Short+Sweet Festival 2013: Song and Theatre Gala Final

Short+Sweet  Song   Short+Sweet Theatre

What a fabulous four weeks of short and sweet performances it has been but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end!

The quality of this year’s theatre entries really was very excellent; voting for just the one favorite was nearly an impossible task and I definitely did not envy the judges’ position – it was certainly a close race, in my opinion.  I was extremely pleased with the acts that made it to the Song and Theatre Final as they were all works I thoroughly enjoyed.

A few highlights for me: Dial One’s Annie & Joshua was just as delightful to watch the second time round; I found their encore performance more amusing especially their animated expressions and gestures – it really does celebrate the musical genre in all its glory.  Similarly it was enjoyable watching Dan Borengasser’s The Third Person again; the addition of the fog machine was a brilliant move as it added another comedic layer to the story.

Reading Lamouche by Finnius F. Teppett had an entertaining narrative, was well directed and featured a great cast so no surprises this act made it to the Finals – I liked the subtle yet effective changes that had been incorporated.  Pete Malicki’s V.D. came out on top, sweeping the most awards at the end of the night and it is completely deserved, I say – it is a superbly written piece, performed exceptionally by Jess Holly Bates who is such a skilled performer.

I was quite confident that The Oryza Foundation for Asian Performing Arts’ The Adventure of Kazu & Kengo would be in the Finals just on the audience applause alone.  The two ninjas are extremely likeable characters and I think their hilarious and farcical antics would attract a fanbase – there is definitely potential for further development, in my opinion.

And that’s a wrap!  It has been an absolute ride and I’ve had a ball of a time – thank you to Alex Ellis for organizing the tickets and thank you to all the talented people on the stage and behind the scenes for a wonderful month of bite-sized theatre.

Congratulations to all the acts that made it to the Finals and congrats also to those who left as award winners! (winners listed on the Short+Sweet Facebook page)

Here are my reviews of the individual heats:
Short+Sweet Song Showcase
Short+Sweet Theatre Week 1
Short+Sweet Theatre Wildcard
Short+Sweet Theatre Week 2

For all my Short+Sweet reviews from the entire season click here.

Advertisements

Short+Sweet Festival 2013: Song Showcase

Short+Sweet  SongThe second category of quickfire theatre kicked off last night and it’s one I have personally been looking forward to being a bit of a musical geek!  The bill is not as plentiful as what was presented to us during Short+Sweet Dance but it was still an enjoyable lineup all the same.  Here’s what I thought:

Annie & Joshua 5/5
A punchy rom-com set in a hotel lobby where a humble bellboy and the hotel’s receptionist allow their imaginations to sweep them away on a whirlwind romance of over-the-top proportions.  This “music-omedy” is the most faithful to the musical genre out of all the acts with archetypal expressive musical numbers, exaggerated gestures and melodic dialogue, all delivered brilliantly by the two performers who are adept vocalists.  A superbly written, wonderfully amusing and incredibly enjoyable piece – a great start to the evening!

What Love Can Be 3/5
This sombre and emotive piece goes behind closed doors and looks at what really goes on between an outwardly happy couple in a long-term relationship. Emma wrestles between wanting to please her disapproving, passive aggressive boyfriend and yearning to break free of his controlling grip – she expresses this struggle effectively through two vulnerable vocal performances.  Where I think this piece could improve on is the dialogue to song ratio; I felt the dialogue needn’t be as lengthy as the emotional impact rests in the heartfelt lyrics of the songs.

quiet desperation 4/5
Described as the “hysteria of endurance”, this group performance stretches and challenges the genre in this quirky and unique “musical” without words…or song for that matter.  Using various fitness apparatus like a treadmill, punching bag and even your basic skipping rope, this quintet combine sound effects with a host of creative vocals to create an orchestra of sound and rhythm that does somehow come together as one seamless melody.  A cleverly choreographed piece with great pacing and a dynamic “score”.

The Adventures of Kazu & Kengo (a.k.a. This is how Ninjas say hi…!) 5/5
This action-packed comedic piece follows two ninja wannabes and their quest to graduate from ninja school (at last!).  The ninja superstar master puts the instantly likeable duo through their paces in a number of scenarios where they must figure out what they need to do to save the day.  This is all delivered through a delightful mesh of song, dance, props and a dash of good ol’ slapstick.  Riotous and highly energetic, this short story is bucket loads of fun and wildly entertaining and was a clear crowd favorite.

Hole in The Road 4/5
The final piece in the bill is a musical lament of the various holes in the road (both literally and metaphorically) that we face in life and consequently dealing with these shaky encounters.  A thoughtful and charming medley of well written songs performed excellently by the performers, one of which was the festival director himself!  There were some subtle jazzy undertones which I felt worked well with the narrative and I thought the vocals were spot on; lovely harmonies and delivered with just the right amount of personality but also restraint.

