Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hero


I'm holding out for a hero ...


Sunday, 29 July 2012

One singular sensation


Musical –

A Chorus Line
Producer/Company –
Tim Lawson
Venue –
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Date and time –
Thursday, 23 February 2012, 8pm
Sunday, 4 March 2012, 2pm

For many years, ‘A Chorus Line’ held the record as the longest-running Broadway show ever, and it still sits high in that top ten. This production was part of an Australian tour, and was based on the revival, which is still playing in New York.

This show is also one of the few major musicals – then and now – that limits its reliance on theatrical gimmicks. The tag line for ‘A Chorus Line’ is: ‘Seventeen dancers. Eight spots. One dream.’ As such, the heart of this show is the dancing, which illuminates a clutch of memorable songs, interwoven through a series of touching, memorable stories.

‘A Chorus Line’ is a true Broadway legend, in that the stories featured in this show are based upon real accounts provided by performers, given during the formative workshop phase of this show in 1974. As such, the narrative is somewhat unconventional. The overarching plot is framed in the work that the characters undertake for the director/choreographer, to determine who will be chosen for the chorus of a forthcoming Broadway musical. The flow of the piece is well maintained, though, through a series of character vignettes, which endears the characters to the audience whilst still giving the show momentum.

The strength of this production lay in what arguably may be one of the strongest ensembles you will see in musical theatre in Australia. Everyone on the stage was a true ‘triple threat’: performers equally skilled in dancing, singing and acting. While it’s true that musical theatre cast members in Australia today need to be well-honed in all facets of performance, this show requires the adeptness of an all-rounder, and the audience was not disappointed in this regard.

I was fortunate to see ‘A Chorus Line’ twice, and the high calibre of the performers was obvious both times. In the first viewing, there were some unfortunate microphone sound issues for two of the performers. Such was their skill, though, that they were able work to overcome the problems, simply by singing to the back wall of the theatre, as performers used to in the ‘olden days’ before the introduction of amplified sound. In the second viewing, one of the swings played the role of ‘Greg’. Again, such was the quality of the performer, and of the ensemble, that their integration into the show was seamless, and you would have assumed him a regular cast member.

Several performance highlights in this production included: Anita Louise Combe’s turn as ‘Cassie, particularly for her work in ‘The Music and the Mirror’; Hayley Winch as ‘Val’, who gave us the laugh-out-loud ‘tits and ass’ number, ‘Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’; and, Euan Doidge, whose wonderfully nuanced portrayal of ‘Paul’ left many of the audience misty-eyed. Indeed, I could extol the virtues of the whole cast of ‘A Chorus Line’, such was the strength of their work. And they all made the dancing look effortless, although we all know differently.

Verdict?
Exhaustingly excellent
(The Abusicals two-word summary is, of course, tongue-in-cheek.)



Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Comma, comma, comma,



I like my commas like I like to vote: early and often ...





Onward grammar soldiers


Grammarians of the world unite! We shall march under a banner resplendent with a picture of our beloved leader, the venerable Lynne Truss – Our Lady of the Immaculate Apostrophe – brandishing our holy book, 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'. Will you join me?*




*If your answer is in the affirmative, please bring a heavy duty marking pen with you, to correct any grammatically incorrect signage that we come across in our march. There will surely be several ...




Monday, 23 July 2012

Comedy tonight



On Tuesday, 17 April, I had a whirlwind comedy ride. My partner and I saw three Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows in one evening. <phew>

Something familiar …

First, it was off to the Retreat Hotel in Abbotsford to see David Nash in ‘Decent Exposure’. I must state upfront that Dave is a great guy who was in my college course during first semester this year.

Dave has the advantage of being a handsome lad, which helps to explain the largely young, female audience at his show. In his promo materials, Dave styles himself as a ‘clueless country Victorian boy [with a] microphone’. Dave has a busy life. Between studying, playing football, and MC'ing at wrestling events, he manages to find time for a stand-up career. All the different facets of his life, though, make great fodder for his act.

Dave’s show was staged on a shoestring budget. The milk-crate set was a dead giveaway. Yet the makeshift nature of his show helped to endear him to the audience. And he chose the venue well: an upstairs rooms at a pub, not too large nor too small, and intimate enough to make people feel like they were sitting in someone’s living room.

As he mentions in his promo material, Dave’s material tends to be along the lines of ‘pushing boundaries’, and he didn’t disappoint. Inappropriate humour is often my favourite sort of comedy, and Dave had quite a few ‘Oh no you didn’t? Oh yes I did!’ zingers. His most successful material tended to be about his observations of suburban life and different cultural ethnicities. But the real find of his show was that Dave is a very clever mimic of everyday sounds. In the style of ‘Police Academy’ comedian Michael Winslow, Dave’s repertoire of uncanny sounds ranged from ‘doof doof’ music to car engines. 

