Saturday, October 31, 2015

Festival of Museum Theatre: Come Alive! 2015

Festival of Museum Theatre: Come Alive 2015.  Artistic Director – Peter Wilkins.  Participating schools – Orana Steiner School, Daramalan College, St Francis Xavier College, Calwell High School Dance, Canberra College, Namadgi School, Telopea School, Canberra College Dance, Marist College, and Bateman’s Bay High School.

James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, October 26 – November 1 2015.

by Frank McKone
October 31

In conjunction with the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL), Come Alive! has been presented each year since 2010, mainly at the National Museum of Australia, on occasion at the interactive science museum Questacon, and this year jointly by the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.

The essence of Wilkins’ approach is simple in concept, highly effective in results.  I saw only two of the ten shows today, Light by Daramalan College and Lina by Orana Steiner School.  Having reviewed Come Alive! previously in 2012 and 2013 I can confidently say that the promise of developing a tradition and improvement in the two aspects of the program – understanding of the process of presenting theatre and appreciation of culture – has been very well fulfilled. 

Light took the work of James Turrell, represented in the NGA by Skyspace and Perceptual Cell and by his recent James Turrell: A Retrospective extended exhibition.  Lina was inspired by four Australian paintings from the 1940s Heide modernist group – The Red Hat by Jock Frater and Lina Bryans’ Nina Christiansen, The babe is wise, and Yellow portrait.

The basic principle of Wilkins’ method is that the student group in each school, with no more than minimal assistance from a teacher, will choose their subject from the museum / gallery display, undertake detailed research and create a theatre performance of about 20 minutes to express their new understanding.

Light became a kind of ‘abstract’ theatre, in which figures in white tops moved slowly together and apart, front lit by moving spotlights while live video showed them via changing differently manipulated images on a rear screen, as individuals spoke sections of poems referring to light, with backing group vocal sounds sometimes in harmony and sometimes quite discordant in effect.  The sound became like light, played as if it were light of different intensities and colour.  The piece concluded with a twist on the Dylan Thomas injunction – going ‘into the dying light’ as the stage lights faded before a silent bow (while we in the audience clapped gently).

Lina showed us, partly in mime or briefly frozen tableaus, and using spoken material from critical writing, personal letters and interviews, twelve of the artists and others associated with the Heide group: Lina Bryans and her relationships with William ‘Jock’ Frater, Ian Fairweather, Alex Jelinek, Nina and Clem Christiansen, novelist and critic Jean Campbell, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker, John Brack, Winifred Frater and Alan Sumner.  Despite the fractious nature of these diverse relationships, out of which came such an immense change in Australian painting and sculpture, the students found a peaceful ending in the interview with Lina, in her old age, married to Alex and content to look back with a degree of equanimity.

Each show, though completely different in stylistic approach, showed the same commitment, enthusiasm for research, originality in devising how to present the material, and remarkable maturity in dealing with ideas like Turrell’s ‘wordless thought’ in his work which has ‘no object, no image and no focus’; or with the contrasting and often conflicting philosophies of art, and the often explosive feelings (or especially in Ian Fairweather’s case, the depths of depression) generated between the artists of the Heide group. 

On my visit I was fortunate to hear some of the delegates from the International Museum Theatre Alliance (Asia/Pacific) conference currently being held in Canberra, whose questions of the two casts in a Q&A session brought out highly articulate expressions of delight at what they had achieved on stage.

To quote from my first encounter with museum theatre in 2001: "Banging a visitor over the head with a message will only serve to concuss their mind, not expand it." - Catherine Hughes, Boston Museum of Science, [then] Executive Director of the International Museum Theatre Alliance (IMTAL).  This was on the occasion of only the second IMTAL conference.  If you would like to follow up information on museum theatre, you could well begin here:

Further reading will take you to the psychology researcher from Harvard University, Howard Gardner (of Multiple Intelligences fame) who was probably the main stimulator of thinking about ‘museum education’ – that is taking students out of their isolated classrooms and stimulating their intelligences beyond the conventional numerical and verbal aspects, which effectively are the only sources of measurement in IQ tests. 

