Scrooge The Musical: A Review

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Mackay Musical Comedy Players and Mackay Choral Society are two Mackay institutions that have been around for so long that they have become backbones of our community. Separately, they have been giving talented locals the opportunity to step into the spotlight for a little while culturing multiple audiences a year, so it was exciting to learn that they were collaborating at long last with the production of the musical Scrooge.

 

Scrooge, of course, is a musical adaption of Charles Dickens’s beloved tale, A Christmas Carol, therefore the protagonist’s name, the expression ‘Bah Humbug’ and this story of redemption has been synonymous with the Spirit of Christmas for almost two hundred years and for good reason. There have been multiple adaptions of this story over time and I’m personally a big fan of the Muppets version, which I grew up with… however this was my first time seeing the musical and it was everything I knew it would be and the perfect production to see this time of year. I am so glad I got to see it on opening night, because from the moment the curtains opened, I was instantly overwhelmed by an influx of Christmas Spirit, which personally, is something that’s harder and harder to hold onto now that I’m in my mid-thirties and responsible for my family’s Christmas joy. In fact, you’re inundated with it from the moment you walk into the foyer and hear the carolers singing from the balcony above! They sounded so seamless that I honestly thought it was a recording until I realized everyone was looking up behind me.

 

Naturally, Ebenezer Scrooge was the main character of the production and I am so pleased that local theatre veteran John Hadok was given the part because it was an incredibly heavy role that undoubtedly carried the weight of the entire show from opening to close. I was astonished by his ability to do so without breaking a sweat and awed by how he just went from strength to strength as the story unfolded, embodying the character so authentically from shift to shift- as convincing as a miser as he was as a man bitten by so many Christmas Spirits. His voice was lovely to listen to all the way through, but by the end, it became clear that he had been carefully controlling it from the start so that his voice would climax as the story did and that was a wonderful thing to see and hear. Though John was front and centre for most of the show’s duration, I found myself distracted by him and giggling uncontrollably in one of the scenes near the end, where he is witnessing people dancing on his future self’s coffin and having a jolly good time right up near the back because he was oblivious to the fact that the townspeople were celebrating his demise. I don’t think we were supposed to be focusing on him at that point, but his facial expressions were so engaging that for me it was almost impossible to look away from his shenanigans. This is one actor whom once he’s on, he stays on and when he got upset, I was tempted to get up and get him a cup of tea, a cookie, and a hug because he is just so believable.

 

Of course, John was supported by a fantastic cast and the other leads all brought with them the emotions they were scripted to present. Every time there was a harmony my ears would pick up on an incredibly rich tone, which almost always drew my eye to Zahrah Andrews who backed up a flawless and very natural performance as Ethel Cratchit with her stunning vocals and Ben Clutterbuck was very likable as her husband, Bob Cratchit. Jennifer Bee and Jack McDougall blew the audience away with their own solos, and Ken Martin and Greg Webb were hilarious in their more comedic roles as the ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present respectively. Rosemary Shanks was warm and authentic as Jocelyn Jollygoode and Ken Brown and Joe Fortescue brought a lot of energy and very polished performances to their own parts.

 

There were lots of other smaller roles, giving ensemble members and minor leads a chance to shine and of course the entire thing was backed by a live choir, conducted by the Con’s own Nicole Thomson and accompanied by Mackay’s very seasoned and demanded piano player, Judith Brown. Where those two go, flawless music always follows and they got an incredible sound out of the cast. Unfortunately there were a few moments where microphones dropped out, so a few entries and exits and a bit of dialogue was lost along the way, but the entire cast and directing team held it together professionally nonetheless by watching their repetiteur like a hawk and were quick to project more audibly in order to compensate for the technical troubles so it didn’t detract from the production much at all. The singers delivered some incredible notes throughout the course of the production too and it was lovely to hear those classical, well-trained touches because they are imperative to this particular genre.

 

The sets were minimal for Scrooge, but in the sense that it was just enough to set the mood without overcrowding the stage and every prop and set piece was perfectly designed and taken on and off by the crew in a circumspect and very polished manner. The costumes, however, were incredibly striking and detailed and the ensemble was almost always on at once, so the way they were positioned and dressed was lovely, making them a living, breathing set of their own. The choreography was minimal but delightful and the coupled off dances were a lot of fun to watch and I absolutely loved the phantom scene, because not only was Ken Martin’s costume a complete work of art but the way the phantoms moved together was exactly what that moment needed. There was a very romantic vibe to the entire thing, making you feel like you’d actually stepped into the pages of this old world tale, which did not surprising at all because Marina Duncan is the go-to director when it comes to putting on a musical that calls for tradition with a touch of whimsy.

 

No production is flawless and I felt like the flaws in Scrooge were part of what made it so charming. I know that this was a first for a lot of people; you’ve got a team of seasoned musical theatre actors paired up with a choir that’s not accustomed to acting or dancing while they sing paired up with a lot of young ones making their stage debuts, so there were a lot of cases of visible nerves, whether that be in a fleeting look of panic, or watching the feet of those dancing around them, or shaky smiles from someone who you just know are wondering how they ended up there but I honestly loved those moments. After years of seeing so many impeccably polished performances it was lovely to see those nerves peep through at times- to see people overcoming their debut jitters and reaching down deep inside themselves with this desire to be all they can be and getting there because that is what community theatre is about. Some of those kids have never been in a big show before and they’ve been up until ten every night this week rehearsing so they can impress not only their mums and dads but a roomful of strange and expectant faces, so seeing their massive grins when it came to the bows was very moving and I impressed on a whole by how well the ensemble worked as a unit because they brought a wonderful, warm and very Christmas-y energy to the stage every time they were on.

 

On the whole, Scrooge was a fantastic production and I hear it’s close to being sold out, so make sure you get your tickets for the remaining performances quick so that you don’t miss out! Not only is it great for adults to be reminded of the true spirit of Christmas, but I really think this is one of those shows that you need to take children to in order to help them appreciate all they have at this time of year too. I will warn you, however, make sure you take a jacket because heat wave or not- it can get freezing inside the Conservatorium. Also, take a few extra dollars in cash so you can support the companies by buying a program and some of the lovely snacks and drinks provided before the show and during the interval.

