Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thoughts on 'Alegría the Film' Soundtrack

Just look how lovely that artwork is (Source: Cirque du Soleil Musique).
I wanted to write about this album because I just received a copy with that gorgeous artwork. I originally bought the CD around 5 years ago and was pretty pissed off that the version I received was an older issue with different artwork - so now, around 7 years later I saw this image pop up and I spontaneously bought another copy from eBay.

The soundtrack for Alegría the Film was written in 1999, by longtime Cirque collaborator Benoit Jutras. The soundtrack CD is a mix of an original score, extracts from Cirque du Soleil's Alegría (of which this movie was inspired by) and several songs that include the vocals of Canadian singer Irène Marc. While some of the arrangements on this album are a little over the top, the whole score is extremely memorable, with some beautiful melodies and a few terrific songs.

The incredibly underrated Jutras is in his typical element here, creating pieces that have his signature fusion of ethnic instruments with a romantic array of strings with extremely memorable melodies. Although he borrows chords and arrangements from other shows ('Frac's Room' has the same chord progression as 'Nostalgie' from O), and his instrumentation and arrangement is occasionally innocuously sappy, on a whole the score is extremely pleasant music and functions well as a stand alone album.

The performance of Irene Marc is a little more uneven. She boasts a wonderful voice - it embodies a raspy texture which would be appropriate for the Alegría score and it really shines on the accompanying songs. My issue with her is her diction, there are about half a dozen points in the album where, due to her sultry lower register, I can't decipher what lyrics she is singing in at least a dozen places on the album. Not that it makes much difference, since the lyrics that are audible are hit and miss, sometimes sloppy and at other times a revelation. I adore the resigned and melancholic material on 'Love Leaves Someone Behind' ("Irony falls on my seeking to find/the story that leaves no-one behind") but then the absurd phrasing on 'Let Love Live' ("I wanted change, not answers to. Questions like "why. can't they get what they need?"") and the cliched 'Child In His Eyes' ("There's so much love, courage, knowledge and hope. We all live, love, and [create?] in vain") are pretty cringeworthy - but still somehow better than anything Jim Corcoran could write. In the end it's largely irrelevant since Cirque soundtracks usually have incredible melodies with disastrous libretto, it's just a shame they've come so close.

A really disappointing aspect of this album was that the songs have been bizarrely over-produced compared to the original mixing in the movie. I can't handle 'Let Love Live' and it's classic 50s porn click-track backing, and its flamboyant instrumentation of plodding piano and the giant string section. The worst bit is that there were some lovely arrangements of the song that were featured in the movie, until it was ruined by over-producing. The same can be said about 'Child In His Eyes', which originally was a subtle acoustic rendition with an accordion in the credits, now features an electric guitar duel in the middle and synths run wild throughout. My major gripe with this soundtrack is that it does not include the original haunting and ineffably beautiful  rendition of Alegría that is featured in the movie - instead the album opens with a gloomy acoustic rendition, which is pretty ironic considering the meaning of Alegría is happiness, elation and jubilation. While the instrumentation is okay, Marc ambitiously tries to conquer two whole octaves and falls atrociously short of the mark (hah).

The uplifting instrumental 'Let Love Live' and the elegant and subtle 'Herv' are highlights of the album, and the finest moment of the album goes to 'Love Leaves Someone Behind', a wonderfully evocative ballad lamenting the consequences of love. While the lyrics of 'Mountain of Clothes' are encrypted in Marc's joyous, rocking wails, the song is also noteworthy for its awesome melody and light rock beat.

Overall the soundtrack is enjoyable. It's regrettable that some of the songs have been overproduced and the lyrics are a bit bland and innocuous, but there are some beautiful Jutras melodies  and a few really catchy songs. The CD has been out of print for about 10 years, but if you come across a copy of it for $4 on eBay, it's totally recommended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Murder – A Tantalizing Scratch [*]

Deliciously wicked, Murder is a work in progress presented by Erth at WTF 2012 (Source: Brisbane Powerhouse).
A short review for a short work – Erth’s Murder is excellent. This piece was a tantalizing sample of what will be a deliciously grotesque and dark work. The promenade piece is a brief work-in-progress showing of the upcoming feature that will be presented at Brisbane Powerhouse later this year. Examining the cultural obsession of homicide, murder and death, Murder smashes its description and its brief performance left us wanting more and really looking forward to the full piece.

