(22 January 2015)
Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin are a unique couple. He dreams and she makes it happen. The story is Luhrmann’s; CM as he fondly calls her creates the visual experience of set and costume design. With a list of awards longer than your arm she has taken Strictly Ballroom from the two dimension cinema screen and transposed it into a three dimensional experience that only live musical theatre can give.
I have not watched the movie version of Strictly Ballroom since its premier in 1992 and made a point of not watching it before experiencing this new incarnation of the work. My one recollection of the film was that it used pre-existing musical material (popular, traditional and classical). Recent musicals that have originated in Australia including Priscilla-Queen of the Desert, The Boy From Oz, Dusty, Dirty Dancing, have been musicals of the jukebox variety. Girding my loins for another such experience, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a mostly original score for this production by Elliot Wheeler and additional material written by Eddie Perfect and Sia Furler.
For someone as a performer and writer who was as anti-Broadway musicals as you could get ten years ago, Perfect has created three wonderful pastiche “Broadway” pieces for Strictly Ballroom including the lavish opening/Strictly Ballroom, Dance to Win, and the Act two opening number Beautiful When You Dance.
Sia’s contributions include an hilarious dance number in Act One called Heavenly Pineapple and an Act Two stand out Love Is a Leap of Faith.
The fairy tale story for the show sticks to the plot summary for the movie. Scott Hastings is his mother’s (Shirley Hastings) great hope as a championship level ballroom dancer of finally winning the cherished ballroom competition prize that eluded her, the Australian Pan Pacific Championships run by the Ballroom Confederation. The only problem is that Scott doesn’t like to dance by the rules. There is a back-story to this scenario that reveals a similar situation in the Hastings family. While Shirley and family are on the hunt for a suitable championship level dance partner for Scott, Fran – a beginner dance student convinces Scott that she is the right dance partner for him if he wants to “break the rules” at the Australian Pan Pacific Championships. Calamity ensues, but as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending.
While the romantic theme reprised throughout the show (and film) is the Harry Vanda & George Young song standard Love is in the Air the message the story is really making is the one stated by Fran and her Gypsy family, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
I enjoyed Strictly Ballroom and I think you will as well. Strictly Ballroom is a home-grown dinky di Australian musical. It doesn’t take itself too seriously which is what makes it fun to watch and be part of. Yes, there is even some audience participation in the show. For the most part this does not break that third wall of the theatre between actor and audience. That is, until the curtain calls*. This is where I think this production forgets the rules of the “theatre”.
As I said at the start of this review, Baz Luhrmann is a dreamer. Visually, through the support of the major producers, Global Creatures (Walking With Dinosaurs, King Kong) he has been able to write and direct a show that uses his talents as both a cinematic and theatrical director.
The cast is terrific with stand out performances by all.
Unfortunately the curtain calls go from audience appreciation for actors to an all-in free-for-all with the audience urged (not just invited) to dance in the aisles and come on stage for what seem like an endless repeating of the signature tune “Love is in the Air”. Much of the audience loved this “running on to the football field after the game” sensation, while others made a quick exit. For this long time theatre-goer it completely broke the spell and the magic of the evening and cheapened the quality of the production. In fact the music that was playing as we left the theatre was another pop love song (the title escapes me as I write) that wasn’t even in the show. Huh?
STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL – Now playing. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, Australia
STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL - CREATIVE TEAM
Baz Luhrmann Director & Co-Writer
Catherine Martin Set & Costume Designer
Craig Pearce Co-Writer
John O'Connell Choreographer
Elliott Wheeler Original Score and Arrangements
Hugh Vanstone Lighting Designer
Peter Grubb Sound Designer (System Sound)
Max Lambert Musical Supervisor
Anton Monsted Music Designer
Wendy de Waal Hair and Make-Up Designer
STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL - CAST LIST
Scott Hastings Thomas Lacey
Fran Phoebe Panaretos
Les Kendall Bob Baines
Doug Hastings Drew Forsythe
Abuela Natalie Gamsu
Barry Fife Robert Grubb
Rico Fernando Mira
Shirley Hastings Heather Mitchell
JJ Silvers Mark Owen-Taylor
Vanessa Cronin Ash Bee
Merv Damien Bermingham
Ken Railings Rohan Browne
Nathan Starkey Jarryd Byrne
Wayne Burns Andrew Cook
Tina Sparkle Nadia Coote
Terry Best Tyler Coppin
Liz Holt Sophia Katos
Charm Leachman Angela Kennedy
Clarry Welch Lachlan Martin
Pam Short Angie Stapleton
Natalie Kate Wilson
Kayleen West Kaylah Attard
Rory West Keanu Gonzalez
Emily Waters Cristina D’Agostino
Jonathon Drench Ryan Gonzalez
Murial Shunt Melanie Hawkins
Tommy Arbunt Mike Snell
Stephanie Shanks Loren Hunter
Liam Lamb Nathan Pinnell
Swings Leigh Archer
Steven Grace (Dance Captain)
Jillian Green (Assistant Dance Captain)
Kylie Hastings LaineHastie, Tiana Mirra,
Lisa Rassias, Karina Thompson
Luke Tim Haskayne,
Michael Scott-Kahans, Luke Tieri
© Henry Sachwald 2015
(19 January 2015)
So I have finally caught up with the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS.
Sitting in a “Gold Class” cinema in my comfortable recliner with bowls of chunky chips, fried onion rings and iced water (in a glass, not a bottle) I settled back for the ultimate Sondheim cinematic experience. (A Father’s Day gift from and shared as a day out with my 24 year old daughter.)
Having seen the original Broadway production (1987) at the Martin Beck (now Al Hirshfeld) Theatre I was stricken with great emotion as the film began and those magical words, “Once upon a time…” were spoken. Teary eyed and excited, I sat there singing along in my head throughout the film.
Casting is absolutely wonderful. It is also nice to know that all the actors did their own singing. The movie remains faithful to the original storyline and score almost throughout with some obvious cuts known only to fans of the stage version of the musical.