Overall, Short+Sweet Song really is short and sweet but packed full of snappy and entertaining stories told through song and music.  It’s a shame there is only one heat and I can only assume it is because there were limited submissions in this category.  Here’s hoping there will be more next year; to echo this category’s tagline: everything really is better with a soundtrack!

Short+Sweet Song will be at the Herald Theatre until June 15th.  Click here for tickets.

SEASON
WEEK 1: Tuesday, June 11 – Saturday, June 15 2013 (Tues-Thur 7pm, Fri-Sat 8pm)
GALA FINAL: Sunday June 30 (3pm & 7:30pm)

For the full festival programme, click here.

Tell Me On A Sunday: A One Woman Musical

Tell Me On A Sunday will not be a hard sell for those already acquainted with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work but I do feel this musical production is particularly accessible and one that can be easily enjoyed by all.  Directed by David Coddington, this one woman musical is performed by a cast of one and made up of a one-act song cycle which showcases music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black.

We follow an ordinary English girl from Muswell Hill who journeys to the United States in search of love.  Her romantic aspirations starts off in the Big Apple, then to Hollywood and eventually back to Manhattan.  The story of her quest for love which turn out to be more of romantic misadventures is told entirely through song as a monologue but also in the form of letters to Mum.

Carly Binding, contemporary pop singer and songwriter, makes her musical debut and is perfectly cast as the “woman of the hour”.  She commands the attention of the audience effortlessly with not only her beautiful tone and stunning range but charismatic personality as well.

Her performance was simply mesmerizing; she is both an accomplished vocalist and gifted storyteller.  She moves from one song to the next with great ease and I thought she interpreted the songs remarkably; with honesty and heartfelt conviction.  My favorite performance of the night was Unexpected Song – the emotion she delivers in this song is incredible and sent chills up my spine.

The accompanying costume changes to signify the passing of time were executed well and added a dynamic layer to the performance.  Carly made full use of the set which is minimal but beautiful with everything on stage having a purpose.  Mention must also be made on the excellent lighting design which set the mood and ambiance perfectly.

Musical director Robin Kelly once again doesn’t disappoint, working his magic with an extremely talented band who bring the score to life and support Carly’s vocal performance beautifully.  The three backing singers also added great depth to the overall sound; their harmonies had just enough restraint and blended well with Carly’s vocals.

Overall this is an outstanding, top notch production which ticked all the boxes for me and left me wanting more.  If you enjoy musical theatre, this one’s for you.

The Whimsical Banana rates Tell Me On A Sunday: 5/5 bananas

Tell Me On A Sunday is presented by The Real Theatre Company and is playing at the Loft at Q until 24 November.  To buy tickets and to get a taste of the music, click here.

This review is also featured on the Q website.

Little Shop of Horrors: “Unusual Story, Fascinating Plant”

This is probably a strange choice for a family favorite but that was what the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors film was for me growing up.  Needless to say I was extremely excited when I found out that Auckland Theatre Company were bringing this comedy horror musical to the stage.  I have been looking forward to this production for months and I am thrilled to say that it did not disappoint!

Based on the original 1960 film by Roger Corman and inspired by the 1982 Off-Broadway production, this Auckland interpretation directed superbly by Simon Coleman, brings to life everything I remembered enjoying about this quirky musical and more.  The story is set in 1960s Skid Row and begins in the failing Mushnik’s Flower Shop.  Seymour is the clumsy, geeky florist assistant who becomes an “experimental botanist” overnight when he discovers a strange-looking plant after an unexpected eclipse of the sun.

Business begins to boom as this mysterious plant becomes a popular local attraction while Audrey, the co-worker he is secretly in love with, is starting to take interest in him. There’s only one problem – the plant, aptly named Audrey II, has an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood.  As the story unfolds, we see Seymour battle with his conscience and faced with a moral dilemma.  He has his dream life and love but can he live with himself knowing it came at the price of catering to the plant’s carnivorous needs?

What I was most curious about was how the plant was going to transfer from what I have seen on screen to the stage.  Apart from looking slightly obscene, I felt the creative team did an excellent job at bringing the titular plant to the stage.  Kyle Chuen, the man behind the plant and Rima Te Wiata, the voice of the plant, worked together harmoniously to breathe life and personality to this demanding and menacing creature.

Audrey II aside, the other characters are realized by a talented ensemble of performers with impressive vocal chops.  Tim Carlsen was definitely the perfect choice to play Seymour; I thought he embodied everything about the character brilliantly and vocally he was flawless.  Similarly Colleen Davis was fantastic as the sweet but naive Audrey and Paul Barrett was excellent as the cranky, money-minded Mr. Mushnik.

