Theatre Review: Snow White Winter Family Musical

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th July 2014.

Many years ago, whilst living in the UK, I had the pleasure of performing in a pantomime. Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood featured all of the hallmarks of this classic theatrical format: a “dame” (a man in drag); cheesy pop songs; a spooky forest (he’s behind you!); sweets being thrown to the audience; a moustache twirling villain; and audience participation (booing and hissing). It was great fun and the audience lapped it up.

Unfortunately, pantomime is not a theatrical staple in Australia. We’re trained to sit in our seats and behave. Luckily for Sydney audiences, this hasn’t stopped Bonnie Lythgoe (UK based producer and director, and former judge on So You Think You Can Dance Australia) from bringing Snow White Winter Family Musical to the State Theatre, just in time for the school holidays.

Pantomimes classically feature a celebrity cast hamming it up and Lythgoe has managed to snag one of the big guns of Australian stage and screen comedy in Magda Szubanski, as the dastardly Queen Grismelda. Also starring are Jimmy Rees (TV’s Giggle and Hoot), Peter Everett (Ready Steady Cook), Andrew Cutcliffe (Underbelly: RAZOR) and US based Aussie musical theatre star Josh Adamson.

For the titular role, Lythgoe ran a country wide talent search in a non-specific shopping centre chain and unearthed Erin Clare, a blue eyed brunette whose looks just scream Snow White. Oh, she can sing and dance too.

Lythgoe has also somehow managed to convince Sir Cliff Richard (the ultimate real life Peter Pan) and radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands to prerecord their parts as the split personalities of the magic mirror.

Rounding out the cast are two troupes of way too talented kiddies who alternate performances as the dancing ensemble and then don some rather creepy heads to portray the seven dwarves.

I was accompanied by two friends who were reasonably unfamiliar with panto, but egged on by Rees’ court jester Muddles, it didn’t take long for them (and the whole audience) to adapt to the concept of audience participation. We hissed the villain. We cheered for the handsome prince. We groaned at the opening chords of the obligatory One Direction songs. I booed at Kyle Sandilands (his onscreen cameo is further proof to my theory that he isn’t actually human).

The cast is uniformly fantastic with Rees particularly amusing (minus his owl) and Szubanski able to make a fluffed line into a memorable opportunity for hilarity. Everett was appropriately camp and new discovery Erin Clare is as beautiful as she is talented (but should stay away from poisoned apples to avoid typecasting and endless slumber).

Despite a rather clunky script, some underwritten characters and a flat second act, I had a great time. Worth the entry price alone is the best onstage flying illusion I have every seen, and I’ve seen a lot. Forget Mary Poppins, this is the real thing.

Let’s hope Snow White Winter Family Musical is a hit so Lythgow can make her panto an annual highlight on the rather ho-hum Sydney theatrical calendar. Next time, I’m going to take the kids.


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Published in: on June 6, 2012 at 07:39  Leave a Comment  
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Theatre review: Doctor Zhivago

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Casinos are strange places. In the movies they are depicted as the playground of the rich and famous, where men in tuxedos get sexy women to blow on dice before they make a lucky throw, tipping the croupier with a thousand dollar chip on their way to the valet parking to collect their Ferrari. However, for the vast majority of the population, that’s not the experience we get.

The average Joe gets flashing lights, sticky, worn carpets, garish decor and tacky promotions, plus the privilege of paying $25 to park the car. You can sense the desperation in the air. Men in sports jackets hover around the tables. Women sit on stools in front of pokies pressing buttons and staring blankly at the pretty images on the screens. No one seems to be having fun, with the exception of that group on the Hen’s Night. Wow, those beauty pageant sashes are so unique.

That was my experience as I attended the world premiere of Doctor Zhivago at Star City on Saturday night. Apparently famous people such as Jerry Hall were there. I’m glad she wasn’t sitting in front of me. Whilst Jerry evaded me, I did, however, see Maria Venuti and Peter Phelps in their best dress hovering in the foyer. I know that most people would remember Phelps for his turns in Water Rats or Stingers. I prefer his US TV debut as token Aussie lifeguard Trevor Cole in the first season of Baywatch. I should have asked him to run in slow motion for me.

I suppose that I should review the show now. I must admit that I was not at all familiar with the Doctor Zhivago story. I haven’t seen the movie. All I know is that it stars Eddie Murphy and he can talk to the animals.

Although billed as a world premiere, this work was originally produced as Zhivago in San Diego in 2006. Now extensively reworked by composer Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden, a moderately successful musical from 1991) and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Borden, Doctor Zhivago has been unveiled as a vehicle for star Anthony Warlow.

With a budget of over $5 million, this is a major risk for producer John Frost. With the cheapest tickets in the nosebleed section of the cavernous Lyric Theatre being just under $100, audiences will expect a decent bang for their buck. And this show doesn’t disappoint.

You can literally see the millions of rubles spent on the sumptuous set, which recreates the bleakness of revolutionary Russia with a colour palette of turquoise and greys. Arches, stairs, pillars and train cars roll effortlessly on and off the stage. Projections are also used to great effect, in particular as a rain effect onto the Moscow set.

The cast, led by Warlow, Lucy Maunder and Taneel Van Zyl, are all in fine voice. The onstage chemistry between the leads as they portray the participants in one of literature’s most famous love triangles was very apparent, even from the back of the theatre. Warlow pulled his calf muscle in rehearsals, missing several preview performances, but now fully healed after intensive physiotherapy, makes this role his own, in what may even surpass his iconic turn as the original Australian Phantom of the Opera.

The storyline covers much Russian history in a short space of time as Zhivago survives a World War, the Russian revolution, Civil War and the Chernobyl disaster, the whole time sticking to his idealism and principles. Between loving two women and saving lives as a medic, Doctor Zhivago also finds time to become a prolific Russian poet, although in this adaption his more famous works such The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are not mentioned. Interestingly, Doctor Zhivago takes the opposite ethos to Les Miserables. This time, the revolutionists are the bad guys and we sympathise with the proletariat.

A sign of a good musical is being able to walk away with at least one tune implanted in your head. This show won’t disappoint with several beautiful songs such as Now and On the Edge of Time. The Australian cast recording is in the pipeline and will soon be a must buy for fans of musicals. Enjoy the songs now before they are rendered into cliché by Susan Boyle.

Doctor Zhivago is an immensely enjoyable musical experience which is well worth discovering. See it now at your local casino before it hits Broadway or the West End.

Published in: on February 25, 2011 at 06:27  Leave a Comment  
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