Friday, April 29, 2016

They Saw A Thylacine

They Saw A Thylacine by Human Animal Exchange. Created and performed by Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton. Q Theatre, Queanbeyan. Wednesday 27 April, 1.00pm & 8.00pm. Thursday 28 April, 10:30am

A wisp of a piece called They Saw a Thylacine has just drifted briefly through the Q Theatre for a three-performance visit.  In an hour two women tell their thylacine stories and it is easy to see why the elegant and elusive Tasmanian tiger seems to have become extinct. One of the two women is a tiger tracker who celebrates the animal’s beauty and intelligence. The other, the daughter of the zookeeper looking after the last one, is part of a last attempt to hold onto what is vanishing.

Sarah Hamilton is the tracker, Justine Campbell is the zookeeper’s daughter, both undervalued for their knowledge and perception. The tracker battles with a predatory hunter she meets on the way. The knowledge of the daughter that might have saved the last thylacine is ignored by the men who take over the zoo after her father dies.

On a bare white stage Hamilton and Campbell also growl their way disturbingly through those male voices. A culture blind to the natural world and its values surrounds the two women. Human beings as a species do not come out of this story well.

A brief review for a short, poetic and haunting piece.

Alanna Maclean

Monday, April 25, 2016


Book By: Patrick Edgeworth: Music and Lyrics: Judith Durham, Athol Guy, Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley, David Reilly, Malvina Reynolds, Paul Simon, Tom Springfield and others.

Director: Gary Young: Musical Director: Stephen Gray: Choreographer: Michael Ralph:
Set Designer: Shaun Gurton: Costume Design: Isaac Lummis
The State Theatre, Sydney until June 1st 2016.

Performance on 13th April reviewed by Bill Stephens.

The Seekers achievements are numerous and remarkable. Their music has become an integral part of the Australian soundscape. Australians have been reading about them and humming their tunes for more than 50 years. That being so, it’s rather surprising that it has taken so long for a musical about The Seekers rise and rise to fame to emerge. 

Phillip Lowe (Keith Potger) Pippa Grandison (Judith Dunham)
Mike McLeish (Bruce Woodley) and Glaston Toft (Athol Guy)

“Georgy Girl – The Seekers Musical” certainly goes a long way towards addressing this oversight, although, interestingly, it’s the music of the Seekers that is the focus of a show which could just have well been called “Judy Girl”, because it’s Judy Durham’s story that dominates, You’ll learn little about the three male members of the group.

Saddled with a book which is embarrassingly patronising at times, and which seems to suggest that The Seekers rise to fame was handed to them through a series of lucky breaks, director Gary Young does his best to breathe life into a production which looks a little over-whelmed in the cavernous State Theatre, and often feels as though it would have been more comfortable as a television documentary.

All the action takes place in bland, two-level, metal and perspex setting, designed by Shaun Gurton, which encloses the stage on three sides.  Sliding doors allow furniture and props, including a baby grand piano, to be trundled on and off when required.

Images are flashed on to screens on the second level, to provide colour, movement and information, while Adam Murphy, as Durham’s husband, pianist Ron Edgeworth, provides a connecting narrative seated at the aforementioned baby grand.

If there was any drama involved in their story, it is only hinted at, or quickly glossed over. At one point, an uncomfortable proposal scene, later dismissed as fantasy, is introduced to provide the show with some depth
The ensemble in "Georgy Girl - The Seekers Musical"

The Seekers stand and deliver their most famous songs, backed by a troupe of brightly costumed dancers who gyrate energetically through Michael Ralph’s cheesy go-go routines  familiar from the television shows of the 50’s and 60’s. Sorry if you weren’t around then to experience them then, but here’s your chance to catch up.

Portraying The Seekers, Glaston Toft as Athol Guy, Mike McLeish as Bruce Woodley and Phillip Lowe as  Keith Potger bear only a passing physical resemblance to their namesakes, but each offers a pleasant stage persona and together they absolutely nail their harmonies.

