowra’s nuanced choreography of the group’s smallest of isolated movements gives them a signature style that stands as one of the show’s highlights.

The highly dramatised story’s depiction of the political and interpersonal struggles between Judas and Jesus (Simon Chamberlain) not included in the Bible means that strong performers are required for these pivotal roles and in this regard Ainsworth and Chamberlain do not disappoint. Chamberlain is a clean-cut Jesus whose crisp vocals contrast nicely against Ainsworth’s rough rock star sounds. His portrayal of the freethinking leader is one of conviction, emotion and vocal intensity, particularly in the epic anthem ‘Gethsemane’. The powerful, emotionally-charged number in which Jesus wrestles with his doubts in the Garden of Gethsemane has been named by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the most difficult song to sing he has ever written and Chamberlain rises to its critical challenge in show of both belting desperation and vulnerability through falsetto. Indeed, his desperate, falsetto cry of ‘Why should I die?’ is goosebump inducing.  

As Judus, Ainsworth similarly has some of the musical’s most difficult tracks, appropriately given the plot’s focus on Judus’ dissatisfaction with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples. And from his first appearance, he commands the stage with his indignation. Samantha Sherrin is a standout as Mary Magdalene. Her vocals are strong and compelling, bringing warmth to the character in an empathetic performance. Her heartbreakingly vulnerable ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ in which Mary acknowledges that she is in love with Jesus, and how it frightens her, is another moving Act Two highlight.

There really are no weak links in the cast of performers. Shannon Foley layers Pilate with humanity as he satisfies public opinion by having Jesus whipped in ‘Trial Before Pilate’ before reluctantly agreeing to his crucifixion, and his Act One ballad, ‘Pilate’s Dream’ showcases his commanding operatic timbre. And a stellar Tom Markiewicz sparkles in the comic relief of Herod through the flamboyant King’s suggestive self-titled solo request of Jesus to prove his divinity. Ensemble energy is also high, especially in the short Act One, which includes an evangelical-like ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus greets the happy crowd in contrast to Caiaphas’ preceding declaration of the need for the leader of the twelve disciples’ death for the greater good, and the ensemble take their celebration into the stalls.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a show of musical contrasts, such as when we are taken from floating flute sounds to a rocking guitar realisation in the prevailing ‘Damned for All Time”. And its dynamic score is powerfully conveyed courtesy of musical directors Samantha Paterson and Lucus D. Lynch, and under Lynch as conductor of the vigorous orchestra. The score is full of energy, but also tempered with emotional pauses to afford the audience chance to catch its breath. Strings notably lighten Mary’s tender anointment of Jesus in ‘Everything’s Alright’ and though ‘Superstar’ is not necessarily the spectacle that it could be, the orchestra makes it musically glorious from the first moments of its iconic opening fanfare.

While percussion propels a lot of the majestic score, its strings and brass sections crescendo us through the climatic crucifixion to the stirring instrumental ‘John Nineteen: Forty-One’ accompaniment of the stark image that ends the dramatic second act. After earlier bathing Judus’ betrayal in rich reds, Tom Dodds’ lighting design uses the elegance of bright white illumination to aid in transfixing the audience through this appreciation of the humanity at the heart of this time-honoured show, encouraging contemplation of its larger themes around faith.

While it may be a compact length for a musical, Lynch & Paterson’s pacy production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is jam packed with splendid reminders as to why the show has enjoyed such a long life. This is a well-crafted, well-performed and highly engaging version of the timeless rock musical. Its eclectic musical score is thrilling and its depiction of figures like Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate as flawed characters is absorbing. 

Photos c/o – PIF Productions

51 shades of naughty fun

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Imagine if Christian Grey lived on a housing estate in Manchester? It’s a good housing estate mind you; it’s got a co-op, a 24 hour off-license and a KFC. And he’s a beguiling Mr Grey, in that cross between Simon Cowell and Peter Andre type way.

This is the world of Maggie Muff, part Samantha from SATC (self-proclaimed) and part ghetto Barbie. And her tales are very naughty. Indeed, this is not a show for the prudish and the audience at the launch of its Brisbane season delighted in every rude, crude but very funny reference, for Nicki Britain plays the big, bold Brit with an endearing tongue-in-cheek, animated appeal.

50 shades spoofs have flooded contemporary culture since the erotic trilogy’s runaway success. “51 Shades of Maggie Muff” is a page-to-stage transformation in itself, based on Leesa Harker’s novel, “50 Shades of Red, White and Blue”.  After sell-out seasons overseas and a record ten week run in Perth, it is playing a limited season in Brisbane from April 30th, as part of Twelfth Night Theatre’s commitment to making people laugh. And though the audience was treated to just a snippet of the show, laugh they did, often to the point of tears.

“51 Shades of Maggie Muff” looks like a great show to see with a group of friends (it screams girls night out) and a $10 per ticket discount applies for groups of 8 or more. This group rate also applies for “Busting Out”, which is returning to Twelfth Night in on April 19th. Excerpts from the show bookended the launch with one of its stars, Emma Powell, belting out Mammories (a Memory parody) before urging audience members, gospel style, to get on board the titty train and leave behind their worries and pain.

Given their previous successes, these are shows sure to sell out quickly so book early to see what all the fuss is about. And after Maggie Muff, you’ll never look at choc mint ice-cream the same way again.

*A reflection of this launch also appears on the XS Entertainment website.