Initially, the audience are asked to equip headsets, which crackled with frequency and feedback effects before a man’s sullen voice instructed us to where our destination was, and what to look at and for along the way. This feature was brilliant, the sound adding to the atmosphere and the whole affair providing an inclusion to the audience that was exclusive and intimate, while heightening a sense of alienation. Revealing where real life people had met their ends and adding the reports of ghost sightings was ridiculously interesting.  The highlight of the piece was the puppetry, which was introduced after one of the most enigmatic and intriguing moments in which it was revealed the body of a girl had been found at the bottom of a stairway.

Accompanied by an eerie piece of music that described the events of two murders, the piece was superbly executed by four puppeteers who were clad in black to ensure there was no attention taken away from the puppet characters. The character designs were something as if out of a nightmare, each having a feature that was obscenely exaggerated. Despite their grotesque features which suggested the notion that they were some kind of manifestation of evil. It felt that they were almost crafted to create a sense of accessibility to the audience through their human characteristics, and each had a distinct walk and way of moving through their small stage. The story was dark and disturbing, but it’s utterly engaging and irresistibly intriguing.

The piece ran for just 10 minutes, but the concept and execution of the piece is incredible. This piece is oozing with potential and the anticipation for a full-length showing is almost too much. It’s not for the faint hearted or those who like lighter works, but Murder is seductively intriguing and deliciously tantalizing.

‘Murder’ presented by Erth Visual & Physical Inc. showed on 23-26 February at Brisbane Powerhouse’s World Theatre Festival. Duration of 10 minutes. Recommended for persons aged 15 and over. Visit the World Theatre Festival Official Website for more information.

The Method Gun - Absurd, Impossible, Beautiful [*]

Stella Burden's gun remains in the rehearsal room, incase anyone in the troupe wants to kill each other (Source: Rude Mechs).
 The Method Gun is a performance that I will cherish the memory of for the rest of my life. Inherently original, hysterical and personal, Rude Mech’s work had me totally captivated for its entire duration. I adored everything, and I can fault nothing.

The premise of The Method Gun is actors playing actors playing actors who are performing a show. The show is centered around fictional events and people of the 70s, when acting guru Stella Burden departed for South America and never returned. She left behind her troupe of faithful actors who were in mid-rehearsals for their next production (an absurd adaptation of William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which was to be performed without any lines from Mitch, Blanch, Stanely or Stella). All that remains of Stella are the memories of her students, a gun which she left in the rehearsal room, and her peculiar teachings and methods of acting entitled ‘The Approach’.

‘The Approach’ encompasses some of the strangest acting methods in existence. The troupe have some kooky techniques, including practicing crying and kissing, and jumping around in squares that govern how they act. Among the mix of their story is an outlandish tiger who continually informs us that most performances would be better with them, enactments of auditions and interviews of the troupe and some obscure dance sequences. All of the content is quirky, and overall everything is unbelievably funny and one thousand times more entertaining.

Loved all the actors and their characters – all aspects including the mannerisms, traits and their attire seemed to contrast in every detail but they meshed together so well. The charm of imperfection just adds to the whimsy of the content, and it was a delight to watch. The finale surpasses anything every performed in a Cirque du Soleil production, where the actors retrace the movements of their adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. The intricate and awing display is a perfectly choreographed routine which is performed amidst swinging pendulums – it was a highlight of my life watching that in motion.

Lighting was lovely and effective and it seemed as though the Visy Theatre was build specifically for this performance. The set was furnished sporadically, but it seemed like all the space was used effectively, especially seeing as the floor was utilized so well. There was a wonderful integration of live music which gave it a bit of a cabaret flare, but the live music presented themes which eventually emerged in various moments of the piece, giving the soundscape a lovely flow.

The most incredible incredible aspect of this production was its homage to teachers and mentors, which is eluded to at the start but is not realised until the final minutes of the performance. I don’t want to really detail it because it was so beautiful that if you ever have the chance to see it, I don’t want to ruin it for you here. I can say that it is breathtaking.

I just adored EVERYTHING about this piece. Arguably it was the best work of theatre I’ve ever seen in my life. This beautiful, funny and absurd work of theatre was touching and personal by paying homage to the mentors and teachers in our lives. The refreshingly original and hilarious romp explored the art of theatre under the guru-extraordinaire Stella Burden and the lives of the troupe that she managed. A teacher that I admire taught us that a good piece of theatre is one that remains with the audience after, asking questions and provoking discussion. This was one production that did exactly that – and the best bit is that for a minute, everyone in the audience knew that his advice mattered, even if they didn't know who he was. Magic.

