Sunday, 18 October 2015

Anything Goes, Australian Opera, Sydney Opera House

It's a weird choice for the Australian Opera to do this particularly jazzy 1930s musical - this is a very silly light show with very little use for the kind of voices the Australian Opera usually uses (only soprano ingenue Hope Harcort (played by Claire Lyon) requires legit voice). But if they're going to do it, they're going to do it with a lot of pizzaz and style.

Most of this works in Dean Bryant's production. The action, largely taking place on a cruise ship between New York and London, is largely comedic shenanigans as multiple identites, misdirected love triangles, billionaires, criminals and revivalist singers all collide repeatedly, and is basically an excuse to get through a truly stunning set of Cole Porter songs. There is a slightly mismatch between the tone of the script and some of the performances - the songs in particular are sophisticated wit, while the performances do include a few "punch in the crotch" jokes that seem awfully unnencessary - I know the title is "Anything Goes" but you don't need to throw in everything and the kitchen sink.

Leading the cast is Caroline O'Connor, who is in good voice but whose acting occasionally feels over-indicated - while singing, there's an awkward tendency for her to over-illustrate the lyrics, which works okay in the comic material, but has issues in the more sentimental (in particular, her opening "I get a Kick Out of you" sets things off on a bad footing - it's not a song that needs to be mugged for comedy, although it is strangely placed in the script - it's a charming love ditty delivered to a guy who shows no interest whatsoever in her and who spents the rest of the show chasing someone else). She does lift the roof off the joint for the two big production numbers, the title song at the end of act one and the practically blasphemous revival meeting for "Blow Gabriel Blow", which is what's required.

As the romantic lead, Alex Rathberger has a pleasantly winning air, even when indulging in multiple impersonations to win the girl, and also a charming tenor. He has that 1930's "full of pep, energy and wit" attitude that sets the period right. Wayne Scott-Kermond has most of the low comedy of the show as the goofy crook Moonface Martin and lands it right down the middle of the theatre in broad, wildly appealing strokes.

Claire Lyon has the weakest role of the principals but a nice soprano voice - it's not her fault that Hope's "why I can't get the guy" excuses are so very underwritten. Todd McKenny has over-inflated billing but is amusingly foppish in his silly-british-lord role (though the "improvised" shenanigans in his big scene do go on a bit and are very probably not improvised). Debra Krizak's Erma is largely a loud broad at the edges of the plot but she's a knockout in her one big number, "Buddy Beware", as a closing number. In the minor roles I'll put a particular shout out to Nicholas Kong who drew attention in the STC's ill-fated "Spring Awakening" a few years ago and is still just as "why hasn't this guy played a major principal role" 5 years later.

As big-broadway-musicals go, this is worth it for the big production numbers, which are staged big and broad and are blockbustingly good (Andrew Hallsworth's choreography uses props and a skilled dance ensemble with apomb), though it is ultimately a very silly evening (with not all of the comedy landing as firmly as it might). Still, the positives do outweigh the negatives just enough to give this a recommend.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Rabbit for Kim Jong Il, Griffin Theatre, The Stables

This is a sweet little play that ultimately kinda doesn't work. Partially because ... in the end, it's about North Korea. Well, it's not about North Korea. It's the age old story about an innocent who goes abroad and ends up out of their depth. Except that the abroad is North Korea. And it kinda doesn't work to be sweet and innocent and little about North Korea. North Korea isn't a country where sweet and innocent things happen. It's a place where there's a brutal dictatorship that has been going on for quite some time. And a play that takes place against that backdrop without really engaging in it tends to feel kinda feeble.

Kit Brookman's script is taken from an anecdote about a German rabbit farmer whose specially bred giant rabbits were traded to the North Koreans, allegedly as part of a potential breeding program to break a famine. There's significant expansion of this (sending the German rabbit farmer after his rabbit, letting the rabbit have a voice, enlisting the surprising assistance of a friendly pet shop owner, and letting the two Koreans have their own contrasting agendas), but none of this really serves to widen the appeal of the original anecdote.

Steve Rodgers as the farmer is at the centre of the story is firmly sympathetic throughout. Kate Box has a messier time of it (her character twists are never entirely convincing) but she plays whatever her characcter is meant to be in the moment with conviction. Kaeng Chan's Chun is underdeveloped as a functionary who appears to have bigger plans - there's a nice sense that he's uncertain how his plans will play out and just as bewhildered as everybody else, but his character doesn't quite get that third dimension for full buy-in. Meme Thorne's Park Chun-Hei is a firmer martinet with some of her own oddities, but again, she isn't really fully dimensionalised as anything other than a threat. Brookman plays the rabbit with sweet naivete but appears a tad out of his depth when asked to play anything beyond happy hopefulness (when worries start applying, they don't appear to fully land in his performance - and in any case, I'm not entirely sure that the choice to give the rabbit more of a personality than the Koreans was a wise one).

