July 17, 2004
"High Society" is the first musical in the 2004 Season of The Production Company. Originally a 1956 screen adaptation of Philip Barry's play "The Philadelphia Story", it starred Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, the words and music of Cole Porter and the big band sound of Louis Armstrong. How can you improve on perfection? In this case you can't. In 1987 Richard Eyre wrote a new book and directed the first stage adaptation of "High Society". Interpolating additional Cole Porter standards from previous works to expand the score, the show lasted seven weeks at the Victoria Palace Theatre in the West End. In 1992 Carolyn Burns in Australia took a stab at adapting the same source material for the Australian musical theatre stage. While the Australian production was well received by audiences around the country, this version never left the shores of Australia. Then in 1997 a third stage version with a book by Arthur Kopit and a new Cole Porter song list premiered in San Francisco in 1997 and opened unsuccessfully on Broadway in April 1998. As the saying in baseball goes, "Three strikes and you're out!"
The version presented from July 14 - July 17 at the State Theatre in Melbourne is based on the flawed 1998 Broadway production. I'm sorry to say it's no better the second time around. While the all-star cast in this production is first rate, there is nothing in this show that justifies a short season with an intensive rehearsal period. (See Sachwald Says for more on this subject.) The few songs that Porter wrote specifically for the movie are great to hear again, but why bother with the rest of the script? The additional Porter songs don't fit the plot, or Porter probably would have used them in the original movie.
HIGH SOCIETY was a very ordinary choice for such a special occasion. It was a missed opportunity to use such wonderful talent to present something more unique like THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, NINE, RAGTIME, or TITANIC . The final two musicals in the 2004 Season of The Production Company hold the prospect of a brighter future for the remainder of this season: CAROUSEL starring David Campbell (Aug 18 - 21) and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN starring Marina Prior (Sept 29 - Oct 2).
HIGH SOCIETY: July 14 -17, 2004 - State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne Australia
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter; book by Arthur Kopit; additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead ; Direction by Adam Cook; Choreography by Christopher Horsey; Conductor and musical director, Conrad Helfrich; Set and Costume design by Richard Jeziorny; Lighting design by Paul Jackson; Sound design, Julian Spink for Sound System; presented by the The Production Company. At the State Theate, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
WITH: Simon Burke (C.K. Dexter Haven), Tamsin Carroll (Tracey Samantha Lord), Mary Fields (Mike Connor), Christen O'Leary (Liz Imbrie), Gary Down (Uncle Willie), Toni Lamond (Mother Lord), Scott Irwin (George Kittredge), Rebecca Hetherington (Dinah) and Sophie Carter, Elise Dickinson, David Gauci, Lucas Glover, Phillip Haddad, Sara Highlands, Andrew Koblar, Emma Langridge, James Lee, John Lidgerwood, Michael Lindner, Tanya Mitford, Kerryn O'Donnell, John O'Hara, Penny Richards, Hester Van Der Vyver, Rod Waterworth.
© Henry Sachwald 2004
May 30, 2004
While Chapel Off Chapel may lack the buzz and the warmth that existed before the departure of Nancy Cato, it is still a great venue for cabaret, revue and chamber musical theatre. Three shows have currently selected the "Chapel" as their venue of choice for short seasons of "musical mayhem" and serious consideration.
"Kooky Tunes", a musical revue created by Keith Thompson was originally presented at Eighty-Eights in New York City. This light hearted revue lives up to its name. The songs are truly "kooky". With titles such as "Broccoli Head", "Gourmet Meal", and "Shaddup" what more can you expect. The words and music are bright and witty but far from deep and meaningful. A highlight is the song "Yes, This Is My Real Voice". So why see "Kooky Tunes"? Sharon Millerchip, Eddie Perfect, Kaye Tuckerman and Andrew Benson are four good reasons to start with. Once again here is a showcase of first class Australian performing talent that has been very capably put together under the musical direction of Greg Crease, the kooky steps of Ross Coleman and the direction of David Hawkins.
