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Viennese Titans @ Sydney Grammar

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Flowers and plenty of acclaim for Georgia Browne, the concert’s outstanding soloist and prinicipal flautist. Pics by Nico Jonker

Orchestraseventeen88 is an orchestra which has been established to present the classical repertoire from the late Rococo to the Romantic era in Historically Informed Performance (HIP) style.  This means that the music is played on period instruments, in period style and using musical pitch relevant to each era and piece as well.

The Artistic Director of this new period instrument ensemble is Richard Gill OAM. For this Company’s first concert, eloquently titled AN EVENING WITH THE VIENNESE TITANS Racheel Beesley was the Concertmaster, Benjamin Bayl was the Conductor and Georgia Browne was the soloist and principal flautist.

The evening’s program consisted of three pieces:  The Creatures of Prometheus (Beethoven), Concerto No 1 for Flute and Orchestra in G Major (Mozart) and the very long Symphony in C Major (Schubert); that is, from an orchestral development point of view, Beethoven, pre-Beethoven and post-Beethoven. Continue reading

Justin Cotter as Sweeney Todd and Lucy Miller as Mrs Lovett

Sweeney Todd @ The New

Mrs Lovett with the Ensemble. Pics by Bob Seary
Lucy Miller as Mrs Lovett with the Ensemble in SWEENEY TODD. Pics by Bob Seary

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd: he served a dark and vengeful God!” After a visit to the New Theatre’s website advertising their current production of Stephen Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, with its graphic image of a throat being cut and a viewing of the teaser video with its huge blood splash finale, one might be forgiven for thinking a dark evening is in store. In lesser hands perhaps the show could float in gore like the 2007 movie. This production, however, focuses on an exploration of what it takes to make a monster. It seems that answer is … love!

Benjamin Barker arrives back on the docks of Victorian London. He is accompanied by his shipboard companion, Anthony Hope. Anthony knows this man as Sweeney Todd. He rescued Sweeney from a mysterious shipwreck and honours his vow not to ask questions even after a mysterious beggar woman confronts them both. Sweeney’s past is revealed as he revisits his old haunts and meets up with Mrs Lovett who recognises him at once as the man she adored from afar. She has even saved his silver razors and offers him her upstairs room as a barber shop. Continue reading

COMPANY-lead actor Sam Ducker

Company @ Star Of The Sea

A perplexed Robert and his three girlfriends
A perplexed Robert and his three girlfriends

Manly Musical Society’s final production for the year is a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY. This is one of the best productions of this timeless award winning musical comedy that I have seen.

Christie Wykes directs with a fresh new vision that is valid and intriguing. This essential Sondheim musical, features one brilliant show-stopping number after another, and is now gracing the stage in Sydney for a limited season.

From his 35th birthday party celebrations, we follow eternal bachelor Robert, as he tries to de-single himself, as a single man unable to commit, as compared to and seen beside the lives of his friends … four married couples. Robert investigates the importance of marriage, as he observes each and every flaw in his friends’ marriages. Continue reading

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The Royal Ballet: Manon

Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez in MANON. Pics by Alice Pennefather
Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez in MANON. Pics by Alice Pennefather

I  have just been privileged to see a stunning, lavish and opulent production by the Royal Ballet of Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s masterpiece MANON. McMillan’s work was photographed with plenty of close ups so you feel as if you are almost on stage with the Company.

This is the 40th anniversary year for this ballet and quite a few companies around the world have included it in their 2014 subscription program, including the Australian Ballet earlier in the year.

MANON tells a cautionary tale of love, greed and corruption, a major three act work requiring a huge cast and the Royal Ballet,  the Company with which it was originally created, did itself proud. Continue reading

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SITCO’s memorable finale

Inset Pic- Martin Portus as    Les Robinson. Featured Pic- Gertraud Ingeborg as Belle of the Cross
Inset Pic- Martin Portus as Les Robinson. Featured Pic- Gertraud Ingeborg as Belle of the Cross     Pics Katy Green Loughrey

SITCO’s swan song as stewards of The Old Fitzroy theatre space is an apt one.

The end of an era is marked by a double bill of one act plays about colourful characters from the Kings Cross area that are from another era, THE LES ROBINSON STORY and BELLE OF THE CROSS.

THE LES ROBINSON STORY is a palimpsest of a personality, Les Robinson, a slacker before the term was coined, whose stories, Kenneth Slessor is attributed as saying, would be better understood and appreciated in 1993 than 1933.