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Crossroad Arts ‘Loose Ends’ A Review.

Crossroad Arts Inc collaboratively develops opportunities for people who experience a disability and those in aged care, to access and participate in the arts, and on Saturday night I got to see one of their shows for the first time at one of my favourite venues, Dirty Martinis. A show, I must point out, that was sold out before opening!

The performers in this production treated their audience to a show that was very much like a cabaret. Divided into two acts, the production featured a handful of solo and collaborative performances that were strung together with a mix of crowd participation activities hosted by their charming MC’s, the cheeky Georgia Knoll and the bubbly Alison Richardson and translated by the sign language interpreter Arna, who I have to say I am in complete awe of. I’ve been meaning to learn sign language for years but am still at the spell everything out with the sign alphabet stage, and watching her hands fly about so effortlessly has inspired me to delve back into all the books I bought on the subject a few years ago. 

I had a wonderful time and my expectations were not only met but superseded by the talent these incredible individuals had to offer and I learned more about what it was like to have a disability in one evening than I have in years due to being shown rather than told. The acts were incredibly varied so it never felt like too much of any one thing, and the affect that the performances had on me ranged from moving, to shocking, to hilarious to downright inspiring. And to make it even more worth the while, they used the evening’s production as a platform for change, and I’m thrilled that they’re spear-heading a campaign to get restaurants in Mackay to print up at least one copy of their menus in braille to make venturing out that little bit easier for people the people who can’t communicate with the ease that so many of us take for granted.

The featured group of the evening was the Sydney-based performing arts band Ruckus who have made a real name for themselves over the years as 5 piece performance group who all have Down’s Syndrome, but there were a few other groups as well, I very much enjoyed Brendan Borellini’s piece with Matt Tandy, Dear Olga, mostly because it brought to my attention that the way he writes is not that different to the way that I (and I’m sure most of us think) and his 3D art displays were so fabulous that I sort of blew my raffle-ticket budget trying to win one. In addition to that, there was a 4 person act called ‘Way up North’ which was incredibly detailed and moving performance that commanded the unbroken focus of the hushed crowd and was accompanied by rolling footage of the region for a personal touch. 

As for the solo acts, local artist Joel Bow entertained us with his rendition of Defying Gravity. and 16 year-old artist Jade Fiyen sang some beautiful songs while accompanying herself on her ukulele, including You Are The Only One and Boys Will Be Boys. Jade has one of those lilting, Indie voices that lulls people into a trance-like state, so she had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole time. Georgia Rose Cranko is a performer from Sydney who has Cerebral Palsy, and she filmed a riveting piece of her getting undressed and dressed again- showing that she has everyday struggles but that in the end we’re all people. Georgia Rose’s personal platform is NO PITY.

The star of the evening for me, however, was Miss Georgia Knoll who might just be one of the sassiest performers that I’ve ever seen on a Mackay stage. I don’t know how much of her emcee act was an actually an act and how much was improv, but she was cheeky and beguiling and had as much stage presence as anyone I’ve ever seen locally to date. Georgia interacted with the crowd the most, and I got a kick out of the karaoke game that she hosted at half-time, which started with her performing the opening to a song, and then like with freeze-tag, paused it- giving the eager members of the audience the chance to finish it and win a prize. This little adventure (followed by a lolly drop) was so much fun, not just for those that participated but for those of us that sat back and watched as the ones with special needs in the crowd were treated to a truly fantastic night out that had been created with them in mind as a priority, not as an afterthought. 

That being said however, the night was truly entertaining and accessible to all, and I hope that the next show sells out twice as fast as this one did because the performers have worked as hard as any other local performer has and what the stories that they have to tell need to be seen, heard and understood. Follow Crossroad Arts on facebook to hear about their next performance: The Unlikely Tour, set to be staged during The Mackay Festival Of Arts. 

A standing Ovation for the team at Crossroad Arts behind the scenes, as sponsors and onstage! Until next time 🙂

CAN YOU ESCAPE AIRLIE BEACH?

 

REVIEW: ESCAPECQ

1a/400 Shute Harbour Road
Airlie Beach
PHONE: 48293411

Ever been to an Escape room before? I hadn’t, and I hadn’t even heard of one until a few months ago when I found out one was being built in Airlie Beach and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t wait to go back a second time!

The premise is so cool; you are locked inside the first room of a place called Addington Manor, and are left to your own devices to find your way out while a clock ticks nearby, giving you an hour to beat the game in order to win, or fail. 

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the idea, I got a little anxious because I’m known to get claustrophobic when I’m locked in anywhere (regardless of the size of the space it’s a mental thing) and because I thought I’d spend the whole time freaking out about the pressure that I was under, but to my shock, I was one hundred percent comfortable the whole time and I had an absolute ball. 

Getting into the manor is easy- teams ranging from 2-6 players are given the safety instructions, the rules and some tips and then, your game master reads the scenario’s back story to you which in this case concerned a haunted old house with a bad reputation, firstly because the original owner, old man Addington went mad after his wife died and killed his daughter, and then because a curious group of kids went in there during the 80’s and couldn’t get out. That was until, the last one of them managed to cast a spell, which you must now recreate if you too want to get out alive. 

Then, once you’re ready to go, your sent into the room, the door locks behind you and then tick tock- you’re racing the clock!

I was absolutely gobsmacked by how detailed and atmospheric Addington Manor was on the inside giving how unassuming it is on the outside, but once that door locks behind you you’re in another world entirely. I shouldn’t have been surprised because the creator of Escapecq has a heavy theatrical background and it shows, all right, because he’s created a bit of a spooky time portal in the middle of one of the sunniest, happiest places in the world. Every detail was beautifully presented and well thought out but even though the space is small and dimly lit in order to keep the atmosphere of the scenario intact, our team of five grown adults found it easy to get around anyway without worrying about getting under one another’s feet or knocking things over.

