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Sexy, Fun, Ridiculous Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger directed by Doug Mann for Theatre of the Damned, Shenton Theatre, April 21, 2018

Every so often a production arrives that is so different, so outlandish that it becomes a cult hit. That was the case in with the stage musical The Toxic Avenger which took the script to a low budget horror B-movie, put it to a smart rock score and mixed in some caustic comedy - and found a hit that ran for 300 performances off-Broadway between 2008 and 2010.

This was the wacky musical that Geelong’s innovative and adventurous Theatre of the Damned imported and trusted to veteran director Doug Mann.
In the hands of Doug and Damned Theatre’s Tony and Elise Dahl, the show took another complexion again. For the Geelong Toxic Avenger is a daggy, happy, cheerfully irreverent alternative to the glossy hit-format musicals more often seen on our stages.
The Toxic Avenger’s storyline is almost irrelevant, but I’ll run it past anyway. A nerdy student discovers that all of New York’s toxic waste is being dumped in New Jersey thanks to a corrupt mayor. He obtains evidence from a beautiful blind librarian, with whom he falls in love, confronts the mayor with the evidence and is thrown into a vat of toxic waste by her henchmen. This changes him into a mixed-up toxic super-hero with a vengeance.
The show moves along at a cheerfully brisk pace to the score of 17 happy rock songs, all the way to a wacky version of the traditional happy ending.

In Geelong, this daft script was delivered on a clever set, mostly constructed of drums overflowing with evil-looking chemicals, by a bunch of talented performers quite clearly determined to have fun.
Their set even had a revolving stage to keep the action moving, while young musical director Courtney Miller’s band kept the show perfectly on track with a slick, professional sound.
But the real joy of this show came from its cast.
Their happy, cheerful distain for the mock-seriousness of their plight spilled over into the audience, which laughed, sang or clapped along with their sheer ebullience.

Liam Erck made a perfect nerd/avenger, combining energy and dynamism with droll delivery and an excellent singing voice.
As the unknowing target of his devotion, blind librarian Shani Clarke was wonderfully, naively sexy in movement and delightful in voice.
While as the corrupt mayor, Alicia Miller was a seductive, scheming vamp; but she alternated as the Avenger’s mum, playing her as a classic comedy New-York-Jewish mother.
Behind these leads,
PJ White and Will Conway clowned and sang a storm in an assortment of support roles - a pair of bullies, the mayor’s henchmen, the librarian’s girlfriends - every duo delivered with the show’s delightfully underplayed but slickly polished musical gloss. 
Backing these leads was a wacky ensemble comprising Leanne Treloar, Liam South, Claire Miller, Elijah Ivelja, and Seth Baxter, a large part of whose job was to distract the audience while Alicia, PJ and Will made their quick-change costume and characters. 
In all, this Avenger was the opposite of Toxic. It was a delightful dose of madcap musical mayhem mixed with wacky comedy and gender diversity all delivered with rare verve. Catch it if you can.  

  1. -Colin Mockett

Rep’s Artuo Ui - a study in acting power.

The Resistible Rise Of Artuo Ui directed by Greg Shawcross for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, April 20, 2018

Bertold Brecht wrote his play The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui as an allegory - a play with a hidden meaning. The storyline of the rise of a 1930s gangster’s influence in the vegetable markets of Chicago neatly paralleled the rise of Adolph Hitler in Nazi Germany.
This Geelong Rep production, from director Greg Shawcross, took away any mystery in the analogy by clearly stating in projected surtitles the German parallel before each American gangster scene began. Though clarifying the plotline, this did somewhat rob the playwright of his subtlety.
Director Shawcross introduced several other innovations, too, some working better than others. The public acceptance and popularity of Ui/Hitler was measured by an ever-increasing number of propaganda posters pasted around the set - a silent, inspired but telling move - while the gangster cult’s rise through the prohibition of alcohol was less successfully portrayed by a seemingly ever-present decanter of whisky.
But probably director Shawcross’s most controversial decision was to play the entire production in terms of confrontation by ratcheting up the levels of anger. So most conversations were held at the level of shouting matches. 
This reduced further the opportunity to deliver subtleties, but it did add considerably to the play’s power and impact.
This was too much for some in the first-night audience, who chose not to return after the interval. Though understandable, for anger in bulk can be  unsettling,  they did miss out on a significant play and some heavyweight dramatic performances.

