Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Book by Joe DiPietro. Inspired by Material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point
Until December 20th
Images by Grant Leslie Photography
Praise be to the Hayes Theatre, and all those who toil faithfully within, to bring us the jubilant musicals of the early twentieth century. Praise goes in particular to Cameron Mitchell, his supporters and the wonderful cast they have chosen to hurl themselves around the theatre while belting out classic Gershwin showtunes. As they aptly sang in another neighbouring musical not long ago – Oh what a night!
The three leads are simply a joy to watch. Rob Mallett as Jimmy Winter and Ashleigh Rubenach as Billie Bendix strike up an instant and palpable chemistry. Grace Driscoll is hilarious in her portrayal of the self-absorbed, egotistical Eileen Evergreen with an arch, prickly lack of self-awareness. But just when you think they got the part for their voices which are clear and pitch perfect, they start dancing as well.
Mitchell’s choreography for Jimmy and Billie’s routines showcases a cross section of twentieth century musical theatre from Fred and Ginger to Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp, and they execute them with flair and style. The whole company acquit themselves wonderfully on the dance side; the chorus girls are lithe and raunchy, and the three G-men are hilariously in-synch and creepy. Everyone’s energy levels are higher than the chorus’ eye-high kicks! It was infectious and the audience was buzzing as we poured out after the show, still humming, and cutting a few moves in the lobby.
Simon Greer’s set was a mechanical and thematic marvel. With art deco stylings, and rich deep blues highlighted with white and silver, it folded and unfolded itself ingeniously into a multitude of settings. Eileen’s bubble-bath scene was wonderfully creative and the whole set was artfully designed so that the cast could effortlessly change sets while dancing and singing. This helped to keep the pace moving swiftly throughout the long runtime.
You couldn’t ask for more fun at the theatre: great voices, stunning dancing, and more comic mayhem than a Marx Brothers movie.
The prolific combined talents of the Gershwin brothers are such that even this musical – which was identified as ‘neglected’ in 2021 – contains at least half a dozen instantly recognisable songs, and the rest of them sound so familiar that you can just sit back and be carried along. Musical director Damon Wade even threw in some snippets of Rhapsody in Blue from time to time to keep the hard-core Gershwin fans happy. It’s a bit of a shame that they had the treble turned up so high – this was unnecessary in the small Hayes space, considering the cast were miked up as well.
It was really heartening to see so many young people in the audience, by which I mean under 40 and even under 30! The big Sydney theatre audiences always seem to comprise 90 per cent boomers, so I’ll take this as a good sign that hopefully there’s a healthy interest in live theatre amongst the digital generations. You couldn’t ask for more fun at the theatre: great voices, stunning dancing, and more comic mayhem than a Marx Brothers movie – you’ll come away breathless, in a good way.
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Rob Mallett as Jimmy Winter
Ashleigh Rubenach as Billie Bendix
Grace Driscoll as Eileen Evergreen
Andrew Waldin as Cookie McGee
Anthony Garcia as Duke Mahoney
Adorah Oloapu as Chief Berry
Sal Sharah as Senator Max Evergreen
Octavia Barron Martin as Duchess Estonia Dulworth
Catty Hamilton as Jeannie Muldoon.
Lisa Callingham, James MacAlpine, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Joel Houwen, Jayme Jo Massoud, Andy Seymour with Jasper Wind and Nat Foti.
Director & Choreographer Cameron Mitchell
Musical Director Damon Wade
Assistant to the Director Lisa Callingham
Set Designer Simon Greer
Costume Designer Christine Mutton
Lighting Designer James Wallis
Producer Michelle Guthrie