Maybe the minimalism of the design and staging contributed to the lack of impact the majority of the show made on me. Or maybe it was the non-traditional narrative structure which made me care more for some moments and less for others.
Of course Jason Robert Browne’s lyrics are quick, witty and often poignant, while his score is vibrant, powerful, but so distinctive in style and arrangement that, after a while, one gets the feeling one’s heard a song or musical phrase before.
I thought the set design, though clever in concept, was clumsy and wasteful at times. Did the story really demand all those blocks moving continually throughout the show?
The band was outstanding. Jonathan Skovron is a talented man and the musical direction was accomplished enough to rival any musical in town. On the other hand, the sound mix between the band and vocals was a challenge. There were many times when the lyrics were completely lost, which is less than satisfactory in a musical which relies so heavily on the lyrics being heard, understood and appreciated. It caused me to engage and disengage with what was happening on stage, when all I wanted to do was listen and empathise with the characters.
The cast was fantastic, perfectly suited to the songs and roles and all shone at various times: Nicholas Kong in ‘Christmas Lullaby’, Glenn Horsfall in his duet with Amelia Rope, ‘I’d Give it All For You’, Amelia again in ‘I’m Not Afraid’, though the stand out performer for me was Jessica Carbone. Her interpretations of ‘Just One Step’, ‘Stars and the Moon’ and ‘Surabaya-Santa’ were the few rare moments which I remembered after the show.
Rebecca Holcdorf’s direction was simple and generally served the songs and stories, though, having seen some of Rebecca’s work before, I wondered if she would benefit from working with a more experienced director at some point soon in her career. To Rebecca’s credit, as a young director, she has already achieved so much, having been awarded a musical theatre scholarship to Singapore and a guild nomination in 2006 for best director. To improve and grow in this field, Rebecca needs mentorship or some kind of directing apprenticeship to take her to the next level, so she can further ‘wow’ audiences with the musicals she wants to produce.
The highlight of the night for me was the company which produced the show, Octave Theatre, itself. In only a few years, Octave is producing challenging, small cast musicals, of an extremely high standard on a shoe string budget. The company is exciting and clearly going places.
Rebecca and Jonathan, as well as being talented artists in their own right, have a gift for producing. This is their real strength. It is rare for such a young company to be in a position to produce a show of this quality, gather such an impressive band, cast and crew, attract a healthy audience (which they certainly seem to be doing show after show), gain corporate sponsorship (which I couldn’t help noticing in the program) and be so articulate about the mission and direction of where it’s going and what it wants to do. The industry needs more successful, confident, commercially-minded producers. These are the people who will be creating work for artists and dynamic powerful professional shows for audiences in the years to come. That was the rare and remarkable moment I experienced and came away with. Go and see this show and look out for Octave Theatre, Rebecca Holcdorf and Jonathan Skovron. They are clearly on the rise.
Octave Theatre presents
Songs for a New World
by Jason Robert Browne
Venue: Gasworks Arts Park
Dates: 4 - 13 Oct 2007
Times: Shows commence at 7.30pm except Sunday 7/10 commences at 6pm
Excluding no show on Monday or Wednesday
Tickets: Conc $26.00, Full $31.00, Tightarse Tues $23.00
Bookings: Festival Tix: 03 8412 8777 or www.melbournefringe.com.au