SIX the Musical

Six Musical Adelaide 2022Her Majesty’s Theatre. Louise Withers, Michael Coppell & Linda Bewick in arrangement with Kenny Waxx, & Andy Barns and George Stiles. 22 May 2022

 

The historical musical sings. Literally. Wildly. Rapturously. Outrageously.

 

Bravo to Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for concocting such a vivid and “now” piece of rock theatre. 

Six is not just loud, cheeky and in-your face, it is historically apposite, a lesson in the mores of Tudor England and the rapacious monarchical lust for male succession.

 

In this contemporary interpretation, the six wives of Henry VIII do a playoff for posthumous glory. "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." That’s their narrative and the refrain to their opening song which has a little something in common with the enumerations of the murderers in Chicago’s wonderful Cell Block Tango by Sondheim.

But there, any associations are vanquished, as are those poor privileged women. Let’s not forget they were queens. 

They are not forgetting it.

They are costumed in positively splendiferous regal bling, sexy dance costumes with olde English motif but out-there disco sexiness. These are the designs of Gabriella Slade and, as the show progresses, it becomes clear how well this designer has evoked the sense of character of each of the ex-queens in their glittering garb. They even subtly incorporate the ingenious stage practicality of microphone holders to enable hands-free dancing through the very vigorous routines created by choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. 

 

The six queens do a lot of hoofing in and around their big solos, each of which explains their particular destinies in this fascinating slice of English history.

The lyrics sing the tale in contemporary idiom, drawing in the associations of selfies and TikTok and, indeed, one discovers that these very songs have been DIY performance hits on TikTok for years now.

So, while the older audience members marvel at the skilful fun of the show and the exuberant abilities of the performers, the target demographic is just right in the zone.  The generations meet. And it is good. Because this show is really good. It is raunchy but also wholesome. It kicks up the heels and pulls no punches. After all, history is red in tooth and claw. 

 

So we meet Catherine of Aragon, the paragon who was married to Henry for 24 years. A ferocious female figure if ever one there was, and Phoenix Jackson Mendoza kicks up her spiteful heels a treat.

And here emerges Anne Boleyn, embodied fiercely by Kala Gare; sexy; beheaded. 

Jane Seymour, performed by Loren Hunter, is the one Henry truly loved, they say. She gave him an heir and died. 

Then there was Anna of Cleves, the one who took so much matchmaking but whose Hans Holbein portrait was to make and break her. In Henry’s eyes she didn’t live up to it. Luckily she came with a massive dowry. Kiana Daniele plays this role and as a character actor, singer, and dancer, she pretty well brings the house down.

Katherine Howard, deliciously portrayed by Chelsea Dawson, had a lousy reputation and an even lousier destiny. 

Catherine Parr was the wife who survived her king and, as Six points out emphatically, was not just the last wife but the first woman in England to publish books under her own name. Vidya Makan represents her not only with eloquent song but an exquisitely lithe dance presence. 

 

It is a fast and furious song and dance show. The onstage band bops with the dancers and a sense of exuberant pop pervades, with the various characters and their musical numbers designed to mirror the cult pop stars de jour.

It is a theatrical creation which has sought and found the contemporary feminist zeitgeist while, of all things, telling a tale of Tudor yore.

 

The pandemic has interrupted its impact upon the world but now, with a sizzling Australian cast and an excellence of production values, it just has to bliss out foot-tapping, time-clapping, effusively cheering audiences across the land.

Don’t let it elude you. Go.

Out of five, Six gets a six.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 22 May to 12 Jun

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bookings: Ticketek.com.au

Cathedral

Cathedral State Theatre Company 2022State Theatre Company South Australia. Space Theatre. 10 May 2011

 

With a head brimming with anticipations of the eerie beauty of the trails of greenery and crystal clear waters of the Southeast’s sinkholes, it was disconcerting to discover that Cathedral, Caleb Lewis's new one-hander about deep diving, is depicted upon an almost glacial black and white set.

 

Expectations are overwhelmed by the otherworld reality, obscured by descriptions of the terrifying clouds of silt, the ultimate blinding terror of the deep, that of which one never thinks.

 

Romantic notions be damned.

This play is a voyage into damnation.

 

Kathryn Sproul’s set offers a small landing dock whence divers descend to those eerie deeps and behind it a crack in the symbolic cliff, the sort through which spleunkers may find their way into cave world.

 

Down on the Limestone Coast we know there are labyrinths of caves and tunnels, a genuine underworld. Hence for South Australians, the immediacy of this very creative stage piece.

 

And, oh how effectively it deters one for so much as contemplation of floating atop a Limestone Coast sinkhole, let alone diving in the icy depths of the North Sea.

 

Clay, the Aussie diver, takes the audience into a netherworld which is very dark and scary, indeed.

 

As a professional diver, his career takes him from Australia to Thailand where he is challenged that teaching diving to people to see moon fish is too easy. He should brave the wild North Sea.

