Review: WAAPA third year acting, Birdland ·
The Edith Spiegeltent, 14 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
Birdland, the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust rock melodrama by the notable British playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), has been given a highly charged, highly sexed going over by WAAPA’s final year acting class under the whip of Andrew Lewis in the Academy’s Edith Spiegeltent.
It’s the cautionary tale of Paul (Ben Chapple), a rock star at the zenith of his career, playing the stadia of Europe from Moscow to Berlin to Paris to London, and leaving a trail of self-destruction behind him.
He fucks – no point in beating around the bush – Marnie (Camila Ponte Alvarez), the French girlfriend of the band’s guitarist and his best mate, Johnny (Bryn Chapman Parish), and tortures her with threats of exposure, leading to a catastrophic outcome.
He scoops up Jenny (Ruby Maishman) a young woman working in his hotel and squires her across the continent, including to the home of Marnie’s distressed parents outside Paris where he behaves abominably.
He is an abomination, in every way, coming apart under the weight of fame and money, sex, drugs and all that stuff. His generosity is as callously uncaring as it is easily given, even to his hard-up father (Lachlan Stevenson).
His undoing is as swift and inevitable as it is thoughtless and reckless, and when his manager, David (Hamish White), picks up the pieces, he’s not particularly fussed how many of them are what’s left of Paul.
At times the show feels a little anachronistic; although its iPhonic trappings are present day, its feel is more ’70s, more glam than hip-hop, more acid than meth. And it’s surprisingly two-dimensional, coming from a writer who is capable of growing empathy in unpromising soil.
But Chapple’s performance is a tour de force. He commands the stage (which he occupies for the entire show) with a kind of wide-eyed evil. You can’t like him, but you can’t help but worry that you might.
Parish (who has more than a little of David Bowie’s look about him) is both an excellent foil and an impressive individual character, and Maishman juggles Jenny’s opportunism and rising alarm, as Paul disintegrates, with aplomb. The incidental roles in the 17-strong cast (Christian Meares and Poppy Lynch accompany on guitar and drums) are provocative and excellently played.
The creative forces Lewis has marshalled, lighting designer Matthew Erren, sound designer Heinrich Krause and costume designer Maeli Cherel, and a team of specialist coaches and directors from fight to intimacy (hello!) help give this sordid, sad story both its spit and its polish.
Birdland is a great opportunity for a WAAPA graduating class to strut their considerable stuff.
WAAPA 3rd Year Performance Making Students, “TILT” ·
Blue Room Theatre, 11 September (programme 1) 18 September (programme 2) ·
Review by David Zampatti and Steven Cohen ·
It’s tempting to think of WAAPA’s Bachelor of Performing Arts – Performance Making course as a hybrid, a combination of the established dramatic canon – acting, musical theatre, physical theatre, dance, puppetry – but that would misunderstand both its provenance and its contemporary real-world significance.
Shakespeare may be our greatest playwright, but, in his own time and in his practice, he was a theatre maker – writer, director, actor (small parts only) and entrepreneur bundled up into a marketable package.
More significantly today, though, theatre making is a response to the exigencies of paying the rent as a performing artist in these days of feckless and tight-arse funding, distracted audiences and crippling costs; it’s survival elevated to a distinct art form.
This year’s “TILT”, like its predecessors since 2015, is a series of short performances presented over two nights at the Blue Room Theatre. No doubt, like its predecessors, it will throw up ideas-in-waiting that will soon re-emerge on our stages, and no doubt some of them will succeed and some will fail to make the transition from short-form to full-out productions.
What’s more interesting than that, though, is the insight “TILT” gives us into what is occupying the mind of our emerging artists, and how they intend to bring it to the stage.
Here are this year’s eleven “TILT” treats:
The Outcast Directed by Carolina Duca Devised and performed by Finn Forde, Joel Mews and David Vikman
Three coming out stories neatly woven together with energy and natural humour. Some of the language is a little forced, but the dialogue develops a nice rhythm that sees the piece through its awkward moments.
