The clumsily-named Short Sweet & Song has an excuse. It's the kissing cousin of 'the world's biggest little play festival', Short & Sweet. That name, clearly, works a treat. The tacked-on nature of Short Sweet & Song is a little more dubious. But I digress.
Ten 10-minute musicals. Quite an ask! Yet like it's sister, Short Sweet & Dance, and more consistently so than its chequered older, bigger, dramatic brother, Song very substantially delivers. In the narrow, side-on confines of Pitt Street's Pilgrim, where acoustical issues tended to plague the opening act, there was an air of tense anticipation on this, opening night, which got underway just a tad later than scheduled. But it was well worth the wait.
Climb The Smallest Mountain was an odd name, too (or perhaps not), for an ever-welcome, ever-topical parody of vacuous celebrity. This time the victim was a strikingly Sharkish (mini) golfer, torn between the spoils of victory, at any cost, and his superheroic ethical veneer. Throwaway fun, underpinned by musical aplomb. Unselfconsciously corny & trashy, in the way of so many fully-fledged hit musicals of recent times, it seemed to satisfy the fluffier instincts of a Wednesday night audience, deprived of Hey, Hey! by their dutiful attendance. Myself included, of course. The apparently megalomaniacal Michael Gordon Shapiro (whose triple-barrelled name, alone, conveys the requisite cred) is responsible for music, book and lyrics, with Neil Gooding in the directorial chair; Nick Christo by his right-hand side. Nathan M. Wright, choreomeister, complemented the comedic impetus with an animated character reminiscent of, say, Grease. James Millar is ideally cast as Darius 'Duke' McGovern, bringing to his golf pro suitably overstated airs of extreme, obnoxious vanity. A 'hole-in-one! Ben Giraud was also robust as Duke's arch-rival, Miles Puttman (ha-ha!). Nat Jobe also gave a tasty Sensei Minimoto, sage (albeit long-dead) muse to acolyte Duke's 'glasshopper'. Owen Alexander also deserves special mention as the announcer and effective narrator. Entertaining stuff!
Billed as a short, musical play, by David Church & Pete Greenaway (not the crabby, opinionated, savant filmmaker, to the best of my knowledge), Aviation was a key clue we were in for nothing if not eclecticism. An, at once, genuinely romantic and absurd tale of a doomed hot-air balloon excursion, featuring fine acting and singing performances from Brendan Hay, as fey Thomas, and Meagan Caratti, as Eliza, it took Pygmalion to a whole other level. Under the veil of tedious pleasantries only the English can really tolerate, Eliza points to Thomas' scientific ignorance; following it with fake professions of her fragile womanhood. It's delicious, biting satire, teased out beautifully by director, Simon Ward.
So far, so left-field. And that's gotta be good.
Megan Shorey's sharply-drawn 3 Kilos upped the ante, with its dig at our seemingly incurable obsession with body image. Director, Katie Gompertz, and performer, Fiona Pearson, bravely emerging in her underwear, eke the most out of an almost resolved script. There was a stumble or two, but you try it, solo, in your smalls! This was probably the innovative highlight of the first half, for mine.
Mind you, the following piece, Ordinary, wasn't; (ordinary, that is). Jack Feldstein's book & lyrics were, on the whole, sobering and inspirational, brought to life by the music of Ben Ward and two highly talented performers: Ed Deganos, as Clown, and Jenny Lynn, as Bearded Lady. The premise, of two carnies desirous of running away from the circus, to join ordinary people was a stroke of pure, fresh, unadulterated genius. Mmm. On reflection, to this point, anyway, maybe this was the prize piece. It's a tough call.
The Charmed Life, from the prolific pens of Michael Gordon Shapiro, and Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Peta Downes, was, in essence, as distinctive and original as both 3 Kilos and Ordinary, but somehow didn't quite come off. Nonetheless, performance was a strength: from Kate Perry, Lloyd Harvey, Owen Alexander, Jared Freeman and Josephine Ison.
A glass of chardy saw us right for the second half.
Best of the best is the toughest call of all, but possibly decided and certainly made much easier by a trump card from J.M. Eisenman and Thomas Adams. Directed by James Lee, Bielke (Tevye's Youngest Daughter) takes the would be biddy-biddy rich man into new territory, as a reluctant shoe salesman, presided over by his capitalistic son-in-law. Garth Holcombe, bloody good, as the somewhat superfluous Tex Thompson; David Solomon was solid, indeed, as the defeated patriarch; Mitchell Winter, brilliant, as Charles; Jodie Harris, utterly luminous, as Bella. The lyrics were sheer poetry; the music moving. It made one hanker for an extrapolation, a fulsome exposition of the potential of what amounted to an excerpt from an apparently incomplete, unwritten musical. This, with nary a hint of exaggeration, was, and is, Broadway-beating!
A hard act to follow was followed by a more than creditable one, in On Christmas Eve, by Maree Teychenne and Dr (if you don't mind) Stephen J. Capaldo. [While one has a right to the considerable achievement of a medical degree, or anything else which lends the right to place such esteemed letters in front of, or after, one's name, it is of no relevance that I can see and, therefore, has no place in compositional credits.] Directed by Damien Noyce, as well as co-choreographed by same, along with Chris Bamford, it imagined a convict Christmas in a surprisingly poignant and evocative way; and, again, with impressive theatrical standards, thanks to the likes of Bamford himself, Ali Aitken, Kristopher Brown, Belinda Morris, Lauren Rutherford, Mary Sherman and Damien Noyce.
At The Crossing Over was a tear-jerking opera, no less, touching on disability, love and loss. Exquisitely sung, it begged the question as to why more opera couldn't confine itself to a more merciful ten minutes or so. Only serious! It was, in fact, exquisite in all respects; written by Bruce Daniel, directed by Lisa Eisman, featuring Amanda Stephens Lee as Mother, Mitch Riley as Sam, Jennifer Reed and Danielle Mullins as Angels. All were superb, with Stephens & Riley shining as the leads. it did, however, suffer from the generic operatic legacy of lyrics being lost in shimmering, or strident, melody.
David Church and Pete Greenaway's Imelda had nothing of the charm which infused Aviation which, you might recall, they also penned. It was flimsy and silly, only rescued by performance which, as you would most probably have gathered by now, was consistently excellent, across all the musicals; in this case, thanks to Vianney Hunter, in the titular role, Nat Jobe as tanned Hollywood himbo, George Hamilton, Jonathan Acosta magnate-in-arms, Adnan Khosshogi, Kathleen Hoyos, Keane Fletcher & Damien Ross. Ethan Carter costumed; Matt Young choreographed and directed. Much ado, about next to nothing. And very old hat. Or shoe. Shoo!
All-in-all, another evening in which one finds oneself marvelling at the overwhelming depth & breadth of musical and theatrical talent in Sydney. Parochial? Maybe. After all, I've not had the good fortune to compare, at any length, with other capitals, either here, or overseas. So, for now at least, I stand by it. I've more than a sneaking suspicion it holds true. There's plenty of proof in these 10-minute puddings, even when they don't quite triumph.
Short. Sweet. And sung. Maybe the name is better than I first thought.
SHORT SWEET+SONG 2009
Venue: Pilgrim Theatre, 262 Pitt St Sydney (near cnr Park St)
Dates/Times: Wed Oct 7 – Sat Oct 17 Wed-Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm | Wildcards showcase Sat 10 Oct 4pm
Tickets: $28 / $24 conc / Wildcards $20
Bookings: (02) 8507 3034 | www.shortandsweet.org | www.ticketmaster.com.au