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Review: Sugar, Sugar

Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Natalie Renouf, Jenny Usher, and Anna Welch.   Liquid Lunch      Picture Credit :   Geoff Lawrence,   Creative Futures Photography  .

Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Natalie Renouf, Jenny Usher, and Anna Welch. Liquid Lunch Picture CreditGeoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The talented Candy Shop Show Australia team have this year picked up where their hit, 2015 Anywhere Festival Jazz Age Dance Cabaret (music and dance from the 20s, 30s, and 40s) left off. The follow-up show— Sugar, Sugar!is a high-energy confection of music and dance from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Miss Peppermint Twist (Maureen Bowra) , Miss Skittle (Jenny Usher), Miss Everlasting Gobstopper (Nathalie Renouf) and Miss Starburst (Anna Welch) take us on a romp through iconic dances, costumes, music, headlines, toys, songs and sweets associated with each decade. The result is a program that will entertain school-age children, millennials, parents, and grandparents alike. This is a great way to re-visit times gone by. A chance to laugh at the outfits and tunes of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s…a fun evening, prompting memories of times gone by. And what a perfect venue. The Retro Bar—capturing the essence of the minimalist 60’s and psychedelic 70’s but with modern styling and retro flair—is tailor-made for Sugar, Sugar!

Pictured: Anna Welch. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Anna Welch. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The 90-minute program includes two ten-minute breaks (time for a quick visit to the bar to order food or drink).  As with the 2015 Jazz Age Dance Cabaret , the evening centres on songs and dance from the period. The highlight for me, of the three introductory numbers, has to be the heartfelt Liquid Lunch. Combining close harmonies, the entertainers delighted the preview audience with their heartfelt performance of a song that bemoans the after-effects of over-imbibing—where the ‘sunglasses’ were an inspired finishing touch to the costumes. Once the scene is set we get to enjoy a run down of headlines, sweets, toys, songs, costumes and dance from each era.

Pictured: Maureen Bowra (background) and Jenny Usher (featured). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Maureen Bowra (background) and Jenny Usher (featured). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Led by the impressive Jenny Usher—who not only performs as Miss Skittle but is also credited as Director/Choreographer/Producer)—the program is clearly a collaborative work of love. Anna Welch, Natalie Renouf and Maureen Bowra  not only perform, but are also credited with additional choreography (and Natalie also for additional vocal arrangements).

Each of our four “sweet-hearts” can sing, dance, and undertake lightening-speed costume changes. Outfits evoked the style of each era… in often quite cringe-worthy detail (whoever thought leg-warmers were appropriate over shoes?).  Dance highlights include the 50s Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley would have been pleased at those evocative moves), the stylish 60s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ , and an 80s mix that includes Michael Jackson’s Thriller (I Wanna Dance With Somebody/Thriller /Footloose).  The singing was at its best with the close harmony work of songs such as the three Intro pieces, and of course the 60s mix (Mr Postman/Big Grls Don’t Cry/It’s My Party). And if not singing, dancing, or slipping into even more outrageous attire, the entertainers interact with the audience—reminding us all of the sweets, toys, and news-headlines of the decades.

Pictured (LtoR): Maureen Bowra, Natalie Renouf, Jenny Usher, and Anna Welch. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (LtoR): Maureen Bowra, Natalie Renouf, Jenny Usher, and Anna Welch. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Congratulations to all of those who made the Sugar, Sugar! production possible—including the cast, creative team (special mention to vocal coach/music director Alica Cush, and stage manager Lucy Kelland), and the crowd-funding donors. Hats off to Richard Harrison and the The Retro Bar for creating a funky laneway bar in the Western Suburbs. And for making it available for this Anywhere Festival production. It’s a great location: loads of free parking at the back, and a bus stop at the front (visit The Retro Bar website for information on the extensive range of acts and events taking place at this local gem).

Verdict: It’s slightly cheeky, and a lot of fun. Perfect for groups. Ideal for an enjoyable night out (with friends or family). But don’t forget about the weekend matinees; a perfect chance for Gran to bring the kids along to see just quite what she wore only a few years ago!

Audience tip: There are stairs. Take advantage of the breaks to sample a Candy Shop cocktail, or food, from the bar. Air-conditioned, comfortable seating. Bring a camera to take a picture with the Sugar, Sugar! team at the end of the show.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended a preview on 10th May, 2016. The Anywhere Festival show opens on 11th May and  runs until 21 May (8 performances).

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Review: Jazz Age Dance Cabaret

Pictured: Jenny Usher (Director/Choreographer/Performer), in Top Hat n’Tails, at   The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret  . Picture credit:    Geoff Lawrence .

Pictured: Jenny Usher (Director/Choreographer/Performer), in Top Hat n’Tails, at The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

For an afternoon or evening of sequins, feathers, high-kicks, close harmonies, and energy, there is no better place to be than the Woolloongabba Antique Centre. The Candy Shop Show promised performers singing and dancing their way through the Prohibition and Speakeasy’s of the 20s and 30s and reliving the melodic harmonies of the 1940s. Their production delivered on that promise. I saw the matinee on 9th May, 2015, where Jenny Usher (Director/Choreographer/Performer) was joined on stage by Erin Coates, Maureen Bowra, and Natalie Renouf. The high-energy musical theatre production had plenty of opportunity to see their combined “over 12 metres of legs” as the audience enjoyed a “delicious journey through the 20s, 30s, and 40s.”

The music was well-chosen, there was a wonderful balance between dance and song, and the costumes complemented each of the set-pieces. The cast, ably supported by Kym Brown (stage manager), produces an hour and a half of high-class entertainment that is educational and fun.

Pictured: Jenny Usher, Erin Coates, Maureen Bowra, and Natalie Renouf. à la Moulin Rouge!, in The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret (9th May 2015). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

Pictured: Jenny Usher, Erin Coates, Maureen Bowra, and Natalie Renouf. à la Moulin Rouge!, in The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret (9th May 2015). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

Song and dance routines were interspersed with short talks, contextualising the change in dance and musical styles with film excerpts and newsreel footage. This gave the cast a chance to make a number of quick costume changes—moving with a flourish from the flappers of the 20s, to the top hat and tails of the 30s, and Andrew’s sisters-style uniforms of the 40s.  In the second half, the cast touched on a number of aspects of the modern revival of the jazz age—complete with performances of CandyMan (in sailor suits of course), music and dance from Chicago, and even racy red outfits à la Moulin Rouge!

The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret (9th May 2015). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret (9th May 2015). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

I found myself thinking it would be an ideal Mother’s Day gift: a chance to shop in the Woolloongabba Antique Centre, enjoy interval refreshments at the 1950’s Milk Bar style cafe, and settle the family into vintage cinema seats to enjoy a performance of high-kicks and close harmonies.  Shoppers longingly peeked through the curtains, clearly wishing they’d also invested in a ticket.

Only four more performances remain in the Anywhere Festival Brisbane season. I’d recommend you snap up any remaining tickets if you can. Sequins and feather boas optional (for the audience).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the matinee performance on 10th May, 2015

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