Here was a great night's entertainment for the reasonable price tag of $30 that deserved to have a sold out run for its too short season of 4 shows (27 - 30 May).
"Kooky Tunes" will have a return engagement in Sydney before heading to Adelaide for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
"Spontaneous Broadway" moves into the "Chapel" on June 1 for a 2 week stay until the 13 June. I went to a special preview of this show which runs like a "Broadway" musical version of "Theatresports". Improvisation is the key ingredient in this show. What adds excitement to the evening is that you, the audience provide the material that Russell Fletcher, Geoff Paine, Julia Zemiro, Genevieve Morris, Ross Daniels and pianist John Thorn will turn spontaneously into a musical theatre song. You provide an original song title and the rest.... Well you'll just have to be there to find out. Act 2 is full of surprises.
Performances are at 8:15 p.m., 4p.m. on Sundays.
The third musical is Stephen Sondheim's "Passion". This major work in the Sondheim catalogue is getting the chamber musical treatment in the Chapel Loft from June 3 - June 13. Adrian Kirk is musical director. Peter Tulloch is directing the production. "Passion" is neither "kooky" nor "spontaneous". It is a show crafted by the master (Sondheim) of the art form of story telling through the medium of musical theatre. "Passion" breaks the myth that beauty alone invites passion. Sondheim's music and lyrics weave a spell over the audience as the characters hearts minds and souls are exposed and transformed. It is a very powerful work. Until such time as the Melbourne Theatre Company or some other major production company is willing to mount a full scale production, I suggest you take the time to have a first look at "PASSION".
Performances are at 8p.m. (2p.m. on June 6 & 13)
(The original Broadway production is available in the U.S. on DVD.)
Call 03 8290 - 7000 for all Chapel Off Chapel bookings
April 19, 2004
Theatre is like sport. You have your good seasons and your not so good seasons. Well if the weekend of April 17, 2004 is anything to go by this should be a fantastic season for Melbourne musical theatre. When was the last time that Melbourne, Australia had two hit musicals open on the same night? Both of these shows are off-the-wall. One is a good old fashion Broadway tapper with pretty girls, colourful sets, glamorous costumes, a hefty price tag and a title that says it all, THE PRODUCERS. The other show has a cast that includes the “Who's Who” of Melbourne theatre, a fraction of The Producers budget and the unappealing name of URINETOWN . They're both chocked full of terrific songs and they both leave you feeling good about sharing your time together in the greatest temple in the world, the theatre.
There's a buzz around Melbourne about both of these shows. They are must-sees on your “To Do” list.
The event that rounded off a weekend of theatrical openings and parties was the Green Room Awards. Returning once again to their original venue The Arts Centre, Melbourne the format for presentation followed the 2003 ceremony. Rather than leaving an audience confined to their seats for 3 hours, the presentations were divided into separate sessions for the various categories of Opera/Dance, Drama/Musical Theatre, Cabaret/Fringe/Independent Theatre and the Special Awards for Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding contributions to Melbourne theatre. With a party to celebrate the 21 st birthday of the Green Room Awards on the stage of Her Majesty's Theatre a day that started at 1p.m. officially came to a close around 9:30p.m, just in time to go home and catch Mel Brooks on T.V. handing out awards for Comedy on the Logie Awards.
So while your footy team sits at the bottom of the ladder, don't despair, there's lots of great theatre out there.
“See you at the theatre!”
© Henry Sachwald 2004
April 24, 2004
Don't be put off by the title. It's all part of the fun as this refreshing musical comedy pokes fun at itself the establishment and ourselves. Believe it or not, underneath the veil of silliness lies a message we should all take to heart, but more of that later. As Little Sally and Officer Lockstock (our narrator for the evening) would say, “Don't overload your audience with too much exposition”. So let me simply say that what we have here is a bright comical look at what is actually a very serious topic, survival of future generations on this planet. All this is told through wonderful music and song that simultaneously mimics and pays homage to the musical theatre greats of years gone by.
