A man in blue singlet and boots pulls a dance move in front of the sign "spudshed"
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Spud King flawed but fun

Fringe World review: Aarnav Productions, Tony Galati: the Musical ⋅
De Parel Spiegeltent February 13 ⋅
Review by David Zampatti ⋅

Since the demise of the bushranger, Australians have searched for their heroes on sporting fields, in parliaments, in big business, and on stage and screen. Let’s face it, the search hasn’t turned out so well.

In desperation (or perhaps, unlike Napoleon’s English – the “nation of shopkeepers” – we’re just a nation of shoppers) we’ve looked to our retailers for inspiration, especially those who bucked bureaucracy and vested interests to succeed – and give us a good deal. Your Dick Smiths and Gerry Harveys are household names across the wide brown land. Here in WA we’ve had our share of Purchaseonalities too; Tom “the Cheap” Wardle even became Lord Mayor of Perth, John Hughes of Shepparton Road, Victoria Park, Rick Hart.

But none has quite captured the imagination like the Titan of Tubers, the Prince of Potatoes, the Bane of Bureaucrats and the Rolled-Yukon Gold, open 24/7 Spud King, Tony Galati. Son of a hardscrabble Italian migrant, wearer of ubiquitous blue singlets, muddy of boot and bushy of eyebrow, a bit hard, a bit generous, a lot stubborn, he’s the stuff around which urban myths are woven. And, it seems, musicals.

I’m sure Galati (played by Thomas Papathanassiou) has as many flaws as his discounted rejected spuds, and so does Tony Galati: the Musical, the impossible-to-get-a-ticket Spiegeltent production that’s probably been the most anticipated show this Fringe. But you know what? It’s fun, it’s not at all badly done, and, best of all, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I like that it can really only ever play in WA. In the rest of the world, its absolute parochialism would fall flat, so it’s really just for us. I like the tunes Caleb Garfinkle nicked straight off the rack. You’ve heard Perth (The Greatest City on Earth), Set it in Stone, Sunrise and There’s a Potato in You a thousand times (and sure, often a lot better) in everything from Annie to Zorba the Greek.

I liked that Garfinkle and writer Dan Debuf were able to make something (I forget what exactly) sort of rhyme with “John Inverarity”. I like the cast of actors, drawn largely from Perth’s improv theatre scene (impossible not to mention Sam Longley, whose Russet Burbank Jr from the Potato Marketing Board is sort of an Inspector Javert to Galati’s Jean Valjean). I like the packs of spuds waiting outside as gifts to the audience.

Best of all I liked the Perth crowd (a lot of them, I’m guessing, Spud Shed customers), that forgave the show its faults and revelled wholeheartedly in its strengths. There should be more like them.

Tony Galati: the Musical continues until February 17.

Picture top: Thomas Papathanassiou plays Spud King Tony Galati. Photo Sean Breadsell

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Seriously slick and silly

Fringe World review: The Men of the West, Goodbye and Hello: The First Comeback Tour ⋅
Circus Theatre at Fringe Central, February 10 ⋅
Review by Claire Coleman ⋅

Plain chant or pop hit, Broadway ballad or sacred hymn, there is something primal in the sonorous timbre of full-throated, a cappella male voices raised together in harmony.

The Men of the West bring their own take on the male vocal tradition in their 2019 Fringe show, Goodbye and Hello: The First Comeback Tour. The self-described “be-hatted behemoth of blokes who sing” cite influences including “Mastodons, Cro-Magnon man [and] Modernism,” indicating the tongue-in-cheek humour that underpins their performance.

In Goodbye and Hello, The Men offer a diverse program ranging from Georgian table songs to bangers intended for the club. Brief stories or moments of collective posturing from choristers, or from the choir’s conductor Ryan Nicholson, give this potentially jarring setlist the blend it needs.

Nicholson, who must be twenty or more years younger than many of his choristers, is often the target of jokes in this show. In the song Timeline, a hilarious reworking for the Facebook age of the Motown hit I Heard It On the Grapevine, Nicholson’s dismay at learning the choir had a barbecue to which he was not invited is lampooned via the lyric “I saw it on your timeline.” While the ribbing of Nicholson is always in good humour, and part of a greater narrative in which The Men poke fun at their own advancing years and declining physical health, it sets up an unusual distance between the choir and the conductor.

