Reviews

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Script: Rachel Sheinkin Music and Lyrics: William Finn. Underground Productions. Hamilton Town Hall, Brisbane, Qld. Director: Danielle Carney. June 27th to July 12th, 2014.

The annual spelling bee, and all the hoop-la that goes with it, has become a cornerstone of American Culture and Underground Productions’ version even had a “Bake Stall” to help the audience through this competitive institution.

Staged in a suburban Town Hall, the atmosphere was cutthroat as the contestants battled they way through words most of which I’d never heard before!

Otello

By Verdi. Opera Australia. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. July 5 – August 2, 2014

This celebrated Verdi opera offers the so-called triple threat of conflicting personalities: the world’s hero in Othello, its villain in Iago and the lover in Desdemona.

But this operatic trio was mightily upset only a fortnight before opening when Georgian singer Tamar Iveri was sacked by Opera Australia from the role of Desdemona.  Its problem was her very unloving, homophobic rant on Facebook.

Janis Siegel

Melbourne Recital Centre, Salon. 3 – 5 July.

Superlative singer and nine time Grammy winner Janis Siegel, probably best known here as one of the four singers who together comprise the vocal group Manhattan Transfer, finished the Melbourne section of her Australian tour last night with a knockout set at the Recital Centre’s Salon room.

Showcasing her latest solo album “Night Songs”, the “live and intimate” set featured an eclectic mix of American Songbook standards, lesser-known showtunes, some fabulous jazz and even a showstopping, melancholy jazz ballad version of Waltzing Matilda.

CATS

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics: Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Harvest Rain @ Brisbane Convention Centre. Director and Choreographer: Callum Mansfield. Musical Director: Maitlohn Drew. 4-6 July 2014

Cat lovers and lovers of Cats were in Moggie heaven last night when Harvest Rain opened their arena-style production at the Brisbane Convention Centre of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic Cats.

With a cast of over 800 adults, teenagers and juniors, the venue at times was a sea of writhing, slinking, magical feline activity. Producer Tim O’Connor’s vision to mount the largest production of the musical in the Southern Hemisphere paid off handsomely. It was gobsmackingly good.

All Shook Up

The Music of Elvis Presley. Book by Joe DiPietro. Directed by Liam Kilgour. ARC. Banyule Theatre, Heidelberg (Vic). July 4th to 12th, 2014.

A good time was had by all, cast and audience, at the opening of this rarely performed Juke Box musical last night. It’s fitting that it opened on July 4th, for what could be more American than a musical with the songs made famous by Elvis Presley?

The plot is simple…. Elvis type is released from prison and winds up in a small town where all the girls swoon for him and he doesn’t see his one true love. It’s slight, but very witty, and more than enough to hang the Presley songs on.

Dust

By Suzie Miller. Directed by Emily McLean. Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, Perth. June 28 – July 13, 2014

Dust, a new play by Suzie Miller, is a fascinating patchwork of stories set as a huge dust storm hits Perth.

We meet a hospital patient with a need to leave the hospital, a family in turmoil, an overwrought Bridezilla, an anxious taxi passenger and her exasperated driver, people biding time in the Qantas lounge and a couple in what may be a new relationship. All are linked and all are greatly impacted by the cloud of dust that has descended on the city.

Speaking in Tongues

By Andrew Bovell. Cairns Little Theatre Directed by Kevin West. July 4-12, 2014.

This is an intriguing play by playwright Andrew Bovell. Set in Sydney, Bovell presents two contrasting acts linked by the mysterious disappearance of a woman. In the first act we meet two unfaithful couples embroiled in their own personal misery. In the second act, only two of the first act characters re-emerge to continue the story. Director Kevin West has wisely opted for a minimal set to tell this complex tale. The direction is smooth, with the actors playing their roles with assurance. Warren Clements (Pete) and Meg Stubbs (Jane) work well together as a couple facing marital problems.

Hedda Gabler

Adapted by Adena Jacobs from the play by Henrik Ibsen. Belvoir. June 28 – August 3, 2014

Belvoir has done it again.  After the infamous rewriting and updating of classics like Death of a Salesman, The Seagull, The Inspector General, Private Lives and their much celebrated production of Wild Duck, now they turn again to Ibsen with Hedda Gabler.   

Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox

Performed by Michael Griffiths. Written and Directed by Dean Bryant. Hayes Theatre Co (NSW). July 2 – 5, 2014

A warm piano, a single spotlight, an inspired pianist and a brilliant singer. Sweet dreams are made of this combination when it comes to an Annie Lennox tribute show. No bells and whistles are necessary; just Lennox’s beautiful lyrics set to memorable melodies in an intimate venue. Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox at The Hayes Theatre ticks all these boxes.

Les Misérables

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Original French text byAlain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Additional Material by James Fenton. Adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from July 2, 2014. Crown Theatre, Perth from January 2015, Capitol Theatre Sydney from March 2015.

If there is anyone else who needs a good dose of theatrical splendour to take away the bitter taste of the 2012 film of Les Misérables, then this new production is guaranteed to make you feel better and restore your faith in this epic musical. It is simply splendid on all levels.

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