Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Song to Sing O

this was terrific a great show

Christopher Hamilton as Sir Joseph Porter in Melvyn Morrow's classic
Christopher Hamilton as Sir Joseph Porter in Melvyn Morrow’s classic
Kicking off the ‘Cabaret in the Day’ season at Mosman Art Gallery was a one off performance of the magnificent A SONG TO SING O , written and directed by Melvyn Morrow and here featuring the splendid talents of Savoy legend Christopher Hamilton playing  George Grossmith, accompanied on piano by Jayne Hamilton.
Grossmith was a leading Savoyard comic baritone, ( best known for his ‘patter’ roles ), comedian and writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he created 18 comic operas, nearly 100 musical sketches, some 600 songs and piano pieces, three books and both serious and comic pieces for newspapers and magazines. and among others created the roles of Sir Joseph Porter( HMS Pinafore ) , Major General Stanley  (The Pirates of Penzance), KoKo ( The Mikado) , and Jack Point ( Yeomen of the Guard) .
The audience is invited in as Mr Peabody, a visiting American journalist, is there to interview Grossmith, and this leads to performances from all his great roles. Grossmith is in his dressing room just before a show .The set includes a wallpapered Chinoiserie like screen and an elegant tea set , plus a hatstand , huge wicker traveling basket and a large vase all containing various props used in the show (for example Bunthorne’s lily). There are witty asides about working in the Savoy Company and with Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as Oscar Wilde amongst others. As well there are some terrific performances of a couple of Grossmith’s own songs– for example the poignant ‘Muddle Headed Porter’ and the rollicking ‘See Me Dance the Polka’ . Grossmith’s own wit also shone in his enchanting performance of ‘French Verbs’ – wickedly delightful.
Hamilton as Grossmith was glorious, warm, with a wicked twinkling eye where appropriate, a mobile expressive face and a terrific voice.  The performance was enthralling and he channeled Grossmith with great gusto. Various selections from the much loved Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire are performed starting off with ‘Trial by Jury’ and ‘My Name is John Wellington Wells’ from ‘The Sorcerer’. The tongue twisting, rapid fire ‘patter’ songs are tremendously performed .His Sir Joseph Porter KCB ( ‘ HMS Pinafore ‘ ) was excellent – refined, slightly effete . As Major General Stanley he was breathlessly fabulous. The fiendishly difficult Lord Chancellor’s ‘Nightmare Song’ from ‘Iolanthe’ was thrillingly performed .With swirling cape and a hunchback he became the horrid , testy King Gama  ( ‘Princess Ida’ ) who ‘can’t  think why’ he isn’t liked. Another famous Grossmith role was Koko from ‘The Mikado’ – his plaintive, compelling performance of ‘Tit Willow’ would have any hard hearted Katisha weeping. As Bunthorne (from ‘Patience’) with a green hat and cravat he is transformed into a languid S shape , narcissistically admiring a lily.
‘A Song to Sing O’ from ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ brought the interview to a close with a magnificent duet with a surprise appearance .
Encore and bravo. Or, as the Pirate King would say to Major-General Stanley, ‘Again’!
Melvyn Morrow’s A SONG TO SING O, running time an hour and ten minutes, played for one night only at the Mosman Gallery on June 30.
The next Cabaret In The Day shows are OUR GLAD on July 14, BROADWAY BARD on July 28 and finally Romance!ROMANCE! on September 1, 2013. All shows start at 3pm. The Mosman Art Gallery is located on the corner of Art Gallery Way and Myahgah Road, Mosman. Phone 99784178

