Tony Kushner is the author of the ground breaking play Angels In America Parts 1 and 2. This is his first musical with Kushner penning the book and lyrics and Geanine Tesori composing the music. The play took them four years to write and is based on Tony Kushner’s reaction to growing up in the Deep South, identifying as a southern Jew, and living in the vicinity of impoverished Afro Americans.
Elenoa Rokobaro stars as Caroline Thibodeaux, a poor Afro American divorcee working as a house cleaning maid in a southern jewish home belonging to the Gellmans. She is sad and bitter, realising that any hopes or dreams she has had have been crushed into dust. Her only purpose in life is to provide for her three children on a $30 a week wage.
Young eight year old Noah Gellman has transferred his affection for his deceased mother onto Caroline. He bonds with her by sharing a cigarette.
Noah’s father Stuart Gellman has acquired a new wife from New York, Rose Stopnick-Gellman. She is totally bewildered by her transplantation to Louisiana, unable to cope with its oppressive heat, her inability to develop a relationship with her stepson and has constantly bungling behaviour in an attempt to be both gracious to Caroline as well as being gently assertive as her employer.
Rose has been brought up to never loose change in her clothes and Noah always leaves loose change in his clothes. As a form of punishment Rose insists that Caroline keep any loose change she finds in Noah’s pockets.
Reluctant to take money from a child she nevertheless succumbs so that her children can buy a few trinkets at the local dime store.
At a Chanukah party hosted by Rose, Stuart and Grandma Gellman Rose’s father Mr Stopnick, down from New York, gives Noah a twenty dollar note. Noah leaves it in his pocket, Caroline retrieves it and threatens to keep it. This leads to an explosion of hateful remarks revealing deep prejudices on both sides of the racial divide.
Meanwhile on the sidelines a Greek chorus of Motown like Supremes urge Caroline to break out of her oppressed situation.
A moon goddess is always trying to calm the situation and a red suited, lascivious devil is trying to tempt Caroline with no prospect of success. Adding to her woes is a rebellious, outspoken daughter Emmie who clashes with her mother over her mother’s submissiveness.
All this takes place with background music which ranges from gospel, blues, soul, rhythm and blues, funk and klezmer through to operatic like ballads. These musical styles are gorgeously navigated by Lucy Bermingham, the Musical Director who leads a five piece band squashed somewhere backstage.
Elenoa Rokobaro is dazzling as Caroline Thibodeaux. Her soaring gospel vocalising nearly lifted the rafters off the Hayes Theatre.
The trio played by Ruva Ngwenya, Emily Haver and Alexandra Fricot are not so much a harmonising Supremes but are more like the grunting and grinding funk of the Ikettes featuring a young Tina Turner. They also play multiple roles all of which are performed with great accomplishment.
Amy Hack as the bewildered, vulnerable, prickly Rose Stopnick Gellman evokes both sympathy and at times awkward embarrassment.
Andrew Cutcliffe as Stuart Gellman has a dramatically thankless role in that he must be zoned out from everybody and everything around him, including his son, seeking consolation in clarinet playing.
Daniel Harris and Ryan Yeates alternate the role of Noah Gellman. At our performance Ryan Yeates played the naive, idealistic, sweet and at times self centered Noah which he plays with great brio and establishes a strong chemistry with the Caroline character.
Nkechi Anele plays Emmie, the rebellious daughter of Caroline, with passion and fire.
Elijah Williams gets to demonstrate his multi talented acting skills playing in the roles of a lascivious devil by the dryer in Caroline’s laundry, a shocked bus driver announcing the assassination of President John F Kennedy, Joe, Caroline’s young son, and the Navy man who beat up and left Caroline.
Special mention must be made of the veterans in this otherwise young cast. Genevieve Lemon slips into the role of Grandma Gellman who is always trying to appease family arguments with an authentic Jewish touch and warmth.
Tony Llewelyn Jones as Mr Stopnick, a fiery left wing sympathiser, brings passion, conviction and a slight naivety advocating that Afro Americans should protest with violence. Yet his very tender and loving when talking to his daughter and grandson.
This is a night of powerful and challenging theatre evoking joy, revelling in the gospel, soul, rhythm and blues music of the first half to sadness and tears in Act 2 as the tragedy of Rose’s oppression is fully spelt out.
The change in the title has a dual meaning, both corrosive. The first change refers to the change in Noah’s pockets leading to conflicts with his stepmother and Caroline. The second meaning refers to all her friends urgings to change from her trapped, embittered resignation to her lot in life, and aspire to greater heights in fulfilling her dreams.
Director Mitchell Butel is a quadruple threat. He can sing, dance, act and direct As director he must deal with the swirl of emotions boiling on stage, contain it and hurl it with maximum impact into our exposed emotions. This is why live theatre is so thrilling.
The set design by Simon Greer is cleverly laid out on four levels with a giant disc at the rear representing the moon and the sun depending on the lighting from Alexander Berlage.
The bottom level represents the depression that is Caroline’s laundry. The middle level is used as a communal bus stop and Caroline’s home. The upper level represents the Gellman’s house. There is a fourth level which represents the Louisiana swamps on which the characters live so precariously.
