REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★
Step aside Hamilton, the Broadway show isn’t the only hip-hop inspired musical in Sydney anymore. Nancye Hayes is back to show us that age is just a number.
The title of Nineteen 98 Productions show Half Time holds a double meaning. Firstly, it encompasses the half-time performances which usually star energetic, youthful dancers rousing crowds to hip-hop beats. Secondly, Half Time refers to a change in pace in music, a shift in tempo, which is exactly where we find the veteran performers on the Hayes Theatre Company’s stage, proving that they are still capable of keeping up with the demands, both physically and vocally, of the changing musical theatre landscape.
With music by Matthew Sklar, book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, lyrics by Nell Benjamin and additional lyrics by the late Marvin Hamlisch, Half Time is the feel-good musical that seeks to show that age is just a number, and these veteran performers of both stage and screen can manage to still hold a beat and win our hearts.
Half Time is based on the true story of 10 determined elderly dreamers who audition to dance for the half-time show for a major basketball team in New Jersey. With their commonalities being their love of dance, having something to prove and the fact that they’re all over 60, they learn after making the cut that this half-time show won’t feature salsa, tap, swing or hand jives, instead it will have them stepping into unknown territory: the world of hip-hop.
Under the direction of Helen Dallimore, Half Time allows all the performers their own chance to stand out and strut their stuff on the intimate stage of the Hayes Theatre. Harnessing Kate Beere’s simplistic, yet effective, fixed set, the more ‘youthful’ ensemble (led by Stefanie Jones and made up of performers Jaime Hadwen, Chaska Halliday, Coby Njoroge, Monica Sayers, and Tom Sharah) are able to carry out the intense hip-hop choreography of Madison Lee. Dallimore cleverly uses this to fill in the gaps between the experience and acting expertise of the veteran performers, with the exuberant energy of its younger ensemble.
Entering the stage to a round of (well deserved) applause, Nancye Hayes’s Dorothy (or ‘Dottie’ depending on the music) is the comedic heart that drives the show from the beginning. Starting in the background, Dottie eventually bursts through and steals the show with her ability to rap (yes, rap) Benjamin’s lyrics with a precision that gives the cast of Hamilton a run for their money. Under the musical direction of Jessica Manning, Hayes proved to us why she is one of Australia’s most prized theatrical treasures, bringing some of the shows most effective laughs and managing to stand front and centre to pull off Lee’s hip-hop choreography (albeit slowed down and ethically stepped out) to standing ovations.
Hayes isn’t the only performer to have their chance to steal the show either, with characters such as Dolores Dunbar’s Joanne providing a show-stopping number that intertextually provides remnants of A Chorus Linein its heyday.
Zoe Carides brings a youthfulness to her character, Camilla, with a sexuality that defies age and honours the art of salsa, offering a much more, let’s say ‘releasing’ means of staying youthful and active.
Gabrielle Chan’s Mae, while not being the strongest of the dancers, brought humour and heart to the group of women, providing one liners that were crowd favourites and a heart-breaking second act song.
Deni Gordon’s overbearing Bea was someone we could all relate to, a grandmother that was a little too intrusive, but one who knows what is best for us, as much as we hate to admit it. While the many car rides with her granddaughter, Kendra (played by Halliday), may have been the show’s least energetic parts – Gordon hiding a script behind the magazine she was reading – this relationship added an element to the show that, without which, wouldn’t have added this connection that most may see reflected in their own lives.
The only male in the cast of the half-time performers having something to prove was Eric Rasmussen’s Ron, who offered a smooth addition in his ‘Prince of Swing’ numbers and presented a heartfelt first act number that was endearingly performed.
Rounding out the rest of the performers were Donna Lee’s tap enthusiast Estelle, Joy Miller’s sight-deficient Muriel and Wendy-Lee Purdy’s face cream pusher Fran, all of whom offered their own colour, humour and experience to the show’s ensemble.
Although being filled with heart and soul that was in the right places, the show was not without its bumps along the journey. The stagehands moving parts of the set in full light, while it may have been necessary in sections, felt like it could have been more effectively harnessed and worked into the design further. As well as this, an addition on the delivery of some lines may have been missed by the performers, as some jokes fell completely flat and, while the choreography was broken down for the performers, sometimes didn’t lead up to the finale that the show was building towards. But hey, with the experience and vitality that the cast brought to the stage, these minor faults were not something to be frowned at.
Half Time offers an addition to the Australian stage that is sadly not so often seen in the changing world of musical theatre, that may at times seem ageist and unwilling to create pieces for the performers that came before. This is why Half Time deserves its place in the theatre scene right now, with a cast led by the incomparable Hayes and featuring a majority female-starring ensemble, Half Time shows that theatre still has the capacity to keep up with the times and provide a space for all performers, no matter their age.
For more information about Half Time, including how to buy tickets, head to hayestheatre.com.au/
Photo credit: David Hooley