Phillip Lowe, Mike McLeish, Pippa Grandison and Glaston Toft

Pippa Grandison gives a star performance as Judith Durham, accurately capturing the essence of Durham’s singing style and delivery to create a memorable characterisation which lifts an otherwise unremarkable show into the “must see” category.

Sophie Carter as Durham’s sister, Beverley Sheen, gets a moment to shine in a duet “Keep a Dream in Your Pocket”, and Ian Stenlake does his best to spark some life into the role of Durham’s manager, John Ashby.

If you can ignore the underwritten book, an attractive cast, some winning performances and a seemingly endless procession of instantly recognisable songs make this show so disarmingly enjoyable that you’ll kick yourself if you miss it. 

Pippa Grandison as Judith Durham in "Georgy Girl - The Seekers Musical" 

               This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


© Jane Freebury

It’s good to know that a hide like a rhinoceros isn’t a prerequisite for working in a cash converter business in multicultural Footscray. A thicker than usual epidermis helps ensure better than breakeven results, but the experience need not shrivel a bloke’s empathy or drain him of human kindness.

It seems it might even inspire creativity. This is the proposition in this good-natured study of people who are doing it tough and reflects the kind of optimism that probably helped get this entirely independently funded production get up in the first place.

Screenwriter and support actor Damien Hill, who lives in Footscray, has a surprise up his sleeve in the closing scenes that turns some of the grim things that you swear you saw on their head. The turn-around may not  work for everyone—it didn't quite for me—but there’s no reason why the coda can’t, I suppose, when action is confined to a 24-hour period.

Indeed, it is not nearly long enough to get to know the characters who count in this ambitious drama that managed to get a Tom Waits track for next to nothing to set the tone.

John Brumpton brings a cynical but not unsympathetic tolerance to his character Les, the shop owner, a pawnbroker, a world away from the role made forever famous by Rod Steiger’s staggering treatment in 1965. If Les has anything to hide, you feel pretty sure it’s nothing more than some life choices that didn’t deliver. His best attribute is that he’s got time for folks, whatever their hard luck story. That said, right now he has a bad toothache.

His  assistant is young Danny (Hill), a bit of a day-dreamer with a crush on Kate (Maeve Dermody) who works in a bookshop nearby. Danny’s soft romantic heart is a push over for an earnest young man who wants to propose to his girlfriend that evening but can’t quite afford the diamond ring he finds on the tray and thinks will be perfect.

A film set in a pawnshop is ripe with possibilities.  Hill has built into his screenplay so many characters with hints at their own distinctive backstories that the narrative risks haring off in a dozen different directions. That this doesn’t happen is a tribute to the writer, and first-time director Paul Ireland. Is there a TV series in the offing?

A fair proportion of the action takes place outside the shop premises, grounded in the two men who hang out and provide comment, chorus-like, on the neighbourhood. Meet Carlo (Malcolm Kennard) and Pauly (Mark Coles Smith) who anchor the street as they bludge smokes and share meals from the Vietnamese takeaway owned by Lai (Ngoc Phan). Lai is one of the characters who has something to give back to the community, however the way this is expressed is a big misjudgment on a number of levels. On the other hand, the vignette about transgender woman Paige (Daniel Fredericksen) battling life with two young sons, is touching and makes you want to see more.

Pawno flaunts a bit of cheek with a title that sounds like the generic adult movie. There is a bit of sex and also a brutal violent interlude that I’m not convinced we needed, but the engaging cast, including Kerry Armstrong, too little seen these days, bring many of the stories to life.

3 Stars

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Divine Miss Bette

The Divine Miss Bette

 Created by Peter Cox. Starring Catherine Alcorn. Musical Director. Jeremy Brennan. Featuring Clare O'Connor and Sally Hare. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. April 22 - 23. 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


The Q Theatre exploded last night. High notes were shattered. Decorum was devastated. The audiences erupted. The band rocked. The backing singers sent sparks flying. The Musical Director slid along the keys and in the middle of it all Catherine Alcorn blew us away as the inimitable, saucy, raunchy songstress of seduction, sassiness and explosive energy, the Divine Miss M.