Because director Shawcross’s casting was superb and the performances he drew were just about immaculate. This was a powerfully impressive play.

In the title role, Cameron Allen was worryingly believable as a troubled psychopath unconcerned by the mayhem he was unleashing, while Joshua McGuane simply chilling as his chief hit-man.  Tom Bartle was both convincing and alarming playing the gangster equivalent of Goebbels, so too for Zach Eastwood’s  smiling assassin version of Herman Goring.
Outside of this quartet of evil, Geoff Gaskill gave two superb acting performances as the fallen Dogsborough/Hindenburg, whose eloquent silences spoke far louder than the mobsters’ rants; and a delightful counterpoint as a fey acting coach. Zoe Prem portrayed her many characters with a formidable skill, from agitated victim to coolly indifferent mobster. 

Indeed, a remarkable feature of this production was the swift and adroit changing of characters as the supporting cast switched personalities.
Stacey Carmichael made her complex  pressured victims believable on several levels and parts, while Barry Eeles swung from unconcerned onlooker to oppressed judge to willing henchman with assurance. Russell Perry was a persuasive negotiator and a sinister prosecutor among several excellent portrayals; Sam Lawrence shifted from his father’s pliant yes-man to become several ominous characters with aplomb while  Amber Connor, Callum Padgett and Norm Lowe gave uniformly excellent performances in more than a dozen different support characters.
But for this reviewer, the most lasting memory from this production of Arturo Ui was of its power - both written and portrayed - and the acting skills that created it.
  - Colin Mockett

The Zipper - appropriately named

The Zipper directed by Wolf Heidecker, Potato Shed, March 23,  2018.

First, a word to those audience members who went to The Potato Shed for the first time to see this play.
I’ve been writing about theatre in Geelong for more than 30 years, and this was among the poorest performances I’ve witnessed.
So, please, trust me, it was unusual. Not every play at the venue is of this standard. This appeared to be a workshopped effort, a performance piece in progress.
I’ve written about writer Bernard Clancy and director Wolf Heidecker previously. Their former collaboration, Foxholes of the Mind (reviewed on this site August 2016) was as well-constructed and  sensitive as this Zipper was crass, crude and slap-dash amateurish.
There’s a popular adage that states ‘If you can’t say something positive about a subject, it’s better to say nothing at all.’
And after thinking and reflecting about the positive aspects of this performance, I came up with - Zip. 

That’s all.

  - Colin Mockett

Geelong’s 42nd Street driven by its tappers

42nd Street directed by David Mackay for CenterStage Geelong, Playhouse Theatre, March 16,  2018.

42nd Street was written as a big, showy American musical film, directed by Busby Berkeley in the depression-era 1930s. It was revived as a stage musical in the 1980s and surprisingly, this was its premier performance in Geelong.