Choreographer Yvette Lee works the three levels of activity with ease and grace maximising fully the space available.
Anthony Lorenz sound design brings the sounds of the band somewhere in the back of the theatre up to perfectly match the vocals on stage.
I have previously referred to the Hayes Theatre as Doctor Who’s Tardis, small on the outside and limitless in size on the inside. This production’s expansiveness encapsulates that feeling.
I must also commend the Hayes Theatre for unearthing unknown musical gems such as this platinum production.
Riveting, exciting, thrilling and dazzling, this Hayes triumph must not be missed. CAROLINE OR CHANGE is playing the Hayes Theatre until 21 September, 2019.
As if their twenty year age gap wasn’t difficult enough, Matilda’s is fighting for space in Gabe’s life along with his constant companions, misery, writerly angst and booze. She’s not convinced he’s over with his ex girlfriend and publisher, Angela, who is used to picking up Gabe’s pieces.
If Gabe wants to get sober he’ll have to abandon his image as the tragic, self destructive writer drinking his way to oblivion. And if Angela’s really trying to let Gabe go, like her partner Tony needs her to, she needs to say goodbye to Gabe’s wretched cat that she is looking after.
This is a magnificent semi-staged production combing the forces of around 450 choristersofthe Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, performers from Sydney’s Pacific Opera , 80 musicians from the Sydney Youth Orchestra and glittering stars from Opera Australia and musicals.It was directed by Mitchell Butel with a sure touch and with excellent phrasing ,timing and a wonderful comic touch .
Rarely performed ,the comic operetta originally premiered in 1956 and is adapted from a novella of the same name written by the Enlightenment-era philosopher Voltaire. It satirizes the predominant attitudes of Voltaire’s era , particularly those of the church and of monarchism , as well as class divisions and academe , has chocolate soldiers and question the meaning and purpose of life.
The plot is perhaps tangled and overly rambling , possibly a little weak in construction but is still very relevant to day and the score itself is infectiously enchanting and ranges in style from tango, Broadway , Gilbert and Sullivan to high opera. Musical director and conductor Brett Weymark energetically and enthusiastically led the Orchestra and HUGE choir superbly – musically and vocally this was a stunning performance .Continue reading CANDIDE: MUSICALLY AND VOCALLY STUNNING→
Today, as we look into the future, we are sharing the increasingly sophisticated technologies involving artificial intelligence and robots.Could they be therapeutic?Are they truly capable of equaling or out-smarting human intelligence?Will they ever comprehend human emotion?
Talented American playwright, Jordan Harrison, wrote his play MARJORIE PRIME to question these ideas of artificial intelligence.First produced in LA in 2014, it was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.The film adaptation premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, starring John Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins.Harrison also wrote three seasons of the Netflix drama, ‘Orange Is The New Black’.Continue reading MARJORIE PRIME AT ENSEMBLE: HOW WE COPE WITH FEAR AND LOSS→
This was such a fun show. Make it an Act of Will to get yourself over to the Eternity to see it.
American Emmy Award winning comedy writer David Javerbaum’s comedy is an anarchic, wild flight of fancy. Much loved Sydney theatre performer Mitchell Butel plays the part of God. This God has grown weary of the Ten Commandments, He has come to correct mankind’s dire misconceptions about his teachings and delivers a radical re-write. Continue reading AN ACT OF GOD @ THE ETERNITY PLAYHOUSE→
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs has this morning announced its 2018 Season comprising seven stunning productions, from the cornerstones of classical music to the best of Australian and international contemporary, and a centenary production of Bernstein’s Broadway hit, Candide.
At the heart of the program are three of the great 18th Century choral masterworks, which showcase the drive and ambition behind Australia’s leading choral performance company. These tour-de-force presentations bring their exemplary choristers together with leading Australian soloists and instrumentalists, on Sydney’s premier concert stages, conducted by Brett Weymark.
Composed over the course of 16 years at the pinnacle of his career, JS Bach’s Mass in B Minor is recognised as one of his greatest choral works. Weaving moments of overwhelming majesty with intimate solo arias, the Mass has been likened to a “cathedral in sound”, conveying every aspect of the genius that gives his music its timeless power.
For this epic production, presented on the Concert Hall stage at Sydney Opera House on Easter Saturday, the Choirs are joined by some of Australia’s most accomplished early music specialists, with the magnificent sound of the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra.
Joseph Haydn’s visionary masterpiece The Creation depicts the creation of the universe in music of sublime imagination and power, resplendent with classical optimism, grace and grandeur. Released simultaneously in both English and German in 1798, it was an overnight success and has remained a much-anticipated highlight of choral seasons ever since. Performed in the ornate splendour of Sydney Town Hall, The Creation brings the Choirs together with leading soloists led by award-winning soprano Taryn Fiebig, and for the first time, The Metropolitan Orchestra.
