Review: Streakin’ thru the ‘70s
James A. Rocco & Albert Evans with Heidi Karol Johnson
Director: Chris Burton
Co Directors: Kirsten Clark & Alex Hughes
Review Date: 18/03/21
As an annual attendee of the PNBHS/PNGHS productions I have come to know what to expect of their performances. I had heard whispers that things were very different this year and given the name of the production, and my poor musical theatre knowledge, I felt nervous about what I would see. I thought perhaps it was a dubious choice to introduce streaking to a group of teenagers and that it might upset some parents. Rest assured, I got it wrong, there was no nudity.
This year they certainly did shake things up, and while some things shaken are terrible (like a shot of baileys and lime juice shaken together in the mouth), some things are just better (like milkshakes that bring all the boys to the yard). Streakin’ thru the '70s is what this show is all about, bringing together a heady cocktail of disco, fashion, TV game shows, feminism, anti-war/peace protests and The Muppets. The Muppets were well used as part of the show with just the right amount of cameo appearances, except Kermit’s hands which will haunt me for a while…
My taste in musicals is very narrow, it has to be almost not a musical for me to enjoy it. When I read the programme and saw the extensive list of musical numbers I audibly groaned. I was heartened only by the fact that there were some real bangers in there like Disco Inferno, You Sexy Thing, I am Woman, Peace Train and so on. I resigned myself to a long night of it.
Lest you think that I am being a negative Nancy, I am just getting to the redemption stage. This streak through the '70s was pitched extremely well to my age group which is the youthful group born in the '70s or prior. The structure of the show was as free and loose as the '70s movement, just like me. This musical even frees itself from the suffocating structure of having a storyline and just dances and sings up a disco dream. A very liberating experience indeed. Some patrons had got into the spirit of things and dressed up in theme. So, feel free to dust off your old disco clothes and strut on in to this production.
Let’s not forget the cast. Usually there are some main characters around which all the action occurs. There still were some main players who hosted the proceedings but this year it felt very much more inclusive. The cast seemed to be having a great time, it was like watching a really good party. The actors felt much closer and much more connected to the performance especially when they were set up as live studio audiences instead of backstage between sets. The ensemble dancing and singing numbers were energetic and engaging. No one seemed to be trying too hard to impress, they were really, or seemed to be, having a great time. That’s not to say that they weren’t trying, they must have been. The show ran very smoothly with all set changes, lighting and band running without a hitch. If they messed anything up they had the skills to carry on without blinking, because I didn’t notice it. Oh okay, there was a costume mishap (minor) which Gabby Clark managed without fuss.
Paris Kareko, who played the role of Gloria, was a stand-out actor, singer and dancer. She was the perfect fit as host of the production with her enthusiasm and well-landed one-liners. She was a star on stage, with a standout performance in the finale in a gold jumpsuit belting out ‘I Will Survive’ and dancing like a boss. Boom!
Tom Varney sang some heart-melting numbers as Donny. Wow, I thought James Taylor was in the room. His relaxed manner really added to the experience. Jacob Dredge and Josiah Luoni also impressed with amazing vocals that really brought the spirit of the songs to life especially in Peace Train.
Gabby Clark played an impressive and energetic scene reminiscent of Stephen Kings Carrie while singing Disco Inferno. She’s acting crazy – I hope. Her singing performance was solid.
Okay there is a lot of talk about singing, but there is a lot of singing and I know good singing when I see it, and oh my, Laura Lopez playing the roles of both Peggy and Lucy, demonstrated outstanding singing talent. In her rendition of You Light up my Life she showed breath-taking (great pun huh) control even while singing with an Irish accent. It became a joy to see her walk to the front of the stage to hearing what she would sing next.
Drum roll please! The band were great! Three cheers for the band. Three cheers for the Band Director Danielle Joe.
Take a bow dancers (and Dance Director Alex Hughes), your energy was awesome, I wanted to dance with you.
Holler out to Kirsten Clark (Vocal Director), those singers, need I say more? I’ll spare my voice.
Congratulations Director Chris Burton. You went fast and loose and it worked.
Stay cool team. You seem to be having a great time. Keep sharing the joy.
P.S. It was actually a shorter show than usual, and very high energy, so not time to get uncomfortable in your seat or start yawning. You’ll leave with a spring in your step.
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Review - Me and My Girl
Director: Chris Burton
Co Director: Kirsten Clark
Review Date: 12/03/20
At the end of a busy Thursday, do you really want to go to see a theatre production? I didn’t. I hoped it would finish early so that I could eat snifter lumps and fall asleep in front of the TV. I was feeling like a misery guts.
What is Me and My Girl even about? I’d never heard of it before, but Google said that Stephen Fry had been involved in its creation, so I felt it had to be some fun. Some fun indeed!
Me and My Girl is a play set in England during the 1930’s that sets the similarities and differences between classes at centre-stage and makes a comedy-drama out of the ensuing madness. It’s a dancing, singing, laughing extravaganza that will entertain the socks off you.
The band lead by Danielle Joe started the show off well. Before the curtains had opened I found myself affected by some addictive and joyful toe-tapping music. The combination of a lively band and some fun dance acts made it hard not to get swept away with it all. There was a simply smashing scene that involved the playing of spoons which had the audience bouncing in their seats and whooping for joy. I say!
