Friday, July 31, 2015


Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Presented by Queanbeyan City Council.  Directed by Stephen Pike; Music Director: Jenny Tabur; Choreography by Jordan Kelly; Set Designer: Brian Sudding; Lighting / Video by Hamish McConchie; Sound by Chris Neal.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, July 29 – August 15, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 29


Sandy Dumbrowski – Rosanna Boyd
Danny Zuko – Marcus Hurley

Pink Ladies:
Betty Rizzo – Vanessa de Jager
Marty – Amelia Juniper-Grey
Frenchy – Risa Craig
Jan – Sophie Hopkins

Kenickie – Liam Downing
Roger – Dave Collins
Doody – Tristan Davies
Sonny Latierri – Lachlan Agett

Eugene Florczyk – Hayden Crossweller; Patty Simcox – Ashley Di Berardino; Miss Lynch – Sue Richards; Teen Angel – Nick Valois; Johnny Casino – John Kelly; Vince Fontained – Jonathan Garland; Cha-Cha Digregorio – Amy Campbell; Radio Voice – Maddison Lymn

Girls Ensemble: Isabel Burton, Peita Chappell, Riley Gill, Jasmine Henkel, Maddison Lymn, Silvana Moro, Grace Mulders, Lara Niven

Boys Ensemble: Nicholas Friffin, Sam Jeacle, Robbie Lawrence, David Santolin, John Skelton, Mathew Tallarida-Lyons, Cameron Taylor

Band: Jacon Schmidt (Saxophone 1), Hannah Richardson (Saxophone 2), Kirsten Nilsson (Saxophone 2 on 8-9 August), Vince Tee (Keyboard), Sean Ladlow (Guitar 1), Maxim Korolev (Guitar 2), Gary Scott (Bass Guitar), Jenna Hinton (Drums)

Photos by Lauren Sadow

I can judge this production of Grease in two completely different ways: on its immediacy on opening night in Queanbeyan in 2015; and on its place in the history of this musical, which began as a local community show for young people in Chicago in 1971 “in an old trolley barn (now the site of a hospital parking garage)” [] and went on to hold an amazing record in its day:  “At the time that it closed in 1980, Grease's 3,388-performance run was the longest yet in Broadway history....”

I simply had to list almost everybody involved here, because I’m sure that almost everybody had at least one family member in the audience.  The casting was terrific, the choreography and dance performances exciting, musically the band handled not only the 1950’s rock but all the other stylistic references in excellent fashion, the quality of all the singing matched the demands made by the show (including the very funny almost satirical high-pitched extenuating vocal flourishes by the men) – in other words Grease rocked along as it should.

There was no doubt about the enjoyment value on Wednesday’s opening night which will surely see Queanbeyan still rocking on August 15 for closing night.

I did find myself a little concerned about the balance between the singers’ voices and the band sound.  It was perhaps ironic that we critics had heard Chris Neal explain, when he spoke in our Canberra Critics’ Circle Conversation (Monday July 13, 2015), how difficult it is when everyone is miked individually to balance the sound across all the mikes while avoiding feedback.  I’m not sure how the band was miked on this occasion, but I’m sure even on Broadway, in the 1970s, microphones were fewer and farther between – and therefore easier to manage.

That was a segue to my other kind of question of judgement.  Rather than be critical of the show, this is a bit of critical writing about the show.  Whatever I say will not adversely affect your enjoyment, but may add something to the experience.

I was a bit surprised – not having been an aficionado of Grease – to see what seemed to be a switch from a light-hearted take, sometimes even a bit of a spoof, on conventional high-school romances into a not at all comfortable experience for Rizzo when it appears that she is pregnant and she can’t tell the would-be father, Kenickie.  The scene, leading as it does to Sandy becoming suddenly aware of the adult reality of sex, through Rizzo’s song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, is a turning point in the drama.  Sandy changes off-stage – mentally and literally – and reappears in sexy adult costume instead of the “litte girl” clothing she had worn up to this point.  What was happening here?

I wasn’t sure if the change in atmosphere was deliberate on the director’s part, in which case it seemed oddly out of place, something that couldn’t be avoided – since it was in the script – but could be quickly turned around back to the innocent fun of a whole company finale.  Somewhere in there I heard Rizzo say that it was a “false alarm”, so everything was now OK.  A bit of a cop-out, I wondered.

It was Wikipedia that sent me to where I found an enormously useful essay, Inside Grease – background and analysis by Scott Miller (Copyright 2006. From Scott Miller's book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musical Theatre). 