And the first sight that Geelong audiences saw was a partially-lifted curtain revealing only the company’s legs as it tap-danced up an energetic storm. 
That introduction was to prove prophetic, for this production was very much driven by its ensemble’s ability to recreate those Berkeley-era big, precision syncopated tap-dance production numbers whenever the show needed a lift.
True, it did have firm lead roles in its Hollywood American dream-fable storyline of a chorus girl achieving stardom when, against the odds, she takes over the lead role of a Broadway musical.
Rebecca Wik fitted this part perfectly with a delightfully balanced naive assurance - and a touch of poetry, as her previous appearance for the company was in the chorus.
Sally-Anne Cowdell played her pushy, unpleasant fading diva with enough authenticity to allow the audience to relish her injury and indisposal while the show’s leading male role appeared curiously split.  This was between co-lead performer Chaise Rossiello, who danced up a storm in the first act but disappeared somewhat in the second, to be replaced by the show-within-a-show’s director, Chris Anderson, who softened from despotic to compassionate, dominating the second act  and on the way revealing a wonderful singing voice.
Simon Thorne, Trent Inturrisi and Casey Tucker made perfect supporting foils for his directorial indulgences, while Cindy Lee lit up the stage in a powerhouse performance singing and dancing as the show’s co-writer.
Murray Plowman was believably good-looking enough to tempt Sally-Anne away from magnate Ray Jones’ millionaire allure. 
Lauren Flood was delightful as ‘Anytime Annie’, the Bolshie lead dancer and Rebecca’s biggest supporter, who was backed by joyful hench-tappers Christie Walter,  Nikki Lenaghan and Jemma Lowther.

But for this reviewer, the biggest stars on Geelong’s 42nd Street were the energy-packed singing, tap-dancing ensemble and their choreographer, Fiona Luca-Kingsbury. So take a bow, Alyce Morton, Amy Pullen, Annah Kucharski, Ariane Gavin, Beau Lewis, Benjamin Krahe, Brooke Lecchino, Cameron Field, Carmen Jensen, Cate Dunstan, Elyse Ganly, Harry Hudson-Collins, Heidi Watson, Jacinta Van Etten, Jasmine Harvey, Jess Wynhoven, Katie Loxston, Matilda Bateup, Melanie Dobrovoljni, Michele Marcu, Nicola Gibson, Renee Gartner, Sarah Sheils, Seth Lewis, Shenae Zanardo, Trudy Riley and Will Johnston.

You’re all nominated for a 2018 Geelong Theatre Award, along with several of your lead players.
Of course, this production wan’t perfect. It suffered from the traditional GPAC first-night sound difficulties as well as a lack of off-stage backing singers that might have taken some of the strain from those energetic dancers.  And some creaking scene-changes slowed the pace  - but all of this was swept aside by that brilliantly colourful, immaculately turned out all-singing, all-tapping show-stopping ensemble backed by its perfectly syncopated 16-piece band, hidden somewhere out of sight but always a dominant, flawless presence.

Audiences can enjoy Geelong’s 42nd Street on several levels - but for me, that colourful, masterful tap-dancing ensemble performance was alone worth the price of admission.

- Colin Mockett

Unicorners turn to Celtic dreams

Celtic Dreaming, presented by Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Barwon Park Mansion March 11,  2018.

This was the second successive Barwon Park concert presented by Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, following last week’s Geekers gig.
This time the line-up was slightly larger, the staging more theatrical and the material more traditional.
Three of last week’s Geekers, Joni & Ellie Gardner and Ben Mitchell, returned to perform some very different material, alongside Nadine Joy, Carol Fogg, Miriam Pohlenz and Kathryn O’Neill. And much like the former concert, this one displayed plenty of adaptability from musicians and singers.
Everyone sang, in solos, duos, trios and groups at times accompanied by Joni on guitar or piano, Ben on guitar, Nadine of piano, guitar and/or whistle and Kathryn on cello.
Their material was mostly drawn from the popular, lyrical  palette of Celtic music - containing The Skye Boat Song,  Danny Boy, The Ash Grove, My Ain Folk and more.
One unusual high point was when Kathryn sang a solo version of Percy Grainger’s The Sea Wife, accompanying herself on solo cello.
But there were plenty of other renditions that drew warm applause from an appreciative audience.

