Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pokemon Live! by Temple Theatre Company

Pokémon Live! is Temple Theatre Company's debut production, and it's awesome just how this unsavoury and crusty execution managed to entertain the audience. I couldn't control my excitement for seeing the show - I grew up with the songs, I knew all the characters and the storyline, and I understood all the intertexual humour. And because of all those reasons, I was willing to forgive almost every disastrous aspect of the show and appreciate it in its horrifying glory.

Ash (Adwan Dickson) and his friends Misty (Rhiannon Moushall) and Brock (Thomas Pitiris) are on their latest adventure, which is to win the new Diamond Badge from a new gym leader. Unknown to them, the Diamond Badge is a ruse concocted by Giovanni (Zane Weber) and his minions Team Rocket (John Vizcay-Wilson, Xanthe Jones, Phoebe Ballard). Team Rocket have captured Ash's mum Delia (Georgina Purdie) and Professor Oak (Patrick Aiken), and plan on capturing Pikachu (Elizabeth Witt) so that the new super Pokémon MechaMew2 can learn all the known battle moves, and allow Giovanni to take over the world.
Pitiris as Brock, Dickson as Ash and
Moushall as Misty (Source: Facebook).

For a show that was conceived as a multi-million dollar spectacle, the production value is seriously lacking and in some areas hilariously bad. The music, lyrics and book are puerile and banal while the directing is shambolic, however with material like this, it's very difficult to not make that entertaining - the fact that the team admitted they set out of make something that veered on 'so bad it's good' certainly prevails as a victory. My friend next to me's mouth hung open in sheer horror while I wailed with laughter. There are backouts that have no function, in some instances where NOTHING on stage even changes and the audience are just left in the dark listening to random instrumental reprises. There are pointless dance breakdowns where the story doesn't progress and there is no insight given to character. The lighting rarely does anything emotive and seem to serve as a homage to schizophrenia, and the sound is poorly mixed, usually being too soft but occasionally achingly loud.

All of those elements fed directly into the enjoyment of piece and to top it off there are several great aspects of the production too - the actual performers made the most of their ridiculous material and were clearly having a fantastic time, and the cast was sprinkled with veterans of Brisbane musical theatre with all being apt singers and several members pretty good dancers. Comedic timing was excellent and scenes flavoured with random elements, such as entering on scooters or 'falling' into holes, were glorious. It felt like, seeing as the show was noted suitable for audience under 15, there could have been more tounge-in-cheek comments, and the fact that Pikachu was scantily dressed set itself up for some jokes that just never happened. Regardless, references to the games were fantastic - stepping into the eyesight of trainers, the music, but in particular the voice over at the start is one of the most ingenious introductions and executions of house etiquette I've ever heard. Certain songs were just stellar - 'Misty's Song' was hilariously inappropriate, 'PokéRap' a brilliant opener, and the ridiculously flamboyant 'Double Trouble' were glorious.

I'm amused that I enjoyed Pokémon Live! for the same reasons I didn't enjoy Next to NormalPokémon Live! is probably one of the stupidest things I've ever seen, but Temple Theatre Company has completely embraced this puerile work and transformed it into a glorious trainwreck which was hilarious and completely enthralling for 90 minutes. Hopefully this ambition has paid off and the troupe can now afford some real props, costumes and material to perform. But for what it was - wow. My childhood came to life, albeit a little more sexy than what it was.

Temple Theatre Company's Pokemon Live! played at Brisbane Arts Theatre from April 23rd - April 27th.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oscar Theatre Company's Next to Normal [*]

Next to Normal artwork (Source: Facebook). 
Oscar Theatre Company effectively brings Off-Broadway to Brisbane. When they announced in May last year that they were bringing Next to Normal to QPAC for its Queensland Premier, a lot of people were really excited for it. There's a lot of things I don't actually like about the text itself - the content of the text is sincere but its delivery in the storyline comes across as a bit pandering, and the score isn't great. But beyond all of that, Oscar's Next to Normal is a fairly good vision of the original text, with a good cast that only narrowly miss the punch of the roles.

Next to Normal is about a dysfunctional family where the mother, Diane Goodman (Alice Barbery), is suffering from an intense strand of schizophrenia which causes her to imagine her dead son Gabrielle Goodman (Matt Crowley) is still alive. Her husband (Chris Kellet) desperately tries to save their family by taking her to various doctors, hoping that a newly recommended Dr. Madden (James Gauci) holds the answer they're looking for. Meanwhile, her brilliant but neglected daughter Natalie (Siobhan Kranz) begins a self-destructive relationship with loveable stoner Henry (Tom Oliver) to distract her from her family's unusual situation.

While the cast are fair at acting and have good voices, only a few of them are exceptional in their roles. For the most part the punch is a bit lacking due to their vocal demands - Alice Barbery and Chris Kellet are great but both lack the power and energy to hit the powerhouse mark that their roles provide, and although they're both fine most of the time they often waft into using their head voices and the score looses a lot of drive and its blistering ferocity. They are better actors than singers, although the reverse can be said for Matt Crowley, who is fine in the role vocal wise but occasionally looks frigid and sort of kills the momentum at crucial moments by looking a little ridiculous so immobile. James Gauci is excellent for his combined total of 20 minutes on stage, but Tom Oliver and Siobhan Kranz are easily the standouts. Oliver becomes the most adorable character on stage, and the only thing that really detracts from Kranz's interpretation is how insufferable her character is - it's not edgy saying 'fuck' anymore, it's just irritating (and sometimes laughable). Their final scene was the only moment in the entire piece that really moved me.

