Monday, October 29, 2012



Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Todd McKenney’s relationship with Peter Allen is perhaps reminiscent of the dancer in “The Red Shoes” who having danced in the shoes, was never able to take them off again.  When Todd stepped into Peter Allen’s glittering shoes to create the musical based on Allen’s life, “The Boy from Oz”, they fitted so comfortably that he was able to capture Allen’s energy and charisma totally and convincingly and his performance as Allen became one of the great performances in Australian music theatre history.

People who had never seen Peter Allen perform live, and many who had, were totally captivated with Todd’s performance, and many were introduced to Allen’s prodigious catalogue of songs through Todd’s performance.
Todd McKenney has now become a world-class performer and despite the fact that he has performed leading roles in other major musicals since "The Boy From Oz", and become a significant television personality, it is the songs of Peter Allen that people want to hear Todd sing.

Embracing this continued interest; Todd has created “Todd McKenney -The Songs and Stories of Peter Allen” to satisfy this demand, which, following just two inaugural performances in Perth, he performed in the Canberra Theatre at the beginning of an extensive Australian tour.

Throughout this show, Todd remains himself, effortlessly establishing immediate rapport with his audience regaling them with cheeky personal insights into his encounters with Allen. He shares stories of his experiences while touring in “The Boy from Oz” and talks of the people who surrounded, and where influenced by Peter Allen.  The songs he performs with his customary panache and sensitivity,  against a  backdrop  of shimmering festoon curtains which constantly change colour and mood in a  dazzling lightshow designed by Trudy Dalgleish.

Two accomplished singer/dancers, Lisa Callingham and Kirby Burgess provide additional glamour, backing vocals, occasionally duet with Todd or sing solos. Champion ballroom dancers, Melanie Hooper and Brendon Midson contribute some dazzling routines and joined Todd, Lisa and Kirby in some energetic dance routines choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth.

A brassy seven-piece band, lead from the piano by Max Lambeth, provided excellent musical backing throughout. However, the visual clash caused by with their un-coordinated casual dress competing with the professional glitz and glamour of the other onstage performers took some of the gloss off the presentation, as did a microphone malfunction, some missed cues, and the poor quality of the sound, which commenced so uncomfortably loud and muddled that it was impossible to understand the lyrics of the first few songs or delineate the instrumentation of the band arrangements.

Though it improved as the show progressed the sound never reached the quality expected.  It was later learned that the late arrival into Canberra of the truck carrying the equipment for the show prevented a proper sound check.
However, recognising that these were teething problems , that the hardworking artists on stage had little control over them, and relishing the opportunity to enjoy the artistry of Todd McKenney, and hear him sing the songs of Peter Allen one more time,  the good-natured Canberra audience nevertheless gave the show an enthusiastic reception. 


Come Alive Festival of Museum Theatre

Come Alive Festival of Museum Theatre, at the National Museum of Australia, October 29 – November 2, 2012

by Frank McKone

This is the 3rd annual Come Alive week at the National Museum of Australia.

If the first performance, I Will Survive by senior students from Orana Steiner School, is anything to go by, the rest of the program involving St Francis Xavier College, Dickson College, Burgmann Anglican School, Gungahlin College, Merici College, Canberra College, St Clare’s College, and Narrabundah College, will show young people at their very best.

Over the three years more than 20 schools have participated in this Festival of Museum Theatre, coordinated – in his ‘retirement’ – by one-time Jigsaw Theatre Company director and long-time Narrabundah College drama teacher, Peter Wilkins, also well-known as a writer of reviews and articles on theatre for the Canberra Times.

Each group explores the National Museum for exhibits which stimulate research into history, out of which they make a stage show for public presentation.  In the process they not only learn history and how to put a play together; they develop confidence, learn how to work together as a group, and how valuable it is to connect with their community in performing their work.

All these elements were abundantly clear in I Will Survive, which started from the fascinating Lucille Balls dress, made by Ron Muncaster, featured in the Eternity Gallery.

The play presents the history, and the private and public controversies, behind the Sydney Mardi Gras and the changing attitudes towards gays and lesbians since the 1970s, including the violence of police action in the early period and the horrors and practicalities of dealing with AIDS.

This was 'poor' theatre in terms of the very basic facilities in the Vision Theatre at the National Museum, but in the Q&A session with the students after the Lucille Balls dress made its appearance in the context of a memorial to its original wearer, a wealth of learning for them was revealed, and continued as people, gay and straight, spoke from the audience.  This was theatre of real communication, not mere entertainment.

