Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ladies in Black, Feb 28, 2017 ***1/2

Book adapted by Carolyn Burns from a novel by Madeleine St John, music and lyrics by Tim Finn
Produced by Queensland Theatre 
Regent Theatre, until March 18, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: 3& 1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed March 1, 2017, then in print. KH.
Cast of Ladies in Black
The cocktail frock section of a 1950s, Sydney department store sounds an unlikely place for a coming-of-age story but, surrounded by taffeta, silk and a diverse group of women, hopeful ingénue, Lisa (Sarah Morrison), learns to be a woman.

Ladies in Black may not be the new, Australian musical that sets the world on fire, but it charms the audience with its simple, engaging stories of the saleswomen who work in F.G. Goodes – a store that resembles Myer and Georges – in 1959, just before the conservative 50s become the unconventional 60s.

Writer, Carolyn Burns, skilfully transforms prose into pert dialogue peppered with funny Australianisms in her adaptation of Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel, The Women in Black.

Director, Simon Phillips, fills the stage with loveable characters in intimate vignettes while Andrew Hallsworth provides stage action with his vibrant choreography on Gabriela Tylesova’s elegant, black and silver set design that is offset by a parade of vivaciously coloured frocks.

Tim Finn’s original songs, numbering more than 20, range in style from bold, musical theatre choruses, to sombre laments, romantic ballads, jazz- or blues-influenced tunes and patter songs, all played by a tight, on-stage orchestra led by David Young.

The melodies are not memorable and some cheesy, simplistic lyrics do not always illuminate the characters or their backstories, but a few songs stand out, including the perky and hilarious Bastard Song, sung by a group of Aussie women, and Lisa’s sweet, Broadway-style refrain, Tomorrow Becomes Today.

Morrison’s voice has a bright timbre and a clear, musical theatre tone that suits the role of Lisa as she grows from dowdy, bookworm school-leaver to a stylish, young woman on her way to university to study her beloved literature, despite her father’s (Greg Stone) objections.

The narrative reveals the tales of several women, but the most compelling stories belong to the ‘reffos’, the ‘New Australians’, starting with the sassy and chic Hungarian refugee, Magda, played audaciously by Natalie Gamsu, and Magda’s adoring husband, Stefan (Stone).

But the accolades and the audience cheers belong to Bobby Fox who, whenever he appears as Rudi, the Hungarian Lothario, lights up the stage with his charisma, sensational vocal quality and control and effortless dancing.

Rudi’s final proposal scene with the vivacious and sympathetic Fay (Ellen Simpson) provides a delicious and joyful ending to that couple’s story.

Other narrative threads include those of the childless Patty (Madeleine Jones) and her husband, Frank (Tamlyn Henderson), the quiet Miss Jacobs (Trisha Noble) and the efficient Miss Cartwright (Kate Cole).

There is some unevenness in the cast’s singing ability and not all the songs or stories are as engaging as others, but Ladies in Black is a pleasant and optimistic show that will leave you smiling.

By Kate Herbert 

Sarah Morrison- Lisa
 Kate Cole- Miss Cartwright/Joy
Carita Farrer Spencer - Mrs Miles.
Bobby Fox,  Rudi /Lloyd /Fred
Natalie Gamsu – Magda
Madeleine Jones - Patty
Kathryn McIntyre – Myra /Dawn
Trisha Noble – Miss Jacobs/Mrs Brown
Ellen Simpson - Fay
Greg Stone – Mr Miles /Stefan
Tamlyn Henderson- Frank

Gabriela Tylesova Design
David Walters Lighting
Guy Simpson Orchestrations
Andrew Hallsworth choreography

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