That theatrical mood was created by the female players wearing complimentary flowing plum-coloured dresses with jewellery on their foreheads while the two male members wore plain black.
Their differing voices worked well together, with Ellie’s warmth contrasting with Nadine’s harder, semi-jazz tones; Carol’s clarity with Miriam and Kath’s deeper tonal colours and the whole group adding pleasing harmonies.
When not singing, the players sat silently on-stage with their gazes uniformly focussed on the soloists, lending a ‘serious recital’ atmosphere to the occasion. This was sometimes a little too stagey, especially for the lighter numbers, and as there were few introductions, we audience saw plenty of performer, line-up and instrument changes between songs. This, though adding to the ‘dreaming’ theme,  was something of a missed opportunity to explain the stories behind the songs, many of which were beautiful but tragic.
But we did get a theatrical augmentation to Nadine’s rendition of The Spanish Lady, with Miriam miming the part in character.

The whole concert, with its lyrical material was ideally suited  to the venue’s fine acoustic space. There were no microphones used at all, but every note, every beautiful lyric was heard with perfect clarity.

And I’m sure that following the final Will Ye No Come Back Again, there were plenty of people walking away with good memories from this dreamy Celtic occasion.

  1. -Colin Mockett

Gen Ys deliver music from a favourite decade with skill - and love

The Carnival Is Not Over, presented by The Geekers, Barwon Park Mansion March 4,  2018.

         Geek (n) An unfashionable or socially inept person. A knowledgeable and

          obsessive enthusiast.

At first, ‘The Geekers’ seemed an odd choice of name for a musical group, appearing to be an obvious, if clumsy, rhyme on ‘The Seekers’.
But on reflection, and having enjoyed this bright, happy concert, it’s clear that the group’s title is totally appropriate, using the second dictionary definition.
This five piece group that has grown from Ceres’ Theatre of Winged Unicorn thespian community were each quite obvious enthusiasts for the popular music of an era before they were born.
We’re talking about a bunch of Gen Ys with a token X playing the cheerful pop-rock of the 1960s to an appreciative audience of predominately baby boomers.
And although we audience applauded the Seekers material long and loud, this concert was a considerable distance away from a sound-alike tribute show.
We experienced, in essence, a romp through the hit parade of a single decade - the 1960s - with a couple of  exceptions.
So after a clever walk-on opening that demonstrated the room’s excellent acoustics, the group delivered a mix of pop genres all within that single decade hit-parade theme.
We heard hit songs from Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Petula Clarke, The Turtles, Beatles, Monkees, Mommas & Pappas, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Joni Mitchell and Louis Armstrong as well as a couple of soundalike original songs from the band’s leader Joni Gardner. But the show’s big, double encore finale was definately, deliberately and decisively all-Seekers material.
The Geekers is built around the talents of Joni Gardner with his sister Ellie. 
She has a true, distinct voice without quite the hard-edged clarity of Judith Durham, but with much compensating warmth.
He’s a singer/instrumentalist with a light but solid, secure voice that was ideal for his band’s chosen song palette.
Having said that -  exactly the same could be said for rhythm guitarist Michael Leigh, and percussion/vocalist Ben Mitchell when they took their turns centre-stage. It was down to the group’s senior member, lead/electric guitarist Greg Chadwick, to add the show’s occasional harder-rocking elements.
The Carnival Is Not Over’s slick and well-practiced execution - this was a non-stop concert with minimal introductions but a change of instruments, line-up and/or vocalist after practically every song - was studded with delightful harmonies and delivered without scores, notes or hesitations.

It was obvious that the group was extremely well practiced and rehearsed. And appreciated. And quite clearly they loved the material the were presenting.  But then, what else could we expect from a bunch of   knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiastic Geeks?

The Geekers next concert is at the Fyansford Paper Mills Cafe April 21. See our comprehensive diary for details.

- Colin Mockett

La Mama get an intense  regional  experience

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect, directed by Judy Ellis for Onamatappear, La Mama Courthouse, March 3, 2018.

