Just a Spoonfull of Sugar

“Winds in the East, mist coming in, like Somethin’ is brewin and bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

Mary Poppins, Ever since that Prim and Proper, Clever, Musical and Magical nanny floated down to the Banks family doorstep and into our hearts, it has been a story that has been loved around the world by audiences of all ages.

Adapted from the beloved stories by PL Travers and the original film, the musical Mary Poppins takes elements from both to create the stage production. Although not a direct translation from the film there are a few musical adaptions created for this stage production. Audiences will be able to sing along to many of the timeless favourites including Jolly Holiday, Step in Time, Feed the birds and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. New songs and additional music and lyrics have been created by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. including the now praised “Practically Perfect and “Anything Can Happen.”

This stage musical is Practically perfect from the moment the world’s favourite nanny takes a coat stand from her bag. The reimagined set design by Bob Crawley is imaginative. It is a very technical show, with complicated, but still swift, set transitions. Everything is full of colour and movement on an impressive scale. Crowley’s costumes are similarly full of detail, down to the tear in a brought to life doll’s seam. If there ever was a show that could transport you into a sense of childlike wonder and glee, it’s this one. Delightful performances, visually stunning sets, technical trickery and stunts that up themselves everytime, this is a well oiled machine with a sprinkle of what I like to say irresistible Disney magic.

The big production numbers like ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘Step in Time’ are also visually exciting and executed with flawless energy.

Stefanie Jones delivers especially prim and proper performance as Mary Poppins, always poised in her stance, with hands clasped and feet turned out, instantly recognisable as the character she is portraying. While Jack Chambers delivers a grounded and charming Bert, the tap-dancing chimney sweeping lamp lighter all the while bringing some much needed good natured larrikinism to the role. Audiences will sympathise and connect with Mrs Winifred Banks, played by Lucy Maunder who is struggling to run the Banks family without a nanny and without the support of her husband, George Banks, portrayed by Tom Wren.

I was going to mention the finale that has the audience on their feet. But i’ll allow you to experience that surprise yourself. It’s what Mary Poppins would want.

So Step In Time Melbourne as this must see production is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre and won’t be around forever. For tickets and more information head to marypoppinsmusical.com.au

x Steph

Photo credit Daniel Boud

A Christmas Carol

If you’re not moved by ‘A Christmas Carol’ (now playing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre) then you just might well be a Scrooge. This stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ time-honoured story is swiftly and engagingly told and the powerful emotional impact all the more impressive given the neatly brief nature of the storytelling. 

From the moment you enter the comedy theatre there is a magical atmosphere. There are hundreds of lanterns adorning the ceiling and dropping down on chains from on high, their numbers extending way beyond the stage, halfway across the theatre towards the audience. 

The cast is already assembled on stage, singing Christmas carols, eating, drinking, and socialising with the guests in the theatre. Mince pies and other treats are handed out to the audience and music is a constant presence throughout the play. A small band is placed in a box in the dress circle and at several points the cast sing gorgeous choral arrangements of classic Christmas carols, often adding a moving emotional depth to the story. This Christmas Carol is very, well, Christmassy, (yes it snows on stage) There is a comforting warmth and charm that radiates from the stage, and you can’t help being swept up in it all.

The stage is simple and highly effective in creating the sense of old England as it changes seamlessly from scene to scene.

There is a particular moment in act two in which the performance spills out to every corner of the theatre and there is audience participation on another level (I won’t spoil the fun by sharing more you’ll need to see it for yourself).

David Wenham is a superb Scrooge, crusty stale, dismissive, demanding, rude and initially seems more annoyed by the presence of his ghostly visitors than afraid. The moments with his younger self (Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward) and with Tiny Tim are particularly touching. Wenham fully embraces Scrooge’s change of heart and makes you believe that anyone can change just by the sparkle in his eyes and the spring in his step. It’s a wonderous transformation.

All in all this is a night of pure theatrical warmth and charm and as Tiny Tim would say “God bless us, every one”.

For tickets/more information head to christmascarolaustralia.com.au but hurry as ‘A Christmas Carol’ is only playing until December 29th 

x Steph

Music Of The Night

There is just something about Andrew Lloyd Webbers ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ that gets me every time. The score, The music, The characters and love story that can be taken in so many ways, The List goes on. I don’t know about you though? But i’ve always been team Phantom even if how he goes about getting what he wants is creepy and obsessive. I’ve grown to understand over time that the world has shut him out due to his deformity and looks. He’s clearly hurting and only longs for love and acceptance (like we all do) having found that in Christine as well as being able to share his music and make it come alive he latches onto her in hopes she will confide in him. Last night’s opening night of this production here in Melbourne was no exception and I fall in love all over again.

