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Review: Chicago

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Review: Chicago

Chicago is a tongue-in-cheek look at the manipulative power of the press, the workings of 1920s American courtrooms, and the desire to escape the mundane in order to achieve the dizzying heights of being a celebrity. The original play is based on a number of true stories, and the celebrity treatment of the accused by the press of the time. Dating back to 1975, the subsequent musical was a long-running Broadway success, and a major 2002 film—which probably explains why many people will know many of the songs and have a clear image of the vivacious young women at the centre of the piece.

The musical centres on the trial of Roxie Hart (Heidi Enchelmaier), interweaving her story with that of fellow murderess Velma Kelly (Joanna Nash). Velma is already in prison—attracting widespread press attention following the murder of her cheating husband and sister. But Velma disappears from the front pages when Roxie murders Fred (her lover, who had threatened to leave her). Both women employ Billy Flynn (Joshua Moore) to defend them. Flynn is an expensive and super-confident lawyer, who has worked out the importance of having a good story for the press as a route to gain his clients’ acquittal.

Presented as a ‘vaudeville show,’ the musical is introduced by a ringmaster (Tony Meggitt), with interjections from the musical director (Benjamin Tubb-Hearne) and even frequent cast requests for ‘my exit music.’ Sherryl-Lee Secomb (Director) set the scene, incorporating a smattering of circus-style silk performance even before the show began. And ensured this styling was maintained through the show, providing some fantastic opportunities for the ensemble.

The show has a number of major set pieces, where all 40+ members of the cast were on stage, getting everyone’s feet tapping. The opening All that Jazz may not have been quite as upbeat as we might have hoped. But there was some excellent ensemble work in this production: the circus-styling of Razzle Dazzle, and the superb Cell Block Tango (“He had it coming”), were particular highlights. Congratulations to the choreographic team, led by Desney Toia-Sinapati (Me and My Baby being one of many memorable routines)—and of course to the whole cast, but in particular to the dancers (Amy MacGregor, Izzy Smith, Jade Wright, Kaitlin Hague, Kristan Ford, Luke Marino, Shannon Metzeling, Simon Lyell, Stewart Matthews). Unfair of me to highlight one dancer, but Luke Marino is certainly one to watch for the future.

The Savoyards is an amateur, community-based theatre company with high standards, bringing major musical productions to the local stage. Audiences are fortunate that the team put together such an excellent variety of shows, and attract some great performers. The leads were well-cast, although I wondered if Kyle Fenwick (Miss Sunshine) was suffering with a cold on the day. Danika Saal (Mama Morton) certainly did justice to When You're Good to Mama, relishing the role of the manipulative Matron with the soft spot for the convicted Hunyak (Jessica Boersen). Moore was a good choice as Billy Flynn, the role suiting his vocal range and enabling him to demonstrate his acting, dancing and comedic skills. Equally Enchelmaier was up to the challenges of playing Roxie, particular when enjoying major set-pieces such as Roxie, Nowadays, and of course the almost showstopping fun when playing the ‘dummy’ to Moore’s ventriloquist (We Both Reached for the Gun). Nash has a strong voice, and she can certainly dance; her I Can't Do It Alone deserved better applause than it attracted on the day, and of course Nowadays was an understandable crowd-pleaser.

Amos Hart (Rod Jones) was the standout….an interesting feature of a role with a solo about his invisibility (Mr Cellophane). Great character acting and a very impressive pratfall (or was it just a well-worked recovery from a trip on the day?). Let’s hope that the Savoyards again have Guys and Dolls in their sights. It would be interesting to see Jones as Nathan Detroit, and I am sure the rest of the leads would love the chance to audition to join him.

The success of any show depends not only on the cast but also of the work of those behind the scenes. Chicago must be a gift to any talented and enthusiastic costume designer. The Savoyards team, led by Kim Heslewood, didn’t disappoint: short skirts, a suitably powerful outfit for ‘Mama,” great circus and ‘crowd’ outfits for the ensemble, and fabulous sequined flapper costumes for Enchelmaier and Nash’s final number.  