It’s going to be difficult to explain why you should go to Escapecq or what exactly goes on in there without giving any of the game away, but I know a lot of people are curious about how it works so as my friend Dave said, it’s very much like being in one of those video games that have a heavy focus on exploring the area you’re in in order to get to the next. I thought you’d be given one clue to begin with and would then have to follow a specific formula but it’s not like that at all. Instead, you’re locked in the room and then are encouraged to ransack it, without having any idea about what you’re looking for or why, and even when you work one clue out, it might not necessarily work out for you or make any sense until you’ve figured out a different part of the puzzle, which is why it is such a great team activity because everyone can contribute to solving the problem simultaneously. 

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You’re not abandoned in there either. The attendant out front is able to monitor you the whole time, so if you get stumped or scared or you hit a wall, they are able to offer extra hints via the AV display in the room itself, which my group needed (I suspect) a lot in the beginning because we were too excited to focus. Atmospheric sound effects are played the whole time to keep that haunted house feel going, but if you are in dire straits, a wolf will howl, which is your cue to look to the monitor for an extra hint. Really, it’s exactly like being in a haunted house ride, only more authentic feeling than any I’ve ever been in before. 

The clues and puzzles are all tied in with the original storyline in a very clever way, and come in all sorts of forms too so everyone gets a chance to contribute to solving the problem regardless on what their strength is, whether they be someone that’s into riddles, or decoding or even if they just have a knack for problem solving or are just there to offer encouragement and enjoy the ride. For instance, you might need to get into a drawer that’s locked with one kind of lock, but in order to open that lock you have to decode an audio visual clue, or trigger one of the mechanisms in the room that leads you to the next step, and to my delight, that next step often involved advancing into another room that you wouldn’t have guessed was there until everything all clicks into place. It’s a lot of fun and a bit chaotic to begin with, but as you start to get a feel for how the game works, you have the chance to pace yourself and get some organization going. 

Is it complicated? Definitely so I’d suggest having a strong coffee before going in (At one point I heard myself hysterically exclaiming: ‘There’s no DIAMOND symbol in Morse Code!!!)  but it’s complicated in a way that’s fun and it doesn’t get tedious at all, and though that racing clock keeps the pressure on to complete the scenario in under an hour, the games have ranged between forty minutes and seventy-five, so even if you don’t make it in time, you do get the chance to make it through anyway. Also, the company keeps track of those who get through the fastest so if you’re the competitive type, the incentive to escape as quickly as possible greets you the second you enter the building and see the placard advertising the record to beat. 

There wasn’t anything about the experience that I didn’t enjoy, but the very best part for me, was the way everything was so automated. There were sensors and triggers lying in wait everywhere, setting off a response in something else, so it sort of reminded me of being in one of the fictional playing fields in The Hunger Games only instead of it all being controlled as you go, it’s all been set up so every lock, every candle flicker, every AV prompt is self-activated. Honestly I was in awe of how everything worked because of how fluid it was, and although the second Escape Room isn’t due to be completed until next week, the owner Victor Scott gave us a sneak peak at the new scenario and although it’s a similar concept, all of the puzzles are different again and relate back to the new storyline, and I know that if it had been ready to go today we would have all begged to have a crack at the other immediately after we’d finished the first.

We all know there’s a lot of stuff to do in Airlie, but if you’re up there any not in a mood to get wet or drunk sometimes, it can feel a bit limited which is exactly why the escape room is an awesome idea, especially now that the weather’s cooling down a bit. My group and I drove up there just to play the game and had to head back to Mackay immediately afterwards, but it was totally worth it and I won’t hesitate to do I again as soon as the next game is ready so I heartily encourage all locals to do as I do- get yourself up there as soon as you can because there’s no adventure quite like it anywhere near here. Not only is this a great way to amuse tourists that are looking for something a bit different to do, but it’s an entertaining way for locals to have fun too, in addition to being a great team-building idea for secondary students and work groups or an inventive way to celebrate a special occasion, like with a hen’s Night, birthday or anniversary etc. In fact, the company will actually help you theme the room to compliment your event if you give them enough notice. 

Escapecq’s office is open for bookings between Tuesdays and Saturdays from 11am to 5pm, but the games themselves run every day of the year except for Christmas Day. Booking in advance is heavily recommended if your plans are time-sensitive, but they will take walk ins if the room is available. Right now the only room available is ‘Addington Manor’ but the new scenario, ‘The Stitch Up’ will be open as of this Thursday May 17th, and they’re taking bookings for it now for all people aged 14+. It’s recommended to have at least two people who speak English in the room with a party, but the attendant will try to help overcome any language barriers if such are present anyway.

Player’s rates vary according to the size of the party, starting at $44 for 2 people, and going as low as $30 each for 6, so like their page on Facebook or call: 48293411 to make a booking!

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An Unofficial Review: Carrie The Musical

Carrie The Musical
Mackay Conservatorium Of Music
Triple Threat Theatre Company

I’ve been a fan of the Stephen King novel Carrie since I was old enough to read anything above the Baby-Sitter’s Club. In fact I believe it, Gerald’s Game and Richard Laymon’s The Stake were the first ‘adult’ novels I ever read, so naturally, Carrie was also one of the first horror movies that I ever watched too, when I went through my 70’s, 80’s classic horror flick phase. I’m saying this now because though I’m still very much an amateur as far as my knowledge of musicals and productions goes, I know the book and the movie Carrie better, I wager, than most would because I’ve read the novel at least seven times and have watched the movie three times that- and the re-makes as well. I can’t read music no, but I am all over Stephen King. 

I’ll admit that my eyebrows shot up at the idea of Carrie being a musical, and I wasn’t surprised when I did some research and found out that it had been one of Broadway’s biggest flops because it cost too much to do it ‘right’ and because the score was considered to be relatively unimpressive. I’ve never seen the musical live before, but I watched it the day before I went to see Triple Threat’s production because I wanted to know what to expect and I’m glad I did because the results of that little comparison were surprising.

