Thursday, December 26, 2019


The director's director up against the comic book heroes

By © Jane Freebury

Every city has to have one. A film festival.

Just about every region on earth hosts a film festival, including Oceania where there’s one for very short films in Vanuatu, and one for documentaries in French Polynesia. Antarctica has claimed one too, for filmmakers ‘left out in the cold’.

The festival and the space it makes is great for film creatives to open, and say what they think.

Film festivals happening everywhere yet superheroes dominate box office

Fall in the north marks the start of the season of international film festivals. Venice, Montreal and Toronto have been and gone, and New York and London have recently wrapped. It’s different Down Under, of course, where the superhero movies are out in force at the same time as the venerable big two, Melbourne and Sydney.
In 2019 movie studios outdid themselves, again, as Avengers: Endgame, from Marvel Cinematic Universe, became the highest grossing film of all time
The names of marquee events roll off the tongue. It’s no surprise that the United States has the most, Seattle, Sundance, Telluride, Tribeca, SXSW and all the rest. Making movies on an industrial scale began in New York, before the entrepreneurs decamped to the West Coast for the sunshine and freedom from interference, from where today they still dominate the international box office.

Despite it all, the festivals known as the big three - Berlin, Venice and Cannes - take place over on the other side of the Atlantic. In Europe, filmmakers have more scope to make movies the way they want to, putting a stretch of ocean between themselves and the home of blockbusters.

This year the movie studios outdid themselves, again. In 2019 Avengers: Endgame, from Marvel Cinematic Universe, broke box office records to become the highest grossing film of all time, beating Avatar and Titanic. Its sister film, released last year, Avengers: Infinity War is the fifth highest earner ever, and one of a handful that have grossed in excess of two billion in cinemas worldwide.

After endgame and apocalypse, where to from here?

This year the movie studios outdid themselves, again. In 2019 Avengers: Endgame, from Marvel Cinematic Universe, broke box office records to become the highest grossing film of all timesuperhero apocalypse of endgames and wars into the ever after has won, hands down, but, honestly, where to from here?

Before this century when they began to appear in earnest, the movie superhero made an occasional appearance. Their goofy, impossible heroes could be treated with indulgence, but the explosion in pseudo-serious superhero in the 21st century is something entirely new, where plot and character driven by technology rather than story-tellers interested in human drama.

Why so? It’s a question for the sociologists, but interesting that they first appeared early in the early years of the Second World War when superheroes like Superman, a Batman, and Captain Marvel joined the war effort, one way or other.

As another summer of blockbusters draws to a close, the guardians of film culture have the opportunity to nurse serious cinema back to health. With injections of new work by the ingenue directors, with a selection of classics digitally restored, and with the latest work from the established auteurs.

Martin Scorsese On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014

The red carpet rolls for films in competition, fans throng to see the talent in the flesh, and cineastes hang out to hear what the filmmakers have to say for themselves. This year we have heard from Martin Scorsese, whose new film The Irishman opened the festival in New York (that I was able to attend in 2019), and closed the festival in London.

It is a rare treat to hear from filmmakers directly. Too often, new work is introduced to us by the marketers, by the jargon of the business, or by fragmented reviews that try to tell a complimentary story. When filmmakers with serious intent articulate what they were doing in their own words it is an altogether different matter.

A new outing from Martin Scorsese, generally considered one of the world’s greatest living directors, is a big event in any filmgoer’s calendar.

His Irishman takes place in New York, of course. The city that has been the set for more film and television than any other in the world, where, on any given day, New Yorkers can feel that they are on a film set. They can play it up and revel in the theatre of life in one of the world’s great megapolises, or play it down.

In an interview with Empire magazine at the time, Scorsese was drawn on the subject of superhero movies. The living godfather of modern cinema said what he thought, and then doubled down on it in London.

He had tried to watch them, really he had, but found he couldn’t. They were theme park experiences, they were not cinema, didn’t tell stories, and didn’t communicate emotional and psychological experience. With that, Scorsese drew a line in the sand.

The superhero movie industry may not much like what he said. Some like New Zealand director, Taika Waititi, who had the helm for Thor: Ragnarok and will direct Thor: Love and Thunder), have spoken up. Of course it’s cinema, you see it at the theatre, don’t you?

Fans of superheroes won't be bothered, though they did Scorsese in media studies
Fans of the genre may not be much bothered by Scorsese’s views, even though his classics such as Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Cape Fear and The Departed will have been on their media studies curriculum.