Here is where I felt the need to revisit my DVD of the original Broadway production. The movie version is too dark in color and tone for my taste. The stage version allows the characters the opportunity to seem more real than on film. The one-liners, double entendres and sarcasm seem to come across more clearly when said live, on-stage, than in the movie. The characters in this movie seem to lack the opportunity to step out-of character to recognise the ridiculousness of their predicament. In a word, the stage version is a lot more “fun” for both the performers and especially the audience.
Missing from the film is the reprise of “Agony” sung by the two prince’s in the “what happens after you get your wish” portion of the story. Here the two prince’s offer comic relief as they stray from their current wives, Cinderella and Rapunzel to woo the fair (and sleeping) maidens Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Also missing is the touching moralistic and poignant song “No More” sung by the baker and the ghost of his father wishing we could just “…pursue our lives, with our children and our wives”, “How do you ignore all the witches, the curses, the wolves, the lies…?”
I found the storyline slightly disconnected near the end of the film and “I wish” the songs that were cut had been left in.
It certainly was nice to venture Into the Woods with Meryl Streep as The Witch, Emily Blunt as The Baker's Wife, James Corden as The Baker, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince, Tracey Ullman as Jack's Mother, Christine Baranski as Cinderella's Stepmother, Johnny Depp as The Wolf, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood
Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, MacKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel, Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel's Prince[, Tammy Blanchard as Florinda Lucy Punch as Lucinda, Annette Crosbie as Little Red Riding Hood's Grandmother, Joanna Riding as Cinderella's Mother, Frances de la Tour as the Giant's Wife, Richard Glover as the Steward and Simon Russell Beale as the Baker's Father (who in the film credits at the end, presents a very good likeness of Stephen Sondheim.
Postscript: Stephen Sondheim is quite capable of writing original material for the cinema and has done so on occasion (Stavisky, Dick Tracy, The Last of Sheila). However, he is most at home and his personal preference is writing for the stage. While the two most recent film adaptations of his work (Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd) have transferred well to the screen, neither can provide you with the true experience of the originality and ingenuity of his work as well as seeing a live stage production of a Stephen Sondheim musical. If you only know of Stephen Sondheim from the movies you have seen, please go see a live performance if you get the opportunity.
© Henry Sachwald 2015
(4 February 2013)
Albert Broccoli purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the same time that he and Harry Saltzman purchased the film rights to Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. With such foresight it seems that in 1968 Mr Broccolli saw an opportunity to capitalize on the success of Disney’s Mary Poppins four years earlier (1964). Once again a children’s story about family, fantasy and flight (this time a car instead of a nanny) was made into a family movie musical. Once again Dick Van Dyke was the male lead and in place of Julie Andrews we have Sally Ann Howes (who followed Julie Andrews into the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway in 1958). To add to the similarity the songs for the film were written by the Poppins team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. The film version of Chitty… received mixed reviews, but missed out on the acclaim bestowed upon Mary Poppins.
So now we have a stage musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. If you have small children and would like to take them to see a musical, this is your opportunity. All the inventions of Caractacus Potts are there to be seen including his breakfast machine, candy making machine and of course Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While the children (young and old) may be most impressed with the flying car as star of this Australian production my hat goes off to the cast. This is a golden opportunity to expose your children to the marvellous voices of David Hobson (Caractacus Potts) and Rachael Beck (Truly Scrumptious) and the comic acting of Alan Brough (Baron Bomburst), Jennifer Vuletic (Baroness Bomburst), Peter Carroll (Grandpa Potts), George Kapiniaris and Todd Goddard (Goran and Boris). Tyler Coppin is the evil (be sure to hiss) Childcatcher (played by Sir Robert Helpmann in the film) and Philip Gould is the Toymaker.
Just as the previous show to play the stage of Her Majesty’s was for adults (Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum), this one is for kids. The best way to enjoy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is take someone under 10 with you to see it.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick based on the MGM Motion Picture. Music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. Her Majesty’s Theatre – Melbourne, from 30 January 2013.
Cast: David Hobson, Rachael Beck, Alan Brough, Jennifer Vuletic, George Kapiniaris, Peter Carroll, Todd Goddard, Tyler Coppin, Philip Gould, Beau Woodbridge, Lucille Le Meledo Creative: Director – Roger Hodgeman; Musical Director – Peter Casey; Choreographer – Dana Jolly; Scenic and Costume Designer – Anthony Ward; Lighting Designer – Matt Scott; Producer – Tim Lawson, TML Enterprises
© Henry Sachwald 2013
The eve of the New Year 2013 in Melbourne saw the Australian Premiere of the much-acclaimed drama War Horse. It’s no wonder that this play has received such high accolades. This production of War Horse is as unique a drama as Les Misérables is a musical.
Playing at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, where opera and ballet are normally presented on the enormous stage of the State Theatre it was a breathtaking experience watching full-sized mechanical horses romp and gallop across the stage and up and down the aisles of Melbourne’s grand opera house.
The puppeteers manipulating these giant beasts are simultaneously visible and invisible as your eyes and ears focus on the movements and sounds of the actors and the animals including a pesky goose and flocks of birds.
Put together with the set, sound and lighting design this production makes full use of modern technology, but still leaves room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. The set is minimal using props such as hand-held wooden poles and flats representing cottages. The sound effects though deafening at times is used to good effect and puts the audience in the middle of the battle along with the judicious use of projections that blend into the lighting and physical scenic design adding to the dramatic effect. The choice of English folk songs and wartime ballads help to move the story along and add poignancy and colour to the telling of the story. (It is interesting to note that the singing of “Goodbye Dolly Gray” didn’t stir Collingwood Football Club supporters who have adopted this tune as their club song.)
The positive reception of the audience was expected. War Horse takes place just prior to and for the course of WW I. Australia has an emotional as well as historical link to WW I because it was the first major event since Federation in 1901 to truly unify the nation and commence the formation of an Australian (not British) culture and society. ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are two days that feature prominently on the Australian calendar. War Horse pays tribute to the men who fought and the horses that were sacrificed in the name of freedom and honour.