One of Handel’s most grand and gripping dramas, and the first of his great oratorios, Saul is a powerful exploration of love, loyalty and power, inspired by the relationship between Saul, first king of the Israelites, and his successor, David. Adapted from the Old Testament Book of Samuel, this is music of rare beauty and intensity, showcasing Handel’s instinct for vivid characterisation and profound psychological insights.
For Sydney Philharmonia Choirs Music Director, Brett Weymark, the highlight of the coming year’s program is the company’s production of Candide, presented in celebration of the centenary of one of the 20th Century’s most acclaimed and influential composers, Leonard Bernstein. Directed by Australian theatre powerhouse Mitchell Butel, with a stellar cast including Alexander Lewis in the title role, Bernstein’s Candide takes audiences on a wickedly tuneful romp through Voltaire’s classic, from its rollicking overture, through affectionate parodies of opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, tango and Broadway glitz. Candide is presented in collaboration with the acclaimed Pacific Opera and Sydney Youth Orchestra and conducted by Brett Weymark.
Presented for the first time in Sydney, Joby Talbot’s acclaimed contemporary masterpiece, Path of Miracles follows the great pilgrim trail of Camino de Santiago, drawing on the words of English poet Robert Dickinson to take audiences on an acapella journey to the edge of the known world. Composed for the virtuosic British choir, Tenebrae, the work premiered in London in July 2005, in the weeks following the city’s bombing, and became a healing balm for a shattered Sydney.
In 2018, Sydney Philharmonia’s young adult choir, VOX, renowned for their stunning acapella performances, will present one major production, reflecting their focus on modern music and a preference for short compositions that go together to form a whole program, over the longer form classics. Voyage of Voices is a collaboration with Estonia’s acclaimed E Stuudio Youth Choir, whose dynamic brand of contemporary acapella has already seen them perform at Carnegie Hall. This stunning international showcase sees each of the two choirs present contemporary works from their homelands. The VOX program be will conducted by Elizabeth Scott, E Stuudio by Külli Lokko.
It’s a Sydney Philharmonia Choirs tradition to end the year with a Christmas extravaganza, and this year is no exception with Carols at the House. It’s impossible to resist the magic of Christmas as the 500 voices of the combined Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Orchestra and special guests including acclaimed Australian opera star Teddy Tahu Rhodes light up the stage with your favourite Christmas carols, seasonal treats from stage and screen, and much more. This is a uniquely elegant Christmas celebration, on a symphonic scale, with a few surprises in the form of story-telling, sublime silliness and, of course, audience participation. Conductor Brett Weymark .
For more information about Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ 2018 Season visit:
I caught up with Mitchell Butel’s zippy cabaret show KILLING TIME last night and the three time Helpmann Award winner was in great form.
Mitchell walked up to the mic looking very sharp, wearing a bright red suit with a narrow black tie and sharp black shoes. After a few songs he took off his jacket and slung it to the side of the stage.
He mixed up his show well … lots of great songs, plenty of one liners, some quirky personal anecdotes and obsessions, and revealed his passion for quotations and poetry.
Given that the definitive play about Sydney’s shallowness was first performed in 1987, audiences may well question the contemporary relevance of David Williamson’s EMERALD CITY.
And also ask how this intimate Griffin Theatre Company production works on the small screen as it were, seeing as this play is about the lengths to which people will go to bag a harbour view made its sparkling debut oh so appropriately all those years ago at the Sydney Opera House.
EMERALD CITY pits Melbourne against Sydney and values against cash in the shape of fortysomething Colin Rogers (Mitchell Butel) and his publisher wife Kate (Lucy Bell) who make the move from Melbourne to Sydney, the city that gives good hedonism and where vicious cocktail parties are a necessary evil. Continue reading Emerald City→
With Kip Williams’s current production of R and J audiences get a bold, brash and powerful reworking of the Bard’s star crossed lovers tale.
Everything is big and dramatic and vivid as…one suspect that he was more than a little encouraged by Bazmark’s film to do something similar in a theatrical vein.
Plenty of dollars have been spent on the set and staging,- David Fleischer- which features multiple revolves and ‘boxed’ sets, and the costumes- Anna Lise Phillips as Juliet’s mother comes out in a lavish, extreme pink dress- everywhere there is opulence…extravagance.
Alan John’s, together with Nate Edmonson’s, soundscape works in well with the narrative, mixing cutting edge music bytes with orchestral tones.
Williams’s production, with lighting man Nicholas Rayment’s work, is visually stunning. Williams’s staging is excellent. The scene where Juliet is at the deep back of the theatre in just the barest of lighting, as she waits for Romeo’s appearance is mesmeric.
As is Eamon Farren as he makes his dramatic entrance, full of bravado, that kicks off the second half.
As the star crossed lovers, Eryn Jean Norvill and Dylan Young shine brightly. During the show they have to make some direct audiences from the front centre of the stage and they do so confidently and with eloquent phrasing.
Others to stand out in the cast include some highly experienced performers,- Colin Moody as Juliet’s Dad, Julie Forsyth as her Nurse and Mitchell Butel as the Friar.
Highly recommended, this Sydney Theatre Company production runs at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until November 2. It is a long night, running over two and a half hours, but worth every minute.
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