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Savoyards

Review: The Boy From Oz

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Review: The Boy From Oz

The Boy From Oz is an enjoyable retrospective of the life and songs of Peter Allen—complete with well-known hits that range from ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ through to ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love’ and the crowd-pleasing ‘I Go To Rio.’ The Show is a 160-minute musical theatre romp through well-known easy-listening material that would be a challenge for any professional company, as Allen was clearly uniquely talented, and Hugh Jackman is not always going to be available to take on the role.

Allen was a trailblazer who was not only successful in his home country but also in America (aside from his Broadway flop, of course). The Australian singer/songwriter was a consummate performer, which means that the title role demands an actor who can sing and dance (and I mean dance, with tap-dancing and high-kicking on the agenda), and can also hold the audience during a number of direct monologues. I am sure that Shannon Foley (Peter Allen) will relax into the role, and get to enjoy the audience interactions, and portrayal of his relationship with Liza Minnelli (Natalie Lennox), a little more. ‘Easy listening’ is a deceptively difficult genre to master, and the opening numbers for both halves needed a little more vocal pizzazz and confidence. I have to admit to preferring Foley’s Jean Valjean to his Peter Allen—but was impressed by the ballads (and his vocal work in the ‘Only an Older Woman’ number with Wainwright), and must congratulate Foley on those impressive high-kicks.

Particularly memorable were the performances by Vanessa Wainwright (Judy Garland), Luke Devine (Greg Connell) and Aiden Huntly (Young Peter Allen). Wainwright’s Garland was a beautifully-observed, believable diva who absolutely ‘nailed’ her musical numbers. Huntley’s Young Peter was a charmingly enthusiastic pub-performer—portraying just the right amount of naivety, talent, and love for his Mum. And it’s just a pity that Devine’s role didn’t call for more solos, as his moment singing in the spotlight was poignant and moving.   

Other key roles were also well-cast—in particular: Jacqui Cluny’s ‘Mum (Marion Woolnough) was suitably nurturing and funny, Zoe Costello’s Valerie Anthony was an entertaining cameo, and Natalie Lennox shone in her Liza Minnelli ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love.’ 

The Savoyards Creatives are a strong team. Many congratulations to Renee Allotta (Choreography) for some impressive choreography, and hats off to the hard-working dance ensemble (April Beak, Alanah Giles, Melissa James, Miranda James, Molly Brown, Izzy Smith, Natalie Cassaniti, Tatijana Wills, Kristan Ford, and Roh Whittaker). The high-energy television routine in the first half, and later Rockettes’ high-kicking number were superbly developed and executed.

The Boy From Oz also had great set design (congratulations to Charlotte Keen, Laurene Cooper-Fox, Zane C. Webber (and the crew involved with the development and construction of the scenery and set). I loved the press cuttings around the proscenium arch, and how the home, bar, set and dressing room areas were established around the stage. And of course the show had many of the marvellous costumes that we have come to anticipate from Savoyards Brisbane (costume design by Kim Heslewood & team). Artistic Director Miranda Selwood made excellent use of the whole stage, and (working with Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne, Assistant Musical Director Matthew Semple, and Assistant Director Julie Eisentrager) brought the best out of the whole cast—particularly during the ensemble pieces such as ‘Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on the Stage’ (ensemble: Shelley Quinn, Julianne Norris, Sheree Bryant, Kate Baxter, Anna Husband, Nicola Moriarty, Francesca Wright, Emma Windress, Joshua Thia, Alex Lamont, Nick Ferguson).

There were a few problems with sound levels on the opening night. The orchestra occasionally drowned out some of the leads, a few of the personal microphones seemed slow to ‘kick in’ at the start of some songs, and I wonder if there was a bit of a wireless black-spot in the family kitchen. The numbers opening both halves didn’t have quite the impact they needed (perhaps there were microphone problems for the lead ?). Small points that can be easily addressed.

Chookas to Savoyards Brisbane for the rest of the run. The opening night is behind you, so now it’s time to relax and have some fun with the show.

Verdict: A solid production, that reminds you of the story and success of a talented Boy from Oz.

Audience tip: 2 hours 40 minutes (including a 20-minute interval). All ages. 28 September-12 October 2019 (7:30pm performances on 28 September, and 5, 11, and 12 October. 1:30pm performances on 29 September, and 5, 6, 12 October).  Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. All seats appear to provide an excellent view.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Saturday 28 September 2019 Opening Night (7:30pm).

‘I Go to Rio’ (Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography)

‘I Go to Rio’ (Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography)

Photograph from the Audience: Picture Credit Creative Futures Photography

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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. 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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