Musical theatre, News, Reviews

A fine evening’s entertainment

Review: WAAPA Music Theatre, Strictly Ballroom ·
Regal Theatre, 15 June ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The ascent of WAAPA’s annual Regal Theatre musical from an extravagant prac exercise for its third and second year music theatre students to a bona fide highlight of Perth’s entertainment calendar – with sellout crowds in the thousand-seat-plus venue as evidence – is impressive.

The turning point in its evolution was 2017’s smashing Legally Blonde, a delicious season of a never-seen-before-in-Perth hit show that was packed to the rafters. It’s little surprise, given its provenance, that this year’s first Perth season of the musical theatre remake of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 film Strictly Ballroom was sold out before opening night.

There’s an obvious logic to all this. WAAPA, uniquely in this state, has the resources, and the guys and dolls power and talent, to mount local productions of these monster shows (over 100 of them worked on this one), and the reputation to convince their owners to grant performing rights.

So what have we here?

The stage Strictly Ballroom is greatly enlarged by the addition of a dozen new songs, mostly by Eddie Perfect with a few by the team of David Foster, Mozella and Bernie Herms and, fortuitously, Sia Furler. “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” and, of course, “Time After Time” and “Love is in the Air” remain from the film.

Front L-R: Harrison Targett (Scott Hastings), Benjamin Barker (Rico) and Rose Shannon-Duhigg (Fran) with the cast of ‘Strictly Ballroom’. Photo: Jon Green 2019.

Most of the new numbers are more dance than song, and that well suits the focus of the production and the strengths of this cast.

Its strongest voice is Rose Shannon-Duhigg, and her Fran is winsome, emotional and appealing. The musical highlight is Fran’s duet with her grandmother Abuela (Ciara Taylor) to Sia’s restrained but unmistakable “Leap of Faith”. It’s a song I hope to hear more of.

When push comes to shove Shannon-Duhigg shows she can also cut the rug, and her leading man Harrison Targett, while principally a dancer (his work in “On The Edge” with the male ensemble is outstanding) can hold a tune – they make a terrific leading couple around which the show is built.

The other principals – the conniving dance federation boss Barry Fife (Ethan Jones), the bitchy reigning champion Tina Sparkle (Grace Collins), Scott’s parents (Tahra Cannon and Jackson Peele), Fran’s gypsy father Rico (Benjamin Barker) and the championship Emcee JJ Silvers (Alexander Landsberry) among others, attack their stock, two-dimensional characters with gusto, and the ensemble’s work, marshalled by choreographer Jayne Smeulders, is sharp, humorous and enthusiastic throughout.

The show looks wonderful. Student costume designer Amalia Lambert unleashes a cavalcade of marvellous creations to dress everything from the fiery paso doble of “Magnifico” to the dreamy gossamer of the Ziegfeld-inspired “Beautiful When You Dance”.

Crispin Taylor’s direction and James Browne’s set are models of stylish efficiency – and they need to be.

The show bogs down badly in an overlong build up to its denouement as the multifarious strands of the story line are arduously plaited into shape. It might work on film (although my memory of it is that things did get tedious at times), but it’s a killer on the less flexible stage, so that the big finale, culminating with THAT song, lacked some of the momentum the efforts of all concerned deserved.

For all the text’s flaws, though, Strictly Ballroom’s colour and movement, its swirls and chops, make for a fine evening’s entertainment, shot through with the promise of another batch of stars for WAAPA’s seemingly infinite firmament.

Strictly Ballroom plays until June 22. 

Pictured top are Rose Shannon-Duhigg as Fran and Harrison Targett as Scott. Photo: Jon Green.

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Singers and music director stand around the piano
Features, News, Performing arts

Global story takes to the stage

Ron Siemiginowski and Giles Watson were brought together by the shared ambition to write a musical. Neither of them had the faintest idea just how far their dream would go. Seesaw editor Rosalind Appleby found out more about Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship, which will open at the Regal Theatre next week.

“We never envisaged this,” said Siemiginowski, who is the owner of Orana Cinemas and has a background as a pianist and composer. “We met in 2015 and I played Giles some songs I had written. He went away and wrote an amazing synopsis and I was gobsmacked. From there things have taken their natural course as we met people and they connected us to others.”

A man sits at the piano with his score on the music stand
Ron Siemiginowski is the composer and producer of Mimma the Musical. Photo Jared Vethaak.

Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship will have its world premiere at the Regal Theatre on April 9th. The global production might have been dreamt up in a lounge room in Albany but it has attracted musicians from around the country and overseas. The lead role of Mimma will be performed by Australian/Dutch soprano Mirusia Louwerse, whose chart-topping crossover albums and tours with Andre Rieu have earned her the nickname ‘Angel of Australia’. She is supported by music theatre stalwart Jason Barry-Smith as her uncle Aldo Marini, WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate Holly Meegan as jazz singer Sarah Parker and US/Australian singer Suzanne Kompass as Ada Marini.

The story is set in World War Two and follows the Italian journalist Mimma, whose family are involved in the resistance against Mussolini. Mimma takes refuge from the spread of Fascism at her uncle’s nightclub in London and forms a friendship with jazz singer Sarah. As things begin to unravel on a global scale the conflict brings out the best and worst in people. The musical pays tribute to the friendship between Mimma and Sarah as they hold fast to humanity in the midst of the destruction.

World War Two history has fascinated Watson since he wrote his doctoral thesis on this period, and Siemiginowski’s childhood was filled with war stories told by his Polish/German parents who arrived in Australia as displaced persons in 1951. The composer and librettist discovered the period has lessons for our times too, particularly the themes of refugees and extremist ideology.

“There are parallels with the Syrian crisis and people displaced through war,” said Siemiginowski. “People looking for refuge from war, wanting to make a better life in Australia. I hope the audience will get a sense of the universality of what it means to be someone coming through great struggle, war, privation, and wanting to find refuge.”

The musical also highlights the extreme ideology evident in politics at the time.

“I’ve learned from my personal family history to be wary of extreme ideology on any side of politics,” explains Siemiginowski.

England’s paranoia about Italian and German migrants is articulated in the song Collar the Lot which quotes Churchill’s blanket approach to deporting ‘Enemy Aliens’.  In the musical a boat of deported Italian and German refugees is sunk, making reference to the sinking in 1940 of the Arandora Star by a German U-boat.

Mirusia Louwerse, Holly Meegan, Suzanne Kompass and Jason Barry-Smith in rehearsal. Photo Jared Vethaak.

Siemiginowski’s music weaves the themes together, with Italian arias inspired by the lush melodies of Puccini and Verdi sitting alongside 1940’s styled jazz numbers. There’s even a Rhumba Italiana which includes the transcription of a trumpet solo by Australian jazz icon James Morrison. New York based Australian composer and conductor Sean O’Boyle has orchestrated Siemiginowski’s piano score and will conduct the Perth Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere season at the Regal Theatre.

“I hope the audience will experience a wonderful story of courage, fortitude against all odds,” says Siemiginowski. “And above all love the music.”

Mimma a Musical of War and Friendship is at the Regal Theatre from April 9 – 21.

Pictured top: The Mimma cast includes Mirusia Louwerse, Jason Barry-Smith, Sean O’Boyle (music director), Holly Meegan and Suzanne Kompass. Photo Jared Vethaak.

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Poster for Mimma the Musical
April 19, Calendar, Musical theatre, Performing arts

Musical Theatre: Mimma: A musical of War and Friendship

April 9 – 22 @ Regal Theatre ·
Presented by Orana Productions ·

A West Australian original production, featuring Mirusia Louwerse as Mimma, Holly Meegan as Sarah and a wonderful interstate and local cast and crew. Directed by Adam Mitchell and featuring the Perth  Symphony Orchestra under musical direction of Sean O’Boyle. Blending jazz, opera and musical theatre,  ‘Mimma’ is a musical that bridges continents and cultures.

More info

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News, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

Soaring between cultures

Perth Festival review: Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, Lang Toi ·
Regal Theatre, February 8 ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

How do you fare on rollercoasters? I can barely watch, much less participate. This was the feeling I had during Lang Toi as a lithe creature, suspended from the ceiling with silks wrapped around an immense pole of bamboo, cavorted and twisted her body 20 feet in the air. Aided by the power of momentum (and some muscular help from below), she swung around in ever-quickening circles until she was soaring high above the audience, cool as the proverbial cucumber. I had to look away.

Lang Toi is perhaps the definitive show from Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, a contemporary circus troupe based in Hanoi and one of Vietnam’s most recognisable cultural exports. Created by Tuan Le, Nguyen Nhat Ly and Nguyen Lan Maurice, Lang Toi is a transfixing blend of European circus arts and traditional Vietnamese songs and music. It is a slower paced affair than most modern circus fodder – if you come expecting the sort of relentless gasping provoked by the likes of Cirque du Soleil you’ll be disappointed. While there’s plenty of jaw-dropping action, Lang Toi is a more meditative work, fusing high-energy acrobatics with more reflective Vietnamese cultural traditions.