Catherine Alcorn as The Divine Miss Bette
Photo by Joel Devereaux
I saw Bette Midler in concert in Adelaide in the late Seventies, and Alcorn is all class, from Midler’s dress clinging shuffle to her quick-lipped quips, her impish innuendos and a voice that sweeps us along from soul to pop to rock, to blues and even a touch of boogie. As I remember the divine Miss M has it all and doesn’t hold back to flaunt it. Alcorn’s The  Divine Miss Bette has Midler down to a tee. The shuffling quick stepped walk, the cascading cleavage, the fiery red hair and tight fitting dress that clings as she rolls across the floor. Alcorn is the full-bodied Bette, but more than that she’s the chanteuse with a voice that packs a wallop or reaches deep within the soul. She can titillate and taunt, as well as sweep us away on wings beneath the wind as delicately as the perfumed rose that makes us all want to stand by her, go her own way  and  sing along. Alcorn is Midler and as she raises the roof with Stand By Me, the audience in one impulsive show of admiration rise to their feet to give this star impersonating a star a rousing standing ovation.

Clare O'Connor, Catherine Alcorn and
Sally Hare in The Divine Miss Bette
Photo by Joel Devereaux.
As a tribute to Prince whose unexpected death shocked fans across the world, Alcorn included tribute songs, including Prince’s signature song Purple Rain. It was a segment of deep respect for  a magnificent artist. As well as capturing the emotion of the event, this showed Alcorn’s remarkable range and talent as an artist.  The brassy brash cabaret luminary does not forsake the essential power of Midler, the feminist icon with the inclusion of Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby . Midler has always been her own woman, hear her strong and Alcorn takes to the stage like a forceful whirlwind of independent spirit. Her show is uplifting and life affirming, a force to be reckoned with, bombarding us with irreverent humour and dazzling talent.

Encore upon encore followed the curtain call unil the band and backing singers, Sally Hare and Clare O' Connor left the stage to Alcorn with musical director, Jeremy Brennan to offer up a simple, gentle and captivating Wind Beneath My Wings. And the audience left the theatre on a high, carried out by Alcorn’s brilliant homage to the Divine Miss M.

I noticed that the two seats in front of me were vacant after the interval. Surely it could not have been because of Alcorn’s singing. She is simply superb, a gifted and exceptional talent on the Australian stage with the charisma to conquer the world. It can’t have been because of the band with Jamie Castrisos on drums, Tina Harris on bass  and Joey McCoy on  guitar. They are terrific under the masterful direction of Jeremy Brennan. The backing singers also keep the balance perfectly. O'Connor and Hare enter the madness of the moment with exuberance and hold back to let the spotlight shine on the diva of the show.

Maybe it was the parade of Sophie Tucker risqué witticisms that offended the propriety.  In any case, whatever the reason, they missed the second half of an unforgettable cabaret experience and the gilded opportunity to snap up a CD for a mere $20 – a bargain at half the price.

Catherine Alcorn as the Divine Miss Bette and her team rocked The Q from start to finish. A show predicted to run from 8 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. finally came down at 10.15 p.m.. An adoring audience cried for more and Alcorn delivered with gusto and unflailing energy. If you read this before the end of its all too short season at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on April 23 and you live in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region, drop everything and make it to The Q. This show should sell out many times over and audiences deserve a treat as brilliant as this.



Thursday, April 21, 2016


Book by Joseph Stein: Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick:  Music by Jerry Bock:
Directed by: Roger Hodgman
Musical Direction by: Kellie Dickerson
Jerome Robbins original Choreography reproduced by: Dana Jolly
Set Design by: Richard Roberts
The Capitol Theatre Sydney until May 8, 2016

Performance on 13th April 2016 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Sholom Aleichem’s story of a poor milkman, Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his struggles to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions against outside influences encroaching on his family’s lives seems an unlikely premise for a musical. However, nearly 52 years after it first opened on Broadway,  “Fiddler on the Roof” still retains its relevance and emotional power, due in part to the Joseph Stein’s brilliantly concise book, Sheldon Harnick’s superb Lyrics and Jerry Bock’s glorious musical score, and of course, Jerome Robbins luminous choreography. But above all, the success of any production of “Fiddler on the Roof” rests on the shoulders of the actor who plays the central role of Tevye, one of the great Broadway music theatre roles.

