Saturday, June 30, 2012

A New (Don't Cry For Me,) Argentina - Evita 2012 Cast Recording

The three principals of the Evita revival: Michael Cerveris (Perón), Elena Roger (Eva) and Ricky Martin (Ché) [Source: Time Magazine].
How much you enjoy the 2012 cast recording of Evita will be largely dependent on how attached you are to previous actresses who have portrayed Eva. As usual, if you're a Lupone fan just don't bother - but if you're open to new interpretations, this recording contains the full score in English, with updated orchestrations and also it boasts the wonderful Elena Roger in the title role.

It gets given the flimsy title of 'rock opera' because it's sung all the way through, but Evita is the best score Andrew Lloyd Webber has composed, combining Latin rhythms, tangos, waltzes and habaneras with his signature souped-up rock rifts and kitsch drum-kit accompaniment. Some moments are over the top and cheesy, but for Evita Lloyd Webber wrote selections that are breathtaking and some melodies are unbelievably memorable and catchy.
The cover art of the new CD [Source: Broadway World].

The cast of this recording are not definitive, but it's always enjoyable to hear different portrayals of roles. Michael Cerveris' portrayal is too lethargic and laden with vibrato for Perón, and his attempt to put emotion into pieces like 'Dice Are Rolling' and 'I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You' seems to make him scoop to notes and affects the authority of his character - it also makes him sound as if he's struggling to reach higher notes which is weird because he has an impressive range. He also has a very strange accent which I can't really pinpoint (listen to him say flourishing as 'flurooshing' in 'Dice Are Rolling'), it's a little off but reminds me of Rogers a little. He's much more memorable than previous Peróns, but I really wish Philip Quast had been able to reprise this role since he was brilliant but practically non-existent on the last Evita recording.

The weakest link of the cast is Ricky Martin, who is is just so jarring to listen to with his embarrassingly obscene accent (like pronouncing Peronism as 'Perronism'), bizarre phrasing and an unpredictable vibrato. Although, occasionally he seems to get things right, and when he does he's quite enjoyable. In numbers like 'Perón's Latest Flame' and 'Eva's Final Broadcast' he actually creates quite an interesting and nasty character, but previous interpretations are superior despite his efforts. Supporting Rachel Potter as Peron's mistress delivers sweet rendition (with a belt!) of 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall', and Max von Essen manages to make the most out of his pointless material ('On This Night of a Thousand Stars') by being the best Migaldi recorded. Maya Jade Frank and Isabella Moner perform a very sweet 'Santa Evita' before the moment being ruined by that random guttural interjection from Martin.

While she'll never be considered the definitive Evita, I'm crazy about Elena Roger, who is perfect in the title role of the trashy and calculated actress who clawed her way to the top and seduced a nation. Roger is the only Evita who has appeared on two recordings - her Spanish accent adds another element of authenticity to her portrayal of Evita (her diction has also improved significantly since her previous recording). The score is unbelievably demanding and strenuous, but while previous actresses have screamed their way through the score, Roger's vindictive portrayal posses a remarkable vocal quality that distinguishes her from previous earth-shattering Evas. Her voice has an earthly quality, slightly rough and raw, but powerful and engaging. She is captivating, and while she has attracted a lot of criticism for being too nasal, she is ferocious on the brutal highs (SCREEWWWW THE MIDDDDLEEEE CLASSSESSS!) and lows of the score, and manages to balances explosive exuberant ('Buenos Aires', 'Rainbow High') with a quietly modest and candid moments ('Don't Cry for Me, Argentina', 'Waltz for Eva and Ché'). Her 'Rainbow High' is simply bitching, and she absolutely smashes the ending with these incredibly crazy notes which would bring the house down.
Shot of 'Buenos Aires' [Source: Evita Official Website].

The new orchestrations are reduced (naturally, since that saves money) and the outcome doesn't reflect the score well since Evita was conceived with sweeping orchestration which very fittingly compliments the woman who became a legend. It's fairly good considering the state of Broadway currently, and the additional embellishments and instrumentation adds a distinct Latin flare, but unfortunately large portions of the score have painfully obvious synthesizers and keyboards substituting the real instrument. I'm all for authenticity when it comes to transferring live scores to a recording, but there are some samples on this album which are criminal - such as the 'harp' noise, which is just vulgar and sounds so unrealistic that it detracts from the grandeur of the score. Also, the tempo of certain tracks are bizarre – 'Rainbow Tour' goes through about four tempo changes, 'Lament' is on steroids and 'On This Night of a Thousand Stars' is utterly erratic.

Most recordings of Evita have had fuck ups that no-one has bothered to fix post production, and in that tradition the mixing and editing is a little lopsided - however it's superior to the amateur attempt on the '06 London revival. There is an odd choice where principals are all mixed to the centre and the chorus sound very distant and heavily processed – they're still great, but the mixing feels uneven when the two are placed together. There's also some weird tendency that when accompaniment is sparse and about to transition to another segment in a song, a bass just booms in without any warning, and then exits just as enigmatically . . .