Reflecting the natural rhythm of a rural Vietnamese village, the show follows the contours of a typical day. We are greeted by cocks crowing as the players create their evocative set before our eyes. Softly lit in amber, the set is almost entirely composed of huge bamboo poles which are arranged into a myriad of configurations – bound with ropes, sometimes anchored by the humans below. Watching each set form is part of the delight of the show, with the players’ movement sure and focused but with a joyful ease that allows the audience to relax into the experience. These people know what they’re doing.

There are 15 players and all are excellent, with a few particular standouts. The impish Cao Xuan Hien drew more gasps from the crowd than any other player, likely because of her alarming capacity to contort her body. In one move, as she is atop a deftly assembled support structure comprised of bulkier humans, Cao moves her leg over her head in a movement that seemed completely alien.  “I’m sure she has no bones!” my young companion whispered.

Another memorable phrase came courtesy of the group’s jesters – three young men perched towards the front of the stage: See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil. Masquerading as deities, these three quickly transform into the clowns they are, executing a convoluted juggling routine that morphs into a beat-filled celebration of rhythm.

These antics are interspersed with traditional Vietnamese music, provided live onstage by Le Duy, Nguyen Minh Chi, Pham Van Doanh and Pham Van Ty. The musicianship was just as skilled as the contortions on centre stage and provided extended breathing space between feats. As with several shows I’ve seen recently at The Regal, the sound was a little too loud (I noticed several junior audience members with their hands over their ears).

The show’s rhythm slows noticeably towards the end and while a more traditional circus experience would have likely ended on a snappier note, it made a pleasant change to be lulled to sleep by the sight of hammocks onstage. Just as I was drifting off a very spirited encore broke out, culminating in the troupe running through the audience out into the foyer for another ten minutes of joyful drumming. The audience spilled out into the warm night, beaming.

Lang Toi is playing at the Regal Theatre Feb 9, 10 and 12-17.

Pictured top: Gravity defying – Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam dazzle. Photo: Nguyen Anh Phuong.


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Lang Toi
Calendar, Circus, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Circus: Lang Toi

8 – 17 February @ the Regal Theatre ·
Presented by Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam ·

Bamboo poles sway as contortionists, acrobats and jugglers expertly balance and leap f its daily life as live music, performed by virtuosi musicians, accompanies the action. This is circus at its absolute best!

Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam promises to be the hottest ticket in town when they return to the Regal Theatre. Merging tradition and innovation, Lang Toi uses poetic imagery, folk music and incredible acrobatic skill to create a spellbinding event for the whole family.On stage 15 acrobats and four musicians evoke the daily life of a traditional Vietnamese village. With just a few bits of string, bamboo and bicycle inner-tube, superb moving structures are built and rebuilt before your eyes as you’re transported into the heart of the action in a rice field, at a child’s game, at the market or during a storm.

Experience the beauty of Vietnamese culture in this thrilling theatrical experience that has delighted audiences around the world.

Produced by Lune Production

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Pictured: Lang Toi, credit: Nguyen Duc Minh

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Calendar, Comedy, May 18, Performing arts

Comedy: Cameron McLaren – Dardy McFly – Perth Comedy Festival

10-12 May @ Regal Theatre, Subiaco ·
Presented by Shannon Toyne ·

Blurbs? Where we’re going we don’t need blurbs!

After winning the FRINGE WORLD Best WA Comedy award in 2017 with 6056, Cameron McLaren is Back to the Fest with Dardy McFly.

Dardy McFly is an aggressively optimistic look at the past, present and future packed full of punchlines.

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Compagnie XY Il n'est pas encore minuit
Calendar, Circus, February 18, Performing arts

Perth Festival: Il n’est pas encore minuit

Circus ∙
8-17 February @ The Regal Theatre ∙
Presented by: Compagnie XY ∙

Get set for a heart-in-your mouth, edge-of-your seat adrenaline rush as the thrilling acrobats of France’s Compagnie XY perform in Australia for the very first time.

A circus collective renowned around the world for pushing the limits of physical ability and bringing poetry to the body in motion, the XY style is daring, gasp-inducing stunts. Il n’est pas encore minuit … (It’s not yet midnight …) features exhilarating acrobatic feats from 22 performers who will have your jaw dropping in wonder. They flip and dive through the air defying the laws of physics and create multi-storey human towers to have you holding your breath. It begins with the chaos and rumble of an all-in brawl that gradually emerges into a study in cooperation and trust.

With awesome strength and physicality, injected with humour and backed by the sounds of a 1920s jazz club, this is must-see circus for everyone.

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