What Can I Say?
The Press has said it all. It was so great to run into an-ex theatrical mentor the other night outside The Maj. I should have known it being a Cam Mac production you would be in town Robbo, but since being away from the ABC mic I am out of touch. You were correct dear man, I did adore the production despite the cycnic in me thinking it would be just for families with kids.
The cycnic arrived looking at the House Full signs and seeing the usually under-dressed theatre goers and I caught myself wishing for the days when the glitter and glamour crossed the footlights into the stalls also. By house lights down I was ready to kill 50% of audience. If there was one more flash bulb go off or mobile phone camera snapping the scrim with logo... I would have screamed! Why do these people NOT READ the large signs above the door... and who the bloody hell are they to think that it applies to EVERYONE OTHER THAN THEM!!
I'll bet they don't sit at home staking digital pics of the movie title screens on Foxtel (but I'll bet they are downloading illegal copies on their pcs). So much for the recognition that the live arts are special and performers, producers and technical crews should have their IP honoured!
Don't even get me started on that one....
Thank you anyway dearest Michael Tyack for finally raising the Baton after the interminable wait for the Grand Circle. When the show began I felt that it really was all a bit 1960s in staging but I soon got over those reservations and realised that with so many scenes the good old revolving house and trucks would be the easiest techniques to use. So whereas the design was practical and functional at first, the cast was STELLAR.
How easy it is to have horrid little stage darlings when children play leads but these kids were great. Well directed, sang and danced proficiently and were right into character (no sugray sweetness there, nore over-the-top Von Trapp nastiness!).
Verity Hunt-Ballard proves again that WAAPA is this Country'e Julliard for the Music Theatre. Her voice pure and pitch perfect. She is also beautiful on stage but to my surprise I was blown away by (and still am) Matt Lee.
All I know is that he is a judge on Australia's Got Talent. Do not watch it, do not read about it or him... so I missed his credentials until I got home and read the program. Dein Perry's Tap Dogs, worked with David Atkins, was in Bootmen etc etc. This guy is the goods as a dancer but WAIT THERE'S MORE. HE HAS THE WHOLE SET OF STEAK KNIVES!
The Dick Van Dyck performance as Bert is embarassingly bad in comparison. This boy can sign and act... and his dancing. Well for those of us who adored Wayne Scott Kermond in Singing in the Rain and a young bloke called Todd McKenny in Song and Dance... well this guy is just soooo strong... tapping upside down on the proscenium arch... you gotta be kidding!
And as for the appaling flying in Witches of Eastwick... forget it. The freed Lark is a very special moment as is the kite flying. I will not even compare the chandelier from Phantom to Poppin's exit... OMG technology has come so far in so few years. As expected the audience began screaming in delight... and rightly so.
Directorially the production ticked all the boxes. Every nuance was received by the audience as it was designed, illiciting the applause, ovations and general excitement only a live audience can add.
Choreographically, how could I have expected any less than perfection when someone like Mathew Bourne has his head... Supacalifragilisticexpialicious.... particularly in that ensemble work, and the very special Step in Time.
The traditional ballet form used for the staues in the Park was at once a throw back to earlier music theatre and very apt for a modern staging also.
I loved seeing the magnificent Phillip Quast on a Melbourne stage and am grateful that both he and Marina Prior have been given new songs... but they are a tad less than spectacular... and in each instance function to add to the book. Oh well, not everybody can have show stoppers can they Judi Connelli?
My fondest memories of many of these leads are not in the big name productions that the Publicists and Marketing people are highlighting in the program bios. Whilst Phil's Javert is one of the greatest stage performances of all times, my particular favourite is on the Comedy stage as Candide... and Judi Connelli... not the Opera stages of the State Theatre as Katisha but in her cabaret shows, particularly Pack of Women.
As for Marina... her Cosette is perhaps her best (original Sydney season)... and what a production that was. (She was also magnificent and definitive as Christine opposite Anthony Warlow in Phantom). I am still thrilled that I was privileged enough to see the Sydney opening night of Les Mis.... I can never thank you enough Mark Gogol!
Debra Byrne... how to describe her Fantine alongside Normie Rowe's Valjean... amazing. And her performance as Grizabella was worth sitting through the whole production of Cats to witness... as you can guess I am not a huge fan.
This brings me to the point of this blog. There are very special moments of magic for creative artists. Debra Byrne wove such a moment last Friday night. Her Feed the Birds was just perfect... and that is something I have never said as a professional reviewer ... not ever. My dear friend, and many regular theatre-goers always have a go at performers who they perceive to be tall poppies. One such comment on Friday was "at least I hope she does all the shows this time".... well I am sorry I do not think that matters... what makes Debbie the magnificent performer is her fragility. Whilst we can all stand and admire the technicians and leading ladies such as Marina... it is the destructive divas that make the theatre what it is.
We thrill to watch the Debra Byrnes of this world perform. It is like holding our breath as a titerope walker traverses the wire. We know they are trained and have the skill to do it... but it is the fear they might just fall that brings the frisom of excitement and expectation.
That is my response to the performances of Debra Bryne. She commands the stage and holds the audience spellbound, breathing only as she does, and listening so intently. We live the moment with her. This she did again on Friday night... held the Maj audience silent whilst she communicated the pathos. What a star turn. I am privileged to have seen her... again.
These are the things that made Poppins special. Yes there is all the Cam Mac glitz and extravagance but it is the special ensemble moments and great performances that lift a musical to its highest art form. This is what this Aussie Poppins offers Melbournians. Maybe this was not there in the Broadway production... a respected friend of mine told me he was a tad underwhelmed... I doubt he would say the same of this one. (Do you JMH?)
Lastly, in case anyone reads this who knows him... give my love to Jack Webster. Still treading the boards... and tapping!! How long now Jack... over 30 years I would have thought between gigs at the Maj?You too are inspirational... and to think... dear old Peter Casey is with the Production Company too.... where are the other ex-Ireners? Many would be working I'll bet.
Thank you Betty Pounder for this training and legacy... and thank you Robbo. Long may you reign at CAM MAC Australia!