It all starts with the Kurt Weill sounding overture and introduction a la “Threepenny Opera”. There is the Jerome Kern style “ Follow Your Heart ” sung by our two lovers and staged as if it were a scene from “Titanic” (the movie). The act one finally is straight out of ”Les Miserables”. “Snuff That Girl” in act two is “ Cool ” from “West Side Story” and the best of the lot is Simon Philips staging of the revival meeting for “ Run, Freedom,, Run ”, straight out of “Guys and Dolls” complete with a set in the sewer.
The singing and acting is a joy. This has to be Ross Coleman's best choreography ever. The set is clever and functional and the lighting matches the mood of the show to a tee. Simon Phillips has put together a performing ensemble that has some of the best-known names in Australian theatre. There are no stars here. It is a true ensemble performance (see cast listed below). Best of all Australian audiences get to see and hear Kane Alexander. Kane is one of the best “new” performers on the Australian musical theatre stage. Hopefully Australia won't lose him to Hollywood and Broadway.
Now to the serious stuff: With all the humour and light-heartedness, there is a real message to be taken away by the end of the evening. Enjoy life, have fun, but remember that the future of this planet is in our hands. “ It's a privilege to pee.”
Urinetown is playing a limited engagementr untile the 15 th May. So if you haven't booked tickets for that other show in town (“The Producers”) make sure you see “Urinetown” before it closes. The MTC has stated that unfortunately no further extension of this season is possible.
URINETOWN: Australian Premiere 17 April 2004 – Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne Australia
Book and lyrics by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis; music by Mark Hollman; Direction by Simon Phillips; Choreography by Ross Coleman; Conductor and musical director, Ian McDonald; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; Set and Costume design by Gabriela Tylesova; Lighting design by Matt Scott; Sound design, The Arts Centre; presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company. At the Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
WITH: Kane Alexander(Bobby Stron), Shane Bourne (Officer Lockstock), Rhonda Burchmore (Penelope Pennywise), Mitchell Butel (Mr McQueen), Gary Down (Senator Fipp), Irene Dios (Little Becky Two-Shoes/Mrs Millennium), Colette Mann (Josephine Strong), Lisa McCune (Hope Cladwell), Adam Murphy (Robby the Stockfish/UGC Executive) Christen O'Leary, (Little Sally), Garry Ginivan (Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry), Gerry Connolly (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Sophie Carter (Soupy Sue/Cladwell's Secretary), Francis Greenslade (Officer Barrel), Damien Humbley ( Billy Boy Bill/UGC Executive), Andrew Koblar (Tiny Tom/Dr. Billeaux)
© Henry Sachwald 2004
April 17, 2004
Is the stage version of THE PRODUCERS an improvement on the original movie? NEVER! Is it a clever adaptation? BRILLIANT! Does the Australian production meet up to the standards of the original Broadway production. DEFINITELY! Is the casting as good as on Broadway? Don't know, I haven't seen the Broadway cast.
What I can tell you is that the Australian cast of the Mel Brooks Tony® winning musical works hard, and puts on a great performance. Mel Brooks unleashed his original and irreverent screenplay on the American public in 1968. No one will ever replace the acting genius of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as the original Max and Leo. Broadway loves Nathan Lane. He was big on Broadway before The Producers and he is even bigger now. Along with Broadway's boy wonder Matthew Broderick they were made for the Broadway musical re-make of the original film source. There has been no other casting combination of the show on Broadway, on tour or in Los Angeles where Jason (Seinfeld's “George”) Alexander and Martin Short have been creating the roles of Max and Leo, that has been as successful.
The character of Max Bialystock has to be bigger than life. Zero Mostel was big. Boy was he big. He made his name on Broadway when in 1961 he transformed himself into a rhinoceros on stage in the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. When Leo cries, "Fat, fat!" at Max in "The Producers” film, he meant it. Zero was fat. "Subtle" does not exist in Mel Brooks' vocabulary. Zero was Max and Max was Zero. Nathan Lane's command of the Broadway stage gives him the same power. Which proves the point that you don't have to be Jewish to paly the role of Max Bialystock.
