Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The roundabout course of love

Review: Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Carousel ·
Regal Theatre, 16 June ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

In 1909 Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnár’s play Liliom was withdrawn after a short run in Budapest. In 1943 Rogers and Hammerstein, in their first collaboration, wrote the musical Oklahoma! to unprecedented acclaim. Such is some of the unlikely background to the composition of Carousel: on the one hand a seemingly-failed Hungarian play with its uncongenial social and political background and gloomy storyline, and the refusal of the playwright to allow even Puccini to set it for the operatic stage; and, on the other hand, the unlikelihood that the American partnership of composer and lyricist could possibly find in this joyless play a successor to the widely acclaimed Oklahoma!. Indeed, Samuel Goldwyn advised that Rogers simply shoot himself in order to avoid the inevitable humiliating failure.

But fate took an altogether unexpected course: after World War I, Liliom was successfully remounted in Budapest and later New York. Then in 1943, searching for material for a follow-up to Oklahoma!, Liliom was suggested to a sceptical Rogers and Hammerstein. Meantime Molnár had moved to the US and was so taken with their sympathetic adaptation of the play Green Grow the Lilacs into Oklahoma! that he capitulated, attended Carousel rehearsals enthusiastically and permitted certain modifications to avoid a totally bleak ending.

In this production of Carousel – performed by WAAPA’s second and third year musical theatre students accompanied by the WAAPA orchestra under David King – Sydney-based director John Langley has most effectively repositioned the action in the Vietnam War era and thus side-stepped any unhelpful cutesiness. Even the prologue, with its carnival scene and “The Carousel Waltz”, suggests the joylessness that is to follow and that makes for a satisfyingly consistent prevailing atmosphere.

Jason Langley and his large team bring this challenging work to vivid life. Photo: Jon Green.

The main protagonists appear without delay: the loving and trusting Julie Jordan (Amy Fortnum), flattered by the attentions of handsome barker Billy Bigelow (Andrew Coshan), friend Carrie Pipperidge (Jessica Clancy) and jealous carousel owner, the widow Mrs Mullin (Stacey Tomsett) immediately establish themselves, as does the electricity between Julie and Billy. Confident anticipation (Carrie’s “When I Marry Mr Snow”) and uncertainty (Julie’s “If I Loved You”) are beautifully projected by Clancy and Fortnum respectively, and confirm the integration of the vocal and dramatic qualities that reflect and advance the drama throughout the evening. Coshan’s rendition of Billy’s “Soliloquy” on learning that he is to become a father, is another one of many fine moments. As Enoch Snow, Kurt Russo is all moral certainty combined with 1950’s country-boy naivety, making a satisfying contrast to the more conflicted folk around him: later this re-emerges most deliciously when he chances upon his wife describing what was effectively a drag-show that they had, in innocence, attended in New York.

Amy Fortnum as Julie Jordan and Andrew Coshan as Billy Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

The rare carefree scenes that end Act I and begin Act II (the ensemble in cracking form in “This Was a Real Nice Clambake”) lead to Billy’s descent into disaster, led by the cynical low life, Jigger (Todd Peydo). Act II is marked by tragedy and by Molnár’s potentially unconvincing device of having Billy observe his now teenaged daughter Louise (Alexandra Cornish) from his detention in a heavenly police court and during a brief earthly return. This must have been an unsympathetic development for both composer and lyricist and, indeed,  poses a challenge for cast and audience in 2018. But the WAAPA team bring dramatic strength to these moments, with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – sung by Elise Muley as Nettie, Julie’s protector – consolidating the prospects for a more hopeful future for Louise.

Working from the narrow confines of the Regal stage, Jason Langley and his large team – cast, choreographer, lighting, set, costume and sound designers, musical director and orchestra – bring this challenging work to vivid life. This is a compelling production in which the spectre of domestic violence is ever-present and where there are all-too-few moments of unalloyed happiness. But it will, without doubt, come to be seen as one of the theatrical highlights of 2018.

Carousel plays the Regal Theatre until June 23.