 

Performed by the wonderful Nathan O’Keefe in a rather dashing wetsuit, Lewis’s script traces Clay through the training and near-death experiences and the loss and anguish which follow him. While the monologue is embellished with some extravagantly lyrical prose, it is also quite gruelling as it delves the inimical depths, gathering in the dark recesses the idea of long-lost bodies of peers and family. 

 

O’Keefe writhes onstage in accumulating despair.  He gasps for air in a performance of visceral intensity.  One finds oneself recoiling in horror.  This is the stuff of nightmares. 

 

O'Keefe is always alone but the voices of others are heard from the somewhere nowhere of his memory. Occasionally there are terrifying bursts of explosive sound and even frenetic music in a perhaps over-amplified soundscape by Andrew Howard.

 

Kathryn Sproul’s set with Mark Oakley’s lighting give the stage an expansive bleakness, occasionally with the circle of light symbolising air and hope, finally with shards of violent brightness spearing through the black. It is not an easy concept to illustrate and a lot of ingenuity is evident.

 

Director Shannon Rush has pushed the monologue to an urgent pace, thrusting its dramatic edginess forth. It takes an actor with O’Keefe’s skills to deliver the lonely sturm-und-drang of the wicked dark waters. But, he does. It’s his tour de force.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 10 to 21 May

Where: Space Theatre

Bookings: statethetrecompany.com.au

Hello Dolly!

Hello Dolly The Met 2022Metropolitan Musical Theatre Co.of SA. Arts Theatre. 6 May 2022

 

Quick sticks.  Here’s your chance for a fabulous, Broadway musical comedy at affordable prices.

This Met production of Hello Dolly! is a gem; a very big gem since it has a very large cast and production team. 

 

But the Met has been doing musicals for yonks, or in this case, Yonkers (Dolly in-joke), and it has all the requisite resources - i.e. access to a 14-piece wind orchestra and a cast of thousands.

 

If you can find the depth of talent for the principals, Hello Dolly! is one of the all-time feel-good joys of the  stage with its pedigreed American origins in a Thornton Wilder play adapted by Michael Stewart with Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics.

 

Met director, Barry Hill, has chosen well in casting Bronwen James as Dolly Levi, the idiosyncratic widowed matchmaker furiously pairing off people in Yonkers, principally the mean old millionaire Horace Vandengelder. James ages up for the part and gives Dolly a sense of gutsy Americana. When it comes to the big songs, she belts them out with characterful ease. Robin Schmeltzkopf is gorgeously gruff as Vandergelder and one wishes the part had more songs, because his voice is from heaven.

 

Liam Phillips and Kristian Latella work very nicely as his two young exploited workers, Hackle and Tucker. Both are capable song and dance men and they get paired off with lovely singers in life called Natasha Woods and Issy Darwent. It is a strong and likeable cast of principals and supports, albeit when she’s holding the stage, James also draws the eye.

 

It’s all colour and movement with familiar songs such as It Takes a Woman, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Only Takes a Moment and, of course, Hello Dolly.

The choreography by Jacinta Vistoli is just beaut - old school and often witty. The ensemble clearly has put the work in because the timing and discipline shows.

With Serena Cann as musical director, the balance between singers and orchestra is never awry. 

 

The sets are sensible, easily dressed by the swarm of performers while the costumes are many and varied and as entirely eclectic as they are colourful. 

The whole, huge show is presented in a spirit of fun and it certainly spilled a happy audience out into the cold street on opening night. 

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 8 to 14 May

Where: Arts Theatre

Bookings: metmusicals.com.au

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire Bakehouse 2022Bakehouse Theatre. 27 Apr 2022

 

Poison riddled dreams, hope and reality are the sum of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

Blanche Dubois comes to visit her married sister Stella in a state of undeclared denial and that very denial unleashes a torrent of destruction.

 

Director Michael Baldwin serves Williams’ text with a production ensuring dark and beautiful shades of Williams’ writing find expression in every way possible. This is a centrally powerful achievement. The writing sings, as the actors expressing it present lives that don’t have much as song, but desperation tinged with moments of joy in them.

Blanche’s arrival unleashes battles; within Blanche with herself; against her sister’s husband Stanley; and her sister in a less confronting way.

 

Blanche’s (Melanie Munt) very first entrance gives away a small lost soul of great expectation quietly shocked by the threadbare working class area and home of her sister.

Once inside, her well educated, glamorous school teacher persona of the South grows. She fills the small space with her tales and old fashioned ideas sparking off Stanley’s (Paul Westbrook) ever growing antagonism and suspicion, and many times angering Stella (Justina Ward) with her put downs of Stanley.

Blanche works hard to be liked. Works hard to hide an obvious need to drink. Works hard to build a respectable image of herself. Works hard to make herself a grand family woman.

This so powerfully grates against Stanley’s direct and basic masculinity there is literal smashing of plates and tears as the tiny two bedroom space all three share, (designed by Tammy Boden with support) cannot hold this turmoil in.