Waititi is of course also the creator of the terrific indie hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It has been an interesting crossover. Why did the moguls ask him to direct? What were they looking for?

Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Solder (2014)     
Image courtesy Marvel Studios

He is not the only one, either. Talented indie writer-director originally from Canberra, Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore), has also been scooped up by the superhero industry. She is directing MCU’s Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz, due out next year.

In interview, Scorsese is a beguiling, mild-mannered man. Mild mannered for a man whose powerful, disturbing and beautifully made films about brooding, conflicted men have shaken us up, and he has stuck his neck out here.

The Irishman, a three hour thirty minute epic delving into the familiar subjects of organised crime, family and corruption, and is distributed by Netflix, the movie juggernaut for the small screen. The director’s latest film has benefited somewhat from this behemoth and other developments, like ‘de-aging’ visual effects, but no one could counter that his films skate the surface.

Reporting what Scorsese thinks about the competition at the box office for the movie dollar is a bit of a beat-up, but sincerity is a powerful tool these days. After all, there is only that much that you can say about movie superheroes, hey.

First published in the Canberra Times on 15 November 2019. Also published on Jane's blog

* Featured image: Chris Hemsworth in Thor (2011)

Monday, December 23, 2019


Luminescence Chamber Singers & Children’s Choir
All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie 14 December

Reviewed by Len Power

A concert with either the Luminescence Chamber singers or the Luminescence Children’s Choir is always an event but to attend a concert performed by both groups is something quite special.  Add the atmosphere of the beautiful All Saints Anglican Church at Ainslie and you have an evening to remember.

Based in Canberra, the Luminescence Chamber Singers have been active since 2013.  They perform a wide range of repertoire from the Renaissance to the 21st century.  Led by musical director, Dan Walker, the eight singers all have impressive individual qualifications and performing credits.

The Luminescence Children’s Choir has been singing since 2016.  Conducted by their founder, AJ America, the choir has performed at various national institutions around Canberra and has toured to other capital cities for various festivals.

In this Christmas concert, the choirs performed a wide-ranging program from across the centuries including works by European composers from the 17th century up to the present day as well as songs by contemporary Australian composers.

The concert commenced with the Chamber Singers giving a fine performance unaccompanied of Zoltan Kodály’s “Adventi Ének” (Advent Song).  This was followed by the Children’s Choir singing two songs from John Rutter’s “Dancing Day” song cycle, accompanied on piano by Veronica Milroy.  Both choirs impressed with very clear and confident harmony singing.

All of the songs in the concert were performed very well but there were some that were particularly outstanding.

The children’s choir gave a heart-felt performance of Australian Ben Van Tienen’s lovely “Just One Star”, accompanied by a fine performance on the cello by Emma Rayner.  The John Howell arrangement of the Basque song, “The Angel Gabriel” was also impressively sung by them with an especially fine piano accompaniment by Veronica Milroy.  Their final song, “Deo Gracias”, from Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony Of Carols” was given a rousing, dramatic performance that deservedly received strong applause from the audience.

The chamber choir also impressed with Australian Joseph Twist’s challenging and dramatic “Jubilate Deo”.  It was sung technically very well and with obvious enjoyment.  Another highlight by the chamber singers was their powerful, clear performance of “This Day Christ Was Born” composed in 1611 by William Byrd.

The concert finished with a stunningly beautiful performance by the chamber singers of the well-known carol, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”.

If you were in the audience for this concert then you’ve already received your best Christmas present for this year.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 15 December 2019

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

Saturday, December 21, 2019


Produced by Neil Gooding Productions in association with TenaciousC
The Q, Queanbeyan 18th - 21st December, 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Clare Ellen O'Connor - Catherine Alcorn - Kirby Burgess

Ensconced on a huge sea shell, aping her idol, Bette Midler, Catherine Alcorn is a unique and highly accomplished artist.

She spits orders to her two long suffering Harlettes,( Candy Cane and Miss L Toe), as they work desperately to guide the unwieldy Shell around the stage.

 As Miss Bette, she prowls the stage, exuding excessive effervescence, punctuated by glances of steely disdain at anyone or anything that threatens her aura of self-satisfaction.

Using the seashell as a screen,  she quickly removes the outer layer of her costume to reveal an incredible red sequined concoction, before noting  that “there’s good beneath the gaudy” , and launching into a stylish version of Meredith Wilson’s , “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” for which the Harlettes  dutifully provide superb harmonies.

