Caroline, or Change

Book & Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Mitchell Butel

23 August to 28 September 2019
Hayes Theatre

Starring Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline, Nkechi Anele, Andrew Cutcliffe, Alexandra Fricot, Amy Hack, Daniel Harris, Emily Havea, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva Ngwenya, Elijah Williams and Ryan Yeates

caroline

Production photo of Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline by Phil Erbacher

Not sure about this one. Relentless. Blasting music, inter-cut scenes, not a pause to be seen. The only time the audience has time to breathe is right near the end when Caroline sings a song alone on the stage in a strange wrestle-with-myself-and-fling-my-handbag-around. The audience is so shocked at this that they applause. But by then it’s too late.

Like a theatrical Oprah Winfrey Show. Like a Motown Sondheim but with little wit or subtlety.  No light or shade (ironic, really, given the prominence of La Luna) and, sorry to say, no real emotion. Flat. The most poignant song for me was the dad’s song (Anthony Cutcliffe) to his son which is sad considering there were so many woman singing and dancing their hearts out the whole night.

At interval, my friend turned to me and said: There’s no story. He had something there. This is a different kind of structure to musicals Australian audiences are familiar with. The idea is to blast emotion at you. Spinal Taps’ up to 11 all the way. And we’ll be washed along without having to think too much. And in the end we’ll walk out thinking everything’s OK.

Such massive events and emotions touched on  – swelling Civil rights movement, death of JFK, Korean war – but they never quite make it. Small boy (Ryan Yeates as Noah) calling Caroline the President just didn’t gel even though it clunkily flags later reference to JFK.

One of the most beautiful moments was the very beginning. Low lights. Sound of frogs. Caroline standing, staring straight ahead. Backdrop of full moon and Moon Lady (a satin-draped Ruva Ngwenya) are exquisite.

Fragmented stage reflected frenzied score. 3 doowop girls in sequins pays homage to Little Shop of Horrors. Or is a rip-off. Neurotic Jewish family. Well, that’s kinda been done. And overblown lyrics towards the end suddenly trying to wrap up the story – in fact, trying to get a story in there somewhere –  is awkward.

Then there’s a protagonist who doesn’t change. That’s just weird.

Yes, she is a rock. She will be the mother of African Americans who change history. So being a grumpy maid is more than enough. Is that it?

Strong performances – cast was not the problem. Interesting, complex, eclectic music. But sound was muffled particularly in the opening scene with the wolf/devil/evil husband whoever he was. And why did they sometimes say “Caroline” and other times call her “Carolyn”? Is that a Southern thing? And that comma in the title really gets me!

Strangely dissatisfying.

 

Sweeney Todd at Darling Harbour Theatre

anthony warlowSomething very wrong with this production.

Went last night. Memorable because we were KICKED OUT of our seats in the Dress Circle at 7.27PM and forcibly relocated downstairs – consequently about 100 poor souls were LOCKED OUT from opening scene – AND they had the audacity to reassure us: You’ll only miss one song. But that’s another story, thank you to management of ICC and TEG Life Life Touring for ruining the evening…

But back to the show.

Something very wrong. Anthony Warlow was brilliant. A rich, warm, voice; a menacing presence; he seemed to channel Len Cariou. Mesmerising.

The other cast members? Well, they were all over the place. Variable. They seemed to be singing in their own little solo worlds not to each other. Weird. Toby (Jonathan Hickey) was notably good. And barber shop duets with Sweeney and Judge Turpin (Daniel Sumegi) were spot on. As Mrs Lovett, Gina Riley was too nice.

The set was odd. The orchestra took up half the stage. Why?

I have seen countless productions of ST and this set was one of the ugliness and most non-functional. Why the round dining room table? Is that the best they could do? In the final scene, there is the build-up to Sweeney returning. Will he burst out of the oven? Or from below? Or from above?

Nah. He’s just been crouching behind everyone. He hops up on the little steps, stands on the dining room and that’s it. Lame.

Biggest disappointment was the BARBER’S CHAIR . This is everything. It should be the focus of dire violence and vengeance and Sweeney’s dashed hopes and dreams but this barber’s chair is absolutely pathetic. Even amateur productions make excellent use of a trap door so that Sweeney slashes his victim’s throat, pulls the lever and – wham! – they’re gone.

This production had Sweeney slashing throats (with not nearly enough blood) with the victims remaining in the chair, then standing up and walking off stage. ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC. The worst, most anti-climatic interpretation I have ever seen.

Staging was messy. The chorus gathered around that stupid dining room table were hard to place. Were we in the street? Were we in Fogg’s lunatic asylum? Why were some of the women wearing JEANS?? And when Sweeney was writing to Judge Turpin why was one of the chorus sitting at the dining room table mimicking his writing??

Again, Anthony Warlow was brilliant but that’s about it. Strangely uncompelling and antiseptic with not nearly enough blood, gore, lust and passion.

 

 

 

 

Maggie Stone

maggie stone

Written by Caleb Lewis

Directed by Sandra Eldridge

A Darlinghurst Theatre Company Production

Eternity Theatre, Darlinghurst

29 September to 21 October 2018

Saw this last night. Entertaining.

A nifty look at cultural misunderstandings, altruism and the cost of genuine caring. We have two white women, a white man, a Sudanese family wanting to stand on their own feet and a Muslim mini-mart owner doubling as a doctor.

Audience enjoys it. Laughs at politically incorrect language but probably shouldn’t. Is it drama? Is it comedy? Is it Home & Away?