‘The Method Gun’ presented by Rude Mechs showed on 22nd-25th February at Brisbane Powerhouse’s World Theatre Festival.

Thoughts on As You Like It [*]

Helen Howard and Thomas Larkin in As You Like It (Source: XS Entertainment).
I’ve volunteered for As You Like It four times now, and each time I’ve been ripping tickets I’ve gingerly slipped in the remark “I hope you . . . like it”. Chaos ensures – hollow laughter, painful groans, and monocles fall off the rich and elderly at the sheer excellence of my material. Personally I’ve really liked watching the show since it has a wonderful cast, great design elements and it’s just really entertaining. It’s also pretty tame considering it’s a La Boite Shakespeare piece.

While all the cast are cast appropriately, there are a few that have become the definitive actors for me in their respective roles. Helen Howard and Thomas Larkin head the cast as couple Rosalind and Orlando - Howard obliterates the generalization that Rosalind can only be portrayed by younger actresses, bringing this awesome, sexy cougar vibe to the show through her manipulation of Larkin’s adorably smitten younger character. Bryan Proberts rocks my world as Touchstone, cascading around the stage in a ludicrously hyperactive manner delivering hundreds of lines of dialogue without a second thought, occasionally leaving the audience in tears of laughter. Trevor Stuart as Jacques is SO GREAT! All at once he’s playful, melancholy, exasperating and delightfully endearing. 

Kate Wilson and Helen Howard in As You Like It (Source: La Boite).
What I adore about this production is its huge cast. My primary complaint with Julius Caesar was that the actors paraded around on stage and were forced to play up to three characters each. Applause must be given to Berthold for defeating this hurdle, who has brought a total of 18 actors together in this production by offering intern positions to eight actors currently studying in Queensland universities. It’s a really wonderful strategy of providing experience for emerging actors and also allowing the audience to experience Shakespeare in its full ensemble glory. I hope every company takes note of this and can use this approach to include larger casts.  

No idea why the Duke Senior was made into a woman, though. Obviously the theme of gender-bending is pretty relevant, but unlike the character of Audrey being reversed to create comedy (Hayden Spencer plays a ridiculously funny Audrey), the Duke actually gains nothing from being a man since the performance of Kate Wilson is such a ‘realistic’ portrayal. I guess there is an obscure reason behind it, but why bother?

There are heaps of great moments in this piece, such as the reveal of the Forest of Arden, Orlando throwing love letters around the space, and the sheep trotting around and grazing on audience bags. The hilariously camp finale is totally unexpected and surreal, but it's fantastical in nature so even though it's insane it's pretty fun to go along with. There’s also a lot of audience interaction, where they get to cheer, act as trees, and the actors directly bounce off and ad lib according to how the audience react to their actions. It’s a lot of fun, keeping them entertained and giving the show a personal flavor.

Berthold’s endeavor to replicate the celebratory, folkish vibe of Wooldfood Folk Festival comes across really strongly as a well thought out concept. The whole aesthetic works really well on a whole. The costumes were painfully bright, with tie-dyed patterns and psychedelic colours being donned by most of the cast. Thomas Larkin’s attire is something similar to what I wear to opening night events, except he’s way more buff than I am – I’m probably more alike to what Helen Howard walks around in. The reveal of Renee Mulder’s set is an enchanting transformation from the sterile environment to a gorgeous, irreal world. Accentuated by the gorgeous hues of David Walters, the atmosphere is electric as the audience are suspended in delight of the set and engaged for the duration of the performance. The novelty starts to wear off drawing to the end, but then even more lights pop up are then and the sparkle factor returns. I enjoyed most of the music, while most of the stuff prior to the entrance of the forest consisted of these bizarre string intervals (some of which are so low they vibrate in your stomach) to add to the tension, the folkish/rock tunes and the live songs get your toes tapping and they're pretty memorable.

It’s leaps and bounds better than Berthold’s last Shakespeare adaptation, with a more coherent and larger cast, lovely visuals, and the original script has so much wit and wonderful humour. It has a whimsical and charming allure and a joyous, infectious and celebratory cast. I took along my parents and they enjoyed it so much that they’d like to see it again. This is finally a La Boite work that I can actually go and recommend that people go out and that they will enjoy, regardless of what their tastes are like. I thoroughly liked it, and am encouraging everyone to make the effort to see it.

Tickets for La Boîte Theatre Company's 'As You Like It' range from $22-$48, and is showing until March 24th. Duration of 2 hours and 30 minutes, including inteval. Book by visiting La Boite's website or by calling (07) 3007 8600.