Clare Ellen O'Connor, Catherine Alcorn, Kirby Burgess and band . 

Alcorn has been performing “The Devine Miss Bette” around Australia and internationally, since 2015. Indeed she won the Best Cabaret Production in the 2018 Broadway World Awards with the original iteration, which has also been seen previously at The Q.

For this Christmas edition, Alcorn has taken the opportunity to introduce even more wacky costumes, (at one point dressed as a Christmas present, with the Harlettes as bon bons), natty new choreography, and some superbly arranged Christmas songs. She’s cleverly retained the best songs from the previous version, including “Delta Dawn”, “Do You Want To Dance” and “On the Board Walk”, and the best of her wickedly bawdy, Sophie Tucker jokes, all of which, like your favourite Christmas cracker jokes, are so bad they’re good.

Clare Ellen OConnor, Catherine Alcorn, Kirby Burgess and band 

She teeters around the stage in perpetual motion, skewering audience members foolhardy enough to have purchased front-row tickets with personal questions. Stopping only long enough to charm with yet another superbly sung ballad, because with all her other gifts, Alcorn is a very fine singer.

Michael Tyack and Catherine Alcorn 

 Among her most memorable songs is her goose-bump -inducing  interpretation of the Julie Gold ballad, “From a Distance” for which she was sensitively accompanied by one of the best accompanists in the business,  Michael Tyack, on piano, and three equally accomplished musicians in Crick Boue and Tommy Novak on guitars, and Geoff Green on drums.

As diverting and razor sharp as are Alcorn’s comedic skills, it’s her talents as a superlative songstress that had her audience demanding more songs from her. She happily obliged with scintillating versions of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “The Long John Blues” and inevitably, “The Rose” as well as a red-hot arrangement of “Jingle Bells”, and a dreamy version of “Silent Night” which had the audience, unbidden, softly crooning along with her.

Catherine Alcorn

Though you could be forgiven for thinking that Alcorn was the only person on stage, she has cannily surrounded herself with top-shelf supporting artists in Kirby Burgess and Clare Ellen O’Connor as the Harlettes. Both are superb backing singers, excellent dancers and clever comediennes who provide delightful characterisations which support, without drawing focus from the star. Her band and musical arrangements are excellent, as are the quirky costumes, choreography, and pretty Christmas stage decorations, all of which make this a Christmas show to be relished.  

                                                 Photos by Michael Moore

  This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 20.12.2019





Co-directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy. February 28 – March 15 2020. Bookings: BASS 131 246.

Feature by Peter Wilkins

co-directors of Adelaide Festival 2020
Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield

In the fading years of the Nineteen Fifties, news executive, Sir Frederick Lloyd Dumas and Elder Professor of Music, John Bishop shared a luminous vision. In 1960, the first Adelaide Festival of Arts was launched with performances across almost all art forms, performed by companies from Adelaide, other states and across the world. Highlights included a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, concerts by the Victorian and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, an appearance by British theatrical knight, Sir Donald Wolfit and the Dave Brubeck Jazz Quartet. Sixty years later, the Adelaide Festival is the leading arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere, second only to its sister festival, the Edinburgh Festival on which the Adelaide Festival was modelled. Originally a biennial festival, the Adelaide Festival is now an annual event and the thirty- fifth Adelaide Festival will be staged from February 28th to March 15th. At its helm will be co-Artistic Directors, veteran theatre director, Neil Armfield and renowned theatre administrator, Rachel Healy. Retiring General Manager is Rob Brookman who introduced  the world music festival WOMADelaide during his time as Artistic Director. In 2020 music enthusiasts will flock to the Botanic Gardens from March 12 - 15   for Compagnie Carabosse’s Fire Gardens fashioned from thousands of individual flames. The hugely popular and free Adelaide Writer’s Week  has also been embraced by the festival and artistic director Jo Dyer has introduced the theme Being Human to Writer’s Week which will run from February 29th. to March 5th.

This will be Armfield and Healy’s fourth year at the helm. Together they have staged three previous remarkable festivals, highlighted by Barrie Kosky’s productions of Handel’s Saul and  Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Armfield has also directed groundbreaking productions of Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s Secret River in the Anstey Quarry and Brett Dean’s contemporary operatic interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I ask Armfield what it is like to be programming their fourth festival.