While enjoyable and entertaining, Dave’s show did feel under-rehearsed. Dave has a highly likeable, knockabout demeanor, but this can only carry him so far before solid material is needed to sustain the gig. I think that with time and experience, Dave will come to structure his shows better, and to give more of an arc to the comedy audience.

I would also humbly suggest that it’s very important to begin as close to the show’s advertised starting time as possible. The Comedy Festival always has a jam-packed program, with audience members ­– like myself – often attending two or three shows in an evening. I hated having to leave Dave’s show just before the end, but when you have other shows booked it’s an occupational hazard.

I think Dave has a promising future in stand-up. Once he strikes more of a balance between his skills and his material, I can really see his career really taking off. And even more young female admirers are sure to attend his shows.

Something peculiar …

We headed off in the ‘Comedymobile’ to the Loop Project Space and Bar in the CBD for our next show ­– ‘2 Dudes 1 Show’ – featuring Sean Ryan and Craig McLeod. Again, I must say upfront that we saw this show with a friend of my partner, whose brother was the first of the two performers.

The Loop is a quirky, funky little space in Meyers Place in the city. The room used for the shows was very intimate and allowed the performers to interact quite effectively with the audience. While we were a small group, we were a responsive one.

When Sean Ryan first appeared – with his bushranger beard, long hair and ‘Slipknot’ shirt – you could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d strayed from his gig next door in a heavy rock band. But Sean soon proved his metal with a series of witty and wry observations. He structured his material well, and while we didn’t have many belly laughs, there was much amusement about the humour drawn from his everyday life.

Equally unassuming was the second performer, Craig McLeod, whose shaved head, black clothes and cockney accent could have had you worried that you were seeing a skinhead act. As a relocated Englishman, though, Craig shared some amusingly dry, self-deprecating material. In particular, his ability to view Australian customs and lifestyle from an outsider’s perspective was a highlight of his set.

Both Sean and Craig entertained us with their material but they need to consider more the structure of their acts to give their performances more momentum. As I mentioned with Dave’s show earlier, every show – be it a play, musical, concert or stand-up – needs to have an arc and a frame to hang the material on. I couldn’t help feel that much of the material was fairly linear for these two guys. And although their laidback style was particularly suited to their material, the audience also needed a bit more energy from them to help sustain their routines.

Sean and Craig have talent, and I look forward to seeing their progression in stand-up in upcoming Comedy Festivals. If you like your comedy dry then these guys are sure to entertain you.

Something for everyone …

The ‘Comedymobile’ then took us to the Famous Spiegeltent at the Arts Centre for a hot beverage and the final show of our evening’s comedy odyssey, ‘Paul McDermott Sings!’. The premise of this show was the amusing quote from Paul’s mother: ‘You’ve got such a lovely voice. Why don’t you sing more?’

Paul’s career has gone from strength to strength for around twenty years now. He is quite the Renaissance journeyman – singer, musician, writer – having worked across television, radio, stage and publishing. Most people would know Paul nowadays from his current, ongoing work with Channel Ten’s ‘Good News Week’. But those of us with longer memories know that his career started with the ‘Doug Anthony All Stars’. Thence, Paul graduated ­– variously – to ‘Mosh’, ‘The Big Gig’, ‘Strictly Dancing’ and ‘The Sideshow’.

So it was from his variety of incarnations as a performer that Paul drew on the repertoire for this performance. I was expecting a stand-up show with some songs, but instead we were treated the opposite: a concert, with Paul’s singing and his songs centre stage. That’s not to say this was a problem, because the material was very, very good. I would most characterize his music overall as sophisticated blues with a folk twist.

I was also expecting Paul’s program to consist mainly of comedy pieces, but again I was wrong. Instead, we were given an array of well-written, well-arranged songs. The comedy came from Paul’s short chats between songs on and off during the evening. This wasn’t stand-up, though, yet it was a masterclass in relaxed good humour. Paul is an effortless showman whose immense appeal as a performer was clear to the appreciative audience. Indeed, we refused to let him go until a suitable number of encores had been provided.

Kudos to Paul’s band – and in particular, to his MD – for the warm arrangements of his songs. I hope he continues with this sort of show as they make great side gigs for his television work, and for those who have been following his career over the years. In future shows, I’d like to hear more about the background of the songs, and a bit more about his career around the time of writing each song. This late-night show at the Spiegeltent was the perfect forum for Paul to give us an amusing and musical overview of his musical journey thus far.

Comedy tonight!





Sunday, 22 July 2012

Facebook


I had an amusing conversation this week with a fellow student at college about people's use of language on Facebook. She was spot-on in her comments that people seem to think that language rules can be relaxed when using social media. I would add that this also includes social communication via email and texts. Amusing comments aside, no matter what the forum, when you use language poorly in writing it really does reflect badly on you.