War Horse illustrates the brutality and senselessness of war and is a must see piece of theatre for high school students as well as adults.
War Horse – National Theatre of Great Britain production; by Michael Morpurgo; adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. State Theatre, the Arts Centre – Melbourne, 2 January – 3 March 2013. Tour Dates: Sydney, 16 March – 30 June; Brisbane, 11 July – 4 August.
Cast: The People: James Bell, Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Adam Booth, Mark Constable, Andre de Vanny, Mischana Dellora-Cornish, Dave Evans, Cody Fern, Natasha Herbert, Anna Houston, Belinda Jombwe, Rory Kelly, Drew Livingston, Dale March, Kenneth Moraleda, Emma Palmer, Gareth Reeves, John Thompson, Andrew Tighe, Karlis Zaid. The Horses: Nick Barlow, Kailah Cabanas, Michael Cullen, Nick Eaton, Grant Foulkes, Lincoln Hall, Keira Lyons, Ben McIvor, Sarah Nelson, John Shearman, Michael Wahr, Drew Wilson. Creative: Director – Marianne Elliot, Tom Morris; Puppet Direction, Design & Fabrication – Handspring Puppet Company; Designer/Drawings – Rae Smith; Lighting – Paule Constable; Director, Australian Production – Drew Barr; Associate Puppetry Director – Finn Cladwell; Sound Designer – Christopher Shutt; Video Design – Leo Warner & Mark Grimmer, 59 Productions Ltd; Producers – National Theatre of Great Britain, Global Creatures.
© Henry Sachwald 2013
(22 January 2010)
do you follow-up a 2009 Tony Award ® winning Broadway performance in the
Australian production of Ionesco's Exit the King ? You get nostalgic
and wax lyrical about the golden days of the Broadway musical of the 1920's.
At least that's what Geoffrey Rush actor supremo has done after showing
the world once again that Australia truly “Does Have Talent”!
It should be noted that the best Australian actors are not the flavour of the month television popularity contest variety, but career actors, the home grown “hard yakka” kind – nurtured, inspired, trained, educated and skilled. Australian actors are among the best in the world. Regardless of the productions (which themselves win acclaim) the star power that comes with these shows has been overwhelming this decade. Who has the star power on Broadway marquees today? The answer: Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King), Cate Blanchett (A Streetcar Named Desire), Hugh Jackman (A Steady Rain and The Boy From Oz), Toni Collette (The Wild Party), Nicole Kidman (The Blue Room). While each of these actors has made a world famous career for themselves in Hollywood, they are equally skilled and talented as stage actors.
The Melbourne Theatre Company production of The Drowsy Chaperone has opened at The Playhouse at the Arts Centre (Melbourne).
The Drowsy Chaperone introduces us to the “Man in the Chair”. He's a simple man with simple wants who when he feels “blue” transports himself to a world of happy endings, the Broadway Musical (not unlike yours truly); but not the musicals with scores by Billy Joel, Elton John or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He has a love for his collection of records yes, records of Broadway musicals by Gershwin, Porter, Kern and those fictitious collaborators Gable and Stein.
Rush, not known for his singing prowess is a fan of musical theatre and has jumped at the opportunity to play the comic, non-singing protagonist in this uproarious recreation of the 1920's Broadway musical. As an ardent storyteller, the Man in the Chair recreates the show as he replays his favourite LP. He has never actually seen a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, but knows everything there is to know about it through the songs, the invaluable liner notes and his imagination.
As the story unfolds we meet the cast of characters. The Man in the Chair annotates the story with background on each of the actors and the roles they play. Rush is hilarious as he gallivants around the stage creating interplay amongst the actors in the show. He is ably supported in this production by a cast of up and coming musical theatre talents and fellow veteran thespians (see cast list below). Special mention must go to Christie Whelan as the “oops girl” Janet Van De Graaff, Alex Rathgeber as her fiancé Robert Martin and Adam Murphy as the Latin lover Aldolpho. The multitalented Rhonda Burchmore is the drowsy chaperone charged with the responsibility of keeping the two lovebirds separated prior to their wedding for reasons that are made clear early on in the show. This show has everything you would expect of a 1920's musical: superficial plot, gangsters, an upper crust butler, an absent-minded matron a bit of tap dancing and lots of shtick. To say anymore would be giving away the fun of seeing the show, that is unless you're sitting in your easy chair listening to the original cast recording like me.
See you at the theatre!
The Drowsy Chaperone - Music & lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison; Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar. Melbourne Theatre Company at the Playhouse, the Arts Centre
18 January - 27 February Running Time: Approximately 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Cast Heidi Arena – KITTY; Rohan Browne – George; Rhonda Burchmore – Drowsy Chaperone; Shane Jacobson – Feldzeig; Adam Murphy – Aldolpho; Robyn Nevin - Mrs. Tottendale; Zahra Newman – Trix, the Aviator; Richard Piper – Underling; Grant Piro – Gangster; Josh Piterman – ensemble; Alex Rathgeber – Robert Martin; Geoffrey Rush – Man in the Chair; Troy Sussman – superintendant; Hester van der Vyver – ensemble; Christie Whelan – Janet Van De Graaff; Karlis Zaid - Gangster Musicians - Mathew Frank - Keyboard; Phoebe Briggs - Keyboard; Nathan Post - Bass: Greg Sully - Drums/Percussion; - Greg Maundrell -trumpet; Ian Bell -Trimbone; John Barrett - Reeds; Stuart Byrne - Reeds Creative Director - Simon Phillips; Associate Director - Dean Bryant; Designer - Dale Ferguson; Lighting Designer - Matt Scott; Musical Director - Mathew Frank; Choreographer - Andrew Hallsworth
© Henry Sachwald 2010
Faith Prince at the Sofitel Supper Club
(11 June 2006)
Saturday night, the 10th of June Tony® award winning performer Faith Prince opened Melbourne's new showroom for professional cabaret performance in Melbourne. The Sofitel Hotel –Melbourne is the home of the Sofitel Supper Club. A collaboration of the efforts of Nancy Cato, David Hawkins, Martin Croft and Sofitel General manger Clive Scott, this new intimate showroom will host world-class performances of the greatest musical theatre cabaret performers.