“Every show has its own quirks and characteristics and you work to make it as good as it can be.” Armfield says. “It’s like giving birth to a child. We don’t tend to go in with a particular theme. We go in looking for a specific energy. Our approach to programming has been very mindful of the 60 year anniversary and that’s particularly I think in the large public events -  like the Doll’s House that Japanese visionary artist Tatzu Nishi  is constructing in Rundle Mall. – the Tim Minchin free opening concert – the Fire Gardens –the installation in the Botanic Garden –These works are spread across the entire city and work for all ages. It’s also in the restudying of Lloyd Newson’s Enter Achilles that he brought to Adelaide in 1996  and he is again looking at the iconic DV8 dance work in the light of Brexit and the Me Too movement.”

If not a theme as the guiding motif, contemporary issues certainly have an impact on the programming of the 2020 festival. In their opening welcome in the festival guide, Healey and Armfield write “There is so much in our world that ios dysfunctional and broken. Arts not only gives us respite, pleasure and joy. It gives us the unexpected gift of reimagining. It provides tools for the future. It enables us to rebuild” Armfield indicates some of the global influences that impose a threat and are motivating forces behind the creation and inspiration of art. Apart from the threat of climate change there is the impact of social media, particularly on the way young people are thinking but also in the way that society is being swayed. “Social media had a major impact on the US election – the Brexit vote – how our institutions haven’t quite readjusted – that is what I meant by that dysfunctional sense in society and that is in the works.” Armfield says. “The Brexit vote shows how our institutions haven’t quite readjusted and quite caught up. That is what I meant by that dysfunctional sense in society and that is in the works.”

Requiem from Festival d’Aix-en-Provence Photo by Pascal Victor
Famous opera director Romeo Castelluci tackles this head on in the Australian premiere of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem. At the back of his stage design is a list of things that have become extinct. That morphs into things in danger of becoming extinct and things that are not in danger or don’t seem to be in danger but invite us to imagine a world without them. Castelluci’s vision is a lament for what might be “profound, primal and never to be forgotten”

With this driving inspiration in force in Healy and Armfield’s programming, I cautiously venture to ask if he could suggest highlights  for audiences who may need to be selective in their choice of programmes and timing. How does one select highlights in a programme that is filled with highlights across all art forms? Perhaps it would be wiser to focus on theatrical offerings and leave readers to visit the online programme to make a wider selection. With this in mind I enquire about other festival offerings that visitors to Adelaide might not want to miss.
Juliet Stevenson in Robert Icke's The Doctor. Almeida Theatre
Another Australian premiere and Adelaide Festival exclusive is Robert Icke’s Almeida production of The Doctor, featuring Dame Juliet Stevenson as a doctor confronted by the timely issues of religious freedom, medical ethics, gender and class when she refuses a priest entry to a teenager’s bedside to save the girl’s soul.

“It’s a really remarkable work.” Armfield adds. “It connects very much with this context in our society.”

Over four days and twelve separate concerts four choirs – the Norwegian Soloist’s Choir, The Tallis Scholars from the UK, the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Australia’s The Song Company  will sing the 150 psalms from the 3000 year old Hebrew Book of Psalms.  Audiences may select any or all concerts. “Each concert is tied to a theme,” Armfield explains which has to do with refugees or issues in the world like powerlessness and leadership and each is introduced by a contemporary thought leader. The music ranges from Gregorian chant to new settings by composers including Claire Maclean, Cathy Millikie, Kate Moore and Elena Kats-Chernin.

William Zappa in The Iliad –Out Loud.
Photo:  Jamie Williams
Another ancient text that is being reinterpreted in the festival is William Zappa’s adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad. After a hugely successful season at Belvoir during the Sydney Festival, The Iliad comes to Adelaide with Zappa performing with Heather Mitchell, Blazey Best and Socratis Otto. Michael Askill accompanies on percussion and Hamed Sadegi lends an authentic tone on the Persian oud. With such artists, the snappy nine hour reading will enthral audiences, immersed in the retelling of Homer’s ancient myth. “We find that people are booking for the nine hours rather than just a part of the experience.” says Armfield. “ It opens up this work which is at the heart of all our Western Art. Homer was the first cinematographer almost. He has a way of describing it that when you hear it in a performance you realize that he was looking with an eye that prefigured cinema. The work reminds us that all of western literature and western theatre and poetry goes back to this source.”

