NQOMT’s mis-cast side-splitter

Cast and audience members from NQOMT's Calling All Cast. IMAGE: Sam Carter

NQOMT has taken some risks this year. With the Civic Theatre still out of action (yes, that old chestnut), the company has chosen to step away from big musicals until October’s production of Strictly Ballroom; instead opting for more intimate performances staged in its own hall.

Last weekend saw the troupe consolidate a mish-mash of talents into Calling All Cast – a cabaret performance of well-loved songs, musical-theatre numbers, recitals of Shakespseare verses and short skits. The performers were essentially given free-reign to showcase their own unique talents, with one crucial caveat: it should be a rather ill-fitting number.

Naturally, hilarity ensued!

The numbers included some side-splitting renditions that the audience clearly hadn’t anticipated, if the perpetually rolling barrels of laughter were anything to go by.

Matt Derlagen kicked off each Act with two of the most endearing numbers I think I’ve ever seen. The sight of a grown man complete with ‘porn-stache’ garbed in Annie’s iconic red dress and belting out ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’ was nothing short of spectacular. Matt brought all the youthful hope and naivety audiences have come to expect from the little orphan and smashed it out of the park. To then follow with an equally adorable take on ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ from Hairspray was further proof that this type-casting of young girls playing the characters of young girls has Got. To. Stop! 10-year-old theatre hopefuls, watch your backs; Matt is gunning for your roles.

Equally out of place (in the best way possible) was Steve Bennett. Usually found rocking out as a solo artist or with local band The Nu Black, you could be forgiven for thinking this heavily-inked, bandana-clad rocker had stumbled into NQOMT’s Hall thinking it was a Bikie Bar. Steve stomped onto stage wearing a figure-hugging leotard and delivered one of the heaviest covers of ‘Wrecking Ball’ I’ve ever witnessed… and by Rock Gods, it was sensational!! For all the vocal power Steve brought to his performance, I was most impressed with his willingness to be vulnerable – awkwardly picking his lycra-induced wedgie multiple times through his number. Evidence that even the biggest, toughest of blokes can be beaten by his own undies!

Steve Bennett performing ‘Wrecking Ball’ in NQOMT’s ‘Calling All Cast’

Swapping Chicago‘s six merry murderesses of Cook County jail for the six basic bogans of Townsville in an all cross-dressing take on ‘Cell Block Tango’ brought the house down. Props to our own Nathan Toll for donning the nipple tape and painted on six-pack for some extra sex-factor* – it sure elicited some cat-calls from the ladies behind me – and to Josh Service for throwing the Hungarian verse to the wind and going for something better suited to this show.

Alan Cooke and Bronwyn Creedy’s episodic tale of unrequited love told through extracts from Shakespeare’s work provided a thread of narrative that helped bring the whole show together. The pair contrasted beautifully, playing Alan’s exasperated ‘Romeo’ against Bronwyn’s relentless ‘Juliet’. I’ve spotted Bronwyn’s cameos in a number of NQOMT shows now and she never fails to delight audiences with her performances; there’s something about her personal brand of comedy that I haven’t yet found the right words for, so I’ll just label it “brilliant” for the time-being.

Sadly, it seems harder for women to shine in a format like this. Men need only to slap on a dress or some lycra to give their performances a comedic edge, but it doesn’t quite work in reverse. The female-led numbers were beautiful, and flawlessly done. Brooke Maxey delivered a breath-taking rendition of ‘Go the Distance’, Rachel Ahern’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ proved her talents extend well beyond dance, and EJ Carlson’s ‘When I Grow Up’ from Matilda the musical packed a powerful punch in the feels. But they lacked the comedy-of-errors spirit that the rest of the show seemed to be chasing. Please don’t for a minute think that I’m in the “Women can’t be funny” camp. I’m not. But the bar seems to be so much higher.

This comedy imbalance may also be attributed in part to the weaker narrative underpinning this show. The opening scene – a phone call between a panicked production manager (Sasha Holmes) and a Director who’s gone missing on the day of auditions – beautifully set up the context for this show; but that seemed to be lost quite quickly and was never properly resolved. I would have liked to have seen Sasha’s character struggling to get the cast back on track and eventually right the ship (although, maybe she was there and I just didn’t see her in her theatre blacks…). There were probably a few too many in-jokes included in the show as well – while I suspect NQOMT had counted on an audience of mostly friends and family, I feel for anyone who might have gone along to be entertained by complete strangers.

That doesn’t take away from the great night out it was. It’s fantastic to see cabaret-style shows being mounted locally. The chance to drink wine, eat cheese and catch a variety show is one of life’s great pleasures. The games thrown in by masterful MCs Sam Taylor and Shannon Doyle were a fun addition and – in the case of Never Have I Ever – made for some interesting table talk as people discovered their friends’ past transgressions.

All in all a delightful romp.

Congratulations to Director Katie-Anne Grice for taking on her biggest show yet, to Vocal Director Alyssa Oliveri – I don’t think I could fault a vocal performance if I tried – and to the production team who’s work was flawless.

*As a boss I should not say that! As a reviewer, I think it’s OK. Nathan, please don’t sue me! :-/

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