For twenty years, after he first introduced Tevye to Australia in 1967, Hayes Gordon was the definitive Tevye for generations of Australian theatregoers. He performed the role in productions by both J.C.Williamsons and The Australian Opera. Interestingly, Anthony Warlow played the role of Fyedka in the 1984 Australian Opera revival production lead by Hayes Gordon.

In 1998, Topol rekindled Australia’s love affair with “Fiddler on the Roof” when he brought his acclaimed interpretation of Tevye to Australia for a  Melbourne season, returning in 2005 to tour with the show  throughout Australia and New Zealand  for the next two years.

Now, in 2016, Anthony Warlow gets his opportunity to stamp his mark on the role in a brand new production directed by Roger Hodgeman. 

Anthony Warlow as Tevye

Warlow is simply mesmerising as Tevye. Fresh from his Broadway triumphs, he draws on his considerable acting skills to create a character which holds his audience in thrall from curtain rise to final bows. They chuckle through his intimate soliloquys with God; they laugh outright at his impatient responses to the hectoring of his wife, Golde; sympathise with his graceful acquiescence to the pleas of his eldest daughter to marry the man of her choice; grieve with him as he painfully farewells his second daughter on her journey to Siberia to be with the man she loves; and share his distraught roar of despair as he realises that he can bend no further to allow his third daughter to marry outside her faith. It’s a towering, finely nuanced, bravura performance which will long be remembered by a new generation of theatre-goers lucky enough to experience it.

Sigrid Thornton (Golde) - Anthony Warlow (Tevye) 

Not so successful is the casting of Sigrid Thornton as Tevye’s wife, Golde. A curious choice for the role because although Thornton looks lovely and has a delightful stage presence and a passable singing voice, she is never able to convince that she has slaved alongside Tevye for twenty five years in primitive conditions to bring up their five daughters. Through no fault of hers she simply looks and sounds too glamorous and lightweight.

Jessica Vickers  (Chava) Teagan Wouters (Tzietel), Monica Swayne (Hodel) 

Teagan Wouters, Monica Swayne and Jessica Vickers, as their three older daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, each delight with strong individual characterisations, especially evident  in their trio “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, with Swayne providing a memorable highlight with her touching interpretation of “Far From the Home I Love”.

The Rabbi blesses Motel's sewing machine.
Lior (seated - Motel) Jessica Vickers (Chava) Sigrid Thornton (Golde)
Teagan Wouters (Tzietel) Derek Taylor (Rabbi)

Lior is well cast as the gormless, though industrious tailor, Motel, almost exploding with happiness in “Miracle of Miracles”. Blake Bowden, as the revolutionist, Perchik brought a fine voice to his solo “Now I Have Everything”, but an unfortunate tendency to shout his dialogue, especially in his scene with Tevye, lessoned the effectiveness of his characterisation. Fyedka was winningly portrayed by Jensen Overend, but the curious mis-match in height between he and Jessica Vickers, as Chava, made their scenes together appear somewhat awkward.

That Joseph Stein’s book for “Fiddler on the Roof” contains not one superfluous word, is beautifully demonstrated by Mark Mitchell as Lazar Wolfe, the butcher, on whom Tevye reneges on his promise of the hand in marriage of his eldest daughter,Tzietel, and Nicki Wendt, as the matchmaker, Yente. Both make the most of every word at their disposal to create fine comic performances.

Mark Mitchell (Lazar Wolfe) - Anthony Warlow (Tevye) 

Hodgeman has wisely resisted the temptation to update the show, eschewing clever stage effects and superfluous nods towards contemporary relevance, in favour of going back to taws, burnishing the components, and letting the show speak for itself. 