Written by locally-based Sandy Fairthorne, directed by Geelong Rep’s past president Judy Ellis and featuring actors from Geelong and Melbourne, this production had enough regional input to justify this critic taking a trip to La Mama in a working capacity.
The first impression was that our local non-professional theatre clearly fits easily and comfortably into Melbourne’s hub of edgy creative theatre. For Jeremy Perfect’s opening followed a successful season of APA’s Hope Song at the Carlton venue.
And though the two Geelong-region productions had similar plot-line threads in that they concerned the effects and management of mental illness in today’s society, the two plays’ treatments were completely different.
While The Hope Song staged verbatim the words of those who had suffered mental illness, The Confessions Of Jeremy Perfect was a work of pure fiction.
It centred around a married couple with a new baby. He’s an unpublished writer with some addictions and worrying emotional impulses. She’s a psychiatrist with an overwhelming controlling complex.
They live in a rambling house that’s shared with her sister, a progressive free-thinking career nurse who donates part of each year to overseas care work.
This relatively stable arrangement was upset when his brother came to stay for an indefinite period, accompanied by a young girlfriend.
He was a less complicated soul, slightly awed by his elder brother’s charm and charisma, while she  appeared to have but a single ambition - to be pregnant when they married.
Inside this basic structure, playwright Sandy Fairthorne added some complications of Machiavellian proportions.
She had the psychiatrist wife regularly dosing her husband with cocktails of behaviour-altering drugs, nominally to treat his impulses. Then his brother was diagnosed as impotent which, of course, lead to the addled husband offering his services as a donor.
There was also a hint of romantic past between his brother and her sister. Then the husband, drunkenly destroying his work after a series of rejection slips,  lusted after his brother’s girlfriend - and the sisters revealed  an enmity that went well beyond sibling rivalry.
The plot twisted and frayed, tensioned and unravelled inside a matrix of heavy boozing, pot-smoking and game playing for an uninterrupted two hours until it arrived at an unexpected and, in truth, quite unbelievably orderly conclusion.

But on the way, it revealed some neat theatrical staging and intense acting performances.
Judy Ellis’s evenly paced direction allowed unflagging interest levels while her simple, single set kept scene-change hold-ups to a minimum.
And her extremely well-cast players did her proud. 
Central was a commanding performance from Simon Finch, whose unwavering intensity in the title role dominated every scene.
As his controlling wife, Eva Justine Torkkola came across as artfully devious, while Sean Paisley Collins was perfect as his awed and occasionally bewildered young brother. Alex McTavish gave her (literal) nursing sister gravitas beyond her support status and Ruby Wall brought elements of sympathy and sensuality to her role as the hormone-driven temptress.

All-up, this gritty slice of contemporary theatre made a worthy input  to La Mama’s metropolitan season. Its country roots were imperceptible - but immaculate.   

  1. -Colin Mockett

A night of impromptu delights and impressive performance

Rhapsody, from Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Brett Kelly, Costa Hall, February 24, 2018.

Geelong’s premier Orchestra displayed its impressive development with this accomplished concert of challenging, lyrical and fascinating pieces.
It was under the baton of energetic guest conductor,
Brett Kelly, who, with the minimum of audience contact, still managed to convey an air of an unpretentious maestro with a pride in his orchestra.
This came across strongly in the opening piece,
Khatchaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus, a work familiar from its TV appearances, especially as the lyrical, background to those magnificent tall ships on The Onedin Line.
But here it was, in all of its smooth, soaring majesty being faultlessly presented by our own 60-piece orchestra. 