I meant enormous – like, 20 pages, and so full of stuff.  I hadn’t understood that Grease was written in 1971, looking back to a specific year when this group of working-class young people were in their final high school year: 1958.  Miller calculated that this group were born just before the people we now call baby-boomers.  In fact they were born in 1942.  I was born in 1941.  And my final year at high school was 1957!

So now I get it!  Grease is about the working-class teenagers at the end of the fifties as rock’n’roll changed the world for them, setting them free from the middle-class conventions which were the dream of their parents.  Grease "is really the story of America’s tumultuous crossing over from the 50s to the 60s, throwing over repression and tradition for freedom and adventure (and a generous helping of cultural chaos), a time when the styles and culture of the disengaged and disenfranchised became overpowering symbols of teenage power and autonomy. Originally a rowdy, dangerous, over-sexed, and insightful piece of alternative theatre, Grease was inspired by the rule-busting success of Hair and shows like it, rejecting the trappings of other Broadway musicals for a more authentic, more visceral, more radical theatre experience that revealed great cultural truths about America," writes Scott Miller.

And indeed I saw Hair, the original Australian production which premiered in Sydney on June 6, 1969, though I never saw Grease on stage.  After reading Miller I understood the ironic references to Sandra Dee and Doris Day.  And I remember, too, looking back from 1972 during the “It’s Time” election to see how much we had changed since my first year (and the first member of my family) at uni in 1958.  I see myself as running half a decade behind the kids of Grease’s Rydell High, but maybe that was just a matter of living in Australia compared with USA.

I discovered, too, that Stephen Pike seems to have been influenced by the 1978 movie of Grease with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, but Miller complains that the film bowdlerised the original script – “Watered-down,” he called it – and goes on to castigate the “revival of Grease [which] opened on Broadway in May 1994, painfully misdirected and misunderstood by Tommy Tune’s protégé, director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun....” 

For example, in Act II, when Sandy leaves Danny at the drive-in, Miller notes: “The replacement song in the film, "Sandy," isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t achieve half of what "Alone at a Drive-In Movie" does, textually, thematically, or musically.”  I checked this out on YouTube where you can see and hear the 1972 performances, and you can understand what Miller meant.  And perhaps why the film version was “watered-down”.

Finally, Miller writes “Like all the best theatre songs, Sandy makes a decision in the "Sandra Dee" reprise, and the plot takes a turn toward its final destination. Sandy must decide who she is herself and what she values; she must embrace all of who she is, including her sexuality. She now realizes that only when she is true to herself can she be happy with Danny, and this final revelation will lead us to the show’s rowdy, playful finale "All Choked Up" (sadly replaced in the film by the less carnal disco number "You're the One That I Want").

So I think it’s fair to conclude that Queanbeyan isn’t what Chicago was in 1958, or even Broadway in 1972, nor should it be.  We don’t need to re-create the raw beginnings of Grease because – as I’m sure Olivia Newton-John herself would agree – the revolution in the lives of women and men is a long way further on now than it was then.  I guess the revolution is nowhere complete, either, but the thorough enjoyment in the audience of mixed ages and sexes watching Stephen Pike’s production, and clearly in the cast performing the show, is its own recommendation.  And it still rocks, even if a little less hard than it needed to be back then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dylan Thomas Return Journey - The Street Theatre

Review by John Lombard

In 1953, months before his death, Dylan Thomas began his final American tour of public readings of his poetry.  “Dylan Thomas: Return Journey” is a recreation of what it would have been like to sit in on one of those readings, with Bob Kingdom’s incarnation of the poet as close as it is possible to come to spending an actual evening with Dylan Thomas.
Because the show is a recreation of Thomas’ final performances (with readings of poetry and smatterings of reminiscence), the audience is left to supply a lot that is left unsaid, in particular the context of Thomas’ destructive marriage and spectacular alcoholism.  But for the informed viewer this trade-off is more than worth the illusion that this really is Dylan Thomas, with Kingdom’s musical intonation of the poems eerily close to recordings of Thomas himself.  His rumpled, hangdog face is genuinely weary - the suit is pressed, but the face needs ironing.
Kingdom does a fine line as a raconteur, but Thomas’ poems provide the most powerful moments of the night.  Thomas is an unusually clear and rhythmic poet with a gift for finding the most explosive word.  A Thomas poem is a sequence of controlled detonations.  Predictably, “Do not go gentle into that good night” becomes the poet’s epitaph.
The original direction by Anthony Hopkins is straightforward, shaped by the decision to recreate the experience of watching Thomas himself rather than giving us deeper insight into his life.  The set is limited to a podium and a chair, with the most dramatic variation in the staging whether Kingdom is performing behind the podium or in front of it.  Fortunately Kingdom’s excellent readings are enough to keep the attention focused for almost 90 minutes, an impressible accomplishment in a one man show.
Return Journey proves that “death shall have no dominion” over Thomas or his poetry.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

DON CARLOS - Opera Australia

By Giuseppe Verdi 

Don Carlos - Opera Australia
Photo: Jamie Williams
Conductor: Andrea Licata
Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Designer: Paul Brown
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings   
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House until August 15.

