Theatre Reviews 2022

To kick start the festive season I popped into the National Theatre in St Kilda to see comedians Joel Creasey and Rhys Nicholson in their Family Christmas show. Let me say this first, ‘the National Theatre is the most underused theatre in Melbourne.’ What a shame as it’s a grand old dame. 🙂 I’ve seen Joel and Rhys on stage before during Melbourne’s Comedy Festival. But I’ve never seen them both together. I wasn’t disappointed either, they are both funny guys. But they did rehash some old material for this mini tour…two shows in Melbourne and one in Joel’s hometown, Perth. Still, two funny queens bitching on stage at Christmas beats just one. Rhys joked mostly about his favourite subject, internet porn. A subject close to the hearts of many judging by the applause and laughter. While Joel complained about getting fat and dished the dirt on the reality TV show, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! He co-starred in it with MasterChef winner, Julie Goodwin, who copped a serve of Joel’s sharp wit and ‘Joan Rivers’ style delivery. As a reality TV addict, I enjoyed his story about Goodwin nervously running through the jungle in a puff of baking flour after being voted off cooking duties by the other celebrities. According to Joel, Julie only knows how to cook one dish well, and that’s chocolate cake! Something the jungle didn’t supply. After a few wines, I settled comfortably into the two-hour performance (which included special guests) belly laughing all the way. As Rhys pointed out near the end of his set, the heterosexuals in the audience appeared to enjoy themselves just as much as the queer crowd. Camp humour goes a long way at Christmas! If I have one minor gripe about the evening it would be that the stage looked empty, some stage props and decorations would have definitely helped! It’s Christmas after all boys. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Victorian Opera’s production of The Who’s Tommy is performed with pizzazz and reasonable skill and is a rare theatrical treat. Tommy is very much a rock opera of its time. The album was released in 1969 and was one of the first rock operas in fact, and this production of it works hard to please…but at times overstays its welcome. That said, I did enjoy Tommy. The cast performed uniformly well but in the performance I saw, our Pin Ball Wizard (Tommy) was played by the understudy (thanks to COVID-19) who was a little shaky to start with but rock solid in the second act. The song Pinball Wizard was the standout number of the show. For me, the first act felt as if it was over choreographed, and could have done with more moments of stillness. The direction at times felt rushed and could have had more bite given the adult nature of the material which includes child sexual abuse and bullying. Let’s cut everyone some slack, this is a hard musical to stage. It was delayed several times due to COVID so hats off to everyone involved for sticking with the production and getting it on. Well done Victorian Opera for biting the bullet and producing Tommy. It’s an odd choice for an opera company. Special mention to Paul Capsis for his interpretation of the Acid Queen. He read the brief, walked on stage and nailed it. Tommy is a great show that’s occasionally rough around the edges. But the crowd on the night didn’t seem to mind. They shouted and screamed with joy at the close of the performance. What more could you ask for? ⭐️⭐️⭐️

TOMMY – Victorian Opera

My first time back at the Melbourne Theatre Company after a 2-year Coronavirus break…and I saw the Tony award-winning, “Fun Home.” Broadway’s very first lesbian musical. What’s interesting about this joint production (STC / MTC) is that in this musical the lead character isn’t straight, and the gay characters aren’t just written in the script to poke fun at. Boy, we’ve come a long way. That said, if it’s colour and movement you’re after on stage, well, I’d skip this one for sure! It’s a sombre piece with very few laughs. But if you like musical theatre edgy, honest (I do) leaning more heavily towards adult storylines e.g. homosexuality, suicide and dysfunctional families then you’ll dig this production. The musical is based on the author’s real-life family, and her adventures growing up in the family’s funeral home…and growing up with a closeted father. It’s set in both past and present, and while never dull, it is often dark and gloomy. In the end, the journey into darkness makes for a thoughtful night out at the theatre. I saw the first performance in Melbourne and thought the cast and the production were rock solid. It will only get punchier as it runs. For me, the musical’s standout moment was Silvie Paladino’s heartbreaking solo “Days and Days.” I felt her pain as the lonely, disrespected wife, married to an often-cruel bisexual man. A woman starved of sex, love and affection. It’s a thought-provoking number about disappointment, in a groundbreaking musical.