There was a time when Reg Livermore commanded that sort of attention on the Australian stage. In the 1970's and 80's Reg was outrageous on stage. He WAS the show: Betty Blokk Buster Follies, Wonder Woman and Sacred Cow. So he would seem a natural to play the role of Max. Unlike his co-star Tom Burlinson who shines in the role of Leo, Reg seems to fade to the background. He is good, don't get me wrong. But as Max say's "If you've got it baby, flaunt it, flaunt it!" Reg needs to put the "IT" into Max. At present he seems to be "following orders". This show is directed and choreographed from start to finish. Filled with musical underscoring, the timing of every line and every step has to fit a beat. Hopefully that good old Reg Livermore chutzpah will come through as the show and Reg find their groove. Reg needs to be Reg on stage if he is to be the real Max to Tom Burlinson's glowing performance as Leo.
Who would have thought Frank Sinatra would sing "That Face" in a Mel Brooks musical? No matter how hard Burlinson tries to avoid slipping into “Sinatra” mode, the timbre of his voice naturally slips into that range with very pleasant results. This is Tom's first major role in a musical ensemble piece and he's having a ball. As Leo Bloom he gets to realise his personal ambition to become a song and dance man. Since leaving the high country as The Man From Snowy River Tom has made a name for himself internationally through his one man tribute show to Frank Sinatra. Now like Frank he finally gets one of the most sought after roles in musical theatre. Top hat, cane and beautiful women, Leo throws off the shackles of an accountants ledgers and steps into the spotlight.
The Producers would be nothing without Brooks' other zany characters: Roger Debris (Tony Sheldon) – the worst director on Broadway, his personal assistant Carmen Ghia (Grant Piro), and the author of the worst play ever written Franz Liebkind (Bert Newton). Tony Sheldon is one of Australia's most talented and versatile actors and directors. In a addition to cutting a fetching figure in a frock that Dame Edna would love to wear, he is hilarious as the gayest Hitler in the land. If you thought George had his hands full with Albin in La Cage Aux Folles wait till you see Grant Piro as Carmen Ghia manipulate Roger.
Chloe Dallimore as the Swedish bombshell Ulla wraps those long legs around Max and Leo like a boa constrictor as she sings If You've Got It, Flaunt It! With everything meticulously planned in this show down to the smallest prop, even Bert Newton sticks to a script!
The show is a hoot and this production world class. “Australians all let us rejoice” THE PRODUCER S is in Melbourne. Max Bialystock may want a flop, but the real producers of this show GFO /SEL want a hit. Buy your seats now, you may want to see it a second time.
THE PRODUCERS: Australian Premiere 17 April 2004 – Princess Theatre, Melbourne Australia
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan; music and lyrics by Mr. Brooks and by special arrangement with StudioCanal. Direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. Musical arrangements and supervision by Glen Kelly. Sets by Robin Wagner; costumes by William Ivey Long; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Steve C. Kennedy; associate director, Steven Zweigbaum; associate choreographer, Warren Carlyle; resident director, Peter J Adams; resident choreographer, Dana Jolly; wigs and hair designed by Paul Huntley; music supervision and vocal arrangements by Patrick S. Brady; orchestrations by Doug Besterman; music coordinator, John Miller; conductor and musical director, Peter Casey; Australian general management SEL & GFO; Australian executive producer, Bernadette Hayes; U.S.general management, Richard Frankel Productions, Laura Green; technical supervisor, Juniper Street Productions; associate producers, Frederic H. and Rhoda Mayerson and Lynn Landis. Presented by Rocco Landesman; SFX Theatrical Group; the Frankel, Baruch, Viertel, Routh Group; Bob and Harvey Weinstein; Rick Steiner; Robert F. X. Sillerman and Mr. Brooks, in association with James D. Stern/Douglas Meyer. At the Princess Theatre, 163 Spring Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
WITH: Reg Livermore (Max Bialystock), Tom Burlinson (Leo Bloom), Bert Newton (Franz Liebkind), Grant Piro (Carmen Ghia), Tony Sheldon (Roger De Bris),Chloë Dallimore (Ulla) and Anton Berezin, Phillip Lowe, Benjamin J McHugh, Meredith O'Reilly, Stephanie R Simonelli, Julie O'Reilly, Frank Hanson, Matt Young, Ilia Streltsov, Indigo Felton, Natalie Marsland, Lisa Sontag, Anna Burgess, Bianca Campbell, Debora Krizak, Cara Dinley, Sarah Jane Purnell, Megan West , Sean McGrath, Matt Heywood, Jeremy Powell and Tony Taylor
© Henry Sachwald
AT CHAPEL OFF CHAPEL
The current array of talent parading on to the stage of Chapel Off Chapel in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran is the legacy of the creative talent that Nancy Cato has attracted, recognized and given opportunity to. Whether the City of Stonnington will be able to maintain this level of discovery, creativity and success remains to be seen. It is thanks to Nancy that the weekend of November 14, 2003 brought the talent of Eddie Perfect and Queenie van de Zandt to the Melbourne stage.