And building on that admirable opening, came what was probably as memorable a performance as ever seen on the Costa stage.
It was
Rachmaninov’s  Rhapsody on a Theme from Paganini - some 20 minutes of gloriously changing musical textures, patterns and colours, some familiar, some spiky, others lush and lyrical, all delivered by another self-effacing master musician, guest pianist Hoang Pham, with the orchestra taking very much a support role.
Young, slim, immaculate in appearance as well as presentation,  Mr Pham played the complicated pieces with elegance and elan - and completely from memory, without a single sheet of music on the Costa Steinway.
This drew what can only be described as a remarkable piece of musical appreciation, in that the performance did not receive a standing ovation -Geelong audiences are notoriously grudging with these. But instead, the audience delivered loud, steady, insistent applause that brought conductor Brett and soloist Hoang back for bow after bow - until Huang broke the cycle by resuming his seat at the piano to quietly announce he would play ‘a little bit of Haydn,’  which turned out to be a brilliant showpiece that brought another storm of applause continuing long after he had left the stage, until he was to return again, take his seat and deliver another, quite different musical delight, before the pattern repeated, drawing yet a third impromptu solo.
After that sparkling celebration, and a short interval to recover, the orchestra returned to present the concert’s main event,  Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (Pathetique) Op. 74 B Minor.
This emotional piece, written just weeks before the composer’s death, contains moods that lift from lyrical contentment to the depths of despair as he raged against his inevitable end.
It’s a moving, challenging piece that was delivered by our orchestra with sensitivity, feeling - and an overarching air of professional competence. 
Because by taking on such a challenging programme, then delivering it with immaculate skill and style, the Geelong Symphony was musically announcing that it had arrived as a significant entity on the Victorian musical scene. 
It was received with that long and sustained applause - but this time no modestly flamboyant encores.
And it was evident from the audience mood in the after-concert foyer that Geelong can today stand with immense pride behind its impressive, fully-fledged fully professional symphony orchestra.
Bravo! (delivered standing).

  1. -Colin Mockett

Geoff conjures women in a magic performance

Jake’s Women directed by Peter Jukes for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company. Woodbin Theatre, February 2, 2018

Creating this play would have been therapeutic for its author, Neil Simon. Written in the 1990s, when his rocky marriage to Diane Lander was floundering, the play’s theme of an author’s turmoil as his marriage slowly deteriorated is a thinly-disguised autobiographical piece. 
But it’s by the Neil Simon, the man behind The Odd Couple and so many other clever, deftly-observed sparklingly-funny insights into modern behaviour. So this play is a long way from a fraught tale of a broken partnership.
It’s a tightly-written, fast-paced funny/moving tale of a man who has the ability to conjure up selected images of the women in his life and hold conversations with them, sometimes alone, sometimes in multiples, every one revealing the hurt and humour of that transition in all its desperate detail.

For this Rep production, director Peter Jukes created a clever set symbolising the fractured nature of the dialogue while enabling the central character, Jake, to instantly, magically,  conjure up his women.

This gave the play a film-like quality, with the action uninterrupted by scene changes.
And it put huge pressure on Geoff Gaskill, playing Jake, who was on stage throughout the entire play delivering Simon’s super-fast caustic/perceptive Jewish New York dialogue - this time encompassing his own thinking process garnished with wit and occasional anguish.
Geoff did this superbly in a theatrical tour-de-force of rare skill.  He gave Jake depth and perception in near-flawless performance of intensity, nuance and power.
This was matched, and occasionally surpassed, by Tina Rettke’s portrayal of Maggie, his second and soon to be ex- wife.
Tina was at times empathetic and sympathetic, independent, vulnerable and strong - in turn, in place and sometimes all at once - in a beautifully sensitive portrayal of human emotions.
This pair was supported by a well-cast and word-perfect company of manipulated and manipulating women. Some were imaginary, some real and all were engaging in their own way. These were led by Claudia Clark’s quirky sister Karen and Melinda Hughes wisecracking awkward analyst Edith, along with (real-life) sisters Hannah and Jess Senftleben who carefully and perceptively played Jake’s supportive daughter Molly at different ages.
In the difficult part of first-wife Julie, who had died in a car accident, Lauren Atkin ably moved from confusion to manipulation to accomplishment, while  Bernadette Byrne made an excellent job as Jake’s real-life real-time girlfriend Sheila, bewildered to be caught up in all of his character confusion.