Truth be told, I enjoyed most of Triple Threat’s production better than I did the professional version that I saw on YouTube, mostly for the fact that Margaret White’s (Carrie’s Mother) songs sounded dreadful on the version I watched. It was just too much caterwauling I thought, and made the show seem like it dragged on and was incredibly depressing. However, I have been a big fan of Megan Mill’s voice since I first heard her sing just over a year ago so I wasn’t surprised to hear her make them her own. Her moody, bluesy voice put some serious magic into otherwise bland numbers and effectively corrected what I believed was the biggest problem with the whole show so that was some brilliant casting because I don’t think anyone else could have flipped that part like that. In the same sense, Sammie Robertson also did a great job as the gym teacher that takes it upon herself to champion Carrie, and I thought her accent was the best in the whole show, and her vocals were very strong. Both more seasoned actresses wobbled a little on some high notes, but Sammie Robertson nailed them in the reprise proving how impressive her range is and Megan’s proved time and time again that you don’t need to be a soprano to be vocally astonishing. 

That aside though, Carrie needs an incredibly talented young adult cast to carry the weight of what is very much an oppressive story, and I don’t know if there’s another regional town in the world, or at least Australia, that has the teenage star-power that Mackay does so naturally, I was very impressed with some of the lead casting choices and not shocked that they absolutely crushed it. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the lead, Emily McGrath before and I knew that she had a lot to offer, but I was amazed by how powerful her stage presence, characterisation and vocals were. From the moment she self-consciously shuffled out onto the stage she was Carrie White in every sense of the word and the songs she had to sing were not easy. Miss McGrath acted with every part of her being- from the way her hair fell over her face to the way she turned one foot under awkwardly when she sat on a chair, she was one hundred percent committed to her character and an absolute pleasure to watch- especially for a big fan of the character. Every now and then she sort of struggled to hold onto her American accent consistently, but she didn’t go for the stereotypical Yankee accent that most actors go-to either but a more regional dialect that was true to the Sissy Spacek version so props to her for that because it was a lot more difficult to annunciate. Once again, I don’t think anyone else in town could have done as good a job as Emily McGrath did.

Taylah Verri played the other lead, Sue Snell, and once again the casting was spot on because if you want a girl to play the girl next door to go out on a limb, then Taylah Verri is the one to do it. She played the part of the sheep/bully part as authentically as she did as the teenage girl full of regrets, and I believe that the moments where she was being interviewed post-tragedy under the spotlight were some of the finest acting moments in the entire show. Sue Snell is required to flit back and forth between disgusted, angry, love-struck and fearful and she did this with aplomb, and though her soprano voice started off feeling a touch self-conscious and shaky, she seemed to grow in confidence as the show went on and her duet with Tiernan McCallum on ‘You Shine’ was delightful. She didn’t rest on those laurels though, and carried that confidence right through to the end of the second act and her final solo lines gave me goosebumps, especially when paired with how utterly believable the rest of her dialogue was. I love Taylah’s sweet head voice, but I’ve got to say I can’t wait to see what happens as she develops her belt because it’s there and it’s gonna knock socks off one day. 

Tiernan McCallum is another young actor I’ve been lucky enough to work with before and I loved, loved, loved his performance as Tommy Ross. It’s been only 6 months since I last saw Tiernan in anything and yet, like so many of these kids, his stage presence has grown in leaps and bounds. From an amateur actor’s perspective it’s a lot easier to play the crazy mother or the messed-up teen head-case, but playing the straight character is bloody challenging and I loved how Tiernan expanded on Tommy’s character by making him so vulnerable and affectionate because that part could have been dull in the wrong hands. Truth be told that development is one of the few places where the musical actually is better than the book or at least the movie, and there was this really wonderful moment (unfortunately just as Tommy’s going off to certain death) where Tommy looks back at Sue and gives her this heart-melting smile as he proclaims his love and I saw a few of the younger girls in the audience swoon a bit over Tiernan then and with good reason because he was truly the all-American boy next door that every girl wants to take to the prom. Oh and that voice… that is seriously one talented kid! 

The two other leads, Georgia Sheedy and Riley Nicholas played the bullies in the cast, Chris and Billy. I loved Riley’s voice and thought that Georgia had great stage presence in addition to looking fantastic, but I couldn’t hear a lot of Georgia’s songs over the top of the band because her numbers were more quickly-paced and therefore, louder. There were a few technical issues with the mics in general so a lot of the first half got a bit drowned out, however I’ve done enough productions of my own by now to know that microphones are the devil and there’s no techie, actor or deity that can fix ‘em when they make up their mind to play up so I only mention it because it was a shame to lose Georgia’s vocals on what’s probably the catchiest song in the show, and it would have been harder for people that don’t know the story or show to follow along. This is not a criticism- I’ll readily admit that my own shows have been far worse for it. 

The ensemble were great and once again, some of the most talented kids in town were a part of that but I have to give special mention to Joe Fortescue, Zodie Bolic and Noah Taylor because their voices really stood out. I believe that the ensemble were a lot stronger in the first act than they were in the second though and that the reverse was true of the leads. The choreography they did was very cheerleader and suited the tone of the show fine, but I liked the ground work the did at the beginning a lot more than the free for all stuff at the end because that gave the dancers in the cast a real moment to shine and the focus and direction that some people need in order to do their best. The same went for the stage direction in general- the ensemble was just stronger when they had a definitive purpose for being there, and were cleared when they did not which I appreciated.

Yes the cast were definitely talented but unfortunately, there were a few snags in the production side of things, moments that a good friend of mind would describe as being ‘beige’ in comparison to everything else that detracted from the overall effect. The sets were minimalistic and that’s usually fine, I actually kind of love shows where there are no props or distracting backgrounds, but they went sort of all out as far as the White’s house went, keeping everything very creepy-house and gothic-looking, and then didn’t go to much trouble at all for the school setting, where the majority of the show is so I feel they would have fared better to keep it all more simplified or to have painted the white flats to look like lockers and had projected a school image onto the back. The tinsel curtains tossed over the white set pieces for the prom were done so carelessly that I couldn’t help but wonder why they bothered at all, and it’s a shame that one person didn’t at least sticky-tape them behind the set so they hung evenly because the effect was more annoying than anything else. The costumes were all right, but a bit too generic to be striking in any way, and I personally think the whole look would have been way more effective if they’d gone with a seventies theme that’s true to the original movie. That’s not what they did on Broadway no, but it didn’t work on Broadway anyway so why not try something else?