Just Kidding Written and directed by Sian Murphy Performed and devised by Murphy, Hannah Davidson and Maddy Lee
The story of motherhood from attempts at conception to waving the brutes goodbye as they leave home is so well-worn it’s surprising there’s a blade of grass left on it, but Murphy and her sidekicks, with the aid of a Stanley Kubrick-sized pregnancy tester have knocked up a bit of ensemble stand-up about it with the great virtue of being seriously funny.
You and I Directed by Bec Fingher Devised and performed by Shaun Johnston and Linea Tengroth
A pas de deux performed to the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is all but wordless and expressionless, but Johnston and Tengroth give it an austere and emotional gravitas and a kind of threat. Not greatly suited to the space or its (lack of) production values, but in the right place and time Johnston and Tengroth’s work could be quite something.
Hands Devised and performed by Jennifer Bagg and Hayley Whisson
If no-one had come up with the expression “passive aggressive” they would have needed to for this warp-speed litany of ills personal and universal, real and percieved. That’s fine, but a little restraint at times would have been nice, if only so we could regain our composure.
FIFO Directed by Mark McDonald Devised and performed by Jarad Barkla, Jono Battista, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
The biggest, and most traditional, of TILT’s first programme plays out around the dongas and wet mess of a FIFO camp somewhere in the North-West. It’s fertile ground for domestic drama, albeit all-male, and the slices of life we see are well drawn and pointed. There’s a nice economy of staging and characterisation, and, while the denouement could have been more effectively handled, there was more than enough there to suggest FIFO could be back.
Juliet Devised and performed by Hannah Davidson, Anna Dooley and Bec Fingher Directorial support by Amelia Burke Juliet is the story of female actors and the things they go through to prepare themselves for auditions, but also an interrogation of what the powers-that-be deem to be beautiful. Preparing to audition for the role of Juliet, Davidson, Dooley and Fingher examine the isolation and inadequacy faced by those judged not desirable enough. Parodying the ludicrous reality, these three fine actors mimic the casting call with an exuberant and exaggerated aplomb.
Tall Thing Directed by Shaun Johnston Written and performed by Finn Forde
An androgynous silent dancer weaves in and out of a dream. In an intense performance that blurs the boundaries between theatre and contemporary dance, Forde successfully wraps a gentle genuineness with lyrical movement to frame a muddled personality. Thoroughly intoxicating.
This Heaving Mass Written and directed by Sian Murphy Performed by Sam Hortin, Oscar Millar, Lawrence Murphy, Mila Nieman and Haylee Whisson
Another dramatic movement-based work, mixing modern day anxiety with the unease of youth. The choreography is predicated on extremes; elegant, raw, tender and violent. Though at times the piece felt obscure and lacking clarity, at others the performance was powerful.
3° Directed by Jennifer Bagg Performed by Fiona MacDonald, Mark McDonald and Linnea Tengroth
A quiet interaction between art and science, 3° weaves together clever set design, sound and movement to create a tense meditation on climate change and environmental degradation. It’s a tenacious and thorny think piece, which cleverly avoids language to successfully focus upon the urgency of the flailing natural world.
12 Rounds Written and performed by Mila Nieman
Life is a boxing match, a sometimes brutal, exhausting Fight Club, in which we throw punches that don’t stick and are punched without notice. Nieman is eloquent and daring in this solo performance that is a fearful mix of high-end anxiety and sweat. The scripting was perfectly matched to the well-tempered performance.
Honey Written and directed by Laura Liu Performed by Hannah Davidson, Bec Fingher, Sam Hortin, Shaun Johnston, Lawrence Murphy and Jackson Vaughan
After five reasonably intense performances, a welcome respite arrives in the form of Honey, a boy band lovefest featuring a boy and his myriad of lover(s). What begins as an 80s ironic ode to sweet hip thrusts and air grabs, ends in tears, violence and a single red rose. So much for the respite! Perhaps my favourite short of the evening, with each actor brining their own perspective to the narrative, providing a soft maturity to the production.
Pictured top is Mia Nieman in her work ’12 Rounds’. Photo: Stephen Heath.