Oz Opera's The Magic Flute at the Conocurse , Chatswood

much fun

Three cheers for this delightful 'childrens' version of THE MAGIC FLUTE by Oz Opera, the educational side of Opera Australia. Bright, bold and colourful the show is enormous fun. Both adults and children loved it, with the children asking plenty of questions in the Q & A session afterwards.
The production is a heavily cut version ( just on an hour) of Mozart’s much loved opera , sung by a small cast with piano accompaniment. It is sung in English which makes it very accessible for young school kids. The complicated plot is clearly told with the famous arias included.
The small cast were magnificent, in glorious voice and they performed with relish and gusto. The show featured audience participation, with the kids helping the Lady with her spells, and acting as echoes to Papageno’s pipes.
The set was small and simple, primarily two ‘rocks’ and a couple of curtains and doors. There was a kind of panto feel to the Monster, who whilst tall, is not really scary, – rather more like Dorothy the Dinosaur.
Her Majesty the Queen of the Night (Clarissa Spata) is imposing and sparkly in black and silver with long black gloves, an elegant villainess who superbly handles the famous, very difficult, showy coloratura fireworks in the big aria.
Sarastro is mostly in beige or white (Obi Wan like) .He is aloof and scary at first with his marvellous deep bass voice but turns out to be a ‘goodie’ . What is the symbolism of the gold breastplate he wears? The Masonic ideas and symbolism are still kept in this version. Tamino still has to try the three doors, of Wisdom, Love and Truth. Hieroglyphs decorate the various door portals and the doors are painted yellow and turquoise, depicting the shift between day and night
As Papageno, Ashley Giles is brilliant, a compelling Pied Piper with his pipes and birdcage. His interaction with the children in the audience before the show started was delightful.  His motley colourful costume included a scattering of feathers to camouflage him as part of his job,- catching birds for the Queen of the Night. Papageno is played as if a Hobitt, a not very bright, impulsive homebody who does not want any adventures but gets them anyway! Papagena , his  long wished for girlfriend gloriously sung by Clarissa Spata, is sort of dressed as if hippie/flower power inspired and she wears a large orange flower in her hair. Their rhythmic stuttering ‘Papageno/Papagena.. ‘ duet is charming.
As Prince Tamino Kaine Hayward is splendid , in fabulous voice and he looks like he is straight out of a fairy tale book. Princess Pamina (Alice Girle) is sweetly beautiful in a long blue gown .Once she has met and fallen in love with Tamino she proves strong, controlled and determined. At the end Tamino and Pamina wear gold and white ceremonial robes for their coronation, symbolising they have passed all of Sarastro’s tests ( silence, water, fire…) .
A splendid way of introducing young kids to opera. Bravo!
Opera Australia’s Oz Operas’ THE MAGIC FLUTE with a running time of one hour and fifteen minutes played  the Concourse Chatswood for one night only Wednesday July 10

Opera Australia's TOSCA

Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide

This new production by John Bell for Opera Australia is controversial and is sharply dividing audiences and critics alike. It is dark, bleak and has volcanically passionate undertones.
This challenging, unsettling revival has seen the narrative reset to Rome in the 1940’s, with the Nazi occupation. Guns, death and violence everywhere – beware!
Musically the production is superb, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro Christian Badea playing superbly.  At a couple of points one could hear hints of his ‘ Madama Butterfly’ ,  ‘Turandot ‘ and ‘ La Boheme’ – sometimes starkly dramatic , sometimes lyrically passionate.
Special mention must be made of the more than wonderful opulent Baroque church set design for Act 1. Act 2 is far more sinister, Scarpia’s  office is dominated  by a long table and huge Swastika banners. I also liked the large windows. Act 3 is even darker and greyer with a huge staircase and barbed wire as the interior of a prison camp.
As Floria Tosca, Alexia Voularidou is sensational – a riveting actress and singer and her Act 2 gown, in particular, is stunning. Alexia is every inch a diva with a pure top range.  She plays a jealous flirtatious minx , charming and delightful , in Act 1, and a strong woman out to save her lover in the other two acts.
Her duets with Cavaradossi are tremendous and her torn, pleading ‘Vissi d’arte’ full of fear and anguish in Act 2 stops the show .A quibble however would be that her murder of Scarpia , Medea like, yet also in self defence, with bloodied hands, caused squirms , murmurs and some shocked laughter in the audience.
As Cavaradossi, our tormented painter hero, Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee is in fine voice. He sings at full throttle through the entire show- I would perhaps have liked a little more light and shade.  His big aria in Act 1 ‘Recondita armonia’ is beautifully sung and his letter aria ‘E Lucevan le stelle’ in Act 3 was marvelous. In Act II, Mario’s fiery defiance of his captors includes tearing down one of the Swastika decorations, which was later used by Tosca to cover the dead Scarpia (a deft use of the “crooked cross” in place of the standard crucifix).
As Iago -like cold, malevolent Baron Scarpia, John Wegner is chillingly brilliant with a rumbling bass. He is narcissistic, confident and takes what he wants whenever he wants it. Menacing and implacable, his explosive volcanic impulses are barely controlled and hidden. His hypocritical leading of the Act 1 finale is thrilling. In Act 2 he molests the only woman officer present and no one tries to stop him. Rome trembles with fear.
Escaped prisoner Angelotti, Cavaradossi’s friend, was marvelously sung by David Parkin.  John Bolton Wood had great fun in Act1 as the sacristan, and the children’s choir was delightful. Another excellent imaginative piece of stage drama was during the introduction at the beginning of Act 3  where we see  a number of yellow-star-wearing Jewish people managing to bribe their way out of prison just in time , the ‘shepherd boy ‘ aria neatly fitting in here .
A darkly disturbing revival, thrillingly sung.   Running time is 3 hours including two intervals.
Opera Australia’s TOSCA, runs various dates in repertory at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 31, 2013.

