STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martins ‘Strictly Ballroom the Musical’ has been the buzz of curiosity ever since the announcement of it being in development in 2013. To some, ‘Strictly Ballroom the Musical’ may have been a surprise choice for the super couple whose famous trademark films have won award after award. For those of us though who know that ‘Strictly Ballroom’ began with Baz at NIDA back in 1984, the transition really just seemed a natural almost inevitable progression. On stage in front of a live audience is where ‘Strictly’ right fully belongs. I for one had high expectations for this production and really had no doubt that Baz and Catherine would pull off a show worthy of one’s time and dollar. Have they not created films that tickled all your senses? How could they not get it right! Talking to friends and colleagues there seemed to be a little bit of hesitation on whether or not the show would transfer well and be as great as advertised? My question was, will it add up to the competition? The Lion King across the bridge at the Capitol a sell-out show, and would it be strong enough to hold its own over-seas on Broadway and the West End? Seeing this show twice now in its preview state I can with great enthusiasm proclaim that Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin have struck gold again!

When you walk into the newly renovated Sydney Lyric Theatre the vibe is fresh with a sense of giddy excitement in the atmosphere and amongst the eager ticket holders lurking at the doors awaiting to get to their seats. Once inside the auditorium you are greeted with a lot of GLITTERY images and sequinned seat covers. The sounds of ‘wow’ and ‘oh my gods!’ out of the mouth of already it felt won over patrons. Immediately you feel a real connection to what is about to happen on stage.

Whether you like it or not you are involved in this production, in the most fun and interactive way possible. Not long before being seated you are greeted by Mark Owen-Taylor as JJ Silvers who sets the tone putting the audience at ease that this show is to enjoy and have fun! This is one of many things about Strictly that sets it apart from the vast amount of musical theatre I have seen over the years. Baz has thought with all diligence about the audience, it was clear to me that it was vital to him that each and every person felt a part of something magical. Magic is in the air!

Casting for this production is exceptional. Though there were moments when Thomas Lacey who plays leading man Scott Hastings and his leading lady Phoebe Panaretos had a few wobbly moments in their duets their performances were both committed and fearless both launching themselves into their characters physically and emotionally. The cast ensemble all seasoned professionals and it showed, any nerves were used to their benefit. A high energy cast with contagious passion and humour.
Bob Baines as Les Kendall, Drew Forsythe as father Doug Hastings and Robert Grubb as Barry Fife brought a level of performance for me that sealed this show as uniquely Australian with their production numbers that had the audience laughing from here to Timbuktu. Heather Mitchell playing Shirley Hastings gave a performance Kath and Kim would be proud of, her comedic timing and energy was infectious to watch.
Strictly Ballroom is a musical full of familiarity. I found myself wondering if Baz and co-writer Craig Pearce had done the wise thing of taking a few pages from shows who have and continue to have international success. I saw glimpses of ‘Les Miserables’ in a clever comedic revolutionary produced scene addressing Scott and his new dance moves. I felt and witnessed the ethereal twirl and curiosity of Wicked and The Wizard of Oz in flashback scenes. Other musicals that flashed through my mind with soft impressions were Ghost the musical and even tongue in cheek musical Legally Blonde and The Producers. Baz bravely un afraid to have a few moments of silence and acoustic jams ( was ‘Once’ the musical an inspiration too?) a contrast to the mostly camp style it exudes, works completely and is a beautiful choice. Peter Grubb, Elliot Wheeler and Max Lambert came together to collaborate to create the core ingredient to any musical, the music. A stellar achievement that shone with experience, colour and guts, these men should expect shelf room for awards in the future. Original scores and arrangements are all powerful, heart-felt and romantic when necessary. A new musical relies on original scores to be on point. Strictly does not disap(point.)
Catherine Martins costumes and set design proving again to the world why she is number one in creating a palette for the senses that leave you whispering her praises as one after the other colourful sparkling outfits swirl their way onto the proud stage. John “Cha Cha” O’Connells Choreography classic, fun and funny at times giving the cast and the costumes they wore spirit and vibrancy. Hugh Vanstones lighting design reflected his vast experience and mirrored the extravagance presented on stage. A collaboration of professionalism and it glowed in every aspect of the production.

This show is still in its preview period, of course things could tighten up with a few nips and tucks but nothing too serious to be of concern. It has all the right ingredients, by opening night I don’t doubt it will be near perfect.

In conclusion’ Strictly Ballroom’ is like listening to Kath and Kim have a conversation with Lez Patterson whilst watching Cate Blanchett walk down the red carpet. The show might be a lengthy watch in its preview period running currently at 3hrs 15mins including a 20 minute interval. In saying that though I saw very few eyes leave the stage to check their watches.
A world premiere, I urge you get your tickets and be a part of Australian Musical theatre history!

