No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Musical

Review: Pinocchio

With guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 12.

Jane’s review:

Pinocchio – the little wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies – isn’t quite so little in this production from Windmill and the State Theatre Company. Nathan O’Keefe in the title role towers over many of his cast mates, but carries it with such childlike joy – and young manipulative ignorance – that the almost awkward height of the boy is endearing.

In 2009, Windmill’s last big-scale family musical production was The Wizard of Oz, building off the established stage show (in turn based on the film) with new musical arrangements and  a bizarrely twisted lens. While the production toured to Sydney, a much larger scale tour was planned before the rights were stripped by virtue of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production opening on the West End.

Partially to avoid a similar loss, this Pinocchio doesn’t derive from Disney’s 1940 animation, but is a new version built off Carlo Collodi’s original stories. Created by director Rosemary Myers with writer Julianne O’Brien, Windmill have shifted the emphasis of the work off the nature of lies which we all associate the story with, onto lessons of greed and love.

Myers and her creative team mix both flashy stage technology with obvious and delightful theatre trickery. Geoff Cobham puts on just as much as a light show we’ve come to expect, with his trademark balance of creating lighting which is at once obvious but manages to fit perfectly within the action and the rest of the design. Jonathon Oxlade’s stage includes several revolves, where much of the scenic design and transitions are created by projected imagery (video designer Chris Moore) onto an otherwise blank wooden structure representing a tree stump.

It’s the moments when the play fully invests in the unadorned theatrics of the affair and the environment, though, where it truly comes alive.  As Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce) “carves” Pinocchio out of a tree trunk, we simply have O’Keefe hidden in a wooded tube, which drops down in layers before the boy is reveled.  As Geppetto searches for Pinocchio out at sea, we see Zavarce’s legs sticking out from under the row-boat, as pieces of blue material spin around the base of a revolve. Cricket (a puppet operated and characterised by Sam Routledge) frequently breaks the fourth wall and makes jokes often more about the audience and the act of watching a play than the play itself. These moments are also embellished as the band, rabbit ears sticking up over the pit, are joined by cast members, costumes and all, to build up the sound.

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Addendum: A Chorus Line, the commercial musical, and the review

My piece on A Chorus Line and the thoughts I had surrounding reviewing such an existing entity had spawned a very interesting discussion on the role of the review and the reviewer (please join in if you have more to add).

But, what I’m asking from you now is what do you want from a review of an existing, commercial musical?  If that’s a thirty-seven year old production of A Chorus Line or if that’s, say, a replica of a current mega-musical such as Wicked – what do you want a review to tell you about the locally playing production, when you can just as easily google dozens from NYC or around the world?

I want specific answers. In the comments on the first post Keith said:

pointing out sound problems is a big deal and mentioning current actors in the cast is important, too. (The cast will use ACL reviews like an indepedent theatre company would, for pull-quotes and to build their reputations.) But you’re just a different part of the conversation with a show like this; you’re speaking to people who will see this cast on that stage – and probably not to any future readers with interests in ACL.

So is it these things: execution of production qualities, more detail of individual performances?  Is it more background and context, or is it less?  Does it matter that it’s been running for forty-odd years?

What do you dear reader of this blog – you audience member, you artist, you marketer – read a review of such a show for?  What didn’t I talk about in my first review which I should have?  What did I talk about which you wish I’d left out?  What do you want to know, or want to discuss with me, or discuss with anyone when you leave a show like this?

You help me, and I might learn to be a better writer.  I might even try and write you another review.

Reviews, who are they good for? (Including Review: A Chorus Line)

On Friday December 31st, A Chorus Line had its first preview at the Adelaide Festival Centre.  Before the curtain even fell, Adelaide Now (the online branch of The Advertiser) had published an article about the first performance entitled A Chorus Line Dazzles At Premiere.  It’s your typical arts fluff-piece – “stars were made”, producer tells you you should go, Adelaide’s the place to be, etc.  Critics weren’t invited until the official opening night of Jan 3, yet journalist Emily Watkins – the Sunday Mail’s Crime and Justice Reporter – still tells us the production “dazzled the opening night crowd.”  Can’t you just see that on the posters?

On Jan 1st, the Adelaide Festival Centre’s twitter asked tweeters what they thought of “opening night”:

before getting well and truly in the act, tweeting Watkins article as their “first review”, to which I replied:

To which I got no response.

So not only do we have the local newspaper conflating a first performance with an opening night, we have the Adelaide Festival Centre also ignoring this distinction, and then calling an article a review.

