Flourish Productions is an independent theatre company with a difference.

With its home based in Melbourne, this exciting new Victorian group was established with some very specific objectives in mind. These being, to give up – and – coming performers and rising stars a place to refine their talent, as well as providing artists solid industry experience in a professional setting.

As part of their ongoing and expanding repertoire, the organisation has already completed a highly – successful series of concerts, featuring both the work of local and international musical theatre composers. Past showcases include ‘The Songs of Ahrens & Flaherty’, ‘Cy by Cy by Cy: The Songs of Cy Coleman’, and ‘Sing on Through Tomorrow: The Songs of Matthew Lee Robinson’.

In July, 2015, the team presented ‘The Songs of Alan Menken’ at Chapel off Chapel, a popular venue situated in Prahran, fifteen minutes south – east of the CBD.

Menken is known for providing the scores to blockbuster films with the Walt Disney Animation Studios, as well as his musical theatre work, focused primarily on and off Broadway.  His motion picture contributions for Disney include Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Pocahontas, and Tangled. Some of Menkin’s live theatre credits are A Christmas Carol, Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act, and Weird Romance.

In his long and distinguished career, the multi – award winning artist has collaborated with lyricists such as (the late) Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Stephen Schwartz. At last count, Menken is the winner of eight Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, eleven Grammy Awards, two Outer Critics Awards, one Tony Award, and one Drama Desk Award.

‘The Songs of Alan Menken’ proved so successful, that a brief two performance return season, subtitled ‘Menken A Comeback’ played at MTC’s Lawler Theatre in Southbank on Saturday, June 24.

Made up of seven singers (Seth Drury, Josh Ellwood, Zuleika Khan, Vanessa Menjivar, Liam J. O’Byrne, Emily Paddon-Brown and Jeff van de Zandt), the show was supported by an expert three – piece band, with instrumental backing consisting of drums, base guitar, and piano.

The performers either sang alone, in pairs, trios, bigger formations, or full group harmony. In several instances, the use of choreography brought some of the songs, particularly ‘I Wanna Be A Rockette’ (from Kicks: The Showgirl Musical), extra visual dimension. One particularly nice touch was that members dressed in smart evening attire, giving this sophisticated outing a look and feel to similarly – themed concerts at New York City’s Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. Props were kept to a minimum, with a variety of chairs and bar stools, positioned in a semi – circle around the stage for the performers to use between songs.

Covering over a dozen of the composer’s songs, what struck this reviewer most about Menken’s work, was the musical and character – driven detail contained within each piece.  Entirely separated from film or live theatre production effects, it was fascinating to concentrate on each tune’s stand – alone musical complexity instead. Menkin is also a master of both comedy and drama. Further, every hand – picked tune gave the performers ample latitude to shine, with excellent chances to demonstrate both their singing and acting ability.

With a ninety – minute running time divided into two acts, this delightful format is not only a testament to Menken’s outstanding range and output, but to the assured and confident ability of the performers, creative and technical crew as well. Supported by strong sound and lighting, musical direction by Lucy O’Brien was fluid and smooth.

Some of the many highlights included:

  • Vanessa Menjivar’s big and brassy rendition of ‘Zero to Hero’ (from Hercules). The song has a real gospel edge, and Menjivar didn’t hold back with the diva antics, either. Immediately following a bright and breezy overture from the band, this piece was a terrific choice to start the show.
  • Josh Ellwood’s quirky take on ‘Need to Know’ (from Weird Romance). Ellwood delightfully sold the fact that it is sung from a ten – year old’s curious perspective. Later, he gave this reviewer chills with the solo, ‘Sailing On’.
  • The Life I Never Led’ (from Sister Act). Zuleika Khan injected this moving ballad with tremendous pathos and emotional depth. Khan backed this up with the comic turn, ‘Mother Knows Best’ (from Tangled).
  • Two iconic pieces from Newsies, ‘Santa Fe’ and ‘Watch What Happens’, respectively delivered with passion, precision and aplomb by Liam J. O’Byrne and Emily Paddon-Brown.
  • Jeff van de Zandt camping it up with ‘Me’, Gaston’s signature piece (from Beauty and The Beast). Later, he also joined forces with Seth Drury for a gender – bending twist on the duet, ‘A Whole New World’ (from Aladdin).
  • ‘Suddenly Seymour’ (from Little Shop of Horrors), with O’Byrne and Khan playing a convincing, off – centre couple.

 The show wrapped up with ‘Under The Sea’ (from The Little Mermaid) with the entire group using soft toy sea creatures as cute support.

For hard – core aficionados and patrons new to Menken’s work, this was a refreshingly clever way to showcase his music.  Both, as a way of bringing fans and newcomers together in an intimate concert setting, as well as highlighting the vast scope of his iconic and less familiar pieces, too.

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