Hot Shoe Shuffle

this was glorious , much fun

They don’t make them like this anymore. Musical theatre fans will adore this. It’s hard to believe that this is HOT SHOE SHUFFLE’s 21st anniversary revival!  It’s one of those ‘old fashioned’ feel –good ‘let’s put on a show’ musicals that showcase the jaw-dropping talents of a superb cast.
The show when it opened originally led to a resurgence of interest and development in tap dancing (and led to Dein Perry’s ‘Tap Dogs’). It is very demanding and the cast have to be able to do the ‘triple threat’ as well as specialise in scintillating tap. The different sorts of tap styles are shown – from the elegant, top hat and tails of Fred Astaire   contrasting with the freer, more showbiz style of Ray Bolger.
It’s a rather silly musical comedy plot about The Tap Brothers – all seven of them (yes seven! Spring, Slap, Buck, Wing, Tip, Tap and Slide). And yes there are ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ jokes, their long lost sister April (or is she?) and a dead father’s will with a huge fortune (Is he? And is the fortune real? All will be revealed).
The show dazzles and delights and is sheer joy. The dancing is phenomenal. The infectious rhythms have you dancing in your seat. It’s bold, bright and colourful (in the first half the brothers look at time like extra Wiggles).
In the second half especially there are some great lighting effects.  There are also some film and theatre in-jokes ( ‘Star Wars ‘,’ ‘Dirty Harry’ ,’ Aliens ‘ and ‘King Kong’) for example in the corny but witty script)and are we meant to pick up allusions to ‘Singing in the Rain’ and Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’?
The band, hidden for roughly two thirds of the show is incredible. When we do get to see them, they are displayed in a marvelous 1930’s art deco/Glen Miller style set featuring a large staircase.
All seven of the incredible Tap Bros are marvelous, each of them having short solos, but special mention must be made of Spring ((Bobby Fox) who brings the house down and literally stops the show by causing a standing ovation in his jaw dropping solo in the Act 1 ‘Tap Jam’ . And his ‘Song and Dance Man’ solo in Act 2 is pretty brilliant too.
As their klutzy, two left feet (yeah sure) red haired  ‘sister’  April we have the stunning Jaz Flowers. She is marvelous and leads her ‘brothers’ in a cheeky ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ in Act 1 and is a sultry glamorous, dreamy torch singer in Act 2 (‘How Long Has This Been Going On’ ?).
Theatre legend and the man who started the whole thing ,David Atkins , is delightful in his roles as Aloysius Shyster/Max King/Dexter Tap .He has a fabulous time throughout and is terrific in his rather poignant solo in the second Act ( ‘ Mood Indigo’ ).
The last part of the show is the ‘HOT SHOE SHUFFLE’ itself, the act the brothers are reunited for which pulls out all the glitzy stops to magnificent effect. So , yes, this includes a glamorous, very difficult tapping up and down lit staircases and a glow- in- the -dark cane tossing routine.
The delighted ‘Tap God’ rumbled his approval and the audience for opening night gave it a huge  standing ovation at the end, the like of which I haven’t seen in years.
HOT SHOE SHUFFLE, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes including one interval, is playing at the Lyric Theatre until Sunday August 4, 2013.