FUN HOME – Melbourne Theatre Co

Admissions is a punchy piece of theatre that’s performed briskly and brilliantly by a very well-directed cast, led by AACTA and Logie winner, Kat Stewart. Dealing with racism, hypocrisy and reverse racism at an exclusive high school, where Sherri (played by Stewart) is head of admissions. She’s a woman hellbent on increasing the school’s diversity quota. The play sets out to stir shit and shock today’s politically correct audience. It’s both provocative and funny and is damn good entertainment. I found the time flew by watching it (which is always a good thing when there is no interval break) Add an excellent set by Jacob Battista (I love a revolving stage). But credit where credit’s due, special mention to the writer Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews) for being theatrical with dialogue, and not being afraid to offend either. It was good to listen to a couple of pacy, lengthy, comical and well-structured monologues about white and coloured privileges. The speeches got me thinking 🤔 Which is what a good theatre script should do. A quick round of applause also to William McKenna (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) who handled one of the lengthier speeches with aplomb. The script grabs the bull by the horn at the start and never lets go. Admissions is another excellent show in these COVID-19 times from the Melbourne Theatre Company. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I just watched 9 to 5 the musical at the State Theatre and the jury is still out, I’m not sure what I thought of it! All the leads are excellent and the singing is strong (although the sound wasn’t good). The story is very pro-woman’s rights yet Dolly Parton’s score and lyrics trivializes the subject matter. The women resort to kidnapping and violence to be heard. They dress their boss Franklin Hart Jr (Eddie Perfect) in fetish gear, then they hog-tie him in his bedroom, and threaten to shoot him. Getting him from the office to his bedroom is so loosely drawn that it’s unbelievable, even for a musical. Whatever 9 to 5 trying to say about sexism, equal pay 💰 and workplace bullying is lost, and the women end up looking like Bad-Ass-Bitches! As bad as the man they hate…their male chauvinist boss. The screenwriter Patricia Resnick adapts her own screenplay for the stage, and maybe she shouldn’t have! Sometimes I think these edgier musical ideas should be performed in smaller theatres (with smaller budgets) where the original idea can be fleshed out in an off-Broadway way and ignore the need for wide audience appeal! In other words, ditch the family values and go for broke. To sum up, go for the four girls (Casey Donovan, Marina Prior, Caroline O’Connor and Erin Clare) as they are all excellent…but don’t expect a lot from the book or Dolly’s music ⭐️⭐️

Ghost Stories at the Athenaeum Theatre isn’t a bad show. It’s performed well by all the leading men with some effective staging and a few bloody good scares. While it’s not high art (who wants that from a horror story anyway) it’s surprisingly entertaining! The lighting design is extremely good and the few moments where the theatre goes pitch black is quite scary! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a thriller attempted on the Aussie stage, it’s something you see more often on the West End. Let’s hope we see more here, instead of the same old…stuff! I was a Hammer horror film fan as a kid, so Ghost Stories is getting the thumbs up from me! It’s a fun 90 minutes! PS. I’ve always wanted to direct the musical The Evil Dead but that story is for another day! ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Stranger Sings arrives in Melbourne via Off-Broadway and is presented at the Meat Market by Salty Theatre. Not only was it my first time at the venue but I was also a Salty Theatre virgin. Yep! The double whammy. Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical is set in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. A time when hair was bigger and unsupervised children were getting snatched by inter-dimensional creatures…and a strange breakdancing monster wearing a onesie. Damn scary! But the minute the lights went down I felt in safe hands under Ashley Taylor Tickell’s direction and was thoroughly entertained by the shenanigans of the Hawkins gang. At Saturday’s performance, I found the whole company in fine voice, but a few performers stood out. Stephanie John plays the role of neurotic Joyce Byers, made famous by Hollywood actress Winona Ryder. John’s comic timing is spot on, and she knows how to belt out a musical number when the spotlight hits her. Ian Andrew holds his own as the bumbling chief of police, Jim Hopper, whose daughter died…something he’s never allowed to lament on stage as he keeps getting interrupted every time he starts to sing. Jess Ridler plays Eleven, a rather odd creature with a shaved head and hidden telekinetic powers. Her vocals reminded me of Aussie songstress Missy Higgins. In her big solo number in act one, The Dad I Never Had, I found her voice warm and appealing. Asher Griffith Jones plays several comic roles in the show but the duet he sings, Nice, tickled my fancy and the final note he held was impressive. The standout performance and show-tune of the night, Barb’s Turn, was performed by Stacey Louise Camilleri. She makes a meal of the jazzy torch song (a nod to Rose’s Turn from Gypsy) and stops the show. In fact, I reckon she could sing the 1983 Adelaide telephone book and make it sound scintillating. Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical is a rip-roaring and ludicrous love letter to the global phenomenon that is Stranger Things. I mentioned at the start of this review that I was a Salty Theatre virgin. Well, not anymore. Salty Theatre you definitely popped my cherry with this toe-tapping, campy production. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s Friday night in Melbourne. I’m on the tram heading home after watching Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera. My mind is blown. What a production. Absolutely spellbinding. From the incredible sets to the gorgeous costumes to the superb singing, it’s a first-class experience all the way. In fact, I can’t remember when I last saw a live show that captivated me in the way that this musical did tonight. Josh Pittman plays the tortured phantom of the night and Amy Manford plays his muse, Christine Daae…both performers have strong robust voices and do well in their leading roles. Giuseppina Grech (who has worked with Opera Australia before) shines as the temperamental prima donna, Carlotta, and Blake Bowden plays the personable Raoul with vigour. By the second act, just as the Phantom started to sing the Point of No Return, I realised I was completely hooked on this outstanding production. I even shed a tear at the end. This production of Phantom has been slightly updated for modern audiences. Christine has a little more fight and is not quite as passive, Raoul and the phantom are now closer in age, and all the sets have been reimagined and updated for touring. I found that all the changes enhanced the story and made this classic tale even more compelling! Well, done Opera Australia and everyone involved in this stellar show! And well-done Andrew Lloyd Webber, your score is timeless ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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