Friday, November 6, 2015

A TASTE OF TINSELTOWN

Presented by Free-Rain Nightclub.

Director/Designer: Cate Clelland
Musical Director: Nicholas Griffin
Choreographer: Lisa Irvine
Costume Design: Fiona Leach
Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre – 4-7 November 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

“A Taste of Tinseltown”, the second presentation in Free-Rain theatre’s new cabaret initiative, is similar in concept to the inaugural show, “Buzzing Broadway”.  


Again it has an ensemble cast of seven performers, including Louiza Blomfield and Kirra Amosa who were also in “Buzzing Broadway”, but this time also showcasing the talents of Amy Lapthorne, Colin Milner, Fraser Findlay, Lexi Sekuless and Tim Sekuless.
 
Cate Clelland was again responsible for the stylish direction, and for the set design which is basically the same as the previous show. 

As with “Buzzing Broadway”, Fiona Leach was responsible for the attractive costuming, Lisa Irvine for the snappy choreography, and Nicholas Griffin again provided clever musical arrangements and excellent accompaniment. Most refreshingly, both shows were presented without amplified sound.

The major difference was the focus, which for “A Taste of Tinseltown” were mostly songs from the films of the Hollywood era, rather than those of Broadway. But the most significant difference with this show was that instead of presenting the songs as they were featured in the films, most are personalised and re-interpreted by the seven performers, and each was given a thoughtful, well delivered introduction to provide a context.

A newcomer to Canberra, Amy Lapthorne made a strong impression with her performance of a lovely Stephen Swartz/Alan Menken song, “Colours of the Wind” from the film “Pocahontas”, as well as in the clever “Elephant Love Medley” from “Moulin Rouge” for which she was teamed with Fraser Findlay. 

Findlay also teamed well with Tim Sekuless for an energetic performance of “Make ‘em Laugh” from “Singing in the Rain”. Findley is a fine singer, but his propensity towards over-dramatization with excessive facial and physical gestures, detracted from both his solos, “Maria” from “West Side Story” and “”Unchained Melody” from “Ghost”.

The lovely Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley song, “Pure Imagination”, was given a fine performance by Tim Sekuless, who managed to capture just the right mood of mystery and magic suggested by the lyrics. 

Lexi Sekuless in a fabulous hot-pink gown, channelled Marilyn Monroe  for a captivating performance of  “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”. A pity therefore that her second choice, another Monroe song, “File My Claim”, although well performed, didn’t allow her the opportunity to display more versatility.

Colin Milner paid tribute to Al Jolson with a fine interpretation of “California Here I Come”, and joined Louiza Blomfield in an excellent performance of the Irving Berlin favourite “You’re Just in Love”.

Having displayed her formidable comedic skills in “Buzzing Broadway”, Blomfield charmed with a gentle performance of “Moon River”, and later in the show, dazzled with a brilliantly judged performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here”. Many performers feel the need to interpolate their own lyrics into this song, but Blomfield sang it exactly as Sondheim wrote it, and the result was a triumph.

“A Taste of Tinseltown” also provided the opportunity to see more of the work of Kirrah Amosa, a remarkable young singer with the gift of being able to immerse herself in the lyrics of every song she sings, so that her songs become an intimate conversation with her audience. Her superbly phrased version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was simply breathtaking. Later in the show though, an over-decorated rendition of the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” was less successful.

As well as being showcased in solos, duets and trios, each member of the cast participated in well-sung ensemble numbers which were scattered throughout the show, among them, a delightful tongue-in-cheek staging of the James Bond “Goldfinger” theme which opened the show.


With “Buzzing Broadway” and “A Taste of Tinseltown”, Free Rain Theatre have not only hit upon an excellent format for a satisfying evening of entertainment, but also one which provides a superb showcase for the depth of talent among its members. Hopefully the company will be encouraged to repeat the initiative allowing Canberra audiences to look forward to many more editions of Free-Rain Nightclub. 

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