The Malthouse was buzzing at the world premiere of Sleeping Beauty, the latest in musical theatre - a rock opera with a difference. The difference is that there is not one composer, but a pastiche of popular songs, from the past twenty-five years, from David Bowie to Nick Cave. There is not one word of dialogue: the lyrics carry the story and express teenage angst in this recreation of the Sleeping Beauty myth.
The curse of the bad fairy, Beauty’s pricking her finger on a spindle, her sleep for one hundred years, her awakening by a prince’s kiss are all enacted through song and dramatic action, in which four actors take on all the roles. Alison Bell plays the pivotal role of Beauty, which she portrays in a range of moods from sweet innocent to teenage vamp. It is a touching and magnetic performance. Her vocal ability may not be in the same league as her co-actors, but Bell delivers her songs with feeling and dramatic impact.
This is no Broadway musical, but nuanced and literate theatre. It seems to have been written specifically for these performers. Renee Geyer’s extraordinary voice could never be replicated, and her Gothic rendition of the mother from hell is mesmerising, even in dressing gown, slippers and dangling a cigarette! For someone who is famous for her singing, she conveys character with the subtlest of body language. Her rap song as the bad fairy had the audience in ecstasy. What a revelation to see a gutsy jazz vocalist attack rap – a new musical crossover has been born!
Grant Smith displayed wonderful versatility as the father and various embodiments of evil. With his operatic background, he was able to evoke tender emotion in his pop renditions, particularly in Candy, without ever losing the undertone of menace. Candy was one of the final numbers, enacted around Beauty’s bed, a powerful closing scene in which all the characters, and even the audience, sing along to Death is not the end, but with heaps more enjoyment and self-mockery than Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s version.
Ian Stenlake is an actor, singer and dancer that knows how to speak with his body. He sprinkles stardust on the show. His Prince Charming, rock idol and pin-up supreme, would turn anyone weak at the knees, even if he is playing it for laughs. He brings his own effects: Rock’n’roll suicide is a video clip come to life. David Bowie meets Elvis with a sense of humour.
Peter Farnan as musical director, with fellow musicians Simon Burke, John Favaro and Andrew Sylvio, has arranged a playlist of songs that resonates with many adolescent memories in a way that teases out the themes of the story as well as giving full range to the skills of the performers. They are exceptional musicians, who switch from gospel to rock, from rap to opera without a glitch.
The actors have been given a fabulous setting to work from by set and costume designer Anna Tregloan and lighting designer Paul Jackson. The scene is set with efficiency and bold dramatic strokes. The stage is marked with horizontal black and white stripes that can be highlighted in red or pink for the raunchy or romantic scenes. A narrow green curtain acts as a screen, partition and backdrop, providing a smooth transition between characters and scenes. An upper storey houses the band and serves as a stage for some of the character’s songs.
A white bed is the focus for most scenes, the bed in which Beauty sleeps, dreams and is finally woken. It is a powerful visual symbol, the place where we retreat and meditate, where we dream and where we discover our sexuality. The production was devised by the creative talents of Michael Kantor (director) and Maryanne Lynch, together with Tregloan and Jackson, but has a uniform vision and style. The viewpoint is ironic, the performances burlesque, and the mood bright, cut with menace.
This is theatre that glows white-hot with visual and musical thrills, electric performances, Renee Geyer’s voice, and oodles of malicious fun.
Malthouse Theatre presents
Merlyn Theatre, The CUB Malthouse | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Friday, 6 July to Saturday, 28 July 2007
Wed – Sat 8pm (Sat matinees 2.30pm); Sundays 5.00pm; Tuesdays 6.30pm
2 hour, 10 mins, including interval
$28 - $47
Malthouse Box Office 9685 5111 | www.malthousetheatre.com.au