Faith Prince was the ideal choice for the inauguration of this new venue. She is bright, funny, extremely versatile and very talented. As a singer, comic and dramatic actress, Faith has performed on the Broadway stage, regional theatre, summer stock, movies and television. She has a list of facial expressions, singing and speaking voices as long as your arm. People relate with Faith's on-stage performance because she is real. She is you and I. From the moment Faith steps on to the stage she creates a rapport with her audience. Arriving in Melbourne after three performances in Sydney, Faith was well and truly over her jet lag. She has even started to speak our language: take- away, chemist .
To avoid giving away any of the spontaneity of her performance, let me just say that she gives you a little bit of everything that has helped to make for a successful career as a performer.
Don't miss this limited opportunity to put a bit of Faith in your life.
Nancy Cato Productions will be presents Faith Prince - Broadway, television and movie star extraordinaire - in cabaret at the Sofitel Supper Club @ Sofitel Melbourne, June 10, 11, 12 at 8p.m.
NEXT at the Sofitel Supper Club: CHITA RIVERA
26,27,28,29 August 2006
© Henry Sachwald 2006
(26 February 2006)
Two musicals had their Australian premieres in Melbourne in January. One was a World Premiere the other the first International production of a Tony® Award winning Broadway hit.
Dusty – The Original Pop Diva is an Australian World Premiere work written by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow about Dusty Springfield. Featuring a song list of more than 22 of her hit singles the show covers the rise and fall of this all-time great pop performer. The show has been doing big box office business and will do an Australian capital city tour. Plans are now under way for productions in London and the United States. Ste and costume design is by Tony® Award winner Roger Kirk. The choreography is by Ross Coleman. Tamsin Carroll is fantastic as Dusty. The surprise discovery in the show is newcomer Alexis Fishman in the role of the “young Dusty” Mary O'Brien.
The 25 th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee won the hearts of Broadway audiences with its clever writing by Rachel Sheinkin and delightful score by the eternally talented William Finn. The first new production since the Broadway opening occurred in Melbourne (Australia) on the 18 th January. Directed by Simon Phillips along with the guidance of Sheinkin and Finn who paid a brief visit to Melbourne for the opening the show has now won the hearts of Melbourne audiences too. The stellar cast includes: David Campbell, Tyler Coppin, Bert Labonte, Natalie Mendoza, Natalie O'Donnell, Christen O'Leary, Marina Prior, Magda Szubanski and Tim Wright. The Melbourne season has already been extended to March 11, and the production looks destined to tour.
Virgins is an original work by the very talented team of Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank. Winning acclaim for their musical Prodigal Australia and New York (York Theatre Production), Bryant and Frank have put pen to paper creating three mini musicals presented as a trilogy under the title Virgins. The first show entitled The Virgin Wars is a crusade by a group of high school girls against sexually promiscuity. It's a bit like Debbie Does Dallas with a twist. The second musical is called Girl On A Screen . This is a modern interpretation of the computer dating scene. The best and strongest piece is the third musical entitled Jumpin' the Q . This mini musical deals with the controversial issue of refugees and immigration. Staged as a version of Australian Idol on a cruise ship four lucky refugees are given the opportunity of winning an entertainment contract and an entry visa into “the lucky country”. The competition is fierce and the ending poignant to this very clever show. Virgins had a limited engagement in February at the new Tower Theater @ The Malthouse, but I'm sure we will see more of this work in the near future.
Seriously – The Pet Shop Boys Reinterpreted is conceived and written by David Knox and Dean Lotherington. This musical looks at the work of The Pet Shop Boys from a different angle. Removing that predictable rhythm track from The Pet Shop Boys sound, Knox and Lotherington look for the deeper meaning in the music and lyrics of this British pop duo. The concept is a good one, but while it was given a glowing review in Variety, I feel it needs a bit more work in its pacing tone and direction. Keep an eye out for further productions of this show too.
Finally, two brief mentions:
Russell Fletcher has created an entertaining piece for Danny Kaye enthusiasts, A Tribute to Danny Kaye . This show won the 2005 Melbourne Fringe Festival Award for Best Comedy. Russell highlights Danny Kaye's life and career while dazzling us with renditions of some of Kaye's funniest moments.
Topol, is touring Fiddler on the Roof around Australia. The season concludes with a Melbourne run from 10 June at Her Majesty's Theatre.
“See you at the theatre”
© Henry Sachwald 2006
Look out! Here Comes The “STAGE SHOW”.
DIRTY DANCING comes to Melbourne
(June 17, 2005)
Let's take a step back for moment: First there was “Grease” the long running Broadway musical. Then came “Grease – The Movie” catapulting John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John to stardom. Then came the revival productions of “Grease” followed by that new world-wide, money-making venture the “Arena” version of “Grease”.
“Arena” versions of anything seem to have great mass-appeal. What started out as the domain of sport became the home of rock music and has been transformed into the entertainment venue of choice for just about everything and anything from musicals to orchestral classical spectaculars and opera. Who would have thought that the glory days of the Coliseum in Rome would return with these new gladiators. The attraction of stadium and arena venues for producers is the ability to run a show for 3-4 nights, get an audience of 9,000 - 14,000 per night into a venue and move to the next town. What an audience too! The masses, the general public, the football, cricket and tennis crowd arriving in droves. Soft drinks, beer and popcorn in hand they just keep coming back for more. Most of these people have probably never seen the inside of Her Majesty's Theatre or Princess Theatre.
“Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage” would work very nicely in Rod Laver Arena or Madison Square Garden. The set and lighting design is ready made for such a venue. Hydraulic lifts, turntables, scenery projections, pre-recorded music, lots of dancing, very little live singing – all the elements are there.