The Men of the West have included Georgian song in their repertoire since their inception, and it is while singing the conventional polyphony, open harmonies and drones that The Men really shine. A particularly enjoyable, if left field, example is their darkly Georgian-inspired rendition of Reel 2 Reel’s Eurodance hit I Like to Move It. The audience needed little invitation to clap along.

In Goodbye and Hello The Men strike a delicate balance between slick showmanship and a more casual campfire vibe that befits a community choir. Their ability to occupy both spaces at once was apparent in the show’s opening number, when an unscripted but determined toddler evaded its mother to scurry across the stage into the warm embrace of a chorister. Neither chorister nor choir missed a beat in singing or staging. It set the tone for a show full of laughs, delivered by a group that takes itself seriously but not so seriously a performing dad can’t hug his stray kid.

Goodbye and Hello continues until February 13.

Pictured top: Men of the West. Photo Miles Noel

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Dance, Music, News, Performing arts

Born to dance

Fringe World review: Brown Record Label, Movin’ Melvin Brown – A Man, A Magic, A Music! ⋅
Big Top at Sunset Veranda,  February 7 ⋅
Review by Robert Housley ⋅

An artist who frequented a nightclub in the fifties where B.B. King performed and in the seventies had Lionel Richie and the Commodores support their band has certainly been places as a musician. The multi-talented and truly extraordinary ‘Movin Melvin Brown’ has been there, back and around the world in a life of entertainment so rich it is almost beyond belief.

The promotional material describes him as ‘the last of the great Song (and) Dance Men’, but he is so much more. Yes, he can sing like an angel (his beautiful  The Great Pretender) and growl like Louis Armstrong. He also covers a wide range of almost exclusively African American artists including Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, The Temptations, James Brown and many more, paying tribute to the originals while also making them his own.

Dressed in a white suit and tails with matching waistcoat and a dapper red silk shirt, it is clear where his Movin’ moniker comes from. He was born to dance. Be it simply the physical manifestation of a song’s rhythms or recognised dance styles such a tap, the twist or disco – even Michael Jackson’s moonwalk – he never lets up. What makes him all the more remarkable is that he is 74 this year!

Being as fit as the proverbial fiddle makes it all possible, but this show is more a testament to the man himself and his life experience through music and entertainment. He tells his story with considerable humour, humanity and intelligence, not shying away from his experiences of racism, nor being embittered by them. He beautifully intertwines his evolution as a performer and a person with the emerging acceptance and prominence of African-American music. And just when you think there is nothing more tell his remarkable life story has yet another twist in its tail.

Brown’s ear-to-ear smile, live-and-let-live attitude and infectious, melodic laugh – a deep, slow ha, ha, ha – helped entrance the opening night audience who succumbed to the warmth of this generous and talented man.

Don’t miss the second and final performance of  Movin’ Melvin Brown – A Man, A Magic, A Music! on February 10.

Brown also performs Movin’ Melvin Brown – Chuck Berry Lives! from February 8-16.

Pictured top: Melvin Brown. Photo Maree Laffan.

 

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Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Firestorm

Fringe World review: Leah Shelton, Bitch on Heat ·
The Blue Room, February 6 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

They come along once in a blue moon. Shows that stop you dead in your tracks.

Neil Watkin’s sordid, poetic, The Year of Magical Wanking in 2012; Bryony Kimming’s daring, beautifully structured Sex Idiot in 2015; Lucy Jane Parkinson’s rambunctious, salty Joan last year.

All of them took no prisoners; all of them cranked up the dial; all of them changed what to expect, what you need to know, and what you must allow.

Now there’s another. Leah Shelton’s Bitch On Heat journeys down roads well travelled in contemporary theatre – female objectification, abuse, mental and physical violence and abandonment – but she does it in a high-octane, warp-speed battlewagon, leaving plenty of roadkill in its wake.

The result is fresh, massively empowering for its female audience and, to put it mildly, thought-provoking for male watchers.

