BWW REVIEW: The World Premiere Of THE UNBELIEVABLES at The Sydney Opera House Delivers Exactly What It Says On The Package
Wednesday 20th December 2017, 7pm, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Circus, cabaret, vaudeville and comedy combine in the World Premiere of THE UNBELIEVABLES. Following on from the success of THE ILLUSIONISTS, THE ILLUSIONISTS - TURN OF THE CENTURY, LE NOIR - THE INTIMATE SIDE OF CIRQUE, and CIRCUS 1903 - THE GOLDEN AGE OF CIRCUS, Producers Simon Painter and Tim Lawson have created a show that draws the audience fascination with magic and danger whilst adding an element of American style comedy.
With a 1920's New York supper club feel, the concert hall stage has been adapted to fit a raised thrust stage with cabaret tables flanking the central focus and putting a number of the audience on show as well. Double doors at the rear of the stage are bordered by two spiral staircases that lead up to the musicians' balcony where MD Matt Cusson leads his four piece show band. Given the size of the concert hall and the amount of close up magic involved in the show, a large screen above the band broadcasts a live feed with secondary screens available for the audience at the sides of the stage.
Whilst the production is performing in the huge 5,700+ seat Concert hall, this production includes a number of more intimate acts like Julia Kurkina's Sand Art which relies on an overhead camera capturing the evolving image that the artist creates with sand in a lightbox and Shin Lim's sleight of hand card magic. This is rendered with varying success with particular challenges around Lim's performance that utilised guests from the audience as the camera operator was unable to give a direct enough view of the table and reflection off the cards proved difficult to discern which card was being held up. Kurkina's performance to Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World however was well presented with a fixed camera mounted above her sandbox. Thankfully other acts are obvious enough to not require the projection, so the audience can focus on the full effect of the performance like Artem Lyubanevych's Aerial Pole performance where the muscular "Titan" flies high above the stage on a suspended pole and the daring Alfredo Silva throws knives at wife Anna Silva in an ever escalating display of control and trust. As some of the work, particularly Alan Pagnota and Rafael Ferreira's Hand To Hand act is low on the stage, it is recommended to book seats slightly back from the stage to ensure a full view of all the performances.
In addition to the acts that are drawn out of the same stylings as the earlier productions, the inclusion of vaudeville numbers, music and ballroom dancing add a lightness to the night. Jay Johnson's ventriloquist performances with his adorable monkey and cheeky boy Bob are well executed, delivering different styles of humour to ensure the 'duos' remain interesting throughout their pieces. Sos and Victoria Petrosyan's Quick Change Act is wonderfully rapid as they work through 16 costumes in 120 seconds with fluid flair that has the audience guessing how they've managed it. Soloist Emi Secrest gives a big bold jazz sound for works like Makin' Whoopee whilst also having the texture and sensitivity to deliver more tender works like Nature Boy and My Funny Valentine whilst the dancers provide colour and movement in the form of waltzes and tangos.
Whilst 'unbelievable', variations of many of the acts are performed regularly in the resurgence of circus style performances and therefore it is the personalities that help differentiate THE UNBELIEVABLES. Brett Loudermilk's Sword Swallowing is impressive, in not also a little gag inducing from the faces hiding behind hands as he ingested the collection of steel, but it is his patter that provides the greater entertainment. He has a light endearing self-effacing humour to go with a somewhat nerdy image that easily gets the audience on side. Similarly, Jay Johnson's banter with his puppets is well pitched for a grown-up audience but being mindful that there are also children in the audience. Johnson allows his characters to play up to the audience, responding to the reactions whilst he maintains the calm maturity. Whilst other troupes have Hand To Hand acts, Alan Pagnota and Rafael Ferreira add a different dimension as Ferreira has the added challenge of being born with Congenital Arthrogryposis that has affected his legs so he relies on his upper body strength to control his movement as he balances above Pagnota.
Whilst overall the production is entertaining and engaging, Harrison Greenbaum is the weak link of the work as the MC and Comic does rely heavily on a New York style of humour that may take a little getting used to for Australian audiences. His tactic of trying to embarrass the audience on stage when his gags fell flat were particularly cringeworthy when he kept persisting in calling out their lack of engagement. Hopefully Greenbaum will adapt his style to Australian audiences as the tour progresses and settle on more universal jokes or become more familiar with the local landscape.
If you enjoy the circus, magic and mystery, escape the heat and treat the family or get a group of friends together for a night out with THE UNBELIEVABLES before it heads to Melbourne and Perth.
WHEN: 19 - 29 December 2017
WHERE: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
TICKETS: Tickets from $64.90 + booking fee.
sydneyoperahouse.com +61 2 9250 7777
WHEN: 3 - 13 January 2018
WHERE: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
TICKETS: Tickets from $39.00 + booking fee.
artscentremelbourne.com.au 1300 182 183
WHEN: 18 - 28 January 2018
WHERE: Crown Theatre Perth
TICKETS: Tickets from $66.22 + booking fee.
ticketmaster.com.au 136 100