BWW REVIEW: Heartwarming And Heartbreaking, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS Transports The Audience To 1973 To Show How Far, Or Not, The LGBTIQ Fight For Acceptance Has Come.
Sunday 11th February 2018, 6pm, Hayes Theatre
Energetic, Engaging and Emotional, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS takes the audience back to a historic moment in the LGBTIQ past to give a voice to the patrons of The UpStairs Lounge in an effort to explain the past, present and future of the still repressed minority. The Australian premiere of this new, critically acclaimed musical by Max Vernon (Music, Lyrics, Book), which premiered Off Broadway less than 12 months ago, is presented with heart and honesty by award winning director (including the 2016 BroadwayWorld Award for Best Director of a Musical) Shaun Rennie.
This time travelling story starts in the present day of smartphones, social media and status defined by labels and likes where a young designer buys an old building in New Orleans with the intent of setting up a modern atelier. Obnoxious, cynical and obsessed with his image, young Wes (Henry Brett) is horrified at the décor of the run-down space and as he starts to clear the smoke damaged red velvet curtains, he's visited by the spirits of the venue's last inhabitants. An intriguing band of misfits, loosely based on the 32 souls that lost their lives, materialise in the Henri's (Markesha McCoy) eclectic UpStairs Lounge as they wait for Richard's (Thomas Campbell) Metropolitan Community Church sermon. Whilst Wes thinks his life is hard, he learns that his problems are minor when compared to the prejudice and violence that the Lounge's visitors deal with on a daily basis. Their stories are presented with humour, honesty and heart as they introduce themselves and demonstrate the diversity of the people that seek refuge and acceptance at the space that is subjected to repeated raids from corrupt police.
Isabel Hudson has created an incredibly beautiful and detailed set to help transport the audience to New Orleans of 1973. Welcoming the audience in for a pre-show drink in the bar (yes on stage, cash only) allows the detail, from the Persian carpets, textured wallpaper, vintage posters and international ornaments, to be enjoyed up close. The fun and party atmosphere of New Orleans, which was celebrating the final day of Pride Weekend on the fateful Sunday night of June 24 1973, filters through to the space by way of strings of lights that reach up above the audience to draw them in to feel part of the events that unfold. Trent Suidgeest's lighting allows for clear delineation between the present and the past with hand held flashlights and muted spotlights keeping bar in the shadows and implying the fire damage that had remained untouched for 45 years and bright cheerful lighting capturing the life of 1973. Pensive moments where individual stories are told are focused with spotlight as the strings of lights fade to white whilst bolder stories are presented in a wash of colour as the fairy lights take on a festive feel. The bar's final moments are presented with a chilling expression of the fire that ripped through the Victorian era building.
Whilst the majority of the production has been designed for the Australian production, Anita Yavich's costume designs, which earned her Drama Desk and Henry Hewes Awards nominations, have been bought out from the US production and altered by Isabel Hudson. Additional costumes for the Australian production have been procured by Hudson and Jenny Ainsworth. Figure hugging bellbottoms and an array of printed polyester recreate the era of colour and contrast. The difference between past and present is reinforced with Wes' predominantly black ensemble designer leather jacket, skinny jeans and shiny boots and his impromptu creation that that puts drag queen Freddy (Ryan Gonzalez) way ahead of his time.
Rennie has gathered an incredible cast that are all individual solid and come together perfectly to tell the stories that form a tribute to the patrons that lost their lives in the UpStairs Lounge. Each performer expresses a deep understanding of their character to deliver a heartfelt and honest expression with a naturalistic, lived feel to the performance as they ensure the text resonates and touches the soul and elicits the empathy and understanding the outcasts were looking for. Rennie balances the comedy, including some fabulous physical moments, with the earnest engagement that expresses the gravity of the prejudice that the LGBTIQ people faced. Cameron Mitchell utilises the intimate space to deliver a delightful energy with the choreography which draws on the two eras to express the fluid movements of the 70's and the self-conscious precision of contemporary dance that is infused with attitude. The music is delivered with sensitivity and power, ensuring a textured and nuanced performance, led by Nicholas Griffin (Conductor/Keyboard) who guides his 5 piece band (Ben Fink, Alex Mateer, Konrad Ball and Tom Royce-Hampton) through the music that ranges from Southern soul to modern pop.
Newcomer to the Sydney musical theatre scene Henry Brett captures the neurotic Wes' emotional growth beautifully as the young man transitions from being focused on fame and fortune to understanding the importance of history and respecting the space that meant so much to a community that had no other safe space to go. He presents the self-absorbed millennial with the cockiness and confidence so often seen in contemporary youth and his explanation of the present is delivered with a delightful wit. As his love interest, Stephen Madsen, fresh from Muriel's Wedding, is heartbreakingly beautiful as Patrick, the young hustler with an impressive imagination, making ends meet after being thrown out of his small-town home at 14.
Martell Hammer presents Inez's wonderful acceptance of her son Freddy's true self with a high energy expression of the Puerto Rican single mother who never misses her son's drag show. As her son, Ryan Gonzalez (2016 BroadwayWorld Award - Best Cabaret Performer) is hilariously over the top as the camp construction worker who transforms into the fabulously trashy drag queen Aurora Whorealis at night. Butch bartender Henri/Henrietta is presented with sass by a fabulously fierce Markesha McCoy who ensures that the audience knows that Henri is not one to be messed with whilst still having a soft spot for her patrons. Madison McKoy captures the mature Willie with a flamboyance and flair as the wiser more experienced figure.
The closeted pianist Buddy is presented with a cynicism and sleeze by Anthony Harkin who ensures that the audience sees his inner conflict between wanting to be part of the community he really belongs in and fear of truly admitting his real identity as he shuns the group to the police and seeks to rekindle a past affair with Patrick. Metropolitan Community Church priest Richard is presented as a more level-headed member of the gathering by Thomas Campbell as the religious leader seeks to facilitate acceptance of the worshipers within the wider community through charity works. David Hooley presents outsider Dale's bubbling resentment at being constantly ignored by the rest of the Lounge's patrons with an increasing undercurrent of bitterness that ensures that he doesn't fit in despite his equally tragic circumstances. Nick Errol presents both police officers that attend the Lounge, capturing the change in attitudes over the intervening 45 years. He expresses the brutality and corruption of the homophobic officer that arrests Freddy and seeks a payout to turn a blind eye and the contrasting contemporary policeman who has entered the force to stamp out the bribery and bullying of the past.
Current, engaging and thought provoking, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is a stunning work that is uplifting and enlightening as it encourages the current generation to keep striving for equality, acceptance and inclusion and removal of prejudice in society. THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is another brilliantly told, flawless production, reinforcing Hayes Theatre's position as the home of interesting and important stories presented with heart and soul. Do not miss this as it is sure to sell out quickly
8 February - 11 March 2018