The visual effects used to demonstrate Carrie’s developing Telekinetic powers were very strong and effective at the start, with the dancing crucifix and shaking chair and when those tables went flying at prom and the doors slammed it was like: BAM and even made me flinch! But what most people would argue is the most potent scene of the show- when Carrie is doused in blood- was very anti climatic. I was in the front row and couldn’t see her at all, but even if I had been able to see her, they opted to mime pouring the blood over her using an animated projection that was too faded, out of proportion and ill-placed to look like anything but a cartoon gif of blood being poured over nothingness. Okay, okay I know it’s probably very difficult to pull of that kind of special effect on a stage that is not your own, but that doesn’t excuse why Carrie was positioned a good ten feet to the left of where the blood was poured, or the fact that the projection was such poor quality that I only saw it at the last second. They blacked out the scene so you couldn’t see what was happening until ta-da- she’s bloody and looked terrific once she was and the lights had come back up, but I think even pulsing red lights would have worked better than pitch blackness did because it sucked all of the tension out of the moment and went for about ten seconds longer than it ought to have. The same was true with the telekinetic moment went Carrie slammed the windows of her house shut- the projection was just so blurry that I think a lot of people only noticed because one or two others that had pointed upwards. On the other hand though, I loved the death scene at the end- the way Megan stabbed Carrie in the back was cringe-worthy and very believable.

I know that some of that is going to sound like nit-picking but I’m sorry, at the end of the day Carrie is a horror story so if you can’t get the dramatic tension going at the scariest moments you are going to take a lot of the power out of the show. That’s like doing Hairspray with a bunch of people wearing skull caps, or Singing In the Rain without tap shoes. If the projections had been better quality the fire and everything could have really wowed people but the whole revenge scene was completely dependent on the acting of the cast coupled with the finesse of the lighting crew, so thank goodness that they had cast as well as they had because Emily’s shaking with rage and the students’ deaths at that moment saved it from underwhelming, as did the band’s atmospheric music which I have to point out was spot on right through. Honestly mentioning these few details aren’t intended to be negative- I just truly believe that if a bit more effort had been put into it, the show could have been 5-star. On that five star note, the program was fantastic. They’re easy fixes too, so I hope if the production is reprised, a little bit more effort is put in to pack a weightier punch.

At the end of the day, I’m never going to associate Carrie as a story that has an anti-bullying message because it always struck me as being one about vengeance or demonstrating that two wrongs make a right, (honestly doing the right thing is the biggest mistake Sue could have made so there’s no real message there, save for a bucketload of regret) but there are enough touching songs in the score to make people care more about the characters in the musical than they would have in the book, and so the message of ‘What does It Cost To Be Kind?’ Does come through, but with a bit of a helpless undertone. That’s got nothing to do with the production company though- Stephen King wrote it to be a horror story, not a Hallmark after-school special, and I think it’s good if people took away different messages from it, mostly to think about what you would do if you could do things differently, so you know to watch out for making the same mistake next time you’re put in a position where someone else’s sense of self is put on the line thanks to your own actions. 

But irregardless of what you took away from it, the audience certainly seemed to have loved Carrie, a handful of anti-bullying campaigns profited from their association with it and I am very pleased that I went because once again the kids of Mackay knocked it out of the park so good on Triple Threat for taking such a risk by putting on this notorious production- and I sincerely hope that a lot of people truly are asking themselves what it costs to be kind right now or rather, what’s the pay-off for being unkind?

I’m sure that lovers of Andrew Lloyd Webber are going to be in for a real treat when they so Phantom Of the Opera in a few months’ time. 

Review ‘Hear Us Sing’ Mackay Choral Society S.K Munt

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The Mackay Choral Society was established in 1947 as a post-war pick up for residents of the Mackay Community and now that I have finally seen them in full action, I can see how that ambition has came to pass because attending the rehearsal for their upcoming performance ‘Hear Us Sing’ last night was up-lifting in every possible way.

For those of you that are as unfamiliar with how the Mackay Choral Society works as I was, the first thing you need to know that not only does this very inclusive committee invite everyone in regardless of how much training they have (so there are no auditions as there are in some of the bigger city Choral groups) but that it’s open to all ages so amongst the dozens of singers that I saw last night, the youngest was aged just fourteen and the eldest eighty-two. I’ve been told that at least sixty percent of them cannot even read sheet music yet, but that doesn’t hold anyone back- their sound is powerful, precise and harmonious and their opening number was arranged in a way that was complex and overwhelming and made me appreciate the musical director Nicole Thomson, her accompanist Judith Brown and the choir on a whole other level. I spend a lot of time singing in an ensemble with local production companies and I’m always impressed when I can hold my part in a three-part harmony and I always think we sound pretty awesome- but now that I’ve seen what this collective can do, I am in awe of them.

The production itself, which is a showcase of the group songs that they intend on performing at the North Queensland Eisteddfod soon is short, sweet and professional. It’s not about the choreography or the individual in the spotlight or any of the trimmings- it is about making a beautiful sound using several different genres of music- sometimes with the entire group and sometimes with smaller groups, but every single time the end result was absolute perfection with clean entrances, exits and so much obvious joy and energy that it seemed barely contained at times. I had a giggle watching how much certain members of the choir got into it and watching Nicole conduct them was a production in its own merit because she looked like she was having more fun doing what she was doing than I have potentially ever had in my life doing anything and that was incredible to see.

I won’t go into a full review now, because I’ll write a more in-depth one for next Thursday’s edition of the Daily Mercury in my regular column in Pulse, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to give people a head’s up about this show in the hopes that it will encourage others to attend who aren’t planning on doing so already. Life feels pretty hard right now to so many people for so many reasons, and I would strongly recommend that everyone that has some free time this Sunday afternoon go see ‘Hear Us Sing’ at The Conservatorium of Music just because I can guarantee that you will walk out of there feeling amazing, sporting an ear to ear grin and feeling refreshed for the new working week. I am disappointed that I won’t be able to attend the real performance this coming Sunday, because I can only imagine how much more impressive the performance will seem when all of the stops are pulled out for the sake of showmanship, but I am so thankful to the Mackay Choral Society for sneaking me in for a a preview because the experience was not one to be missed no matter what your age or how into the performing arts you are.

