Saturday, May 25, 2019

THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND


The World Goes ‘Round. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, David Thompson. Directed by Jarrad West. Choreographed by Caitlin Schilg. Musical Director. Alexander Unikowski. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. May 16 – June 1 2019. Bookings 62571950. www.canberrarepertory.org.au


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 
The World Goes ‘Round Ensemble. Julia Walker, Joel Hutchings
Louiza Blomfield, Isaac Gordon, Samantha Marceddo

Wow.! This show has class. From the moment that Louiza Blomfield lets rip with the title song, The World Goes ‘Round, Canberra Rep’s glittering gem of a production gets the goosebumps tingling.. Five workers in a Downtown bar arrive to find that the bar has been put up for sale. Their haven of hopes and fears, dreams and desires is about to cast them out and for two hours they find refuge in the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriting team that brought us the smash hits  of Chicago and Cabaret but much, much more. Posters on the wall recall the familiar, the obscure, the unknown and the surprising including musicals, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Zorba, Woman of the Year,The Rink Girls and Flora The Red Menace, as well as numbers from Liza Minella’s In Person and Liza with a Z album.
Director Jarrad West and the cast of The World Goes 'Round
One after another, the numbers roll out, every one a hit from director Jarrad West’s stunning ensemble. There is simmering sensuality in Julia Walker’s All That Jazz, comedy in Isaac Gordon’s Sara Lee with the company, pathos in Joel Hutchings and Gordon’s I Don’t Remember You from The Happy Time and longing in Samantha Marceddo’s Only Love from Zorba. Ensemble numbers show a company of performers in perfect synch, sparklingly choreographed by Caitlin Schilg and directed with an inventive eye for business and an instinct for emotional truth by West. Routines, highlighted by a roller-skating sequence by Gordon and Hutchings are triumphs in timing and imagination in a flawless display of talent and production values.. West directs with sensitive flair, allowing for the flavour of the moment to permeate the atmosphere, to feel the solitude of Gordon’s Mr Cellophane, the comical conquest of Marceddo’s Arthur in the Afternoon, the longing of Blomfield’s Maybe This Time or the desperation of I Don’t Remember You. The Bar becomes the world of Kander and Ebb, a revolving reflection of Life’s trials and tribulations and triumphs. Through it all, there is hope. The bar may be sold but the world will continue to go round and the five outcasts will survive.
On Chris Baldock's set design for
The World Goes 'Round
And through it all, the band plays on. Under musical director Alexander Unikowski musicians John Yoon, Hayley Manning, Melissa Fung and Brandon Reed with Unikowski at the keyboard and other instruments, provide superb support for the singers. Unique arrangements of certain numbers and surprising harmonies lend the show a fresh appeal and refreshing variation to numbers like New York New York.
If Canberra were Downtown New York and Theatre 3 was Off Broadway, this show would run for years. It is a perfect storm of talent, directed and choreographed with flair and feeling. Five of Canberra’s finest music theatre artists lend this show a zest and shining appeal that makes it  a stunning tribute to the music and lyrics of Kander and Ebb and a brilliant evening of musical entertainment  to warm the heart and dare you not to hum along to the songs that make this world go round. I predict that The World Goes ‘Round will be the hit musical of the year!

 

THE WOMAN IN BLACK


Written by Stephen Mallatratt and Susan Hill
Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck Theatre
Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick to 26 May

Reviewed by Len Power 24 May 2019

Everyone likes a good ghost story.  The best ones engage your imagination, giving you a deliciously scary ride without making you feel really unsafe.  The stories of M.R. James and ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson are amongst the best, influencing later genre writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Richard Matheson.

Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, ‘The Woman In Black’, set in the 19th century in Victorian England, was a fine addition to the ghost story genre and it’s adaptation as a play by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 has been amazingly successful.  Still running in London, it is now the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history, after ‘The Mousetrap’.

Constructed as a play within a play, the story involves a young solicitor sent to a remote part of England to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman.  While there he has a disturbing encounter with an apparition that has a major impact on his life.