The Audience

this is an absolutely superb film Helen Mirren is amazing

“If you want to know how it is that the monarchy in this country has survived as long as it has – don’t look to its monarchs. Look to its prime ministers.” THE AUDIENCE
They don’t get much better than this. Along with most of my colleagues I am searching for superlatives to describe THE AUDIENCE, filmed at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
For sixty years Elizabeth II has met each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace – a meeting like none other in British public life – it is private. Both parties have an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said. Not even to their spouses. Neither the Queen nor any of the Prime Ministers have broken this bond of trust.
THE AUDIENCE breaks this contract of silence – and imagines a series of pivotal meetings between the Downing Street incumbents and their Queen. The Buckingham Palace designs are imposingly spacious and feature two yellow chairs. This is contrasted with the rather staid and dreary designs for Balmoral which PM Wilson delightfully teases Her Majesty about.  In an unbroken line, from Churchill to Cameron, (a ‘Dirty Dozen’, as Her Majesty jokingly says ) each Prime Minister has used these private conversations as part therapy,  sounding board and confessional, – sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive….
The parade of prime ministers is thematic here, not chronological. There is no Tony Blair, no Alec Douglas-Home and no Edward Heath. John Major, who bursts into tears about his lack of O levels, (Her Majesty offers a hanky) is here given a respectful, rather low key portrayal in line with his personality.
There is a magnificent scene change when we first see Churchill (Edward Fox), drawing gasps from the audience. He is solidly fixed and somewhat uncomprehending as the young Queen, still in her mourning frock, argues that she should take her husband Philip’s name for the sake of his pride.
Haydn Gwynne’s Thatcher is amazing, tall, stalking, severe in a pin stripe suit and lacquered hair .The battle of wits between her and the monarch over South Africa is delightful, a thrilling duel of words.
Her Majesty’s rather appalled questions to Anthony Eden about the legality of the Suez invasion hint at the difficult times ahead.
Richard McCabe is magnificent and moving as Harold Wilson, who we see facing early Alzheimer’s and the loss of his prodigious photographic memory. PM Wilson is   presented as being somewhat of a Royal favourite. Both Anthony Eden and Gordon Brown admit to taking pills to deal with their stress and depression.
Above all, THE AUDIENCE is a vehicle for the amazing Helen Mirren as Her Majesty, featuring very tightly choreographed wig and costume changes. Mirren is brilliant. From young mother to grandmother, these private audiences chart the arc of the second Elizabethan Age. Politicians come and go through the revolving door of electoral politics, while she remains a fixed constant, ready and waiting to welcome her next Prime Minister.
Peter Morgan’s play, directed by Stephen Daldry, is respectful, full of warmth, witty dialogue, and is impeccably researched.  Haunting use is made of scenes of a young Princess Elizabeth, who did not want to be Queen, shown with her favourite nanny. We also see the loneliness and the imposing sense of responsibility, the challenges that lie in having to look after her subjects. Thematically rich, the movie depicts gender politics, large and serious truths about the very unordinary lives of constitutional monarchs, the need of men in power to unburden themselves, and poignantly reveals the dutiful woman who is far more than how she describes herself as,  ‘a postage stamp with a pulse’.
THE AUDIENCE, with a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, screens at selected arthouse cinemas from July 5.  And yes… corgies are featured in this film.

Opera Australia The Force of Destiny

here's my thoughts as on Sydney Arts Guide

Love, blood, honour, revenge and an obsession with death are the main themes of this long, verbose and at times strangely disturbing work rarely seen here in Sydney.
Set in the mid eighteenth  century , this production is visually dominated by skulls and death – for a lot of the show a giant silver ( reliquary ? ) skull – at times representing Leonora’s hermit cave- is on stage .There’s also a feeling of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘ The Red Masque of Death’ at times , also ‘Phantom of the Opera’ , with the use of the masks .The chorus also ‘play dead’ at times, and there is almost a French Revolution tumbrel like entrance for the gypsy fortune teller Preziosilla (Who can foretell death through her Tarot cards) . And most of the characters are presented as zombie like with white faces and huge dead eyes.  There are also hints of Goya’s and Delacroix’s work.
Musically the production was superb, the singing was outstanding and the orchestra was well led by Andrea Licata.
Our poor, emotionally torn and tortured heroine Leonora was tremendously sung by soprano Svetla Vassileva. It is a huge and difficult role and she handled it superbly, from her opening aria where she is being undressed and changed by her maids (‘Me pellegrina ed orfana – “Exiled and orphaned far from my childhood home”) to the  very sad ending . The sense of ritual and formality is established with Leonora in her very stiff, formal dress in the first scenes.
Riccardo Massi as our hero Don Alvaro is tall and magnificent, a splendid performance .His  ‘La vita รจ inferno … O tu che in seno agli angeli – “Life is a hell to those who are unhappy….Oh, my beloved, risen among the angels” ‘was glorious . As Don Carlo, Leonora’s brother hell bent on revenge, Jonathan Summers was also terrific (the duet where they ironically swear friendship  after Don Alvaro saves the life of Don Carlo in battle is wonderful ) .
From the opening dramatic chords this production makes a special emphasis and feature of Preziosilla (Rinat Shaham), manipulating and controlling all the events. She is a dynamic, rather sinister presence, a cross between Carmen and Fate, in fine voice (her big production number is  ‘Rataplan , rataplan’ in Act 3 ). However I agree with some of my colleagues who found her constant lurking around at times intrusive and unnecessary.
Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, and Kanen Breen as the shifty pedlar, Mastro Trebuco.
The production featured some striking visual effects – from the marvellous front curtain with the Inca like portraits, the huge giant statue of the Madonna, and the glorious chorus and huge amounts of candles for Leonora’s Act1 I aria ‘Sono giunta! … Madre, pietosa Vergine’ in the church. Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as  Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, AMD Kanen Breen as Mastro Trebuco.
A testing, chilling production, an exciting way to start this year’s Winter season.
THE FORCE OF DETAILS runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Penrith on  various dates in repertoire until Tuesday 23 July, 2013. Running time 3 hours 45 minutes including 2 intervals

