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Theatre, Art, Exhibitions etc

Theatre, Art, Exhibitions etc (78)

The Archibald Prize 2013

Sydneysiders love their Archibald and as in past years the crowds down at the Art Gallery of NSW are huge; it’s certainly a massive attraction heralding the start of autumn. But what’s missing this year is any kind of buzz – the show is at best a bit ordinary.


In this the 92nd year there are fewer finalists down to 38,although there were 868 entries, and some of the more well-known subjects include Anthony Mundine, Asher Keddie, Bille Brown, Ken Done and Naomi Watts and for the first time (for me anyway) not a Politian to be seen.


The Archibald Prize is one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art prizes. It’s awarded to the best portrait painting, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics. Jules François Archibald’s primary aim, through his bequest of 1919, was to foster portraiture, as well as support artists, and perpetuate the memory of great Australians.


The trend of past years seems to continue with mainly two kinds of work, the huge, over oiled type or the totally photogenic. Mind you this year most of the finalists have made use of a full colour palate – a nice change over those many sepia pencil portraits of the last few years.


The winner is full of colour and seemed poplar amongst the art gallery crowd the day I visited, although it seemed to lack soul for me. Del Kathryn Barton’s decorative, highly detailed painting of Hugo Weaving is a vibrant and joyous portrait – combining traditional painting techniques with contemporary design. This is her fourth time in the Archibald Prize which she won in 2008 with a portrait of herself with her two children.


The portrait of Tara Moss was greeted with lots more excitement by the crowd and it was hard to get up close and have a moment with her. She was seemingly falling off the wall at you. This was the 2013 Packing Room Prize winner which is adjudicated by the Gallery’s storeman Steve Peters. It’s painted by Mathew Lynn who has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize on 12 previous occasions. He has been a runner-up twice and has also been voted People’s Choice.


Tara Moss is a novelist, television presenter, journalist and former model. Since 1999 she has written nine best-selling novels, which have been published in 18 countries in 12 languages. A more traditional portrait than most on show here, it’s caught its subject in a sense of thinking man’s glamour and sex appeal. Mr Lynn may well pick up a second People’s choice.


Alexander McKenzie’s wonderful emotive study of Toni Collette was the one of two show stoppers for me. McKenzie is predominantly a landscape painter known for his luminous paintings which recall the techniques of the 15th-century Dutch old masters, so it’s a portrait that gives you a sense of the traditional but with a very now feel. It references interesting symbolism for an actor, being all at sea in a small boat, and Ms Collette’s eyes are truly captivating – I really liked this one, and it got my People’s Choice nod.


The other portrait that grabbed me was of Venus Vamp called ‘Anything goes’ by Wendy Sharpe. Venus Vamp is a burlesque performer and producer who has been called ‘Sydney’s dark princess of burlesque’ and the painting, which is so powerful, draws you into that world – you can imagine the performance unfolding. It was the one painting I wanted to return to see again before leaving.


The Archibald Prize shows till 2 June at AGNSW before an extensive regional gallery tour and I know many people look forward to seeing it each year. This year it’s a show that seems to be free of the usual hullabaloos, and whilst not one of its better years, the Archibald Prize still does more than any other single event to stimulate and sustain public interest in the art of portrait painting in Australia – and worth a visit.


They’re creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky – The Addams Family

Do you remember the 60’s – 70’s TV show the Addams Family, well it’s now a delightful Broadway Musical and currently playing its Australian premier season at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre. The orchestra strike up the overture which features that very familiar TV show theme and at once the whole audience clapped twice where the finger clicks come, setting us up for the next two hours of good old family theater fair.


It’s a lightweight musical comedy with a simple story line. Wednesday Addams, the ultimate princess of darkness, has grown up and fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family and who she plans to become engaged to. She confides in her father and begs him not to tell her mother, which nearly kills him as he has never kept a secret from his wife before.


