Thursday, November 29, 2012

The week that was #31

Have had a pretty busy month or so – luckily I've had enough time to crank out the occasional post – but I've been up to a bit lately, so it's time for an update.

My Romantic History

Finished the show I'd been stage managing - I did intend to include a writeup in this update, but once I started I realised there was enough material to constitute a standalone post and will post it another time.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

After a succession of serious roles (namely Alonso in The Tempest1, Glenn in Suddenly at Home, Ross in Macbeth and Evan in Don's Party2) over the last few years, I was in the mood to do something a little lighter – either a musical or a comedy. I was probably leaning more towards doing a comedy because I'd be more likely to get a lead (or a least a major) role in a play than I would a musical, but as the shows for the 2013 season were being announced, I realised there wasn't anything that particularly caught my eye; therefore, the best option for me would be a musical.

But which show? There were a few to choose from – The Producers (Hills), Little Shop of Horrors (Northern Light), Little Women (Therry) and Brigadoon (The Met) were all possibilities; however, earlier in the year I'd read that Marie Clark, the company with whom I'd done a couple of shows3 would be staging the 60s musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and at the time this caught my eye because, while I've never seen the show, I'd heard good things about it. Then there were the additional pluses of Marie Clark rehearsing not very far from my home4 and that several of my friends would be auditioning for it.

First and foremost, though, I had to get myself cast - which of course means auditioning. This is far more daunting for a musical than a straight play, though, because in the latter you can just show up without having done any preparation at all (unless they've specifically asked for a prepared monologue, but that doesn't happen often in my experience) and can simply walk in, pick up a script and go for it, in the latter you generally have to have worked on at least one song and will also have to do some choreography and maybe, depending on what role you're after, some character work as well. It's thrice5 the challenge.

This posed a bit of a problem for me, because the auditions were during the the run of My Romantic History – given the Guild's punishing performance schedule (production week then opening on the Saturday then shows Tuesday to Saturday for the next two weeks; we were in the theatre one day and fifteen nights out of twenty-one), I had very little time to devote to preparing.

But I wasn't setting my sights too high – I would be happy with ensemble but also put my name down to play a character named Ovington, which is a speaking but not singing (solo) part, meaning I'd get to both sing & dance (in the ensemble) as well as act. I'd had such a role (Charles the snooty butler) in Me & My Girl and had had a great time doing it.

Anyway, the chorus audition song (Coffee Break) was on YouTube and I could practice singing along with it, I did want to get some feedback on whether I was hitting the notes or not. I had lined up going over the audition song with my one-time singing teacher from a few years back, but her parents were coming to town so that couldn't happen; fortunately, I had access to a talented (and trained) singer from the cast of My Romantic History, and I was very lucky that Brownwyn agreed to sit down at the piano with me to go through it and give me some tips, which helped more – more with my confidence than anything else.

Unfortunately, the evening before the audition I re-read the info pack and realised that I needed to have prepared two songs - Coffee Break and one other. But by then it was way too late to do anything about it.

So, Monday evening I showed up at the Morialta Church in Magill (where, incidentally, I'd been to a birthday party, an engagement party and a wedding in years past) with one song in my head and a sackful of butterflies in my stomach – something I don't tend to get when auditioning for straight plays, mostly because I know what I'm capable of and believe it's far more down to whether or not I'm right for the part than how good I happen to be on the day.

After bumping into a few friends in the waiting area, and then being a bit shocked at the presence of two other friends being involved in the audition process (one as the choreographer's assistant and the other on the panel), I got my chance. I think my singing was okay in terms of the notes; I wasn't, however, so great at reading the music in such a way as to know exactly when to pause when it was played on the piano.

My dance section wasn't too flash either, but I managed to not fall over, which for me is an achievement. And I nailed the acting bit, probably because I can do a good American accent and have more acting experience than the average musical theatre performer; that does help.

I was pretty happy with how it went, but had a nervous couple of days to wait before I found out - and then when I got the call it was during a performance of My Romantic History, so I couldn't take it, and by the time I checked my phone to check the message (which asked me to call them back) I felt it was too late to do so (politely at least) and it wasn't until the following morning that found out I was in and had the role of Ovington.

So, in May next year I'll be taking the stage in a musical. I haven't been this excited about a show for a while, and it's going to be great - some awesome Adelaide musical theatre people are involved at the production end, and a bunch of my friends and some other equally awesome performers are involved; I reckon it's going to be a kickass show and I'm going to have an absolute ball.

Here's a live version of Coffee Break to give you an idea of the tone of the show.

1While The Tempest is technically a Shakespeare comedy, Alonso spends almost the entire time mourning the death of his son – so, for me it really wasn't especially comedic.
2Don's Party was much along the same lines; it's a proper laugh-out-loud comedy (albeit with some serious undertones) but my character was about the straightest I've ever played, and he spends almost all his stage time brooding, arguing with his wife or punching people.
3Oliver! in 2006 and Me & My Girl in 2009.
4I get up early these days; a thirty minute drive after finishing rehearsal at 10.30 means a later night than I'm prepared to live with.
5A word I don't get to use anywhere near often enough.

Seven Psychopaths

A film I'd been wanting to see ever since I first heard about it, Seven Psychopaths comes from writer/director Martin McDonagh, whose previous works include The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara, the BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated In Bruges and one of my all-time favourite plays, The Pillowman6.

It was, however, a bit disappointing. There were some great moments here and there – any of the several occasions the legendary Tom Waits was on screen being the most obvious; he was being über-creepy (even for him) as a bunny-stroking serial killer and just owned every scene he was in. But apart from that there isn't a lot to recommend; the plot's too thin and the characters and dialogue aren't enough to make up for it like they did for In Bruges7.

6I stage managed a production of it in Adelaide in 2011 and wrote about it here.
7Which I loved, but it wasn't for the plot.

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play

My Romantic History was on at the same time as quite a few other shows – this time of year is pretty much the end of the regular Adelaide theatre season (with a few exceptions), and a whole bunch of companies schedule shows at the same time – so once I was free to see shows I had a three to get to, with the first one being this rather oddly titled piece which was State Theatre's final production for the year.

It's about the original use of the vibrator for medicinal purposes and a doctor who uses it without any idea of its more sensual uses; ironic, given his own marital issues - his wife Catherine is unsatisfied and unhappy, and only becomes more so as she realises what the 'treatment' is doing for the other patients and which her husband refuses to use on her. There's also several subplots including a wet-nurse and several other patients, all of whom play a part in the resolution.

There are some good, funny moments and excellent performances from Renato Musolino8, Cameron Goodall and Lizzy Falkland, with the standout Amber McMahon as Catherine; much of the show's humour came from her excellent comic timing.

A good way to end the 2012 season.

8Incidentally, Renato goes to the same gym as I do, so we talk occasionally; some months back he told me he'd be getting naked for the role – which he most certainly did. It might make the next conversation we have a bit interesting.   

The Drowsy Chaperone

This was another show I was very much looking forward to, even if I didn't know much about it other than it was originally a US production and had been done a few years ago in Melbourne and starred Geoffrey Rush.

Turns out it's both an homage to and a parody of the musicals of the 1920s; in an epic breaking of the fourth wall, the main character ('Man in Chair') informs the audience that he wants to listen to a cast recording of a show and chooses from his collection The Drowsy Chaperone – his favourite. As the show progresses, he stops the action to add his thoughts, opinions and useful background information on the show, the 'performers' and life in general.

The combination of snarky meta-commentary9 and parody musical (which ticks the box on nearly every show formula on the list) makes for an hilarious show on paper alone; that it features some excellent performances from the likes of exceptional local talent like Scott Nell, Brady Lloyd, Lindsay Prodea, Fiona DeLaine and Brownen James – and a whole bunch of other great performers in the supporting roles and ensemble – made it an absolute cracker of a show. I laughed myself silly on more than one occasion.

9Any as you probably know by now, I loves me some meta.

Timon of Athens

Another in the NT Live series of broadcasts (others that I've written about include One Man Two Guvnors and Frankenstein), Timon of Athens is actually a Shakespeare play, albeit one that's done very, very rarely.

It is the story (unsurprisingly) of Timon, though in this production it really seems like he's from London rather than Athens. He's generous to his friends – too generous, as it turns out, since he runs out of money fairly on in the play; they then return his generosity by refusing to help him. Furious, he goes to live in the streets and spurns the people from his former life when they come looking for him.

While it lacks many of the elements of the 'great' Shakespeare plays, there's still a lot of good stuff going on - some great dialogue (much of it between Timon and his philosopher friend Apemantus, a very snarky fellow) and some timeless observations about the nature of friendship, particularly amongst the wealthy.

A bit difficult to say you should catch it the next time someone does a stage version, given how unlikely it seems that anyone's going to do it. Then again, maybe the NT version will prompt further stagings.

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