Category: Musical Theatre

Review: The Phantom of the Opera 

The Phantom will be inside your mind long after the curtain falls.

By Sebastian Purcell

The Phantom of the Opera opened on London’s West End in October 1986 and has been re-staged many times over for the past 36 years. Opera Australia’s season of Phantom of the Opera is beautifully re-imagined through an exquisite and lively production. Director Laurence Connor has breathed fresh life into arguably one of the most successful and recognisable musicals in history.

For those unaware, the story is set In the late 1800’s. The cast of the Paris Opera House are rehearsing a new production of Hannibal when resident soprano prima donna Carlotta Giunicelli’s (Giuseppina Grech) aria is interrupted by a stage accident. Ballet dancer Christine Daaé (Amy Manford) takes over the role to great acclaim, but her unseen angel of music teacher the Phantom (Josh Piterman) is enraged when his physical deformity is revealed. Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Blake Bowden) falls in love with Christine, promising to protect her from the Phantom. Christine must then choose between her love of performing and the love of her life.

As one expects from Opera Australia, the vocal performances of the 37 strong cast are flawless. Amy Manford’s performance as Christine is the best I have ever seen. Think of Me, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, and The Phantom of the Opera are chillingly breathtaking. However, it’s her performance of Notes/Twisted Every Way that grounds the character as a frightened child, being used by the men in her life. Manford draws the audience to a standing ovation – and deservedly so. 

Josh Piterman’s Phantom is full of interesting choices. While vocally exquisite and smooth and his renditions of Music of the Night, All I Ask of You (reprise) and The Point of No Return are pitch perfect, he plays the role more gently, more humanly than other portrayals. However. I must say I missed at times the cruelty and anger of previous Phantoms which tie the inward ugliness of the character to his physical ugliness. The staging of this production at times also humanised the Phantom, placing him amongst the cast for the Act Two opener Masquerade/ Why so Silent? as opposed to above the cast, on a staircase, as per previous productions. For me, this reduced his stature and consequently less likely to be feared. Nonetheless, Piterman’s performance is worth the top billing. 

Blake Bowden’s performance as Raoul is also outstanding. His tone is silky throughout All I Ask of You and the trio of Bowden, Piterman and Manford soar in Wondering Child. Credit must go to the sound design team at the State Theatre as every note is clearly audible. The ensemble is tight, and well utilised throughout for scene changes adding impressive colour and movement. 

Paul Brown’s set design is the boldest I’ve seen and is as jaw dropping as the performances themselves. The well-known bridge to the Phantom’s lair is replaced with the most magnificent spiral staircase. The scenes are densely populated adding a rich character that fills the State theatre, ensuring you can’t mistake it for a concert. The chandelier, well its best left to experience rather than description, but in true Phantom form it comes screaming down from the ceiling. 

Finally, Phantom of the Opera’s music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is what audiences love. The 27-piece orchestra brings the wonderful score to life. Melbourne’s State Theatre is arguably the best place to hear it. It doesn’t get any better than this full orchestra taking flight as the chandelier rises and the overture kicks into full swing. 

Opera Australia’s The Phantom of the Opera is the boldest, most stunning production of the musical yet. This night of music was indeed incredibly special. 

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Melbourne Arts Centre from 3 November to 5 February. Tickets Arts Centre Melbourne

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

Review: Urinetown – the musical

You’re in Urinetown and it’s a wee bit of fun!

By Sebastian Purcell

Urinetown the Musical premiered on Broadway in 2001 with music by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollman and Greg Kolis. Soundworks’ production is distinctly set in rural Australia, on the backdrop of a 20-year drought highlighting a way of life that may be more closer to reality if the effects of climate change continue on our current trajectory. Urinetown parodies a number of musicals and Soundworks’ has offered a contemporary take some of these parodies along with the musical format itself.

Due to the severe water shortages, Caldwell B Cladwell (Quin Kelly) has established Urine Good Company (UGC) to control water consumption. The towns’ officers Lockstock (Dom Hennequin) and Barell (Ashlee Noble) ensure the town-folk pay to pee under the harsh eye of Penelope Pennywise (Maddison Coleman). If the laws are broken, then offenders are sent to Urinetown, never to return.  The oppression leads to an uprising from former UGC employee Bobby Strong (Finn Alexander) with the support of Caldwell’s daughter Hope Cladwell (Amy McMillan), only for the town and its people to realise freedom might not be the savour they were hoping for.