The show is almost entirely physical action and lip-synch (the one line of spoken dialogue, “Shut the fuck up!”, makes shocking sense on a whole pile of levels), and the inventiveness of Shelton’s transitions, from a blow-up sex doll Pandora to a rapine old man (“Women are food”), from a cynical, transactional society dame to an exhausted, dejected and abandoned woman stripped of everything but pride, is incredible.

The great violence in the piece – inflicted and retributive – is stunningly enacted, its energy doesn’t flag for an instant, the clarity of its action, and what its action represents, is beyond impressive.

Shelton is simply magnificent, and her set and costume work is superlatively shocking and amazingly theatrically practical. Much credit is also due to Ursula Martinez (also performing in Perth this month as Perth Festival’s artist-in-residence), who directs this whirlwind of a show with precision, surprise and great humour, and to Kenneth Lyons, whose sound design is perfect.

The songs for the show, apart from their exquisite appropriateness (of course you should hack up your attacker to Cilla Black’s You’re My World, underplayed with fx from the Psycho shower scene, and celebrate your handi/knifi/axi-work with some pole acrobatics to Led Zep’s Immigrant Song; of course you should close the show with Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole), deliver the two things so often infuriatingly missing in most stage shows. They are played LOUD, and, more often than not, complete.

I’ve seen pretty much everything on The Blue Room stages in the last decade; don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience there so totally gobsmacked. This bloody, motherfucking thing will sell out. Hope you get in before it does.

Bitch on Heat plays at the Blue Room until February 9.

Caption: Leah Shelton rams home her message.

Photographer: FenLan Chuang

 

 

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Sultry stars live on

Fringe World review: Ali Bodycoat and Jessie Gordon, Peggy Lee & Judy Garland ⋅
Ellington Jazz Club, February 6 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

There was something especially alluring about the prospect of a session at Ellington devoted to two great American singers whose impact was felt across a broad swathe of the mid-20th century. Although they were close contemporaries and each possessed a beguiling vocal personality, they made their mark in rather different ways. Peggy Lee’s sultry renditions in both the jazz and popular repertoire saw her through a long career into old age; Judy Garland, by starting early, had almost as long a career despite her troubled life being cut short.

The question on this occasion was whether two such larger-than-life careers could be encompassed in barely an hour. And the answer on the night was an emphatic yes.

Judy Garland’s triumphs on the concert stage were arguably even greater than those on screen and disc. Ali Bodycoat, covering the Garland songs, conquered the challenge of bringing a high-voltage personality into a small room. Many of her interpretations seemed to foreshadow what was still to come in Garland’s unhappy life: Get Happy brittle with brightness, Over the Rainbow bearing a sadness deeper than Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, whose happy ending the singer herself never achieved. But it was not all gloom: Zing Went the Strings of My Heart and The Trolley Song brought moments of happy abandon, enhanced by wonderfully clear diction.

Peggy Lee’s seductive style and songbook were surely tailor-made for the intimate space that is the Ellington, and Jessie Gordon slipped effortlessly into the role. Is That All There Is exuded “nightclub” and the singer brought if off beautifully. The song, Fever, although not originally hers, became inextricably bound with Peggy Lee and was another considerable highlight. All the chosen songs were covered with authentic feeling and gave great pleasure.

The linking banter between the two artists brought context to some of the songs and avoided the risk of a channelling exercise. But, in truth, much of the chatter did not add to the occasion: the delivery of the songs – and the support of a stylish Adrian Galante at the piano – said it all.

Peggy Lee & Judy Garland continues until 10 February.

Ali Bodycoat also appears in From Bodycoat to Barbra. Jessie Gordon also presents The Western Swing HourBest Friends  and Fairly Average Dance Band.

Pictured top: Ali Bodycoat and Jessie Gordon. Photo supplied.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A perfectly poured Baroque latte

Fringe World review: Coffee Cantatas ⋅
St Andrew’s Church Subiaco, February 4 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

“If you don’t give up coffee I won’t buy you anymore Gorman dresses,” storms Lieschen’s dad.

“OK!” is her flippant reply.

