Pimlico’s Pros

Catch Pimlico Presents at the Civic Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm. IMAGE: Julie Coutts

Musicals are incredible. They transport you to other worlds, they tell heart-warming or soul-shattering stories, backed by a soundtrack of memorable music. But as great as musicals are, they can be limiting for high schools to perform. They only pique the interest of a select few and showcase that limited fraction of a cohort’s talent. Variety showcases, on the other hand, allow for an incredible conglomeration of cultures, styles, and talents on the one stage, in the one production. And this is the exact formula Pimlico State High School has perfected to a tee in Pimlico Presents.

Pimlico Presents always looks incredibly professional and polished year after year, so I walked in to this morning’s tech run with very high expectations – and wasn’t disappointed.

Each year’s performance is opened with a different theme – and the 2017 opening number was centred around the man that is shaken not stirred, James Bond. This is the only performance that anyone and everyone at the school could guarantee a role in, and you could tell – the stage was packed, which is a true testament to the quantity of high-calibre performers at the high school. When roughly 300 students are squeezed onto stage, there will of course be a hiccup or two – but apart from a few spins the wrong way and a few movements off the beat, the opening number was an upbeat showcase that was a great promise of the impressive talent set to grace the stage. Several vocalists were given their own solos in this performance, with the school’s Big Band centre stage never missing  a note. The band itself needs to be commended, with its members being involved in a majority of performances throughout the night – no matter the genre of music or the tempo, they rocked it.

Transitioning straight out of the opening number was Moon Hooch, performed by Kodie Redfern, Aden Rock and last week’s Huxley guest contributor, Damon Johnson. I got some serious Lucky Chops vibes throughout this performance – the sax was soulful, funky, and combined with the drums really sent the sound to a new level. The speed at which the transition from busy, jam-packed opening number to a trio of performers was so smooth and polished, and I could have listened to an entire performance of just those saxes.

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Up next was our first taste of drama for the night – Single Killer, which featured a cast of nine incredible actors and introduced us to the running gag for the night – Andrew Hickey, you have an incredible ego for it to not be damaged by all the jokes at your expense throughout the show, and you take everything in your stride with a great air of humour.

Call of the Celts, a tap performance, followed. Tiana Jankovic, Adrienne McLeay, and Caitlin and Tara Woods are all brilliant tapdancers individually, with each given their time to perform – but they combine for a great group tap at the end which had everyone in the audience tapping their own feet.

The next performance is one which really highlights how special events like Pimlico Presents are. The curtains all fell, and Jack Lestone walked onto stage. In a kilt. With a bagpipe. A single spotlight landed on him. And he played. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of bagpipes. They normally just sound like a harmony of whoopie cushions getting walked across by hippos. But within a few bars, you could tell Jack was channelling Acca Dacca, rocking out to Thunderstruck. The guitar riffs of the song were perfectly transposed onto the pipes, and I am so impressed that Jack barely broke a sweat or turned red – because he was pumping some serious air into that instrument to produce the same sound an entire band is normally needed to create. Jack, you deserved a standing ovation all your own.

Up next was Irish Legend, a great piece performed by a small instrument ensemble – and built on the sound started by Jack. There were some really special moments in this performance, with a lot of crescendos and solos the students should be proud of. This was another performance that made me wish I could hear more of what was being performed – any of the performances in Pimlico Presents could easily be extended into standalone productions themselves.

Our next taste of drama came next with Emergency Contact – and poor Andrew was once again singled out. The skit saw Jake Muhling try his best to record anyone other than himself as Andrew Hickey’s emergency contact at the ER – with a lot of great one-liners and expressions spattered throughout.

The curtains were raised again for the next performance, and the lighting gave me instant Queen vibes – so was incredibly excited when the Blue Brass ensemble broke out into a great rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. While I’m only mentioning them for the first time now, the lighting crew need to be given a huge nod – they really elevated the entire production, adding to each performance and introducing even more wow moments.

The stage was then cleared once again for another solo performance – this time dance – and Dane Reid delivered in so many ways. The solo acts especially showed such a high level of skill and finesse that you no longer feel like you’re in the audience of a school variety show – you feel like you’re at QPAC watching a professional production, with performers who train for years just for that one moment. Dane, you are incredible at what you do, and convey an overwhelming amount of emotion in each movement. I could feel the entire theatre gasp at least once, because you did take people’s breath away.

Brock Goebel and Jayden Barkle then took to the stage for The Box – the first darker skit of the night, with both boys really in the zone. This is the first of two similar skits the boys perform in the production, with a monologue for one in each. We are dropped into a moment in time to hear stories from the boys’ pasts, and it really did feel like they were speaking from experience. It was really powerful, and they should be really proud of their acting skills.

