Friday, June 24, 2011

Music: Dick and Christa Hughes

21st Century Blues
Downstairs at the Maj
22 – 25 June, 2011
 Boogie Woogie, the strong left hand of the blues, drives this fabulous journey by venerable jazzman Dick Hughes and his darling daughter Christa back to the boozy, sexy world of dives and speakeasies, shotgun shacks and sugar mamas.
The younger Hughes, she of Machine Gun Fellatio and Circus Oz fame, is every bit a 21st Century girl, but she’s steeped in the music of Bessie Smith, Memphis Slim and Jelly Roll Morton and the other legends of early 20th Century blues.
She sings the songs her daddy taught her with steamy authenticity and an outrageous inventiveness that dusts them off and drops them right back in the present.
Christa would be the star of any show she was in, and her old man is no slouch, either on the keys or when he fronts up to a vocal. Despite one of the autobiographies of his long, fecund life being titled Don’t You Sing!, he does a gruffly winning number on Morton’s Winin’ Boy and a lovely, affectionate duet with his daughter on Spencer William’s Everybody Loves My Baby.
Maybe his playing is a tad shaky on occasions ­– as he’d be the first to tell you, he’s no spring chicken these days – but it’s shot through with the spirit of the music, and that left hand of his is still good and strong when it counts.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Theatre: Ruben Guthrie

By Brendan Cowell
Directed by Andrew Lewis
Set and costume designer Jessica Glaser
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students Ben O’Toole, Lara Schwerdt, Griffin Blumer, Ryan Jones, Jessica Clarke, Kali Hulme and Josh Brennan
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
June 17 - 23, 2011

Brendan Cowell’s high-style morality play, Ruben Guthrie, is a gift for any company of actors, and it certainly is for this cast drawn from the graduating class of the WA Academy of Performing Arts acting course.
I must confess to being a little wary of the piece. There’s a bit too much bender glamour here, and while the hot-shot creative genius ad guy who can only function on a cocktail of booze and coke is almost a stock character on the stage and screen, it’s a far cry from the miserable truth of abuse and addiction that ruins real lives in the real world. Any play that attempts, as director Andrew Lewis somewhat disingenuously asserts in his notes, to “hilariously tackle the territory of alcoholism and substance abuse” needs to be approached with considerable caution.
Kali Hulme and Ben O'Toole (pic: Jon Green)
Having said that, I suspect Cowell’s purpose is more allegorical – the lure of power and control expressed through the pitfalls of substance abuse and addiction – than realistic. He writes with great verve and creates some memorable characters around his  protagonist, Ruben Guthrie (Ben O’Toole).
Like John Bunyan’s beleagured Christian, Guthrie is centre-stage throughout the play, while his family, friends and lovers swirl around him like birds of carrion. His Czech model girlfriend, Zoya (Lara Schwerdt), flies back to Prague, soon to be replaced by the control freak, Virginia (Jessica Clarke), he meets at the addiction program he books into. His account manager, Ray (Griffin Blumer), though, wants him back on the booze to rekindle his creative spark, as do, for reasons more related to their own issues than any concern for their son, his estranged parents (Ryan Jones and Kali Hulme).
Things only get worse when Ruben’s outrageous gay friend, Damien (Josh Brennnan), returns from an abortive sojourn in New York and desperately wants to party. When Zoya also reappears after some late night phone pleading from Ruben to find Virginia in her apartment, and her T-shirt, Ruben hits the bottle, the pills, the blow and whatever else he can lay his hands on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Theatre: The Pride

Perth Theatre Company and Side Pony Productions
Directed by Zoe Pepper
Featuring Adriane Daff, Brendan Ewing and Russell Leonard
Written by the cast and director
State Theatre Centre Studio
10 - 18 June, 2011

One of the most talked-about Blue Room productions of 2010, Side Pony Productions’ The Pride, has returned for a short season as part of the Perth Theatre Company’s inaugural State Theatre Centre Studio season.
Russell Leonard
I’m at something of a disadvantage here, not having seen the original production, so I can’t provide a perspective on its development as it moved from the hothouse to the big house. Those who can tell me it’s pretty much as it was last September. It must have been a startling experience up close and personal at the Blue Room, because it certainly packed a punch in the wider spaces of the STC Studio.
The Pride is a hard work to categorise, because it doesn’t fit neatly into the literary forms it at first appears to inhabit.
Not exactly an allegory or a fable, although it shares many of their qualities, it is nevertheless a beautifully organised and highly successful examination of the brutality of rising and failing strength and the displacement of affection in a world not at all removed from the jungle, the laws of which are fully in force here.