Peter Wilkins’ work in Come Alive! is a major contribution, serving not to ‘concuss their mind’, but ‘expand it’ for all the students who take part, especially because they become responsible, to themselves, for both observing and choosing from the cultural artefacts in the museums, and then for discovering and putting into practice the theatrical form which will convey their ‘excitement’, as one student said today, of finding out so much from ‘reading in the National Library’.  This is what we might call ‘wholistic’ education, the value of which cannot be over-estimated.

I now have a much better understanding of James Turrell, and learned a great deal more than I had known before about the Heide modern art movement.

And, finally, I must thank the teachers who will surely have worked overtime and inevitably had much more than ‘minimal’ input to their students’ success in this year’s Come Alive! : Jana Watson, Joe Woodward, Douglas Amarfio, Kym Degenhart, Ian Walker, Stephanie Ikin, Jessica Dixon, Sharon McCutcheon, Susan Johnson and Carla Weijer.  And the staff of NGA and NPG for their technical and administrative work – and their commitment to education.


Directed by Cate Clelland
Musical Direction by Nicholas Griffin
Free Rain Theatre
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre to 1 November

Review by Len Power 30 October 2015

A new initiative by Free Rain, ‘Buzzing Broadway’ is a cabaret-style evening of Broadway theatre music, devised by the company.  With a drinks bar set up in the theatre and cafĂ©–style tables as well as normal seating, Free Rain has created an intimate cabaret room atmosphere in the Courtyard Theatre.

Seven local performers present the program of mostly 1980s and later songs from Broadway shows.  It’s an interesting set of songs, not all of them obvious standards.  Steve Amosa shines with his presentation of ‘Bring Him Home’ from ‘Les Miserables’ as well as the rousing ‘Run Freedom Run’ from ‘Urinetown’.  Cher Albrecht sings a heart-felt ‘The Movie In My Mind’ from ‘Miss Saigon’ and Kirrah Amosa gives a sensitive version of ‘Someone Like You’ from Jekyll & Hyde’.  Alexander Clubb shows the drive and ambition an actor needs with a strong singing and acting performance of ‘Broadway Here I Come’ from the TV series, ‘Smash’.  Louiza Blomfield is very funny with ‘Alto’s Lament’ about a bitter performer who really wants to sing the melody line in a musical and Kaitlin Nihill does a tenderly wistful ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ from ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’.

Lisa Irvine danced an excellent ‘Mr. Bojangles’ in the distinctive Bob Fosse style to a nice accompaniment on guitar by Steve Amosa.

There was good ensemble singing as well and particularly fine duets by Steve Amosa and Alexander Clubb with ‘Lily’s Eyes’ from ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ from ‘Smash’.  Kirrah Amosa and Louiza Blomfield were especially effective in the duet ‘For Good’ from ‘Wicked’.

Musical director, Nicholas Griffin has done a fine job with the arrangements for this show as well as accompanying the whole show on keyboard.  His arrangement for the Andrew Lloyd Webber trio of songs was particularly clever.

Cate Clelland has put together a very pleasing show.  It moved at a nice pace with eye-catching changes of costumes along the way to add interest and the spoken introductions to the songs by the cast gave the right amount of information.

This Broadway cabaret will be followed next weekend by a cabaret of songs from the movies called ‘A Taste Of Tinseltown’ with a different set of singers.

Len Power's reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7's 'Artcetera' program on Saturdays from 9.00am.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

SWAN LAKE - The Imperial Russian Ballet

Music: Tchaikovsky. Choreography: M.Petipa & L.Ivanov (Revised G.Taranda)
Canberra Theatre, October 21

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Imperial Russian Ballet corps de ballet.

A regular visitor to Canberra over the years, The Imperial Russian Ballet Company, a company of some 40 dancers,  which constantly tours the world presenting programs of popular ballets from the classic ballet repertoire, has built up a large following  in this city.  

The founder and artistic director of the company is Gediminas Taranda, himself a former Bolshoi Ballet soloist, but also a gifted choreographer and director. He sources his soloists and dancers from major ballet companies and ballet schools throughout Russia.

The ballet being toured this year is “Swan Lake”, one of the most enduring of all ballets, having been first performed in the Bolshoi Theatre in 1877.  The Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s version is based on the Petipa/Ivanov original, but includes the happy ending decreed  during the reign of Stalin in the 1930’s.  Sensitively adapted by Taranda to allow extensive touring, this production successfully preserves the integrity of the ballet, as well as providing a superb showcase of pure Russian ballet style and technique.

