Tag: Fem Belling

REVIEW: The Songs of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano

Once was not enough…

By Adam Tonking

Do you remember the musical revue? Not the latest incarnation where the greatest hits of a deceased or retired composer are swept together so the paying audience get to hear their favourites. I’m talking about an evening where a composer and lyricist team get to showcase their collection of stand-alone songs. Maltby and Shire come to mind. An evening with The Songs Of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano was just like those glory days.

The Songs of Mckenzie-Spencer and Strano

And what’s glorious about this format is that each new song is its own story: a new character to meet, a new dilemma to be faced, and resolution in six or so minutes. This allows for the exploration of characters and situations that probably wouldn’t be sustainable over a longer work. And boy, did Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano explore some unchartered territory. From addiction to babies, to making incest work, to coping with discount airlines; the quirky situations seldom strayed from the continuing theme of overcoming obstacles. Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano just found them in places Maltby and Shire never dared.

And it was hilarious. Strano has a strong understanding of comedy in song, and Mackenzie-Spencer’s playful yet carefully crafted music elevates the bawdiest of joke to something golden. There were a few tender, more emotional moments, and the team were more than up to the task, to show that they are more than a comedy duo.

The cast were sublime. This was essentially a showcase for the brilliant creations of Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano, but I couldn’t leave without mentioning the cast. Rob Tripolino with his deft handling of incest, Andrew Broadbent with his gorgeous bass voice in “Weekend Getaway,” Stephanie Jones’ sweet awkwardness in “Sandwiches,” Mike McLeish selling the slow-burn story of “Crack Babies,” Keagan Vaskess – a last-minute replacement – who nearly stole the show with “Scientific View” a song about love as science fiction and “Still Waiting” about the expections of becoming an adult after reading Harry Potter, and finally Fem Belling who absolutely rocked the audience with “Kabaret,” a parody of the tropes of cabaret performance. I did feel like the cast could have used more time with the material, but I understand that a concert performance of new songs by new Australian writers would have limited resources to allow this. More’s the pity; the cast were more than capable, and the songs would have shone brighter.

Since this was a one-night only performance, and you won’t have the opportunity to see this show, I insist you take down the names of everyone involved and see everything that they do. Particularly Lochlan Mackenzie-Spencer and Andrew Strano, for there is a limited amount of support for original material for musicals in Australia. And they deserve the chance to become at least as famous as Maltby and Shire.

The Songs Of Mackenzie-Spencer And Strano played at Chapel Off Chapel on June 20th 2015 at 8pm. Since I’d normally give you details where to buy tickets, this time I thought I’d give you details to follow them. Twitter: MS&S (@MS_and_S) or Facebook: Mackenzie-Spencer & Strano


Working out the kinks

By Myron My

Who ever said that sex and exercise have to be mutually exclusive? This is definitely not the case with the new musical comedy directed by Sara Grenfell and presented by Aleksandar Vass and Malcolm C. Cooke, Sexercise, where we follow a married couple’s journey to rediscovering the fun and sexy times in their relationship.

Sexercise the Musical

The strength and success of Sexercise lies very much with its talented group of actors. Despite two solid hours of acting, singing and dancing, the small cast all manage to keep their energy levels up and the further we progress with the story the more this dynamism is visible. Clearly there is much fun to be had on stage, with the audience and with each other.

Nicole Melloy and Lyall Brooks are both extremely likeable as married couple Sam and Joe. They could easily have been pigeonholed as the annoying nagging wife and the insensitive, ignorant husband but they are able to expose a vulnerability to their characters that is natural and subtle whilst still bringing on the laughs and delivering the jokes.

The rest of the cast consisting of Fem Belling, Cameron MacDonald, Kristin Holland and Lulu McClatchy display their ability to support the protagonists but also command the stage when required. It almost reached the point where I wanted to learn more about these people than Sam and Joe: what exactly is going on in Andy’s marriage and who is this woman that has broken Tania’s heart? Writer Derek Rowe does well to feed the audience just enough information that we eagerly await the return to the stage of these characters.

