Thursday, 30 September 2010

Sugar, The Production Company, Sept 30, 2010 ***

Book by Peter Stone, music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, based on the screenplay, Some Like It Hot by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
The Production Company
State Theatre, Arts Centre, Sept 30 until Oct 3, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Some people certainly like it hot, and Marilyn Monroe was steaming in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy, Some Like It Hot, starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Sugar is the 1972 musical based on Wilder’s film, and the sassy Christie Whelan, as Sugar Cane, channels Marilyn.

Director, Adam Cook, casts three of Australia’s most successful music theatre performers in his slick, funny production. Whelan has a fine, bright musical theatre voice and is delectable as ditzy Sugar, the ukulele-playing, blonde bombshell who’s looking for love – with a millionaire – but always falls for the penniless saxophone player.

Matt Hetherington (Joe/Josephine) and Mitchell Butel (Jerry/ Daphne) are a perfect comic-musical duo in the cross-dressing roles made famous by Curtis and Lemmon. They enter girlishly, wearing blousy women’s suits and feathered hats, singing The Beauty That Drives Men Mad.  Despite Butel’s skinny, chicken legs and Hetherington’s brawny shoulders, they pose, prance, disguising themselves with squeaky voices, bad wigs, sequined gowns and bathing suits. They are caught shaving in the ladies’ room, bellowing in gruff male voices or sneaking peeks at Sugar’s peachy bottom.

The plot (Peter Stone) echoes the movie. Joe and Jerry, unemployed musicians, after witnessing the Chicago St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, flee the tap-dancing mob boss, Spats Palazzo (Peter Lowrey). The pair escape by dressing as women to join an all-girl band, Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators.

The tunes (Julie Styne) and lyrics (Bob Merrill) are not ground-breaking but the incorporation of original movie dialogue, characters and comedy makes the show fun. Doin’ It For Sugar is a cheerful duet by Joe and Jerry. November Song features the inimitable Dennis Olsen as a naughty, old millionaire Sir Osgood Fielding III accompanied by a chorus of wheelchair-dancing, ancient millionaires.

Olsen sings Beautiful Through And Through, a charming love duet, with Daphne (Butel) who is the love of his life and his future, seventh wife. Melissa Langton belts out a fine version of When You Meet A Man In Chicago as the domineering Sweet Sue.

Christopher Horsey’s eclectic choreography showcases the versatile chorus. One highlight is a tap routine by machine-gun toting killers. George Ellis conducts a tight band with rich string and brass sections.  Sugar is a taut production with exceptional performances from a talented cast.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Sondheim Triptych: Saturday Night ***

A Sondheim Triptych
Saturday Night
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Julius J Epstein, produced by Magnormos and Melbourne Recital Centre
Melbourne Recital Centre, Mondays Sept 20, Sept 27, Oct 4, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***

Saturday Night was on Monday night. Confused? Stephen Sondheim’s first professional musical, written in 1955 but not staged until 1997, is called Saturday Night. As a celebration of this music theatre legend’s 80th birthday, Magnormos is staging three of Sondheim’s less frequently performed shows on three consecutive Mondays. Clearer?

Saturday Night, directed by Terence O’Connell, is a concert performance rather than a fully-fledged production. This means that, because rehearsal time and budget are limited, there is no set, no orchestra and the singers carry beautifully bound scripts to which they refer occasionally.

This does not detract from the musical quality. Sondheim’s music is capably played by musical director, Vicki Jacobs (piano), Brett Canning (double bass) and Toby Lang (drums) with a cast of 15 performing the 22 songs with commitment and skill. Zac Tyler, as the ambitious, aspirational Gene, has a cheerful presence and a warm voice. Claire George, as his love interest, Helen, is a highlight with her bright, clear soprano and engaging style.

Although Saturday Night is his earliest musical, it has signatures of Sondheim’s later, much-applauded style: cunningly wrought, funny lyrics, complex rhythms, unusual intervals and some themes shared with his successful show, Company.

The story, based on the play, Front Porch in Flatbush, occurs on consecutive Saturday nights in Brooklyn when Gene (Tyler) and his pals complain about being desperate, dateless and broke every Saturday. “When you’re alone on a Saturday night, you might as well be dead,” says Sondheim’s lyric. While the single guys moan about being alone, their only married pal sings, “She’s always there when you want her, and she’s always there when you don’t want her.”

Gene works in a low level, Wall Street job but has expensive tastes and a total lack of scruples. He convinces his hapless, trusting friends to invest on a sure thing in the stock market, but he blows their cash on his own expensive, idiotic schemes. Somehow, Gene remains their golden boy, the one who gives them hope with his crazy dreams. They forgive him everything – even selling his cousin’s car illegally.

You have missed Saturday Night, but you can see the concert versions of Merrily We Roll Along and Anyone Can Whistle on upcoming Mondays.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ****

 A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Adapted from by William Shakespeare, by Yohangza Theatre Company, South Korea
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne, until Sept 1, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This Korean adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream captures the playfulness and mischief of Shakespeare’s original comedy but director, Yang Jung-Ung, injects it with an idiosyncratic Asian style. It effectively incorporates contemporary and traditional Korean and European theatrical, clown and dance conventions.

This is an intensely physical performance that echoes the Chinese Opera, Japanese Kabuki theatre and even some of the magical, martial arts films. The movement is stylised and often acrobatic, with broadly comical acting, clown-like characters and make-up, vivid costumes and a sparsely decorated stage.

Shakespeare’s play is adapted into a Korean folk tale about mythical fairies (Dokkebi) and four young lovers who are victims of the fairies’ mischief in the forest. Shakespeare’s language is translated loosely into Korean (surtitled) and the actors employ a heightened, musical style of vocalisation.

Yang Jung-Ung’s (OK) production and multi-skilled cast are laugh-out-loud funny. The audience clapped and cheered the Duduri, acrobatic and impish clown twins (Jung Woo-Keun, Kim Sang-Bo [OK]) based on Shakespeare’s Puck. Kim Jun-Ho (OK) is a deliciously wicked, sensual Fairy King with Kim Ji-Youn (OK) as his sassy and powerful Fairy Queen.

The four lovers (Kim Jin-Gon, Chang Hyun-Seok, Lee Eun-Jeong, Jeong Su-Yeon [OK]) use language and movement to create a complex, comic but symbolic emotional landscape and Jeong A-Young (OK) is feisty as the nuggety, old woman, Ajumi.

This is a cheerful, naughty interpretation of Shakespeare that leaves the audience smiling. Even their curtain call is memorable.

By Kate Herbert