Brought up on readings of Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson, these literary namesakes seem to have foreshadowed Les’ literary ambitions which foundered and shipwrecked on the shores of Bohemia. Continue reading

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Nightcrawler

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Like some ill-conceived spawn of Rupert Pupkin, the crazed comic stalker from Marty Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Louis Bloom, the “spanning the spectrum” psycho protagonist of NIGHTCRAWLER, is a full blown passive aggressive whose soft spoken and polite manner masks a monstrous manipulator.

From the opening scene we glimpse Louis’ predatory personality as he ekes out a living as an opportunistic thief before stumbling upon a career path that suits his coyote cunning and misanthropic mien, that of the mongrel newshound .

Unlike the paparazzi who prey on personalities, these night crawlers are basically ambulance chasers sent salivating to car crashes, fires, and any kind of mayhem to satisfy the insatiable appetite for the salacious by tabloid television. Continue reading

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On The Road With Richard III

Directed by Jeremy Whelehan and produced by Kevin Spacey, the feature length documentary, NOW: IN THE WINGS ON A WORLD STAGE, reveals intimate behind the scenes moments as actor Kevin Spacey, director Sam Mendes and a troupe of over fifty actors and stage crew go on the road across three continents over ten months, staging over 200 performances of the Shakespeare classic, Richard III.

For those who have never seen Kevin Spacey on stage, his interpretation of Richard III is an absolute treat as are the choices available to a theatre company comprising of actors from America, the UK and Africa. In the film, as they journey from Epidaurus to Istanbul, from San Francisco to Sydney, the play unfolds in excerpts as the fate of the king is revealed, and the heaving, organic, rich production evolves. Continue reading

Bert

Bert: A great Showman

Two legends playing for the camera
Two legends playing for the camera

It was inevitable that Graeme Blundell would follow up his biography of Graham Kennedy with a companion piece on Bert Newton.

Simply called BERT, it’s a bright and breezy biography that’s a celebration of a survivor.

From the age of fifteen, in 1954, Newton was the youngest announcer in the history of Melbourne radio when he joined 3XY.

In August 1957, he was signed by Channel 7 as a booth announcer. Later that month, Noel Ferrier, the host of Seven’s the late show, left the program, to be replaced by the 19 year old 3XY disc jockey, Bert Newton, and a television career that was to survive decades was born. Continue reading

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WSO AT THE CONCOURSE

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With the umbrella title AMADEUS: CLASSIC MOZART AND BACH the magnificent Willoughby Symphony Orchestra (WSO) and choir presented us with a tremendous performances featuring Mozart and Bach as well as two wonderful contemporary works. Their final concert for 2014 was performed in front of a full house. It was a privilege to have Gail Giles-Gidney, the Mayor of Willoughby, in attendance.

Special guest conductor Paul Fitzsimon was intense, energetic and fiery. He is currently on the staff of Opera Australia and also has various international conducting commitments. He looked slim and striking in orchestral black. Continue reading

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Thoroughbass – Tout Francais

Harpsichordist Diana Weston, string player Shaun Ng and vocalist Anna Fraser provided some fine ensemble moments.
Harpsichordist Diana Weston, string player Shaun Ng and vocalist Anna Fraser provided some fine ensemble moments.

This concert joyously adhered to its advertised French theme. It celebrated the instrumental and vocal music composed during the rule of Louis XIV. The audience was introduced to a range of interesting works from lesser known composers than the often heard greats of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The programme was well constructed to provide constant variety of ensemble and style.

String player Shaun Ng and vocalist Anna Fraser brought to the afternoon their experience, solid musicianship and exciting attention to performance practice. The balance with harpsichordist Diana Weston was always well suited to the dance or vocal works filling the church acoustic. Continue reading

rock the casbah

Rock The Casbah

The very cool Casbah girls
The very cool Casbah girls in Laila Marrakchi’s new film ROCK THE CASBAH

You know you’re in cheerful, cheeky company when ROCK THE CASBAH eschews the song of the same name by The Clash in favour of the theme song to The Road to Morocco by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to open proceedings over the film’s titles.

With its nostalgic soundtrack and picture postcard shots of the Atlantic/Mediterranean coast presented in home movie style, it’s a sly bit of ironic counterpoint by writer/director Laila Marrakchi. Continue reading

the dark horse

The Dark Horse

Anyone for Chess?! James Napier Robertson's fine new film
Anyone for Chess?! James Napier Robertson’s fine new film

Arguably the best Kiwi drama since ‘Once Were Warriors’, THE DARK HORSE is an inspirational tale that checkmates hairy chested tormentors with hairy chess tournaments.