The play has two main speaking characters with a non-speaking performer playing the ghost.  James Scott plays the author of the story, Arthur Kipps, and Brendan Kelly is an actor in the framing play.  In the play within a play, Kelly plays the younger Arthur Kipps, the solicitor, and Scott plays several characters that Kipps interacts with as the play proceeds.

Scott and Kelly give excellent performances and both actors maintain a strong Victorian sensibility in bearing and language, avoiding melodramatics with realistic playing.  Katherine Berry maintains an impressive stillness and presence as the ghost.

Directed by James Scott, the action is carefully paced to suit the period and subject matter.  The many costumes by Victoria (Fiona) Hopkins have been thoughtfully designed for the period and for quick changes.  The sound design for the show is especially effective. The set needed some additional period design, especially around a door that is important to the plot.

It would have been more chilling to have the ghost appear less substantial and clear, particularly for its first appearances.  Like the young solicitor in the play, we should be uncertain of what we saw.  To be fair, I have seen the play before, so I knew what to look out for.

Overall, this production is well-acted and directed and creates a strong atmosphere.  You can see why it has had such a long run in London.

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

Friday, May 24, 2019

ALL IS TRUE






M, 1 hr 41 mins

Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton

3 Stars



Review by © Jane Freebury


This is Shakespeare as you have never seen him before, and might find hard to believe. It takes place during the last three years of his life, when he had returned from London to live at his family home in the countryside, working on the garden. There is not a jot of creative writing in sight.

When the Globe Theatre burned to the ground in 1613, after a canon misfire during a performance of Shakespeare’s last play, he retreated to Stratford-upon Avon, to live with his wife and daughters.
a tantalisingly vacant space to fill
Little is known about him during the years before his death, a relatively sudden event, at 52. It is a tantalising vacant space to fill in the Bard’s life, into which steps veteran actor Kenneth Branagh.

The only portrait we have of Shakespeare depicts a man with a sensual mouth and a wide intelligent brow. In his period wig and beard, the appearance of a heavily disguised Branagh with prosthetically lengthened nose, is a close enough to the mark.

Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) with
daughter
Susannah (Lydia Wilson) 

Ben Elton’s screenplay imagines the great man in everyday life, in a contemplative frame of mind, even getting an occasional reproach for absences and lapses from his wife, Anne Hathaway (played here by the redoubtable Judi Dench), and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susannah (Lydia Wilson).

An occasional visitor brings the outside world in. His patron, the Earl of Southampton (a sprightly Ian McKellen), the ‘fair youth’ who inspired Shakespeare’s poetry, arrives for a chat in one of the film’s highlights.

This intimate meeting, like all other interactions indoors during the evening, takes place in candlelight. The production designer has kept all the period detail authentic, without concessions to modern cravings for atmosphere or expressive lighting.

Shakespeare is less pleased to see a young admirer and aspiring writer who drops in. It interrupts his gardening, and the youth is given short shrift with the advice to simply get started if he wants to write.
dismissive of his own legacy, consumed by the loss of his son
Some of the film’s key moments are filmed from a very low angle. It might be meant to signify Shakespeare’s greatness, to remind us of his lofty stature as a poet and dramatist for all time, but it just looks a bit odd.

While Shakespeare is dismissive of his own legacy in this life story, he is consumed by the loss of his son, 11-year-old Hamnet who died many years before, while he was away.

Few of us may have known that he had a son, and the fact of it makes an interesting focal point of this homecoming by a man so absent from family, and so much of the world.

All is True is the alternative title of Shakespeare’s last play, Henry VIII, a collaboration with one John Fletcher, who doesn’t get a mention here. It’s a playful title for a film founded on conjecture rather than fact.

All in all, it’s a slight piece, and tends to sound contemporary, to help make the great man more accessible. He had family issues like everybody else, but I’m not convinced that Shakespeare’s family would have communicated with him the way they do during very different times, four centuries ago.

Shakespeare (Branagh) with wife Anne
(Judi Dench)
Production design and costumes and candle-lit interiors give the film a strong sense of authentic period detail, despite doubts about the authenticity of language, and of manners and family relationships.
The mystery that is William Shakespeare may never be resolved. Perhaps the intellectual acuity, wisdom and poetry of his plays and sonnets, a contribution to the English language that none can match, is all we need to know, and better kept that way.