I enjoyed listening to this new recording, and although it has a few flaws and it's not my favourite interpretation, Elena Rogers makes it totally worthwhile by being totally star quality. If you're new to Evita then this is a good place to start, and if you're already a fan it'll be enjoyable for you to compare to previous recordings and should hopefully hold a high place in your collection.

The New Broadway Cast Recording of Evita was released July 26th, 2012. Available on physical CD and digital download. Preview the entire album for free on AOL music

To all the Patti Lupone fans who whine about how they can't listen to any other copy of Evita . . .

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ignatians' The Last 5 Years at QPAC

Jamie (Tim Dashwood) and Cathy (Bethan Ellsmore) in Ignatian's The Last Five Years (Source: QPAC).
If I had to summarise Ignatians Musical Society's The Last 5 Years in one word, it would be 'ambitious.' I entered QPAC wanting to love the piece, and although it had plenty of worthwhile elements and was a decent staging, it had some flaws that really detracted from the overall experience.

Directed by Travis Dowling, The Last 5 Years is about an ill-fated romance between upcoming writing superstar Jamie Wellerstein (Tim Dashwood), and struggling actress Cathy Hyatt (Bethan Ellsmore). The progression of the story is told from two concurrent perspectives, beginning at opposite sides; Jamie's beginning with the victory of meeting the woman of his dreams, Cathy's being with her lamenting the disintegration of their marriage. The show is almost entirely sung through, and the actors only interact for a brief interlude in the middle to consummate their marriage.

Jason Robert Brown's music is varied in styles, from the cocktail faux-jazz 'A Summer in Ohio' to the klezmer flared 'Shiksa Goddess'. Some songs feel unnecessarily long winded ('Nobody Needs to Know', 'Moving Too Fast') but overall the score incorporates light motifs into its own memorable and distinct indie pop category. His lyrics are clever, occasionally crass and insipid ('A Summer in Ohio', 'I Can Do Better Than That'), but usually colourful and overall he manages to capture a narrative and storyline, and develop character. While it lacks some distinct intricacies and complexity of other modern musicals, the score exposes an intense emotional honesty and vulnerability.

I didn't particularly enjoy the performance from the two actors, both of who possessed a formidable range and belt but were excessively nasal. A really problematic feature of the production was that a good portion of the music wasn't effectively sung since the actors were busy trying to communicate FEELINGS! Being unable to deliver the emotions effectively was irritating and really compromised the enjoyability of the score. Although there is an abundance of American references and the piece is set in New York, adopting the native accent felt pretty jarring and was kitsch at best. Most regrettably, the chemistry that the text demands to create an emotionally engaging and stimulating narrative was pretty much non-existent, and subsequently the piece just felt like a sequence of catchy but loosely unified songs.

The piece definitely had some stunning moments. The actors were trying their hardest and some scenes were brought to life with great élan. Ellsmore draws the most laughs with her colourful and neurotic wails in 'Climbing Uphill' and Dashwood's 'A Miracle Would Happen' is laced with delicious cynicism. The highlight was appropriately placed at the end, with Ellsmore's dizzy and breathlessness characterisation in 'Goodbye Until Tomorrow,' which is impossibly infectious and exquisitely accompanied by the band. nder the direction of piano wizard Ben Murray, the six-piece musical ensemble was sensational. The score was tremendously vibrant and a huge and well-deserved applause was delivered to the band in the bows - special mention needs to be given to the string section, Emma Chapman, Daniel Smerdon and Ruby Rose Hunter, who blitzed out these impossibly airy and difficult rifts. I've never heard the score delivered with such vibrancy and sensitivity, and in this performance it was perfect.

There were a few microphone scuffs, which unfortunately obliterated the fragile intimacy in some places, but overall the mixing was excellent with a perfect balance on all musical parts. The set was intimate and perplexing, adorned with piles of books and uneven furniture, and the edges of the stage resembled the foundations of a house and the interrupted, incomplete and imperfect home that the couple had created. Combined with delicate and precise lighting which created a variety of spaces through lights and shadows, it was a really inspired staging of the piece. 

This staging of The Last 5 Years had a lot of potential, and while it boasts some engaging moments, accompanied by a seriously awesome live band and based in a great set, the production is pretty unfulfiling due to the character portrayals and direction they've been taken in. A really solid and ambitious effort by Ignatians under the direction of Dowling, and it is something I'd recommend people go to see, but not the most ingenious rendition of this musical and I did leave wishing that segments had been done drastically differently.

