Theatre Review: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Musical material ranges from opera to pop, via country and music theatre, with a pinch of rock thrown in for good measure.

Presented by The South Australian Light Opera Society (aka SALOS)
Reviewed 26th October, 2019

When SALOS does its end-of-year Christmas show, don’t look for cultural snobbery.  Their style is eclectic inclusion, and Pam Tucker’s direction of this festive bon-bon is both broad-ranging and generous. She has crafted a show that kept the woman sitting next to me humming and singing all night. Yes, during the items. At the same time. Audibly. And she wasn’t the only one. In fact, the feel of the event was a sort of rehearsed singalong with friends. Canny Pam Tucker knows her audience.

Musical material ranges from opera to pop, via country and music theatre, with a pinch of rock thrown in for good measure. When Charlie Burke got to the chorus of Mac Davis’ immortal It’s Hard To Be Humble, a men’s chorale struck up quietly in the seats behind me. People love the programme, and demonstrate their enjoyment.

The structure of the evening is pretty much standard for SALOS. There are five choral medleys, with all twenty-six performers on stage.  Costumes are different each time. Interspersed between these are solo songs, duets, comedy skits, humorous poetry, a series of one-liners presented peek-a-boo fashion from behind three large white boards (don’t ask), and a solo on the bones. Yes, band member Harry Hewson leaves his drum kit, dons a snappy straw boater, and plays the bones to the tune of O Susannah. You heard it here first. The ticket is worth the price for sheer novelty; I haven’t seen the bones played for years, and Harry wields them well.

Standout items include Genevieve Venning’s sparkling account of Adele’s Laughing Song (Mein Herr Marquis) from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Venning invests the song with waspish glee, adding a physically interesting cadenza for good measure. And when Venning is paired with SALOS stalwart soprano Katrin Treloar, performing Natalie Sleeth’s Were You There?, the resultant duet is beautifully balanced, sensitively and meticulously sung. Treloar’s final high note is a triumph of quietness – a rare but welcome feature in a night of competitively loud soprani final notes. A particular delight is the acting work of Marlene Small. Whether she is singing in the chorus or doing tiny feature spots, Small retains focus at all times, giving consistent performance energy. Diminutive Noel Carthew does a brightly comic Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, and silver hippie Charlie Burke reprised his One More Kiss number from last year, this time accompanied by vivacious Sue Whittaker. The Drinking Song from Romberg’s  The Student Prince is well-sung with passion and genuine commitment to the text by Michael Feast. The blokes behind me were singing along sotto voce, “Drink! Drink! Drink!” 

Although the joy of acoustic sung sound is the trademark of SALOS, the quality of their choral singing is not as tidy as I have heard. The gentlemen of the chorus are only vaguely familiar with the lyrics of The Piper’s Carol. In full-choral sections, some entries are ragged, articulation is not clean, tempi flag despite the band’s heroic efforts, and there is a disappointing paucity of harmony work. Best choral work all night is the final carol medley, entitled Joy – the arrangement is sharp and the singing is both clear and lively.

Music for the evening’s revels is managed by Musical Director Peter Potts. The band is indefatigable Sue Penhale on piano (still wrestling that upright instrument with professional persistence), wonderful Robert Brown on flute, and Harry Hewson on drum kit. Patient and tireless, Robert Brown shepherds the melody line all night. (It’s a good thing he does.) Harry Hewson’s drumming style is understated, supportive, and more pervasive than necessary. Suave David Roberts hardly needed drums accompanying his rendition of The Holy City.  I’ve never seen the need of brushes in a shuffle pattern throughout the choruses of Vilia. I felt for Katrin Treloar, who sings it beautifully, but is denied any rubato sensitivity in her interpretation by the steady drumbeat.

Seasonal thematic stills projected behind the acting area are the product of a very busy Matthew Holding. Costumes are a sentimental reminder of shows past. Director Tucker’s choreography is economic in the extreme, since the space allows little leeway once 26 performers are on stage. The Front-of-House staff are personable and friendly. The whole event has a genial, familiar, celebratory quality. Visit the SALOS family Christmas concert for a feel-good playlist, no microphones and lots of good-natured fun.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Venue: Tower Arts Centre, Pasadena

Season: 28th November – 1st December, 2019

Duration: 2.5 hrs

Tickets: $28:00 / $25:00

Bookings: www.salos.websyte.com.au

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