It was lovely to see the orchestra centre stage, but I wonder if this may have created some challenges for the sound team (David Sowdon & David Longton). There were a number of points where the sound, and also the lighting (Alan Nutley), detracted from the performances. I am sure the lighting and sound issues will be addressed for the rest of the run, but it was disappointing that these problems hadn’t been ironed out after the first show. Lighting and sound were an intermittent distraction during the matinee I saw. Lead actors were occasionally left in the dark—particularly noticeable on many occasions stage right, but also at the climax of Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag, when Enchelmaier’s face almost completely disappeared. The sound, particularly in the first half, was cranked up a little too high, leading to what a fellow audience member described as ‘disembodied’ character of many of the voices (noticeable for example when the Ringmaster opened the show). Some of the microphones continued to crack and pop into the second half, but at least the feedback problems of the first act were resolved during the interval.

However, once these issues are resolved, I am sure the audiences in the rest of this sell-out run will have a ball.

Verdict: Well-worth going if you can. Look out for the opportunity to buy 2019 Season Tickets (available November 2018).

Audience tip: Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. Seats in row I & J might be preferred (or H for those requiring mobility assistance), but all seats appear to provide an excellent view. 2 hours 35 minutes (including 20-minute interval), and note the advisory (adult language and themes). Chicago has only 8 performances and it appears that the rest of the shows are sold out (opened on 29 September and closes on 13th October). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Or why not keep an eye on the website and book ahead for the 2019 season. 2019 Season ticket sales open in November.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives


The reviewer attended the Saturday 6th October 2018 matinee (1:30pm).

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Review: Les Misérables

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Review: Les Misérables

Despite having seen both the original London production and the Hugh Jackman film, I must confess that Les Misérables is not my favourite show. Indeed, it might even vie for the title of my least favourite musical to date. So my congratulations to The Savoyards team for a very professional production, which held the rapt attention of a sold-out audience, and provided some memorable moments for this reviewer—including excellent casting with strong leading performances, solid duets, good diction, and great production design.

Set in revolutionary France, Les Misérables touches on themes of social injustice, hypocrisy, love and compassion. Valjean (Shannon Foley) and Fantine (Sarah Copley) each seek to create new identities in order to be able to work and to gain some semblance of respect—where their respective ‘crimes’ were the stealing of a loaf of bread and being abandoned with an illegitimate child. Fantine is forced into the prostitution that leads to her death, and Valjean then spends the remainder of his life as a ‘free’ man running from the determined Javert (Christopher Thomas) while bringing up Fantine’s child, Cosette, as his own.

Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Contrasting the life of the powerful with that of the oppressed and impoverished, the tale includes the failed revolutionary student barricade, and by the end of the show many of the main characters are dead. But it’s not all gloom and doom: the tale includes comedic moments from the scheming inn-keeping duo (Warryn James and Julie Eisentrager) and concludes with the optimism of a new life together for Cosette (Belinda Burton) and Marius (Matthew Geaney) with the coming revolution indicated in the powerful ensemble reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing?  

The leading actors were well-cast, with particularly strong performances by Shannon Foley (Jean Valjean) and Christopher Thomas (Javert). Both roles are challenging, requiring actors with a wide vocal range and the ability to convey moments of realisation and transition. Fortunately, both Foley and Thomas were excellent. The leads were compelling together in The Confrontation, and the audience were enthralled with Thomas’s performance of Soliloquy (Javert's Suicide). But it was Foley who stole the show with his Bring Him Home, showing the full range of his powerful voice. A memorable moment.

Perhaps the most well-known songs from the show are two numbers by female leads—which can prove challenging for actors who are competing with well-loved and well-known recordings. However, we were in safe hands. Erika Naddei (Éponine) was perfect as the inn-keepers daughter, movingly conveying her unrequited love for Marius in On My Own. Sarah Copley’s Fantine was one of the most believable performances of the role that I have seen, culminating in a tender and beautifully-judged I Dreamed A Dream.