Richard Robert’s jigsaw cut-out set design, sympathetically lit by Paul Jackson, does away with the revolving stage by enclosing the action on three sides. Despite some ingenious aspects, there are also awkward scene changes, and for some scenes the setting looked sterile and lacking in atmosphere.

Anthony Warlow and company showing Richard Robert's setting. 

Choreographer, Dana Jolly has lovingly re-produced the original Jerome Robbins choreography, to showcase the brilliance of the original concept in which the cast must perform as ordinary villagers dancing, rather than as dancers dancing.  Her adjustments to accommodate the new setting are tasteful and superbly performed by the company.

Kellie Dickerson, with the help of new musical arrangements, manages to make her comparatively small orchestra sound much larger than it is.

What has been achieved is a production striking in its simplicity, but delivering maximum emotional punch, with a fine cast who have had the opportunity mature into their roles with fine performances destined to become treasured memories for a whole new generation of theatre-goers.

Ronald Maconaghie as Tevye
1978 Canberra Philharmonic Society Production. 

Personal Post Script: In 1978 the writer had the opportunity to direct a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the Canberra Theatre. For this production, the musical director was Terry Vaughn, the setting was designed by Mark Wager, and Tevye was played by Australian Opera baritone, Ronald Maconaghie.

Maconaghie gave a world-class performance in that production, which might have seen him remembered as one of Australia’s great Tevyes. He was hoping to replace Gordon in The Australian Opera’s revivals of “Fiddler on the Roof”, when Gordon, who at the time was already experiencing health problems, eventually relinquished the role.

But it was not to be, because Maconagies performance was not seen beyond Canberra. No-one from The Australian Opera came to Canberra to see the production, and when ill-health eventually forced Hayes Gordon to relinquish the role, it was Max Gillies who was chosen by The Australian Opera to succeed him.

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

10,000 MILES

"Landing Patterns" - Ql2 Dance - National Youth Dance Company of Scotland 

Presented by QL2 Dance and The National Youth Dance Company of Scotland.

The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. 17th April
Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

The fruits of a collaboration between QL2 Dance and The National Youth Dance Company of Scotland, forged in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival, was on show at The Q on Sunday with the performance of a triple bill entitled “10,000 Miles”. Consisting of an individual work from each company, together with a collaborative work involving all the dancers from both companies, “10,000 Miles” provided a fascinating insight into the work of each organisation.  

"Act of Contact" - QL2 Dance 

Presented in three acts, without an interval, the program commenced with “Act of Contact”, choreographed by Sara Black for QL2 Dance to an original score by Alisdair Macindoe. Exploring touch and messages received through the skin, “Act of Contact” commenced dramatically with four red-costumed couples posed around the stage.  Various responses elicited by one partner gently touching the other were extended as more dancers took the stage, with the reactions increasing in intensity until at one point the stage was filled with furiously vibrating bodies.

"Maelstrom" - National Youth Dance Company of Scotland

Artistic Director of YDance, Anna Kenrick was the choreographer for “Maelstrom”, created as a showcase for the company’s 2016 National and International tours and premiered in Glasgow in early March.  Performed to music by David Paul Jones, with costumes by Jenni Loof and lighting design by Simon Gane, “Maelstrom” is a complex, light-hearted response to the media obsessed world of online communication. Sharply delineated squares and rectangles of light provided an ever-changing environment in which the dancers confidently performed the often quite acrobatic choreography which propelled the work.

"Landing Patterns" - Ql2 Dance and National Youth Dance Company of Scotland

The final piece, “Landing Patterns”, choreographed by Anna Kenrick and Ruth Osborne during the five-day workshop, involved all the dancers from both companies. Working to an original soundscape by Adam Ventoura, against video projections by WildBear Entertainment, “Landing Patterns” commenced with a striking tableau of bodies piled on top of each other centre stage. The dancers disentangled from the pile to fill the stage for a remarkably polished performance in which the two companies fused seamlessly in a succession of cleverly staged movement combinations.
Strikingly it was similarities, rather than the differences, that “Landing Patterns” revealed about the work of both companies, that left the strongest impression, confirmed later in the comments expressed by the young dancers in the short Q & A session which followed the performance.  