I also really enjoyed Andrew Grainger’s portrayal of Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend and Seymour’s nemesis; he brought great comedy to an otherwise dark and unlikeable character.  Rounding up the cast is the fabulous trio behind Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, the resident street urchins who comment (mostly through song) on actions that take place throughout the story.  I thought they brought great sass and attitude to the stage, enhanced all the more by their many striking costume changes!

The set is stylistically quite simple and there is minimal use of props.  What really made the stage more dynamic and visually exciting was the perfect mix of creative lighting design (including a laser light show), well-timed theatrical smoke and fog, and clever use of visual projections.  The projections were used to not only indicate changes in location and time, but also to mirror street art and graffiti to give Skid Row an edgier, more dangerous feel to it.

Being a musical, naturally the music is an integral part of the story.  Led by musical director Jason Te Mete, the songs are performed impeccably by a four-piece band tucked away backstage.  These numbers are a fantastic collaboration of Howard Ashman’s wonderful lyrics and Alan Menken’s gift of music and are inspired by 60s doo-wop with a dash of Motown and rock and roll.  The melodies are distinct and catchy and you can expect to have any or all of the more well-loved tunes – Somewhere That’s Green, Downtown, Suddenly Seymour and Feed Me – resonate in your head for days after.

Little Shop of Horrors is a slick and colorful production that is visually and vocally stunning, delightfully hilarious and a whole lot of fun.  It succeeds in being both an utterly ridiculous farce and a deliciously hysterical and entertaining musical at the same time.  I don’t necessarily agree that it is best suited to children 12 years plus, but it can certainly be a fun experience for the whole family and it is a definite must-see for all musical lovers.

The Whimsical Banana rates Little Shop of Horrors: 5/5 bananas!

Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the fabulous Rangatira at Q until 2nd December.  For show details and to book tickets, click here.

Full synopsis and cast information can be found here.

This review is also featured on Keeping up with NZ.

This review also appears on the Q website.

Review: The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Musical

Last weekend, I was transported back to my childhood in a flurry of colorful costumes, energetic song and dance, and a wonderfully dynamic set.  After an incredibly successful season of Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins was easily the next most anticipated musical event of the year and I’m not at all surprised to say it doesn’t disappoint and exceeded my every expectation!

Whether you’re a fan of the 1964 Walt Disney film or the original canon penned by P.L. Travers, this stage musical co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and directed masterfully by Richard Eyre is a whole new magical experience.  Aside from a fabulous top notch cast and fantastic support from a live orchestra, this production makes full use of the stage boasting an array of delightful props as well as visual and special effects that will amaze and enthrall you from start to finish.

According to Mary Poppins herself, you will look like a codfish doing so but I just couldn’t help myself – for most of it, my mouth was hanging open in awe at the magic of it all.  With an impressive constantly changing, ever moving set and featuring both the old classics as well as catchy new songs, this timeless well-loved story is visually breathtakingly beautiful and an absolute joy to hear.

Rachel Wallace is perfectly cast as the titular character, portraying the magical nanny skillfully with an air of grace, unwavering dignity and great finesse.  She really was “practically perfect in every way”!  For many – myself included – Julie Andrews is the visual representation of Mary Poppins but fair warning, this may change after you see Rachel work her magic!  I thought she embodied the physicality and spirit of the character so effortlessly and convincingly.

Just like the Banks’ children who soon become enamored by Mary Poppins’ unconventional but effective nanny style, you can’t help but get spellbound by Rachel’s performance.  She commands your attention with ease and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand in no time.

The rest of the cast were absolutely stellar too, from the supporting characters to the ensemble.  I thought Simon Burke was great as George Banks, brilliantly depicting the exasperating yet almost comical stuffiness and inflexibility that the character is known for.  Precision and Order, one of the new numbers shines a spotlight on this idiosyncrasy and is a great addition to the song list.

I was also really impressed by the two children that played Jane and Michael.  It’s incredibly inspiring to see such young talent involved in such a major production and giving the adult performers a run for their money!  I especially enjoyed the comedy (with a little hint of mischief!) that the actor who played Michael that evening put in to the character.