Jump to today: “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage” had its Melbourne premiere on Thursday night, 16 June, 2005 at the Princess Theatre. The Princess Theatre has been the home of Les Miserables , The Phantom of the Opera , Mamma Mia and The Producers.
Whether you like “Dirty Dancing” or not a great miracle has occurred in Melbourne, Australia. It is the birth of the newest form of theatrical entertainment to arrive in heritage theatres around the world, THE STAGE SHOW. Once the home of vaudeville, drama, revue, musical comedy and more recently musical theatre, the landlords of the great theatres of Broadway, London, Melbourne and Sydney are doing what they do best – adapting to the times in order to collect the rent. This is what makes theatre. This is what shapes theatre.
“Dirty Dancing” is not a musical. It doesn't pretend to be a musical. Nor does it pretend to be a great piece of dramatic theatre. The origins of the script are a screenplay for a movie that was as simple and romantic as the RKO gems starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Eleanor Bergstein has fulfilled her dream of having her script recreated the way she originally intended before the film studio did its edit. The dialogue and music on stage is virtually word for word what is in the movie plus what was cut out. The background music is exactly that, background music – the pre-recorded tracks sung by The Four Seasons, Marvin Gaye and The Drifters. There is a live band and singers for the hotel scenes, but its all part of the story transferred form screen to stage.
So what do we call such a show (no critical undertones please)? It is none of the categories previously listed nor does it fit into the genre of the latest craze the “jukebox” musical. It is just a STAGE SHOW – clear and simple. It is the extension and development of that form of entertainment that ushered in the transition of audience popularity from stage to screen; the days of the Roxy Theatre and Radio City Musical Hall movie and stage show all for the price of one admission. Which in turn lead to the elimination of the stage show and the introduction of the movie double feature.
“Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage” is as close to watching the movie live as it can ever get. The audiences love it. The scenic projections of cars driving on the parkway in the 60's, the oversized portions of food, moonlit nights in the Catskills and the sound of Lesley Gore playing in the background. It's a love story that everyone relates to. Coming of age, young love, parent respect vs parent rebellion, social justice and the nostalgia of that first romantic moment. The audience waits with anticipation for that magic moment when Johnny returns on his motorcycle to say those magic words, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” There is a wave of emotion as the audience cheers and the dancing to (I've Had) The Time of My Life begins to the climax of the lift .
This is all Eleanor Bergstein wants from this stage show. To give the audience another chance to cheer, laugh and cry for joy. The producers of the show here in Australia (Kevin Jacobson in association with Lions Gate Films and Magic Hour Productions) have delivered on their agreement and let Ms Bergstein do just that.
For those purists like myself who would like to see more than a stage show or jukebox musical we must console ourselves with the thought that the arena crowd is crossing the river and coming to the theatre and that the theatre owners are happy they have tenants. Hopefully this will preserve the future of these glorious venues until such time as we can see The Light in the Piazza and Wicked arrive on our shores and new Australian works such as the Pratt Prize winners Sideshow Alley and Metro Street can get an opportunity to play a big house audiences as big as Dirty Dancing .
Dirty Dancing -
The Classic Story on Stage
© Henry Sachwald 2005
(April 17, 2005)
What do Menopause and Mamma Mia! have in common? More than you might imagine. Menopause – the Musical and Mamma Mia! are currently playing across the street (Exhibition St) from each other in Melbourne. Both shows are doing big box office business. They both rely on previously existing musical material and feature some of the best musical theatre performers in Australia.
The young, vibrant cast of Mamma Mia! follows the production formula that has made the show a worldwide sensation. The “mature” cast of Menopause – the Musical is probably one of the best in the world. Mamma Mia! has latched on to the popularity and nostalgia of ABBA. Menopause – the Musical has popular rock and folk tunes but with new lyrics. For the predominantly female audience of Menopause – the Musical some find it nostalgic others inspiring. The lyrics in Menopause – the Musical sing about something that happens sooner or later to every woman in her life, and never gets celebrated. Yes, that's what makes Menopause – the Musical so popular with female audiences. It is a celebration of this momentous and turbulent time in a woman's life. The writing by Jeanie Linders is clever, witty and most certainly based on first-hand experience. That's why women have been coming back again and again to see this show, increasing the sisterhood audience with new friends each time. Men (noticeably absent form the audience) in particular husbands would be well advised to go along to see this show too, if for no other reason than to know what goes on in the heads of menopausal women.
Menopause – the Musical is short and to the point. It runs 90 minutes without an interval and has special early performances on Monday and Tuesday nights that start at 6:30. Which means you're on your way home or out to dinner before the show has even started (normal starting time being 8p.m.).
The Australasian tour of Mamma Mia! winds up here in Melbourne in June. The next pop musical to jump out of jukebox is Dusty-the Musical based on the life of Dusty Springfield and presented as the summer musical at The Arts Centre in January 2006.
Menopause – the Musical : Now playing – June 11, The Comedy Theatre – Melbourne
Produced by McPherson Touring; director, Gary Young; musical director, Paul Keelan; choreographer, Andrew Hallsworth
WITH: Jane Clifton, Caroline Gillmer, Diedre Rubenstein, Susan-ann Walker
Mamma Mia! : Now playing – June, Her Majesty's Theatre – Melbourne
Produced by Judy Craymer, Richard East and Bjorn Ulvaeus for Littlestar in Association with Universal and Dainty Consolidated Entertainment; director Phyllida Lloyd; choreographer, Anthony Van Laast; musical director, Stephen Amos
WITH: Silvie Paladino, Kellie Rode, Emma Powell, Jennifer Vuletic, Bruce Roberts, Peter Hardy, Christopher Parker and John O'May.
© Henry Sachwald 2005
(February 11, 2005)
It's been a long time between major New York style Musical Theatre events in Melbourne. To sustain the drive of the “Broadway” musical there are frequent occasions available for New York audiences to hear the musical theatre stars of Broadway sing shows tunes live. In Melbourne and the other capital cities of Australia this is too rare an event.