Through extensive use of painted backcloths, minimal props, and superb costumes, the production looks sumptuous. It is also beautifully danced by this handsome company in which the ensemble dancers are particularly notable for their accurate placement, attention to detail, and ability to connect with the audience.

The ballet is presented in two acts, each containing two scenes. The first scene, involving almost the entire company, takes place in the palace garden where Prince Siegfried (Nariman Beckzhanov) is entertaining friends at his coming of age party.

Taranda has eliminated much of the mime from this act and included rather more dancing than usual for the prince and his friends. These dances, choreographed in various combinations, and eventually involving the entire ensemble, are quite lovely, and performed in graceful, flowing, muted- toned costumes which the dancers manipulate to accent details of the choreography.  High point of this act is a spectacular solo for the Siegfried, which gave Beckzhanov the opportunity to display his virtuosic technique. Two Jokers, (Denys Simon and Alexandru Hihtii)  who also re-appear in the second act ballroom scene,  also provide some especially dazzling dancing.

Lina Seveliova and Nariman Beckzhanov
Sigfried and Odette
The second scene is the famous lake scene in which Siegfried discovers the Swan Princess Odette (Lina Seveliova).  Taranda has wisely allowed this scene to remain as Petipa and Ivanov conceived it, with the swans costumed in traditional white tutus with only the addition of a few sparkles to separate Odette from the others.

Seveliova is the perfect swan queen and very much the Russian ballerina. Her dancing is musical and her phrasing captivating.  She has an extraordinarily pliable back, reminiscent of Makarova in her heyday, long rippling arms, high extensions, a beautiful extended line and exquisite placement. In the famous pas de deux she performed several spectacular high overhead lifts without a hint of strain, effortlessly achieving the appearance of weightlessness.

 Bechzhanov also impressed in this act with his attentive partnering as well as his bravura solos. Maksim Marinin cut a fine figure as the evil sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart bringing elegance and assertiveness to his interpretation. Again the entire corps, including the four cygnets, despite a punishing touring schedule, danced with precision and accuracy, highlighting the careful attention to detail obvious in their preparation.

For the dramatic third act Ballroom scene, the colour palette for the costumes is brighter and richer. Taranda again demonstrated his flair for attractive choreography and intelligent staging, taking full advantage of the opportunities offered to showcase the strength of the other dancers in his company.
Anna Pashkova brought great presence and musicality to the Russian dance, while Natalia Zheleznova, Elena Zhadan and Maria Repetieva showed off their polished techniques in the Hungarian and Spanish dances.  The male dancing throughout was uniformly strong.

Lina Seveliova and Nariman Beckzhanov
Sigfried and Odile

Appearing also as the black swan, Odile, Seveliova immediately grabbed attention with her striking entrance on the arm of Von Rothbart . With eyes flashing and bravura dancing she was the antithesis of the swan queen, attacking the technical difficulties of the black swan pas de deux with style and confidence.  Particularly interesting in this scene was an arresting male duet in which Von Rothbart  mirrored the movements of Siegfried.

Finally, the return to the lake and the swans for the final scene allowing Siegfried to  free  Odette from the clutches of  Von Rothbart and presumably live happily ever after, drew this fine production of “Swan Lake”  to its inevitable conclusion.

When the cheering subsided, most of the audience had plenty of time, while waiting to escape the chaos of the carpark which has now become an inescapable part of a visit to the Canberra Theatre Centre, to reflect on the quality of the production they had just witnessed,  as well as anticipate the new production of  “The Nutcracker” which The Imperial Russian Ballet Company  will bring to Canberra in 2016,

The Jokers
Denys Simon - Alexandru Hihtii

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Directed by Kelda McManus

Musical Direction by Rhys Madigan.

Choreography by Annette Sharpe

Presented by The Canberra Philharmonic Society.

Erindale Theatre until the 7th November, 2015.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

 Gilbert and Sullivan traditionalists may raise eyebrows, but those simply seeking a nice night’s entertainment will find much to entertain in The Canberra Philharmonic Society’s rollicking new production “The Pirates of Penzance”, based on the EssGee version devised by Simon Gallagher for a hugely successful national tour in 1994. 