Performance 17th July, reviewed by Bill Stephens

Though it deals with weighty matters, politics and the human condition, “Don Carlos” is far from a heavy night at the opera.  Crammed with lush melodies and absorbing characters, “Don Carlos” is   rarely performed in this country, largely because of the huge resources needed to do it justice, both aural and physical. However this finely detailed reworking by Opera Australia of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1999 production, with its spectacular Velazquez inspired sets and costumes, does the opera proud and offers a rare opportunity to catch up with this masterpiece.

The mood is set early as the curtain rises to reveal the interior of a lavish green marble mausoleum housing the tomb of Charles V.  A giant shadow precedes  the vision of a ghostly Charles V (David Parkin) as he  enters,  dressed as a monk,  to observe the Crown Prince of Spain,  Don Carlos (Diego Torre), seeking consolation for his sorrow at  the news that his father, Phillip 11 (Ferrucio Furlanetto), has claimed his fiancée, Elisabeth de Valois (Latonia Moore), for his own wife. 

Don Carlos is joined by his friend and advisor, Rodrigo (Jose Carbo in yet another outstanding performance) and together they pledge an oath to liberty in the first of several stirring male duets which occur throughout the opera. These duets reflect Verdi’s interest in expressing powerful emotions through the use of the singing voice, and this one provides the catalyst for the events which follow.
Daniel Sumegi (The Grand Inquisitor) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams
Opera Australia has gathered together some very fine voices for this production, nowhere demonstrated to more stunning effect than in the mighty duet between Phillip 11 and the Grand Inquisitor, (Ferruccio Furlanetto and Daniel Sumegi) which occurs during the second act when the Grand Inquisitor tries to persuade Phillip to kill both his son, Don Carlos, and Rodrigo. Both are exceptional singers, and both are fine actors with great presence. This scene, in which they are pitted against each, is absolutely electrifying.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Latonia Moore (Elisabeth)
Photo: Jamie Williams 

While the two women’s roles are less prominent , both Latonia Moore,  as Elisabeth,  the pawn between Don Carlos and his father, Phillip 11, and Milijana Nikolic, quite outstanding as the beautiful  Princess Eboli,  who harbours a passion for Don Carlos and who unwittingly causes his downfall,  give memorable performances. It was also fascinating to see these two singers cast opposite each other again in roles not too dissimilar as those they portrayed so successfully in the Handa Opera on the Harbour production of “Aida”.

Latonia Moore (Elisabeth) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams

Paul Brown’s imposing marble settings and lavish Spanish court costumes ensure that the production looks suitably spectacular, reaching its zenith when the doors of the church are flung open during the spectacular and chilling “auto da fe” scene, depicting the burning of the condemned heretics.

This production is rich with memorable moments, both vocal and visual, and once again the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, in top form under Andrea Licata, gives a superb account of Verdi’s sumptuous score.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Diego Torre (Don Carlos)
Photo: Jamie Williams

By the way, if you’ve not yet discovered the Northern Foyer pop-up bar, make sure you seek it out next time you go to the opera house.  It’s very chic and glamorous, offers reasonable priced snacks, stunning harbour views, and a great addition to the opera-going experience. 

Northern Foyer Pop-up Bar
Photo: Bill Stephens
                                     This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck
CADA Theatre, Fyshwick to 2 August 2015

Review by Len Power

Thirty seven plays, three actors, 97 minutes. That’s the promise made with ‘The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’.  You even get the sonnets thrown in, too.

This delightfully loony show started off at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and ran in London for 9 years.  It’s not surprising as it’s a great audience pleaser but it has to be done well to succeed.

Luckily, the three actors in the Honest Puck production are in full command of the show, never letting the frenzied action falter for a moment.  James Scott, the director and cast member, displays excellent comic timing while also showing he has the skills and voice to play any of the classic roles he’s sending up.  His funniest moment had him trying to do ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ from ‘Hamlet’ and dealing with giggling audience members at the same time.