This is an absolute laugh out loud performance. It is superbly directed by Mark Taylor, with the support of choreographers Sophie Loughran and Aadhya Wijegoonawardena. The production is lively, energetic and borderlines ridiculous but never crosses the line; and while the show doesn’t take itself seriously the cast and creative team absolutely do. The cast, as an ensemble excel, especially in dancing in unison, with a personal favourite the Act Two opener What is Urinetown? – a homage to Fiddler on the Roof.

This is a tight-knit cast, each shining and getting applause throughout, but there are some absolute scene stealers in this show. Finn Alexander as Bobby Strong demonstrates a polished vocal performance in a Sister Act inspired Run Freedom Run. Alexander leads the ensemble who transform into a garbage bag clad chorus while his defying gravity run, mop in hand (not broomstick), is terrific. Amy McMillan as Hope also soars  but my favourite is her acapella start to, I See a River. McMillan brings such depth to a role that could easily be a one-dimensionsupplementary character. Chloe Halley as Little Sally plays deadpan against the goofy and solid Hennequin. However, it is Ashlee Noble as Officer Barrell that steals the spotlight in every scene. She has the audience eating out of her palm. Not only is her comedic timing superb but she is an all-round performer bringing a physicality that’s unmatched.

The staging is minimal and effective, ensuring the large cast are able to fill the small stage available at Chapel off Chapel. The use of milk crates as major props from barricades (think Les Miserable) to love heart props within a corrugated iron outhouse puts you immediately in the Australian Outback. Aron Murray’s lighting design is vibrant and a clever use of toilet plungers as handheld lights is used to good effect.

The subject matter may be doused in toilet humour, but what better way is there to get audiences to consider important themes of sustainability and climate change and their impact on the world around them.

Urinetown the musical is playing at Chapel off Chapel from 28 October until 6 November 2022 with tickets via Urinetown | Chapel Off Chapel.

Photography by Benjamin Gregory (BG Group)

Review: Freaky Friday

Family, love and hard truths, by Kiana Emmett

Theatrical’s Victorian Premiere of Freaky Friday is a fresh new take on the Disney movie we all know and love, bringing a familiarity and an updated viewpoint on the story of Mother and Daughter who switch bodies.

As the two leading players, daughter Ellie (Lyla Digrazia) and mother Katherine (Stephanie Powell) are both strong. The score is a big sing, and they both do well to keep up with it throughout the piece. Powell’s comedic timing as the daughter Ellie trapped in her mother’s body is well executed and highly entertaining, she manages to perfectly execute the differentiation between the physicality of mother and daughter. Her solo moments including ‘Parents Lie’ and ‘After All of This and Everything’ were heartfelt, and these emotional ballads are where she seemed to thrive the most.

Digrazia’s performance was deeply grounded and was a strong presence on stage, setting the precedence for those around her. Her vocals were strong, and she was at her best during ‘Oh Biology!.

The standout of the production however was Michael Gray as Katherine’s husband to be Mike. His vocal prowess was undeniable but felt underutilised in a score that so heavily featured mother and daughter. 

Vocally, the highlight of the show was ‘Bring My Baby (Brother) Home’ near the top of at two with Digrazia, Powell and Gray all at their strongest and most impressive.

The supporting cast gave strong performances, with Jessi Neilsen Carreno, lending her strong voice to play Ms Meyers during ‘Watch Your Back’ as well as a multitude of other cameo roles. Jack Lear’s comedic timing was brilliant, with small interjecting lines throughout the piece that had the audience in stitches. Tach Sutton was also strong as Katherine’s assistant Torrey.

There were a few issues and malfunctions of set and props throughout the show, and I felt the transitions were at times a little clunky, but as a whole the production was strong in its delivery of story above all else. The intimate setting of Chapel off Chapel was perfect for the scale of the production and the lighting design was crucial in the believability of the magical aspects of the show. The lanterns used in the opening of the second act were also effective, with cast members heading into the audience, enhancing the relationship between story and audience.