Review: Defying Gravity, ‘Steve Reich’s Drumming’ ⋅
WA Academy of Performing Arts, Richard Gill Music Auditorium, 23 September ⋅
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ⋅
It has been a good year for percussion in Perth. In July the University of West Australia hosted US percussion legendRobyn Schulkowsky, while this month percussion ensemble Defying Gravity from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts mounted US minimalist Steve Reich’s legendary piece Drumming.
Premiered in 1971, Drumming was one of Reich’s earliest suites, and while not quite as mesmerising as his masterful Music For 18 Musicians, it is one of his finest signature pieces. Performed on tuned bongos, marimbas and glockenspiels, which are briefly supplemented by voice and piccolo, the piece is an extended, durational work built around the gradual accumulation and subtraction of beats and materials. Each set of instruments is sequentially highlighted, with transitions from one group to another producing resonant pauses or gaps in an otherwise echoing, sound-filled space. At the conclusion to the piece, all of the instruments come together in a rich polyphony. Moving ever so slightly out of sequence to effect pulsating phase variations and beating patterns is more a feature of Music For 18 Musicians, but phase drifts also occur here. Addition and subtraction are however dominant in Drumming, where 1 beat becomes 2, becomes 4, and so on.
Played in four parts, at several points the work drops into only very slightly varying sequences. Like most so called minimalist work, Drumming is quite meditative, and the listener becomes hypnotised by apparently static motifs which one then perceives have gently shifted.
There are several famous recordings of this work (notably the 1987 Nonesuch recording) but most were taped within quite dry rooms, with relatively little bounce or echo. What seemed most noticeable to me upon hearing the piece live for the first time was how the acoustics of the space produced sonic illusions and ghosts. Strange, morphed sounds not made by any single instrument pulsed into and across the auditorium, and at times one seemed to hear beats where none in fact sounded. The spatial installation of the work, enveloping us as more instruments joined the fury, was especially notable.
Given the piece is defined by Reich’s complex use of basic patterns, the performers of Defying Gravity coped very well with the demands of the score. The slightly rougher acoustics of the Richard Gill auditorium meant that the sounding of the instruments did not really have the pure, almost digitised, artificial cleanliness cultivated in the studios of Nonesuch. Only the marimbas seemed truly otherworldly. Musical director Tim White tends to cultivate within Defying Gravity a sense of light-hearted fun which does not always mesh well with more spiky works, but here the balance of a bouncy execution tempered by the extreme demands of counting and concentration worked to create an ambience which was both serious and amused. To my mind, the performers of Defying Gravity excelled in the long, extended sequences where we really settled into a groove, though the final shared conclusion seemed a little rushed and perhaps not quite as sharp a climax as ideal. In a world of concert programming where the works of Reich, Phillip Glass and John Adams so rarely feature, it was a joy to have a minimalist masterwork like this so well presented; congratulations to all involved.
Pictured Top: Serious and amused; the percussion students in Defying Gravity. Photo Tim White
Disclaimer: Jonathan W. Marshall is Postgraduate Coordinator at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
Review: Link Dance Company, In the Dark ·
PS Art Space, 4 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
What are you afraid of? I remember, as a kid, a recurring nightmare involving a Sesame Street skit about a camel that materialises out of cracks in a wall. Fear is acutely personal terrain – what freaks one person out, makes another laugh. These various hobgoblins form the content of the latest production from WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, aptly titled In the Dark.
Director and choreographer Michael Whaites has chosen the perfect venue for this exploration of our personal bugbears. The PS Art Space (the PS is for Pakenham Street) is a gem of Freo’s West End. With its giant double wooden doors fronting the historic facade, polished concrete floors and pillars, it’s a starkly evocative place. Upstairs, there are countless nooks and crannies to explore, accessed via some wonderfully creaky wooden stairs. The place has a distinctly creepy vibe at night and Whaites makes inventive use of the space, aided by the talented Joe Lui as lighting and sound designer.