I hadn't heard the score of the show before viewing it because I'm not a fan of rock musicals - while Next to Normal isn't an exception, it's still reasonably interesting. Tom Kitt's score is loud and toe-tapping but the drums come across as kitschy in a vain attempt to be edgy, and the small ensemble usually doesn't manage to have enough variation (also, apparently the violinist didn't tune their instrument before beginning the show either). I can remember one song, Super Boy and the Invisible Girl, because my friend yodelled it in the car last week. Some of Brian Yorkey's lyrics are a bit insipid, although there are a few gems and occasionally the dialogue is quite profound, which would probably are enough to warrant it's Pulitzer win. The story didn't really speak to me, and how the whole subject was handled felt a bit pandering, trying to be relevant and edgy but failing by introducing an optimistic ending which cheapened the whole experience.
The Goodman Family (Crowley, Barbery, Kellet and Kranz)
(Source: Facebook).

Timothy Wallace's set is frustrating since while it has an interesting concept its execution is a bit clumsy and much of what happens on the upper level is lost on the lower audience and the only view is of disembodied heads moving around (though I anticipate it would look better from the balcony). There is no exact definition of space either, with characters entering the house from about eighty thousand different entrances. The Cremorne Theatre is ideal for its intimacy but the small space seemed restrictive for creating and maintaing an authentic dramatic universe. The sound design was fine, some characters a little to quiet in some scenes but nothing much to complain about. As usual, Jason Glenwright's solid lighting compliments the action perfectly, occasionally being more emotive than any other aspect on stage.

A lot of people have blubbered about how they cried multiple times during Oscar Theatre Company's Next to Normal, and although I can appreciate why they love the show it's just not my thing. There is a lot to admire in this very ambitious staging of Next to Normal but absence of energy combined with my dislike of the score rendered the show a bit unremarkable for me. What is remarkable is the effort from the cast that really give it their best and only a few narrowly don't deliver. If you're a fan of the score and the show, then the majority of my criticism is irrelevant - it's an enjoyable evening and musical passionates and even casual fans will enjoy seeing this piece presented for the first time in Queensland.

Tickets for Oscar Theatre Company's Next to Normal are $39 - $58, and is showing at QPAC's Cremorne Theatre until May 4th. Duration of approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including a 20 minute intermission. Book by visiting QPAC's website.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I had the pleasure of playing at Room 60 last week. Tick that off the bucket list.

At the Roost Launch last October a violinist jumped on staged and improvised some wretched jazz for about 10 minutes. I was absolutely awed at how bizarre it was, and vowed that when I returned from overseas I would perform on the stage in some capacity. I found a new love for the cello and, with a lot of inspiration and modelling from Jorane, devised a 25 minute set which would involve me simultaneously playing cello and singing.
My favourite shot that Chris did.

There was a bit of preparation to be put into the event. I went about recording several demos - mostly they were covers by artists like Leonard Cohen, Lady Gaga and Sarah Slean, but I also wrote a few original works. Once I felt reasonably happy with the results, I contacted Room 60 and got in touch with Leila Cosgrove. Leila organises all the music and was intrigued by the idea, and was very enthusiastic. I was asked to send through a bio and a promo shot, so I got my friend Christopher King to shoot some shots in an abandoned house and in a large green field. The bio was more difficult, because I have no credentials when it comes to music. I ended up blubbering something about how I was a 'sound designer' and wanted to experiment with jazz. That's another thing - people ask me what genre I play and I have no idea what to say to them. Once sent through, Leila confirmed I would be playing at 7pm on April 11th. Phew!

So once I had a date locked in, over a few months I learnt the basics of the cello again and learnt some of my favourite songs which I thought the cello could pull off on its own. It's interesting that people are so amazed by the concept of singing while playing, since cello isn't that different to guitar. It certainly has a deeper, richer timbre, and it's unusual to play with the bow - but it's also possible to strum the strings as if it were a guitar, which is a staple in most of my arrangements. It's restrictive, since I feel there's only so much you can do with it. It's not possible to play beautiful melodies while you're on your own, and much of the accompaniment sounds too sporadic and empty if there isn't always a lot of noise coming out of it. But it's relatively unheard of in Brisbane, and people seemed to like the idea enough.

I ended up playing six songs that were all covers - four pieces by Jorane (Musique Pour Gabrielle, Stay, Red Mountains and The Cave) plus one by Lady Gaga (Paparazzi) and Lior (This Old Love). I had written a few songs myself, but I felt that it would be more fun to play covers that people knew, and also it would be useful to gauge how feasible it would be to do something along the lines of it again. Predictably, Paparazzi and This Old Love were the favourites, The Cave and Pour Gabrielle were a bit too bizarre for people, but Stay and Red Mountains were lovely. I think the key is to play simple pieces (in English), and not to take it too seriously. Paparazzi got a lot of laughs, and during Stay the barmaid kept on opening the door to the fridge, so there was some cute comedic timing while I waited for it to shut.
The only shot of the night - courtesy of Ellen.

The response was staggering for me. So many people said things like 'I loved it and can't wait for the next one' or 'I'll be there for the next one', which makes me wonder what the future of me playing is. I have a lot of French pieces I want to sing, but I think the language barrier would restrict people's enjoyment. There are also a lot of gorgeous songs I want to play which require looping and layers, which I don't know how to do live. And many more would need more people other than me, and I hate depending on other people. That, and I'm doing this for fun - NOT for my career. So what's the point . . . hmm . . . ?

The best part of the evening for me was the wonderful turn-out of the audience. People who I had met with over the years, people I am and had worked with, family, friends and future friends were all there - that really meant a lot to me. It was very humbling that people had taken the time out of their evenings to come down for such a short event, and it made me feel so warm and fuzzy :] . I think the premise, length and venue were perfect, and the atmosphere and people there couldn't have been much better. It reminded me how much I loved singing and performing - maybe I'll try it again some time.