Tuesday, October 22, 2019

POWER





QL2 Dance
Artistic Director: Ruth Osborne
Choreographed by Steve Gow, Olivia Fyfe, Alana Stenning and Ruth Osborne
Theatre 3 to 19 October

Reviewed by Len Power 18 October 2019

Always a show to look forward to each year, QL2 Dance’s “Chaos” project - this year entitled “Power” - once again focussed on young and less experienced dancers from age 8 to 19.  The project is an entry point to the unique programs offered at QL2 Dance and can also be a progression into the Quantum Leap youth dance ensemble.  This year’s performance involved a team of 48 young dancers augmented with some senior Quantum Leap dancers.

“Power” consists of seven sections that zero in on various aspects of power in our lives.  Artistic director, Ruth Osborne, choreographed the opening and closing sections and the other sections were choreographed by Steve Gow, Olivia Fyfe and Alana Stenning who are youth programs alumni and are now teaching at QL2 as well as dancing professionally in the Australian Dance Party.

The first section defines what power actually is.  Subsequent sections show power in its physically demanding sense, then the power of superheroes, an uprising against the abuse of power, the power of a group to change the course of a story (and, therefore, history) and empowerment for the good of everyone.  The final section is a joyous celebration of the power of being part of a group of performers.  The show is presented in a continuous performance moving seamlessly from one section to the next.

Highlights of the show included the startling and fun “And I’m…”, choreographed by Alana Stenning, in which certain cast members transition to become superheroes by gravely stepping into pairs of brief blue pants like those worn by Superman.


Then there was the sheer physicality of “Uprising”, choreographed by Steve Gow, with waves of dancers hurling themselves at opposing forces.  It was followed by an imaginative and unexpectedly very funny “I Rule” fairy story, choreographed by Olivia Fyfe and Alana Stenning, in which the cast gang up powerfully on the narrator and refuse to accept the conventional happy-ever-after ending.


“Canis Canem Edit”, choreographed by Steve Gow, showcased the power of team work with the senior dancers performing together superbly with the young dancers.  The closing section, “We Are Powerful Together!”, choreographed by Ruth Osborne, was an appropriately happy ending to the show.

The large cast performed with skill and energy throughout.  The choreographers set some quite challenging moves for the group that were all handled with assurance and accuracy.  It must have been hard work getting it all up to standard, but you can clearly see the joy of performance in the participants’ faces.  Once again, this was an admirable, entertaining and memorable evening of dance.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 19 October 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.



POSSIBILITY


Co-directed by Anna Johnstone and Luke Rogers
Canberra Youth Theatre
Ralph Wilson Theatre to 19 October

Reviewed by Len Power 17 October 2019

In “Possibility” at the Ralph Wilson Theatre in the Gorman Arts Centre, three writers Ben Dillon, Jamie Johnston and Lucy Roberts worked with twelve performers to “interrogate perceptions of themselves, explore questions about their place in the world, and dreams for the possibilities that lie ahead.”

Consisting of a number of very short scenes with blackouts separating them, we witnessed a parade of mostly fractured and unconnected situations in which individuals or groups declaimed their hopes and fears about themselves and the world in general.  Relationships and communication with others from a youth perspective were also put under the microscope.  In addition, everyday slice-of-life scenes were balanced with some deliberately absurd and even surreal moments.

There were some imaginative production values.  The use of mirrors and lighting produced a kaleidoscopic effect that gave us the opportunity to examine the situations presented from various perspectives.  Scenes were presented in different styles to give the show some much needed variation and the good sound design added another dimension.


With such stop-start short scenes, there’s no opportunity for in-depth acting.  It’s hard to feel any involvement or empathy with the situations presented.  Many of the scenes stop in mid-sentence without making any obvious point at all and don’t add up to anything of real interest.

The cast give enthusiastic and committed performances and it all moves at a good pace but all that energy feels wasted on such thin material as this.


It was difficult to see how it could all come under the umbrella of the title of the show, “Possibility”.  Co-directors Luke Rogers and Anna Johnstone stated in the program that “‘Possibility’ is in itself an open provocation”.  If just presenting a range of possibilities was the point and leaving it to the audience to decide, then it was neither provoking nor satisfying.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 18 October 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.