THE DARK HORSE is an inspiring true story based on the life of a charismatic, brilliant but little-known New Zealand hero, Genesis Potini, a chess champion plagued by mental illness but possessed of a passion that the game can be a conduit for aimless, displaced youth to achieve focus and fulfillment. Continue reading

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A dazzling Cyrano

Inset Pic- Eryn Jean Norvill and Josh McConville. Featured Pic- Julia Zemiro and Richard Roxburgh. Pics Brett Boardman

French playwright Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1897) is one of the all time, great works of World Theatre. Prestigious theatre companies love to have a crack at it, and give audiences a night to remember.

The great plays have exacting standards,- the bar is raised to its highest level in all regards. Particularly, revivals require actors of the highest calibre to perform the main roles, otherwise the production will simply fall away and audiences will go away feeling shortchanged.

The good news is that the Sydney Theatre Company’s new production, directed by Artistic Director Andrew Upton, meets this absolute imperative with its quartet of four fine leading players, – Richard Roxburgh, Eryn Jean Norvill, Chris Ryan and Josh McConville

Richard Roxburgh steps into the coveted shoes of the great swordsman and poet, Cyrano with verve panache. He is every bit the passionate, charismatic, perfectionistic, deeply moralistic, heart-breaking swordsman and poet.

Eryn Jean Norvill plays the part of Cyrano’s flame and muse, Roxane. Eryn has a large arc to transverse through the play, from being a superficial girl-woman to a mature, more considerate woman.

Chris Ryan is convincing as Christian, a young, hedonistic man who thinks about things with much more depth after his friendship with Cyrano.

Josh McConville displays great stage presence as the prickly, cruel Count de Guiche who learns to be more humane as the play unfolds.

These main players are well supported by a cast that includes Bruce Spence and Julia  Zemiro.

The show is cleverly staged by director Andrew Upton along with his designers, Alice Babidge and Renee Mulder. Good use is made of the large Sydney Theatre stage.

The main stage is flanked stage left, right and rear with raised catwalk for the players to transverse, when needed. The area is used very flexibly,- with the use, for the first three Acts, of a raised stage, on wheels.

Act 1 features a  proscenium arched theatre with red curtains in the centre. (The play begins at the theatre in the Hotel Burgundy). In  Act 2, the stage is rotated about 45 degrees into the the patisserie setting. The third Act sees the raised stage being rotated some 180 degrees to become the famous balcony setting at Roxane’s home. In Act 4, the raised stage is removed, and the stage becomes the battlefield setting at Arras. Finally, in Act 5, we are at a convent outside Paris.

Babidge and Mulder’s great period costumes, Damien Cooper’s superb lighting, and Paul Charlier’s atmospheric soundscape, featuring short pieces of music, recorded sounds, and some chanting, work well.

A Sydney Theatre Company production, adapted and directed by Andrew Upton from the original translation by Marion Potts, Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC opened at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday  15th November and is playing until Saturday 20th December, 2014.

The Metropolitan Orchestra

MET CONCERT # 4

Violinist Kirsten Williams
Violinist Kirsten Williams was outstanding in the TMO’s last concert for the year

The final Met Series concert for 2014 saw TMO in fine form delivering drama and atmosphere within the structure of works by Mozart, Sibelius and Brahms. The soloist for this evening was violinist Kirsten Williams, accompanied attentively by the orchestra.

Opening the program was the overture to Mozart’s opera ‘The Magic Flute’. Its contrasted sections of solemn and energetic music evoked the colourful layers of this fanciful story well. It was also a suitable prelude to the drama waiting to unfold in the Met Concert program.

In the hands of Kirsten Williams, excerpts from Sibelius’ Violin Concerto showed a mastery of rendering the sprawling melodic lines and constant changes of mood. Her tone was searching and pure in the upper register. There was a pleasing rapport with TMO, which supported with warm tone and consistency of mood alongside the soloist. The hushed anticipation in strings for the opening to the first movement was exquisite. Continue reading

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The ACO- Marwood’s Serenade

Brilliant violinist Anthony Marwood who was also the guest director and conductor for the last ACO concert of the year
Brilliant violinist Anthony Marwood who was also the guest director and conductor for the last ACO concert of the year. Featured pic by Pia Johnson

Under the umbrella title MARWOOD’S SERENADE the Australian Chamber Orchestra is collaborating with their friend Anthony Marwood as guest director and conductor and lead violin. This concert closes a very exciting 2014 season with some unexpected, delightful riches in a showcase of scintillating string orchestra repertoire.

Marwood himself is tall, pale and imposing, and plays passionately, delicately and with enormous presence. He was born in London and studied with Emanuel Hurwitz at the Royal Academy of Music. Marwood now has a discography of over thirty recordings and has performed internationally with major chamber ensembles.