With so many highlights to mark the festival’s twenty year anniversary, audiences will be challenged in their selection. Dance enthusiasts will want to see the Lyon Opera Ballet’s Trois Grandes Fugues, choregraphed by three amazing contemporary choreographers, Lucy Childs, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Maguy Marin. Combining the elegant with the wild and free-spirited with blood-red rage against death, it is hardly surprising that the work should have been hailed by The TImes as “ a dazzling display of dance at its most inventive and transporting.” Lyon Opera Ballet takes on the challenge of interpreting Beethoven’s masterwork, The Great Fugue for Strings.

Lyon Opera Ballet Trois-Grand Fugues 48

Photo: Bernard Stothieth
Imagine a dance created by fingers and hands inside beautifully realized little sets. Edinburgh Fringe’s top award-winning Cold Blood from Belgium tells the story of seven stupid deaths in an almost indescribable hybrid theatre performance.
Considered the greatest opera of the 21st century “along with  Hamlet” Armfield adds with a note of  pride, Opera Ventures and the Scottish Opera’s production of Lars von Trier’s unforgettable 1996 film classic, Breaking The Waves , composed by Missy Mazzoli with a libretto by Royce Vavrek “is a must see for opera, music and theatre lovers alike.”

After premiering at the Sydney Festival, Nigel Jameison’s staging of Bungul will appear at the Adelaide Festival.  The work is a celebration of Gurrumul Yunipinju’s final album Djarimirri  (subtitled Child of the Rainbow) and has been developed by members of Gurrumul’s family. It is a work of ritual, of dance and harmonised chants from Gurrumul’s traditional Yolnju life with great orchestral settings of his final album.

To say the 2020 Adelaide Festival will have something for everyone would be an understatement. A browse of the programme reveals a plethora of gems across all aspects of the arts. Arts enthusiasts will have the choice of 74 events including 19 playing exclusively in Adelaide, 16 Australian premieres and 7 world premieres.  “Rachel and I have got a bit of a rhythm up in the development of an understanding of what was working and what people were loving In our first three festivals. We go into the 2020 festival with maybe more of sense of confidence about what audiences will travel for and what can really animate this city at that time. Getting the theatre programme together has been quite tricky.  That’s just circumstantial in a way.  We had a number of works that we were pursuing that for one reason or another  couldn’t happen but The Doctor came  and was secured only days before the cut off for the programme. The response to that show and the programme has been phenomenal “

And that perhaps is why Adelaide at Festival time is the place to be!
ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2020 February 28 - March 15
ADELAIDE WRITERS WEEK: February 29 - March 5
WOMADelaide:  March 6 - 9
Bookings: Bass 131 246 or







Friday, December 20, 2019

The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special

The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special.  A TenaciousC and Neil Gooding Productions presentation at The Q / Bicentennial Hall, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, December 18 – 21 (Saturday 21 December 2019 – 8.00pm  Show Only  Tickets Available – Dinner & Show Tickets Sold Out.)

Performed by Catherine Alcorn
With Clare Ellen O'Connor and Kirby Burgess
And Michael Tyack (Piano), Geoff Green (Drums) Tommy Novak and Crick Boue (guitars)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 18

“I insist, that all my jokes be told letter perfect.”  So said Bette Midler, immediately after her joke about her boyfriend Ernie’s ‘woman as sex object’ comments.  “Get off my back!” she told him, to ecstatic cheers from a full house.

That was in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1976, and the joke still worked for Catherine Alcorn in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, in 2019.  Wow!

Here’s how her publicity describes The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special:

“Catherine Alcorn’s fabulous homage to Bette Midler, swings back to town for a Christmas Special. Whilst Alcorn has been tottering in Bette’s shoes for a while now, her show has been revamped and is bigger, better and even more impressive as she oozes charm and charisma channelling her idol.

“With lots of Miss Midler’s well known songs and well-presented patter, Catherine Alcorn’s ‘The Divine Miss Bette’ is a must see performance. Her show is guaranteed to warm the coldest of Christmas Nuts and her live band promise to Jingle Your Bells. So polish off your Ornamental Balls folks and make Christmas 2019 one to remember.

“Audience Advice: Suitable for ages 15+, some adult themes.”

Appreciating Alcorn’s representation of Midler becomes a complicated story.  I was never a great fan of Bette Midler as a movie actor, but her show on stage was clearly a different kettle of fish.  In Australian terms, her stage character paralleled actors like Gary McDonald playing Norman Gunston, who conducted completely absurd interviews with famous people, such as Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the steps of Parliament House at the time of his dismissal by the Governor-General in 1975.