The National Museum of Australia has had a long association with the International Museum Theatre Alliance, which advocates for the importance of education taking place in museums using the theatre arts, based very much on the research by the well-known Harvard Professor of Psychology, Howard Gardner, famous for the Seven Intelligences.

Performances are at 12 noon and 6 pm each day.  For further information ring (02) 6208 5201 or email .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The Tempest by William Shakespeare.  Daramalan College, Director Joe Woodward.  October 24-27, 2012-10-24

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 24

The purpose of this production is essentially for the education of the student participants, on stage, backstage, front of house and in the audience, working in a theatre production company format titled Daramalan Theatre Company.

Head teacher Joe Woodward (who also directs the independent theatre company, Shadow House Pits) operates as overall artistic director, with a range of others – among students and staff – taking on tasks such as Co-Director (for this production, Desiree Bandle), Dramaturg / Pronunciation Coach (Tony Allan), as well as all the necessary technical designers and operators.  I noticed two jobs I regard as essential for students to learn were missing from the program: publicity and accountant.

The theatre program “varies from group devised productions [to] classic and contemporary scripts, in-house scripted works and musicals”, providing students with a wide range of opportunities to gain experience and understanding of theatre, whether or not they go on stage in later life.

This production of The Tempest ticks all the educational boxes.  Characterisation is strong; speaking Shakesperian text varies in quality as I would expect, but is well backed-up by movement work and choral sections; and there is effective experimentation in reversing gender roles, where Prospero and Gonzalo become Prospera and Gonzala, Ariel is male rather than the more usual female (at least in post-17th Century productions), and Trinculo is female, making the Stephano, Trinculo, Caliban relationship rather different from the ordinary clown format.

Visually the costumes, set and lighting, like the sound effects and music, are a mixed conglomeration of some odd but many interesting ideas.  Yet this works well for the island full of weird spirits: The Tempest is a great vehicle for experimentation, for playing with possibilities.

The atmosphere in the final scenes, where Prospera leaves her magical powers to Caliban now that she has regained her rightful position as Duchess, and Caliban regains his position of power passed down from his mother, Sycorax, was well put together.  At this point the whole cast clearly felt at one with their audience – achieving this must be the key to a good educational experience, and it was achieved on opening night.  Well done.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire

Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire  The Wharf Revue written by Drew Forsythe, Phillip Scott and Jonathan Biggins.  Sydney Theatre Company at The Playhouse, Canberra, October 23-27, 2012.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 23

It took me a little while to work out why this year’s Wharf Revue is so good.  It’s the satire, stupid.

There’s a new maturity in the writing and the performances this year.  The best comparison I can make is to say that scenes like Julia Poppins (Amanda Bishop),  Alan “James” Joyce (Josh Quong Tart), the world tour of Foreign Minister Bob Carr (Drew Forsythe), the Fall of the Garden of Earthly Delights (Phillip Scott and audiovisual creator David Bergman), and the Call of the Peter Slipper Handicap are as clever as good David Pope cartoons.

Rather than the show ‘lampooning’ politicians, as they have done in the past, this year characters have depth.  When Julia Poppins’ parrot-headed umbrella plays back Alan Jones’ recorded chaff-bag speech, and she says “Come on, Alan, can’t you do better than that?”, there is a sympathy with Julia in our knowledge of what Alan Jones did do “better than that”, without the need to make any direct reference to his died-of-shame speech.

Connecting Alan Joyce’s Irish accent and history to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is a brilliant play on the struggles of the Qantas CEO to keep in control of life and delay his constantly impending demise.  He must just keep talking, however absurd – and very funny – it sounds.  Tart moved into James Joyce poetic territory so well that even a literate Canberra audience were at times silenced by the language as if they were hearing the real Finnegan – until the content of the words about Aer Lingus, British Airways or Emirates just broke everyone up.

The imagery, in the manner of a mediaeval tapestry, telling the story from the unspoiled Garden of Eden to the ruination of the earth by rampant humans applying their God-given free will, and sung by Scott, following the scene where "Cardinal Bolt" and "Sister Mirabella" condemn the global-warming scientist Flannery of Padua in line with the treatment of Galileo, is artistically and thematically way beyond lampoon.  This is Swiftian satire, wonderfully illustrated.

