Reefer Madness

Chapel Off Chapel
25 November – 4 December 2016

 

Anti-drug propaganda film turned musical satire, Reefer Madness parodies the anti-marijuana attitudes of the 1930s. Wholesome couple Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane fall into the evil clutches of the devil’s lettuce in this cautionary tale, promising that “reefer will turn your children into hooligans and whores.” From selling babies to domestic abuse and hit-and-run murders, nothing is off-limits in this irreverent satire.

Charmingly kitsch, RL Productions steer the production far from realism with hand-drawn props, comically exaggerated simulated sex scenes and caricaturised depictions of violence. From a mannequin’s head thrown on stage following an emphatic decapitation to reams of red ribbons indicating blood streams, Stephen Wheat’s melodramatic directorial choices soften the gore and boundary-pushing humour.

Ben Adams is an unending fount of energy whose strong vocals and perfectly awkward performance as love-struck Jimmy Harper is a show highlight. Co-star Grace O’Donnell-Clancy as Mary Lane is an endearingly peppy, pint-sized powerhouse.

Ed Deganos’ campy Jesus is another incontestable highlight. Wheeled around on a wooden cross amidst choruses of ‘listen to Jesus, Jimmy,’ Deganos’ performance under Wheat’s direction captures the comical irreverence of this cult classic.

Rosa McCarty’s comic timing as reefer den hostess Mae alongside ruthless proprietor Jack Stone (Jared Bryan) draws consistent laughs. McCarty also impresses with strong vocals.

Some brief microphone issues, a near costume mishap in the five and dime Latin-esque dance interlude, and some poorly hidden wig lines are the only apparent flaws. Fortunately these flaws enhance the B-grade Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque cult classic spirit that Wheat manages to capture in RL Productions’ Melbourne premiere of Reefer Madness.

Petrasexual

The Butterfly Club

 2 – 6 November 2016

The eponymous star, Petra is a vivacious, talented whirlwind who commands attention, sometimes quite literally.

From her frank discussion of learning to love herself to simulated self love, Petrasexual is a brief musical exploration of feminism, sexual identity, consent, marriage equality, and self worth. With her wry wit, frankness and mostly light-hearted musical approach, Petra manages to make this typically confronting subject matter innocuous and accessible.

The intimacy of cabaret makes this the perfect choice for this subject matter. Frank discussion and recollection of incidents that shaped her sexual identity punctuate parodies of contemporary songs and sex-themed songs like Ruth Wallis’ Boobs.

Petra opens with Blurred Lines, singing replacement lyrics about the importance of mutual consent as she performs a reverse strip. Aside from this brief partial nudity and simulated masturbation, Petrasexual is surprisingly tame for a show about sex.

Unfortunately a faulty microphone results in Petra’s vocals fluctuating in volume, but between her obvious talent and the supporting musicians on piano and double bass, this minor distraction is easily overlooked. In the The Butterfly Club’s small performance room, Petra could arguably perform just as well without a microphone.

Petra playfully engages with her musical support as much as she engages with the audience, teasing the bass player for his enthusiastic facial expressions.

From singing about choosing her heels over sex to regaling us with stories about her sexual mishaps, Petra is a captivating storyteller, performer and entertainer.

The Colour Purple

Chapel Off Chapel – 13 October – 6 November 2016

Stageart presents the Australian premiere of The Colour Purple, directed by Robbie Carmellotti.

Physically and emotionally beaten into submission by her father, fourteen-year-old Celie (Jayme-Lee Hanekom) is trapped in a cycle of abuse as she is passed from her father (Augustine Tchantcho) to her equally violent husband (Kendrew Heriveaux). With the help of strong-willed female influences Sofia (Vanessa Menjivar) and jazz performer Shug Avery (Thando Sikwila), Celie develops her sense of self-worth and overcomes a lifetime of hardships.

Carmellotti’s stripped back production highlights the cast’s impressive vocal talent. Initially appealing but otherwise unremarkable, Carmellotti’s simple set design soon proves itself versatile.

Thando Sikwila is a powerful, sexualised force as Shug Avery

Combined with the efforts of Jason Bovard of Moving Light Productions, the simple platform, set of benches and circular frame of hanging lights provide subtle transitional cues that enhance without distracting from the performance. Several dropped down lights function as a swing set. The benches become a front porch, a series of beds, and Harpo’s juke joint.

Rhiannon Irving’s costume design is similarly simplistic. Irving contrasts the relatively subdued initial costumes with the playfulness of Miss Celie’s pants designs.

The simple set design and choreography let the cast’s powerful vocals shine.

Jayme-Lee Hanekom as Celie is emotionally raw with flawless vocal control. She commands attention as she guides the audience through Celie’s feminist awakening.