Pictured top: Alexandra Cornish as Louise Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

A compelling production. Photo: Jon Green 2018
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Link dancers performing in Ori Flomin's Mangoes, earrings and a glimpse of hope.
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Welcome to the breeding ground

Review: Link Dance Company, “Differently Equal” ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’m always excited to see LINK Dance Company’s May season because it’s the first opportunity to check out the latest crop of dancers selected to be part of the WAAPA Dance Department’s one-year pre-professional program. As the name suggests, LINK is designed to bridge the gap between tertiary training and the world of professional dance. A glance through LINK’s archives  reveals that it’s been a springboard for many of WA’s current dancers and choreographers, including Co3’s Tanya Brown, Talitha Maslin, Antonio Rinaldi, Ella-Rose Trew and Zoe Wozniak, and independent dance artists Laura Boynes, Bernadette Lewis, Emma Fishwick and Isabella Stone, as well as the three members of Unkempt Dance (Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis, Amy Wiseman), just to name a handful.

Welcome to the breeding ground.

This year’s cohort of 15 emerging dance artists includes graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts (AC Arts), Queensland University of Technology and WAAPA, so it’s fitting that the first item on the “Differently Equal” programme, The Wedding, is a new work by 2009 AC Arts graduate Tobiah Booth-Remmers. A somewhat surreal experience, the work opens with a wedding scene that quickly morphs into chaos, as the guests collapse like dominoes, rolling across the stage as though caught in an invisible tsunami. Against Azariah Felton’s beat driven soundscape, pairs of dancers rail against one another.

Link dance company performing Tobiah Booth-Remmer's The Wedding
As layers of costume are peeled off one by one, the dancers’ movements become increasingly unrestrained, as though the layers of polite behaviour are being removed: Link Dance Company performing Tobiah Booth-Remmer’s ‘The Wedding’. Photo: Christophe Canato.

As layers of costume are peeled off one by one – under long sombre-coloured coats are feather embellished black garments, and under those, black underwear – the dancers’ movements become increasingly unrestrained, as though the veneer of social niceties is being removed. The work was performed with wild abandon by the company members.

After interval came The Wall – Several Illusions of the Wall by Chinese choreographer Xiao Xiang Rong, performed by 12 visiting students (unusually, with seven men to five women) from Beijing Normal University (BNU). The “Wall” in this work takes various formats. An actual wall houses a dancer, lodged amongst foam bricks. The dancers make walls of their bodies, their curved arms and legs mimicking the spaces of the now-collapsed foam brick wall. Dancers standing shoulder to shoulder become a human barricade against a powerless individual.

BNU students performing The Wall
In muted blues and greens, the 12 young performers from BNU were lithe and athletic, frequently moving as a well-rehearsed whole. Photo: Christophe Canato.

In muted blues and greens, the 12 young performers were lithe and athletic, frequently moving as a well-rehearsed whole through turns with arms held as if in surrender, or deep hinges with legs akimbo. The final scene has a strange and mournful beauty as dancers’ hands emerge, plant-like, through the crevices of the foam bricks, to contemporary, almost ghostly, strings and vocals.

The LINK dancers returned to the stage for the final work, Mangos, earrings and a glimpse of hope, by New York-based, Israeli choreographer Ori Flomin. Created for this season, it’s whimsical piece with an eye-catching opening. A carefully placed strip of light adds both drama and humour to the first scene as the supine dancers’ body parts poke, often comically, into the luminous light-shaft.

Flomin ups the silliness factor in the next scenes. With the dancers changed from cream coloured onesies into street clothes with a zany edge (think outsize sunglasses, shiny fabrics, pops of colour), the next section sees ballet, tap, jazz, character crammed together what seems like a playful montage/homage to the suburban dance school (if you see the show, keep an eye out for the flamboyant Jessie Camilleri Seeber here). Finally, it’s every dancer for themselves, in a kind of fruit-themed therapy session.

“Differently Equal” provides an engaging introduction to the new LINKers, and their guests from BNU. Kudos, too, to composer Azariah Felton, lighting designer Matthew Marshall and set and costume designer Rozina Suliman, whose creations for the two LINK works mark them as emerging talents in their respective fields.