 

Salvation seems to appear for Blanche in the person of Stanley’s best friend and card night regular Mitch (Marc Clement). Between the curtains, as the boys play cards and the girls ready to go out, a spark fires between Mitch and Blanche.

This spark servers to bring into full focus the agonising battle of emotional extremes A Streetcar Named Desire is famed for. This is where the care in Baldwin’s direction seriously kicks in.

The battle between culture and working class ‘animal’ life has its origins revealed. In lost love. In death. In depravity. Dream versus ugly reality as Blanche eventually rehearses her demons on a fast track to madness.

 

Melanie Munt carries the weight of this magnificent production on her shoulders with profound insight into multiple layers of Blanche. She is brilliantly partnered by Paul Westbrook’s Stanley, a tough, no nonsense characterisation filled with earthy charisma hiding a subtle intelligence behind the rough bravado. Munt and Westbrook’s scenes together are must see stuff. Justina Ward’s Stella offers the perfect peaceful ordinary salve of a woman very happy in life, in love whose very peace shows up the overstrained spirits of her sister and husband.

 

Equally important and strong are support performances from Susan Cilento (Eunice/Mexican Woman), Nathan Brown (Steve), Matthew Adams (Young Man) - in his first professional show, in a most touching, comic yet important performance - and magnificent cameos from Bakehouse Theatre producers Pamela Munt (Nurse) and Peter Green (Doctor).

 

David O’Brien

 

When: 27 Apr to 7 May

Where: Bakehouse Theatre

Bookings: trybooking.com

Tarantara! Tarantara!

Tarantara Tarantara GandS SA 2022Gilbert and Sullivan Society of SA. Arts Theatre. 28 Apr 2022

 

This G&S Season 2022 opener represents a huge amount of work for an absurdly short exposure. Just four performances. Blink and you’ve missed it.

Not that it is by any means the greatest triumph in the G&S panoply. But, it’s an enlightening diversion, an informative bio-show, and diligently performed by some substantial talent.

Of course, a semi-full opening night house made the mask-wearing and vax-proven audience members feel very relaxed and thus able to relish the entertainment.

 

The opening night performance started with a certain hesitancy but, as it ran into its bio narrative and the litany of beloved G&S songs from their many shows, one could feel the sense of contentment overcoming the audience. It is a very long show and would not suffer a bit of nip and tuck, but the audience stayed with it.

 

G&S have done shows with better production values. The frocks in Tarantara! are a bit of a grab-bag and, as W.S. Gilbert,  the wonderful Nicholas Bishop is flapping around in trousers capacious enough for several men. Wonderful fabric, of course. But distracting.

Paul Briske as Arthur Sullivan is more presentable in a long formal coat and classy Andrew Crispe as Richard D’Oyly Carte is a period fashion plate, exquisitely attired.   Nicholas Munday plays George Grossmith in a series of costume changes while darting from character to character. He takes on the most arduously tongue-twisting of the Gilbert lyrics, establishing himself as a talent to be watched on the Adelaide musical stage. Because of the complexity of the multi-operetta narrative, some ingenuity is required with costumes over costumes and hats and (ghastly) wigs, not to mention the myriad props for a large cast. It is an ambitious production at the best of times. And the two Snoswells behind the costumes made the complex changes seem easy. 

 

Tartantara! Tarantara! is not a G&S creation. It was written by Ian Taylor as a musical play and it is about the famous trio and the hows, wherefores, and assorted stresses of their personal and professional stories. There’s plenty of suspense and, indeed, the reason for the downfall of their famous long-term collaboration is breathtakingly petty, and absurdly human.

 

Director Richard Trevaskis counts Tarantara! Tarantara! as a beloved show and this was his third production.  In this case he worked with Christine Hogden as musical director, and it is a brave feat since piano alone turns out to be very effective as musical accompaniment. 

 

The ensemble shows the customary G&S high standards, good voices, good harmonies, and nice characterisations. On opening night, stage hand Grace Carter stepped into a major support role with absolute skill and charm. Around her were seasoned singers such as crystal-toned soprano Megan Doherty with Hazel Green and Vanessa Lee Shirley.  James Nicholson simply shone in his assorted cameos; a lovely singer with a spirited stage presence. Tenor Anthony Little perfected the harmonies from his role as a busy ensemble extra with Suriya Umpapthysivam another able chorus member.

 

The set by Tim De Jong and Vanessa Lee Shirley is a three-in one, representing the worlds of the three principal characters.  They are brightly coloured with highly detailed Victoriana decor and, with ragged black chasms between them, are designed to look as if they have been ripped asunder. For the comings and goings of the cast, those chasms work well. It is a very busy show.

 

There’s still time to grab a seat.

You won’t be sorry.

 

Samela Harris

 

When 28 to 30 Apr

Where: Arts Theatre

Bookings: gandssa.com.au

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