And then there is Bob Carr, imagining himself as a kind of Gulliver but discovering that he is rather Lilliputian in comparison to the condescending, but terribly polite power of Hillary Clinton.  Forsythe captures all of Carr’s little mannerisms of head, shoulder and facial movement to reveal the character’s inner fears; while Bishop has all the voice and confidence of the most significant woman in the world.

And lastly, but not leastly, among the many other effective scenes, I must make special mention of The Same Sex Marriage of Figaro, where the rearrangement of Mozart is brilliantly done, with singing up to operatic standard – a real measure of the theatrical skills of this company.

The whole show is unified by the story of the launch from Woomera of the ark of humanity – the last survivors taking the story of Earth out to the universe.  This takes the drama above and beyond the petty politics of the day – indeed, Beyond the Rings of Satire.  A great show, not to be missed.


At perhaps Sydney Theatre Company could record Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire for posterity.

Red Wharf Bay is in Wales, not too far from Dylan Thomas’s “Llareggub” (just a little more literary allusion which might suggest next election year’s show about milking the global village electorate, or trolls under the wharf, or something ....)

Monday, October 22, 2012


Name Game
Photo:Chris Canham

Ql2 Dance Inc. – Chaos Project 2012
Choreographers: Caitlin MacKenzie, Matt Cornell, Gabe Comerford
Theatre 3: October 19th and 20th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Chaos Project is a series of performances staged by QL2 Dance Inc. to provide an entry point to prepare young dancers aged between 8 – 16 years to join the Quantum Leap youth dance ensemble, QL2.

Enlisting the skills of professional choreographers, Caitlin MacKenzie, Matt Cornell and Gabe Comerford, and incorporating contributions by resident directors Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson, the theme for “Name Game” was the exploration of ideas around identity through such things as names, tags, signatures and name calling. The work was presented as a single, seamless, ensemble performance danced by 36 young dancers, presented without an interval, and lasting a little under one hour.

In her program note, Artistic Director, Ruth Osborne explains “in every section the dancers have contributed ideas and movement material to each choreographer’s creative process, giving them an introduction to working with a choreographer and moving beyond just learning the steps”.

Even the youngest of the dancers appeared confident and able maintain concentration throughout the entire work, which, considering the complexity of the material was no mean feat. “Name Game” was very much an ensemble work, and the choreography included a great deal of spectacular unison movement, as well as partnering and vocalisation with a few acrobatic tricks included to showcase special skills of particular dancers. It was danced to an imaginative recorded soundscape drawn from composers as varied as Carl Orff, Amo Tobin, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

It commenced with a playful opening section “What’s in a Name”, in which the dancers entered in small groups. Each introduced themselves by name, while performing rhythmic ensemble movement. Gradually cardboard cartons were introduced for a section called “The People Factory”.  In this sequence the dancers were required to manipulate the cardboard box props while performing intricate ensemble choreography.

A notable feature of QL2 dance performances is the number of young boys who participate. Approximately half the dancers in this performance were boys and it was impressive to observe how confidently and unselfconsciously they interacted not only with the girls in the ensemble sections, but also with each other particularly in the section entitled “Choose your own adventure/name”.

Despite the stated purpose of the work as being an introduction for the young dancers to the intricacies of choreography, the precision and polish with which the performance was presented insured that it was also an entertaining and enjoyable dance work in its own right, notable for the inventiveness of the choreography and for the exuberance and skill of the participants.

Name Game
Photo: Chris Canham 


Free Rain  Theatre

Canberra Theatre Centre Studio 19 October to 4 November

19 October Performance Reviewed by Len Power

There surely can’t be many people who don’t know Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ either from the original Pulitzer Prize winning novel published in 1960 or the classic 1962 movie based on the novel.  Free Rain have set themselves quite a challenge with their decision to stage the play version written by Christopher Stergel in 1990.  Those familiar with the novel or the movie will have a vivid memory of the characters as they first encountered them and will expect a similar emotional attachment to them from the play.

L. to R.: Colin Boldra, Ben Burgess, Maddison Smith-Catlin, Lori Raffan, Martin Hoggart and Colin Gray

 Cleverly designed by Cate Clelland, the abstract setting creates a small town atmosphere immediately.  The costumes by Fiona Leach evoked the 1930s, looked good on the cast and complemented the setting.