This reimagined version of this masterpiece overseen by producer Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Seth Sklar-Heyn was originally done in 2012 for touring through the UK and North America and has never been seen in Australia until now. And let me just say it’s visually stunning thanks to Jill Parkers rich costuming and Stefan Munsch hair and wig design. The sets by Paul Brown also add to the spectacle. All of which are beautifully imagined. The transition between sets and the movement is top notch and done with eze. I’m a big music lover so i’d be kidding myself if I didn’t mention the incredible 27 piece orchestra under the musical supervision of Guy Simpson bringing the already impressive score to life. It is just magic.

The three main leads Josh Piterman, Blake Bowden and Amy Manford absolutely steal the show. Josh Piterman (Phantom) having returned home after playing this iconic role in the West End is truly exceptional bringing what I feel is a breath of fresh air and heart to this character evoking a pity and sadness to his take on this role. Leaving the audience to feel the Phantoms pain as he try’s to gain Christine’s affection. Blake Bowden (Raoul) is equally impressive with his vocal warmth and charm giving the characters feelings for Christine a new depth. Amy Manford (Christine Daae) Brings grace, A new tenderness and strength to her role with spectacular soaring vocals that is sure to please. Balancing everything out and with some fine comic work is the highly experienced supporting cast and ensemble. Special mentions Paul Tabone (Piangi) and Guiseppina Grech (Carlotta)

From the glistening chandelier hanging above you, Right to the crashing down of it. It’s easy to see why Phantom is still loved by many today. But don’t just take my word for it go and see for yourself. Your angel of music is calling Melbourne.

Phantom Of The Opera is now playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne until 5th February 2023. To get tickets or for more info visit artscentremelbourne.com.au

x Steph

Photos by Daniel Boud

Hairspray

“Welcome to the 60s Melbourne” where the hair is big, the tunes are pumping, there’s a feel good energy and anything can happen. 

Beloved on the screen & the stage this production of the original Broadway musical doesn’t disappoint. Telling the story of teen Tracy Turnblad living an ordinary life in Baltimore, 1962. Her Mum, Edna, is a big woman whose youthful ambitions have gone nowhere, while Dad Wilbur owns a joke shop. Tracy dreams of being on the Corny Collins Show, a popular TV program on which nice white kids dance and sing – except once a month when it’s ‘negro day’. Despite producer Velma Von Tussle’s opposition, plus-sized Tracy joins the show through luck, force of will and the cool moves she learns from some African-American students at her highschool. She lives her dream – including getting romantic with the show’s hottie – while fighting for racial integration, and takes her Mum and best friend Penny along for the ride. 

The set celebrates mid-century TV with an American Bandstand-inspired studio and lots of cartoon styling. It’s achieved with amazing simplicity: mostly two-dimensional elements, jazzed up by strong lighting and patterned projections, and by costumes rich with often clashing colours and eye-popping patterns. From seamlessly switched sets to flawlessly done choreography, everything runs like clockwork, leaving you craving more of its infectious feel good energy.

Shane Jacobson absolutely nails the role of Edna bringing massive amounts of talent to the stage. And if I might add, it wouldn’t be an easy task for a male wearing the large wigs, costumes & heels that is required of Edna. Todd Mckenney complements Shane’s Edna perfectly. Their duet ‘You’re timeless to me’ is awe inspiring and a highlight of the show. Rob Mills adds just the right amount of over the top cheesiness as tv host Corny Collins and I’ll add truly shines up on stage. And let’s not forget making her professional musical theatre debut is Carmel Rodrigues as Tracy, a role she was clearly born to play… energetic, funny, top vocals. A perfect Tracy if you ask me. Other highlights include Javon King as seaweed and Asabi Goodman as motormouth Maybelle. 

Without a doubt, this show will have you smiling from ear to ear – it’s joyful, uplifting and even if you don’t already know the tunes, you’ll be singing and dancing along by the time the final curtain comes down. For tickets and more information visit hairspraymusical.com.au

x Steph

Photos by Jeff Busby

9 to 5

Based on the 1980 film which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda, the stage show which premiered in 2008 and recently opened in Melbourne, is a newer version of the workplace revenge comedy. Full of new songs by Dolly Parton and even an appearance in pre-recorded video messages to welcome you, set up the story, introduce us to the characters and at the end let us know where they all finish up.

This Female empowerment storyline follows office workers Violet (Marina Prior), the ‘too old to chase, too young to fire’ office manager, Judy (Casey Donovan) who ‘misses Dick’, her husband who left her for a younger woman and Dorelee (Erin Clare) the ‘Backwoods Barbie’, who is smart as a fox. All three woman find themselves at the receiving end of boss Franklin Hart Jnr’s (Eddie Perfect) sexist behaviour. Violet is passed over for promotion in favour of a man she’s trained, Judy told to call Franklin ‘Sir’ and Dorelee made to pick up pencils so he can gawk at her cleavage. The woman seek their revenge, and eventually realise their potential and dreams after Franklin is dispatched to Borneo by the company CEO.