It was not only the individual numbers that were well-received. Duets were a definite hit in this show. Not only between Foley and Thomas, but also Fantine's Death: Come to Me (Foley and Copley), A Little Fall of Rain (Naddei and Geaney) and the crowd-pleasing ‘duet’ A Heart Full of Love (Burton, Geaney, Naddei). Equally there was some good ensemble work—including the students’ Red and Black, and the full cast/ensemble Do You Hear the People Sing? And when I say ‘full cast’, I mean full, as the Show had over 50 performers.

Fortunately, the production had a really great set (Raymond Milner) and excellent lighting design (Allan Nutley), allowing the director (Robbie Parkin) to use the stage to great effect. It is marvellous to see 40+ people on any stage, but it can bring its challenges. There were occasions when I’d have liked to see more fluid dancing or movement around the stage in the big set-pieces, but Master of the House certainly got the toes tapping and was rewarded with lots of laughter (great comic work from Eisentrager and James).  

The musical is particularly known for several popular songs, and also for the clever development of key character themes (music by Claude-Michel Schönberg). Geoffrey Secomb (Musical Director) did his best with the orchestra, and I certainly came away reflecting on the way in which the musical themes develop throughout the show. But there were several times when the horns could have been better, and many when pianissimo was called for, to ensure that the actors were not swamped.

The professional approach of The Savoyards team—from media through to program (Sharyn Hall and colleagues) and costume design (Kim Heslewood)—provides a great value opportunity to see some of the classics of musical theatre. It was good to see the work they put into developing new talent, with younger actors (including Giselle Roe, who gave a confident performance as Young Cosette in the 6 July performance), as well as bringing back established performers to the local stage. Long may it continue.

Verdict: Hats off to The Savoyards for bringing this ‘classic’ to the local stage. Can’t wait until September as Chicago is next (29 September – 13 October, 2018). Put 15th August in the diary now to be first in line to secure your tickets.

Audience tip: Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. And don’t forget to take some tissues—it’s a tear-jerker. 2 hours 55 minutes (including 20-minute interval).

The season is now almost complete (the Show opened on 23rd June and closes on 7th July). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 6th July 2018 performance.

Picture Credits: Production image by Michelle Thomas. Banner image of full cast curtain call by Geoff Lawrence.

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Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

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Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

It is such a pleasure to go out for an evening of light-hearted entertainment that delivers on its promises: a funny, revue celebration of the trials and tribulations of monogamy. In a little under 2 hours (including a 20-minute interval) the audience are treated to a series of (mainly musical) vignettes and sketches which follow the process of dating, marriage, in-laws, new parenting, older parenting, breaking up, post-divorce match-making and geriatric hooking up.

Picture:  Hey There Single Gal/Guy ( full cast Julie Eisentrager, Mufaro Maringe, Nadia Vanek, Kate Doohan, Nick Ferguson, Jenna Saini, Jack Treby, and Joshua Thia). Picture credit: Geoff lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Hey There Single Gal/Guy (full cast Julie Eisentrager, Mufaro Maringe, Nadia Vanek, Kate Doohan, Nick Ferguson, Jenna Saini, Jack Treby, and Joshua Thia). Picture credit: Geoff lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Unsurprisingly, the play, by Joe DiPietro (Book and Lyrics) & Jimmy Roberts (Music)[1], was an off-Broadway triumph, racking up over 5,000 performances in an 18-year run. There are many witty twists along the way—from the dashed expectations of the parents (who had hoped that 2 years of dating would herald an engagement), through to an entertaining twist on speed-dating (who needs to date for 2 years anyway, when you can skip on to the breakup on the first evening). There are tears and laughter: laughter from the audience (I think there was a lot of recognition of personal experience along the way), and who can forget the conversion-to-chick-flick tears of the guy (Jack Treby) who assured his new date that she should choose the film?

