Saturday, February 12, 2011



Reviewed by Malcolm Miller

Free–Rain Theatre Copmpany,
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan.
Opening 11th  February, 2011.

“Oklahoma!’ is one of those musicals which has joined earlier greats as a show which seems never to lose its popular appeal.  Free–Rain’s current production at the Q Theatre succeeds admirably in its depiction of the vigour and passions of rural Americans in the late nineteenth century.  A lively orchestra struck the authentic theatrical style under the direction of Leisa Keen.  A minimalist but effective set was designed by Wayne Shepherd and left plenty of open space for the cast’s dancers to show off their skills and Lisa Buckley’s excellent choreography.  Costumes by Fiona Leach contributed to the feeling of the period and the pioneering environment. 
The opening gave us  well–loved veteran trouper Barbara Denham alone on stage as Aunt Eller , soon joined by Jenna Roberts as Laurey, Dave Evans as cowboy  Curly, and Mathew Chardon O’Dea as the rodeo star who has just won a prize in Kansas City.  The songs “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”, ‘The Surrey With The Fringe on Top”  and “Kansas City” soon have the audience thrilled, and they’re followed by “I Cain’t Say No” by Amy Dunham as Ado Annie. 
Soon we are delighted by Tony Falla playing the Persian pedlar, Ali Hakim with a mixture of lugubriousness and lust, as he shows off his wares and is compelled by Ado Annie’s father, at the point of a gun, to say that he’ll marry her.  A comedic role played to perfection by this experienced performer.
Familiar songs and dancing follow, with gems like “People Will Say We’re in Love” before we meet the villain of the piece, played with tremendous power by David Spence as Jud, the brutish hired help on the farm. 
The second act centres around the community’s auction of the girls’ food boxes, the wedding of Curly and Laurey, and Hakim’s escape from the shotgun wedding. The appearance of Jud and his fatal fight with Curly always brings a jarring black note for me to this otherwise purely romantic musical, but its resolution is part of the show and consistent with the whole story.
Otherwise excellent and unobtrusive lighting was spoiled for me by wobbly follow–spot aiming.  I know this is difficult, having done it myself, but any loss of aim is terribly conspicuous.
Free–Rain is to be congratulated on this pleasing version of what has become one of the classic musicals. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


The Production Company, State Theatre,
Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne.
Return seasons: Melbourne VAC, 9 to 13th February 2011 ,
Sydney Capitol Theatre 2 to 17 March 2011.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

If you missed out on seeing Todd McKenney create the role of Peter Allen in the original 1998 production of "The Boy From Oz" then you missed out on experiencing a career-defining performance which is now Australian theatrical folklore. McKenney's performance as Australian entertainer, Peter Allen, in that original production, is the one by which all other interpreter's of this role are measured.

When The Production Company announced that it would stage a concert version of "The Boy From Oz" in Melbourne in August 2010, and that McKenney would reprise his performance, little wonder that the season sold out even before it had opened. A two week encore season was quickly arranged in the Victorian Arts Centre in January 2011.

It was an opportunity too good to miss, so we made our way to Melbourne to attend, what was to have been, the final performance of the season. However, after we booked our tickets, such was the demand that a third Melbourne season was announced (February 9th to 13th),  as well as a short Sydney season (March 2nd to 17th).

Not to worry, I was glad to have the opportunity to see the show in Melbourne because even though I had read much about The Production Company's shows, I had never experienced one, so was keen to see this production in its home environment.

I couldn't have been more impressed. Although advertised as "a concert production" the production standards were of the highest order. With a sure hand and bucketloads of theatrical know-how and flair, director Nancye Hayes has staged the show very much in the style of the current production of "Chicago", and it works a treat, allowing Nick Enright's brilliant script to  weave its magic, and Peter Allen's songs to break our hearts and lift our spirits, often at the same time.

Utilising to the full Shaun Gurton's deceptively simple setting, with its large staircase to one side of the stage leading to a high platform behind John Foreman's classy onstage orchestra, Hayes manipulates her large cast almost like mobile scenery, carrying on and off  minimal set-pieces as they move seamlessly between scenes, creating striking tableaus or frenetic dance sequences to illustrate key moments in the story, which her lighting designer, Trudy Dalgleish,embellishes by creating striking environments, sometimes  dazzling, sometimes sombre, always dramatic.

Todd McKenney remains unsurpassable in this role, channelling the spirit of Peter Allen in a performance which is truly remarkable and masterful. He dances superbly and interprets Allen's songs as though they are intimate conversations with his audience. He dominates the stage throughout, but never hogs the limelight,generously sharing key moments with the rest of the cast. The look on his face at one point as he stands aside to admire young Blake O'Leary, as the young Peter Allen, take command of the dazzling line-up of Rockettes, is just one illustration of this. It's a performance to be relished.

The rest of the cast are equally impressive including Christen O'Leary in an elegant portrayal of Judy Garland, Fem Belling dancing up a storm as Liza Minnelli, and Alex Rathgeber, revealling a fine singing voice, excellent presence and a great deal of charm as Peter Allen's partner, Greg Cornell.

Robyn Arthur was in the original Australian cast of "The Boy From Oz". In this production she gets the opportunity to play Peter Allen's mother, Marion Woolnough, which she does, quite movingly, especially in her big song "Don't Cry Out Loud".

As is to be expected from a show directed by Nancye Hayes, the dancing by the large team of well-drilled dancers, is outstanding.  Choreographer, Andrew Hallsworth really understands the dance styles of the period, and in a series of finely honed, beautifully costumed dance numbers, recreates them with obvious affection.

If I have over-used the word "brilliant" in this review, it is because that's the word which constantly comes to mind when I think about this production. While I'll always treasure my memories of Gale Edwards' original  production of this show, Nancye Hayes brilliant new realisation is confimation that you don't need truckloads of expensive scenic affects to create real theatrical magic.