Showing at The Sydney Lyric Theatre 25th March-29th July, opening night 12th April

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FALSETTOS

Synopsis: Marvin has left his wife and son for a male lover. Meanwhile, Trina has shacked up with Marvin’s shrink. Amongst this there’s also a Bar Mitzvah to organise. Is it too much to ask for everyone to get along?- Extract taken from Darlinghurst Theatre Company website

Directed by: Stephen Colyer

Starring: Anthony Garcia, Ben Hall, Tamlyn Henderson, Stephen Anderson, Margi De Ferranti, Elise McCann, Katrina Retallick & Isaac Shaw

Review: Theatres that set an atmosphere and a level of expectation before any performance has begun is certainly the standard set by Darlinghurst Theatre Companies new venue, the Eternity Playhouse. This theatre company certainly gives their artists a platform to be spectacular upon. Sitting in the front row I observed the setting of the stage a grand piano deeply set in the backdrop like a living 3D painting. Pianist and co-musical director Nigel Ubrihien made his appearance a few minutes before the curtain (so to speak as there is none) in his coat tails ready at the keys. Really setting a tone of sophistication in regards to the music arranged for this musical. The rest of the stage was reasonably bare with only several mysteriously tall grey boxes neatly in place around the stage. A simplistic clean slate that reminded me of a dance studio. This had me wondering if Stephen Colyer’s dancing background had something to do with the classic feel of an open floor with little to distract from it; a sophisticated palette for the eye.

Falsettos began with the youngest member of the cast Anthony Garcia, who was extremely un- nerved by his eyeballing audience, no stranger to the stage (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Addams Family) this young man held his own remarkably considering this musical is a long way from home filled with adult humour and idiosyncrasies beyond his years. Mr Garcia didn’t flinch in the slightest, focused and confident in his role he is for sure one to keep an eye on. Being one who has been sceptical about the capacity of some of our youngest performers to carry the weight of bigger productions Mr Garcia quickly reminded me that there are children in Australia who have the potential to meet the talent of their peers overseas. With the musical Matilda coming to Australian shores next year I found myself hoping that this young man auditions as he would indeed shine. Most importantly I believed him every step he took his character as the confused maturing young Jewish boy from New York, slightly stereotypically but I think that is the point.

Like I said above, Falsettos is a long way from home, it’s about a Jewish family dealing with modern family issues and in retrospect of the era it’s based ahead of its time. The musical started strongly with musical number ‘5 Jews In a Room’, it was funny and informative and set the tone for the rest of the musical. The first act introducing the 5 main characters in order of appearance (from memory) Anthony Garcia as Jason, Katrina Retallick as Trina the mother of the family, Stephen Anderson as the family shrink, Tamlyn Henderson as Marvin the father and Ben Hall as Whizzer Marvin’s gay lover. All in their own standing right were strong in their performances with powerful soul lifting singing voices and moved with purposeful calculation in their physical delivery. Stephen Colyer’s contemporary choreographed movement mirrored the   pianists hands and fingers at play was inventive and flavoured nothing was without its place nor wasteful in its entirety giving the musical a modern fresh take on character expression. From the get go old school methods to express humour were introduced in the forms of masks such as the groucho and clown masks, as well as using the influences of mime were creatively used throughout . All interesting gorgeous ideas that married wonderfully with the text. Each performer had a professional ability carrying the musical successfully. The emphasise on their individual abilities and past successes though I felt did not necessarily transfer through as a unit, a terrific cast overall though the feeling at times was too many chiefs not enough Indians.

Some minor notes observed from sitting in the front row, as the rest of the audience may not have noticed with no harm done. Such as seeing the actors props music sheets with ‘Falsetto prop music sheet’ written on the front page, and the shrinks black rimmed glasses were 3D glasses from the cinema clearly written on the side. This did irk me, attention to detail even in a low budget shouldn’t be forgotten. In regards to costuming, aware that Colyer wished to veer away from the naffness of the dress sense in those eras to avoid distraction from all the other wonderful things occurring on-stage is a purposeful decision. I still would have liked to have seen the subtleness in a more polished manner. I am not sure if Colyer was as precisely purposeful about the characters lack of accent as none had even a resembling Jewish New York twang. If New York hadn’t been mentioned I never would have guessed these characters were from there at all. I would have at least expected this from one character, preferably in the expectant over bearing Jewish Bar Mitvah throwing mother. What we got instead was a very middle classed white woman most likely to be found in Chicago then Jewish New York City. This play is a heavily saturated Jewish story should this not have been emphasised in all aspects of the production? Whizzer in drag near his death confused me also. Perhaps I failed to grasp the relevance. I didn’t feel this added to the story in any way, and could have lived without it.