Musical direction by Peter Pham Nguyen was strong, with harmonies being clean, and packing a punch when it really mattered. The work done with leads especially in their vocally demanding performances was clear, and helped to further the story more.

Theatrical’s Freaky Friday depicts the importance of family and love, accepting hard truths in life and coming together despite it all. It is a hilarious, heartfelt night out!

Freaky Friday is playing at Chapel off Chapel until the 18th of September. Tickets are available at:

https://chapel.sales.ticketsearch.com/sales/salesevent/76184

REVIEW: Nine To Five

Come for Dolly, stay for the powerhouse performances

By Kiana Emmett

In 1980’s America, three women work together to dismantle the ‘boys club’ that keeps them confined. Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 is a sobering and inspiring look at female empowerment. Set up by Dolly herself as a world ‘different to our own’ at the start of the show, the misogynistic constraints of the corporate world, and our society as whole, are put on full display in how little we have changed in the time since the original source material. A love letter to the power of female friendship and strength, 9 to 5 is a glittering production full of ‘Hart’.

Led by some of the finest performers in Australian musical theatre, 9 to 5 is strong vocally. Between the dazzling harmonies, both in an ensemble context such as the titular number and between the principles in beautifully intimate moments like ‘I Just Might’.

Marina Prior is a force as Violet, confident and reliable. Although she seemed to have some issues with sound in the opening number, she well and truly made up for it in her jazzy solo number ‘One Of the Boys’, where Violet shares her aspirations to break-through the gender disparity in management.

Erin Clare was dynamic and thoroughly engaging as the Dolly-esque Doralee, bring charisma and heart to the role, as well as a killer set of pipes! Her struggles as an employee encountering harassment in the workplace was strikingly poignant and well delivered.

Casey Donovan was a knockout as Judy, vastly different to other musical theatre roles she has taken on. She excelled in not falling into the trap of treating Judy as the victim, but instead portrayed a strong, independent woman who needed the support and clarity in order to fully realise that independence. Her act two showstopper ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ rightfully had her audience on their feet, both as a result of her moving simultaneous depiction of vulnerability and strength, as well as her otherworldly vocal prowess.

Stealing the show however was the iridescent and magnetic Caroline O’Connor as the secretary Roz Keith, obsessed with her boss. She had the audience hook, line and sinker, following her every move in her limited time on stage. With her impeccable comedic timing, incredible dance capabilities and a brassy musical theatre belt that is second to none, she had the audience in stitches in her big number ‘Heart to Hart’. O’Connor’s characterisation is a masterclass in performance and resulted in an almost instant standing ovation when she came out for her bow.

As the egotistical Franklin Hart Jr. Eddie Perfect is hilarious. He treads the line between unlikability, with outdated lines that bring a hush over the crowd by the sheer audacity of them, and hilarity. He is a great example of an irredeemable character, that has no real full circle, or remorse for his actions. He is uncannily able to present this farce of a human, who is so exaggerated and yet as an audience we can so easily compare him to someone we have met.

The set design and lighting work in tandem to create the true 80’s feel of the piece, with the use of colour in the second act a nod to the change in leadership, and celebration of diversity in the workplace.

The ensemble were a strong unit that were used well in their limited capacity as other office members. The level of talent and commitment to choreography was stunning, and the choreography wowed from the opening number through to the conclusion of the piece whenever used.

9 to 5 guises as a night of fun, and it truly is so much fun, but at its core, this new production is a commentary of the tumultuous social landscape, and the inequality faced by women in the workplace. It also stands to share the power we have to ‘change it’ if we all commit to the creation of the greater good. Come for Dolly, stay for a brilliant night of powerhouse performers, a powerful message and a smile that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

9 to 5 is currently playing at the State Theatre through September 16th. Tickets available at: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2022/musical/9-to-5-the-musical

Photography by David Hooley

Review: Six the Musical

The six not-so-merry, but incredibly fierce, wives of Henry the Eighth

By Narelle Wood

Six the Musical is a modern, girl-power infused, diva-driven, retelling of the stories of Henry the Eighth’s wives or, more accurately, ex-wives.

Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza), Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), Anna of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson), and Catherine Parr (Shannen Alyce Quan filling in for Vidya Makan on opening night) are each given their moment to tell their story, win the audience’s sympathies and, in the process, reveal a little bit of untold history.

Each queen is inspired by different queens of pop, such as Adele, Beyonce, Britney, Rihanna, Alicia Keyes and Avril Lavigne. The songstresses’ styles permeate each performance from attitude, musical genre, to dance moves, as well as the costumes and styling. Costume designer, Gabriella Slade, has created masterful pieces befitting all the dancing queens. In any other musical, the amount of detail and number of diamantés could be too much, but every part of these bedazzled outfits, including the shoes (I would like pair), are in and of themselves a piece of art.

I must admit, in terms of performances, I found myself gravitating towards the musical genres and artists that would normally fit within my musical tastes. So, the standouts for me were Gare’s Boleyn and Daniele’s Anna of Cleves. Both Gare and Daniele capture the playful edginess of Avril Lavigne and Lilly Allen, and Nicki Minaj and Rihanna respectively; they also had the added bonus of being the more up-beat solo numbers of the show.

The book by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, capitalises on the rock-musical genre with a little bit of a Cell Block Tango feel and not too much dialogue. The staging is minimal yet effective, and the all-female back-up band, the Ladies in Waiting (Claire Healy, Heidi Maguire, Kathryn Stammers, Debbie Yap and Ann Metry), were phenomenally tight. I couldn’t help but wonder though what directors Moss and Jamie Armitage would do with a much bigger stage, or if Six might benefit from a theatre more suited to a rock concert; it felt at times very small for a cast of six women with such big voices and a band with such big sound.

I did worry at times about how the stories were held together and what commentary the retelling might be making on the worthiness of female historical figures. But Six is a very self-aware show and doesn’t shy away from highlighting potential problems with either the show or how these women have historically been portrayed.

If you are a history buff, a fan of pop-princesses and diva-queens, and don’t flinch at the thought of watching Eurovision, then Six should definitely be on your list of musical theatre to see this year. And even if you’re not any or all of those things, Six the Musical will definitely educate and entertain.

Tickets from $89 available at https://premier.ticketek.com.au/. Six the Musical is on at the Comedy Theatre until 7 August 2022.

Photography by James D Morgan-Getty

Review: Fun Home

By Kiana Emmett

Moments are transient, memories are at times unreliable, though once a person is gone, grappling at those moments are all you have left.

In the Melbourne Theatre Company’s vibrant production of Fun Home, cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s journey to find truth and clarity about her father’s death leaves her spiralling into her upbringing, reliving both light and shade through her Little and Medium Alison counterparts. Based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir, with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and sweeping score by Jeanine Tesori, Fun Home made history with the first female writing team to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Its appeal translates to Australian stages, with its universal themes of family, loss and identity making a heartfelt production.

The sharp, meticulously executed direction by David Bryant brings out the humour and heartbreak of the source material, and ‘Come to the Fun Home’ was a crowd favourite, with the performances of the younger cast garnering praise and applause. ‘Ring of Keys’ specifically was performed with pinpoint precision, excellently depicting an innocence and a knowledge far beyond her years.

Ursula Searle as Medium Alison was near perfection. Her portrayal was raw and vulnerable, awkward and uncomfortable and uplifting, it was exactly what life should be. She put her whole life force into the character and the result was a depth and immensity that was a joy to watch.

Alicia Clements’ set design is spectacular, and the use of the roundtable stage was especially poignant, representing the cycle of life and death, and how the two are inextricably linked.

Musical Director Carmel Dean presents vocals and a 7-piece orchestra that ebbs and flows and feels as alive and present as those on stage. It always feels as though the music is a manifestation of character wants and needs, instead of being for the sake of song- the sign of a great musical.

The standouts of the production however were parents Bruce and Helen Bechdel (played by Adam Murphy and Silvie Paladino respectively). They brought depth and complexity to their characters. Paladino’s ‘Days and Days’ was soul crushing and exquisite. Her electric presence and energy on stage spills out into the audience and touches anyone lucky enough to be in the presence of her performance. Murphy’s portrayal is a triumph, the complexity and subtlety of his performance of which treads the line between his responsibilities as a parent and his duty to be true to himself as an individual. This often manifests itself in angry outbursts taken out on those around him, which would be more truly directed to the world he lives in. He longs for the opportunity to be as open and forthright with his identity as his daughter is.