Strong musical numbers were a standout throughout the production, with the next performance one of them. Emma Higgins delivered a beautiful version of Sara Bareilles’ Gravity, with accompanying instrumentation by Lachlan Cutler, Michelle Heijneman and Elena James. Emma’s voice is incredibly powerful and delicate at the same time – and the marriage of her voice with a live ensemble of instruments was incredible to listen to.

The laughs returned with Casey Feltham, Gemma Shield and Ronan Smith’s Monster Under The Bed. As lights faded up, I reminisced to Props Youth Theatre’s production of Peter Pan where Gemma played an incredible Wendy Darling – a lot of the faces in Pimlico Presents were very familiar, with many of the students found in various local performance groups and honing their skills wherever possible. This was the most I laughed in Act One – Ronan acted exactly the same as I would as a father. If you don’t take a monster under the bed seriously, then you clearly don’t value your life.

The smiles kept coming with a great song and dance performance by a number of the Pimlico girls rocking their best PJs for a megamix of all the biggest slumber party bangers from the past few decades – Jade Pagán’s Scary Spice performance in this was a standout.

The busiest man of the production, Andrew Hickey, returned to the stage next, joined by Matthew Newell and Perry Taylor for Sandcastle Competition. This skit was really humourous, and reflected the same amount of competitiveness I would have in any sort of competition – but would never be able to master a sand radio that could blast Beyoncé quite like yours could.

Pimlico’s incredible celebration of culture continued next, with Aigaris and Emily Day performing a Cook Island dance, Meriam Tiare. It takes an incredible amount of confidence to stand centre stage and perform something that is completely different to everything else before and after it, but the girls danced like the entire show was just for them – the enthusiasm and love for what they were doing was evident; I really enjoyed this dance.

Keeping in a tropical theme, Freesia Hume and Eva Shearin whipped out a ukulele and tambourine for a beautiful, simple performance of Twenty One Pilots’ House of Gold. The girls have brilliant voices on their own, but when combined are a brilliant harmony.

Alex Maher, Aden Rock and Perry Taylor’s Love Song skit was a great, narcissistic look back at some big love songs from over the years. I was distracted at times by movement behind the curtain, but when the curtain raised for the final performance of Act One, I understood why.

As the curtain rose, the magnitude of Act One’s finale became apparent: the Pimlico State High School Symphony Orchestra, as well as both Senior and Junior Voices all packed the stage for Into Darkness, a brilliant tribute to Star Trek. I’m no Trekkie, but was absolutely enraptured by this. The precision of this performance needs to be applauded, with every violin bow in perfect sync and with the backing vocals building to a virtuosic cacophony that leaves you eager for Act Two.

Act Two opened on what I’m sure will be many people’s favourite performance of the night, and which I hope is shown to Pimlico students in the future to show the true creative freedom the production allows: Lily Hunt and Michael Morrison arranged Taylor Swift’s Trouble in a Gatsby theme – and it is incredible how well it works. Lily and Michael are incredibly talented, and I would love to see a full show of other songs they transform.

Jayden Barkle and Brock Goebel then returned to stage for their second sombre performance, which conveyed an equal amount of emotion as their Act One offering. At the end of the performance, as with any tech run, lights stayed on a little longer than expected – which lead to my only criticism of Act Two. While I’m sure it isn’t something the boys would dare do in the actual performance, they dropped the ball and reminded me I was watching a school performance by simply curling their fingers on their knee with a grin on their face, the international symbol for ‘I can punch you if you look at this.’ Boys you’re extremely talented, but remember that the entire audience sees what’s happening on stage – not just your friends.

As Pentatonix‘s self-confessed biggest fanboy ever, the next performance was always going to be an easy one for me to love: Florence Cappler-Shillington, Emily Mills, Jacob Mills, Samuela Naborisi and Jade Pagán sang a stunning, acapella performance of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. The quintet did Pentatonix’s cover of the song incredible justice, with everything from the bass to beatboxing fine-tuned to produce an incredibly full sound without any accompanying instruments.

The first dance piece of Act Two came next, and was the most emotional and touching piece of the night: Car Crash featured some incredibly emotive movements and expressions, which paired with the lighting and music formed an incredibly strong performance that will make many people think twice the next time they pick their phone up in the car.

The next solo performance up next – Sophie Sibson alone on stage, singing Shelter. And golly, did she sing. In a production that is full of so many powerful voices, it would be extremely difficult to walk out on stage and deliver a song all your own, but that is what Sophie did. It was beautiful, honest, and had a lot of people longing for more.

The next performance jumped back into the comedy, and showcased Ronan Smith’s acting and comedy skills – when I was in the privacy of my own car after the show, I tried sneezing, falling asleep, and slapping myself all in the space of a few seconds, and it’s really difficult (and painful). Ronan made all of the movements look fluid and natural, with great synchronicity between each actor he caught a new ailment off.