I mainly thought no more of it, until down to the Festival Theatre I went on January 3rd to pick up my tickets and watch the show to write my review.  And it wasn’t until I sat down in my seat that I fully comprehended that critics had been invited to see and respond to a production which is a replica of a production which first played Broadway in 1975, where it continued for fifteen years. Which first played the West End in 1976; Sydney in 1977.  Which won nine Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, became the longest running show on Broadway, and played to 6.5 million people on that stage alone. These are all facts which could leave someone in awe, but I was left with just one thought:

What am I doing here?  What are any of us critics doing here?

What will any of us have to say about a production which has been kicking around the globe for 37 years?  What is that going to offer to theatrical discussion?

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Almost a review: Lists of Invisible Things

A list of some things I like:

  • Australian accents
  • Songs sung in Australian accents
  • New writing
  • New Australian writing
  • New Australian musical theatre writing
  • Female singer/writer/actors
  • Young female singer/writer/actors
  • Glitter
  • The thought “Why?”
  • The thought that if my favourite colour is purple and your favourite colour is green, but I don’t see the same green as you, and when you see green you’re actually seeing what I call purple then aren’t we seeing the same colour and so then isn’t our favourite colour the same?!
  • The fact that, while this seemed like great logic when I was 12, I have a science degree and can tell you why it’s wrong.
  • Disco Ball lights
  • Intertwining stories
  • Making intertwining stories add up
  • Small shows, small stories
  • Being afloat, aloft.
  • Short hair
  • Review writers who don’t use silly tricks like writing a list
  • Using tiredness as an excuse for calling something a review when it isn’t really a review at all
  • Trying to make sense of it all
  • The idea that maybe you should see this show before you read this review
  • The idea that you should see this show

Emerging Melbourne artist Caity Fowler has penned and stars in this small and simple one-woman musical, playing in the small down-stairs Gallery at Nexus.  Her Alice moves afloat and aloft, 14-years-old, and dead.  But, the word dead tastes too hard.  Perhaps it would be better to say she has moved on, into a place where sounds have colours and words have tastes.  A place where when a thought gets so big you can’t possibly hold it in your brain, it can fit in a jar – a big jar – and then be kept safe to think about.

It’s a young play.  It’s written by a young person, and I suspect from my date-of-the-night’s response, it’s a play for young people.  I like this.  I like this.  I like this feeling that this is a little play which was crafted for me. (I like the fact that I wrote I like this three times in a row and didn’t pick it up until I proof read.)

In Alice’s world, music is orange and blue and purple.  And Fowler’s composition does seem to travel this spectrum.   Songs about fights between mothers and daughters, about love between husbands and wives, about teenage crushes and teenage thoughts, about trying to make sense of something senseless. Her full and round Australian accented singing voice wraps around words and ideas and lives.

In Alice, Fowler is looking back, and in Alice’s mother and aunt, she is looking forward to the line women travel as they grow older.   While she sometimes leans too much on stage on differentiating characters through differentiating voices, I am still, at 22, close enough to 14 to see myself at that age in that character: in fights and in bargaining; I’m close enough to my 14-year-old self that I know that that is how I would play my mother.  While sometimes trying to figure out who everyone was and everyone is can be confusing, the puzzle makes it all the more fun.  While sometimes the songs don’t flow enough from or into the scenes… I don’t care.

It’s not polished.  You can often see the marks where it joins, the gaps where it doesn’t stick, the places which were built over.  But I don’t think it’s trying to be polished (and that makes a good excuse for this review not being polished).   This is not only a brand new play; it’s a brand new Australian musical, written by a young and talented young woman.  And I have a huge soft spot for all of those things. I don’t think it needs to be polished.  Or rather, I can’t be the one to say how it needs to be worked on.  I would love to see it polished, and worked on, and grow.  But, just to see it the way that it was – a tiny play in a tiny theatre about questions and thoughts so big they need to be kept in jars – was magical.

SCRATCH Theatre presents Lists of Invisible Things written and performed Caity Fowler.  Directed by Sally Bourne,  Assistant Director Emma Clair Ford, Musical Director by Jen Kingwell, with band members Jen Kingwell and Pip Fowler.  At Nexus Gallery, 6pm until Feb 25.  More information and tickets.

Review: Hairspray (and Paragraphs: Mary Poppins)

To be a total cliché and miss-quote a song title in the review of a show: Hairspray is big, bold, and beautiful.  And LOUD, in every sense of the word.   Loud music, loud voices, loud costumes, and above all, a loud set.  It is a fantastic melding of musical theatre and the performing arts, with ultra modern digital screen technology, leading to a hybrid which shows off the best of both the performance on stage and on digital screens.

You Can't Stop The Beat. Photo Ros O'Gorman.

Premiering on Broadway in 2002, this is the first Australian production, and it is an Australian production.  Taking the book and music from the original, Australian director/conceiver David Atkins has brought together an Australian creative team to deliver a product which makes the eight year gap more than worth it.   The team has delivered a production that is both so technically ambitious and achieving to have been given anything less in past years would have been a great loss.

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