The original text from Bach’s Cantata BWV 211 refers to a whalebone dress, but 300 years later it requires very little updating to resonate with the audience at St Andrew’s Church in Subiaco. There are smiles of appreciation as soprano Brianna Louwen sings Lieschen’s ode to coffee: ‘More delicious than a thousand kisses/better than muscato wine.’

Bach’s secular cantata (circa 1730) was written for a German coffee house, scored for transverse flute, three vocalists and small string ensemble. The intimate work was the perfect vehicle to showcase the talents of flautist Jonty Coy, Louwen and their ensemble in the resonant acoustic at St Andrew’s. With the help of a few coffee cups and some impromptu dances they explored the rhythmic vitality of Bach’s music and his satirical humour. Schlendrian (in German literally ‘stick in the mud’) tries everything to convince his daughter to give up her addictive habit. Even when he has success his wily daughter has the upper hand.

Louwen was an endearing Lieschen, singing with a sweetly contained soprano that floated over the audience as she wandered the church. Gabrielle Scheggia was a dynamic dancing narrator and Bass singer Jake Bigwood was suitably stern as Schlendrian although not as precise in the florid passages. Coy’s Baroque flute playing, often from memory, was clean and immaculately ornamented. They were ably supported by a string ensemble of  young tertiary graduates, underpinned by Andrew Tait on violone and Aidan Deasy on lute.

It bodes well for the future of Baroque music in Perth to see the next generation of musicians collaborating to present historical music with such creativity. And they didn’t have to take many liberties with Henrici’s libretto. Take Lieschen’s response on discovering her father would get her a husband if she gives up coffee: “At last instead of coffee before bed I can have a sturdy lover.” And this from the guy who scripted the St Matthew Passion!

Coffee Cantatas continues until February 5 as part of the classical music series at St Andrew’s Church, Subiaco.

Pictured top: Jonty Coy and Brianna Louwen. Photo David Penco.

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Circus, Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Swinging cowboys

Fringe World review: Head First Acrobats, Railed ·
The West Australian Spiegeltent, February 2 ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The circus is in town and shamelessly clowning around in all its slapstick acrobatic glory.

Following the success of their breakthrough performance at last year’s Fringe, Melbourne-based Head First Acrobats return with Railed, this time co-opting the Western genre in a high-octane, frenzied festival of comedy and gymnastics.

But don’t expect the non-abrasive gentility of Cirque du Soleil. Railed is a hyper-cheerful, puerile comedic performance. Combining clown gags with highly specialist acrobatic skills, Callan Harris, Thomas Gorham, Adam O’Connor-McMahon and Harley Timmermans take us on a gay-themed journey, from bank heists to shoots out and everything in between.

The homo-erotic humour is important.  It subverts the show, providing a sentimental education. But unlike the novel of the same name, Railed is upbeat and wholly unironic, lampooning queer culture with silent one-liners spread across a quadrant formed by four men zinged high up in acrobatic manoeuvres. Combined with the character acting, the show was highly entertaining, whipping the full  full house into a frenzy.

Timmermans and O’Connor-McMahon provided the comic relief with an uncouth yet hilarious portrayal of a unicorn pleasuring a horse.  The charismatic and charming Harris gave a stand-out performance, balancing uncannily upon a stack of chairs, whilst Thomas seemingly suspended gravity in his Cyr wheel.

The soundtrack to this off-off-Western was co-opted perfectly, creating peak emotional mood and sensory impact.

The only drawback to the show was that it was sold out! The venue, while cute and circusy, was not large enough to hold the thousand or so patrons on a hot summer’s night.

But don’t let that detract: the circus boys were a delight, inducing visceral thrills and belly laughs aplenty.  Highly recommended.

Railed is playing at The West Australian Spiegeltent until February 10.

Caption top: Blazing acrobats – Head First pack out the Spiegeltent.

Photograph: Naomi Reed Photography

 

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Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Wheels on fire

Fringe World review: Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life on Wheels ·
Midar Room, State Theatre Centre, February 1 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Tim Ferguson. Not that he’d want us to. It’s also impossible not to forgive him for feeling sorry for himself. And we do.

