The Reservoir is Alive with the Sound of Music
Lachlan Sands | On 13, Aug 2016
‘Underground theatre’ is often just a turn of phrase, but in the case of the Underground Opera Company, it’s a literal description of their modus operandi.
The company, a pioneer in unusual performance locations, is back for an encore performance of their ‘West End to Broadway…in the Reservoir’ show, performing numbers from the musical theatre songbook in the 150-year-old former Spring Hill Reservoirs. Step inside the unassuming ground-level exterior, and a wholly unexpected space opens out beneath you – a relic of Brisbane’s little-known colonial past. The industrial architecture, replete with brick arches and dark corners, lends itself to a surprisingly intimate atmosphere, as the audience surrounds a small central stage and the acoustics amplify every note. This remarkable location is complemented by the program, which like the site’s storied history, spans the full range of traditional standards to contemporary classics.
It’s perhaps appropriate to open a show in such a deliciously Victorian setting, with such a modest façade, with a number from Jekyll and Hyde, a musical entirely about surface appearances; indeed, the opening song is literally called ‘Façade’. The first act chugs along solidly, until an Andrew Lloyd Webber medley illustrates an inherent problem with these concert recitals of musical theatre songs. Whether it is a problem specific to the performance or to the songs of Baron Lloyd Webber (and I am inclined to believe it is, as someone who has suffered through many a shrieked rendition of ‘Memory’), simply opening one’s mouth and singing these types of songs is not enough. When divorced from their narrative context, they are distancing: ‘Superstar’ lacks sass, the drama of ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ is non-existent, and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is less thrilling than an infomercial.
For the most part, however, the talented and versatile cast deliver top-quality performances. From a heart-shattering Jason Robert Brown duet from Parade to the campy pleasure of ‘Agony’ (Into the Woods) and ‘Popular’ (Wicked), there is nary a wrong note or missed beat. Mezzo soprano Louise Dorsman’s sassy, spirited rendition of ‘Alto’s Lament’ is a highlight, as is the devastating ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ by former ‘Ten Tenor’ Bradley McCaw. They are matched by the beautiful arrangements of accompanist Brendan Murtagh, often playing with as much emotion as the cast.
In the same way the company breathes new life into overworked pieces from the theatre canon, the Underground Opera Company has managed to turn a part of Brisbane’s historical past, lying in disuse and disrepair for the last fifty years, into a part of its exciting creative future.
When 12-28 August
Where Spring Hill Reservoir, Wickham Terrace
How Much $50-70
More Information Purchase tickets here
Images: Underground Opera Company