Marina Prior draws on her large-scale musical theatre experience to invest in her character (Violet Newstead), with warmth and dignity. She sings and dances like the star she is, and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to nailing the comedy. Casey Donovan is a real delight as Judy Bernly. Having created a warm-hearted, huggable character and going from a struggling novice to strong, confident individual, then finally bringing the house down with her powerful rendition of Get Out and Stay Out. Equally impressive is Eddie Perfect with his big baritone speaking and singing voice and is wonderfully unpleasant as Franklin Hart Jnr. So easy to loathe in his funny, cleverly staged solo, Here for You. For me personally, at times Eddie gave me Gaston from Beauty and Beast vibes. Not to be outdone, the wonderful Caroline O’Conner, in what could of been a throw-away role as Hart’s faithful if equally unsuspectingly lustful secretary, Roz Keith. Caroline pulls out all stops and really does halt the show with her funny, energetic performance of Heart to Hart in which she reveals her secret crush for Franklin Hart Jnr.

Tom Rogers is responsible for the ever so wonderful 1980’s costumes, and the bright mobile setting which incorporates dozens of artificial television screens to allow Howard Hudson’s lighting design to flood the stage with colour.

9 to 5 with it’s show stopping performancs from it’s all star cast, it’s colourful sets and costumes, catchy songs and vigorous dancing guarantees an evening of light hearted and highly entertaining musical theatre. You’d be crazy to miss it.

9 to 5 is now playing at the Arts Centre, Melbourne until September 16th. Tickets and more information can be found at 9to5themusical.com.au

x Steph 

Photo by David Hooley
Marina Prior, Casey Donovan, Erin Clare photo by David Hooley
Caroline O’Conner, Eddie Perfect photo by David Hooley
The Ensemble photo by David Hooley

Six

As a reviewer and Theatre lover it’s always so refreshing to see something so different and new. ‘Six’ is no different, A British musical comedy with book, music and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. The musical is a modern retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII presented as a pop concert, as the Queens take turns singing and telling their story to see who suffered the most due to Henry and should, therefore, become the group’s lead singer.

Full of Wit, Sass, Humour and ultimately girl power it’s easy to see why this show is a viral hit. But you came for the Queens, and these Queens do not disappoint. Their voices are powerful and beautiful, performances fierce and unapologetic. Chemistry sizzles on stage, whether they are bickering and competing or rallying behind one another. Their comedic delivery and timing is perfect, landing each joke on point.

Each of the ex-wives embody a couple of modern “Queenspirations” Catherine of Aragon (with nods at Beyonce and Shakira) is played by Phoenix Jackson Mendoza who has the vibrant confidence to set a high standard for performance energy as she begins the solo numbers with “No Way.” Kala Gare is Anne Boleyn (Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne), with great cheek and star power. Loren Hunter plays Jane Seymour (Adele and Sia), whose touching ballad lands just right. Anna of Cleves (Nicki Minaj and Rihanna) is played by Kiana Daniele a true delight with killer stage presence who in my opinion has the standout number ‘Get Down” and just about walks away with the show. Chelsea Dawson plays Katherine Howard (Ariana Grande and Britney Spears), and flawlessly moves from carefree to dark in one short song. And Catherine Parr (Alicia Keys and Emeli Sande) is played by Vidya Makan but on opening night was played by Shannen Alyce Quan (Swing) who blows the roof off with stunning vocals.

The six are supported by an outstanding band of Ladies in waiting: Claire Healey as Music Director and performing keys, Kathryn Stammers on Drums, Debbie Yap on Guitar, and Jessica Dunn on Bass. The variety of songs allow each musician an opportunity to shine, including the haunting keys in Heart of stone and the bass in Haus of Holbein.

So if your up for something a little cheeky, fun and different Six is defiantly a must see. It’s now playing at Melbournes Comedy Theatre until August 21st. Tickets and further information can be found at http://www.sixthemusical.com.au

x Steph

Picture Credit James D Morgan – Getty Images

Cinderella

We all love fairytales right? Well I do and maybe a little too much. The once upon a time, and they all lived happily ever after and finally a dream is a wish your heart makes. All of it I’m a sucker.

Roger and Hammersteins Cinderella is no exception and to paint a picture for you it’s like you’ve walked into the ball itself. From the gorgeous carriage in the foyer of Melbournes grand Regent Theatre all the way to the stunning costumes and breathtaking choreography. Everything is truly like out of a storybook.

