Perth’s theatre scene is full of enterprising people who want to work on creatively fulfilling projects that allow them to produce cutting-edge works, maintain artistic control, and provide Perth audiences with quality, unique productions.
Sometimes these good folks are frustrated with the lack of opportunity at the professional level. Other times they are frustrated at the traditionalism to be found at the community theatre level. Sometimes they have a deep passion for a particular script or story and just can’t wait for someone else to produce it. So they are carving out niches in the vast grey area between professional and community theatre by funding their own shows, devising works, performing in pop-up spaces, re-purposing old spaces, using social media to spread the word. In short, they are doing it for themselves. They are the independents.
I’ll be taking an up-close look at the independents and finding out what they are up to at the moment. I’ll do my best to capture the earnest ambition, the healthy optimism, and the steadfast commitment these people have for producing exciting theatrical works of superior quality for Perth audiences.
I’m shining the independent spotlight first on Paul Peacock’s Underground Cabaret. The Underground Cabaret at The King’s Hotel has been slowly cooking away some fine musical fare since its inception in 2012. Showcasing “Perth’s best talent” and providing a dedicated venue for music theatre performers and musicians has been Paul’s aim, and so far it seems to be working. He’s pulling in at least two acts a month for short, one-weekend runs, and has now gained enough momentum to be able to mount small, intimate musicals. This month, his Underground Cabaret is host to not one, but two such projects: Pete ‘n’ Keely, an American off-Broadway 2-hander about a swinging 60s musical duo’s reunion gone sour, and Jason Robert Brown’s much-acclaimed musical The Last Five Years, which opens this week.
Casey Edwards and Charles McComb are producing and starring in The Last Five Years. The two have performed together in a number of productions around town over the years, and have now decided to cement their professional relationship with this joint venture. Both have made a considerable investment in this production, financially and emotionally, and are naturally excited and anxious for its success. Fortunately they’re backed by Tim How, who has swiftly become the go-to accompanist and musical director for many performers and acts at the Underground Cabaret. This is not only because he is an outstanding pianist, but also because he has the benefit of understanding what musical theatre performers need from an accompanist/musical director; he is a talented performer himself.
Casey and Charles have been talking and dreaming about doing the show for years, and while working together with Tim during a recent production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, they all decided to make the dream a reality. It seemed like the right time for them, and Paul’s cabaret seemed like the perfect space, so they put the plans into motion. They acquired the rights and got cracking on putting a small team of musicians and artists together who could help bring their vision to life. Now, a little over a month later, they’ve got a show.
One of Paul’s main goals in opening up this cabaret has been to produce exactly this kind of musical, which is no easy feat, given what he’s been up against in the space itself. The venue is not without its challenges. Originally designed as a hotel lounge bar, slightly reminiscent of times when leisure suits and Farrah Fawcett feathered hair were in vogue, Paul has initiated changes over the last year to update the place and slowly bring it into the 21st century. The hotel has furnished it with new tables and chairs and they’ve introduced a new full dinner menu, so that patrons can not only wine but also dine while they enjoy a show. Apart from aesthetics, there are technical issues that have had to be overcome. Paul has invested in a fair bit of quality sound and lighting equipment for the venue, and there’s a small stage, but anything beyond that is BYO for the artists. However, all this doesn’t get in the way of the Cabaret’s success, which comes from doing just what Paul has set out in his mission statement: to showcase Perth’s best talent.
The team invited me to preview The Last Five Years before it opens this Thursday (11 July) and I can affirm without reservation that Perth’s best talent has definitely found its way to the King’s Hotel. Casey, Charles and Tim (along with Ben Davis on lights and sound) have produced a beautiful, raw, moving work that completely draws you into this uniquely-told story of a couple falling in and out of love. Their commitment to storytelling, not just singing beautifully (which they do), is what makes this show truly special. They have honed the piece into a perfectly-paced 90-minute journey of two love story arcs at odds. They aren’t afraid to put their hearts and souls on display, and have intelligently captured all the humour, excitement, frustration and heartbreak written into the lyrics and music. Not an emotional stone is left unturned by this talented pair.
The show runs for four nights only from Thursday 11 July to Sunday 14 July at 8 pm every night. Although dinner and drinks are available throughout the show, it’s recommended that if you do plan on eating, you come early to get started. The performance has a few very quiet numbers and still moments, so clinking of silverware and glasses could become an unwelcome distraction. Doors open at 6 pm so there’s plenty of time for a scotch fillet or some vegetarian risotto and a couple of glasses before the performance begins. Online bookings are recommended, as the venue seats only 60 and there might not be tickets at the door on the night.
The Last Five Years
Starring: Casey Edwards, Charles McComb
Musical Direction by Timothy How
Performance begins 8pm – no intermission