Hayes Theatre Co – coming soon in 2015

A week ago, the Hayes Theatre Co had its twice-yearly Coming Soon event at which they announced their program for the second half of this year. Although the company has only been in existence for 18 months, we’ve come to expect the Hayes to give a good launch – and so they did.

Hosted by David Campbell, one of the producers running the venue, the evening began with a lively video montage telling the Hayes story to date. Dedicated to the presentation of independent musical theatre and cabaret, it certainly illustrated what a great start the-little-venue-that-could has had.

Blasting off with Sweet Charity and The Drowsy Chaperone, other productions have included Blood Brothers, Miracle City, LoveBites, Next to Normal, new musicals Beyond Desire and Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You and the current production of Dogfight, as well as a cabaret festival and several Month of Sundays cabaret seasons. It hasn’t all been an unmitigated success but it’s been an exciting ride with some sensational high points, proving beyond doubt that the Hayes is an invaluable addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

So what do they have in store for us for the rest of the year?

Cabaret Season 2015

Running from June 1 – 28, this year’s cabaret season includes 17 acts by artists including Marina Prior, Phil Scott, Amanda Harrison, Rob Mills, Tyran Parke, Mitchell Butel, Josie Lane and Damien Leith among others.

It begins on June 1 with Australiana: A Celebration of Australian Musical Theatre directed by Genevieve Lemon with Max Lambert as musical director. Featuring performers such as Nancye Hayes, Christy Sullivan and Patrice Tipoki, the concert will raise funds for the presentation of a new musical in November as part of the New Musicals Australia program, now being run by the Hayes.

The cast recording of Luckiest Productions’ acclaimed Miracle City, recorded at the Hayes, will be launched that night.

Phil Scott gave us a taste of his new cabaret show Reviewing the Situation, which he has written with Terence O’Connell and which he will perform as part of the cabaret season. Telling the story of Lionel Bart, composer of the musical Oliver! the character and concept would seem to be right in the pocket for Scott and one of the shows to look out for.

Akio!

The Hayes will host its first children’s show when it presents Blue Theatre Company’s Akio! – the story of a shy, young boy who is bullied at school and escapes by immersing himself in video games. Things get strange when he and Harumi, the girl of his dreams, are sucked into a video game. Akio! plays on July 4 & 5.

Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers. Photo: Noni Carroll

Trevor Ashley was on hand to discuss Heathers The Musical, which he will direct with a cast including Lucy Maunder and Jaz Flowers. A rock musical by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy based on the cult 1988 film, Heathers opened off-Broadway last year. It tells the deliciously dark story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful, teenage misfit who manages to become part of The Heathers, a powerful clique of popular girls all named Heather at Westerberg High School. When Veronica falls in love with new kid J.D. and Heather Chandler, leader of the Heathers pack, says she will ruin Veronica’s social life, there will be hell to pay.

The New York Times described the show as a “rowdy, guilty-pleasure musical”. Ashley’s production for the Hayes is the first time the musical has been staged outside the US. Flowers raised the roof at the launch with her blistering rendition of the number Dead Girl Walking. Heathers plays July 19 – August 9.

Masterclass

A hit in Melbourne, Left Bauer Productions brings its acclaimed production of Terence McNally’s renowned play Masterclass to the Hayes. Inspired by Maria Callas’ 1971 visit to New York’s Juilliard School of Music, the production stars Maria Mercedes, who recently won a Green Room Award for her portrayal of Callas. The cast also includes Blake Bowden who sang Recondita Armonia from the opera Tosca at the launch. Fast becoming a regular at the Hayes, Campbell quipped: “we’re not going to let him go until he gets it right!”

Masterclass plays August 12 – 30.

High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings I'll Be All Right from High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings It’s All Right With Me  from High Society. Photo: Noni Carroll

The Hayes Theatre Co will present Cole Porter’s classic musical High Society. It’s the first show presented solely by the Hayes rather than with one of the production companies involved with the theatre, or an external producer. Richard Carroll will serve as producer.

Amy Lehpamer will play Tracy Lord, the gorgeous, privileged but coolly pretentious young socialite, whose swelegant wedding plans are thrown into disarray when her ex-husband turns up as well as a pesky, undercover, tabloid reporter. Directed by Helen Dallimore, the cast will also include Bert LaBonte, Bobby Fox and Virginia Gay – or “Amy Lephamer, Bert LaBonte, Bobby Le Fox and Virginia Le Gay” as they will be known for the production, joked Dallimore.

Singing It’s All Right With Me, Lehpamer – who is on an incredible roll right now – showed why she’s been cast as Tracy Lord.

High Society plays from September 4.

Rent

Highway Run Productions (Toby Francis and Lauren Peters) will present Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent in association with the Hayes. Loosely based on La boheme, Rent is set in New York City’s East Village, over the course of a year in the early 1990s, where a group of impoverished artist friends struggle to live, love and create under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic The cast of Dogfight performed the song Seasons of Love from the show and set spines tingling.

Rent plays October 8 – November 1.

Violet

Mitchell Butel will direct the musical Violet with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori, which he described as his favourite Broadway show of the last 10 years. A road movie of a musical, it is based on a short story by Doris Betts called The Ugliest Pilgrim about a young, disfigured woman who embarks on a bus journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma to find the preacher she believes can heal her. The production will star Samantha Dodemaide who sang the numbers All to Pieces and Lay Down Your Head.

Violet plays November 2 – December 20.