Look out for ANGRY EDDIE performed by Eddie Perfect
So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, Im mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!--Howard Beale (Peter Finch) Network released 11/1976, screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky.
Network was a movie of its day and for the future. It told the story of a newsman named Howard Beale, who had been in the business for most of his life. He had seen it all and reported it all. Upon being told that he was to be fired after decades of service he has a breakdown and tells his viewing public that he will commit suicide during his final broadcast. Welcome to reality t.v.. Ratings shoot up as an ambitious young t.v. executive sees the potential for turning the event into the nations number one television show.
Well Eddie Perfect is Mad as hell, and hes not taking it anymore!. Hes not about to commit suicide. On the contrary hes going to be around for some time. While other musicians of Eddies generation are hammering out songs filled with guitar distortion, shouting and vocal quality that suits spectators at a soccer match, Eddie has been inspired by the smooth well constructed writing of musical theatre and folk song composers. He knows that if you speak softly, people will be quiet and listen.
Eddie is a composer, writer, actor and singer with a passion to say what is on his mind. Eddie has an extensive vocabulary that does not include the words politically correct. He is the 21st centurys answer to Lenny Bruce. He says what is on his mind in his own words on his own terms. But more than just saying them he sings them. Eddie writes, ballads, character songs, charm songs, I am songs, list songsand eleven oclock numbers. Eddies talent as a first class performer allows him to deliver his own material in performance. But because his material is so good, he has no problem in getting extra support form his musical theatre colleagues (musicians and actors).
So what is Eddie angry about? The big issues: political posturing, the treatment of refugees, the war with Iraq, the media and public concern for one pop star with cancer out-weighing the concern for the lives of others dying from the same disease and other life threatening plagues including starvation. For me the most poignant song of the show was Gods Apathy. Here is a song that cries out for the people of this planet to help each other to correct the wrong-doings and injustices we put upon ourselves and to stop blaming God for what we do to our selves. This song was followed by another gem entitled Poor Little Middle Class Me. Eddie wants us to stand up and make a difference.
Eddie may be angry, but he hasnt lost his sense of humour. Where most hard-rock performers throw expletives in your face in a meaningless fashion, Eddie Perfect uses them in complete sentences that make sense and fit our modern vocabulary. He makes dirty words sound clean. He can also make clean words sound dirty, such as panties.
Eddie may be angry, but its really not his nature. He is good natured, full of fun and full of life. He just wants to make things better. I think he is making a great start.
If Angry Eddie comes to your neighbourhood go up and shake his hand, dont run the other way.
performed by Eddie Perfect. Music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect. Written
by Eddie Perfect and Fiona Scott-Norman.
ANGRY EDDIE premiered for 3 performances on November 13, 14, 15, 2003 at Chapel Off Chapel, Prahran, Victoria (Melbourne, Australia).