                                                           Photos: Lorna Sims

This review first published in the City News digital edition on 18th April 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016


The Little Mermaid. 

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. Book by Doug Wright. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story and the Disney Film. Directed by David Atfield. Music Direction Nicholas Griffin. Conductor. Ian McLean Choreography. Michelle Heine. Set and Costume Design. Cate Clelland. Free Rain Theatre. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. April 8 – 17. 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

There is so much to applaud in Free Rain Theatre’s production of The Little Mermaid at the Canberra Theatre that it is easy to forgive the occasional flaws in awkward staging or slightly tacky setting. These are minor glitches, easily compensated for by Cate Clelland’s spectacular costuming and Phil Goodwin’s  colourful lighting to enhance an otherwise parsimonious set design .However ambitious Free Rain’s mounting of The Little Mermaid on the commercial mainstage, there are instances of scrimp and save economics. That is only natural in a company that is primarily amateur, in production at least, though in this production, certainly not in its casting.   Director, David Atfield, Musical director, Nick Griffin and choreographer Michelle Heine have created a magical experience for young and old alike, due as much to the outstanding performances of the cast as to the technical wizardry of Chris Neal’s sound design and  Goodwin’s lighting design. Arrangements of the melodic songs of Alan Menkin with clever lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater,  and played by an accomplished and robust orchestra in the pit under the baton of Ian McLean, do more than simply imitate the sugary Disney world compositions, and imbue the story of the mermaid who wants to be human and marry a prince with tuneful sentiment and a captivating array of musical styles. I am particularly impressed by the eels’ ominous Sondheim like Sweet Child, Sebastian the Crab’s calypso Under the Sea, Scuttle the Seagull’s  Positooivity , Chef Louis’ uniquely French Les Poisson, Ariel’s Part of Your World and the company’s  stirring Finale rendition of Part of Your World   .
Mikayla Williams as Ariel in
Free Rain Theatre's The Little Mermaid

There is no escaping the fact that Hans Christian Anderson’s original tale of grim consequence of unnatural yearning has been Disneyfied to serve up a sanitized romance that can only have a happy ending. And why not? Free Rain Theatre’s production of the popular Disney version is pure entertainment, infectious in its exuberance, epic in its staging and performed with energetic vim, vitality and vivacity by an excellent, mainly local cast of singers, dancers and actors.