It wasn’t just the enjoyable story-line and quality laughs that made Me and My Girl such a riveting piece of theatre, a huge part of the fun came in the form of Zac Maskill playing a lovable character from the wrong side of town—Bill Snibson. Zac seemed the perfect choice to play the main character with his excellent vocals, authentic sounding accent, and impeccable acting. His performance came across as genuine, he had amazing stage presence and delivered a good measure of laughs (or should I say larfs).
Similarly, co-star Leonora Potten as Sally Smith showed off a strong, sassy, act with a lovely vocal performance. Sally was a delightful presence who stole the hearts of those on and off-stage. Together, Bill and Sally (Leonora and Zac) had a beautiful onstage chemistry, a true romance.
Gabby Clark as Maria, The Duchess of Dene, delivered a strong performance and a very impressive solo piece in ‘Song of Hareford’. Ayesha Satya as Lady Jacqueline Carstone also showcased some strong vocal performances. Karmeehan Senthill-Nathan as Herbert Parchester played a darling role as the family solicitor and Blake Storrier delivered a very enjoyable comedy act as stuffy, snivelling, snob Gerald Bolingbroke.
The production team had prepared the cast well, they all delivered strong, polished performances. Transitions between scenes were managed smoothly, and the show moved along like a well-oiled machine. Costuming and make-up had the cast looking absolutely dapper.
Me and My Girl is an excellent comedy that is very giving to the audience. It’s a laugh a minute, and for those of you who feel tested by overly long, drawn-out musical numbers, let me reassure you that you will not be rolling your eyes here. Instead you will lose track of time as you lean into the liveliness of it all. It’s an excellent antidote for misery, I smiled a lot and I wasn’t the only one. I suspect the whole audience were beaming smiles back at the stage for the duration of the show. We certainly made a lot of appreciative noises too. In fact, the audience gave a stellar performance too, we rocked!
I’ve reviewed a few PNGHS/PNBHS shows and this one is my favourite. It is lively, has an enjoyable story, and is a laugh a minute.
Just in case you’re interested, I did go home and nail a packet of snifter lumps, what a night!
Review: The Unfolding of Benjamin's Misery
Written and Performed by Hideto Ambiguous
Square Edge Community Arts Centre
Review Date: 7/02/2020
On Friday night at Square Edge Community Arts Centre in Palmerston North, Hideto Ambiguous bared his body and soul to present The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery.
It was a small room, which accommodated an intimate audience, with a basic stage which was only slightly elevated above the audience. There was no backstage area to slip behind the curtains and peer out at the audience, there were no shadows to lurk in, there wasn’t even mood lighting. Hideto Ambiguous had to master the space, and he did.
The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery is an award-winning one-person show (having won the 'Best Words and Ideas' award at the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2019) in which Hideto showcases a range of talents including spoken-word poetry, story-telling, singing, ukulele playing and his uniquely entertaining ‘Asian’ dancing.
The show started about fifteen minutes late, but as it turns out that was when we as the audience were playing our role—a clever device which subtly reinforced the themes of us and them. We were watching a show as an audience but were also the audience in the show. There was also an unexpected guest cameo—a blowfly which became expertly woven into the tapestry of the show and showed how supremely Hideto governed the stage.
Benjamin’s misery really did unfold in front of us, like an intricately folded artwork with new things to discover under each new layer. Hideto performed multiple characters, with unique accents and postures who came to life with such natural ability that for a moment I started imagining there was a backstage where all the characters resided.
It was perhaps fitting, given the subject material, that Hideto had only the clothes on his body, a ukulele and a few coins to use as props. With a small audience unable to be distracted by moving or colourful props how was it that Benjamin made us see things so clearly?
It is a true inside story, as Benjamin sheds his problems in front of us, and we observe the evolution of Benjamin. Powerful story-telling works to break down barriers between cultures and expose the beating, human heart at the centre of us all. Every step of the journey created the Benjamin we saw before us, and it was fitting that we observed that through past, present and future layers of story.
Although the subject material illuminates the shadowy world of exploited migrant workers, Benjamin is gentle and kind, offering options, possibilities and ideas for dealing with these challenges. Benjamin is nobody and everybody. He opened up a portal to his vulnerabilities, and struggles and then offered hope, and the potential for happiness. I laughed and smiled, frowned and sighed, as Benjamin unraveled his journey.
We get to see the breaking and making of Benjamin and how he chooses to take control of his life by using his gifts to improve life for himself and other Benjamins. I am grateful for the gift of Benjamin that now resides in me.
It was both a privilege and a pleasure to experience this performance by an exceptionally skilled artist whom I expect to see carrying on to do many great things.
As well as being the winner of Liverpool Poetry Slam 2018 (UK), Hideto's first poetry collection, “Foreigners in Me” will soon be published by Lastbench/Antivirus productions in Liverpool, UK. Hideto Ambiguous is someone to watch as he takes multiple talents, this show, and a new one he is currently developing, on the road internationally. You can follow his Facebook Page or his Instagram Account to keep up with upcoming projects (I will be).
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