Hear the genius of Eddie Perfect on his debut CD: Welcome To The Inside of Eds Head(MEM 013) available from www.middle8.com and featuring the fabulous voices of Chelsea Plumley, Robyn Arthur, Lisa-Marie Charalambous, Melissa Langton, Chris Parker, Matthew Robinson, Natalie Marsland, Rosemarie Harris, Bruce Grainger and Eddie Perfect.
Some people think I sleep at Chapel Off Chapel. The quality and variety of musical theatre and cabaret activity that takes place there always brings me back for more. So it was on this weekend.
QUEENIE VAN DE ZANDT AMAZON WOMAN AND OTHER STORIES performed by Queenie van de Zandt and Andrew Worboys
Queenie may look like an Amazon Woman, but make no mistake, she is no warrior and she isnt prepared to cut off her right breast to shoot a bow and arrow. This tall attractive woman with a smile that says, Lets have a great time together brings along a voice that can belt out a Broadway standard or be as lyrical as Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Queenie has performed in the casts of Les Miserables, The Boy From Oz, the Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver and is about to feature in the Australian premiere of The Full Monty.
As Queenie introduces us to AMAZON WOMAN AND OTHER STORIES she is quick to tell us that there will be no show tunes tonight, just original songs with music by Andrew Worboys and words by Queenie van de Zandt. Sitting in a comfy easychair, incense wafting through the air, Queenie shares her lifes romances with us through story and song. I wondered how the evening would present itself having listened to Amazon Woman, her solo recording produced with Andrew Worboys. The sounds on the recording transport you to different places with the world music sounds created by Andrew. However for this performance it was all Queenies well-trained voice shifting effortlessly from theatrical power to Mitchell folk. It was a fabulous way to end the weekend, and start the week.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to obtain a copy of Amazon Woman Music by Andrew Worboys, lyrics by Queenie van de Zandt.
Life Is a Cabaret
What is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival? you might well ask. This happens to be the third Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It is an annual celebration of the best in Australian Cabaret entertainment. Sadly the South Australian Department of Tourism doesnt think it rates the publicity budget car racing gets, so very few people outside of South Australia, or for that matter Adelaide, even know about this dynamo event. I found out about it by chance having come across the website. What attracted me to Adelaide for this years festival was the special appearance of Jason Robert Brown. Jason Robert Brown is one of the new breed of musical theatre composers with their eyes set on Broadway success. In fact Jason won the Tony ® Award for Best Score of a Musical in 1999 for the Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) / Harold Prince project Parade.
Parade is based on
the tragic story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew who had settled in Atlanta,
Georgia as supervisor at the National Pencil Factory. Frank was wrongfully
accused of the brutal murder of a teenage employee, Mary Phagan. The story
exposed the high level of racial tension and anti-semitism in the South
at the time (1913). Frank was found guilty on superficial evidence, and
sentenced to hang. Franks sentence was commuted
It was Daisy Prince (Harold Princes daughter), who first spotted Jason playing his songs in a piano bar and said they had to do a show together. Out of that fortuitous meeting Songs for a New World was born. Songs for a New World is not a musical in the traditional sense. It is comprised of material that Jason had written for a variety of projects he had in mind, but had to date not completed. Basically these were songs out of the trunk. Between them, Jason and Daisy managed to select and arrange the order of the songs so that the listener could link and interpret them in whatever way they wanted to. What all the songs have in common is a search for identity, hope and courage.
Songs for a New World
is conceived as an intimate work, performed by four singers with piano
and rhythm section. When the show premiered Off-Broadway in 1995 it was
not a critical success. Fortunately Jason and Daisy were able
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival invited Jason to perform
an orchestral version of Songs for a New
World. Jason is a nice Jewish boy from Tarrytown,
New York (30 minutes north of Manhattan) who knows that you always say
Jason Robert Brown kept the evening informal with
his personal stories and explanations throughout the program. The audience
didnt want the night to end. As an encore, Jason gave a preview
of his other work presented in concert during the festival, The Last
Five Years, (more on that in another article).
When Jason Robert Brown returns to Australia or when you have an opportunity
to hear his work performed, do like Jason take the opportunity