As a piece of theatre, Rep’s Jake’s Women was excellent.
It appeared undated and timeless - mainly because of its universal theme and the fine quality of its writing. But mostly it offered the chance to experience an extraordinarily intense piece of acting from Geoff Gaskill who understandably appeared wrung out and exhausted when taking his long and appreciative final applause.
Go see Jake’s Women, it’s highly recommended.
Rep’s first play for the year is outstanding for its writing, its subject matter - and it’s careful, well-thought-out staging.
And most certainly for Geoff Gaskill’s remarkable performance. 

  1. -Colin Mockett

Footlight’s impeccably staged, doubly  fabulous B & B 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre, January 20, 2018

This production was fabulous in its original as well as modern contexts.
It’s storyline was based on a fable, while Footlight’s theatrical presentation was as professional, slick and spectacular as any found on Melbourne’s stages.
But first, a qualification. 
Beauty and the Beast is based on a 16th Century French fairy story, retold with Disney’s Hollywood principles.
From a 21st Century perspective, and especially in light of the present moral climate, it’s about as politically incorrect as it can get. It has themes that begin with a male refusal to accept a woman’s ‘no’ answer, to include bullying and stalking, to false imprisonment and even murder - all eventually nullified by Disney’s saccharin ‘love conquers all, so everything’s happy ever after’ gloss.
Director Alister Smith went some way to qualify all this by using a remarkable opening scene where a small child (Mitchell Jeffreys) discovered a toy which unfolded the fable to the revelation of everyone on stage.
It not only set the scene for the audience to suspend its disbeliefs, but it also foreshadowed what was to come - a show with immaculate and well-thought out-production values.

This Beauty and the Beast was wonderful both to see and to experience.

Its costumes and wigs were literally fantastic. Its lighting effects were spectacular, its choreography crisp and precise, its direction smooth and logical, its music faultless.

The big production numbers drew inspiration from Busby Berkeley to Alice’s Wonderland to Les Mis to Follies’ Can Can and more - all were seamlessly integrated and delivered with panache.
And the cast, too, was impossible to fault. They not only looked correct, they sang, acted and moved impeccably. Even the sound was error-free.
In the lead role of Belle, Nicole Kaminski was on top of every one of her range of situations; whether fending off unwanted suitor Gaston’s advances, or caring for her eccentric father, or facing down the beast’s anger and even finally changing him through love. 
The unlovely suitor Gaston, in the hands of Vaughn Rae, came across as an over-the-top musical version of the IT Crowd’s  Douglas Reynholm; while Belle’s  odd inventor father Maurice was played with quirky charm by Brendan Rossbotham.  In the unsympathetic part of The Beast, Joshua McGuane managed his awkward switch from unprovoked anger to confusion to outright fawning without losing too much credibility - and he displayed a great singing voice despite a faceful of fur and make-up.

Behind these leads, the show seemed to have eye-catching performances everywhere, from Adam Porter’s delightful candelabra Lumiere and Jamie McGuane’s talking (and singing) clock Cogsworth; from Greg Shawcross’s agile sidekick Maurice to a trio of undisciplined Silly Girl groupies in Rosie Byth, Cassie Chappell and Casey Reid. From Emma Clair Ford’s eloquent teapot and  Hayley Wood’s non-wooden dresser, from Liam Ryder’s sinister white-blonde villain Monsieur D'Arque - and most especially from Hannah Pohlenz’s delightfully coquettish scene-stealer Babbette.

The ensemble, too, kept that almost impossible impeccable standard throughout, whenever presenting medieval townspeople, savage forest creatures, cheery can-can dancers, an unruly mob and more. So take a bow, Ashley Boyd, Andrew Coomber, Tara Dunstan, Jana Gousmett, Steve Horman, Joel Lewis, Katie Loxston, Madelyn Ludbrook, Alysia Macleod, Charlie McIntyre, Ally Miller, India Ney, Aidan O'Cleirigh, Amanda Paris, Liam Ryder, David Van Etten, Joshua Vucicevic and Amy Whitfield.
That initial small child scene-setter, Mitchell Jeffreys, returned frequently as a perky perambulated chipped cup. On alternate occasions, this refreshing part was played by Kempton Maloney.