Music: All American Heroes

Jimmy Webb 
The Fly by Night Club
June 28
Kinky Friedman and Van Dyke Parks 
June 30

What an incredible privilege to have three of the very greatest contemporary American songwriters performing in Perth within the space of two days, and in such great, intimate venues. It's my first chance to see any of them perform (although I did get to be Kinky's chaperone one memorable night when he was here for the Writer's Festival some years back). 
The connections they bring with them, whether it's through immortal songs like Heroes and Villains, Good Vibrations, Galveston, The Moon's a Harsh Mistress, Sold American and The Ballad of Charles Whitman, or their work with some of the very best American artists of this or any era, run very deep for me and many others.
I'll say no more, other than to sincerely urge you to get to the Fly or Artbar to enjoy them. 
There are links to booking sites in the June listings to the right. In the meantime, have a look at Michael O'Dwyer's chat with Kinky and Van Dyke in the West link here , and let me get you started on some preparatory You Tube browsing:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Theatre: A Germ of an Idea, Laryngectomy

A Germ of an Idea
Written and performed by Monica Main
Directed by Helen Doig with Fran Tinley
Blue Room Theatre
7 – 25 June, 2011

Renegade Productions
Written by Demelza Rogers and Joe Lui
Directed by Joe Lui
Featuring Paul Grabovac, Jessica Rawnsley, Demelza Rogers and Jessica Allen Jones
Blue Room Theatre
7 – 18 June, 2011

When I arrived at the Blue Room to see two shows I was warned were “like chalk and cheese”, there were two people stuck in the lift between floors (who even knew the Blue Room had a lift). Had to be an omen.
The cheesy part was A Germ of an Idea, Monica Main’s take on all things dirty, grimy and malodorous, a nice idea that only comes off in parts.
Laryngectomy proved, quite literally, to be the chalky bit of the evening, but presented with such skill, ferocity and courage that you had to take stock and take notice.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Comedy: The Melbourne Comedy Festival Roadshow

Featuring Mike Wilmot, Bob Franklin, Felicity Ward, Sam Simmons and Lawrence Mooney
His Majesty’s Theatre
June 14 – 19, 2011

Mike Wilmot
We’re in something of a golden age of stand-up comedy. The ability of the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s roadshow to play six nights in the 1200 capacity Maj (and, on the strength of Tuesday night’s crowd, making a good fist of filling it) is testament both to the strength of the audience for stand-up, and the quality of the performers who attract them.
It’s an audience that other performing arts forms would give their eye teeth for: ranging across the age groups but anchored by thirty-somethings, affluent, educated and constantly re-inforced by the top end of television and on-line entertainment.
The Melbourne Comedy Festival is the pre-eminent showcase for stand-up in this country, and the Roadshow is a tireless proselytiser for it and comedy. Apart from the long run at the Maj, the show has gone or is going to ten WA centres from Karratha to Esperance in three or so weeks, a terrific undertaking by both the festival and the performers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Comedy: The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)

By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Featuring Damon Lockwood, Sam Longley and Sean Walsh
Subiaco Arts Centre
10 – 18 June, 2011

Walsh, Longley and Lockwood
This sharp, bubbly parody of the Shakespeare canon has been doing the rounds now for nigh on a quarter of a century, getting a run whenever three suitably quick witted and sure-footed performers – generally with a strong background in improv – pop up in the same place and time.
It was probably inevitable that Damon Lockwood and Sam Longley would give it a whirl along the way, and now, in company with Sean Walsh, that time has come.
I’ve reviewed a few of Lockwood and Longley’s performances over the past six months or so, and I hope I’ve given them their just desserts; they’re both terrifically confident, self-possessed performers and a mightily funny double act. Shakespeare Abridged is a perfect vehicle for their talents, and Sean Walsh is a splendid foil for their antics.
As always with this show, the core script – the Romeo and Juliet skit, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, the Othello Rap – is spiced with lots of by-play, local and topical references and a dash of improvisation. The adapted material is well pitched, in particular the history-plays-as-a-game-of-footy which had the great advantage – not always the case – of being performed by guys who know their Aussie Rules as well as their comedy.
Things built up in great good humour to the chaotic end of Act One, with the cast at comic loggerheads and all but one play covered.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Theatre: Crazy for You