Mackay Choral Society
‘Hear Us Sing’
North Queensland Eisteddfod 2018 Repertoire
Sunday March 25th 2018
Tickets $15 at the door
The Mackay Conservatorium Of Music

REVIEW: ‘Aladdin The Pantomime,’ Mackay Musical Comedy Players

Aladdin The Pantomime

Mackay Musical Comedy Players

January 2018

The Central QLD Conservatorium Of Music

I just came from the Mackay Musical Comedy Players finale performance of Aladdin, and very much regret that I didn’t buy tickets earlier, because my kids missed out on a show that I know they would have loved.
Mackay has only done two pantomime performances in the last three years, starting with Cinderella in 2016 and now, Aladdin in 2017, and I hope they dust off another favourite fairytale again soon because it was an incredibly entertaining, tight and polished performance that had the children in the audience (and most of the adults) in stitches.
As pantomimes go, Aladdin was a somewhat skewed version of the fairytale made most memorable by the lovely folks of Disney, only the musical numbers had been plucked not from the Disney soundtrack, but from pop culture, which featured one of my favourite songs ‘Butterfly Kisses,’ that was broken up into three verses over the course of the production to show how the father/daughter dynamic between the king and Princess Jasmine had evolved. Every time one of those verses was sung by Greg Webb, the audience would have to have been made of stone not to well up a little because it’s a beautiful song to compliment a lovely story arc- one that has always been a favourite of mine because it’s not often that the king in any fairytale attempts to honour his daughter’s wishes to marry for love instead of wealth.

Mind you, the dynamic between the couples was the only part of the show that was moving- the rest of it was all about the puns and one-liners that you come to expect from a script like that, but the laughs were cranked up a few notches with a few physical comedy gags that were hilarious and impressive, including putting one of the leads through a human-sized washer/dryer/ press system. It was a very eclectic cast- featuring teeny-tiny baby-faced characters and local theatre veterans, and though everyone gave it 150%, I have to admit that the stand-outs for me were Chanelle Redgwell as The Slave Of the Ring ( I swear her ever-moving hands put me into a trance-like state a few times), Regan Walker as Wishee Washee, and Ken Brown as Widow Twankey because you could not take your eyes off them for a second when they were onstage. I’d never seen Princess Jasmine (Jacinta Geisler) perform before and thought her voice was the sweetest thing that I’ve heard in a while, and all of the other featured leads were as professional and polished as they always are, proving what a strong spine the MMCP has built for itself over the years through hard work and voluntary service, and once again, how bloody talented the kids of Mackay are thanks to the opportunities provided by our abundance of dance schools.

It’s usually pretty hard for me to take a pantomime seriously, but I should have known that Director Sue Dalton would have pulled out all of the stops with aplomb and honestly, the attention to detail was so spot on that the show looked as though it had had the same budget as the MMCP’s larger shows have every year thanks to the colourful, glittery costumes and the technically-perfect choreography that was performed by the student dance chorus (Courtesy of Tahlia Kelly). The background music was limited to a piano (played by musical director Jennifer Bee) and there weren’t any microphones, and yet the actors projected beautifully so that nothing was lost in translation. The sets were minimal, and yet Widow Twankey’s shabby-chic OMO laundry gown was so avant-garde that not only was is a set unto itself, but it could probably be auctioned off for The Melbourne Cup this year as a means of funding 2019’s line-up, so a standing ovation to Vicky Bobeldyk and her team of costumers and stylists for that alone! And like the kids in the audience weren’t having enough fun as it was, the cast took a few opportunities to heave candy into the audience. Naturally, I wasn’t surprised to overhear a small child begging their mother to go and see it again straight afterwards!

Bravo to every member of the cast and the production team, for Aladdin, and to the MMCP for a stellar start to their 2018 theatre calendar!
Don’t miss out like I did, book your tickets to their next, hot production, ‘Rock Of Ages’ now!

Review: The Eurobeat Goes On MMCP

And The Eurobeat Goes On
Mackay Musical Comedy Players
December 2018
Magpies Sporting Club

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Last night I got to attend the final performance of the Mackay Musical Comedy Players production: And The Eurobeat Goes On, and I walked away not only impressed, but also with a sore face from laughing so much. I’ve been to and in a lot of MMCP’s theatre restaurants in the past so I thought I knew what to expect, but Eurobeat had a format unlike any of the others and because they were in a new venue with a cast that was very different from their typical theatre restaurant line up, it felt like a whole new experience entirely.

Modeled off the Eurovision song contests, Eurobeat is a competition showing several performances from people representing different European countries performing for audience votes via an app. As talented as Eurovision performers always are, there are always those one or two acts that are completely off the wall in the hokey, Japanese Gameshow sense and Eurobeat is almost completely filled with these kind of obscure performances that are delivered with wild, glitzy costumes and crazy back up dancers. I knew that the format of the show was going to be something like that, but I had no idea that the songs featured were going to be random originals written to suit the theme and some of the lyrics had me in absolute stitches, as did the accompanying choreography. The singers featured all have lovely voices under normal circumstances, but musicality was clearly at the bottom of the priority list for this one and I just laughed and laughed as these seasoned performers quite literally let it go for the sake of characterization so that they could screech, swoon and ‘schalp’ their way through these hilarious routines that presented as parodies of Bjork, Daft Punk and Abba. Obviously there were some lovely solos, (I think everyone collectively heaved a sigh of relief during Marina Duncan, Sue Dalton and Josh Duncan’s numbers) but the entire production was about entertainment and that was what we got.

Every single performance had something incredibly special to offer, but the highlights for me personally were Vianne Conroy representing Iceland (who went on to win last night, much to my delight) Andrew Deguara singing about beer while representing a jolly German, and the keyboard number from Lichtenstein that didn’t have any singing at all- simply featuring a handful of futuristic characters ‘playing’ the keyboards, swinging cats for special effects and somehow maintaining straight faces all the while. I was almost on the floor laughing during the song from Reyn and Shein from the UK due to the hilarious filmclip that played behind them and I don’t know if that was in the script or something that was made up for the production but it was absolutely brilliant and the perfect parody of any lovey-dovey filmclip there’s ever been.