Euan Fitstrovic-Doidge’s vocal prowess is on full display with ‘Raincoat of Love’, as was his versatility, as he slid through characters effortlessly throughout the piece.  

The candid, conversational tone that Alison (Lucy Maunder) brings to the show provides relief from the larger, more complex issues taking part in non-linear vignettes. She is understated at first, before finding herself falling into her memories, which makes her shift into ‘Telephone Wire’ (where gay father and daughter long to connect over their similarities, instead of divide themselves in their differences) all the more heartbreaking and beautiful. This transformation at the end of the show, where we’ve seen Alison grow, mature and find herself, from the little girl who didn’t want to wear a dress, and sees herself in the butch delivery woman she encounters in a diner, To an overexcited college student who is exploring her sexuality with Joan (excellently portrayed by Emily Havea, who brings sultry and supportive tones), to the mature woman who leads us through the show, grappling with the death of her father is brilliantly executed and thoroughly engaging.   

Fun Home is a celebration of self-discovery, family and love, with the joy of discovery, ecstasy of love, and the crushing pain of loss. It is an invitation to view the impact of not living authentically as oneself can have on a person and their loved ones. Fun Home is a ground-breaking triumph. You must see it.

Fun Home is playing at the Art Centre Playhouse through March 5th. Tickets can be booked at: https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/whats-on/season-2022/fun-home/

Interview: Silvie Paladino on Fun Home

By Kiana Emmett

Based on Alison Bechdel’s bestselling graphic novel about growing up and coming out, the groundbreaking, multi-Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home, arrives in Melbourne following its acclaimed Sydney season. Directed by Dean Bryant (Torch the Place) and featuring a stellar cast that includes Lucy Maunder (Ladies in Black) and Silvie Paladino (Mamma Mia!), this production promises to make you laugh, cry and love until your heart is full.

Silvie Paladino plays Helen Bechdel, Alison Bechdel’s mother in the MTC production of Fun Home. She took the time to talk to us at the Media Preview ahead of the show’s opening night this week.

Q. What do you think makes Fun Home different from the other shows running in Melbourne at the moment?

I think certainly the topics that are touched on, we talk about diversity, mental illness, mental health. It talks about so many things: family, acceptance, homosexuality, so many major topics in life have been squeezed into an hour and forty minutes of this show. With an incredible score and an incredible book, I mean the story is so moving and funny and full of emotions. It won multiple Tony Awards, yeah, it’s an extraordinary piece.

Q. How has COVID shifted the way you prepare and the way you sustain yourself during a show season?

It’s hard because you lose that show fitness. I know people don’t see this but we are similar to athletes in that our voices are our muscle, and if we don’t use them we lose that elasticity, that flexibility that comes with singing. So it’s been hard, it’s been challenging to get back in the swing of things. But it’s also been extremely fulfilling and I feel like we are back where we belong, not sitting on the couch in our moccasins, even though that is wonderful! I would kill to be doing that right now! But it’s great to be doing it again. You appreciate the job so much more now than we possibly did before because we haven’t been able to do it.

Q. What do you hope audiences take away from this show?

I hope that audiences will hopefully be open minded, broaden their ideas of what families are and what we are as individuals. For me, we are called to love each other no matter what and I think this show, I hope this show will get people talking about their own unique family dynamic. Because we’re all different aren’t we? And rather than judging, and casting judgement on others, that we can just love one another. That’s what I hope comes out of it.

Fun Home is currently playing at the Arts Centre Playhouse through March 5th. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/whats-on/season-2022/fun-home/

Review: Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody

An Hilarious Hogwartian Homage

By Owen James

After a painful hiatus, it’s safe to say that theatre has returned to Melbourne with a bang. And Salty Theatre’s latest production ensures that bang is a wild explosion – of infectious, ferocious energy.

Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody is a haven of in-jokes, subtle winks and overt nods for Potterverse Potterheads, who will lap up every reference and expert impression this packed extravaganza offers. Writers Fiona Landers, Reuben James and Richie Root rely on the bottomless well of Potter tropes to effectively expedite their exposition, and propel the audience through an upbeat hour of boisterous musical parody.

Miranda Middleton (Director and Choreographer) ensures that clear storytelling rockets us through dozens of vignetted scenes and songs, building a slapstick, melodramatic world, filled with wild lines from wild characters. Middleton’s heightened direction helps the show to especially lift off in the second half, with converging plot lines, elements of murder mystery, and appearances from classic Potter characters.

The cast of seven are a slick ensemble, and it is clear they are having enormous fun in every moment. David Youings’ Musical Direction lifts the show from parody to professional, showcased with tight, delicious harmonies in songs like ‘Foreshadowing’, and the catchy opening/closing numbers. Every individual is given ample opportunity to showcase their finely honed, powerhouse vocals, and there are sensational highlights from Mel O’Brien as doting Hufflepuff Muffin Rows, and Jonathon Shilling as complicated Derald Bacon. Ellis Dolan’s frustrated Professor Al (“another day, another child’s body”) is a ferocious tour de force of rowdy wit and scene-stealing lines (“I’m going to go stick my dick in the sorting hat.”)

The Battle Of The Bands sequence gives moments to shine for Stephanie John as Hogwarts’ own ‘Mean Girl’ Genevieve Griffyndor, and Emily Hansford as ostracised Myrtle Warren – whose journey from caterpillar to butterfly is sweet and hysterical. Jonathon Shilling plays every sweep of Derald Bacon’s 180 degree character arc with glee. All three must be commended too for special appearances as well-known core Potterverse characters – these expert, over-the-top impersonations are an unquestionable highlight of the show.

Jay Haggett as Hagrid, and Alex Donnelly as Tom Riddle are audience favourites, brilliantly exploiting measured moments of subtlety amidst the raucous chaos. Haggett’s featured operatic vocals are especially impressive, and Donnelly’s paradoxically sweet but cruel disposition keeps us invested at every turn, finding the joy within every evil intention.

Theatre Works’ unique approach to COVID safety involves raised plexiglass booths that seat small or large groups, arranged in the round. While these reflective, non-absorbent surfaces may have hindered clear Sound Design, their arrangement has thankfully inspired a genius Set Design from Madeline Nibali. Detailed paintings of crests hang above our booths, denoting which Hogwarts house your section belongs to, further immersing and engaging us as we are encouraged to campaign for our allocated house throughout the show.

Gorgeous, precise Lighting Design (Caidan De Win) transforms the space into a colourful, exaggerated menagerie of hallowed Hogwarts halls, and highlighted explosions of musical theatre.

Salty Theatre are welcomed fresh faces on the Melbourne independent theatre scene, striving to bring “the culture of workshop musicals to Australian audiences”. They have delivered another powerhouse production with this imported gem, and I eagerly await their future festival circuit discoveries and cultivated local originals.

Potterheads who adored Puffs or A Very Potter Musical are strongly encouraged to grab their broomstick and fly to this frantic, frenetic Hogwarts frenzy. Running for a limited season until 10 April (they have started adding extra matinees and late shows for some dates!), there are very few tickets remaining at https://www.theatreworks.org.au/program/voldemort/

Review: Come From Away

Moments of levity and uplifting human connection set against a backdrop of tragedy

By Narelle Wood

With the return to live theatre also comes the return of Come From Away. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the production captures all the fear, joy, heart-break, break-ups and friendships of spending time in an unfamiliar place, plagued by the uncertainty and fear watching the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

The story begins in the town of Gander where the townsfolk are going about their business like any other day. There are people chatting in the local diner, a reporter starting her first day for the local TV station, teachers negotiating the first day back at school, and the town’s Mayor negotiating with the local bus drivers who are on strike. But it isn’t any ordinary day; it’s the morning of September 11th 2001. With an unprecedented number of planes being diverted to Gander airport, the townspeople rally together to work out how a small town in Newfoundland, in the far reaches of Canada, can accommodate 7000 guests.