The convoluted story remains the same. The music remains largely intact, though re-arranged with updated instrumentation. Director, Kelda McManus, has added some refinements of her own, including bringing equal opportunity to the police force.

Marcus Hurley, in fine voice, is a dashing Frederick, the young apprentice pirate who on reaching his 21st birthday discovers that because he was born in a leap year, he is really only five.  Almost persuaded to marry his delightfully buxom nurse, Ruth, (Kate Tricks) Frederick discovers the beauteous Mabel (Madison Lymn) which results in all sorts of complications. It is Gilbert and Sullivan remember.

Dave Cannell
 as the Major General and his daughters.
Dave Cannell steals the show as the Major General. His superb articulation and assured comic timing insures that every word of the difficult patter songs is heard, and no opportunity for a witty aside is overlooked.  Shane Horsburg however, as the flamboyant  Pirate King, took some time to hit his stride on opening night.

The drabness of Peter Carmel’s imposing set works against the light mood of the show, and Jennie Norberry’s costumes for the pirates are surprisingly scrappy. 

More attention to detail in the direction might have curbed the over-enthusiastic ensemble interpolations which too often distract from the central action. But if energetic pirate action is your bag, you’ll find it aplenty in this engaging production. 

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 23.10.15. It is also in the print edition published 28.10.15. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Written by Kirsty Budding
Directed by Cate Clelland
Free Rain Theatre
Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Review by Len Power 25 October 2015

In ‘The Art Of Teaching Nothing’, the teaching profession comes in for some heavy satire.   In an Australian high school, every teacher is incompetent, conniving, corrupt, sexually predatory or displaying a host of behavioural problems that would make the students seem more adult!  A new teacher arrives and seems decent, down to earth and idealistic. We observe her trying to survive in this crazy place but she has her own problems, too, keeping secret the fact that she’s dyslexic and trying to teach English.

It’s meant to be a satire and characters and situations are exaggerated as you would expect.  This would be fine but what is presented isn’t grounded in reality and that makes it all uninvolving.  A lengthy interrogation scene is totally over the top and unbelievable.  In addition, the real relationships are damaged by contrived revelations towards the end of the play.

The actors generally do rather well with the material they have to work with.  There are good performances from Rob De Fries as the Principal, Brendan Kelly as Paul, the art teacher, Glynis Stokes as the idealistic new teacher and Liz Bradley as Mary, the elderly Maths teacher who can’t handle computers.  Emma Wood, Marti Ibrahim and Arran McKenna either had unplayable cartoon caricatures to deal with in the script or just played them that way.  Whichever it was, it didn’t work and I would have expected the director to sort that out.

The set, designed by the director, Cate Clelland, is very wide, making actors hard to hear at times and they were often forced to make awkward moves around the staff room table with the limited space available.  In addition, one unlucky patron sitting at a table close to the stage was sprayed with liquid from an actor’s mouth.

The play is far too long and could easily lose two or three characters and their subplots.  The author, Kirsty Budding, does have a flair for comic writing and some of her one-liners are quite droll.  There is some good writing here, especially at the beginning but the last half of the second act needs some serious re-consideration.

By the end of the show it had ceased to be funny and it was impossible to care about the message or the characters.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program at 9.00am on Saturdays.