I Might Take My Shirt Off

As part of A Month of Sundays, Dash Kruck will perform his cabaret show I Might Take My Shirt Off, which premiered at the Brisbane Powerhouse in February. Featuring original songs by Kruck and composer Chris Perren, Kruck performed a short extract from the show. He plays Lionel, a timid flooring salesman and cabaret virgin struggling to cope with a relationship break-up, who finds himself on stage when his German therapist Grizelda pushes him into doing a cabaret show as a way to express himself. On the basis of the launch taster, it’s a very funny evening.

I Might Take My Shirt Off plays on September 20 & 27 and on October 11.

Neglected Musicals

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals' Dear World

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals’ Dear World. Photo: Noni Carroll

Neglected Musicals will present Jerry Herman’s Dear World, directed by Nicholas Hammond. Based on Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot, Hammond described the 1969 musical as “25 years ahead of its time”. The Broadway production, he said, was over-produced; as a small production, he believes it works a dream. The staged reading will feature Genevieve Lemon and Simon Burke, with Max Lambert as musical director. Dear World will be presented on August 3.

It was also announced that the Hayes has launched TALK through its website, which consists of regular podcasts and a series of editorials by Daily Review arts writer/reviewer Ben Neutze about musical theatre and cabaret.

All up, it’s an impressive line-up from one of the exciting companies in town.

Full details of the Hayes Theatre Co season can be found on its website: www.hayestheatre.com.au

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Les Miserables

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, July 23 matinee

The barricades in Les Mis. Photo: Matt Murphy

The barricades in Les Mis. Photo: Matt Murphy

When Les Misérables premiered at London’s Barbican Theatre in 1985, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and the Royal Shakespeare Company, reviews were decidedly mixed and the planned transfer to the West End was in doubt.

But queues began to storm the box office. The people had spoken. Nearly 30 years on, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s stirring musical is still running in the West End and has been seen by around 65 million people in 300 cities around the world. (The original Australian production premiered in Sydney in December 1987).

To celebrate the musical’s 25th anniversary, Mackintosh decided to produce a brand new staging of the show with new orchestrations. It’s that version that recently opened at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre – and utterly spectacular it is too, with production values of the highest order.

For the uninitiated, Les Mis is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. Sung-through in operatic fashion, it is epic in its sweep as it tells the story of Jean Valjean, who after serving 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving niece, breaks his parole in order to break free from the shackles of his convict past and lead a reformed life.

Reborn as a pillar of society and a kind man with a strong social conscience, he is hunted down across the years by the unforgiving policeman Javert. Unfolding against a backdrop of terrible inequality and suffering, leading to a student uprising in Paris, the story embraces themes of class struggle, political idealism, love and self-sacrifice.

 

Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean. Photo: Matt Murphy

Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean. Photo: Matt Murphy

The original production famously used a revolving stage in order to keep the sprawling action moving fluidly across numerous locations and characters, and across time (1815 to 1832).

The revolve was so much part of the original concept that I wondered what the show would be like without it. But the new staging is superb, with state-of-the technology and dramatic lighting allowing for seamless scene changes.

Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with set design by Matt Kinley, substantial scenic elements appear in the blink of an eye, while wonderful, moody projections inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo himself help conjure different settings, lend extra atmosphere and create special effects – the convict ship in the opening scene, the underground tunnels of the sewer through which Valjean carries the injured student Marius, and Javert’s jump from the bridge are all brilliantly evoked with projected images.

Paule Constable’s lighting is a vital part of the equation, creating a dark, shadowy world in which white light sculpts the barricades or shines on the dying. The effect is one of painterly chiaroscuro, while the darkness renders many of the scene changes invisible.

Christine Rowland has developed Andreane Neofitou’s original costumes, which add the odd splash of colour to a generally somber palette.

Simon Gleeson is superb as Valjean. His transformation from starving, desperate convict to respected gentleman and loving father to Cosette is brilliantly done and he ages convincingly, helped by the costuming and wigs. As for his singing he is in glorious voice, nowhere more so than with a sublime, heartbreaking rendition of Bring Him Home.

Hayden Tee as Javert. Photo: Matt Murphy

Hayden Tee as Javert. Photo: Matt Murphy

Hayden Tee is his match as the implacable Javert, turning in a commanding performance vocally and dramatically as he stalks the stage, ramrod straight, exuding a powerful intensity.

Patrice Tipoki finds all the broken-hearted fragility in the destitute Fantine, her lovely voice soaring with a spine-tingling belt. Kerrie Anne Greenland is also a knockout as the streetwise Eponine, hopelessly in love with Marius yet feisty to the last.

Trevor Ashley and Octavia Barron Martin (covering for the injured Lara Mulcahy) are hilarious as the inn-keeping Thenardiers. Both have powerful pipes and a sure-fire sense of comedy, providing welcome relief from the darkness of the rest of the story. The way Barron Martin attacks a baguette while dismissing her husband’s manhood, or tilts her head coquettishly when Valjean appears to rescue the young Cosette is priceless, while Ashley brings a wicked gleefulness to Thenardier’s underhand shenanigans. Together they are a grotesquely funny double act.

Euan Doidge has a sweet but fairly light voice, which in this vocal company sounds a bit underpowered, but he is endearing as Marius, coming across as a boyish innocent in the first flush of first love. And he sings Empty Chairs at Empty Tables beautifully.

Chris Durling as Enjolras and Emily Langridge as Cosette don’t yet radiate all the charisma they might but their performances will doubtless grow, and the ensemble is fierce.

From the very opening bars, this new production lifts you up and sweeps you along. The combined power of the story, lyrics and music, complemented by splendid staging and performances, is dramatically thrilling and deeply moving. By the end, I was undone emotionally – and I was not alone.

Les Misérables is currently booking until November 9 in Melbourne. It opens in Perth on January 13 and then in Sydney in March.