But I have to say, as glittery and blinding as the entire production was, it was the stunning performance of Vicky Bobeldyk who played Boyka, the hostess from Bosnia that really made my night. You hear the words ‘Triple Threat’ get thrown around a lot in this business but Vicky is a quintet threat because on top of her mad skills as a singer, dancer and an actress, she is strikingly beautiful and a talented director herself, so she always throws 150% of herself into whatever it is she’s involved in. Vicky had the only dialogue in the show, and quick changed from one flamboyant outfit to another between acts so that she could introduce each new entrant with aplomb. Her accent and characterization was dead on and there wasn’t a single person in the audience that could take their eyes off her- which is saying a lot because sometimes the glare coming off her outfit in the spotlight was borderline painful.

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It was an absolutely glittering spectacle from start to finish, delivered flawlessly thanks to the amazing production team including Tonia Beckman, Elaine Power and Tim Philips and they and the whole cast deserved the thunderous applause they got, especilly for the set and stage layout which was again, atypical o anything the MMCP usually does. The backdrops were all technical- a montage of lights and montages set off with just one roaming stage light and it gave the whole show a genuine telescast feeling.

Well done to all involved, because that was an amazing start to the Mackay Musical Comedy Players 2018 season. Make sure you keep your eye out for tickets to Rock Of Ages in May, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (which will be directed by Vicky Bobeldyk) next year! #mmcp

Review: Make This Script

Review By S.K Munt:

Make This Script

Savvy Scripts & Joel Bow Productions

Paxton’s Warehouse Mackay

Friday November 24th 2018

Last Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of going to see ‘Make This Script,’ which was a collaborative project between Savvy Scripts and Joel Bow Productions, and I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with what an unpretentious and moving production it was.

The idea behind ‘Make This Script’ was that a handful or local artists- performing and non, would take a short script that had been penned by local writer Michaela Boyd, and adapt and translate it via their chosen mediums with local producer/actor Joel Bow choreographing it all together.
The original script, titled “The Red Giant” was a simple scene that centered around two people having a rather complicated discussion. One is battling depression and attempting to explain how it feels, while the other is trying to listen, understand and empathize despite the fact that they have not experienced the affliction themselves. I thought it was a very clever script that used simple but poetic language to vocalize complex thoughts and feelings that are traditionally too overwhelming to escape an individual’s internal dialogue and are therefor often kept locked up tightly within a stream of consciousness. Though the performance of this scene was not intended to be the sole focus of the production it was the catalyst that brought it all together and actors Ethan McCarthy, Pagan Camilleri and Erin Finlay handled it beautifully, focusing a spotlight on themselves and what they were saying. The actors clearly understood what they were trying to say well, but they read from paper scripts because that was the author’s intention- to make it clear that this one scene was just the beginning of her desire to explore (and have others explore) this subject, so she wanted an open and non-finalized feel to it. This is a very unusual sort of practice but it definitely had its charms- one that seemed perfectly compatible with the venue, Paxton’s warehouse.

As expected, the theme of “The Red Giant” was echoed in other mediums throughout the hour-long presentation. As you entered Paxton’s you were treated to a display of art titled ‘Articles’ that Holy Spirit College students had contributed, and once the performers had finished “The Reg Giant” local singer/songwriter Tate Obst treated us to a beautiful performance of one of his original songs as local dance star Taylor Hayes danced along ethereally to it with a routine that she had choreographed to compliment it. Then, to conclude the production, Michaela Boyd recited an original poem that she had written that was as funny as it was moving, articulating her personal feelings regarding depression in a way that made it easier to understand.

All of the performances were causal but perfectly delivered and despite the fact that the central theme was depression, the production was devoid of any gloomy feelings or emotionally weighty shadows. The hour flew by in what felt like minutes. I was glad that I had gone along to see these amazingly talented artists and I know that that was a sentiment shared by everyone in attendance. Well done to all involved, and I look forward to a repeat performance next year.

Review: The Anniversary by Kucom Theatre, Mackay

The Anniversary
Written by Bill Macllwraith
Directed by Vicky Bobledyk
Kucom Theatre
Beaconsfield State School
Show Dates November 17th and 18th 2017
Tickets available at https://www.trybooking.com/RNST
$30 adults
$25 Concession Students/Pensioners.

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Let me set the stage for you- though I cannot imagine how I could possibly hope to describe the set in question while hoping to do is an ounce of justice…
Tonight I walked into Beaconsfield State Primary School’s hall and found myself not in the same place I visit for my daughter’s assembles, but in someone’s living from days gone by. It wasn’t just a set but an absolute masterpiece that fell somewhere between a doll’s house and Nanna’s cottage and it was divine- easy on the eye, comfortable, cozy and immaculate. It did not creak or bow in the wind- it was as professionally constructed as a film set would be in any movie studio. The lighting was also perfect- complimenting the set perfectly because there wasn’t a single dark corner or stray shadow, and as I sat in my seat and took it all in, my first thought was that it was quite possibly the best set I have ever seen. I was amazed that anyone would go to so much trouble for a three-act play, but eventually I understood that the set was as vital to the performance as any other element was because it guaranteed that not a single word or expression was lost to the audience. I do not know if this was all of one person’s doing or a massive team effort, but it was worth every second because I could have been at The MECC. Then, as though I wasn’t already wowed enough, Jennifer Bee then came out and opened the show by singing a beautiful old tune in a beautiful young voice that got the atmosphere to exactly where it needed to be- something peaceful that was about to be fragment.