And no fairytale is complete without a magical cast line up to help bring it all to life and my, does Roger and Hammersteins Cinderella have you covered on that one as well. I will just highlight a few as everyone was so perfectly cast, held there own and smashed it out of the park. It was actually so lovely to see everyone have their own moment to shine. First up is Shubshri Kandiah as Ella, I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the role. Shubshri’s kind hearted nature, flair and sweet vocals can be enjoyed all through out but for me particularly took flight in ‘In my own little corner” Ainsley Melham as Prince Topher is a match made in heaven… anyone would think he is destined to play princes. Ainsley’s comic timing (where needed) is a breath of fresh air and his ability to truly become a character is second to none. Not to mention his charming vocals the number ‘Ten minutes ago’ is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Then theres Silvie Paladino as the fairy godmother and my what a treat that is, talk about musical theatre royalty. Her talent and name alone speak for itself. Not to mention the flying.

Roger and Hammersteins Cinderella is a delight, a must see for all ages. But is only playing at Melbournes Regent Theatre until August.

You can secure your ticket to the ball at cinderellamusical.com.au

x Steph

An American In Paris

Gershwin’s music, The Australian Ballet, top acting, eye popping costumes and sets, a feel good musical and an old fashioned love story set in the most romantic city in the world. What more could you ask for?

Direct from Broadway ‘An American In Paris’ is far more than just another Broadway remake of a Hollywood movie. It is truly a divine piece of theatre. Thanks to Christopher Wheeldon’s enchanting choreography blended with the spectacular Australian Ballet and Australian musical theatre stars.

The incomparable cast are given a splendid space in which to create their ply their craft with Bob Crowley’s set and costumes. The stage is a rich, large and powerful character of the show.

On this particular night however I had the joy of witnessing Cameron Halmes and Dimity Azaury from the Australian Ballet as the two star crossed lovers Jerry and Lise, both of whom were utterly amazing together. With awe inspiring dancing and unparalleled voices, they were more than worthy of the applause they received. The spotlight though was generously shared with a number of other equally worthy and impressive performers such as Ashleigh Rubenach (Milo) Jonathan Hickey (Adam) and Sam Ward (Henri) which was a personal favourite of mine. I particularly appreciated the humor he constantly brought to the role and the show stopping number ‘I’ll build a stairway to paradise’

I love that Theatre is back in Melbourne. You will thoroughly enjoy this production.

An American In Paris is currently playing at the State Theatre (Arts Centre Melbourne) until April 23rd Tickets can be brought at https://americaninparis.com.au/tickets/melbourne/

x Steph

Happy End

There is nothing that pleases me more than seeing a piece of theatre that’s something completely new and refreshing and all together different. Victorian Operas production of ‘Happy End’ (based on a book by Elisabeth Hauptmann) a musical comedy about America 1919, Gangsters, the Salvation Army and an unlikely love story between a Chicago gangster and a Salvation Army lieutenant, was just the ticket.

Popping with Humour and Witt. Cleverly thrown in through out and brought to life in great comic timing by an outstanding group of actors all of whom can not be faulted in anyway shape or form. I mean the gangster accents alone were impressive let alone everything else that made it like you were truly living in those times.

Having said that if I had to pick two clear standouts which as I said is hard for me they were Adam Murphy as notorious gang leader Bill Cracker And Kurt Kansley as the Governor. Kurt shines in his portrayal of the Governor and delivers charm and humour in bucket loads. along with sparks of energy you can’t help but notice. I personally loved the way he lead the Bilbao song. Adam was in perfect form portraying Bill and had the perfect balance of tough and scary. I’ll forever be amazed at how effortlessly he becomes his characters.

All in all ‘Happy End’ is a great fun night out and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But be quick as it’s only playing until tomorrow night. Tickets can be brought from https://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/happy-end

x Steph

Into the Woods

Once upon a time in a far off kingdom… We all love fairy tales right, well I do. Especially when it’s a musical. I recently had the pleasure of seeing ‘Watch This’ production of Stephen Sondheims and James Lapines Into the Woods. A Musical Intertwining the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters wishes and quests. With the message ultimately being, be carful what you wish for.

‘Watch This’, adaption of this beloved musical was a delight to behold. Walking in you were immersed in the simple yet gorgeous set, stage design (set up in a round sort of style) by Sarah Tulloch. Which made for the atmosphere of waking into the woods.

Sodheims score is by no means easy and the cast of only 12 did a stella job, some even playing two characters, which is never an easy task, so one can help but admire them for how effortlessly they did that.

Cherine Peck’s Witch was a crowd pleaser and a clear stand out. Nailing the challenging role, big vocals and bringing the right amount of fright. I might even add at some points I felt like I was listening to Meryl Streep. Nick Simpson-Deeks Prince/Wolf was another stand out performance, his rich warm vocals were absolutely perfect for the prince, added with the comedic timing of the role and interaction with the audience was hilarious. His wolf on the other hand was spine chilling in all the right ways and demanding stage presence impressive.

Over all ‘Watch This’ production of Into the Woods made you beam with pride and be ever so thankful theatre is back. And remember no one is alone.

x Steph