Review: DEFYING GRAVITY Drops the House Down at Theatre Royal Sydney

By: Feb. 15, 2016
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It was every music theatre nerd's dream come true: Broadway legends from Australia and the States converging in Sydney to give intimate treatment to the songs of one of our generation's most acclaimed songwriters. Stephen Schwartz's inimitable music is almost unarguably sure to have passed your lips at some point in the decades he has been active as a treasure of theatre and film. The Academy and Grammy Award-winning composer is best known for his touches on Disney's Pocahontas, as well as contributions to famed musicals Godspell, Pippin and - perhaps most notably - Wicked.

What got the audience on their feet to make one of the loudest crowds this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of being counted part of was of course the mega-stars Stephen brought with him to deliver this part-showcase part-masterclass of a musical theatre icon. David Harris has played every male lead an Australian run of anything has had to offer, and it was such a delight to have him home from his recent relocation to New York pursuing his own dream that seems to be coming true. Fellow Australian Helen Dallimore, who originated the West End Wicked Glinda, was up there bringing her classic sass, as was international powerhouse Joanna Ampil fresh off Cats. Then the swoon-worthy and vocally phenomenal Aaron Tveit, star of stage, screen and dream in his first visit to Australia; but the biggest excitement was savoured for Sutton Foster and her unique voice that has premiered and made memorable many a female lead. And as if that wasn't more than enough, Betty-freaking-Grizabella-Mama-Rose-Big-Edie-Buckley! We were inconsolable.

Defying Gravity was so much more than a concert, it was a chance to get up close and personal to see the journey of Schwartz into musical theatre. It became an inspiring series of sage interludes between songs to give what could've simply been an arena spectacular some real depth and connection. For those of you who weren't able to make it or sell your kidneys in time (I still have one, and my siblings share my blood type, I'll be fine!), here are some highlights:

  • First up, all of it. For real
  • Helen Dallimore singing Stranger to the Rain from Children of Eden, which was new to me but a beautiful sucker punch of girl power
  • Sutton Foster's first song was Just Around the River Bend which segued exquisitely into Joanna Ampil's rendition of Colours of the Wind. Barely a dry eye in the whole place and we're only what ten minutes in?
  • Then Sutton Foster comes at us with an acoustic candlelight version of When You Believe from Prince of Egypt. All remaining dry eyes have been remedied.
  • David Harris' Beautiful City, in its hushed tones and now synonymous connection to the Twin Towers tragedy gave complete permission for a pin to drop and have a full house to hear it.
  • Joanna Ampil sang the ingénue hell out of The Wizard & I to kick off the Wicked fiends into foaming frenzy and suddenly Australia wonders how it is that we've never heard of her before?! Oh, we're in Australia. Got it.
  • Aaron Tveit's Out There from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame in epic vocal perfection, and hot on the heels of slapstick seduction All for the Best with David Harris
  • David Harris shamelessly upstaging Joanna Ampil doing her darndest to contain herself and ignore his bare chest to sing How Does She Know from Enchanted. She succeeded, the entire audience not so much
  • Betty Buckley. Betty Buckley. And then Betty Buckley gifted us with Meadowlark from 1976 The Baker's Wife in a rousing, motivational style to bring new meaning and inspiration to the tune written for her and got the whole crowd to their feet.
  • Sutton Foster came out and sang Defying Gravity, making the audience wonder why they'd even bothered sitting down. To hear such an idiosyncratic voice open up and really show its full power was breathtaking. Sang was an understatement. English needs more hyperbole.
  • Stephen Schwartz himself took to the stage for a stunningly classy round-the-piano Day by Day and my knees started to swell up from all the up and down of standing ovations, but it was totally worth it

In a world where producers are better know than ever before for their role in making household tunes (Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Mike Will Made It for all you young ones), it was magical to see a figure we all love but wouldn't know from Adam; a man who has created legacies in his over four-decade strong career, get his time in the spotlight to encourage new generations in an event truly touching.

Photos: Robert Catto


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