Wednesday wants the Addams’s to meet her boyfriend and his family and has invited them to a family dinner at the Addams mansion. There all here the lovable larger than life spooky family: parents Gomez and Morticia, Uncle Fester, Grandma, Pugsley and the butler Lurch, who Wednesday wants to display as a ‘normal’ family. Of course when the Beineke Family of Mal, Alice and only son Lucas arrive the weird and wonderful all goes into fourth gear with nothing quite going to Wednesday’s plan.


The writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also wrote Jersey Boys, have captured the unique style of the TV show that combined the twisted, macabre and just plain weird with charm and wit into a slick and witty piece full of great one-liners and clever sight gags. The songs by Andrew Lippa are pleasant enough with their pop and peppy melodies, although you don’t leave humming them, do add to the story and keep up a great toe tapping pace.


This, it must be said, in Broadway Musical terms is a small and simple show, not a lot of spectacular set changing and everyone pretty much stays in the one costume throughout. But what makes this show so fun right now is the absolutely spot on casting. John Waters as Gomez is excellent and carries the weight of holding the whole thing together with all his depth of experience and wonderful stage craft. He can do it all, has a great singing voice and hams up every gag he’s given.


Teagan Wouters as Wednesday and Katrina Retallick as Alice Beineke and both perfect in their roles and young Liam Faulkner-Dimond as Pugsley Addams has just the right mix of trouble maker and angel - he’s’ delightful. Chloe Dallimore gives a fine performance and gets to show off her outstanding dance skills, which we first saw in the Producers and which made her a star, giving this Morticia great balance between shining showgirl and doting mother and wife.


Russell Dykstra as Uncle Fester all but steals the show; he takes the audience along on a very sweet and hilarious journey as he falls in love with the moon. Every time he’s on stage his antics supply so much of the show’s charm and fun. His big number, where he serenades the moon, uses some great theatre smoke and mirrors and got some of the best audience reaction of the night.


This night out is not what you might be used to in a ‘Broadway Musical’ and sure by the time you get home it’s almost a distant memory – but for the two hours in the dark it’s a charming and funny escape.


Cat on a Hot (well warm) Tin Roof

The Broadway director Elia Kazan said of Tennessee Williams: "Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life." Williams struggled with depression throughout most of his life and lived with the constant fear that he would go insane as did his sister Rose. For much of it, he battled addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol, mental instability and issues in coming to terms with being homosexual.


Sydney audiences seem to be attracted to these notions and to the works of Tennessee Williams. Over recent years productions of his plays have been huge hits. These are big plays in the theatre world and require fine acting to be successful.


The Sydney Theatre Company presented William’s The Glass Menagerie in 2002 with Robyn Nevin and Marcus Graham being hailed as some of the best theatre Sydney had seen in years, with a season extended and extended. Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton starred in a very sexy A Streetcar Named Desire in 2009, which won every possible theatre accolade going and toured to New York to great acclaim.


So Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, currently playing at Belvoir, was hugely anticipated and enjoys such great presale that this season will be extended and transfer to the Theatre Royal. But for me it’s not in the same class as those former productions – it’s good but not great.


The play is set at the home of Brick and Maggie where all the family have gathered to celebrate Bricks fathers 65th birthday. Big Daddy and Big Mama are wealthy land owners with two children, Brick and Gooper. Both are married. Brick is married to Maggie and Gooper is married to Mae. Gooper and Mae have five children, established jobs and a normal home setting. Brick is an alcoholic who refuses to sleep with his wife because he blames her for the death of his best friend, Skipper. Big Daddy is dying of cancer and although this has been kept from him and his wife, the rest of the family are circling and fighting over who will inherit the wealth.


So the play at its heart has two themes. The first is the dysfunctional, every-man-for-himself family, where no one likes each other and in dramatic style it comes out once it’s known the patriarch is drying. These scenes and especially the performance of Lynette Curran, as Big Mama, are very real and totally believable. This was gripping and emotional.