Over the next 100 minutes we’re introduced to a range characters, from the town and the planes, whose stories interweave and overlap. There is a couple whose relationship is becoming increasingly strained, while new relationships and friendships are steadily forging. Some characters are confronted by racial stereotypes, while others are facing language barriers, or trying to reconcile the destruction caused by the terror attacks with the city that they love. Buelah (Emma Powell) jumps to action at the local school organising everything from spaces to sleep, to food, telephones and televisions, as well as offering emotional support to a number of the plane people such as Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton) whose son, a New York fire fighter, is missing. Beverley (Zoe Gertz), Captain of one of the planes, shares her concerned for her passengers, her plane, her colleagues, her family, and the approaching storm that may keep them grounded for even longer than expected.

It’s a true ensemble piece, each character stands out but doesn’t over shadow the others. It’s hard not to adore Bonnie’s (Kellie Rode) passion to care for the animals trapped on the planes or Bob’s (Kolby Kindle) gradual acceptance of Gander and the surrounding towns as a place he can feel safe. Each actor plays multiple characters, seamlessly transiting from one to another, and it is a testament to the quality of the book (by Irene Sankoff and David Hein), direction and performances that no one story is lost along the way. The effortless transformations are complimented by the simple staging (Beowulf Boritt) which quickly transforms from planes to buses, to a diner, bar, school cafeteria, a cargo hold of the plane, and back again.

It’s really hard to fathom how a story, set against so much tragedy, can capture the fear, sadness and terror of September 11th, whilst finding moments of levity and uplifting human connection. But Come From Away does exactly that, helped along in no small way by a powerful and gutsy soundtrack (music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, musical direction by Luke Hunter).

Come From Away made me both laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It is quite possibly one of the best shows of all time, and it’s just as good the second and third time as it was the first.

Come From Away is on now until 21st March at the Comedy Theatre. Tickets for the Melbourne performance are available via the link below.

Review: Jack Frost: The Musical

A timely fairy-esque tale

By Bradley Storer

Despite the industry wide instability currently decimating the Australian theatre scene, opening night of new Australian musical Jack Frost luckily proceeded. A fairy-esque tale that follows the journey of a young girl travelling both backwards into her past and headfirst into her future, the tale feels eerily appropriate for the current global situation. A small town facing environmental chaos, a political struggle between a conservative past and the pull of progress, and the rise of a charismatic but underhanded leader.

The absolute crowning glory of the piece is composer/writer Joseph May-Dessmann’s score, a lush and inviting affair under the musical direction of Jayla McLennan. While no specific number stands massively above the rest (with the possible exception of Frost’s solo number ‘Take Care’) the songs of Jack Frost are truly a wonder, lifting the cast and audience towards musical theatre magic.

The script and book need some further work, with some character motivations and plot points still a little unclear textually. A little more exploration and explanation of the world in which the characters inhabit may also solve some tonal and linguistic shifts from scene to scene that felt slightly jarring. Despite this, director Lauren McKenna has done a wonderful job of crafting the dramatic journey and stage imagery to a polished gleam.

Tayla Muir as Stella Forte, the heroine of the story, is the guiding light of the production. With an exquisite voice and a lovely stage presence, Muir is absolutely captivating – when the stage lights go down to focus on only her face and voice, it is almost impossible to turn away. As her best friend Michael, Ben Hallam is adorably campy, and stage veteran Samm Hagen rounds out the central trio as mayoress Violet Flowers. Hagen commands the stage from her very first moment, wielding her massive voice with finesse and lifting the performances of everyone around her with her presence alone.

As the ostensible antagonist Leo, Joseph Spanti offers both incredible singing and a refreshingly natural and truthful performance of the agonized character, flowing with ease into the charismatic showmanship of the second act. Callum Andreas, in a very grounded and gentle performance, has only one song as the mystical Jack Frost but easily turns it into the highlight of the show with his stunning voice. Ambrose Steinmetz and Penny Larkins, as Stella’s mother and grandmother respectively, radiate warmth and love, lifting the mood in the second act with their charming comedic duet.

While the rest of the season has been cancelled in light of recent developments, with as amazing a cast and an sublime a score as this Jack Frost definitely deserves a wider audience and further development and we can only hope it will return.

Venue: St Martin’s Youth Theatre, 28 St Martins Lane, South Yarra

Bookings: No longer available