In all, this Footlight Beauty and the Beast was an exceptional piece of musical theatre.
It’s highly recommended as a fine example of the heights and professionalism that Geelong’s musical theatre can stage.

  1. -Colin Mockett

Geelong’s Big, Heartwarming Showcase Concert  still surprises

The Geelong Summer Music Camp’s Showcase Concert. Costa Hall, January 19, 2018

This was the 38th Geelong Summer Music Camp. It had 212 participants aged between nine and 20 who had received an intense week of musical tuition from six conductors and 25 specialist tutors.
Over the years we Geelong concertgoers have become accustomed to the  excellence of their end-of-camp Costa Hall ‘Showcase’ performance. It’s an event that has won a reputation, not only as Geelong’s first and biggest annual music concert, but also as the most surprising, most heartwarming and most gratifying.
Surprising because of the sheer amount of musical knowledge and ensemble-playing skills that could be absorbed by the young players in just five days of intensive study.
Heartwarming because those young musicians displayed such respect for their new abilities and high regard for the discipline of presenting them.
And gratifying because we’re seeing hard evidence that the love of music in our educators is being gratefully and graciously accepted by the next generation.

Alongside this, every GSMC concert throws up new delights and surprises.
That was certainly the case with the 2018 event.
It had begun conventionally enough, with the 21-piece Dave Jeffery Stage Band delivering a pair of modern jazz numbers in crisp, slick style under their conductor David Gardner, followed by the Fiona Gardner Concert Band - the camp’s junior wind ensemble conducted by Sue Arney - making a fine job of three well-known but very different pieces, with two film themes Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean bracketing three movements from Dvorak’s New World suite.

Then followed the Heather Tetaz  (junior) string ensemble with their conductor Martin DeMarte and another three very different pieces, Dance of the Tumblers, The Skye Boat Song and Conquistador  all delightfully presented.
The evening’s compere, James Hunt, linked each segment with  some unusual  and sometimes unintended humour, warily approaching each conductor-provided introduction as a potential pronunciation minefield.
He had fun with the first of the big ensembles, the 62-member Harry Hood Concert Band, whose conductor, Sean Rankin, had provided some tongue-twisting explanations for his musical selections. These were the silky Blue And Green Music followed by a happy calypso Caribbean Hideaway, then a part-vocal and chime-ringing Ave Maria and finished with a smooth big-band Ocean Ridge Rhapsody.
The Camp’s choir, Eileen Martin Singers, with their conductor Ryan Bentley  contributed four excellent songs, all delivered without music books, starting with a clear and melodic version of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, then the appropriately-titled Peaceful Things with alternating soloists, a Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride accompanied by percussion and ukulele  and finishing with the theme song from The Color Purple.

But then came a revelation, when the next ensemble, the 60+ strong Wendy Galloway Strings - the camp’s senior string orchestra - delivered three pieces with a capability and competence that would surely have made them the envy of many senior orchestras. Stylish conductor Ingrid Martin and her players presented Grieg’s Holberg Suite op 40 no 1 with such skill to bring the auditorium to pin-drop silence then long, sustained applause. This was followed by the equally well received themes from Titanic, and then a wonderfully evocative Argentine tango Libertango, delivered with a practic
ed elegance that belied the orchestra’s scant 5-day preparation.
Those strings were then augmented by wind and percussion players to become the Malcolm John Symphony, still conducted by Ms Martin, delivering several  views from Johan Strauss II’s Blue Danube before the camp’s now-familiar big all-on-stage big finale, a spirited and skilled version of La Mer (Somewhere Beyond The Sea) handsomely arranged by local musician Kym Dillon.

And following that final segment, and an encore,  a delighted Wendy Galloway, after whom the string orchestra was named, hurried backstage to congratulate conductor Ingrid. (pictured)
It was, Wendy said, ‘a thrilling performance with a fabulous conductor’.
Agreed. And I’d add that it was part of another wonderful Geelong experience.

- Colin Mockett