Monday, October 21, 2019

BILLY ELLIOTT the Musical



Jamie Rogers (Billy Elliott) - Kelley Abbey (Mrs Wilkinson) in "Billy Elliott the Musical" 

Book & Lyrics by Lee Hall – Music by Elton John
Directed by Stephen Daldry – Choreographed by Peter Darling
Musical Director – Michael Azzopardi – Set Design by Ian McNeil
Costume Design by Nicky Gillibrand – Lighting Design by Rick Fisher
Lyric Theatre Sydney, 10th October to December 15th 2019.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

With practically every news bulletin filled with images of protests around the world, a musical based around the 1984 Miners strike in Britain could hardly be more relevant. However, far from depressing, this musical is a joyous, uplifting and often, a surprisingly moving, experience.

Packed with stirring songs, dazzling dancing, and memorable performances, “Billy Elliott – The Musical” tells the story of a young boy who discovers that he has a talent and passion for ballet. With the encouragement of the local dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, he pursues his passion in spite of the objections of this father, and the derision of his community, a coal mining village in Northern England.

As the first international production outside the UK, and prior to its Broadway premiere, “Billy Elliott – The Musical” toured Australia, premiering in Sydney in December 2007 and finishing its tour in Melbourne in 2009. Despite the popularity of that production, which received eight Helpmann Awards, the complexity of the set design precluded touring beyond Sydney and Melbourne.

However a clever rethink of the set design, means that this 10th Anniversary 2019 production will now be seen in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane in addition to Sydney and Melbourne. And it was worth waiting for, because with the fluid new set design comes refreshed new staging and choreography, adding renewed energy and gloss to this tight new production which is a fresh a new pin.

Jamie Rogers as Billy Elliot

As before, the role of Billy Elliot is shared between four boys. 12 year-old, red-headed Canberran, Jamie Rogers, thrilled the opening night audience with his incredible triple-threat talents. Equally comfortable tapping up a storm in the stunning “Angry Dance” or exhibiting impeccable classical ballet technique while spinning high above the audience in a spectacular air-borne pas de deux duet with his older self, for which he was superbly partnered by Aaron Smith.

His singing and acting was equally as impressive and he confidently nailed scene after scene, tearing at the heartstrings with his poignant goodbye to his best friend, Michael (James Sonnemann on opening night), or standing up to his enraged Dad, or having conversations with this dead Mum (Danielle Everett), in a role  which would daunt performers twice his age.

 (On other nights Billy will be played by Omar Abiad, age 12, from Brisbane, River Mardesic, age 11, from Melbourne, or Wade Neilsen, age 12 – from Newcastle, and no doubt each will be just as accomplished).

Kelley Abbey (Mrs Wilkinson) - Dean Vince (Mr Braithwaite) - and the ballet class in "Shine" 

As Billy’s tough but supportive ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, Kelley Abbey is quite wonderful. She looks every inch the dance teacher, acts with authority and nuance, is in fine singing voice, and dances up a storm in “Shine”. The “Born to Boogie” number, in which she’s joined by Billy and the dance school accompanist, Mr Braithwaite (Dean Vince in scene-stealing comedic performance) is one of many highlights.

Justin Smith, who played the role of Billy’s older brother in the original Australian production, gives an appealing performance in this production as   Billy’s father, at first strongly against his son’s ballet dancing ambitions, but once convinced by Mrs Wilkinson of his son’s talent, willing to support his son to the hilt.

Drew Livingston, as Billy’s older brother Tony, Vivien Davies as his doting Granma, Robert Grubb as his boxing teacher, George, and Damien Birmingham as one of the miners, Big Davey, all shine in arresting cameos.  And who could you not love the little girls in Mrs Wilkinson’s ballet class, all cheeky individuals, led by Gabrielle Daggar, who played Debbie on opening night.

Stephen Daldry’s staging throughout is masterly, as is Peter Darling’s choreography, particularly the full cast scenes, in which the striking miner’s intermingle seamlessly with the ballet class.
This is a production which will keep you engrossed and enchanted from the first note until the last. But be forewarned. You’ll need your tissues…for the happy tears.


                                            Photos by James D. Morgan


This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au

Thursday, October 17, 2019

THE PRODUCERS


Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Original direction and choreography recreated by Rachael Beck and Rachel Thornton
Dramatic Productions
Gungahlin College Theatre to 26 October

Reviewed by Len Power 16 October 2019

The modern musical tends to tackle serious and worthy issues of the human condition.  ‘The Producers’ exists just for fun and takes a broad swipe at political correctness while it’s at it.

Adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks’ 1967 non-musical film of the same name, ‘The Producers’ focusses on two Broadway producers who plan to make their fortune by deliberately overcapitalizing on a Broadway musical, ‘Springtime For Hitler’, that is so bad it can’t do anything but flop.  Of course, the show turns out to be an unexpected hit, putting them in deep doodoo.

The original production opened on Broadway in 2001 and ran for over 2500 performances.  It won 12 Tony Awards including Best Musical – a record that has never been broken.

Daryl Somers of TV fame shows another side of his talent with an excellent, highly-energetic performance as the sleazy producer, Max Bialystock and he sings the demanding role very well.  Newcomer to Canberra, Jason Bensen, is terrific as the nerdy and troubled accountant who blossoms as the other producer.

Demi Smith is a sexy and very funny Ulla and Zack Drury pulls out all the stops in his hysterical performance as the insane playwright and Nazi sympathiser, Franz Liebkind.  Paul Sweeney gives his best performance so far in Canberra as the very camp director, Roger De Bris and Jake Fraser is delightfully slinky and temperamental as Roger’s ‘special’ friend, Carmen Ghia.

There is great work from everyone else in the hard-working cast.  They all get their moment to shine.  I’m not sure I’ve quite recovered yet from seeing Pat Gallagher and David Cannell playing little old ladies!

Musical direction by Ewan was excellent with the orchestra playing the score very well.  Sound balance between cast and orchestra was just right.

Rachel Thornton’s choreography works extremely well and you can tell the cast are having a lot of fun dancing it.  Suzan Cooper has excelled even herself with the multitude of dazzling costumes.

Director, Rachael Beck, wisely recreates the main elements of the original production and, with her enthusiastic team of performers, gives us a fast-moving, colourful evening of great entertainment.  You won’t see many shows as funny as this one.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

WEST SIDE STORY



Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Joey McKneely
Opera Australia
Canberra Theatre to 27 October

Reviewed by Len Power 12 October 2019

When it opened on Broadway in 1957, ‘West Side Story’ was clearly a departure from previous musicals.  Its dark themes of gang wars and social problems in New York City in the 1950s, its advance of the story in extended dance sequences and its highly sophisticated music made it a landmark musical that, in this production, is still a powerful experience over 60 years later.

This demanding show requires performers who can sing to an operatic level, dance classically as well in a modern jazz style and act the colourful characters with great depth.

The role of Tony, a young man dreaming of a future beyond the ugly life in the streets, is played by Todd Jacobsson.  A difficult role to play convincingly because of the often poetic-sounding dialogue written for the character, Jacobsson plays it with such conviction that he is totally believable.  His singing of the vocally demanding songs ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘Maria’ is superb.

Sophie Salvesani and Todd Jacobsson

Sophie Salvesani is a strikingly beautiful and very real Maria – a young woman recently arrived from Puerto Rico.  Her singing of the comic ‘I Feel Pretty’, the sombre ‘One Hand, One Heart’ and the joyous ‘Tonight’ was excellent.  Her dramatic performance, most notably in the final scene of the show, was especially fine.

Chloe Zuel as the street-wise Puerto Rican, Anita, gave a richly comic performance in the early part of the show.  A superb dancer, she was equally effective in the later dramatic scenes, especially when singing the intense duet with Maria, ‘A Boy Like That’.

Chloe Zuel, Keanu Gonzalez and the Sharks

As the gang leaders, Noah Mullins as Riff, the leader of the American gang, the Jets, and Keanu Gonzalez as Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, gave dramatically strong performances, dancing and singing with great precision.  The large cast of gang members danced, sang and acted their roles convincingly.
There was excellent work in the smaller adult roles by Ritchie Singer as Doc, Paul Dawber as Lieutenant Schrank, Berynn Schwerdt as Officer Krupke and Paul Hanlon as Glad Hand.

Opera Australia’s lavish production honours the original production with its 1950s period mostly intact and the re-creation of the original Jerome Robbins choreography by Joey McKneely.  The towering set, consisting of moveable tenement buildings and their fire escapes, has been designed superbly by Paul Gallis.  The intricate lighting design by Peter Halbsgut added much to the atmosphere of the show
Conducted by Donald Chan, the demanding Leonard Bernstein score was played very well by the orchestra.  Sound levels between singers and orchestra were fine.
Director, Joey McKneely has staged a ‘West Side Story’ that works in all aspects.  The opportunity to see a production of the show at this level of excellence is not to be missed.

Photos by Jeff Busby

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 13 October 2019.


Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.