Set in 1935, the story focusses on the trial of a black man accused of raping a white girl.  Atticus Finch, the lawyer defending the accused, tries to make some sense for his children of the adult issues about justice and right and wrong.  It is this interaction that creates the emotional involvement in this story.  We remember our own puzzlement as children about adult issues beyond our understanding and we also identify as parents trying to protect but at the same time educate our children about the less pleasant aspects of life.

The large cast create believable and memorable characters, all speaking with credible southern American accents.  Michael Sparks, the dialogue coach, has done an excellent job with the cast.  In the larger roles, Steph Roberts shines as a down to earth country woman who is also the narrator.  Brian Daley gives an excellent portrayal of a small town judge, Judge Taylor and Tony Falla gives a chillingly strong performance as the violent Bob Ewell.  Megan Johns was a haunting Mayelle Ewell, the pathetic victim of the attack.  Colin Boldra, in the large role of the lawyer and father, Atticus Finch, gave a tentative performance on opening night that did not quite deliver the emotional impact that this role should provide.  A revelation amongst the cast was young Maddison Smith-Catlin who played the lawyer’s daughter, Scout, to perfection.  There were also fine, deeply-felt performances from Martin Hoggart and Ben Burgess as the other two youngsters.

L. to R. Maddison Smith-Catlin, Martin Hoggart and Ben Burgess
 A few years ago it would have been almost impossible to fully cast a play like this one with its requirement of three black actors.  It’s good to see cast members, Ewem Etuknwa, David Kinyua and Joyce Waweru taking their place in this ensemble and performing such believable characters.

Director, Liz Bradley, has captured the atmosphere of this small town and its people very well with her well-chosen ensemble of actors and the technical aspects of the production.  She has ensured that her cast give very real, in depth performances, providing an excellent and thought-provoking evening at the theatre.

Photographs by Family Fotographics

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 21 October 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012


By Richard StrausS
Opera Australia: Sydney Opera House until 3rd November 2012
Arts Centre Melbourne from 1st December 2012

Performance on 16th October reviewed by Bill Stephens

Cheryl Barker as Salome - John Wegner as Jokanaan (John the Baptist)
Photo Branco Gaica

“A typical Gale Edwards production” murmurs a critic colleague as the lights come up following the ecstatic audience response. “Which is why we keep coming back” I reply, because Gale Edwards never fails to surprise and engage her audience, and while some of her productions may be controversial, they are never boring. 

This mesmerising production of the most controversial of the Richard Strauss operas grabs your attention from the very opening moments of Strauss’s disturbingly expressive score, at this performance given a superb reading by the Australian Opera and Ballet conducted by Johannes Fritsch.  

Salome (Cheryl Barker) is discovered, obviously bored with her step-father Herod’s (John Pickering)  banquet which is taking place upstage on Brian Thomson’s striking red blood-spattered set, in front of a row beef carcases.  
Guards peering into the cistern containing Jokanaan
Photo: Branco Gaica

Watching Salome’s every move is a young Syrian Captain, Narraboth (David Corcoran).  The booming voice of the prophet, Jokanaan (John the Baptist) played by John Wegner, is heard from an underground cistern where he has been imprisoned by Herod, and when Salome hears this voice she is fascinated and seduces Narraboth into opening the cistern.

David Corcoran (Narraboth) Sian Pendry (Page to Herodias)
Salome (Cheryl Barker) in background
Photo: Branco Gaica

Narraboth suicides, and when Jokanaan emerges from the cistern, he curses Herod and his decadent wife, Herodias (Jacqueline Dark) and resists Salome’s overt attempts to seduce him.  Inflamed by his rejection Salome becomes more and more obsessed with the prisoner, so that when her drunken stepfather, Herod, implores Salome to perform an erotic dance for him, she agrees on the proviso that he will give her anything she asks. To Herod’s horror she demands the head of the prophet, Jokanaan.   
Salome (Cheryl Baker) receives the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Cheryl Barker holds nothing back in her spellbinding interpretation of the wilful, determined and ultimately, demented sixteen-year-old, Salome. She looks ravishing, is convincing, and doesn’t hesitate to utilise the harder, less attractive areas of her voice for dramatic effect. As the opera moves remorselessly through its entirety, without interval, the audience is spared no detail as Salome sinks further and further into depravity. When Jokanaan’s head is brought to her, still dripping with blood, she orgiastically plays with it, tearing out the tongue with her hands and kissing the lips. It was difficult not to be revolted, yet impossible to tear one’s eyes away.
Salome (Cheryl Barker)
Photo: Branco Gaica
Salome (Cheryl Barker) with the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist)
Herod (John Pickering) looks on in horror.
Photo: Branco Giaca

John Wegner as Jokanaan (John the Baptist)
Photo: Branco Gaica
As the prophet, Jokanaan, John Wegner is in fine form, both vocally and physically; his voice rich and sonorous, his presence commanding.