Thando Sikwila is a powerful, sexualised force as Shug Avery. From the sensual ‘Too Beautiful For Words’ to the raunchy ‘Push Da Button,’ Sikwila’s delivery is effortless and charismatic. Despite the apparent lack of chemistry between Sikwila and each of her lovers, her vocal performance is powerful and emotionally rich, making up for any gaps in the believability of these relationships.

StageArt delivers an unforgettable performance of this Tony Award-winning tale of liberation and feminist awakening.

Billy Thorpe and Leigh at The Alex Theatre

I was wonderfully pleased by the new show Billy Thorpe and Leigh on my first visit to the Alex Theatre in Fitzroy Street St Kilda.

Billy Thorpe was a musical icon of my youth growing up in Sydney, I remember him vividly strutting his stuff on the black and white tele singing Somewhere over the Rainbow or Mash Potato. He truly was one of our biggest stars of the day and loved by all and one who sang the songs that became working class anthems.

Award winning playwright Neil Cole explores the effect that Billy’s music had on his long time mate Leigh Farnell, growing up with his devoted mum and an ailing father who was suffering from Myotonic Dystrophy and couldn’t work.

Andrew Doyle as Leigh had me from the start, he poignantly played the part of a country kid struggling with his esteem, his tireless mum Shirl, Harlene Hercules, providing a solid back up for the boy as he grows into a man.

But it was Billy’s music and Leigh’s loyalty as a fan that held him strong amongst much adversity.

Thorpey is played by Frank Kerr, his guitar and voice brought the essence of Billy’s songs to the stage and the two part harmonies with Doyle were just marvelous. I knew all the songs so I was happily tapping my feet and often singing along.

Billy Thorpe’s laconic music style and his working class, take no shit attitude is echoed in this show and used as a muse by Leigh as he works his way through life.

The Alex was a real eye opener also, what a wonderfully comfortable and fresh theatre, I highly recommend this show and a visit to the Alex will not disappoint.

I had an opportunity to meet the real life Leigh just after the show and we had a great chat

Billy and Leigh1

Written by Neil Cole. Directed by Tim Paige.

The Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda. 18-28 May, 2016.

Titanic the musical

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Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book

Majestically depicted, this epic story of grandeur captures the essence of lives lost and memories everlasting.

This stunning chamber musical tells the stories of the people on board and the men and women who determined their fate. In the final hour of April 14th, 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York, collided with an iceberg and ‘the unsinkable ship’ slowly sank. It was one of the most tragic events of the 20th Century. 1517 men, women and children lost their lives.

The London Chamber Revival production will have its Australian premiere from Thursday 7 July to Sunday 24 July 2016 at Chapel off Chapel.

Based on actual characters, this hauntingly beautiful musical focuses on their hopes and aspirations. Unaware of the fate that awaits them, the third class immigrants dream of a better life in America, the newly liberated second class aspire to attain a more grand lifestyle of the rich and famous, while the millionaire aristocrats of the first class believe their wealth and power will last forever.

Director James Cutler (In The Heights, Parade) has created a beautiful production featuring a cast of 20 accomplished musical theatre and operatic singers and will be accompanied by a live six-piece chamber ensemble.  Each actor will portray three different roles – a first class, second class and third class passenger.

The principal cast includes:  Don Winsor (Sam, Mamma Mia – Broadway, Billy Flynn, Chicago – North Carolina Tour, Little Women – Kansas Tour, Andrews, Titanic – RAM Productions, Javert, Les Miserable – Hong Kong);  Greta Sheriff(Hugh Jackman: Broadway to Oz – Ensemble Dainty Group, Anything Goes – GFO / Opera Australia, La Cage Aux Folles – The Production Company, Wicked – GFO, My Fair Lady – Opera Australia); Paul Batey (Sweeney Todd – Victoria Opera, Don Carlos – Opera Australia, The Merry Widow – Opera Australia);  David Irvine (Bobby Fox’s Four Seasons, National Tour, Chris – Miss Saigon – Footlight Productions, Connect Four – Hayward Theatre); and Joel Granger (Sweeney Todd – New Zealand Opera, Dogfight – Doorstep Arts, 2015 WAAPA graduate); The full cast list follows this media release.

StageArt are proud to present this semi biographical Tony Award winning musical.   Executive Producer Katherine Armstrong says, ‘This West End revival of Titanic The Musical is a true depiction of a musical at its best. Breathtaking music and an operatic score gives life to a truly elegant story of hope, heart, heroism and heartache.’

StageArt is a dynamic production company lead by Katherine Armstrong and Robbie Carmellotti.

The creative team and cast are all available for interview.

StageArt presents Titanic The Musical, 7 – 24 July; Tuesday – Sunday, 7.30pm; Saturday & Sunday, 1.30pm matinee at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran.  Bookings:  8290 7000. www.chapeloffchapel.com.au