This is all kinds of teal deer, but I hope you enjoy it.
We saw the evening show on 2/19 and then the matinee on 2/21. The Princess is this grand, classic theatre, which has been plastered with the various cartoons used during the show, and production photos of the OBC and Chicago casts (Gehling, Spector, Grant). Photos of the actual Melbourne cast are on the outside, facing the street. Oh, and there are margarita mixer machines in the foyer (lobby) marked, "FOUR SEASONS." It's all a bit odd.
Also, I was surprised that the only Australia-specific merchandise I saw were:
* the brochure
* a stubby holder (koozy)
* a mug
The mug was $17, I didn't want a koozy, and I already had a brochure. I did not buy anything. ;)
At first I wasn't a big fan of the 3-stall bathrooms, but I was a big fan of the 20-minute interval. Yay!
Overall impression: I really enjoyed the two performances I saw. I wasn't blown away, but the show holds up very well in Melbourne and it's all together a very solid production. I also think Melbourne has the strongest ensemble work of all the companies I've seen. No one is just doing whatever in the background; they're relishing whatever their moment may be. (And if they're not, they're pulling it off like they are.)
GARETH KEEGAN (alternate Frankie)
He will be a good Frankie. Right now he's just an okay Frankie. When we first saw him on the cast board, we were working from an older brochure (bought for me by a local friend back when the show first opened) and were cutting him slack since we thought he was an understudy who maybe he hadn't gone on very often, but it turned out no, he was the alternate Frankie as of January, and even before that had gone on quite a bit. His dancing was awkward and tentative, his acting was serviceable, and his singing was okay when he wasn't in falsetto. His falsetto was okay some of the time, but the rest he was pretty much screaming somewhat on key. This did mean he didn't have much problem with "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," and pulled that off nicely.
Also, there's the problem that he looks like he just stepped off an Icelandic whaling ship, but I guess other than a (fairly decent) dye job, he can't really help not looking Italian. I don't remember much about his accent, so I guess that was okay...?
Two things stick out for me that I loved, though, and I hope other Frankies do it:
* During the "jaguar" line in "I Go Ape," he clawed the air. It was hilarious.
* As he was pleading for Lorraine to stay, he looked like he was going to cry (this made me think the phone call/hospital scene would go well -- let's just say it did not). Then when Lorraine said, "And then what, have a drink and go around one more time?" he actually nodded to her and grabbed her harder.
BOBBY FOX (Frankie)
I liked him a lot -- the difference in energy and overall tightness of the show between Friday night (Keegan) and the Sunday matinee (Fox) was remarkable.
The general tone of his voice was like a higher mix of Rick Faugno and Chris Jones, although he also had a bit of a rock edge. He did this funny scooping thing when he sang "come" during "Sherry, can you come out tonight?," which was both interesting and slightly annoying. ;) And as my friend put it, when he failed, he failed with conviction. There were a few notes that were all over the place, but he just went for it, and made it work.
I've never seen an actor who in a musical actually acted better while singing than while speaking, but Bobby Fox defies that category, I guess. Some of his dialogue was just kind of broad and sitcom-like, though his acting while singing was strong and focused. One thing that stuck out to me and really liked: I've never seen a Frankie who paid that much attention to Crewe and Phil during "Walk Like a Man" -- most of them just close their eyes and sing into the mic, but Bobby Fox had his hand on his ear and was looking back at them every few seconds to make sure he was doing it right.
Maybe his book scenes were also affected by his accent. Or, rather, accents. There were about 10 of them, and interestingly enough, none of them were Irish. ;)
I did like how he handled the Francine phone call, though -- he acted like the two poles by the phone were a door and he was going to bang on it or run outside and scream or something.
Finally, his dancing was really something. I already knew he had a solid dance background, but I wasn't expecting an extra pirouette before "Beggin'." Nice job!
GLEN QUINN (understudy Tommy)
He was on for both performances we saw, and my first impression was that he had a nice voice, but acting-wise he went the easy way out -- the Sopranos/Jersey Shore/meathead/Italian stallion direction. He also had this tendency to crack himself up -- I'm not sure if he was trying to show that Tommy thought he was an awfully funny guy, but it was annoying.
That said, he was quite a bit better on Sunday. I'm not sure if Scott Johnston is on vacation or what, but Glen Quinn looked much more relaxed and confident after those couple of days.
(Nitpicky: he was also kind of short -- he had problems picking up Gareth Keegan, and didn't even try picking up Bobby Fox.)