Take this blog for instance. I've let some spelling errors and poor turns of phrase get through, despite checking and double-checking. But I take the time to try to make sure that there are avoided, and I fix them retroactively when I pick them up later. I feel that the same applies for social media and email. Yes, there are all of the shorthand abbreviations, and I totally understand those being used, particularly on Twitter, for example, where your wordage is limited. But poor spelling and grammar in any of your written communication just doesn't do you any favours.

We all want to try to present the best face to the world, and the language we use is a large part of that. A good example is the reading I've engaged in recent years about social media and employment. More and more, prospective employers check our your online presences to see what you say and how you say it. Things can come back to haunt, even bad spelling and grammar. And you never know to whom you email will be forwarded, or if the person reading it will be a prospective employer. It's not about demanding perfection in language and all of the mediums you use it, but more about making sure that you've expressed yourself as well as you can.

So, here's hoping I've not made any mistakes in this post ...


Friday, 20 July 2012

Spelling


We had quite a fun discussion in Editing class today about the differences between Australian and American spelling. Yes, yes: the picture is about UK and US spelling, but you get the drift.

I was very smug with myself that I was able to point out to my teacher – who was very patient with me, bless her heart – that 'glamourous' is an accepted alternate spelling of 'glamorous'. Now I'm worried that I use 'glamourous' far too often in my writing to know this fact ...

And in this website, I think I have found my new spiritual home ...



Thursday, 19 July 2012

Life is a cabaret


If you can drag yourself away from your heaters, theatre punters, now is a great time to be seeing a dazzling array of fabulous cabaret in Melbourne!


The Melbourne Cabaret Festival is finishing up with a bang over the next couple of days. Get in and see some amazing acts in their South Melbourne cabaret precinct. There is plenty of parking, it is just off the Clarendon Street 112 tram route, and there is a range of great eateries nearby.


There is the redoubtable Butterfly Club, Melbourne's home and heart of cabaret, and the centre of the Festival shows, which is hosting a range of fantastic performers.


And there's the new kid on the block, the Bohemia Cabaret Club. I have it on very good authority from a Melbourne theatre legend – let us call her 'Deep Throat' – that this is a glorious new cabaret venue.


The wonderfully versatile Trevor Jones is playing at the Bohemia, and is hosting their late night Piano Bar. Frock up for a glamourous night out!



'Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome,
Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!'


Monday, 16 July 2012

Gaga ooh la la



Concert –
Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way Ball’
Producer/Company –
Live Nation and Michael Coppel
Venue –
Rod Laver Arena
Date and time –
Tuesday, 3 July, 8.30pm

Lady Gaga burst onto the pop music scene with her album ‘The Fame’ in 2008. An extended, repackaged version of the album, ‘The Fame Monster’, was issued in 2009, followed in 2011 with the album, ‘Born This Way’. Gaga has had a string of highly successful singles from these albums, complemented by her often-shocking music video clips and award show performances, all of which showcase her frenetic fashion sensibility.

Gaga visited Australia briefly in 2011 with her ‘Monster Ball’ tour. The ‘Born This Way Ball’ tour is her first full concert tour throughout Australia, which sold out five shows in Melbourne alone. This concert was always going to be outrageous, and Gaga certainly didn’t disappoint.

The vague frame of reference for Gaga’s spectacle was that she was a character escaping from captivity, on a mission to regroup and then liberate our planet. As such, Gaga often resembled a glamourous space alien. Indeed, her costume changes rivalled those of other notable concert divas ­– Madonna and Cher come to mind – with each succeeding outfit outdoing the last.

The set was a vast, castle-like structure, which ‘The Age’ review accurately referred to as ‘Masters of the Universe-style’. It opened out like a Barbie fun-house to reveal its inner workings, and was inhabited by Gaga’s band, several members of which stepped out to join Gaga on stage during the evening. (I was most intrigued by her keyboard player’s three hundred and sixty degree, circular, lit piano.) The set was paired with a dazzling lighting rig, which lit up the whole arena at various times. In addition, between the set and the lighting was a giant, floating, orb ‘face’ – a version of Gaga herself – which was animated to speak between songs.

A full complement of suitably buff, talented male and female dancers accompanied Gaga on nearly every number. Their costumes were as eye-popping as Gaga’s, even if they were also often very revealing. Their dance routines looked truly exhausting and were frequently highly erotic.

The pleasing surprise of this concert was that Gaga has a strong, legitimate voice. Despite a bevy of backing singers, the extensive band and various microphone effects, it was very clear that Gaga can solidly hold a tune. Gaga also appears to be an accomplished musician, playing guitar and keyboard on several numbers, and even accompanying herself solo on one number. Her voice and musical talent, coupled with the knowledge that she writes or co-writes all of her songs, helps to explain some of her popularity. Despite the clever stage management of her persona, Gaga also came across as being quite genuine. She extended her thanks to her fans numerous times during the show, and shared many words of encouragement for those of us in the audience to follow our dreams no matter what others might say.