Pirates of Penzance - Canberra Philo

Review by John Lombard

Canberra Philo’s new production of Pirates of Penzance captures the fun of being a pirate, with its troupe of buccaneers jumping around the stage with all the enthusiasm of kids playing dress-up.  The ship set with its hanging ropes for climbing and swinging almost feels like a playground jungle gym for a cast that are obviously have a grand time as the (mostly) harmless swashbucklers of this Gilbert and Sullivan musical.
We open with the pirates celebrating the birthday of the spectacularly unlikeable Frederick (Marcus Hurley).  Frederick, having been mistakenly indentured to the pirates at a young age, is now free of his indentures and able to become a full member of their band.  The self-righteous, proud Frederick instead announces that now he is free of his apprenticeship he intends to raise an army and wipe out the comrades he fought alongside for all these years.  The charismatic Pirate King (Shane Horsburgh) is saddened to lose such a talented pirate, but generously gives Frederick his blessing, both completely unthreatened by Frederick and a firm believer that everyone should follow their conscience.
Marcus Hurley plays Frederick with poses and gestures borrowed from silent movies, positioning Frederick as the hero he would doubtlessly be if he was in a play that had more respect for him.  Librettist W.S. Gilbert is parodying the heroic pirate genre - in particular its reliance on convenient repentance to get everyone out of trouble - by setting Frederick up as the noble hero pitched in dire struggle against foes who are, in fact, likeable and harmless.  For the Pirates of Penzance have a famous weakness, that they will always spare the life of an orphan, and as such have the hard luck that whenever they try to pillage and plunder they only ever seem to come up against entire ships and towns stocked with orphans.  Even the doddering Major-General (David Cannell) is able to outwit the pirates fairly effortlessly, establishing that for all his grand talk Frederick’s quest is basically pointless.  These are pirates who, among other things, have a healthy respect for the boundaries of occupational health and safety.
This production starts off slowly, partly the fault of a script that takes most of the first act to set up the conflict of the play.  However from the introduction of the Major-General and his endless parade of daughters (he collects wards of chancery as a comfort to his old age), the energy of the show picks up dramatically and never really loses it.  This is partly because the story is finally gathering steam, but also because David Cannell’s Major-General is nothing short of spectacular.  Cannell is goofy and silly, sporting a rubber ducky life preserver as he not so much outwits as befuddles the pirates.  Cannell is an absolute joy to watch, a spoiled and sulky old man who is too needy to be a martinet, but somehow mysteriously always manages to get his own way.
The singing is effective throughout, but two cast members in particular give brilliant vocal performances.  Marcus Hurley’s voice as Frederick is powerful, but his potential lover Mabel (Maddison Lymn) has a soprano that is absolutely sublime.  Her phenomenal voice gives many of the later numbers a thrill that they would have lacked with a weaker singer.  Mabel is herself as sanctimonious as Frederick and therefore perfect for him, painting the hook-up of two young, attractive people as an act of supreme self-sacrifice.  We are left with no doubt that they will be very happy together finding progressively grander and more ludicrous ways of using each other to make themselves look good.
While a fun performance, it is also a very conservative production, skipping many opportunities to throw in references to contemporary events.  Cannell’s Major-General slips in the most modern barbs, in his patter song launching into a stanza on his hard-kenned knowledge of social media (such as twitter and, of course, grinder) that is absolutely hilarious and shows how much stronger the show could have been if it had been willing to play more with its source material.  After all, Gilbert and Sullivan were mocking contemporary events - the paradox of Gilbert and Sullivan performances is that the more they are spruced up and updated, the truer they become to their original incarnation.
But in the end, it’s just fun to be a pirate, and it’s almost as much fun to watch the Pirates of Penzance.  It’s just a shame that Gilbert and Sullivan never wrote a sequel.

A sequel with ninjas.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Art of Teaching Nothing by Kirsty Budding

The Art of Teaching Nothing by Kirsty Budding.  Free Rain Theatre Company: directed and designed by Cate Clelland; lighting and sound by Joel Edmondson; costumes by Fiona Leach.  Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, October 22-25, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 25

This is a new locally written play about which I find myself in several minds.  It’s certainly about the business of being a teacher, set definitively in the government school system as opposed to any private school.  And clearly in the Canberra jurisdiction.

Its title has an element of foreboding which comes to fruition in the final scenes.

But it’s the author’s intention in writing the play that is not clear to me. 

Some parts are farcical – and there’s nothing wrong with farce which is funny for the sake of being funny.  That’s a well established theatre genre.

Some parts are comedy with ironic material as, for example, an incompetent Level 2 English Faculty head Clara (Elaine Noon) who has had a longstanding sexual relationship with the Principal Julian (Rob De Fries) finds herself promoted even further above her level of incompetency into a sinecure administrative position in Head Office.  There are several other similar situations as the play progresses.  The complete nonentity Deputy Principal George (Arran McKenna) is used as a comic foil in most situations.

Some scenes, though, are anything but comedy.  A particularly nasty one is where the woman Head of Student Services, Bronwyn (Emma Wood) – in charge of everything, especially staffing (Human Resources) – and the newly promoted woman Level 2 English Faculty head, Steph (Marti Ibrahim) attack the recently appointed young woman teacher, Lucy (Glynis Stokes) on personal grounds such as her youth and beauty.  It isn’t that this couldn’t happen when jealousy raises its ugly head, but the intensity and viciousness of the scene was quite out of line with both the comedy and sometimes farce of most other scenes.  I found that scene actually quite shocking, and wasn’t at all sure of how I was meant to take it.