The first half of the performance is set downstairs. Eight dancers thread, glide and writhe around the concrete pillars. Smoke wafts over the audience, seated in suitably uncomfortable wooden chairs. There’s no obvious narrative here, we’re presented with fear in many forms with allusions to fairytales, phobias and childhood anxieties. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, ominous, intense. This pressured feeling is spoiled slightly by a series of addresses from the dancers, microphone in hand. Asking dancers to become actors is always risky and here, despite their eagerness, the performers falter and the words fall flat.
Better then, to focus on the physical prowess on display. Dancers sprint around the edges of the space in an attempt to escape. There may be wolves, there is certainly the risk of violence, but just as things teeter into wildness – a reprieve. A small band of pipers enters through the double doors, blasting their bagpipes as the dancers quieten. It’s a bit out of place (I don’t know about you, but I associate bagpipes with stirring nostalgia – and I’m not even Scottish!) but the audience seems glad of the change in tone.
The fear re-asserts itself with the exit of the pipers and the audience is split up and led upstairs. While the performance downstairs seemed disjointed and dreamlike, upstairs is another matter. Backlit with shadows, the dancers perform solos in various corners of the dark room, the audience wandering freely between scenes. The wolf is back, in the lupine form of Thomas Mullane and there’s a wonderfully menacing duet which he performs with Bethany Reece, another standout performer.
Then, all goes dark. There’s something fabulous about being in the dark with strangers. All light is extinguished and we are left, wonderfully spooked, waiting for the next piece of action.
Like any canny director, Whaites leaves the best ‘til last. Having mainly showcased the individual talents of his group, he now brings them together in an ensemble sequence that is the clear highlight of the evening. Ensemble work is tremendously difficult to pull off, and risky because of this, but when it works there’s little better in dance. Intricate footwork, deft rhythmic moves… the dancers’ exhilaration is gorgeously infectious. Moving as a whole, the dancers stomp and swoop, conquering their fears together. We file out into the cold night, spent.
Review: WAAPA 3rd year choreography students, ‘Unleash’ ·
Dolphin Theatre, 27 August ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·
Presented annually, “Unleash” is an eclectic program of dance works choreographed by third year dance students from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). The short self-devised pieces are created in collaboration with composition students and production and design students. Performed by second and third year dance students in the intimate Dolphin Theatre, the program allows audiences to catch a glimpse of the artistic flair and interests of the young dance-makers. This year’s program of 10 works showcases a diverse array of concepts and choreographic styles.
Trajectory, by Meg Scheffers, opens the show with a captivating organisation of bodies, harnessing and building on pedestrian movement to produce a sustained energy and texture amongst the dancers.
A striking design drew me into the trance that is Estelle Brown’s …The Aperture. In costumes that appear red wine soaked, the dancers move softly yet playfully under an installation of wine glasses hanging upside down. The peaceful drunken haze that lasts the entirety of the work is pleasantly intriguing.
Choreographed by Keely Geier, Let’s get mild is a collection of nonsensical happenings with inspiration from the surrealist art movement. The work is intentionally abrupt, with dancers thrown into the space and new sections unfolding out of nowhere. With a clearly expressed concept, this work shows potential for further development – I’d be interested to see the elements of absurdity explored in more depth.
In Fundamental Complexities Natassija Morrow takes on the complex notion of how we connect who we think we are with the reality of who we are. Dressed in tasselled costumes, the dancers resemble car wash brushes as they vigorously shake, spin and toss their limbs in space, creating a blurry mess of bodies.
Marnie Fiebig’s light-hearted work Dress Relief delves into the deeper significance of the clothes we choose to wear. Dancers dressed in nude-coloured costumes sort and weave their way through piles of red clothing. The work ends with a particularly interesting image, in which the dancers became clotheslines, holding up strings of intertwined clothes and pulling bodies through the space.
Broken Angels is Thalia Munyard’s neo-classical reimagining of Act II of the Romantic ballet Giselle. The dancers performed with composure and strength, while the choreography seamlessly incorporated gestural movement and floor work into classical vocabulary.
Choreographed by Nathan Turtur [Insert A Generic Contemporary Title Here] is more open to audience interpretation than other works on the program. The dancers are dressed in futuristic blue outfits, with matching blue boxes at the front of the space. They fixate on the boxes performing encircling robotic gestures which are repeated and then expanded into the space.
For the Sake of Knowing, by Brent Rollins, seeks to explore how we acquire knowledge, primarily using repetition, rhythmic clapping of hands on thighs and the percussive score by Elliot Creeper to drive this intention.
A highlight of the program, Macon Riley’s So, What was your Answer is a soft, meditative offering inspiring contemplation throughout. Riley incorporates text amongst the movement effectively. The score, by Joshua Jervis, adds compelling layers to this beautifully considered work.
Cassie Tattersall’s retro, pixellated video game fantasy work Level Up is an unexpected but welcome ending to the evening. Though a little monotone in style, the highly animated, video game inspired movement language, remains engaging due to the clever construction and re-creation of familiar images.
2019’s “Unleash” is a highly satisfying program of new dance works and an encouraging display of the versatility and capability of these up-and-coming artists.
Review: WA Academy of Performing Arts, Sweet Charity ⋅
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 24 August ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅
Sweet Charity is one of those musicals to come out of the 1960’s that viewed the life of young women with a blend of cynicism and romance. How could it be otherwise with a “book” or script by Neil Simon, the playwright who gave the world so many bitter-sweet narratives about looking for love, the difficulty of relationships inside and outside marriage, and the culture of masculinity that treated women as dependent on men for their happiness.
These themes bubble up in the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a hopelessly optimistic, naive young woman whose horizons, when we meet her, are restricted to a job as a dance-hall hostess, those ten-cents a dance girls who were part of the culture of seedy New York in the pre-feminist fifties.
Simon and his song-writing partner Cy Coleman (with lyrics by Dorothy Field) created the show for the 1960’s when the feminist movement was about to begin and women were questioning their own future. There was still the sense that marriage to a suitable man was an answer to their problems and an assurance of happiness. But could it be that there were other possibilities for women – perhaps a satisfying career as an independent person who could manage without the assistance of a husband?
These are the kind of questions that were beginning to be asked, and Sweet Charity shines a strong light on those possibilities, although they are at the ironic edge of the narrative around Charity’s search for love and fulfilment.
Watching the wonderfully energetic and even inspired version of this sometimes sad, sometimes morbidly funny romantic-comedy musical by final year students at WAAPA, one can only wonder how many young women are still trapped by the low expectations visited on the hapless Charity.
We know, of course, that society has come a long way since the sixties in leveling out the expectations of men and women in both relationships and career possibilities. But the doubt still remains that in some circumstances women’s expectations are still constrained and that some women have a right to feel trapped.
In other words, in telling the story of Charity, the musical is revealing the truth that progress is not always possible for all women – or for men, either. So it could be said that Sweet Charity is both of its time – and timeless.
That this productions can bring these thoughts to the forefront of thinking about our culture is testament to the power and gutsy performances of these young players, whose talents in acting, singing and dancing are wonderfully energetic and engaging.
Sweet Charity’s initial charm lies in the emergence of the eponymous heroine (or perhaps anti-heroine) in a choreographic solo routine that starts the show. Charity’s body twists and twirls upon the stage, demonstrating the vibrancy of her body, her main asset in determining her career possibilities.
That she has a mind as well is revealed as the show progress, but Charity’s sense of self is under-developed: she’s too trusting, too naive, too needy. Unlike her dance-hall colleagues who’ve developed a hard-bitten cynicism from the school of hard knocks, Charity prefers optimism to cynicism, trust to disbelief.
Caitlin New’s performance as Charity is stunning from the get-go, and she keeps up the energy and dynamism throughout this quite long musical, appearing in most of the scenes as her life and romantic entanglements unfold, or perhaps unravel.
The show is built around the triple threat talents of New, who is equal to the tasks of singing, dancing and acting. But she is excellent company, with a bevy of characters – from the young men in her life to the other girls at the dance-hall – who get the chance to shine, displaying an amazing sense of confidence and maturity for young players about to begin their careers on the stage.