While there may be some funny and touching moments in Sexercise, there are scenes that are too long and seem to drag to their conclusion and others that apparently don’t even need to be included. At a running time of over two hours, I felt some editing is required to allow the story to stay snappy and constantly moving forward at a pace that allows our attention to not falter.

While the musical numbers, also by Rowe, are on the whole enjoyable, there are some that seemed unnatural and awkward but due to the talent of the performers, were still fun to watch. Sexercise’s musical highlights )directed by Trevor Jones and choreographed by Dana Jolly) included ‘Mates For Life’, ‘Are We Done Yet’ and ‘36 not 23’ but by far my favourite song of the evening would be MacDonald and McClatchy singing ‘It Might Be Different This Time’, a wonderful number which could have been the signature song for every characters’ journey in this production.

Sexercise is more than just a story of 30-somethings wanting to have sex. It is cheeky, it is fun and it is naughty but it’s also about a group of individuals trying to connect with someone else. By cutting down the running time and undertaking some rewriting, this new musical has the potential both to make that theme more meaningful and create greater enjoyment for the audience. Nonetheless, this production of Sexercise is still worth seeing for the stellar effort by the excellent cast.

Venue: Alex Theatre St Kilda, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Until 15 March | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: From $50.87
Bookings:  http://sexercisethemusical.com

Review: Opening Night Gala for MELBOURNE CABARET FESTIVAL

A glorious beginning to this year’s star-studded and spangled festival

By Kate Boston Smith

Opening Night Gala

A festival first born in the garden of delights that was The Butterfly Club’s original address has blossomed out of its next gothic home in the South Melbourne Town Hall to now stretch its sequin canopy over the length and breadth of our music-loving city.

It was a fantastic and bold move by directors Neville Sice and David Read to open this year’s heavenly event at the auspicious and grand old dame of live performance art, The Palais Theatre on St Kilda’s Esplanade.   Lush red curtains and a smattering of sparkling stars pulled cabaret performers close to the practically sold-out audience for an intimate taste of this beloved art form.

Fem Belling, jazz vocalist and leading lady (performing her own show Blossom Dearie at Chapel off Chapel) hosted the Gala with all the flair, playful wit and costume changes one could hope for.  Clearly a night of stand-out acts from the festival, Trevor Ashley and Rhonda Burchmore took parody and adult-only panto to gin-soaked, pun-tastic new heights, with Burchmore proving she has still most definitely ‘got it’.

Divine Gala moments included Yana Alana’s scantily-clad excerpts from her anticipated return in Blue Show (being performed at 45 Downstairs). Gripping all with her lasso quips and razor-sharp lyrics Yana Alana brings a certain cheek to the stage others could only dream of.  New York cabaret icon Joey Arias took us from the cheeky to the sensual with his beautiful channeling of Billie Holiday. His velveteen tones should not be missed in Arias on Holiday at Chapel Off Chapel.

Absolute crowd favorite was the impeccable Mary Wilson, original chanteuse of The Supremes.  Draped in a red gown, diamonds and white mink stole, Ms Wilson was every bit the dream diva.  Performing excerpts from Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project, she captivated the entire room with her grace and beauty.

This Gala Opening Night was the perfect initiation into the superb world of cabaret.  All the acts were tremendously chosen, with performers such as Tara Minton, David Pomeranz and Adam Guettel who tantalized all not only with their voices, but literally with the sharing of secrets from their personal lives and work practices.

It is this transformative journey from cabaret room into the mind, body and artist imagination that fuels the fire of cabaret-loving audiences.  This is an ideal time of year to make your way into an intimate performance space to have your soul sparked by some of the best in the business.

The Opening Night Gala took place on Wednesday June 26, 2013. There are over 150 performers and performances running NOW for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2013 until 7 July. Check www.melbournecabaret.com for full listings.