Jane's reviews are also published on her blog, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Jump First, Ask Later

Original director and choreographer Byron Perry. Tour director Karen Therese. PYT Fairfield and Force Majeure. Q Theatre, Queanbeyan. Friday May 17 at 10.30 am and 8 pm.

It felt like a wisp of a season for a short show. But Jump First, Ask Later is anything but a wisp of a show. This piece celebrates western Sydney, its mix of ethnicities and individual histories as well as the physicalities of urban music and movement. And it does so with a reflective intelligence as well as with the appealing nature of the tumbling and balancing routines.

Films of Jackie Chan and the impossible urban physical antics of many an action hero are clear influences as the six performers tumble and soliloquise around the scaffolding set. The tumbling and routines are powerful; the stories that the five young men and one young woman tell are windows into lives that reveal something of migration and much of finding a place in the world.

This might be a wisp of a review but it was hard not to come away moved by the dignity and hope of the stories and the characters. It’s a show that undoes much of the stereotyping that goes with where people live. Thanks to Joe, Patrick, Ale, Jimmy James, Ivana and Tristan for dropping by Queanbeyan with a reminder.

Alanna Maclean


RUSSIAN LULLABY

Songmakers Australia
Art Song Canberra
Wesley Music Centre Sunday May 19

Reviewed by Len Power



‘Russian Lullaby’ was a program of Russian songs presented by members of Songmakers Australia – Andrea Katz, piano, Merlyn Quaife, soprano, Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Andrew Goodwin, tenor.

The first half of the program comprised a number of lullabies, some amusing and some that were darker in tone, by composers Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Kabalevsky and Mussorgsky.

‘Cradle Song’, by Glinka, a beautiful duet for soprano and tenor, was an excellent opening number, displaying the richness and fine blend of the voices of Merlyn Quaife and Andrew Goodwin.

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Winter Evening’ was sung with great accuracy and feeling by Andrew Goodwin.  Andrea Katz’s piano accompaniment for this song was exceptional.  Christina Wilson followed with a very amusing ‘There Was An Old Woman’ by Kabalevsky.  Sung very well, her playing of this old woman also had real depth of character.

Left to right: Andrea Katz, Merlyn Quaife, Andrew Goodwin and Christina Wilson

Andrew Goodwin and Christina Wilson then gave us another finely sung duet with ‘The Lark’ by Glinka.

After interval, artistic director and piano accompanist, Andrea Katz, set the scene for ‘From Jewish Poetry’, a song cycle by Shostakovitch.  Composed in 1948 after the composer’s denunciation in 1947, the composer's situation and the official anti-Semitism of the time made a public premiere impossible until 1955.  The cycle is one of many works by Shostakovich to incorporate elements of Jewish music.

Andrea Katz

The eleven songs of the cycle were all memorably sung.  The opening song, ‘Lament over the death of a small child’ was a chillingly beautiful work sung superbly by Merlyn Quaife and Christina Wilson.

Other highlights included ‘The dramatic father’ sung by Wilson and Goodwin, ‘Zima’ sung by all three performers, ‘Song of the girl’, sung by Merlyn Quaife and the finale, ‘Happiness’, again sung by all three artists.

This was a nicely balanced concert with generally lighter works in the first half and a more sombre and dramatic tone for the second half.  Very well sung by the three singers with fine accompaniment by Andrea Katz on piano, this was a memorable afternoon of song.

Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 20 May 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.

TOWARDS ZERO


Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Jon Elphick
Tempo Theatre Inc
Belconnen Theatre to 25 May

Reviewed by Len Power 18 May 2019

Agatha Christie’s ‘Towards Zero’ was first published in 1944 and was adapted for the stage by Christie and Gerald Verner in 1956. Director of the current production by Tempo Theatre, Jon Elphick, believes it may be the first time it has been performed in Canberra.

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that it is a very clever whodunit and arguably one of Agatha Christie’s best.  Tempo Theatre’s production of the play is one of their best, too.

