Friday, 20 June 2014

Showtune, Canberra Rep

Rep's regular variety performances have been a popular favourite for the better part of 40 years - throwing a range of performers and sketches together for spontaneous mixed performances with verve and enthusiasm. Variety has been slipping away as a popular art form, however (largely a nostalgia thing - the last time there was a big wave of variety on TV was the 70s and early 80s), and this season, Rep's not quite delivering variety - instead, it's a tribute revue to Jerry Herman, that most showbizzy of composers.

There's still a wide variety of numbers - from jazzy sass to heart-rending-pathos to big chorus numbers. With a cast of eleven (well, twelve if you include musical director and accompanist Leisa Keen, who sings a few solos and joins in on the chorus numbers). The show as curated by Paul Gilger parades through around 38 songs over ten sequences of songs, with clever thematic combinations forming connections across different shows from different eras, including letting songs from one show become rebuttals to the sexist assumptions of songs from another era.

There's a lot of high points - Sarah Hull conquers with a whammo "Wherever He Ain't"; there's a lovely blending of two obscure songs from "Dear World", "And I was Beautiful" and "Kiss Her Now" shared between Michael Moore and Janelle McMenamin; Moore also gets to do his Louis Armstrong impersonation for "Hello Dolly"; Keen's delivery of "Time Heals Everything" is soulful and strong; and McLenamin and Liz DeToth get a chunk of good laughs with the classic "Bosom Buddies". There's a lot of wit in Jordan Kelly's staging (in particular, the act two opener "Just Go to the Movies") and the show flows delightfully throughout.

Unfortunately, this still remains a bit of an uneven show that isn't as tight as it might be - I don't know whether first night nerves were hitting heavily or whether the cast were in uncomfortable spots in their vocal range for a few songs, and a couple of dance routines were spottier than they should have been. But this is thoroughly decent light entertainment, showing off talented performers skillfully - and that's always welcome.

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