The opening event of the 2004 Brisbane Festival was such an event. Tony Gould (outgoing artistic director for 2004) brought together some of Australia's top female musical theatre performers to create a show entitled “AUSTRALIA'S LEADING LADIES”.
The show has transferred to Her Majesty's Theatre – Melbourne for an all too brief visit of 4 performances from February 11 – 13,2005. Getting seven of Australia's top theatrical performers together at the same time is a scheduling nightmare, but Mark Collier-Vickers has managed to achieve the impossible, transferring the show virtually intact. The cast is a who's who of female Australian musical theatre talent: Rhonda Burchmore (Sugar Babies, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Mamma Mia!) , Judi Connelli (Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret) , Sharon Millerchip (The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago), Marina Prior (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Pirates of Penzance) , Geraldine Turner (Anything Goes, The Witches of Eastwick, Sweeney Todd), Anne Wood (Crazy For You, The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia!) . The only change in the line-up is Nancy Hayes doing double duty as compere in addition to directing and the absence of Rachael Beck (Beauty and the Beast, Singin' in the Rain, Cabaret) who was not available. The 35 piece Australian Musicals Orchestra was conducted by Julia de Plater.
Australian musical theatre performers are “up there” in the talent stakes, with their cinematic colleagues. The only difference is that unless they appear on the international stage (Broadway, London, Las Vegas, Los Angeles), their talent remains relatively unknown outside of Australia. Truth-be-told, their reputations remain relatively unknown within Australia as well! Unfortunately this seems to be the case for most stars of the theatre today around the world. Where once every major stage performer became a matinee idol and household name, that role has passed on to television, movie and rock stars. I remember Jerry Orbach for his performances in The Threepenny Opera, The Fantasticks, Carnival, Promises, Promises, Chicago and 42 nd Street not television's Law and Order . If it weren't for all the films that Hugh Jackman made prior to taking Broadway by storm the world would have missed his dynamic Broadway debut as The Boy From Oz and host of the nationally televised “Tony ® Awards”. Hugh starred in the Australian productions of Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard prior to taking Hollywood and Broadway by storm.
But back to our AUSTRALIAN LEADING LADIES . Highlights of the evening were Rhonda Burchmore tapping away (in shoes given to her by Ann Miller) while singing “Shakin' the Blues Away” form Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 , a knock-out performance by Judi Connelli of “Some People” from Gypsy , Connelli and Geraldine Turner recreating their roles in the 1981 Australian production of Chicago singing “Class”, Sharon Millerchip's perky Sweet Charity with “If My Friend's Could See Me Now”, Marina Prior's revisit to Phantom of the Opera with “The Music of The Night”, Anne Wood's “The Winner Takes It All” from Mamma Mia and Nancye Hayes singing “Nowadays” from Chicago (accidentally credited in the printed program to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart).
The entire evening was a delight. For this particular program I would have preferred minor changes in the sequence of songs to make the pace and continuity of the show tighter. The black backdrop, a predominance of black dresses and dark lighting gave the second half of the program a heavier feeling then I would have liked for such an exciting event.
For the next one, and there certainly should be a follow-up to this show, I would like to hear a mix of the old with so much of the new that never gets heard on the legit stage in Melbourne. Songs from Ragtime , Dreamgirls , Judi Connelli's stunning rendition of “Surabaya Santa” from Songs For A New World , songs by Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa, Jason Robert Brown, Maltby and Shire, William Finn and Maury Yeston are just some suggestions.
Australia's Leading Ladies: February 11 – 13, 2005, Her Majesty's Theatre – Melbourne
Produced by Mark Collier-Vickers; director and compere, Nancye Hayes; conductor, Julia de Plater.
WITH: Rhonda Burchmore, Judi Connelli, Sharon Millerchip, Marina Prior, Geraldine Turner, Anne Wood
© Henry Sachwald 2005
(29 November 2004)
At present the only major venue in Melbourne offering regular cabaret fare is Capers in Hawthorn. To their credit, the new owners lead by David Cameron have re-configured the space to the advantage of both the performers and the audience. Spruced up with a new interior design it's a great place to spend an evening (better air conditioning for 30 ° days would be good).
A tradition started at Capers supported by the previous owners has continued with the new owners. Melissa Langton, Susan-Ann Walker and Mark Jones are three of Australia's top cabaret and musical theatre performers. In a highly competitive business, these three performers have chosen to share their knowledge and expertise with new young hopefuls wanting to enter the world of cabaret style entertainment. Through their company Big Hair Productions they have created “THE CAPERS SHOWCASE” where Monday nights are given over to new talent. Before appearing on stage, performers attend workshops with Langton, Walker and Jones, learning how to put together a cabaret act. Style and content is discussed and developed. Repertoire is rehearsed and dialogue is planned before presenting a 20 -30 minute performance in the professional surrounds of Capers.
Monday night November 29 th saw the first Grand Final of The Capers Showcase. The four finalists were David Bramble, Charmaine Gorman, Jacqui Hoy and Julie Lambourn. Judges for the event were Marina Prior and Anne Wood. Playing to a capacity crowd the judging was not made easy due to four well-prepared acts. And the winner(s) on this occasion was a draw with Julie Lambourn and Jacqui Hoy taking home the prize of an engagement at Capers in 2005. Making each performer lookand sound good was the very able piano playing of Mark Jones and Amanda Hodder.
Be sure to look out for The Capers Showcase in 2005.
Capers is located on the corner of Power Street and Burwood Road, Hawthorn.
Bookings: (03) 9819-1797
Interested in doing a Capers Showcase? For information:
EUREKA Bows Out While the JURY Triumphs
(24 November 2004)
EUREKA the Musical bows out of Her Majesty's Theatre on Sunday 28 November but not without a fight. The show opened on October 3 as part of the Melbourne Festival with a vision towards an open-ended run. Audience reaction to the show has been positive but that has not translated into business at the box office. The producers of the show have been extremely generous in discounting tickets in order to make the show financially accessible to the public with limited success. Sadly, Eureka's departure will mean that the only professional musical theatre activity in Melbourne for the foreseeable future will be “ SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER” opening at the end of December at The Arts Centre State Theatre.