Left to right: Yorick, Ryan Pemberton, Brendan Kelly and James Scott

 The show is a brilliant showcase for the two young actors in the cast – Brendan Kelly and Ryan Pemberton.  Brendan Kelly is hysterically funny trying to patch up moments where things apparently are going wrong like mixing up a biography of Shakespeare with that of Hitler or finishing Othello with the final lines of Romeo and Juliet and still managing to make them rhyme.  He demonstrated a strong talent for the mechanics of farce and his mock innocence was very appealing.
Romeo and Juliet (guess who's Juliet....)

Ryan Pemberton plays the straight man much of the time in the show but has his moments of high comedy, too.  Left alone on the stage when the other actors have refused to continue, his nervous attempts to fill in and entertain were delightful.  His interaction with audience members was skilfully done and his sense of timing in physical and verbal comedy was very impressive.
Someone needs a Band-Aid....
Director, James Scott, has produced a highly entertaining show which moves at a wild pace without letting up for a moment.  He keeps it visually interesting with the use of crazy props and improvisations and the physical comedy is very well staged.  The Tudor-looking set by Geoff Patterson and Luke Patterson works very well and the wacky costumes have been well-executed by Imogene Irvine and Kathleen Masters.

There’s a lot of amusing audience interaction in this show but nothing threatening.  Well, OK, you might get vomited on but no-one on opening night seemed to mind.  You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare’s plays to enjoy this.  In fact, it might be an advantage!

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


From the poetry and prose of Dylan Thomas and performed by Bob Kingdom
Directed by Anthony Hopkins
The Street Theatre to 25 July

Review by Len Power

With the unusually slow fade of the lights and the appearance of Bob Kingdom as Dylan Thomas, you have that strange feeling of stepping back in time.  The play is fashioned like one of Thomas’s popular lecture tours and actor, Bob Kingdom, is the very personification of the man.

Dylan Thomas died before his time in 1953, but his poetry and stories live on.  He was in demand as a speaker for some years before his death.  Listening to the material presented here, you realize what was lost with his early demise.

The show presents selections from his work and Bob Kingdom delivers the words to perfection, his melodic Welsh accent carrying us along willingly as he fleshes out the various colourful characters who dotted Dylan Thomas’s stories.  It’s funny and sad and a beautiful evocation of his life and times in Wales.  The actor’s superb presentation of some of the most well-known poems brings out meanings that were never apparent from the printed page.

The presentation is simple – just a lectern, a chair and a black curtain - but the subtlety and depth of Bob Kingdom’s naturalistic performance is remarkable.  You can only imagine how much work went into making this look so real.  Anthony Hopkins has directed the show with great care, obviously trusting the material and the actor.

If Dylan Thomas to you is just ‘Under Milk Wood’, this show will give you a much broader understanding as to why he is considered one of the great writers of the 20th Century.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Llewellyn Choir
Conductor: Rowan Harvey-Martin
Accompanist: Sue Reid
Belconnen Arts Centre, Sunday 19 July 2015

Review by Len Power

‘There is no theme to this concert,’ warned conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, ‘except what I found in my music cupboard’.  She has a pretty interesting cupboard, judging by the variety of music performed by the Llewellyn Choir at the Belconnen Arts Centre.

The Llewellyn Choir was founded in 1980.  It was originally named the School of Music Community Choir but was renamed in 1990 in honour of the founding Director of the Canberra School of Music, Ernest Llewellyn.  The choir performs several concerts each year.

Intriguingly, we had been promised animal sounds at this concert.  The choir commenced with the 17th Century ‘Contrappunto Bestiale Alla Mente’ by Adriano Banchieri, an amusing work in Latin and Animal.  It was followed by ‘The Three Ravens’, an English folk ballad published in the 17th Century.  From there the selection ranged from Swedish works, some sea shanties, British traditional songs, American show tunes and two versions of ‘Sure On This Shining Night’.

The choir’s performance of Swede, Hugo Alfven’s 1942 ‘Aftonen’, (Evening) set to a poem by Herman Sätherberg – a brooding, atmospheric piece - was particularly impressive.  The sea shanties, ‘The Drunken Sailor’ and ‘The Arethusa’ saw the choir at its most relaxed, clearly enjoying the rousing spirit of both songs.  Amongst the British songs, ‘The Banks o’ Doon’, based on a poem by Robert Burns with a new melody by American, Donna Schultz, was nicely sung with an unexpected, but beautifully played, accompaniment by Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin.  Fats Waller’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ was presented in a great arrangement that showcased the full range and colour of the choir’s voices.

Apart from some occasional wavering in the harmonies and a few unconfident-sounding entries, this was a very enjoyable concert.  Conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, obtained great results from the choir and Sue Reid provided an excellent piano accompaniment.  A magnificent afternoon tea provided by the choir members was a perfect end to a memorable concert.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.