The second is the relationship between Brick, Ewen Leslie and Maggie, Jacqueline McKenzie, which is a marriage without sex because her husband is alcoholic and she thinks homosexual. Ewen Leslie is terrific in the role of Brick, you won’t like him and it will vary, depending where you sit, if his latent sexuality will give you any empathy for him.


Jacqueline McKenzie is one of our country’s best actresses but here her portrayal of Maggie – the cat on the hot tin roof – just didn’t have the sexuality I needed to be believable. For me it was more anxious North Shore middle class than a women consumed with frustration.


I think in part because the Director, Simon Stone, has decided to do away with the Mississippi and the Southern accents for our local twang, and set the play in the present. He argues the play was not written to be a classic but a play about a human dilemma. But that was in the 1950’s and for the most part the world has moved on. His decisions work well for the theme of family but seem to reduce the powerful sexual tension in Brick and Maggie’s relationship for which this play is famous.  


Driving Miss Daisy – the Australian Tour

You know you’re in for something very special when a theatre foyer glows with an electric atmosphere of anticipation. So it was when my friend and I arrived at Sydney’s Theatre Royal this week to see the Alfred Uhry's timeless Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, Driving Miss Daisy.

This Australian tour stars the extraordinary talents of the legendary five-time Tony Award winner and three-time Academy Award nominee Angela Lansbury and two-time Tony Award winner and Honorary Academy Award recipient James Earl Jones. Also starring four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines, David Esbjornson's acclaimed, smash-hit production has dazzled audiences and critics on Broadway and the West End.

The play spans a period of twenty-five years in an unbroken series of segments. At the beginning of the play, 1948, Daisy Werthan, Angela Lansbury, a seventy-two-year-old, southern Jewish widow, has just crashed her brand new car while backing it out of the garage. After the accident, her son Boolie,Boyd Gaines, insists that she is not capable of driving. Over her protests, he hires a driver — Hoke Coleburn,James Earl Jones an uneducated African American who is sixty. At first, Daisy wants nothing to do with Hoke but over the course of the play this unlikely pair becomes best friends.

Over short and often very witty scenes we travel through many years highlighting their changing relationships, and as the play concludes its 1973, Daisy is ninety-seven and Hoke is eighty-five, we have been witness to a backdrop of prejudice, inequality and civil unrest whist experiencing a wonderful story of friendship and aging.

These performances are extraordinary, the characters totally have you in the moment; as an audience you experience and feel the tensions and challenges of the place and time. It’s not at all dark; one of the most enduring aspects is just how witty the dialogue is.

Of course it’s all in the hands of America’s theatre royalty and what a great honour for us to see these actors in this wonderful play in Australia. Watching Mr Earl Jones as he ages his body over the piece is remarkable. Mr Gaines is a master at creating the feel of a fast changing world outside of his mother’s home that gives the performance a complex reality.

And then of course there is Miss Lansbury. As the central Miss Daisy she gives a performance that will remain in your memory forever. She evokes almost very emotion an audience can expect to feel in the theatre, that after some wonderful comedy and incredible stage business, I saw many dabbing their eyes at the end.

It’s fair to say this story might have limited appeal to younger audiences, but if you want to see acting of the highest order here is your chance – my advice take your mum she will talk about the outing for ages. Driving Miss Daisy plays in Sydney until the end of March then travels to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


An Afternoon With Megan Mullallay

“See that fascinating creature, with perfection stamped on every feature” so goes the lyrics to the Jerry Herman song Look what happened to Mabel, which Megan Mullally sang as part of her very charming cabaret show and lit the fuse to a very splendid afternoon in the theatre.


Appearing at the Sydney Theatre with comedian and pianist Seth Rudetsky as the headline act of the Sydney Mardi Gras 35th Anniversary Festival, Ms Mullally and Mr Rudetsky had a full house as putty in their fine-tuned stage presence hands.
World-famous for her iconic role as Karen Walker on the groundbreaking hit TV series Will & Grace, for which she won two Emmys, Megan has also starred in numerous Broadway shows, including Grease, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.