In her show Live at Last, Midler appears to play herself in a madcap but often telling satire of a star performer.  She doesn’t even use a separate name for the role.  The Norman Gunston story is relevant here, because even with a separate name for his character, Gary McDonald found himself in psychological difficulties as Norman became more ‘real’ than Gary.

Now we see Catherine Alcorn “channelling her idol” – apparently playing herself, including relating directly to people in the audience, while actually playing Bette Midler playing a fictional character apparently as herself.

The fascinating thing about Alcorn’s performance, as I saw it, was that she found she needed to work a bit harder than she seemed to expect at the beginning to ‘warm up’ the Queanbeyan audience (who also were clearly mainly idolising Bette Midler).  But she managed even before interval to make us feel as if she had become Midler – even though the Midler she became was a kind of satirical spoof of a performing star.

Her success, as it had been for Midler in Cleveland, was possible because ‘my girls’, Clare Ellen O'Connor and Kirby Burgess, could sing, dance and spoof to match Alcorn’s acting quality.  Midler had “The Staggering Harlettes” and also her band “Betsy and the Blowboys”; Alcorn also had a terrific band, so in tune with her even when she was improvising and responding to audience requests for songs – through two encores, ending (of course, without the need for anyone to ask) with The Rose.  So special applause from me for the women, and for Michael Tyack, Geoff Green, Tommy Novak and Crick Boue.

Is Catherine Alcorn “bigger, better and even more impressive as she oozes charm and charisma channelling her idol”?  I can’t judge since I haven’t seen her other versions of The Divine Miss Bette, but the Christmas Special certainly went down very well on Thursday – and I expect even better with the meal and champagne on Saturday night.

Yet as the advertising shows, Alcorn is not quite the real Midler.  This show certainly catches much of the raunchiness which made Midler a new woman on stage in the 70s, but Alcorn is closer to our more modern stand-up comedy performer – but without the harder edge of almost cynicism that Midler revealed in her satirical characterisation. 

Watching Judith Lucy interview Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, on Charlie Pickering’s The Yearly this week (ABC Wednesday December 17) showed me a modern descendant of the real Divine Miss M

But, after all, it is Christmas – so enjoy.

Go to for the Bette Midler show Live at Last.


The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special.

Concept by Catherine Alcorn. Originally created by Peter Cox. Produced by Neil Gooding Productions and Catherine Alcorn, The Q Theatre. December 18 -21 2019. Bookings 62856290

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Catherine Alcorn as The Divine Miss Bette.
Photo by Michael Moore


The Divine Miss Bette is back in the person of the divine Catherine Alcorn – all glitter, all tinsel and sparkling with talent. Over two hours, Alcorn minces and mocks and belts out her big voiced tribute songs, backed by her backing singers and band under the musical direction of  pianist Michael Tyack. It’s Christmas and Alcorn is on fire to set your spirits jingling with Bette Midler favourites such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B, In The Mood and the Jingle Bell Rock. Before you know it the arms are swaying  the voices singing on cue and the hands clapping in rapturous applause. Alcorn’s mimicry is magical. She doesn’t channel the brash and bountifully boisterous Bette, She inhabits her from the rousing rendition of Helen Reddy ‘s Delta Dawn to the contagiously swinging melody of Bobby Freeman’s Do You Want To Dance to the enticing From A Distance.
Clare Ellen O'Connor, Geuff Greeen, Catherine Alcorn
Kirby Burgess, Crick Boue, Tony Novak in The
Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special. Photo: Michael Moore
Bewitching as ever, Alcorn with the bubbly, bouncing effervescent and highly talented Harlettes Clare Ellen O'Connor and  Kirby Burgess as her hilariously playful backing singers puts on a Christmas special of Yuletide proportion, making spirits bright. Nothing can faze her backing band of Musical Director on piano Michael Tyack, drummer, Geoff Green, bass Crick Boue and   guitarist Tommy Novak. Whatever request the excited audience can throw at them, they pick it up with ease and confidence. The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special  is a gift-wrapped evening of sheer revelry in which the audience are as much a part of the party as the performers on the festooned stage of Christmas decorations. lights and trees, supplied by Hang Ups of Fyshwick all topped off by Eclipse's festive lighting effects .

