Wednesday 20 November 2019

Songs Of The Northern River - Music Review

What: Songs Of The Northern River
When: 19 - 24 November 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Written and composed by: A.J. Ridefelt
Directed by: Jess D'Souza
Musical direction by: Rachel Lewindon
Performed by: Anne Gasko, Savannah Lind, Olivia Morison, Teagan Nowicki, Shannen Alyce Quan, and Ambrose Steinmetz
Design by: Alexandra Runge
Choreography by: Matthew Dear
Stage managed by: Erin Handford
Olivia Morison, Ambrose Steinmetz, Shannen Alyce Quan, and Teagan Nowicki
Melbourne has long been a hotbed for new Australian musicals and The MC Showroom has discovered genius in its own ranks, A.J. Ridefelt. A composer and lyricist, Ridefelt brings us a selection of his talent in the song cycle Songs Of The Northern River.

It is crazy to talk about a 'best of' album with a new artist presenting unpublished (until now) work but Songs Of The Norther River really is just that. This collection of 12 songs is a hit album in the making which you can buy on site (including the scores) and Craig Bryant of Paxus Production (musical arrangement and sound production) has given us the chance to own this music before it explodes in the Disney machine - yes it really is that good!

This song cycle is the result of the first iteration of the Hatchery program at The MC Showroom and Ridefelt is their first graduate. What a way to start! Providing Ridefelt with mentoring and the resources at their command including the venue and the production support, The MC Showroom really enter this developmental layer of theatre in Melbourne with hutzpah!

Within this cycle of 12 songs riffing off the idea of dealing with change and adversity lies the seeds of at least 2 full musicals and perhaps one pantomime. Ridefelt already has the hit songs which really are up there with 'Let It Go' and 'Defying Gravity'! His songs 'Stepping Stones' (Quan and Morison) and 'Butterfly' (Steinmetz) are going to be the iconic anthems of musical theatre of the future.

I am gushing but this is because not only is the music composition world class, but Ridefelt is an amazing lyricist. It is surprisingly rare to be able to say that, but Ridefelt understands that words are rhythm and music as well as meaning makers and his rhyme play and ability to overcome the difficulties of the stubborn language of English creates a joyful musical experience as he tells stories of loss, embarrassment, fantasy and humour we can all relate to.

The singers in this production are still developing but they have been working under the artful hands of D'Souza (director) who has created a production which is sophisticated, working within the construct of a concert whilst demonstrating to perfection, with broad brushstrokes of what the full musicals might look and feel like. Dear's choreography also highlights the potentials whilst never losing sight of the aim and purpose of this presentation. His work in 'Another Roll Of The Dice' (Morison, Steinmetz, Nowicki, and Quan) is a wonderful example of this - fun and cheeky but never falling into crass or sleazy.

Each of the singers is at a different stage of vocal development but the casting has been clever and, for the most part, really highights the individual strengths and potential of each performer. Morison is probably the most confident singer with the rest falling off pitch occassionally. Nowicki explodes with acting range and power - I couldn't stop laughing at 'Pissed' and everybody could relate to the story of getting stuck on a train!

Steinmetz has true talent as a comic artist, and Lind has the opportunity to reveal her ballet skills. Gasko brings authenticity and gravitas to the mix and Quan has a gentle innocence about her.

I should say, even though there were pitch problems, this music is not easy. Lewindon's music direction is fabulous but she has not gone easy on the singers and the music is challenging with wide dynamics and complex tempo changes. It is full of tongue twisters and harmonies which are delightful for the audience but would challenge even the most experienced of singers.

I truly loved every song in the show but I am going to give a shout out to 'Jausterdon' (Morison and Steinmetz). It took me completely by surprise and I wasn't sure about it when it began - with characters called Parsnip and Tuna! - but by half way through I was bopping with the beat and dreaming of a show where these characters exist.

Just to put the icing on the cake, as minimal as the design is, Runge's costuming really steps this production up to top class professionalism. Keeping everything in a simple palette of blue, Runge still manages to clearly define every character and every scenario clearly, reflecting the tone of the songs as well as the intentions.

What can I say? Songs Of The Northern River is a fabulous hour of performance and potential and I guarantee all of you music theatre addicts will trip over each other to buy the sound track after the show is over.

4 Stars

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