It seemed to me the theater was 50/50 of hard Karen Walker fans and musical theater devotees, and I wondered how this format of songs and chat was to keep everyone engaged. But together these guys were just so delightful. Right from the beginning when Megan sang Broadway Baby from Follies we knew she could sure sing – her phrasing was spectacular. She treated us to even more wonderful Stephen Sondheim songs from Follies, Could I Leave You and a spine tingling Losing my Mind.


In-between she and Seth Rudetsky sat casually in arm chairs and discussed her career and their friendship. Seth was the perfect host drawing out just the kind of stories keen fans of Will and Grace were there to hear. It was all so genuine and casual and whilst they may have known where this chat was going it certainly felt free flowing and unrehearsed.
We were to learn that following the wrap of Will and Grace a musical called Karen: The Musical was being developed. There was a producer, director and composer on board but at the last minute the rights to Karen were withdrawn.
Luckily for us a couple of numbers were show  ready and so we were treated to those songs with Karen Walker right here center stage just for us and bringing it. It was wonderfully clever and so amusing. The place went wild!  

We had all had such great fun and been treated to a very special afternoon the prolonged standing ovation was so very well deserved. Returning for an encore Megan surprised us with Dr. Longjohn, the 70’s Bette Midler song that she recorded and to which Kristen Bell lip-synched in the recent movie Burlesque. Sassy, a little naughty and belting – summed up our afternoon.


Live at Last – East meets West

I really admire Sydney showgirl Christy McNicol who is celebrating a whopping thirty years at the top of her game. Lucky for me I’ve been a friend of Christy’s for the greater part of that time and at various times over that period I’ve had the wonderful experience of working with her. What you see on stage and in the media is exactly what you get, one of Sydney’s most glamorous and witty showgirls.


Christy has really done it all, starting at Les Girls in Kings Cross when very young and further developing her signature style working with the prestigious Simone and Monique's Playgirl Revue. She is one of only a handful of drag show entrepreneurs who have gone on and created their own shows. In the late nineties Christy brought together some of Australia's finest transsexuals to create The Original Priscilla Show which toured the country and was nominated for a Mo Award.


To achieve all this and stay at the top you need to be innovative, clever, focused, brave and talented. And I saw all this when Christy launched her new show Live at Last – East meets West, a transgender cabaret to a house full of showgirl colleagues, friends and entertainment agents at Slide Bar this week.


The show is a two hander of Christy and her partner Darlene, a new comer to Australian shore’s fresh from Singapore and two dancing boys. The whole show is two hours of live singing, cute chorry and clever patter and very glamorous costuming.


The concept of the show, being a union of east and west, is created right from the beginning with clever video shot in Bangkok and the girls hitting the stage with a lively One night in Bangkok from Chess and maintained right through to their very glamorous ‘tits and feathers’ Kylie Minogue medley finale.


In between the girls take it in turn to sing solo as well as duet covering a great collection of well-known songs. Both girls get to talk to the audience; Darlene’s fresh approach to sharing the transgender story with the audience a delight.


The girls have used the best to create the magic, with the soundtrack being by Ian Gordon at Atlasworxk, costumes by House of Priscilla and Mama Shirl, wigs by Prada Clutch and Melissa Ali and choreography by Nick Bozanic.


The show launched this week will be further developed and tour the gay pride circuit, cabaret spots and RSL clubs of the country.


The girls have a great base from which to grow this show, perhaps add a little more comedy, and along with more experience of singing live will add to this unique cabaret show.


Torch Song Trilogy

Torch Song Trilogy was the Tony Award winning Best Play of 1983 and in this its thirtieth anniversary year is being revived all over the world. One because it’s a gay  classic but more importantly its ideas and messages of the search for love, family and acceptance are as relevant to an audience now as they were in the early eighties.