Tickets for Ignatians Musical Society's The Last 5 Years are $25-$54, and is showing at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC until June 23rd. Duration of approximately 70 minutes. Book by visiting QTIX website.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Love Letter to 'a dinner with gravity'

"Created on two principles: 1g = 1L (He), and "If you feed them, they will be happy", a dinner with gravity is a work that feeds the heart and stomach; revelling in the beauty of food, the warmth of good conversation, and the laws of gravity." - a dinner with gravity.
I can't wait for people to experience this (Source: La Boite).
It was announced sometime last month that due to some conflicts, La Boite's original line-up for the annual Indie season had to be slightly altered - the original scheduled piece, Netta Yaschin's psychotic moral thriller with deranged nuns I Only Came to Use the Phone, unfortunately had to drop out. So instead, its place would be filled with two concurrent pieces - Motherboard Productions' La Voix Humaine, and Sarah Winter's a dinner with gravity.

Sarah's visions are something out of a dream, and the installations she creates are unfathomably beautiful. They're surreal and ethereal, and you leave thinking that you've just lived a real-life fairytale (without any of those pesky holier-than-thou moral messages and deaths of the wicked thrown in). This creation is no different, where participants are invited to join in a fanciful and enchanting sit-down dinner, where food is suspended in the air around them via helium balloons. Accompanied by a menu which details thoughts and suggestions to feed the conversation, the evening comes alive through interaction and interpretation.

I can't explain how much I adore this show. I had the chance to see Sarah Winter's piece last August, and I got to help out as a crew member with the process in February this year. It's going to be a blitz bump-in next week and then it's going to consume my life over about 2 weeks, but it's so worth it since I can't wait for everyone to experience it.

I was originally going to write this as a bit of promotion, but as I was writing this article tickets sold out! On that note, for every gram of food suspended in this experience, we'll need one litre of helium. So to serve a party of 18, we'll need a lot of helium. There will be no obligation for anyone to pay extra, but if you'd like to help out further, consider a small donation? Money would go towards helium and would help cut down the cost of the production (and may in future help us reduce ticket prices). Send Sarah and the team some love to help us realise this incredible floating feast experience a dinner with gravity on Pozible. You won't regret helping to bring this magic to life!

To those who missed out on getting a ticket this time - perhaps we'll meet in the future? But to those who have tickets - thank you, and I really hope you love the show as much as I do.

Tickets for Sarah Winter's a dinner with gravity are $28, and is showing at La Boite Theatre Company from June 27th until July 7th. Duration of approximately 60 minutes

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Head Over Heels in Love - Casus' Knee Deep

Romancing the egg (Source: ACPTA)
Casus' debut production Knee Deep is jaw-droppingly fucking unbelievable! Knee Deep is an intimate show that highlights the wonderful versatility and resilience of the human body . . . words don't do justice, I really recommend seeing it.

Knee Deep is an erotic and evocative experience where the cast storm the stage with an ineffable exuberance. The troupe, made up of unusually attractive circus artists Jessie Scott, Natano Fa’anana, Emma Serjeant, and Lachlan McAulay, are a delight to watch, oozing with sensuality and sharing an incredible chemistry and sensitivity between each other. Their raw emotion on stage is conveyed through movements and interactions of staggering grace and dexterity, and the performance is nothing short of inspirational.

There are so many incredible moments in the piece!! The artists perform hula hoops, aerial silks, hand-balancing on canes, trapeze, and much more, all complimented by incredibly poetic choreography in movement and dance. Almost every section was a crowd pleaser, although the audience seemed to spend most of the time so enthralled that it seemed inappropriate to act. Throughout the piece there are these interludes where the artists move in an elaborate Pas de Deuxs - they vary in being cheeky, erotic and beautiful. McAulay and Serjeant perform just prior to the hand balancing act, and that was absolutely my favourite moment of the entire night.

Attractive performers . . .  no joke
(Source: Concrete Playground)
The circus feats are all performed with meticulous proficiency, although I'd rather a bit less variety and instead seen an elaboration on other acts. The only thing that made me cringe (and people around me gag) was tapping the nail up the nose. There's some disgusting fascination behind it but the segment is pretty quick and doesn't really do much other than ruin the poetic flow.

The soundtrack, assembled by Tim Lamacraft, is pretty erratic, and the mixing is a little aggressive and jarring but I think that's just from the venue. I don't think it was an original score, but it brings on various elements of world music, utilising primal rhythms to French ballads to produce a non-descript, extremely fitting and pleasant soundscape. The set is very minimal as is the lighting, which provides an emphasis to the movement on stage through a simplistic use of washes, small spotting and shadows. Live video projection is also used, although not to a great extent until a paper crane the size of a thumbnail is assembled in front of our eyes. It's such a magical experience and I was wishing I had my own to take home after the show.

Knee Deep is unbelievably magical and I'm totally enchanted by Casus. Such a stunning, honest and fluid performance with incredibly talented and versatile artists - skip the riffraff of circus and experience this truly engaging and special piece.

Tickets for Casus' 'Knee Deep' are $18-$28, and is showing at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts until June 9th. Duration of approximately 60 minutes. Book by visiting Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts' website.