Then again, there are quite sweet scenes. Lucy explains her background relationship with her now dead father.  The art teacher Paul (Brendan Kelly) has a similar kind of story to tell about his mother, and about his father – the Principal who has employed his son despite his having falsified  teaching qualifications.  At these points the theatrical form is anything but comedy, certainly not farce: here it strikes home as straightforward realism.  The character of the PE teacher Ray (John Kelly) seems to exist in this realist frame throughout the play, while it’s hard to place the elderly maths teacher Mary (Liz Bradley) who dies on the job.  Realistic, comic commentary, or farce?  I’m not sure.

However, finally we find that we have been taken in because these apparently genuine characters, except perhaps Ray and the now dead Mary, turn out to be frauds like all the rest.  The key point in the story is about who put the blog online which exposes the corruption of the Principal and indeed the whole process of employment and promotion.  The play becomes a whodunnit, and the answer is that the new young genuine idealistic teacher Lucy uses a bright student, Beth (Sophie Hopkins) to do the dirty work.  And even worse, Beth and Lucy turn out to be sisters.

At this point I either have to see the play as a clever piece of extreme absurdism, or perhaps it is a deeply cynical piece saying that teaching is essentially nothing more than an entirely selfish power play.  The art, indeed, of teaching absolutely nothing.  And then its deliberate setting in the government school system makes me wonder about the author’s politics, particularly in our local jurisdiction.  Am I to lightly pass off the evening’s entertainment as a bit of enjoyable fun, or should I take up the issues seriously?

One way of thinking about this is to do a thought experiment.  Imagine if this play were designed, directed and performed by, say Belvoir or Sydney Theatre Company?  Imagine then that it might be done with the absurdism of, say, Eugene Ionesco in mind.  Rhinoceros comes to mind.  Deputy Principal George in this play has a flying shark to entertain the students.  Maybe, parallel to Rhinoceros, people turn into sharks, going green and floating about – except perhaps for the Artist, Paul, who refuses.  He has done the right thing by Lucy after all, just as Berenger does his best to save Daisy.  Paul almost gives in and accepts the corruption, but perhaps like Berenger his last line should be “I’m not capitulating!”

I can see such a possibility, but it would mean much more work on the script and its style of presentation for The Art of Teaching Nothing to educate us about conformity and corruption as Ionesco achieved.  That’s a worthy aim for Kirsty Budding.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

BROADWAY BABY - Rhonda Burchmore at Teatro Vivaldi's

Musical Director:
 Michael Pensini

Teatro Vivaldi – Canberra

  24th October 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

It’s important in intimate cabaret to have a few runs on the board and a good backstory. Rhonda Burchmore has both in spades. She’s done it all. One of Australia’s most enduring entertainers, she’s shared the boards with famous co-stars including David Atkins, Eddie Bracken, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller and Anthony Newley.

She’s rubbed shoulders with Prime Ministers and Presidents including a memorable encounter with Bill Clinton. She’s racked up countless appearances on television shows, and in a succession of high profile cabarets.  Burchmore has the songs and the stories, and was happy to share them  with those fortunate to be in her audience  for her  latest cabaret show “Broadway Baby” which she premiered in Canberra’s little cabaret  jewel-box , Teatro Vivaldi, between a season of “Into the Woods” in Brisbane, and commencing rehearsals for “Jerry’s Girls” in Melbourne.

Living up to her nickname , “The Glamazon from Down Under”, Burchmore cut a striking figure as she took the stage at Vivaldi’s, her tall slim frame clad, head to toe, in shiny black sequins, her skirt slit to the thigh to reveal the famous legs, and a mane of flaming red hair framing her face.

Her opening song “Broadway Baby” set the tone for the night and within minutes, she had the audience eating out of her hand, quickly seduced by her friendly, open manner and refusal to take herself too seriously.  As a special compliment to her audience, always the true professional, Burchmore treated them to another equally glamorous outfit for the second half of her program.