There is some quite brilliant choreographed sequences by Michael Ralph, crisply executed by the large ensembles of dancers that suddenly emerge on stage. Behind them, literally on the stage, is the orchestra under the direction of Craig Dalton that keeps the musical moving forward. Show-stoppers such as Hey Big Spender, If They Could See Me Now and The Rhythm of Life are brought to life with all the glory of the original production on Broadway that featured the choreography of Bob Fosse with Gwen Verdon as Charity. That’s some company these young players are keeping up with, under the astute direction of Sydney-based director Shaun Rennie.
Just about everyone deserves recognition for their performance, but singled out must be Grace Collins and Annabelle Rosewarne as dance-hall colleagues Helene and Nickie, Conor Neylon as heart-throb actor Vittorio Vidal, Victoria Graves as his girlfriend Ursula (both characters a parody of the Hollywood movies), Luke Wilson as potential boyfriend Oscar and Jackson Peele as Daddy, the jazz-playing pastor whose song The Rhythm of Life, is a delightful ensemble dance parody of sixties religious cults.
WAAPA’s Sweet Charity hits all the bitter-sweet spots with perfect precision.
11 August @ WAAPA, Edith Cowan University ·
Bradford Street, Mount Lawley ·
The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), as part of Edith Cowan University’s Mount Lawley campus, is opening its doors to the public on Sunday 11 August from 10am until 3pm, for its annual Open Day event. Showcasing its wide range of performing arts courses and state-of-the-art facilities for prospective students, the WAAPA Open Day offers the perfect opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at Australia’s premier performing arts academy.
WAAPA offers full-time courses in Aboriginal Performance, Acting, Arts Management, Costume, Dance (Classical Ballet and Contemporary), Design, Lighting, Music (Classical, Jazz, Contemporary Music and Composition and Music Technology), Music Theatre, Performing Arts, Props and Scenery, Screen Performance, Sound, and Stage Management. In addition to gaining information on these WAAPA courses, the Open Day provides opportunities to meet staff and students, visit rehearsals and classes, view exhibitions and watch performances.
Visitors will be able to sit in on classes from the Acting, Dance, Performing Arts and Music Theatre programs as well as watch open rehearsals of the upcoming WAAPA productions. The Composition & Music Technology students will be giving demonstrations and performances throughout the day, whilst Classical singers and instrumentalists, Jazz and Contemporary Music ensembles will be giving free concerts in the Music Auditorium and The Edith – Spiegeltent.
Students from the Production & Design program will present guided tours all day. The Behind the Scenes tour explores the machinations of theatrical production encompassing the sound and lighting studios, costume and design studios, the Academy’s state-of-the-art theatres and the Props and Scenery Construction workshop.
Date: Sunday 11 August
Time: 10.00am to 3.00pm
Venue: WAAPA, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford St, Mt Lawley.
Parking: There will be free parking all day across campus
7 – 13 July @ Yagan Square ·
Presented by Yagan Square and Periscope Pictures ·
Go back in time and experience Whadjuk Noongar culture first hand. Immerse yourself in a smoking ceremony, be welcomed to country and witness the moment European ships arrived. Virtual Whadjuk is a free virtual reality event being held as part of NAIDOC Week. Suitable for ages 13+. Presented from 10am to 2 pm.
Proudly supported by the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority, City of Perth, Museum of Western Australia, Screenwest, Screen Australia and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
6 July @ Drabble House, Nedlands ·
Presented by Australian Baroque ·
Australian Baroque is delighted to present James Huntingford for the 2nd masterclass in its 2019 masterclass series. Star of all things keyboard, James Huntingford is equally at ease performing on the harpsichord, fortepiano and the modern piano and has recently been recording fortepiano duets with Geoffrey Lancaster, one of the most eminent keyboard players in the world.
This concert masterclass is a wonderful opportunity to hear James perform as well as hearing pianists young and old from all over Perth. James will be upskilling piano students and teachers with historical techniques to further inform their playing of baroque repertoire to bring the music to life!
This masterclass is from 12.30pm – 3.30pm at Drabble House, 2 Webster Street, Nedlands.
Thanks to Healthway, City of Nedlands and WAAPA this concert masterclass series is free to attend; however, registration is essential at Australian-baroque.eventbrite.com.
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.
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.