Clad in a gold velvet suit, John Pickering almost succeeds in persuading the audience to feel some sympathy for his perplexed and deluded Herod, wallowing in his debauchery, willing to squander his wife’s position on a single erotic pleasure, and unhesitating in his decision to kill his depraved stepdaughter. Jacqueline Dark’s Herodias is an imposing and terrifying creation, desperate to maintain her position despite her husband’s drunken excesses and unwholesome interest in her daughter. David Corcoran makes a strong impression as the handsome young Syrian Captain of the Guard, Narraboth, whose repressed love for Salome results in a particularly unpleasant suicide.
Jacqueline Dark (Herodias) and John Pickering (Herod)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Central to the whole opera is Salome’s famed “Dance of the Seven Veils” and for this production Gale Edwards has decided to have each of  the seven veils represent “the 'veils’ that women wear in their power relationship with men, both in our society and throughout history”. One by one a veil is removed to reveal variously, a dancer dressed as a panty-flashing schoolgirl, a Madonna, a pole- dancer, Marilyn Monroe cavorting over an air- vent as her white dress billows around her, and so-on, all choreographed by Kelly Abbey. The final veil reveals Salome who completes the dance.

It’s a subversive idea which some audience members found amusing, while others were bemused, wondering if the opera was being trivialised. Whatever your response, it certainly makes for an entertaining and provocative interlude in an opera which contains few such opportunities.
Herod (John Pickering) and Salome (Cheryl Barker as one of the 'veils)
Photo; Branco Gaica
Emma Goh as one of the 'Veils' and Herod (John Pickering)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Salome (Cheryl Barker as one of the 'veils' )
Photo: Branco Gaica

True to form, Gale Edwards has come up with another spectacular, highly entertaining and yes, controversial production which magnificently showcases the superb vocal and orchestral resources currently enjoyed by Opera Australia, and which successfully caps a remarkable year of excellent opera productions offered by our flagship company.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012


By Gaetano Donizetti,

Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House until November 2.
Arts Centre Melbourne from 19th November 
Performance 3rd October reviewed by Bill Stephens
Emma Matthews as Lucio, Giorgo Caodura as Enrico
Photo: Branco Gaica

Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”, with its famous mad scene, is perhaps the Everest of the operatic repertoire.  It’s an opera that makes such demands on the voice and acting abilities of the singers, it can be career-defining for those who master its challenges.   

Joan Sutherland and June Bronhill made their debuts in “Lucia di Lammermoor” in the same year. For Sutherland it became her signature role, while Bronhill’s career took a different direction. For Emma Mathews, her astonishing performance as Lucia in John Doyle’s sombre new production for Opera Australia consolidates her reputation as the finest Australian bel canto soprano of her generation.                                                                                                                                                             
Emma Matthews as Lucia, James Valenti as Edgardo
Photo: Branco Gaica

Set in Scotland, “Lucia di Lammermoor” tells the story of Lucia Ashton (Emma Mathews) who falls in love with Edgardo Ravenswood (James Valenti).  Theirs is a doomed relationship as their families have been feuding for centuries.   Very much against her will, Lucia is forced into a marriage with the wealthy Lord Arturo (Andew Brunsdon) by her  brother Enrico (Giorgio Caoduro) with disasterous results. 
Emma Matthews as Lucia, Giorgio Caoduro as Enrico
Photo Branco Gaica
Emma Mathews as Lucia, Giorgio Caoduro as Enrico
Jonathan Abenathy as Normanno, Andrew Brunsdon as Arturo (obscured)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Anyone expecting grand Scottish castles and lavish costumes will be disappointed as the Liz Ascroft’s setting for this “Lucia” is determinedly abstract and gloomy. The action appears to take place in a cloudy grey setting, rather reminiscent of photographer’s background paper.  From time to time, large horizontal and diagonal backdrops move up and down to change the stage focus, but apart from a large table in the final scene there is very little to suggest time or place.  The huge chorus wear identical drab costumes in varying monotone shades,  and move in formal choreographed rows, providing a sculptural scenic element and appearing more as observers than participants.