The cast of 8 work hard and seem to have a lot of fun along the way (goodness knows how the Broadway cast of 4 managed to cover the program). The show begins and ends with some great close harmonies by the full cast (Julie Eisentrager, Mufaro Maringe, Nadia Vanek, Kate Doohan, Nick Ferguson, Jenna Saini, Jack Treby, and Joshua Thia). But each of the performers has an opportunity to shine, and it is probably unfair of me to select only a few highlights. But of course I will! Single Man Drought was beautifully directed (Gabriella Flowers) and provided an opportunity for some wonderful female harmonies. Hey There Single Gal/Guy was simply fabulous—and almost a show-stopper. thanks to the comedic skills of Mom (Eisentrager). I Will Be Loved Tonight will stick in the mind not only for the great exchanges between Maringe and Vanek, but also every time someone suggests bringing wine to accompany lasagne, I’ll remember their dialogue… And then of course there was the Marriage Tango (again a ‘gift’ for Maringe and Eisentrager, who had almost as much fun performing the piece as we did watching it). 

Picture:  Baby Song ( full cast Julie Eisentrager, Mufaro Maringe, Nadia Vanek, Kate Doohan, Nick Ferguson, Jenna Saini, Jack Treby, and Joshua Thia). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Baby Song (full cast Julie Eisentrager, Mufaro Maringe, Nadia Vanek, Kate Doohan, Nick Ferguson, Jenna Saini, Jack Treby, and Joshua Thia). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

The cast sang, danced (thanks to the work of Deaney Toia-Sinapati), and acted their way through a wide range of characters and pieces to make the 2-hour show pass in a moment, thanks to some wonderful characterisations and a great selection of costumes (Kristan Ford). 

Not every scene was set to music, with some entertaining sketches allowing Musical Director (Danika Saal) and Musicians (Katherine Gavranich, Ann Whitaker and Jesse Harris) a chance to catch their breath. The orchestra work hard in this show, and the production was well-served by their centre-stage contributions.

Congratulations to The Savoyards Committee for their ‘Name of Project (NOP)’ initiative. The opportunities for new technical creatives to gain that all-important experience are few and far between.  I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is the first of the Savoyards’ NOP projects, allowing technical creatives to gain experience under the guiding hand of experienced mentors. It is great to see established creatives—led in such style by Gabriella Flowers (Director)—provide such fantastic experiences for the talent of the future. There are over 50 individuals credited with bringing this production to the stage. Congratulations go to each and every one of them—and in particular to the 7 mentors who supported their proteges. Enjoy the laughter and the applause of your audience. You deserve it.

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the preview performance, Friday 16 March, 2018 (7:30pm).

Venue:  The Star Theatre, Wynnum High School, Peel Street, Manly Qld (https://www.savoyards.com.au/i-love-you-youre-perfect-now-change )

Tickets (all plus transaction fees): General Admission $37, Concession $32, Group (10+, $30), Junior (High School, $25).

Running time: 105 minutes, plus 20-minute interval.

Parental Advice: This show contains adult themes and language.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Originally Produced in New York by James Hammerstein, Bernie Kukoff and Jonathan Pollard. Original Direction by Joel Bishoff. Originally produced by the American Stage Company (James N. Vagias, Executive Producer). "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" is presented by permission of ORiGiN™ Theatrical on behalf of R&H Theatricals.

 

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Review. The Producers: A New Mel Brooks Musical

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Review. The Producers: A New Mel Brooks Musical

Most producers dream of a hit show, a runaway success, and a long run—where a New York, Broadway success is the pinnacle of achievement. But the fictional Max Bialystock (Gary Rose) and Leo Bloom (Joshua Thia) are not ‘most’ producers. Their aim to produce a profitable flop turns sour as the fictitious 1959 Springtime for Hitler has a rapturous reaction from audiences and reviewers alike (ah, beware those reviewers!). The Producers is a satirical romp that enterains as it exposes the worst aspects of the Broadway production treadmill: greed, the casting couch, and the perils of being an ‘angel’ (investor).