Aside from Mary Poppins, the character that I enjoyed the most and who shone the brightest in my opinion was Mary Poppins’ cheery sidekick, Bert.  Matt Lee is simply outstanding as the multi-talented sometimes chalk artist, sometimes chimney sweep.  From opening the show with the recurrent Chim Chim Cher-ee, to being Mary’s trusty best friend and fun companion to the kids, to an astounding gravity-defying stunt, Matt does it all.  He plays Bert with such conviction and his stage presence is second to none; the charisma and energy he brought to his performance was just so enjoyable and captivating to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of all the musical numbers.  Every song was beautifully sung and excellently choreographed – a vocal and visual spectacle.  One of the standout numbers for me was Step In Time which featured Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps in an enthusiastic and energetic tap dance routine – it was exciting, dynamic and just so much fun to watch!  Out of all the songs, perhaps the most known and loved one is the catchy mouthful Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  It certainly would have been the most anticipated number and boy was it a goodie – I especially liked the addition of the hand gestures to mimic the letters.

The thing that had the biggest “wow factor” for me which completely blew me away was that stunning and amazing set.  Pretty much every prop and backdrop is movable and can be interacted with which made each set or scene change become more than just a necessity to indicate a change in location or progression in the narrative; for me it was something I started to look forward to seeing happen.

Every time the scene changed or the set moved, it happened so seamlessly and sometimes with a surprise or two that makes you scratch your head and wonder, “how did they do that?”.  It reminded me a lot of those old school “pop up books”.  The scene where the children are introduced to Mary Poppins’ magical bottomless carpet bag is one of my favorites from the film and how it was translated to the stage was just so remarkable to watch; it really was one of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

I do feel like my words will not be able to give full justice to just how exhilarating and truly spectacular this production it is.  I also don’t want to give too much away as a big part of the magic is seeing it unfold for yourself!  All I will leave you with is it is a must-see that is well worth the money and the trip – this renown children’s tale turned stage musical is simply flawless and an absolute theatrical triumph.

So don’t miss out – have a generous spoonful of sugar and let Mary Poppins take you and your imagination on a magical, extraordinary adventure.  Your eyes, ears and inner child will thank you for it.

The Whimsical Banana rates Mary Poppins: 6/5 bananas!

Beautifully crafted, exceptionally staged and superbly performed – a massive well done to the cast and creative team!

Mary Poppins is playing at the magnificent Civic Theatre in Auckland for a strictly limited season.  For more information, dates and to buy tickets, click here.  You can also learn more about the cast and crew, and catch snippets of the music by visiting the official Mary Poppins website.

The Red Chair: Obsess + Confess

On entering the Loft at Q, I was immediately transported to some sophisticated piano bar in the heart of New York.  The mood lighting and theatrical fog created a dramatic effect and a sense of  mystery while the cabaret-style seating and gorgeous fairy lights served as the perfect backdrop for what was to come.  Expectations were definitely high and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The Red Chair, under the superb direction of Aaron Tindell, is music theatre like no other.  Four characters – an older man, his cynical long-time lover, a younger guy skeptical about love and a younger woman with a troubled past – all share their stories candidly and emotively through song.

The songs – everything from Edith Piaf to Boy George – form a musical montage of the many romantic and sometimes obsessive emotions one experiences when dealing with love.  Every song transitions seamlessly to the next cultivating in a beautiful and colorful  journey of music which tackle an array of things – unrequited love, lust, jealousy and even a nervous breakdown.

What makes the show truly unique is how the performance is presented.  The red chair that is in the center of the room leads you to believe that that is where the “stage” is but there really isn’t a stage.  Instead the entire space is the stage with the performers freely roaming the room and mingling with audience members, even sitting at other specially lit red chairs that are placed at selected tables.

This blurring of the lines between the audience and the performer provides a very intimate and immersive theatre experience.  You find yourself having a more personal connection with the performers and because of the closeness in proximity, it does feel like you are a part of the performance as well.

I was blown away by the vocal prowess of each performer.  Andrew Laing’s vocals had a wonderful charm and storytelling quality to it that made him so easy to listen to.  Roz Turnbull effortlessly commanded your attention every time she sang.  What I loved most about her performance was the way she fully embodied the song, delivering not only a fantastic vocal but one with loads of personality too.

Melissa Nordhaus impressed me the most with her incredible vocal range and I loved the honest and heartfelt way she interpreted the songs.  My favorite of the four was Will Barling because of his silky tone and that beautiful vibrato.  His rendition of Petrified from the stage musical Taboo sent chills up my spine; my favorite number of the night, hands down.

The Red Chair was just spectacular and truly a magical experience, one I will not soon forget.  It is live music at its finest – a must for those who want to enjoy music theatre with a twist.  Exquisite performances, extraordinary storytelling through song, and an excellent band who bring it all together – huge hats off to Robin Kelly for providing the musical heartbeat to the show.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Red Chair: 5/5 bananas!

The Red Chair is a Dionysos production and is playing at the fabulous Q Theatre until 6th October.  To buy tickets, click here.

Thank you to Passion PR!

This review is also featured on Keeping up with NZ.