From the arrival of Prince Eric’s ship at the outset of the show and the rousing, finely sung chorus of Fathoms Below by Eric, Grimsby and the sailors, it was apparent that Free Rain’s production would be a fully charged theatrical experience. Only in the first appearance of King Triton’s court and later in Ariel’s bath scene in the palace did I feel that the staging didn’t do the scene justice through a lack of clear focus. Overall, the audience was transported into a world above and a sea kingdom below.
Fraser Findlay as Sebastian and Mikayla Williams as Ariel
Many years ago in the foyer of the Belconnen Community Theatre, visionary producer Anne Somes confided to me that within twelve years she hoped to create a local professional theatre company. Many years have passed but her Canberra Theatre productions of Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid, let alone other successes have confirmed her ambition. She has created an outstanding ensemble of exceptional talent and with judicious enterprise employed artists of the highest calibre to bring her vision to life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the casting of The Little Mermaid. It is this talent to recognize excellence and provide the opportunities for local and interstate talents to shine that is the hallmark of Anne Somes’s achievements. There are flaws, as I have mentioned, but the casting of the principals is inspired and their performances are exceptional. Only Fraser Findlay’s combined accent of West Indian mellifluence and Scottish brogue unsettled me, only to be reassured by  his comical sideways scramblings as Sebastian the crab and his beautifully sung solo in the If Only quartet.
The Mersisters and King Triton
 There isn’t a weak link to be found amongst the cast of this production. They act with conviction, dance with aplomb and sing with confidence, gusto and tuneful emotion. Michelle Heine’s routines are inventive in their fishy, sea creature gestures, as well as the more conventional tap, jazz  and waltz choreography.  Nicholas Griffin has captured the spirited effervescence of the familiar and catchy melodies in the company’s songs and elicited character and expression in the solos. Atfield’s direction lends the production drama and excitement and the entire impression is one of an ensemble relishing their roles and the exuberance of a colourful and vivid musical.
Louiza Blomfield as Aunt Ursula and
Jamie Winbank as Jetsam in The Little Mermaid
To name the many highlights of this production would be a lengthy accolade, but there are performances that deserve special mention. Mikayla Williams' Ariel  is sweet, charming and enchanting and it is hardly surprising that the dashing Prince Eric (Tim Dal Cortivo) should fall head over heels in love with Bradley’s voice and personality, even when her voice has been  sacrificed to the bitter and twisted Aunt Ursula, the inky villain of the piece. Louiza Blomfield is superb in the role and the stage is electrified by this remarkable performance. Tony Falla’s eccentric sense of comedy as the malapropismic Scuttle the Seagull is another highlight worth mentioning.  Falla and his fellow gulls bring the house down with the tap toeing Positootivity. A manic touch of Parisian culinary savoir faire laced with Sweeny Todd meat cleaver threat is David Cannell’s hilarious speciality in  Les Poisson. There is excellent support from the Mersisters, a hapless bunch of less favoured daughters of the autocratic King Triton (Steve Galincec) and the prince’s faithful guardian, Grimsby, is played with sober responsibility and reason by Colin Milner.
“My favourite was the Eels”, said my four year old grandson.”They had spiky hair” Indeed Jamie Winbank as Jetsam and David Santolin as Flotsam had the right touch of Uriah Heep obsequiousness as the servants of the evil Ursula. “My favourite was the mermaid with the orange sparkles in her dress. She was the best!” my five year old granddaughter piped up. A look through the programme revealed Philippa Murphy’s Aquata, but later questioning revealed that she also liked all the Mersisters. Both agreed that Scuttle and Sebastian were very funny and each had enjoyed the entire show. “I liked Flounder(Jake Willis)” my grandson said as we walked to the car after the show. “He sounded like Flounder in the movie. He talked like him too.” “He was very nice” my granddaughter added.
Tony Falla as Scuttle the Seagull
Disney musicals skirt the borders of the formulaic. It is hardly surprising that lyrics can incline to sound derivative and plot lines reveal their age old themes and familiar problems to be solved. The Little Mermaid is one of an ilk, but in the talented hands of Free Rain’s cast and crew, this production was a delight, and it is unfortunate that it was not playing to a full Canberra Theatre. Economics dictate seasons that make it difficult to recoup the expense during a short season and pro-am casting can restrict a more flexible and reasonable performance time. It is a shame. This production deserves a longer season, full houses  and standing ovations for a mainly local company of performers and crew who have brought to Canberra audiences a production of exceptional merit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Little Mermaid - Free Rain

Review by John Lombard

Her voice for a pair of legs. Since Ariel's (Mikayla Williams) ultimate goal is to confess her feelings to a guy, that might not be the best deal to make, especially when the boy in question is besotted with her singing voice. And even if it was a good deal, it was definitely a bad idea to make it with Ursula (Louiza Blomfield), the sinister and untrustworthy sea-hag who intends to claim Ariel's immortal soul if she can't poach a smooch from the guy in three days.

Director David Atfield identifies Ariel's appeal as a hero in her courage and willingness to risk everything to follow her dreams. That's true: she does take a dumb risk. Her pact with the sea witch condemns her to woo gentle Prince Eric (Tim Dal Cortivo) with a dedicated campaign of miming and interpretive dance, even while a singing contest is held in a desperate hunt for that golden voice. It's as though Cinderella has hocked her glass slipper.