Pictured: Ensemble 'Old Ladies,' The Producers. Picture Credit: Chirstopher Thomas (Courtesy Savoyards) 

Pictured: Ensemble 'Old Ladies,' The Producers. Picture Credit: Chirstopher Thomas (Courtesy Savoyards) 

Mel Brooks ‘s music and lyrics (book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan) has been highly-successful on film (1968, and later reworked in 2005) and on the stage. And the work was well-served by this excellently-paced, humorous, stylish, and beautifully-cast 2017 Savoyards production. The creative team clearly gelled: hats off to the talented Gabriella Flowers (Director), Mark Beilby (Musical Director) and Hannah Crowther (Choreographer). Costume design by Kim Heslewood deserves praise—in particular, the outfits for Keep It Gay and Ulla’s blue dress for That Face. Sheryl-Lee Seecomb’s Set Design was excellent—funds may have been low for the courtroom scene, but the DeBris Townhouse, Bialystock and Bloom Office, Whitehall and Marks Offices, and main set were quite fabulous.

Highlights of the performance included The King of Old Broadway (including those high-kicking dancing nuns), I Wanna Be A Producer (great work by Thia and the tap-dancing Chorus, with the lovely deep voice of the soloist in the accounting team, and a quite fantastic set), any time the ‘old ladies’ took to the stage (particularly when dancing with those Zimmer frames), and the audience favourites Betrayed and Keep It Gay. The ensemble work was superb, and the three lead actors produced believable characters that were at their finest in the opening of Act Two (That Face,with great harmonies by Rose and Bloom, and dance by Grace Clarke [Ulla] and Thia).

Pictured: Scott Edward (Carmen Ghia). Picture credit: Christopher Thomas (Courtesy Savoyards).

Pictured: Scott Edward (Carmen Ghia). Picture credit: Christopher Thomas (Courtesy Savoyards).

Memories that remain with me after the show include a number of wonderful pieces of ‘business’—from the pigeon, to the camping up by the resident team in Roger DeBris’s Townhouse (notably in Keep it Gay). And special mentions for two brilliant cameo performances: Reindert Toia was just fabulous as the ‘choreographer,’  keeping many of those around me in stitches, and we all enjoyed the great work by Scott Edwards (Carmen Ghia), who nearly stole the show. Edwards’s comic partnership with David Morris (Roger DeBris) resulted in hysterical laughter from much of the audience—and not just as the result of the high camp walk, the flashing of those fabulous heels and rather too much of the undergarments of the ‘Chrysler Building dress.’

With a production of such a high standard I have very few quibbles. For me the sign of good lighting design and operation is that I’m not too aware of it. Generally good (credit to Alan Nutley for his hard-working lighting design), there were a few times when the cast still managed to be left in the dark—most notably when the ‘spot’s’ led, rather than followed, the usherettes at the start of the show. Opening night problems with Sound (David Sowdon) mainly appeared to be fixed, although there were occasional problems with balance (notably hearing Rose’s words during some of the songs) and some microphone cackles and pops (possibly as off-stage mics were fixed during the second half). And although the orchestra did a great job—itis wonderful to have live music at any performance—I did feel that the brass section might have been occasionally a little ‘fluffy’ (but I joined the many enthusiastic members of the audience in remaining to give them their full applause).

Iona Performing Arts Centre is a great venue: large stage, great acoustics, ample free parking, and comfortable and spacious seating. But it is a pity that this cast did not have the opportunity to bring their work to one of Brisbane’s main stages. It’s a fun show: cheeky satire with great costumes, plenty of high kicks, live music and wonderful direction. But the production was only available for a mere 7 shows. I look forward to seeing the next Savoyards show with these three talented creatives at the helm, as the current run of The Producers ended on 7 October 2017.

The Producers: A New Mel Brooks Musical The Savoyards (Directed by Gabriella Flowers). IONA Performing Arts Centre, Wynham, 23 September - 7 October, 2017. Tickets $25 (prep-Yr 12)-$48 (Adults). Concessions $45 and group tickets $43(10+). 170 minutes (including an interval).

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended The Producers: A New Mel Brooks Musical at the Iona Performing Arts Centre, on Saturday, 7th  October 2017, 1:30pm.

 

Main image (L to R): Max Bialystock (Gary Rose) and Leo Bloom (Joshua Thia). Picture Credit Christopher Thomas (Courtesy Savoyards Musical Theatre).

 

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