Thursday, 13 July 2017

Paris: A Rock Odyssey - Musical Review

What: Paris - A Rock Odyssey
When: 13 - 15 July 2017
Where: Melbourne Recital Centre
Written by: Jon English and David MacKay
Directed by: Neil Gooding
Musical Direction by: Isaac Hayward
Performed by: Annie Aitken, Shirley Bowen, Daniel Cosgrove, Mark Dickerson, Madeleine Featherby, Tim Freedman, Kerrie Anne Greenland, Scott Johnson, Cameron MacDonald, Jordon Mahar, Matthew Manahan, Brian Mannix, Ben Mingay, John O'May, Jack O'Riley, Caitlin Quinn, Todd Strike, John Waters, The Ensemble, and The Band
Set by: Darren O'Shea and Mark Raynes
Costumes by: Jannette Raynes and Mark Raynes
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird
Sound by: Marcello Lo Ricco
Visuals by: Andrew Sampford and Stuart Smith

Kerrie Anne Greenland, Isaac Hayward (conducting), and The Band
Paris: A Rock Odyssey is a rock opera written by the late and adored Jon English in conjunction with David MacKay. Existing as a cast recording and having been performed in the amatuer realm, English was in the process of realising it as a professional production when he died unexpectedly. Honouring his memory and in homage to the scope and quality of this musical, Music Theatre Melbourne have gone ahead and, with the help of an amazing creative team, are performing a staged concert version for three nights at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

The story that of The Illiad of Homer. It follows the downfall of Troy at the hand of the Greeks. Remember that saying 'beware greeks bearing gifts'? This is where it stems from.

Beginning with the deputisation of younger son Paris (Manahan) to act as trade envoy, King Priam of Troy (O'May)  sends him off to the court of King Menelaus of Greece (Dickinson) to open negotiations. In the course of only 4 days Paris manages to almost die in a storm at sea, get saved by Queen Helen (Featherby), fall in love with her, be thrown in prison, convince Helen to help him escape and run away with him and start a war which would last for ten years and  destroy his family and his city forever. Good times.

The structure of Paris is temporally linear and is very reminiscent of Macbeth. The story travels from event to event which means it is fast paced like Macbeth, but also has the same weakness of not really allowing for a whole lot of character or relationship development. This means that the show has to contain significant amounts of recitative which gives it that slightly operatic feel. A Greek chorus was used to excellent effect at the start and end as a...Greek chorus. I think they could have been integrated more effectively in the middle but all of their contributions to the mode and message of the story were absolutely on point and effective.

Paris is undeniably derivative and at times I found myself thinking Jesus Christ Superstar, Xanadu, Les Miserables, and even Grease 2! Rather unexpectedly I found myself not minding that so much as there are things to like about all of those shows (yes, even Grease 2 had Michelle Pfeiffer and the song 'Cool Rider' going for it although it was more that Manahan's performance reminded me of Maxwell Caulfield's performance.).

The songs are great in that way we remember English's classic hits of being. Ear worms! The stand out hits for me were 'Business', the refrain 'Hell or High Water', 'What Price a Friend?', and the piss your self laughing song 'Inside Outside'. This last one was completely out of sync and yet perfectly performed by Mannix (Sinon). This 'Master of The House' in Les Miserables and you will get the idea. This song nearly got its own standing ovation.

Mannix was up there with the best on stage although he really was just doing what he always does. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Freedman (Agamemnon) was also deliciously calculating, Johnson (Hector) and Strike (Patroclus) had wonderful voices and presence, and Featherby and Greenland (Cassandra) take off into a completely superior stratosphere of performance all their own.

One of the fascinating aspects of Paris is English and MacKay have written two amazing female roles musically when they are actually two of the most completely disempowered women in all of mythology. The feminist in me had a lot of struggling to do as I watched Paris. In many ways it is a men's fight club tale and completely demeaning to women.

Upon thinking about it later I came to the realisation that Homer was the ultimate feminist. He shows us a bunch of big powerful men who treat Helen like a whore. A young man comes into their circle untried and untested and then steals their only jewel. They form a gang and attack his family and home and kill everyone. They don't get their 'belonging' back despite it all, and the only people speaking any sense are the women who are being ignored. In other words - men are so far beyond stupid they are irredeemable. The only one who gets what she wants in the end is Helen who gets her freedom.

Gooding has done a good job of staging this concert, with strong tableaux and iconic symbols to move the story along. Bovaird's lighting is sublime and really makes this concert stand out from the crowd. It is stunning, eyecatching, and moves the tone and tenor of the story forward, never letting the audience fall into complacency and keeping the magic alive.

The one great disappointment was Waters (Ulysses) who really just seemed to be phoning in his performance. I forgave this at the end when the ensemble did an homage to English with his song 'Love Is Power'. Paris could very well sit in the rock opera company of Jesus Christ Superstar - although not too close as they could be mistaken as twins.

4 Stars

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