Lee Lewis' production doesn't avoid the sentimental and too-damn nice pitfalls of the script, though it does move reasonably through the international action. It feels almost like it's trying to be a parable, but parables do need simplicity to work, and this doesn't quite get a firm sense of why it's telling the story it's telling. So unfortunately I can't quite recommend this.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Company, Everyman Theatre, The Q

"Company" is a rich theatrical meal - looking at love, friendship and life through a distinctly New York lens, it revolves around one single man on his 35th birthday as he reflects on his friendships with five different married couples and three significant romantic relationships. The songs are teeming with witty observations ("It's the little things you do together"), reflective ambivalence ("Sorry-Grateful") and sometimes just plain flat out insanity ("Getting Married Today")

Everyman's production features a ridiculously talented ensemble cast under some spectacular, tight direction from Jordan Best. Leading the way is Jarrad West, who is the perfect sardonic observer - somewhere between engaged and amused by his friends and terrified as their various insanities manifest. His quest to understand relationships and himself is the thread that ties the show together, and he is a great audiences-eye-view character, as well as opening up in great voice for the yearning "Someone is Waiting", the cavalcade-of-bullshit-false-epiphany "Marry Me a Little" and the climactic, emotive "Being Alive".

Through the various couples, we get Jordan Best and Will Huang as a strangely functional-dysfunctional couple, showing off all kinds of worrying tics, from the constantly correcting one another, to the mutual addictions, to some hysterical physical comedy as the battle gets hands on. Max Gambale and Helen McFarlane are the domestic types, taking a mild walk on the wild side with a little reefer - McFarlane's stoned gabbling is hysterical, and Gambale plays both the wild fun with McFarlane, and the more sober side as they lean back towards being responsible parents. Phillipa Murphy and Tim Sekuless are the swinger-inner-city couple who wildly celebrate their divorce, but are happy to stay living together (with maybe the occasional play-around on the side) - both have an enthusiastic, open friendly nature, and both also do great stuff in the ensemble, Murphy as the lead chorister in "Getting Married Today", and Sekuless with great physical work during "Have I got a Girl for You". Riley Bell and Laura Dawson are the preppie types whose disastrous wedding morning we sit in on (as Dawson delivers the flat-out-best-version of "Getting Married Today" I've ever seen - capturing every bit of rambling psychosis with crystal clarity to hysterical effect, and with Bell providing stable, emotive, everloving support - there's a great sense that here is a sensible, loving guy that Dawson could not be without). Jerry Hearn and Karen Vickery are the older friends with money - aware they're slightly over the hill but still out in the nightclubs -  Hearn has some great silly-duffer dancing and a few moments of barely suppressed emotional pain at his not-quite-right relationship, while Vickery epitomises blousy, sophisticated, bitter self-hatred with a cocktail and a sneer.

As the three girlfriends, Amy Dunham is sweetly naive and also brings her A-game in wild insanity. I don't think I've previously seen her play a dumb blonde, but this one is dumb like a fox - fascinating, eccentric, bewildered but somehow getting where she's going anyway. Vanessa DeJaeger gives Marta some downtown cool - her "Another Hundred People" manages to be both bitter and yearning, and in her scene with Bobby, she has that great ability to make you feel like you don't know where her character's going to go next, but make you always delighted when you get there. Michelle Norris is practical, sweet, kind yet determined in her scene and her dancer's body unleashes wildly unconventional erotic moves during "Tick-Tock".

Jordan Best's direction is tight as a drum, keeping every emotional moment on track and swerving the scenes into each other in glorious mixes that can switch from laughter to drama in seconds. Tim Hansen's musical direction gives us a band that nails a tricky, complicatedly rhythmic score. James Batchelor's choreography has a great range of movements that feel both characterful and true. Michael Spark's set takes one lyric ("All those pictures up on the wall") and makes it glorious reality with a series of frames and squares, while keeping an open, adaptable space that can, and does, go anywhere within Manhattan's limits. Lighting by Kelly McGannon is spot-on, whether it's the small picture-frame moments or the green-zombie glow during "What would we do without you", and Steve Allsop's sound design works perfectly on opening night, barring one bumped microphone (that should be a standard, but ... honestly, with musicals, I've seen so many messily spotty sound cues as actors are picked up three bars into a song that it's almost turned me off seeing shows in their first week).

In short - this is a show I love. Done by a company I love. Full of actors I love. Directed by a director that I love. Is there any surprise that, yes, I love the everloving hell out of this show. Go see it.