This gloominess works remarkably well in that it focusses the attention unrelentingly on the remarkable cast of principals, who indeed wear fine period costumes, and interact energetically, while the superb chorus, artfully lit by Jane Cox, form monumental stage pictures behind them.
Male Chorus (Note: Damien Hall foreground centre)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Every inch the beautiful Scottish noblewoman, Emma Matthews has the stagecraft to match her voice and looks and uses her voluminous costumes to great effect in the earlier scenes, especially in her confrontations with Enrico in Act 11.  Perhaps the bloodiest Lucia ever, in Act 111 she first appears in a plain white nightdress, hands, face and garment liberally splattered with blood. Then as the mainly emotionless chorus watch her, she prowls the stage, unexpectedly bounding on to the huge banquet table, where she slumps into a foetal position, attempts to wash away the blood in a huge bowl, and eventually drapes herself in the huge white tablecloth, creating a series of unforgettable images, all the while tossing off ravishing bravura coloratura passages to express her grief and madness.  It’s a very physical and totally arresting performance.
Emma Matthews as Lucia
Photo: Branco Gaica

But, as unforgettable as it is, Emma Mathew’s performance is not the only reason why this production is so memorable.  Opera Australia has surrounded her with a quartet of outstanding male singers, headed by charismatic Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro as Lucia’s conniving brother, Enrico, and picture-book handsome American tenor James Valenti, making his Australian debut as Lucia’s lover, Edgardo.  Both have superb voices and presence.  Opera Australia’s own Richard Anderson, as Lucia’s tutor, Raimondo, Andrew Brunsdon, as the unfortunate Arturo and Teresa La Rocca, in the only other female role as Lucia’s maid , Ailsa, complete an exceptional cast who, under the experienced baton of conductor, Christian Badea, who confidently martials the huge orchestral and vocal resources necessary to do justice for Donizetti’s ravishing score, produce a stunningly successful visual  and aural realization of this operatic masterpiece.   
James Valenti as Edgardo, Richard Anderson as Raimondo
Opera Australia Chorus
Photo: Branco Gaica


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Written by Doreen Wayne Music by Jeff Wayne Lyrics by Gary Osborne

Presented by Supa Productions Inc

Directed by Ron Dowd

ANU Arts Centre until 27 October 2012

Review by Len Power

‘Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds’ was a 1978 concept album by Jeff Wayne, retelling the story of ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H. G. Wells.  With its rock and string orchestra, small cast of singers and using narration to carry the story, the two-disc album remains a bestseller, having sold millions of copies around the world.  As of 2009, it was the 38th best-selling album of all time in the UK.

If you’re familiar with the album, you’re not going to expect a formula musical when you attend Supa Productions’ courageous staging at the ANU Arts Centre.  The first thing you’ll notice is that the stage is filled with musicians – rock instruments on one side, classical instruments on the other.  Above your head is a complex set of lighting gantries specially installed for the show.  Suspended above and behind the musicians is a massive projection screen which becomes a major player throughout the show.  The acting area is a small strip of stage very close to the audience.

Sharon Tree, the musical director, and her musicians have the massive task of conducting and playing without a break in the show except at interval.  The sound is well balanced across the rock and classical instruments with the right degree of volume necessary for this kind of music.  You needn’t worry that it might be too loud for you.

Joseph McGrail-Bateup does an excellent job as the Narrator, capturing the turn-of-the century style of speech and injecting the right amount of drama and urgency into his performance.  The small cast of singer/actors have been well chosen from the cream of Canberra talent.  All five lead singers meet the challenges of the score effortlessly and their acting abilities make us care for the characters they are playing.  Excellent support is provided by three backup vocalists.

Chris Neal has excelled himself with the spectacular lighting design for the show.  James McPherson’s sound design complements the light show and has some amazing directional effects, too.  Suzan Cooper’s period costumes were just right and it was good to see the band and orchestra dressed to suit the show.

Bringing this complex technical production together is Ron Dowd, the director.  He’s no stranger to this kind of production, having previously given us ‘The Who’s “Tommy”’ and ‘Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”’.  “The War Of The Worlds’ is his crowning achievement.

Not really a musical and not really a rock concert, ‘The War Of The Worlds’ has elements of both but comes together as a unique and entertaining show.  Supa Productions deserves to have a hit with this one.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 'Dress Circle' Sunday 14 October 2012