STEPHEN MAHY (Bob)
Nice voice, but I didn't particularly enjoy his performance. He had the worst accent of them all and this annoying tendency to puff out his cheeks when he talked. This also did his accent no favors, so he often sounded like an American drunkenly trying to sound Australian or South African. He had this fun, bouncy energy, but talked as fast as Erich Bergen (Vegas, not tour), which means I'm sure a lot of the lines were lost to the audience.
I'm guessing he wants to show how enthusiastic Bob is to show off "Cry For Me" to the three guys, but to do this he starts singing very harshly and loudly way too early in the song -- it starts off nicely, and then he goes overboard at the first "cry for meeeeeeee." Too much.
There was also the scene just before the Brill Building -- he did this both times so I know it wasn't a one-off thing. As Frankie's talking about following up on demos, most Bobs look kind of awkward or scared at Tommy's reaction to them turning down Atlantic City. Stephen Mahy did NOTHING. He literally just stood there, with his arms to his side, looking straight out into the audience, as expressive as a mannequin. Argh!
GLASTON TOFT (Nick)
He was really, really out there. First, he looks like Alan Ruck. Or, more specifically, he looks like Alan Ruck as the catatonic Cameron during "Ferris Bueller." He definitely played Nick as coo-coo. He was so unhinged during the sit-down, and roared "TEN YEARS!" like a dragon. During "Stay," he had this slightly maniacal grin like not only would he leave the group, he would come back at some point to stab everyone. In response to Bob's "Are you crazy?" he actually looked like he believed he was, and that he was totally okay with that, as opposed to other Nicks who just answer sarcastically.
He's also the first Nick I've seen who naturally has that vocal range -- Steve Gouveia and J. Robert Spencer can hit those thuggish bass notes, but Glaston Toft sounded like that all the time. Kind of made me titter whenever he spoke at first, but then I got used to it, and it kind of added to his weirdness.
So, to summarize: he was totally nuts, but I liked him.
LISA ADAM (Mary)
I really, really liked her -- she reminded me both of Joyce Chittick and Jenny Lee Stern. Dangerous and sexy. And she did a great job during the argument scenes and "My Eyes Adored You."
VERITY HUNT-BALLARD (Lorraine)
She played Lorraine very smart and totally not buying into Tommy's crap. She laughed in his face when he hit on her. I think she may be the first Lorraine to wipe away her tears while walking away on the catwalk.
She was also quite funny during the backing sessions (I'm pretty sure Melbourne has the same female tracks as Broadway) -- she did this silly little dance when she started singing, and shot daggers at Frankie when he sang over her. I actually liked everyone in this scene. As I said, everyone put a LOT of work into their ensemble bits.
KATHERINE RODRIGUES (Francine)
No complaints about her Francine. Like Broadway, she plays it younger than in the other companies -- less defiant and a bit more scared.
I was at first surprised at how mean her "My Boyfriend's Back" soloist was, and how nasal her singing voice was, but I liked her acting.
DANIEL SCOTT (Crewe)
My first impression: He looks like Michael McKean and sounds like Paul Lynde -- or, more accurately, Erich Bergen's impression of Paul Lynde. But beyond that, he was pretty damn funny. I haven't seen a Crewe this crafty since Craig Laurie, but he definitely put his own spin on things.
MISC. TECHNICAL DIFFERENCES
* Some of the dialogue was the same as London ("the tax man" instead of "Uncle Sam"), but other stuff stayed the same as in the US productions (like Neil Sadaka).
* The Brill Building doors come down from the flyspace like on tour, not up from the floor. "Oh, What a Night" is staged as it was in San Francisco and on tour, with Bob and his "party girl" going upstairs and not down.
* Mika's coat was different, but I don't really remember how right now. Some of the women's costumes in "Ces Soirees-La" were also different, though of course, that's escaped my brain too.
* That jazzy dance during "Big Man in Town" isn't done in Melbourne (or maybe it's just gone all together?). Neither Frankie did it; they just sort of stepped in rhythm to the music instead of in a square.
* The lights during "Dawn" are REALLY bright, and more amber-colored than in other productions.
* Despite a very energetic and receptive audience, there was never a standing ovation. I think Australians just don't give them very often. (The friend I was with saw the closing performance of The Drowsy Chaperone in Sydney, and she said while they were also enthusiastic, no one stood up for that either.) It was at first really awkward clapping along to the "Oh, What a Night" reprise without standing up, but I guess that's just how it goes there. The audiences were also loathe to leave during the exit music, while in other venues I've seen people shooting out of there at the first few notes. It was kind of nice; the musicians got a big round of applause.