It might be that I’m getting too old for concerts like this, but I found that the sound mix was preposterously loud. I felt like I had cotton wool in my ears for a day or so after the concert. And Lady Gaga was due to come on at 8.30pm, but on the night I attended she kept us waiting an additional twenty minutes. I can’t help but think that this is somewhat unprofessional. At the very least, performers needs to factor in that their audiences often have significant distances to travel home from concerts, particularly given the vagaries of public transport, especially when a concert is held on a week night as was this one.

Those seeking a spectacle only – via dance, costumes, and staging – were never going to go unrewarded in this concert. Be it Gaga as a motorcycle, reclining on a ‘meat couch’ or wearing a machine gun bra: all the stops were pulled out, and then some. Gaga performed many of her most popular singles, as well as several album favourites, also premiering a new song sure to offend nearly everyone: ‘Princess Die’. This concert was, as the young people like to say, ‘totes awes’.

Verdict?
Plastic fantastic.
(The Abusicals two-word summary is, of course, tongue-in-cheek.)





Sunday, 15 July 2012

Keep it gay



Musical –
The Producers
Producer/Company –
The Production Company
Venue –
State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
Date and time –
Saturday, 14 July 2012, 7.30pm
Cast includes –
Wayne Scott Kermond, Brent Hill, Christie Whelan, Trevor Ashley, Mitchell Butel and Rohan Browne.
Crew –
Directed by Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant. Musically directed by Vanessa Scammell. Choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth

This is The Production Company’s fourteenth season presenting semi-staged musicals at the Victorian Arts Centre. Each year, they mount three productions: a popular show, a somewhat well-known show, and a lesser-known show. In 2012, they begin their trilogy with ‘The Producers’, continuing in August with ‘Chess’, followed by ‘Promises, Promises’ in October.

‘The Producers’ is a Mel Brooks musical based on his 1967 film of the same name. It swept the Tony Awards in 2001 with a record twelve Tony Awards. The show played for six years on Broadway, followed by successful seasons and tours in London, and an Australian tour in 2004/2005. It also became a Hollywood film in 2005, with several of the original Broadway cast returning to their original roles.

The show is a laugh-a-minute romp in the style of the golden era of Broadway musicals. The plot of ‘The Producers’ is paper-thin – two producers staging an awful show so that they can decamp to Rio with the show’s capital – but it is full of heart and good humour.

Wayne Scott Kermond takes the lead as Max Bialystock, the ‘King of Broadway’. Kermond, Australia’s answer to the legendary Donald O’Connor, is a consummate song and dance man with a huge flair for stage buffoonery. He is paired with the talented Brent Hill who, while perhaps not the very strongest vocally in the role, brings great warmth and compassion to his characterisation of the introverted accountant, Leo Bloom. Between then comes the lovely Christie Whelan, who gives a winning performance as the sultry yet simple, Ulla.

While the central triangle of these performers is more than enough fodder for humour in this show, the greatest hilarity lies in the performances of the supporting principals, many of whom stop the show cold with their hysterical interpretations the roles. Trevor Ashley as Franz Liebkind lends an appropriately over-the-top inappropriateness as the writer of the musical-within-a-musical being staged: ‘Springtime For Hitler’. Directing ‘Hitler’ ­– and going on as the eponymous lead ­– is Mitchell Butel as Roger De Bris, the gayer-than-laughter director of the show, supported by his ‘common law assistant’, Carmen Ghia, played with great campery by Rohan Browne.

The Production Company’s shows are staged mostly without fly-in sets and backdrops. Instead, tiered and stepped platforms are used, along with various props, to suggest settings. This worked particularly well for ‘The Producers’, given that it is mainly set in an office and in a theatre. The costumes were also suitably glamourous, with the showgirls being outfitted by noted Melbourne ‘gender illusionist’ (read: drag queen), ‘Paris’. A constant of The Production Company is their high quality orchestras, and this show was no exception. The orchestra lent the appropriately full and brassy Broadway sound needed.

Production Company shows are notorious for their short, intensive rehearsal periods. The entire ensemble and supporting cast of ‘The Producers’ is therefore to be commended for the quality of this production. In particular, audiences were treated to many almost fully-realised choreographed numbers throughout the show, all of them energetic and highly engaging.

I have been attending The Production Company’s shows for more than ten years now and they are always high quality productions. In the last couple of years, though, they haven’t quite scaled the heights of their previous seasons. But ‘The Producers’ marks a return to form for them in its polish, energy and pizzazz. I look forward to the rest of their 2012 season.

Verdict?
Homo hilarious
(The Abusicals two-word summary is, of course, tongue-in-cheek.)