Bolshoi Ballet Romeo and Juliet screening

Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide

With its lavish costumes and superb dancing I see this production as an interesting but a little disappointing introduction to a balletic Romeo and Juliet. Based on Shakespeare’s play this is a revival of the 1978 version Grigorovich created for the Paris Opera Ballet.
This is a rather sparse, somewhat stylized and simplified version of the well known story. Virsaladze’s sets – huge stylized representations of drapery, and a raised platform – remain the same throughout, with the addition of various candelabra, gauze screens… This gives a quite bare and odd feeling to the marketplace scenes as an example, but there are also some very effective shots of Juliet through the texture of the gauze screens.
The wonderful , vibrant Prokofiev score ( excellently played by the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia under the musical direction of  Andrei Ankhanov ) drives the work which is striving to be more stripped back and  ‘abstract ‘ , to allow for focus on the main theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love . This production purports to try to get to the emotion of the main story…the lady next to me was in tears…not quite the case for me.
Technically the dancing is great. There were some very difficult lifts in the pas de deux.  However whilst the  dancing was extraordinary and especially showcased the men,  it was also repetitive and Grigorovich recycled sections from his ‘Spartacus ‘ ( especially for Tybalt ) and  lots of it was clearly structured to be precisely on the beat of the music.
For some of the big crowd scenes the dancing was shot from above to give an idea of the patterns of the choreography,– a great idea but the line of the microphones were glaringly obvious.
Our Juliet, played by Anna Nikulina, is exquisite. She is dewily radiant and beautiful in the opening scenes when Romeo first sees her and we see here grow to a strong minded, determined woman. (featuring plenty of costume changes ) . There is lots of use of bourree on pointe.
Nikulina has an incredibly long ‘line’ and fabulous control in the adage. She has a very expressive back and there is a fantastic backbend at the start of the ballroom pas de deux that says volumes.
Our passionate Romeo, Alexander Vochkov, is a great dancer however there was no discernible character for him once he has met Juliet.
The couple’s athletic, angular wedding night pas de deux is glorious .Both Romeo and Juliet have sequences using the ‘Ulanova run’, billowing material behind them.
Also rather one note is our Tybalt (Mikhail Lobukhin) who comes across as a wild eyed, menacing and   melodramatic villain. His portrayal can be forgiven because he is such a splendid dancer. Lobukhin has incredible panther-like leaps and corkscrew turns with showy short solos in both the marketplace and ballroom scenes.
In this production Tybalt deliberately stabs Mercutio in the back.  His (double sworded) death with swirling toreador like red cape was dramatic but felt a little contrived.
There is no Benvolio in this production per se but Andrei Bolotin as Mercutio was outstanding. (The musicians with brilliantly fashioned carnival masks ‘played’ his friends and chorus). Teasing , full of life , popular , Bolotin shows off his amazing soft ‘ballon ‘and fleet footwork. The fight scene with Tybalt were tightly choreographed and carried out and the death scene was powerful.
Some more variations from the Bard’s original work sees Juliet’s nurse not attending the wedding, and later we do not find  Juliet  ‘dead in her bed’ but rather her death takes place off stage. As well, this version has a very athletic ‘reunion ‘ pas de deux where the lovers are briefly reunited before their deaths.
The ballet attempts to convey and personify concepts (anger, love, pride and so on), but there are awkward shifts between the abstract  and the concrete, and although excellently acted the dancers don’t seem like real people with whom we can identify in their tumultuous overwhelming passions.  I have to say, I much prefer the Macmillan version.
The Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Romeo and Juliet screened at selected arthouse cinemas on the weekend of June 29 & 30.