Falsettos ultimately is a comedy with a serious note on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s which is thrown a spotlight to in the second act. There were some really tender and sensitive moments between the characters which I wished had been given just a few more beats to digest upon but were whisked up and away too fast. New additions in act two, Margi De Ferranti and Elise McCann playing the lesbian next door neighbours doctor and housewife added colour to an already vibrant cast. Again individually wonderful to watch and listen to. The connection as a couple though lacked slightly for me, and fell short of believable.

In conclusion, Falsetto’s is an enjoyable, rich show that must be experienced. Worthy of it’s Tony Award and the cast involved. A few minor clarity tweaks on direction and eye to detail would make this show go from great, to fucking brilliant. A tremendous start to Darlinghurst Theatre Companies season.

Falsettos closes Sunday the 16th of March. Do go and see it, a great showcase of Australian talent across the board.Image

Anthony Garcia, Tamlyn Henderson, Stephen Anderson & Ben Hall

 

JUMP FOR JORDAN

Synopsis: Aspiring archaeologist Sophie left home when she was only 20, much to the shame of her traditional Jordanian mother. Six years later, losing sleep and petrified by the judgement of her visiting ‘mad Arab’ Aunty Azza, Sophie is forced to lie about her life, her career and the existence of her Aussie partner. Worst of all is the fear that she’s also lying to herself.- Extracted from Griffin Theatre Website

Review: Donna Abela’s award-winning script is a beautifully balanced piece of writing with an emotional knot in its stomach as well as humour tingling through to its fingers. This production hits the ground running as soon as it begins, you don’t have a moment to catch your breath as characters emerge in full flight emotion setting the tone of the play immediately. Ian Sinclair’s direction is fluid and continuously challenging you to keep up with the chaos without confusion or delay. Scenes beautifully transitioning into one another with the rare occasion of a lighting change in only the right moments to support the emotional tone between characters.
Alice Ansara’s performance as Sophia is energetic and delightful. There were moments in her performance where her diction let her down, her clarity and speed of delivery made it hard to understand what she was saying, especially at the beginning of the play.
Anna Houston beautifully portrayed Sophia’s long-term lover Sam with whit and sincerity. The lesbian relationship between Sam and Sophia I felt could have been much more developed than it was, at times it felt slightly superficial and not ventured as in-depth as it could have. Ian Sinclair’s direction of pace could have hindered this possibility slightly.
Sheridan Harbridge played dutiful sister Loren with tremendous ease and humour. The shining stars for me though were Doris Younane and Camilla Ah Kin, their performances hit you in all right spots. Doris Younane’s choices were heart-felt and showed the desperation of a woman so committed to her motherland and it’s traditions trying desperately to get her Australian bred children to follow suit. Her emotional responses were raw, gripping, powerfully acted. Camilla Ah Kin’s performance as Aunty Azza was compelling, stylish and gracious. Their performance together as sisters fighting out their disagreements was the highlight of the show for me, both moving me to tears with their effortless natural connection to each others characters. Sal Sharah ‘s interpretation of the household father who passed away was tender and consistent.

Pip Runciman’s design was interesting and effective. Nicholas Rayment’s lighting design was crisp and supportive of the work, wonderfully assisting Nate Edmonson’s Composition that travelled beautifully throughout the production.

Jump for Jordan overall is a glorious piece of theatre that aims straight for your heart, it’s a ride worth getting on, when it’s over you want to get back on it and experience it all over again. Go and see this play and do your best to sit in the front row the closer to the action of this play the better. Bravo cast and crew, you should be proud.

Jump for Jordan is running until the 29th of March
http://www.griffintheatre.com

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Doris Younane, Sheridan Harbridge, Camilla Ah Kin & Alice Ansara

TANZER

Hayley Foster is Tanzer, if she were chocolate she would melt in your mouth. This talented lady has a style all of her own. Performing at one of Newtown’s sweetest wee spots in Sydney town ‘Midnight Special’ this intimate energetic venue was well suited for the non pretentious smouldering songstress.

Perching herself on the corner of the bar, mic in one hand and whiskey in the other she tuned in to her intimate audience, with her captivating story telling vocals of lovers past. Even the songs she sung in Italian made you want to listen to her on repeat. Rich in tone, her alternative style is flavoured with old school Elvis vibes, Soul, sprinkles of Jazz and Blues. Her world music influences shining through her, she is a little taste of Europe from a very Australian lady. No stranger to the musical scene (Twincest, Chaingang) she has taken a stripped back raw approach to her music like she has never done before. A modern song bird who has the timeless poise and sexiness of leading ladies like Anne Margaret & Brigitte Bardot. Based in Melbourne, Tanzer is a must see so watch out for her in your neighbourhood! She won’t disappoint.

http://www.facebook.com/tanzertanzertanzer