Instruments came back out for the next performance: Jounetsu Tairiku by Emily McDonald, Matthew Newell, Jade Pagán and Julia Ramsbotham. This was another great celebration of the instruments as a collective as well as individually, with each performer once again given their own solo. All four performers were exceptional, but Julia was a standout: she played the violin in a number of performances, and shone each time. In this piece in particular though, she made it her own and was given the solo she deserved and which I’d been waiting for.

Damon Johnson and Prabasha Thilakaratne appeared next, behind a commentator’s desk, ready to give a blow-by-blow of a cheerleading championship. The pair were soon joined by the single Andrew Hickey, their roaming correspondent – and this is one act which I won’t spoil, but you won’t be disappointed in. Let’s just say, some of the boys were a little too good at this performance.

The running gag of the show continued next with a monologue by Alison Cowan. I thought Alison’s delivery was wonderful and humourous, with a really strong performance – and only learnt after the show that she’s been bedridden for the past two days. The show must go on though, and Alison has done herself and her school proud by powering through and still mustering up a great performance.

An ode to Spring Awakening next, as the Students of SenzAca performed Song of Purple Summer. You could tell this was a group of students who performed together a lot – the cohesiveness of their voices and the beautiful harmonies were amazing and did the musical justice. I would love to see a full SenzAca Spring Awakening.

Brooke and Paige Stanek took to the stage next for Human – a beautiful dance piece that is stellar from the start – but turns up a notch halfway through, in a moment which the girls take in their stride.

At The Movies is a skit that realises my worst fear: a single (sorry Andrew) seat at the cinema, forcing you to sit next to strangers. It separates a couple, and we are witness to their exchange of affection down the row. After the first few interactions, you know what this is building up to – but that doesn’t make its culmination any less funny.

The curtains then rise again, on a grand piano centre stage. Jade Pagán walks out, and after already hearing her sing, play the stomp box and dance, I settle in ready to hear her talents on the keys. She is soon joined by Lachlan Cutler though, and so begins a perofrmance which – on the outside – looks jumbled, but which would have taken a serious amount of choreography to master. I still struggle with Mary Had a Little Lamb on the keyboard, so to fight over the keys at the same time as playing a Hungarian Rhapsody is overwhelming.

A dance tribute to Beyoncé next, as a troupe of girls perform to the soundtrack of some of her most recent hits. Macarena eat your heart out, the choreography behind this was amazing and all of the girls should be commended on how well they kept time. Congratulations to students Akari Fellows and Dane Reid who choreographed the performance as well.

Damon Johnson, you are my new idol. The next act features Damon’s take on talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who calls up the downtrodden Kodie Redfern to surprise ‘her’ with a brand new car – or it is just a car at first. This is a hilarious look at the absurdity of daytime television, and I have no words to describe how well-rehearsed this piece was. Damon, Kodie and Samuela didn’t miss a beat despite this getting incredibly fast-paced. I laughed so much, and just wanted to keep clapping after the lights had faded.

Pimlico’s X Dance rounded out the production with Singing In The Rain. This piece was a great showcase of the group’s dancing skills both with and without props – and umbrellas are definitely one of the trickier props to work with!

Overall, I honestly have no words (even though I just waffled on with 2,700 of them). Director Claire Davies has crafted an incredibly exciting, varied, and collaborative production that showcases the many facets of talent and culture at Pimlico State High School. There are a few people I thought worth giving special mention. Samuela Naborisi. I feel like every time the curtain rose, he had a different instrument in his hands when he wasn’t singing or dancing. From drums to euphonium to the incredibly tricky bass part in Somebody That I Used To Know, you excelled in every role you took on. Jade Pagán, that applies equally to you. Do the students at Pimlico ever sleep, or do they just put down one instrument after mastering it and pick up the next? Your small moment in the spotlight at the end of Hungarian Rhapsody had me drawing comparisons to Raven Symone, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. Dane Reid, I don’t even know where to start. As well as being an incredible dancer yourself, your choreography was incredible. Ronan Smith: Andrew may have been the butt of a lot of the performance’s jokes, but you kept the comedy flowing just as much. And Damon Johnson … You play instruments, you sing, you dance, and you’re a comic. Seriously, you and all of your castmates make me feel like I didn’t even try in high school.

Pimlico Presents is more than a variety show. It’s an experience of Townsville’s best up-and-coming talent, and a celebration of a number of the cultures that call our city home. Even though I never attended Pimlico, that doesnt stop me watching Pimlico Presents year after year – it isn’t just a show that would be enjoyed by friends and family, it is a night of some incredible performances that match the quality of talent in professional productions.

Catch Pimlico Presents at the Townsville Civic Theatre tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30pm. Click here for tickets.

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