Ferguson, of course, was the tall (unlike Paul McDermott) non-conversationalist (unlike Richard Fidler) Doug Anthony All Star whose career – or at least that part of it – was cut short by multiple sclerosis.

Now wheelchair-bound, crippled in one arm, hard of hearing, dim of sight, foggy of memory and nappied of plumbing, he’s a walking, well, a wheeling, testament to the sheer horribleness of a disease that basically lurks in the brain looking for things to attack.

Ferguson is, of course, something of an attack dog himself, and there’s some delight in watching his assault on convention – and unconvention – through the video clips from the All Stars and shows like Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush that liberally sprinkle the show.

His description of Nine network emperor Kerry Packer smothering him in a bear hug and telling him how everyone loves him (that’s how the very rich sack you, says Ferguson) was comedy gold; there was nothing funny, though, in a clip showing him interminably and painfully walking to the door with the aid of a rollator to let his helper in.

There were also some revealing anecdotes, in particular the story of his father, Tony, a celebrated war correspondent, who ventured in to Cambodia during the Vietnam War to interview journalist and accused traitor Wilfred Burchett; Ferguson Snr sent his tapes back to the ABC which, under political pressure, burned them. Don’t think ABC-bashing is a recent innovation!

Ferguson, as he tells us, has forged a new career as a motivational speaker and trainer, and he speaks with some pride about his success.

I admire his courage; I also admire his chutzpah.

I suspect he needs lots of both.

Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life on Wheels is on at the State Theatre Centre until February 3.

Pictured top: Tim Ferguson pulling out all stops.

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Two women in a cafe, one is throwing a cup at the other
Fringe World, News, Reviews, Theatre

Frank, familiar and funny

Fringe World review: The Cutting Room Floor, F**k Decaf · 
Rooftop at Alex Hotel, 24 January ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

Imagine you’re in a café. Any Perth café will do, but your local is perfect. You are sipping on your latte whilst reading the paper and two women in their mid-twenties arrive at the table next to you. You overhear snippets of conversation and before you know it, you’re invested in the minutiae of these strangers’ lives: the details of their weekend exploits, failed romances, job prospects, even their pets. F**k Decaf is people-watching… and it’s completely appropriate to stare.

Written by Tyler Jacob Jones and directed by Scott Corbett, F** Decaf is a local production and, in true Fringe style, it takes place in an unlikely venue – the rooftop of the Alex Hotel under the early evening sun. Commanding views over Northbridge and welcoming, informal vibes encourage punters to relax and enjoy a glass of rosé before the action starts.

And action there is. Beware the (well labelled) splash zone as coffee and cake explode from the stage.

But more than anything, F**k Decaf is about the dialogue. We are given a window into the lives of old friends Ruby (Amanda Watson) and Kate (Ann-Marie Biagioni) over several years of coffee catch-ups, watching as they grow up, evolve (or not), move apart and back together, share experiences and offer advice. Whilst the opening five minutes of last night’s show – the first in their short season – felt overplayed, Watson and Biagioni settled into their roles quickly. They offered honest, brutal performances for what was a truly entertaining hour.

The dialogue is authentic and familiar. We’ve all heard it – most likely we’ve said more than a few of those lines ourselves. It’s laugh-out-loud funny because it’s true… for the most part. F**k Decaf does derail in a caffeine-fuelled frenzy but it’s in the frank conversations that the charm of this show lies. I wanted more talk and less action but, like eavesdropping on an adjacent table at a café, you have to take what you can get.

F**k Decaf plays until February 2.

Pictured top: A 2015 production of F**k Decaf at Street Theatre Canberra. 

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Calendar, Fringe World, January 19, Music, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: FRONT

18-26 January @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Summer Nights and SLATE ·

FRONT, a new play by writer/director Michael Abercromby, explores the blurred definition of success in today’s music industry. Based on Abercromby’s time as a musician in Perth, FRONT follows local band Rough Cut Punt during their rapid rise to fame. With hilarious songs and boisterous characters, this is a window into the often unseen drama of rehearsal rooms, green rooms, and studios, in an industry that promises intoxicating opportunities for those willing to pay the cost. FRONT is an unmissable piece of dynamic, modern theatre.

More info: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/front-fw2019

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