Review: Guys and Dolls – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Concert Hall QPAC

Images: Nick Morrissey

Guys and Dolls – what an absolute cracker of a show. I’ve seen it live several times, watched the (1955) movie with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando more times than is normal, and even played Miss Adelaide in my hometown’s local production. Needless to say I was thrilled to be headed to QPAC’s Concert Hall last Friday night for the opening of this play the first for Harvest Rain Theatre Company’s 2014 Season and also first full season as a professional musical theatre company.

The show is set in New York in the 1940s and most of the action takes place on and around Broadway (with a flying visit to Havana). The central plot of Guys and Dolls is a romance; it follows the story of gambler, lady’s man and ‘sinner’ Skye Masterson who, as a result of a misplaced bet, falls in love with Sarah Brown an earnest, uptight, Salvation Army missionary. The subplot includes another romance in a different key – that between Miss Adelaide a Broadway showgirl and another gambler, the hapless Nathan Detroit.

The show opened at the 46th street theatre in New York in 1950 and has enjoyed immense success ever since. The book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is hilariously timeless, and the music/lyrics by Frank Loesser are an absolute delight. Revered classics such as Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat performed so joyfully in this production by Daryl Somers playing Nicely Nicely Johnson, and Luck Be a Lady are, of course, remarkable, but it is the lesser know numbers such as Sue Me, More I Cannot Wish You and Marry the Man Today that really show Loesser’s genius as a lyricist and composer. It’s a classic of the modern American musical theatre and is a great choice for Harvest Rain. Continue reading Review: Guys and Dolls – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Concert Hall QPAC

Review: Blood Brothers – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

Image: Photography by Trent Rouillon

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers (1983) is supposedly based on Alexandre Dumas’ novella, The Corsican Brothers (1844). Each tells the tale of babies separated at birth; each spans decades, and there is love, betrayal, death – Blood Brothers does seem to have Dumas’ stamp of high drama – but, dig a little deeper into Russell’s own life, and you’ll find the seed of Blood Brothers was planted in his own childhood.

When the Olivier Award winning West End production of Blood Brothers closed in 2012, after 24 years, Mr. Russell gave a rare interview which shines some light on the matter. “I am very interested in nature versus nurture. When I look at myself or catch sight of a gesture I make and see my father … I also know I might have drunk myself to death at 30. Luckily, I was saved by my in-laws, who nurtured me.” He also speaks at length about the lack of trust he felt for his father, and his belief that the extensive amount of time spent with his mother, grandmother and aunts growing up enabled him to write convincing female characters. Continue reading Review: Blood Brothers – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

Review: Hairspray – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Musical theatre – what some believe to be America’s great gift to the theatre – is as Ronald Harwood puts it, a meeting of realism and razzmatazz. Traditionally musicals have taken social issues and reworked them into a confection of story, song and dance. The musical Hairspray follows in this tradition. With book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Mark Shaiman with lyrics by Scott Whittman and Mark Shaiman, Hairspray is as sweet and light as a root-beer float, and positively dripping in nostalgia for a time that was, perhaps, not as carefree and breezy as the play might suggest.

We’re in 1962 Baltimore, MA. JFK’s the President – for another year or so, anyway – and the Civil Rights movement is gathering momentum. There are pockets of ignorant, outmoded white resistance to what will be a bright, new, integrated tomorrow in the USA. Kids who don’t fit – here black or ‘pleasantly plump’/fat – are figures of fun, bullied by various grotesque authority figures, and excluded by their peers. They long for acceptance, and dream of being part of the great American success story. But never fear, this is musical land and, by the play’s end, all’s right with the world.

No wonder Hairspray has been such a hit on screen (1988; 2007) and stage, (8 Tony Awards on Broadway) and why it’s currently the pinup musical for pro-am companies all over the country. It’s bright and colourful, the music is sweetly nostalgic, the sentiment uplifting and hopeful. It’s no Showboat or South Pacific or Rent any of the other great musicals that took burning social issues and thrust them in the audience’s face, but then, Hairspray doesn’t set out to. What we get is a larger than life – the words ‘fabulous’ and ‘fantastic’ spring to mind – technicolor rendition of a time we wish there might have been. Continue reading Review: Hairspray – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Review: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Tim O’Connor writes wonderfully lucid Director’s Notes, and a good thing too, because I have always found The Neverending Story utterly confusing. My memories of the 1984 film are of a leather-bound book, a rock-eating mountain and a flying dog (sorry, luck dragon). There may also have been a mulleted David Bowie singing in a maze … or was that Labyrinth? It’s fair to say I’m not a die-hard fan.