The program opens with Stravinsky’s balletic tribute to Tchaikovsky, his Divertimento based on La Baiser de la Fee (The Fairy Kiss). The music is glorious and the tone of Marwood’s Bergonzi violin superb. This is Stravinsky at his best, largely using lesser known Tchaikovsky excerpts (for example, instruments are allocated to specific notes of Tchaikovsky’s Humouresque. Some of the work had a mysterious feel, some of it flowed and soared or darted,- you could hear the spins and jumps required for this vibrant work.

The second work on the program, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings in E major Op. 22 was composed in May 1875. The first movement begins delightfully, lush and swirling, and features two intertwining melodies. Then there is a jaunty, cascading rhythm and a rather wistful melancholic return to the original theme. The second movement includes an impassioned waltz with sweeping, flowing, rippling melodies contrasted with sharp, spiky interruptions.

The third movement is, at first, a little slower but gathers momentum as it continues. The fourth movement was achingly beautiful and poignant. The final fifth movement had a vibrant, spiky fast spectacular opening and concluded with a memorable flourish.

To complete the concert we heard the Enescu Octet, first performed in 1909, in the version for full string orchestra. Enescu’s work is now regarded as a blend of modern and late Romanticism. The work includes roughly nine to twelve melodic themes, most of which are introduced in the first section.

Enescu Octet has a very strong opening with rumbles from the cellos. Later, lilting, meandering melodies are contrasted with tumultuous flurries and fiendishly complicated rhythms.

The second movement was quite briskly played. The last movement was far slower and more melancholic. The playing of the aching melodies was exquisite. Sudden dark stormy changes were interspersed with flowing, luminous sections. The third and final part of the work is a lyrical, slow section which added even more themes.

This was a marvelous concert, full of luscious playing.

Running time 2 hours ( approx) including interval.

MARWOOD’S SERENADE by the Australian Chamber Orchestra is playing the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, on the 19th, 20th and 25th November and at the Sydney Opera House on the 30th November.

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

The outrageous Sophie Tucker
The outrageous Sophie Tucker and an adoring piano player

There’ll never be another entertainer as outrageous as Sophie Tucker, which is why this documentary about her is aptly titled, THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER.  Directed by William Gazecki and screening as part of the Jewish International Film Festival, it brings to life a rare insight to the rags to riches story of Sophie Tucker.

Here was a woman well ahead of her time; independent, sassy, prerogative and hugely talented.  Her friends included US Presidents, the Royal Family, many adoring fans, fellow travellers, entertainers and for half a century, was one of the world’s most iconic celebrities. Continue reading

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Oliver Roach, Sophia Barnard and the Ensemble

There was a full house for the Sunday matinee of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by Chatswood Musical Society (CMS) and they absolutely loved the show. They laughed and sighed in all the right places and cheered and clapped the performers at the bows. That’s the thing about the supporters of amateur and pro-am theatre companies in Sydney, they are very loyal. There are lots of reasons why but top of the list is that everyone involved in putting on a show like this works really hard to earn and honour that support.

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Chicka Dixon's Daughter and Granddaughter

The Fox and the Freedom Fighters

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It is rare that one gets the story of a great man told through the eyes of his family. This is currently happening at the Carriageworks.

THE FOX AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS  is  the story of Charles ‘Chicka’ Dixon – one of Australia’s foremost Aboriginal activists – told from the unique perspective of his daughter, Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, and granddaughter, Nadeena Dixon, with then help of playwright Alana Valentine. Continue reading

David Callan: Not quite James Bond

I Spied @ Giant Dwarf

David Callan in his one man show I SPIED. Photo: Geoff Sirmai
David Callan in his one man show I SPIED. Photo: Geoff Sirmai

I SPIED is truth in advertising. David Callan worked for our esteemed National Security Agency, ASIO, for 7 years. After seeing his one man show tonight, maybe esteemed isn’t the right word to describe the organization. But I’m loath to use the word that springs to mind … they might be listening. He doesn’t give everything away but surely someone has their eye on this guy.

Despite being too tall and good looking to be a surveillance officer, David Callan is a funny man. What possessed him to think that his innately comic view of life was compatible with a career as a spy is well explained in his show. We also get an insight into the absurdities inside an organization which allows a clown to rise to a position of having every generated secret paper pass through his hands for filing. Callan is a clown but not a buffoon. He has a serious point to make about the ASIO he knew. Continue reading

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When the Queen Came to Town

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One does not have to be a monarchist to enjoy this documentary of the largest, longest and most expensive event ever staged in Australia – Queen Elizabeth’s 1954 tour. The film has been appropriately released on the 60th anniversary and may appeal to baby boomers who were there.

The 60 day Australia-wide tour by the young 26 year old Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip did not include little Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Her commitments meant that Queen Elizabeth did not see her children for 6 months. Continue reading

Performing Arts, Literary Arts and Visual Arts Reviews