In contrast to the slow ticket sales for EUREKA , the independent production of “ 12 ANGRY MEN ” playing at The Athenaeum theatre is packing them in. This is a first class production of what was originally a live television play and then adapted for film in 1957. Coincidentally, the play is having its Broadway premiere at the same time as this Australian touring production currently in Melbourne. What makes this play timely and worthy of mention in this space is the unique quality of the writing, direction and performances by the twelve actors on stage for this 95 minute intermission-less play. Reginald Rose gives meaning to every word and action. There is humour, rage and outrage. Thanks to the strict television censorship rules of the 1950s there is not one curse word or swear word. This may same archaic and restrictive, but it is also refreshing to hear the English language used in the way it is intended. “ 12 ANGRY MEN ” became the prototype for future courtroom dramas. Mr. Rose followed-up “ 12 ANGRY MEN ” with the award winning courtroom television program “ The Defenders ” starring E.G. Marshall and inspired the current television success of “ Law and Order” and the less well known “ 100 Center Street” .
My only criticism about this Australian production and many other Australian productions of contemporary American dramas is the unnecessary need to play them with American accents. Born and bred in The Bronx I find the use of American accents by Australian actors often unnecessary and often distracting. I'm sure that Australians would cringe at the sound of a bad American imitation of an Australian accent on Broadway. The roles in “ 12 ANGRY MEN ” are shaped by the actor's characterisation of the part not by their fake American accents. Two of the most convincing performances were given by the cast members of European extraction, because they didn't fake an accent, they just acted as their character. The messages in “ 12 ANGRY MEN ” are universal. The impression I got watching this production was that the Australian audience was watching a group of Americans deal with the issues of justice, bigotry, and racial and ethnic tolerance. The fact is, those characters could have been Australians and we the audience need to recognise this and relate to them as Australians when watching this drama unfold. What made Shane Bourne's final scene of the play so powerful was that he just let go and acted the part. His accent was not an issue. Compliments must go to the entire cast for an outstanding evening of theatre in Melbourne.
“12 ANGRY MEN” : November 16 –December 4, 2004 – The Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne Australia.
By Reginald Rose
Directed by Guy Masterson
Produced by Arts Projects Australia and Adrian Bohm; designer, Katy Tuxford; costume designer, Dagmar Morell ,
WITH (in juror order): Rob Meldrum, George Kapiniaris, Shane Bourne, Peter Phelps,Nicholas Papademetriou, Peter Flett, Aaron Blabey, Marcus Graham, Henri Szeps,Richard Piper, Alex Menglet and Russell Fletcher.
© Henry Sachwald 2004
August 25, 2004
Mel Brooks' smash hit, multi-award winning musical THE PRODUCERS, officially opened in Melbourne on 17 April 2004. Having had the privilege of seeing the show at the final preview performance the 16 th April, I was swept up by the hoopla and excitement of the official opening. The original film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder has always been a favorite of mine. I was relieved to see the stage musical receive the well-deserved critical acclaim bestowed upon it when it opened on Broadway. However, to this day the success of the Broadway production still seems to rest on the reputation and performance of its original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max and Leo. Without them in the show there has been a massive fluctuation in ticket sales.
I am pleased to say that is not the case with the Australian production of THE PRODUCERS . The Australian production of THE PRODUCERS has more star power than any other production of the show in the U.S., Canada or London. Reg Livermore as Max and Tom Burlinson are established Australian musical theatre performers recognised for their work on the stage, television and film. Add to this the talent of the old school of musical theatre and television performers Tony Sheldon as Roger Debris and Bert Newton as Franz Leibkind and the cast just keeps getting better. But wait, there's more! The less familiar names in Australian musical theatre (until this production) of Grant Piro as Carmen Ghia and Chloe Dallimorë as Ulla virtually steal the show. What is left to sing praises about is the talent of the ensemble.
So here it is Tuesday, August 24, 2004 and I have just gone to see how the show is holding up during these difficult times for musical theatre around the world. I'm pleased to report that on second viewing I loved it even more. This show is an extension of the American musical theatre of the 1920's and 30's. Inspired by the wit of writers like George S. Kaufman, Herbert Fields and Guy Bolton and the words and music of George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart here is a show with a pedigree. In the 1920's' and 30's Broadway musicals were produced on Broadway at the rate that new movies hit local cinemas every week today. This was the entertainment of the day. Sometimes deep and meaningful, sometimes satiric, sometimes just plain silly. The one thing all these shows had in common was humour, good songs and an entertaining night out. THE PRODUCERS delivers all this and asks nothing of its audience other than to have a good laugh and a good time. While musical theatre historians and aficionados can read what they like into the text and musical material, all Mel Brooks wants is for the audience to have a laugh at our selves and have a good time. The capacity crowd at the Princess Theatre on this Tuesday night did just that. What makes this show extraordinary is its ability to attract an audience across all age levels from teenagers to senior citizens with a traditional Broadway musical formula. There are no rock numbers, pop tunes or nudity in this show. In this day of the "jukebox musical" (shows based on songs from the catalogue of current pop music: "Mamma Mia", "We Will Rock You", "Saturday Night Fever", "Movin' Out", "The Boy From Oz", "Fame", Footloose"), its rare for a musical with original music and lyrics to get produced in Australia.
My verdict: The cast, orchestra and crew of this production still play every performance as if it were opening night. The timing is sharp and the orchestra sounds great. THE PRODUCERS disproves the rumours that the "Broadway" musical is dead. These days it's just very expensive to present. So get your tickets now to keep musical theatre alive in Australia.
August 22, 2004
On Wednesday night 18 August The Production Company premiered "CAROUSEL - A Concert" as the second musical for its 2004 season.