Opening scene terrific. Comedic but misleading. Set-up with lovely Prosper Deng trying to support his family is hilarious but then we never see him again. Wah!

I seemed to have missed vital information and spent the entire play wanting him to come back and wondering where he was and whether this was going to turn into a fascinating twisted tale. Was Amath lying?  Where was Prosper? Couldn’t believe he had left her. Had she left him? Was he working two jobs to support her? Was it all a ruse? Was he dead? But we just saw him with Maggie. He can’t be. What’s the time frame? Puzzling. And then the Kenyan. Was Prosper the Kenyan? That can’t be. Maybe it’s just me. Help, someone…

A further crucial point I found puzzling. Scene where Maggie brings loan agreement for Amath to sign and Amath looks at document and says something like: what is this? My friend thought she was surprised at being offered the loan. I thought she was alarmed. It was vital to know. Because there is a change of heart from Maggie. She decides to help these people not block them. But why?

But enough confusion. Nice intrigue in gradually discovering relationship between Leo and Maggie. And who the dude in hospital was (I thought at first it was her father…) And seeing the transformation of Benny was heartbreaking but somehow not quite believable. Maybe the attack in the mini-mart needs a rethink. Either fully naturalistic or nightmarishly surreal. It seems it was neither.

Set is busy. Do we need four painted sections on the floor supposedly representing four places? Do we need LED light sign telling us where the action is? Do we really need to be told we are now at the Deng Home? It’s all very clear. No signalling required.

Towards the end of the play, there is an over-reliance on overly-dramatic music. Benny is left sprawled on floor…we don’t need drastic light changes and metallic music to make us feel something. Or do we? I  hope not. Some aspects of this production have very TV-like staging – particular the short scenes, the unexciting character entrances and exits – hmmm.

It would have been nice if Kate Bookallil had more to do. It would have been nice to see Prosper (Thuso Lekwape) one more time (loved that guy!) And I would have loved to have seen Maggie looking as aggro and fed-up as she is in the promos!

Verdict: Clever writing, fine acting, overall look and feel not sure about.

With (in alphabetical order):

Kate Bookallil as Mahira Sadat/Doctor

Branden Christine as Amath Deng

Alan Dukes as Leo the Loan Shark

Anna Lee as Georgina

Thuso Lekwape as Prosper/Benedict Deng

Eliza Logan as Maggie

 

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point

Squeezed into Thursday’s matinee. An astonishing production full of energy, yearnings and fabulous 50’s frocks (not cheap and tasteless outfits, of course). Hats off to Tim Chappel, costumer designer extraordinaire and set designer Owen Phillips who has created a skew, eerie and pulsating world from which crazy green evil can emerge. Brilliant.

And I haven’t even started on the performances…

Esther Hannaford is sublime as the empty-headed big-hearted Audrey.  She sings with such depth of passion that it brings tears to the eyes. littleshopofhorrorsEvery gesture is exquisite, graceful and brimming with neurotic self-control. Her portrayal reaches a state of near perfection. Then there’s Brent Hill as the stumbling, bumbling Seymour who brings a little more evil to his character than I expected (how does he do it?). He makes it all seem so damn easy and that schizophrenic demonic connection between Seymour and Audrey II is a sight to behold. Or rather a sound to hear. Wow.

Tyler Coppin is suitably world-weary and opportunistic as the moaning Mr Mushnik, and, boy, can he kick up his heels and do a Happy Hasidic Hubba-hubba when he has to. castScott Johnson is Orin, the semi-sadist (not total sadist, let’s make that clear) dentist, playing it a little kooky rather than as a complete bastard; while Dash Kruck has lots of fun in various pot-plant inspired suits trying to convince Seymour to sign his life away. And of course full credit to the sassy Doo-wop girls, Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane and Chloe Zuel for their soul-singing and sashaying as they glide through the chaos unfolding with absolute conviction and a glint in their eyes. Not to mention the geniuses at Erth Visual and Physical Inc. and the magnificent & malevolent Audrey II,  a miracle of modern science, technology and, er, I think helium.

Suddenly, Seymour is a stand-out followed not far behind by Somewhere that’s Green. Two songs that rise above their schmaltz-i-ness and absolutely soar. The pathos, oh, the pathos…what a show!

***

One gripe: I expected at least a dentist’s chair for Orin’s song. Disappointed. And then a few scenes later,  the dentist chair appears. Waste of a prop, I fear.

One question: Why is this show called Little Shop of Horrors? Not blaming anyone, just asking. It’s not the greatest title in the world. Shouldn’t the title have something to do with flowers? Or a florist? Or plants? Or something green from outer space? Maybe it’s a clever cultural reference (or a clever lack of a cultural reference) that I don’t get. Not even that catchy. Hmmm. One of the great mysteries of musical theatre. At least to me.

One comment: As you may or may not know, Little Shop of Horrorswas written by Alan Menken (score) and Howard Ashman (lyrics). Most people mention Beauty and the Beast (erk) or Little Mermaid (triple erk)  when talking about the Menken/Ashman partnership. But for me, Menken’s greatest score is Hercules
(1997). Hercules has the same musical ingredients as Little Shop of Horrors: the 3 sassy ladies chorus,  the gutsy Motown sound, and even a hint of the same kind of poignancy in the song ‘(I won’t say) I’m in love’. Yes, it’s a children’s animation but it’s one of the best. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

And, finally, did you know?
Alan Menken’s father was a dentist.

THE END