Although “Broadway Baby” has some references to Burchmore’s own career, it’s not especially autobiographical, focussing more on her love of the Broadway musical.  There are songs from shows in which she has appeared, including “Every Day a Different Tune” from “Sugar Babies” and “Dancing Queen” from “Mamma Mia”,  but  also  songs from shows in which she has not performed such as   “Kiss Me Kate” , “Chicago”, and “Sweet Charity”. 

Whether singing Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” perched gracefully on the grand piano, strutting the stage Fosse-style for Kander and Ebb’s “All That Jazz”, manipulating a chair suggestively for Razaf and Hill’s “If I Can’t Sell It”, or simply standing centre stage for a spell-binding version of Jerry Herman’s “I Am What I Am”, the warmth, style and panache which have kept Burchmore at the top of her game are always evident.

So are her considerable skills as an engaging raconteur as she regales her audience with a succession of often outrageous back stage stories which she includes as preludes to many of the songs. Thus her revelation that   Ann Miller had presented her with a pair of her tap shoes while they were working together in “Sugar Babies” provided the perfect segue into a sparkling rendition of “Too Darn Hot”, which Miller had famously performed in the movie, “Kiss Me Kate”. 

There are many such moments scattered throughout the show, but perhaps the most unexpected and memorable inclusion, and the one which most effectively showcased Burchmore’s artistry, was a superbly sung interweaving of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” with Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”, impeccably accompanied by Michael Penseni.

Apart from being an entertaining evening of stylishly performed cabaret, “Broadway Baby” provides an unmissable opportunity to spend an intimate, often revealing, evening with   one of the country’s most admired and accomplished performers. If it comes your way, don’t miss the opportunity to experience it for yourself.  

                         This review also appears in "Australian Arts Review"

Friday, October 23, 2015


Theatre 3 – Acton – 17th October

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Once a year QL2 Dance present three performances of a production designed to introduce their youngest and less experienced dancers who participated in the annual “Chaos” project. The dancers in this group range in age from 8 – 17. Included in the group are some of the senior Quantum Leapers whose job it is to guide the younger ones and those new to QL2.

The object of the project is to introduce the dancers to the process of working with a choreographer and to moving beyond just learning the steps.  This includes thinking about concepts and emotions, participating in improvisational movement and tasks, refining the most effective ideas, then rehearsing them until everything flows.

This year, four choreographers, including Ruth Osborne, the Artistic Director of QL2, together with Jamie Winbank, Joshua Lowe and Alison Plevey, worked with 44 dancers to create a program of seven short works with an overarching theme selected in collaboration with the dancers.  The theme chosen this year was “consumerism”  and the work, “All The Things”, was presented in a seamless flow lasting just under a n hour.

For his piece entitled “The Earth Can Provide”,  Jamie Winbank incorporated supermarket catalogues to  establish  the idea of  “want”’ versus “greed”.  Alison Plevey continued this theme with her work “Do This, Do that” with the dancers busily ticking off their lists of tasks. A second more light-hearted work by Plevey entitled “Material Matters” made imaginative use of multi-coloured shopping bags and included a cute dance for the older girls to Madonna’s “Material Girl”.

Joshua Lowe also contributed two works. His first, “Why You Gotta Move So Fast”, made effective use of rap movement. His second, “INeed”  was a cleverly executed journey, performed with great  enthusiasm  by the boys. Firstly,  as prehistoric man discovering the first red apple, being persuaded by advertising that they should replace it with a green apple, then progressing through time and products until they discover Apple technology.

As is usual with these programs QL2’s Artistic Director, Ruth Osborne, choreographed the two works which bookended the program. The first “I Want, I Want, I Want” introduced the theme and the dancers, while “Needs = food, love, air, shelter” neatly summarised the theme before leading into a spectacular mass finale involving all the dancers.

The whole program was performed on an open stage utilising colourful props which could be quickly carried on and offstage by the dancers, and simple, colourful costumes. The music choices for each work were varied and well chosen.  The dancers did not appear to be graded by age, and several of the works featured younger dancers sharing the stage comfortably with their more senior colleagues.

Particularly impressive, considering the relatively short rehearsal period,  was the polish and precision achieved in various sections as well as the enthusiasm and confidence with which the young dancers took to the stage, managing to maintain clean lines and spacings while performing often complex choreographic manoeuvres.  Impressive also was how cleverly the choreographers had worked to the individual skill sets of the participants to achieve a dance program which was entirely engrossing from beginning to end.