By George and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
WAAPA 2nd & 3rd Year Music Theatre students
Directed by Crispin Taylor
Music Director David King
Set Design by Steve Nolan
 Regal Theatre
June 10 - 18, 2011

Crazy for You, WAAPA’s ravishing mid-year musical, has perhaps the greatest provenance of any Broadway show.
In its original form, as Girl Crazy, its opening in 1930 was a defining moments in American musical theatre history. Ethel Merman made her Broadway debut, the show made a star of Ginger Rogers, and, incredibly, the pit orchestra, conducted by George Gershwin himself, included Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Red Nichols and Jack Teagarden. My stars – strike up the band!
Girl Crazy was reworked as Crazy for You by Ken Ludwig in 1992 with a completely new plot and additional Gershwin material, and was widely credited with restoring the mantle to the American musical after two decades dominated by the Brits.
The story, such as it is, is essentially showfolk meet cowpokes in Hicksville and get down to singin’,  dancin’ and fallin’ in love. There’s a fight or two, a dash of mistaken identity, a fair bit of drinking and a town hall meeting. It’s perfect.
What it’s perfect for is as a showcase of the talents of this and next year’s graduating class of the WAAPA music theatre course.
They get some of the greatest songs ever to light up a stage: Embraceable You, They Can’t Take That away from Me, Nice Work if You Can Get It, and the hall-of-fame showstopper, I’ve Got Rhythm, along with terrific character tunes like Bidin’ My Time, Slap That Bass, Stiff Upper Lip and The Real American Folk Song.
And, boy, there’s some bright and shiny talent on show.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jazz: Tom Burlinson

Now We’re Swingin’!
Cabaret and Comedy Carnivale
His Majesty’s Theatre
June 8, 2011

Tom Burlinson brought Now We’re Swingin’!, the latest iteration of his fascination with the great swing singers, to the main stage of His Majesty’s Theatre on Wednesday night as part of its Cabaret and Comedy Carnivale.
The very healthy crowd suggests that the ambitious move to bring featured artists from the Carnivale programme upstairs into the theatre’s main hall has a real chance of success.      
Burlinson is an immensely likeable and intelligent performer burdened with few failings and blessed with a canny knowledge of his limitations.
He has a pleasant rather than a memorable voice, but he’s got the actor’s gift to know how to work his material.
Above all, he respects his audience. Much water has flown under the bridge since the great era of swing’s baritone voices was brutally ended by rock and roll’s tenors, and for most of us these singers and these songs appeal to a referred nostalgia, rather than being a visceral, immediate part our actual life experience. Burlinson recognises this, I think, and peppers his narration with hard information – Grammy and Academy awards, chart positions, record sales – and apocrypha that give the show a revealing and enlightening framework.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Theatre: The Enchanters

By John Aitken
Directed and designed by John Senczuk
Lighting design by Trent Suidgeest
Sound design by James Luscombe
Featuring Richard Mellick, Nick Maclaine, Ethan Tomas, Ian Toyne, David McLeod, Sam Tye, Edgar Metcalfe, Cody Fern, Andrew Hale, John Pratt, Nick Candy and John Aitken.  
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
June 1 – 4, 2011

Veteran WA playwright John Aitken has seized the opportunity presented by the opening of the State Theatre Centre to imagine the watershed year of William Shakespeare’s career in The Enchanters, and he and director/designer John Senczuk have fashioned a likeable, albeit patchy, entertainment from it.
It’s a ripping yarn, with cloak-and-daggery at court and lawyers, swords and money in the streets. Aitken has drawn assiduously from his sources, most notably, I suspect, James Shapiro’s terrific 1599, to tell the story of Richard Burbage’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, and the opening of their new theatre, the Globe.
Aitken can’t resist airing some of the more contentious speculations about Shakespeare, his sexuality and religious and political loyalties among them. Personally, I’m averse to the idea of Shakespeare as a high-class rent boy for the Earl of Southhampton and some of the other detritus of Shakespeariana given credence by the play, but you can be the judge of that.
Link here  to the complete review in The West Australian