The Anniversary is a quiet story. It’s not a musical, it’s not full of over the top characters, it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said before and it’s not full of crazy twists and turns that will leave the audience breathless- but it is a damned good story that is packed full of emotional triggers that are bound to resonate with every audience member and I hung onto every single word from start to finish because every single one of them mattered in some way. The writing is hilarious as times and very moving at others, and the characters are utterly hopeless and completely endearing. I did not know that it had been produced as a movie before I went in, or that Kucom has performed it before, but it’s no surprise that they would choose to do it a second time because honestly, the storyline is as valid now as it would have been originally. It’s very similar in theme to the hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, and I would not be surprised if the creator behind that show was a fan of this play.

The premise is simple: a young man brings his pregnant girlfriend home to meet his mother on her wedding anniversary- one that the family celebrates annually despite the fact that the husband has been gone for some time. You get the feeling off the bat that this is not something that any of them are happy to do, and as the storyline rolls out it becomes apparent that the grieving widow is a bit of a demon who goes out of her way to control, manipulate and torture her grown children and their spouses into doing exactly what she wants them to do. All of them go in there knowing what to expect- all but the new girlfriend Shirley, portrayed by Samantha Attard, who has not been prepared for this visit or ‘test’ as her fiancé Tom calls it at all, at all. She is thrown into the deep end (‘Mum’s’ living room, where the entire show is set) and must do her darndest to not sink with the weight of this woman’s baggage weighing down on them all.

One by one the other members of the family make their entrances and introductions, and although at first every single one of them comes off as being charming in their own way, it’s not long before they’re at each other’s throats and with good reason because ‘Mum’ is an absolute terrorist who pits them against one another for the sole purpose of being the centre of attention. 

Usually I cannot go into detail about the cast of a show because there are too many, but The Anniversary has a very small cast so I am glad to be able to have the opportunity to mention them all, which I think is important because with the absence of scene changes, musical numbers and all of the other stuff I mentioned before, a show like this needs REAL acting to work and the cast delivered it fluidly.

Samantha Attard was great as Shirley, and she portrayed the role very well for someone who struck me as being very young. She had less dialogue than most of the others and most of her performance depended on her looking appropriately confounded by the people around her, and not once did she let that mask of what we now call ‘WTF?!’ fall. She was also a very clear speaker who did her best to imitate a cockney accent and project at the same time, and I don’t believe that that would have been an easy task because the dialogue she had isn’t very compatible (in my opinion) with that kind of accent because the words that Shirley has to speak are very polite and delicate- unlike the rest of the cast who had looser language to play with. That being said, Samantha still made it work and was an absolute vision and I don’t think there will be an audience member that is not on her side from the start. 

William Southwood’s portrayal of the un-loved and over-used son ‘Terry’ was also very reliant on a lot of looking lost or defeated one moment and desperate the next through body language, and he embodied this very articulately, jumping up one second to his mother’s beck and call then wilting the next in a very genuine way that made your heart twist for him. Once again I assume that William Southwood is very young and wouldn’t yet have had the chance to be so tortured by life, but he was authentic all the same and will win many hearts.

Zachary Trounson got the comedic relief role and he made me laugh every single time that he walked out onstage as ‘Uncle Henry’. He was like the big loveable, cross-dressing bear that everybody wants to strangle because he doesn’t realise how easy he has it, being that he’s mummy dearest’s favourite for absolutely NO reason. His projection was fantastic and I think 75% of his lines elicited a laugh from the private audience we had, and I appreciated the energy that he brought to the stage very much because he stole focus exactly as intended.

Tom Dray was quite stunning in his part and like with the first two, managed to come across as being ten years older than he actually is. I really liked what he did with his part and think it was perfectly suited to him, and appreciated how much he had going on that wasn’t necessarily scripted, from nervous tics to the way he held himself he was his character ‘Tom’ through and through. His character was perhaps one of the least likable ones, but he sold it in a way that reminded me of a used-car salesman from the 50’s, channelling a bit of Tom Draper from Mad Men. This is the third time that I’ve seen Tom play a straight (ish) character, and although he nails it every time, I would love to see him go for an off-the-wall role one day because I can see how seriously he takes his work and think he’s only just scratched the surface of what he is capable of.

That leaves me with the final two performers, Chloe Bloomfield and Bronwyn Grannall who played the tortured daughter-in-law and ‘Mum’ respectively, and what can I say but brava? Both women were absolutely stunning, and although I’ve come to expect nothing less of Bronwyn Grannall over the years who has a knack for picking parts that are PERFECT for her, Chloe surprised me by portraying a character who is nothing like her usual sweet self and knocked it out of the park. I could not take my eyes off ‘Karen’ the whole time and will say that she acted right down to her hair follicles. Honestly her character was so much fun and I could see Chloe having a ball with it, but not so much that she lost control of who she was portraying and what that poor woman must have been going through. And although Bronwyn might have had the task of playing the most frustrating human being on the face of the planet, she did so in a way that was nothing short of delightful. These two characters made the show fun and every sharp word they exchanged was perfectly delivered, and I’m sure anyone that is already a fan of The Anniversary will be relieved to see the most conflicted characters in such capable hands.

It’s important for me to point out that the show that I saw last night was a dress-rehearsal, and that it ran more smoothly than any actual performance that I have ever seen. I don’t know if there were lines dropped but if they were they were covered beautifully, and there were no other hitches that I noticed, from costuming to sound and lighting, everything ran as though it were being played to a packed audience and I know with director Vicky Bobeldyk at the helm there was probably no other option. The costumes were beautiful, and the hairstyles, especially as far as the ladies were concerned, were lovely. Not one detail was overlooked and I am actually sort of hoping that I’ll get the time this weekend to see it again, because if the cast could do that with no audience- I’d love to see how they go when they have an audience’s energy to feed off because for this production to be flawless, all they need to do now is relax into their roles. I took with me last night my niece who is visiting from Brisbane- she doesn’t get to go to the theatre much and I was worried that I was going to cement myself as daggy ol’ Aunty Sam by taking her to a three-act play, but she was giggling in delight from start to finish and had a wonderful time.

I am so grateful that this show was given to Vicky Bobeldyk because if this production gets the audience it deserves, it will prove that Kucom Theatre has what it takes to stick around for another seventy years. Five stars- and congratulations to all involved. This is definitely one of those shows where the audience members should read the program and get an idea of where credit is due so they know who to look out for in the future.