In Sydney we luckily have the Gaiety Theatre production playing as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival – and its excellent. It seems the critics are giving it the thumbs up but from where I sit social media and good old word of mouth are already acclaiming this one of the festival highlights.  

Torch Song Trilogy is a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein performed as three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! The story centres on Arnold Beckoff, a torch song-singing Jewish drag queen living in New York City in the early pre HIV/Aids 1980s.

Each act focuses on a different phase in Arnold's life. In the first, Arnold meets Ed, who is uncomfortable with his bisexuality. In the second, one year later, Arnold meets Alan, and the two settle down into a blissful existence that includes plans to adopt a child, until tragedy strikes. In the third, several years later, Arnold is a single father raising gay teenager David. Arnold is forced to deal with his mother's intolerance and disrespect when she visits from Florida.

This production is directed by Stephen Colyer (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Paris Letter, Hello Again) who, whist keeping the play of its time, gives it a pace and style which will keep the audience engaged over a longish evening of three and a half hours. He uses some of his dance background to great effect in act 2 bringing the action to hilarious life.

The casting is spot on and everybody ‘brings it’ here. Simon Corfield is simply perfect in his role of Arnold. From the beginning in his dressing room, where quite frankly he absolutely nails the mannerisms of the 80’s style drag queen, through the complicated contradictions of an effeminate gay man, to the showdown with his mother, it’s a huge ride of emotion played with the perfect balance of humour and heart.  

Amanda Muggleton is wonderful as Mrs Beckoff, although many will see this performance all too real as mothers of that time and Christian Willis as Ed manages to extract empathy for his confused relationship choices.

This production is wonderfully supported in the remaining casting of Belinda Wollaston, Thom Jordan and Mathew Verevis who as actors, singers and musicians not only play the lovers and adopted son, but perform a generous serve of cleverly chosen torch songs to enhance and embellish the play. The collaboration of musical director, Phil Scott and Stephen Colyer has given this production a simple but engaging freshness that deserves its place as this year's festival hit!


Blaze – really is a dance spectacular

It’s all going on at the Sydney Opera House these holidays, and at the core is the high energy, glossy street dance spectacular Blaze. This show comes to Sydney direct from a West End season and it’s full of the best young contemporary street dancers from all over the world.


If like me you’ve got your insight to these different forms of street dance from the TV show ‘So you think you can dance’ then its that for sure, but with a whole level of production and theatricality that takes it to 90 minutes of full-on exciting and dynamic contemporary dance. The concert hall was packed full with all kinds of people from families, dance school students, date nighters and groups of friends just taking in a holiday show.


The set, designed by Es Devlin, takes over the whole width of the concert hall stage and is inspired by the chaos of a teenage bedroom and provides a canvas for technically sophisticated video and light projections that use pioneering video mapping technology. It’s super clever with its heaps of doors and draws allowing the dancers to both access and leave the stage in ways that add to the slickness of the visual.


This show features music by Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, David Guetta and the well known tunes all add to the flow of the dancing – which is just wonderful. These sixteen dancers cover every street style with each getting their moment to showcase their particular style.


There are several highlights but I loved the trio of tappers working their magic to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the fun of MC Tony Thrill in his audience participation Atomic Food sequence.


The cast includes three b-boys, Machine, Jessy and Lagaet who from their first entrance, in just their jocks, steal the show with each of their pieces. Wow can they dance and the strength and discipline in their bodies takes your breath away.


This show just builds and builds with energy and excitement that by the finale the whole concert hall were on our feet bopping in our seats and screaming with delight, wrapped up perfectly when two young sisters were plucked from the crowd to join the cast in their encore, reflecting the enjoyment we were all experiencing.


It’s the perfect show for Sydney audiences enjoying the relaxed playful summer vibe and doing such great business I hear it’s already been extend. I loved it and so will you – a very rare five stars!