“Differently Equal” plays the Geoff Gibbs Theatre until 25 May.

Pictured top: A playful montage/homage to the suburban dance school: LINK Dance Company performing Ori Flomin’s “Mangos, earrings and a glimpse of hope”. Photo: Christophe Canato.

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Glitter and be gay
Classical music, Music, News, Opera, Performing arts, Reviews

Musical magic in Mount Lawley

Review: Emma Matthews with WAAPA’s Faith Court Orchestra, “Glitter and be Gay” ·
Judith Cottier Theatre, 12 May ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

Magic descended on Mount Lawley on Saturday evening when Emma Matthews, together with the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’s Faith Court Orchestra under Peter Moore OAM, brought an imaginative programme to the Judith Cottier Theatre at Perth College.

Whether it was the appointment of the much-acclaimed soprano – without question one of the operatic voices of our time – as Head of Classical Voice and Opera at WAAPA, or the approach of Leonard Bernstein’s centenary that inspired the event, the outcome was a stimulating and not-totally-predictable musical journey.

As an opener, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun was a daring choice, its mostly-delicate sound palette leaving nowhere to hide; but it was executed with great confidence. Two of Henri Duparc’s exquisite art songs, pre-dating the Debussy by a quarter of a century, were conveyed by the soloist with distinction, the heartfelt interpretations expertly balancing the modest scale of the works, and going both to the heart of the songs and that of the audience.

Glitter and Be Gay
Vivid and fiery: Emma Matthews on opening night of ‘Glitter and be Gay” at All Saints College. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

It was a tribute to the musical intelligence behind the programming and a compliment to the audience that the most obvious of openers, Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville, was shunted to third spot, providing instead a deliciously jarring contrast to what had come before. The orchestral sound carried with it the unmistakable, adrenalin-laden whiff of the operatic orchestral pit, rather than the luxuriously upholstered delivery of a concert hall performance; and so when Emma Matthews returned to the stage for “Una Voce Poco Fa”, exuding the body-language of a Rosina, we were in the mood for operatic fireworks… and, aided and abetted by a highly supportive orchestra, we were given exactly that by way of a vivid and at times fiery characterisation.

Second half represented a fine tribute to Leonard Bernstein: as in the Rossini, in the short few moments between arriving on the stage and launching into her coloratura aria “Glitter and Be Gay”, Emma Matthews had already established herself as the hapless Cunegonde whose conflicting moods and emotions were beautifully projected in both facial and spectacular vocal expression.

A more substantial salute to Bernstein brought the published programme to an end. Symphonic Dances from West Side Story was prepared in 1961, some four years after the opening of the musical itself, the composer re-setting a selection from the musical that reflects its contrasting moods. It therefore demands from an orchestra an extreme range from the reflective to the rumbustious. The orchestra met the many challenges of a distillation that one imagines must have been close to Bernstein’s heart, the rhythmic twists and turns and changing textures all executed with aplomb and with red-blooded intensity when at full cry. The segue into “There’s a Place for Us” was a heart-stopping moment and the “Maria” section was also especially well-realised.

And finally, as a generous encore, Ms Matthews returned to the stage with the lilting melody of “Meine Lippen sie Kussen so heiss” from Lehar’s Giuditta to send an appreciative audience on its way.

Some believe that despite – or perhaps because of – Perth’s remoteness there is, on occasion, a special magic to be found here. This concert was surely proof: for a suburban audience to be able to enjoy a diva in an intimate setting, feeling that she was enjoying herself as well, and to be able to hear the WAAPA orchestra under its inspiring director Peter Moore in its own neighbourhood, all of this made for an evening of music-making at its most communicative and enjoyable.

Pictured top: Emma Matthews with Peter Moore and the Faith Court Orchestra on opening night of ‘Glitter and be Gay’ at All Saints College. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Glitter and be gay
Peter Moore and the Faith Court Orchestra performing ‘Glitter and be Gay’ at All Saints College. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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