In ‘Towards Zero’, a murder occurs during a seaside house party.  Investigating Police Superintendent Battle theorises that, when a murder is committed, the people involved all seem to be converging towards a given place and hour - all going towards zero.


From left: Jason Morton, Kim Wilson and Garry Robinson

This production is the 10th Christie play directed by Jon Elphick.  His large cast of eleven all perform their roles with conviction and a nice depth of characterization.  Kim Wilson, who has the distinction of playing in all ten Christie productions directed by Elphick, gives a particularly fine performance as Superintendent Battle.

As well as some of Tempo’s regular performers, it was good to see a number of very capable actors who are new to the Canberra stage, as well as two graduates from Perform Australia (previously Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art) in this production.

Las Wijayatilake and Chintarmanya Vivian

The costumes are credited to Marian Fitzgerald, Jon Elphick and the cast.  The women’s dresses were particularly attractive, stylish and correctly in period.
Jon Elphick has once again produced a well-designed drawing room set with an army of cast members and other helpers who have constructed and dressed it.  A small company like this must have a limited budget but the production values on show here are impressive.

The large audience at the matinee performance I attended demonstrated that Tempo has a strong and appreciative following.  We all had a lot of fun trying to guess the murderer – unsuccessfully, of course - in this well-done and intriguing murder mystery.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 19 May 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, May 20, 2019

THE WORLD GOES ROUND




Directed by Jarrad West -Musical Direction by Alexander Unikowski
Choreographed by Caitlin Schilg - Set Designed by Chris Baldock
Costume design by Fiona Leach - Lighting Design by Helen Nosworthy
Sound design by Joel Edmondson
The Canberra Repertory Society, Theatre 3, 16th May - 1st June, 2019
 

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Samantha Marceddo - Joel Hutchings - Julia Walker - Isaac Gordon (back) - Louiza Blomfield
 
The song writing team of Kander and Ebb are responsible for many of this centuries most iconic musicals, among them “Cabaret”, “Chicago” and “The Rink”. They’ve also written for film, as well as special material for celebrity performers, in particular, Liza Minnelli. “The World Goes Round” is a musical revue for which a selection of some of their best songs has been cleverly woven into a showcase for five outstanding performers.

Director, Jarrad West, has set his version, after hours, in a beautifully detailed evocation of a New York Night Club, designed by Chris Baldock, in which large posters of Kander and Ebb shows adorn the walls. During the show, the posters light up to indicate which show the song being performed is from. This is a clever touch, because although it’s not necessary to know this information, each song being a little story of its own, the additional knowledge certainly adds to the enjoyment.  .

The talented cast portray anonymous night club employees who arrive for work, set up the club, and eventually leave, having assumed a variety of personas as they interpret the songs.

 It could have been disastrous for the production to have one of the original cast members, Samantha Marceddo, fall ill during the final days of rehearsal, but the production was fortunate in that both the Director, West, and choreographer, Caitlin Schilg, both excellent performers, were able to step in and take over Marceddo’s role at short notice, and indeed provide the show with some highlights of their own.

Julia Walker - Joel Hutchings performing "Arthur in the Afternoon"
 
This is a show full of highlights, and each audience member will choose their own. For this reviewer, outstanding moments included almost everything performed by the remarkable  Louiza Blomfield, but particularly her full-throated version of “The World Goes Round”, which opens the show, Jarrad West’s superb interpretation of “Coloured Lights”, Julia Walker’s delightfully cheeky “Arthur in the Afternoon”, Isaac Gordon’s delicious take on “Sara Lee”, Joel Hutchings powerful “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, Caitlin Schilg’s gutsy “All that Jazz”, and the roller skating fun for “The Rink”.

Issac Gordon performing "Sara Lee) 
 
West’s stagings of the many duets, trio and ensemble numbers are masterly and no doubt first night glitches with sound balance, missed lighting cues, occasional errant harmonies and sluggish pacing will be attended to quickly.  But over-all, this production is a triumph for Canberra Repertory, and most definitely one for your “must see” list.
 
                                          Photos provided by Canberra Repertory. 

                This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 18.05.19