There are two factors that make this production special:
1. It is the first professional presentation of what is probably Rodgers and Hammerstein's finest collaboration to be seen in Melbourne since the original full stage production premiered at The Princess Theatre , Melbourne on 5 June 1964.
2. David Campbell as Billy Bigelow.
For reasons unknown, Cameron Mackintosh withdrew a planned production of his acclaimed National Theatre production of "Carousel" for Melbourne a number of years ago. Reasons rumoured for pulling the production were related to casting problems, others were financial. In any case the production never happened.
While the current Production Company limited engagement of 5 performances is certainly no replacement for a full production of the National Theatre standard, it fulfils a need to share this musical with a new generation musical theatre audience.
The choice of David Campbell to play the role of Billy Bigelow was a natural. You could be excused for thinking that David Campbell grew up in New York City and spent every Saturday afternoon at a Broadway matinee. His love and appreciation of American musical theatre repertoire is overwhelming, considering he was born and bred in Australia. One of David's earlier one-man shows "A Kid Inside" was a valentine to New York and his romance with Broadway musicals. Campbell brings a youthful vitality with a soaring voice to the role of Billy in a performance that would be as strong on Broadway today as Hugh Jackman's in "Oklahoma" and "The Boy From Oz".
"Carousel" is a period piece that asks us to hold on to our personal values, hopes and dreams. We are told not to be afraid of anyone or anything and "keep your chin up high". How many of us need to be reminded of that each day as we are bombarded with the commercial values of life through peer pressure, mass media advertising and news reporting? Of the hundreds of musicals that have been written since the past century, certain shows stand out as unique in their contribution to changing or enhancing our lives. These shows challenge both form and society and still achieve their primary goal: to entertain. CAROUSEL is one of these shows along with SHOWBOAT, MY FAIR LADY, WEST SIDE STORY and LES MISERABLES.
As usual the compressed rehearsal period, scripts down, limited performance regime of The Production Company still leaves a lot to be desired. But the quality of the ensemble performance shines through in what is a probably one of the best and most important choices made by this enterprising organisation to date. Without this organisation we would not have had the opportunity to hear the incredible voices of Danielle Barnes as Julie Jordan, Carrie Barr as Carrie Pipperidge, Melissa Langton as Nettie Fowler and Adam Murphy as Jigger Craigin.
It's time for Cameron Mackintosh to re-consider presenting that National Theatre production down-under.
CAROUSEL: August 18 -21, 2004 - State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne Australia
Music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hasmmerstein II; Direction by Gary Young; Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth; Conductor and musical director, Guy Simpson; Orchestra Victoria; Set and Costume design by Richard Jeziorny; Lighting design by Chris Paterson; Sound design, Julian Spink for Sound System; presented by the The Production Company. At the State Theate, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
WITH: David Campbell (Billy Bigelow), Danielle Barnes (Julie Jordan), Carrie Barr(Carrie Pipperidge), Melissa Langton (Nettie Fowler), Adam Murphy (Jigger Craigin), Derek Taylor (Enoch Snow), Anne Wood (Mrs Mullin), Terence Donovan (The Starkeeper) and Louise Bell, Nicholas Cannon, Lucy Durack, Lucas Glover, Katie Houghton, Dena Amy Kaplan, Annabel Knight, Andrew Koblar, Tanya Mitford,Bessie Nassiokas, Peter Nicholls, John Peek, Gorgi Quill, Matthew Robinson, Eliza Tarpey, Sophie Viskich, Andrew Waters, Stephen Wheat.
© Henry Sachwald 2004
July 17, 2004
Inspiring! Is the word to describe the sound of Robyn Arthur, Tracy Bartram, Debra Byrne, Tracey Mann and Wendy Stapleton singing the songs of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carole King and Peter, Paul and Mary to the arrangements of Rod Davies. No this isn't a stage version of "Woodstock". It's not another musical in the tradition of "We Will Rock You" or "Mamma Mia" either. This is a touching and emotional dramatisation of a book by Siobhan McHugh entitled Minefields and Miniskirts . Ms McHugh's book is a collection of interviews with more than fifty women who shared their recollections of their time in Vietnam during the war.
This sensitive adaptation written and directed by Terrence O'Connell trims the cast down to five women representing the female Australian volunteers, journalists, nurses, wives and entertainers who had stories to tell about their Vietnam War experiences.
Through McHugh's book O'Connell transports us back to a time that is still disturbing to those of us who lived through it. Instead of hearing all the stories of anti-war protests these women tell how they confronted the war face to face. The nurses tending to the wounded Vietnamese civilians as well as the soldiers. The female journalists wanting to write about something more than the afternoon-tea set. The girls that went to entertain the troops, many of them looking for an adventure and a chance to see the world, some not realising the danger they were getting into, and that they were becoming an active part of the war. There are the wives unable to deal with their husband's trauma when they came home and the volunteers just wanting to help make life better for all those effected by the war.
The play has had an amazing impact on its audience and the performers.
After the performance stories are shared between the actors and the real nurses and entertainers who say, "I was there". For those of us that weren't, those incredible songs bring back vivid memories of a time that sadly keeps repeating itself as long as wars persist. "And the seasons, they go round and round…."( The Circle Game , Joni Mitchell).
This is an amazing piece of original Australian theatre not to be missed.
MINEFIELDS AND MINISKIRTS : World Premiere Production July 14 -31, 2004 - Playbox at the Malthouse, Melbourne Australia
Adapted and directed by Terence O'Connell from Siobhan McHugh's book;
Produced by Playbox; designer, Catherine Raven; lighting, Phil Lethlean; sound design, Rod Davies; choreographer, Alana Scanlan; costumes, Sunchana Gogic; sound, Russell Goldsmith.
WITH: Robyn Arthur (The Volunteer), Tracy Bartram (The Journalist), Debra Byrne (The Nurse), Tracey Mann (The Vietnam Vet's Wife), Wendy Stapleton (The Entertainer).
© Henry Sachwald 2004