30 November 2006


Tomfoolery: The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer
Melbourne Theatre Company
25 November 2006
The Arts Centre, Playhouse

From its unexpected and explosive opening, Tomfoolery is a thoroughly enjoyable night of song, dance and comedy. As expected of the Melbourne Theatre Company, it is designed, directed and performed very well, but it fails to be the challenging and irresistible theatre that should be produced by our local flagship company.

Tomfoolery was adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray in 1980, as a cabaret of loosely linked Tom Lehrer songs. Lehrer’s work remains funny - very funny. How can you not laugh at 'The Masochism Tango', 'The Vatican Rag' and 'I Got It from Agnes'. His writing is intelligent and witty, but it has become nostalgia rather than the contemporary and shocking satire that it once was. The inclusion of very recent material referencing Korean nuclear testing, Dick Cheaney and murdered KGB agents, reinforced that the absurdities of politics and war really never change. Nonetheless, it didn’t comment on Australian society, apart from proving that we are more aware of US and UK politics than we are of our own.

I also have to question why it was performed in the “original American”, apart from to set up a couple of jokes. Were the accents necessary? Would anyone perform a translated Asian language work with a bad “oriental” accent? The American accents just seemed to distance it further from our own lives.

Then again, I may have been the only person in the audience thinking like that. Tomfoolery is a perfect choice for the (slightly) conservative MTC audience, who were happy to enjoy the show for the nostalgic song and dance night that it was.

The stand out performance of the evening was Mitchell Butel. In fact, it is worth seeing Tomfoolery just for Mitchell. He understood every nuance of the material, supported the ensemble and never let his energy or concentration drop. Keep an eye out for his Elmo in Act 2.

Melissa Madden Grey continued to prove herself to be one of the most versatile, disciplined and funniest around, and Gerry Connolly and Bert LaBonte were contrasting and ideal additions to the ensemble.

The show is, however, being marketed on Rhonda Burchmore. Rhonda is one of our best, but her performance was disappointing. Her energy was low, she didn’t seem to be enjoying herself and failed to reach the standard set by the rest of the cast. She may have been having an off night, but there is no excuse for constantly rearranging jewellery and costume (please just cut the train off that frock), looking at your feet when you move, and failing to stay in character when not “in the spotlight”. The contrast between her and the younger members of the cast was especially noticeable. Learn from those who still love every moment they get on a stage.

If you want well-performed, light-hearted fun for your holiday season theatre outing, Tomfoolery is a good choice, but there are funnier, more relevant and just as well performed cabaret shows next door at the Speigeltent.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

Tina C: Sometimes I Frighten Myself

Sometimes I Frighten Myself
Tina C
The Famous Spiegeltent
1 November 2006

Saddle up cowboys and girls, as Tina C is in the Spiegeltent, and she may just be the best ride in this lil’ ol’ town.

Tina C is a true superstar. With politics as sharp as her stilettos and material as tight as her hotpants, she shines as garishly bright as the rhinestones on her Elvis inspired cape.

All the way from Throat Holler, Tennessee, Condy Rice has sent her on an anti-anti-American tour. She tells us she is an example of the soft power of America, rather than their hard power; because cultural imperialism is better than “What did it used to be called? Oh yea – war”.

She proves that white trash has nothing to do with colour or income; it’s a state of mind, nay a state of grace. Remember – to quote the title of Tina’s first album – “It ain’t easy being easy” and, just like the Virgin Mary, we can all open our hearts and feel like we have a little Jesus inside of us. Makes me kind of wish I’d married a cousin when I was 12.

Moonee Ponds is a long way from a Tennessee trailer park, but Tina C has a lot in common with our own superstar Dame Edna. Outstanding taste in clothing and amazing legs aside, she knows that the only thing funnier than relevant political satire is a count joke (pronounced as in country) and I do want the “No Dick is as Hard as My Life” cd and t-shirt.

Tina C is the creation of UK actor and writer Chris Green and she is always “she”. Like Barry Humphries, the performer never lets the actor interfere with the character. Tina C may be a parody of American-white-trash-conservative-country-music-singing-Christians, but she is real and completely believable. I had trouble accepting that she isn’t really American.

Tina C is appearing on November 8, 15, 24, 25 and 26 at the Spiegeltent. Her show was a delightful surprise to me. I didn’t stop laughing. She is one of the best who deserves her “whole” (rather than just her parts) loved by many.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

19 November 2006

The Opera Burlesque

The Opera Burlesque
19 November 2006
The Famous Spiegeltent

Review by Christina Cass

“Opera singers can sing but they sure as hell can’t act”, are mutters often heard while the audience files out of Carmen or La Traviata. That’s what keeps many people away from embracing the opera format – the stiffness of the performers we often see (which, by the way, has loosened up quite a bit lately). Ah! But the music is so dreamy that watching Pavarotti poke around the stage barely physically connected to the text of the story – much less barely resembling the character – doesn’t matter.

Not so with Ali McGregor’s The Opera Burlesque triumphantly back from the Edinburgh Festival for another Melbourne engagement at the Famous Spiegeltent. Ali McGregor, Antoinette Halloran and Dimity Shepherd make up the trio of lovely laced-up vocalists who can also act! That’s what struck me about halfway through their show – how wonderful it was to enjoy beautiful, classically trained voices wrapping their delicious vocal chords (not to mention corset chords) around uniquely mixed interpretations of Puccini, Madonna, and AC/DC all while being fully invested in their characters.