Photo by Michael Moore
A heckler hurls a jocund heckle, instantly  countered with a quick quip from the lip. Alcorn bats it back as good as she gets . She’s the sexy sasy siren with the chauntese chutzpah.  I could have done with a little less of the audience participation and more of the music from this bnrilliant company of artists.  The hilarity hits the spot though when Burgess and O’Connor dressed as larger than life Christmas crackers flounce through the audience hurling crackers while Alcorn, dressed as a Christmas present over a Santa outfit a la White Christmas mode sidles up for a bit of a chat. The front row banter, the borderline tease and the FU throwaways are all good-hearted fun and the opening night audience were fully in the mood.

So much so that they didn’t want to let their diva go and Alcorn proves herself a generous dispenser of endless encores. Of course, there’s only one that the eager aficionados want to hear after all the covers, all the vulgar Sophie Tucker blue jokes to make the Ladies and Germs blush and squirm, all the banter and fast  track costume changes until she stands resplendent in a full length silver dress, a shining icon of fashion and style. We know it’s coming, that unmistakable signature song that marks Alcorn as a shining star with the audience wrapt in her thrall. Lovers of Bette Midler, Festive Season revellers and Christmas carol choristers and tongue in cheek tricksters with a penchant for the double entendre will have a ball at The Divine Miss Bette’s Christmas Special. If you’re in for a riotous romp and a dynamo dose of Christmas cheer, then don’t miss the dinner and show package or just the show at  The Q’s end of year offering .


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Canberra City News arts editor's top picks for 2019

Canberra City News arts editor and Canberra Critics Circle convenor HELEN MUSA’s five top arts happenings in visual art, musical theatre, music, theatre and dance for 2019 are uncomfortable and thought-provoking.

by Helen Musa

ALL the year’s most exciting works were at the uncomfortable end of the spectrum, and all but one took place in September. Whether it was a musical commentary on gun violence, a dance work about money or an exhibition that overturned exoticised views of our biggest northern neighbour, all required attention – and a bit of thinking. 

Visual art“Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia”, NGA, June-October.
Past and present, sound and silence came together in the biggest and most radical exhibition of contemporary Indonesian art ever seen in Australia. It cut through conventional notions of beautiful exotic art to present us with a picture of a nation in transition. 

Uji ‘Hahan’ Handoko Eko Saputro and Adi ‘Uma Gumma’ Kusuma, “Silent Operation”
neon sign study based on the formula of contemporary visual art, 2018-19,
“Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia”, NGA.

Musical theatre: “Assassins”, Everyman Theatre at Belconnen Theatre, September. 
Co-directors Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg took the book of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical, “Assassins”, and gave us a sideshow alley portrayal of the men and women who attempted, successfully and otherwise, to assassinate US presidents, producing brilliant cameo portrayals, spot-on musicianship and a deeply uncomfortable feeling about the here and now.

Jarrad West as John Wilkes Booth and Pippin Carroll as the Baladeer in “Assassins”.

Music: Larry Sitsky celebration concert, ANU School of Music, September. 
In an inspiring evening of music, eminent musicians and well-wishers packed into the Larry Sitsky Recital Room at the ANU School of Music to celebrate the 85th birthday of Sitsky himself, now recognised around the world for his compositions and honoured later in September with a long weekend of musical festivities by the Moscow Conservatory. The pièce de résistance was Sitsky’s own performance of work by Rachmaninov.

Larry Sitsky performing Rachmaninov. Photo Tony Magee.

Theatre: “Metamorphosis” at The Street Theatre, September. 
Director Adam Broinowski and a team of actors gifted in physical theatre brought to life Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s famous novella, “The Metamorphosis”, where an ordinary salesman turns into a “monstrous vermin”. This provocative production took us up close and personal to an evening of superlative acting.

Ruth Pieloor, Stefanie Lekkas, Dylan Van Den Berg and Christopher Samuel Carroll 
in a scene from “Metamorphosis”. Photo Shelly Higgs.

Dance: “From the Vault”, the Australian Dance Party, Dairy Flat, September.
Dance artist Alison Plevey’s discovery of a disused building in Fyshwick that had once been a storage bunker for the Mint led to a sizzling evening of site-specific dance which questioned the value placed on money and was praised by critics and audience members alike as the dance event of the year.

‘From the Vault.’ Photo Lorna Sim.

First published in City News Digital Edition, December 18, 2019