So as my little girl and I sat in the foyer on opening night, flicking through the programme of Tim O’Connor’s re-envisioning of Michael Ende’s fantasy novel, The Neverending Story (1979), I read her the story blurb slowly (nothing wrong with being prepared I thought) and, as we walked into the wonderfully intimate Cremorne Theatre, I was confident she would know what was going on. After all, she’s infinitely smarter than I was at six, and loves a good yarn.

Well, by half way through it became clear that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree; she didn’t have a clue. This is not the type of show where you can break your concentration to unwrap your lollipop. I’m still answering questions two days later – having to explain both the plot and the higher order concepts at work.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely, lovely idea that a child’s imagination can save an entire world from being eaten up by despair. It’s just that, in the telling of it, you meet so many fantastical characters (whose names you can’t pronounce) and your quest takes so many strange twists and turns as you traverse the vast Fantasia, that it can be easy to get a little bit lost. Especially if you’re six. Or thirty.

That’s not to say she didn’t have a marvellous time. It was, after all, a feast for the eyes and the ears. Continue reading Review: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Where’s a young triple-threat to go?

A few weeks back I found myself in front of a lot of the Harvest Rain interns at one of their regular Friday Behind the Red Curtain seminar sessions. On the panel (chaired by Artistic Director of HR, Tim O’Connor) were three other actors: Steven Tandy, Bryan Probets, and Cameron Hurry.  As you’d expect, the students’ questions and subsequent discussion revolved around the business of acting.

One of the questions put to us was whether, after training, taking work in an amateur theatre production would mean an actor would not be ‘taken seriously.‘  Was there, in fact, a stigma attached to doing amateur theatre? The response to the query was an emphatic ‘No,’ from all of us – with the caveat that an actor needs to seek out work with the best people – especially when getting started. This is what we actually said:

By the way, the Harvest Rain Behind the Red Curtain sessions are good value! Check out the others on their site. But, back to the question …

Each of the actor-panellists at the session had either begun their stage careers in amateur theatre or have returned there from time to time – for various reasons. Bryan speaks most eloquently in the video above about his experience, as do Steven and Cameron. As far as I was concerned, there was no local training when I left school, and the newly-created NIDA was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. I worked with Brisbane Arts Theatre for a few years before going on to train in London. The time I spent at BAT was invaluable to me; watching other, more experienced actors at work focussed my thinking, whilst spending hours and hours travelling by bus and tram to and from Petrie Terrace to Sandgate during the week and at weekends taught me how demanding the work could be. It also hardened my determination to go on. Continue reading Where’s a young triple-threat to go?

Review: James and the Giant Peach – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Southbank was teeming with littlies yesterday. Of course, it’s summer time and school holidays so, apart from swimming and eating icecream on a hot Brisbane Saturday afternoon, there were lots of things to do – singing, mask-making, theatre-going and story-telling among them. I had lunch while a bunch of what looked like under-5s were jumping and rolling around on the QPAC Green. They were learning all about Iggy the Iguanadon via a song – we have the Queensland Museum to thank for this, I suspect. I wished I had a small person with me; it looked so much fun and I wanted to share it with them. There were also a whole lot of families getting stuck into creative activities in the Playzone. Upstairs Mary Poppins was about to take off while, just down the road at the Cremorne Theatre, kids and their adults could go to a matinée performance of Harvest Rain’s latest production James and the Giant Peach, adapted by David Wood from the story by Roal Dahl. That’s where I was headed.

I remember this particular book from years ago. My kids loved being read to and then to read Dahl’s books as they got older; he remained a favourite into young adulthood. They switched their imaginations on and escaped into other worlds via books – at first picture books and then the word-dense stories like James and the Giant Peach. It’s a lovely fable about the capacity of imagination to transform lives. Continue reading Review: James and the Giant Peach – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC