Kineta Booker

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REVIEW: Mamma Mia – ‘ABBAsolute stand-out for Showbiz’

Mamma Mia. Presented by Showbiz Christchurch. Director/Choreographer Stephen Robertson. Musical Director Richard Marrett. Isaac Theatre Royal, 31 March – 16 April, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Have you ever been to a production where the male ensemble steals the show? Or where the backing vocalists are just as sensational as the onstage performers?

Showbiz’s Mamma Mia is an absolute standout production – from the lycra and lighting through to the distinctive full ABBA sound (with no less than four keyboards!) supervised beautifully by Richard Marrett.

Based on the book by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the story is centred around 20-year-old Sophie and her upcoming wedding. She finds an old diary of her mother’s (Donna) and decides to invite three men written about to the Greek island she lives on with her mother hoping one of them is her father.

The story itself is simple but it’s the characters and music that makes it a success.

Mamma Mia is driven by its big company numbers. The dancing, the singing, the bright costumes and even brighter smiles. Money, Money, Money shows the darker side to ABBA’s songs, which was staged in a strong but beautiful way. It was just the start of the showcase of talent from Juliet Reynolds Midgley (Donna). Her voice has a faultless strength and sincerity to it, whether it be in the company numbers or ballads – in particular Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All.

A welcome addition back to Christchurch was Matt Pike (Sam). He brought a great deal of warmth to the stage, and his S.O.S. duet with Reynolds Midgley was one of the most powerful moments in the show. Almost a moment of reflection for the audience – either captured by the story of Sam and Donna, or the history of their own lives.

The male ensemble was certainly a crowd pleaser, especially during Lay All Your Love On Me and in Tanya’s (Sarah Greenwood) Does Your Mother Know number. Nicky Marshall is a cheeky talent and plays the role of Pepper well.

The duo of Greenwood and Sarah Kelly (Rosie) was a hoot to watch. Kelly’s natural comic talent came easily with the role and Greenwood’s ‘banana’ had those not already laughing – guffawing. Together with Reynolds Midgley they make up Donna and the Dynamos – an absolute super trouper of a trio.

With such a large production it’s hard to get everything perfect. Unfortunately there were a few sound issues with lead mics not going on at the right time for dialogue and often the leading men’s mics were not loud enough during their numbers or company songs, and during Dancing Queen (although a fantastic number) the balance of the backing vocals drowned out the girls onstage. But this is just being picky, in an otherwise faultless show.

However, the lighting was spectacular. Standout numbers were Money, Money, Money, Mamma Mia, and in the reprise of I Have A Dream at the end of the show.

Showbiz’s first of its three 2016 productions has hit an absolute highnote, and if they’re all like Mamma Mia this will surely be the company’s best year on record.

Review: Large-scale musical fits beautifully in small theatre

Mary Poppins. Presented by The Court Theatre, Christchurch. Co-Director/Choreographer Stephen Robertson, Co-Director Ross Gumbley. Musical Director Richard Marrett. 21 November 2015 – 30 January 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Watching a musical after the cast has put on over 60 performances, while expecting them to be as fresh as opening night and they deliver, shows the absolute endurance of a company.

The Court Theatre’s summer season is New Zealand’s first ever professional production of the Disney Broadway musical. And, to be fair, it could have gone either way. If you think of the big stages with extremely large theatres, seating hundreds upon hundreds of excited theatre-goers this show would be used to, compared to the intimate setting of The Court, there’s quite a difference. But boy did it work.

Having seen this production on Broadway, one can’t help but compare. However, sitting there mesmerised by The Court’s version, I somehow found myself lost in the magical world of Mary (Laura Bunting) and her chimney-sweep friend Bert (Jan Di Pietro). When Bunting and Di Pietro are on stage, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are long gone from your mind, as they bring their very own portrayal of these characters to the show. Bunting has a stunning stage presence and beautiful voice, and Di Pietro’s charm and wit shines through like none other.

The musical is staged with intelligence – what a team Robertson and Gumbley make. Their company numbers (of which there are many) were choreographed with expert guidance, and the skill of the performers was exceptional. In a normal run of this show, where usually there’d be an orchestra pit and possibly dozens of other rows of theatre-goers in the way, with The Court’s version the stage is so very close, however, never confrontational, but always spell-binding.

Other notable moments were the famous Feed the Birds scene, played by Lucy Porter, and the arrival (and departure!) of the unpleasant Miss Andrew, who was portrayed wonderfully by Angela Johnson. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was rich and vibrant (thanks to Robertson’s costume designs and choreography), and Step in Time was truly mesmerising.

The only downside to this performance, which was driven perfectly by Richard Marrett’s orchestra, was when it was time to leave the theatre, back to a reality without Mary Poppins. Even Mary’s flying exit was “practically perfect in every way”. The Court Theatre have truly put on the biggest and brightest summer show yet, but just how will they top it next Christmas?

Review: Spamalot – ‘Absurdly nutty show’

Monthy Python’s Spamalot. Presented by Showbiz Christchurch. Director/Choreographer Sara Brodie. Musical director Luke Di Somma. Isaac Theatre Royal. 4-12 September. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

The stage oozed with warmth, energy, and hilarity. The audience reacted with laughter, singing and whistling. This is one absurdly nutty show. Away from the lights of the theatre, the sound effects, pyrotechnics and a real wizard on stage, you might question yourself – did that really just happen?

If you’re a Monty Python fan, you’re in the right place. You understand the intelligence of the humour. If it’s not your thing, or you’ve never been introduced to it, your first reaction might be to look for your closest exit or at least sit there and wonder what on earth is going on. A servant who plays coconuts to simulate the king riding a horse? Men with beards playing women? Ham acting like you’ve never seen it before?

This musical comedy is based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and retells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, while parodying other Broadway musicals as it goes.

And I just can’t get over what a crazy show it was. Is my theatre brain so structured it doesn’t know how to process complete ridiculousness, but at the same time guffawing at the lunacy?

It’s a busy stage, although sometimes a bit bunchy, with hundreds of costumes, and a wealth of talented actors. The orchestra, lead by Luke Di Somma, was clever and powerful, and the songs came easily from the cast through Di Somma’s direction.

A favourite scene has got to have been in the plague village – I Am Not Yet Dead. Humourous direction from Sara Brodie and great ensemble work from the cast.

The sets are spectacular, which is completely typical of Showbiz, and the height and the depth of the set would have taken an age to complete. Lighting of King Arthur (Jason Reekers) in I’m All Alone was beautiful, yet the face of the stunning lone ballerina was unfortunately lost.

Reekers plays a superbly silly King Arthur, and mention must go to Lady of the Lake, Leigh Wilson. Prima donna to a tee, playing the only female lead with passion and gusto. It’s great to see Wilson back treading the boards after many years away from theatre. And then there’s Patsy (Warwick Shillito). He simply steals the show. Showbiz, where did you find this gem? And Brett McPhail (Not Dead Fred/Herbert/French Taunter). Another brilliant new face.

Even the poor audience member who was dragged up on stage, Jo “Do you have a last name?” No, added to the hilarity of the night.

A great big nod to this show. Monty Python lovers won’t regret it, and newbies – expect silliness to prevail in your mind for days after seeing it.

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