Okay, okay, bad boys and horny babes -- love gone murderously wrong and songs about tongue-tied ‘cunning linguists’ may not bring these ever-so-slightly-tarnished lilies a Tony Award, but to see a well-structured kabaret performed with polish is a great treat. This cheeky burlesque business can sometimes be just haphazard, titillating vaudevillian fare – which in itself can be very fun, don’t get me wrong, The Opera Burlesque has plenty of that but it also has a bit more structure than just getting down and dirty.

McGregor, who also directed the show, was apparently inspired by a late 19th Century group of opera singers who used to creep out of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, dash across to the East End and perform their arias in corsets and drawers for the vaudeville loving public. Parodying popular theatre of the day, these ladies gave the audience a taste of opera that they may not otherwise either experience or care for and that’s exactly what The Opera Burlesque ladies are leaving its audience today.

The Opera Burlesque has one final show, November 20, 2006 @ the Spiegeltent 9:15pm – try not to miss it!

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

18 November 2006

Babes In The Wood

Babes In The Wood
Malthouse Theatre
18 November 2006
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse

There has been more media coverage of Babes In the Wood over the last couple of weeks than most Malthouse productions receive for a season. Why? A song about Steve Irwin. It has been misquoted and taken out of context by every story I’ve read (including one on AussieTheatre).

Before September, Irwin was been a ripe target for satire, but now we have to be careful. (If you have just woken from a coma – Steve Irwin died in September). I’ve seen the great controversy. It’s a loving, kind, funny and totally respectful song about an iconic Aussie bloke who sings that we should all try doing the thing we love. He then dies doing what he loves, when three ridiculous stingrays come dancing in. If anything it is satirising the public response to Irwin’s death – who didn’t find themselves saying, “At least he was doing what he loved.” The only person who should be offended is Germaine Greer. Her character is the one singing all the misquoted lines.

There we go – another 170 words devoted to one of the best publicity calls made by a theatre company. I’m sure many tickets will be bought just to see this scene. It’s a good reason to go - it’s funny, respectful and relevant. In fact, it stands out as one of the better moments of Babes In The Wood.

If you saw the 2003 production of Babes In The Wood, don’t expect Babes 2 (in the city). This is the same production, with some new material. I missed the original, so cannot compare the two.

It is good old-fashioned pantomime, created intelligently. The opening scenes are enticing and captivating. It is great to openly laugh and enjoy “serious” theatre. How many other mediums allow you to boo at a John Howard joke and scream back “Oh no he isn’t” when the panto dame declares he’s a bold and visionary prime minister.

Sadly the show loses momentum and never recaptures the opening energy (except for the Steve Irwin number). A lot of material would read well in the script, but slows the show down on the stage. I know its hard to cut your good lines, but some people didn’t come back after interval. Much of the material is still relevant, but has lost the impact and power that it had in 2003. Tamper/children overboard, un-Australian, war on terror - is this political comment for 2006?

There is new material, but it seems to have been forced into the old script. The Rumsfeld “known and unknowns” joke was most welcome, "Under the Milky Way" at least referenced the Commonwealth Games and, if you look carefully, you may notice a reference to Steve Irwin.

The original music is terrific and supported by an eclectic and illogical soundtrack of 70s and 80s pop hits. The tradition of panto is to use contemporary music, but these retro moments are not contemporary. If it is a commentary on society today, why not use the music of the starettes that fill our media as much as any politician? Kylie’s return, aging rockers on the Countdown tour, wealthy singers trying to make poverty history, Australian Idol and Brittany are all too easy targets. (Amanda Vandstone singing, “Opps I did it again” instead of Nutbush?) Agadoo is funny – but what is its relevance?

What does sustain the production is the terrific cast. Caroline Craig, Diana Emry, Julie Forsyth, Max Gilles, Francis Greenslade, Eddie Perfect and Lucy Taylor. Each one as perfect as Eddie, having a ball on the stage and making sure the audience also enjoy the absurdity and silliness of the panto.

Babes In The Wood is a fun and irreverent night out, but is not the seditious political satire that I expected.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

17 November 2006


The La La Parlour
17 November 2006
The Famous Spiegeltent

Tarnished is ideal Speigeltent fare. It’s tight, sassy, funny and enjoyable, but remains unpolished. The appeal of the La La Parlour is their tarnished acts, but the show lacks the content and substance that would make it an outstanding cabaret.
Imogen Kelly, Tiger Lil, Kellie Vella and Neridah Waters are all engaging and fabulous performers. However, they need to decide if they are performing as themselves or as characters. Either way, further character development would create a much more intimate, and I suspect funny, show. There were hints of character and relationships between the four, but not enough to take it from a series of vaudeville style acts and turn it into an ensemble work.
Described as a shotgun marriage of circus and burlesque, Tarnished is two genres being forced to work together. Clowning, acrobalance, hoops and aerial are combined with the traditional vaudeville tradition of women getting their gear off. Artists like Azaria Universe have proven that the circus/burlesque marriage can be perfect, and with many female artists positively reclaiming burlesque traditions (Kunst ist Sheisse, The Burlesque Hour, The Town Bikes), it is unusual to see the tradition not being used as a questioning of gender, sexuality, desire and body image.
The Marie Antoinette cake strip, the spark spitting vagina and ongoing jokes about the shortest member of the ensemble do fit in the political burlesque category, but could all be developed further. The theme of the night appears to be knickers. The possibilities and power of this theme is endless, but isn’t used anywhere near as much as it could be. The poo/period stained pair of huge grundies is always funny, but how about a stained lacy g-string? Everyone should have left wondering if they were wearing “you know you want me” or “I can’t pick up tonight” undies.
Nonetheless, the sold out audience loved Tarnished. It is well worth seeing and totally enjoyable, but don’t go along expecting sharp politics and substance.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.