In real life (and in the original fairy tale), this would be a tragedy. But this is a Disney musical, so instead Ariel and the Prince instantly hit it off so well that Ursula is forced to resort to a campaign of dirty tricks to prevent a fatal lip-lock.

But even if Ariel's judgement is pretty awful, we do have a lot of sympathy for her. Her Dad, King Triton (Steve Galinec) is an indulgent father, doting on his daughter but outsourcing any actual parenting to court composer crustacean Sebastian (Fraser Findlay). Sebastian - appropriately enough for a musician - starts off by suggesting Ariel take up a musical instrument, then tries to convince her to embrace life in the ocean by singing about it.

While we've all been tempted at times to solve our problems with a musical number, it's not the wise parenting Ariel really needs. Then when Triton does get involved, he over-reacts, driving Ariel into the welcoming tentacles of the sea witch. Steve Galinec hits the right note of a soft monarch who overwhelmed by his bevvy of daughters and is better at hosting concerts than he is at, for example, leading an army to deal with the outstanding sea witch problem. Near the end of the show, there is an attempt to give Ariel some control over the outcome of her story. But for the most part, she is caught up in a current she can't control.

In the wrong hands this could be a very unlikeable character, but Mikayla Williams gives us an ebullient Little Mermaid, eager and passionate and curious and enthusiastic. Williams has a phenomenal voice and a lot of the joy of the show comes from her amazing singing. But even when the story strips her of that voice, she communicates equally effectively by flopping her legs about with a dizzy joy at her new appendages. Williams gives the stand-out performance of the show.

With Tim Dal Cortivo as Prince Eric, she has a convincing love match. Eric also belongs to wayward royalty, the dapper prince who would rather go sailing than learn how to rule his people. He is gentle and extremely kind but somehow it is very hard to picture him living the real hardships of a sailor's life. Prince Eric longs for the sea while Ariel wishes for dry land. In actual fact, they both have their head in the clouds, and therefore by similarity of temperament have a firm basis for a lasting relationship.

The love story is supported by an unusually vibrant and lively supporting cast. Stand-outs are Tony Falla as goofy seagull scuttle; Fraser Findlay's exasperated Sebastian; David Cannell's murderous chef; and Triton's other daughters, who play off each other as a comedy troupe. Meanwhile Louiza Blomfield's Ursula is black-hearted, but with high confidence and sex appeal giving her strong presence as the antagonist.

Where the show falters is in staging, with a uninspired set limiting what can be achieved on stage. "Under The Sea", should have been a show-stopper, but the choreography was not as rousing and creative as we expect that scene to be.  True, it has to compete with the flexibility of animation, but better staging would have opened up more possibilities for movement.  An atmospheric "Kiss The Girl" in Act 2 was better realised, but for the most part the spectacle of the show fell short of Free Rain's previous big stage musicals, including last year's excellent Mary Poppins.

One thing the play does extremely well is in raising the stakes and putting the characters under pressure.  Ariel only has three days to win the prince, so she is instantly on a very tight clock, with eternity on the line.  Even more dramatic, the humans she meets on the surface are eager eaters of fish, and there is a ghoulishly funny scene where she recognises some familiar faces at the dinner table.  This is Romeo and Juliet if the Capulets were trying to eat the Montagues. 

The Little Mermaid is definitely an all-ages production, but it is most strongly pitched at a younger audience who will delight in its vibrant animal characters and beautiful mermaid lead.  But like older Disney movies, it has a wobbly message that if you are pretty everything will work out for you.  In no way is this a feminist story.  At one point Ursula opines that Ariel will get her man because guys only care about hotness, and nothing that happens proves her wrong.  Fortunately Mikayla Williams secures the core of the show with a joyous and engaging performance.

The Little Mermaid is a romp with funny character acting, catchy music and an involving story.  Best for the kids who will love splashing around in the shallow water; adults will have to avoid diving too deeply into the messages lurking in the depths.