In 2010, I went to a support two ambitious friends, Daniel Benge and Kate Macdonald, who were producing a charity event to support Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, called Twisted Broadway. The concept was new to the Melbourne audience at the time, but the premise of the night had been successful overseas. Males performed music theatre songs traditionally sung by females, while females took on songs usually performed by males. The concert was held at Red Bennies, an intimate theatre location on Chapel Street in Prahran, and featured some wonderful talent that made for a cheeky night of entertainment to around 150 or so people.

Five years later, Twisted Broadway has grown into an absolute powerhouse event; arguably the best display of the Australian Music Theatre industry’s talent that will be staged all year. With some 24 musical numbers performed on the night, many of the industry’s brightest stars volunteered their time and efforts to creating a sensational event that raised somewhere over $50,000 for Equity Fights Aids Australia. This year, Twisted Broadway was staged before an almost full-house on the State Theatre stage at the Arts Centre Melbourne, which is currently the resident of the Production Company’s Nice Work If You Can Get It.

First and foremost, congratulations must go to Benge and Macdonald on an incredible night. I haven’t seen either of them in a very long time, and it is fantastic to see they’ve both had many successes over the last six years, Twisted Broadway being one of them. The pair very humbly made their way to the stage before the end of the night and spoke of their journey with Twisted Broadway over the last five years, thanking everyone that played a part in getting the show to where it was, and giving a passionate and informed overview of how proceeds will help Oz Showbiz Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS. They deserve every accolade and success with this endeavour, and I look forward to seeing this now established annual event go from further strength to strength.Chris Parker as director, did a clever job of pairing performers with musical numbers and allowing for a seamless night with smooth transitions throughout. James Simpson as musical director led an incredibly strong 18 member orchestra through a myriad of songs that encompassed many different music genres. Lighting by Jason Bovaird remained simple, yet effective, conveying different moods, emotions and levels of intimacy and grandeur on the large State Theatre stage.
As co-hosts, Kate Ceberano and Eddie Perfect provided delightful commentary, gags and insight between acts. The pair had a great chemistry and bounced off each other comfortably, creating a friendly and warm environment with a few extra cheeky jokes that went down a treat with the audience.
Ceberano opened the show with ‘Willkommen’ from Cabaret. Performance is second nature to the charismatic Australian icon, and she enjoyed every moment of the number. The choreography by Yvette Lee was executed sharply and sensually by the eleven dancers who opened the show with Ceberano. What a wonderful start to the show! And the applause that followed indicated the audience was there to support and be entertained, and this never wavered.
Josh Piterman and Blake Bowden then took the stage with a moving rendition of ‘In His Eyes’ from Jekyll and Hyde. The boys blended beautifully and I think Bowden just about blew everyone away as he killed it on the higher harmony. For me, this number was a reminder that many of us still hope to see an Australian production of this show mounted in the near future.
Next up, representing the Lion King, were Joseph Naim, Ed Deganos and Nat Jobe who brought the party with them as they sang and danced the title song as the Urchins from Little Shop of Horrors. They looked great in jackets (no doubt borrowed) from the Production Company’s recent West Side Story, and were followed by a representation of West Side Story‘s female ensemble who performed ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’. Knowing that these girls had finished their season only a few short months ago, made it such a treat to watch them imitate and put their own spin on what their male cast mates had executed so well mere months ago.
John O’Hara took to the stage and showed why he’s a force to be reckoned with with a stirring performance of ‘Unusual Way’ from Nine.
Ed Grey, Drew Weston and Alex Given each took on one of the Witches Of Eastwick with a hilariously flamboyant ‘Make Him Mine’. Subtle idiosyncrasies and feminine mannerisms had the audience in stitches before Nicholas Eaten and Jared Bryan performed ‘Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag’, nailing the original Bob Fosse choreography from Chicago.
After a quick interval, Akina Edmonds wowed the audience with ‘Lost In The Wilderness’ from Children of Eden. She looked stunning in an elegant yet flowing white dress, and her soulful voice gave the song much depth.
Rob Mills proved why he’s still the industry’s favourite larrakin with a very tongue-in-cheek performance of ‘Climbing Uphill’ from The Last Five Years. He was able to send himself up with a few lyric changes to reference everything from his (now long ago) well publicised dalliance with Paris Hilton to plugging his cabaret show, Rob Mills is Surprisingly Good.
The girls from Strictly Ballroom delighted the audience with ‘Seize The Day’ from Newsies. It’s not a show we’ll likely see here anytime soon, so it was an extra treat to see this performed, and done so well!! The choreography by Romina Villafranca was superbly executed and was a true highlight of the night.Luigi Lucente then walked out with his guitar and gave an intimate and haunting acoustic performance of ‘Breathe’ from In The Heights. Melissa Langton followed, showing that she wears the pants, and wears them well, with ‘All I Care About’ from Chicago. She had the help of four backing dancers decked with sequins and feathers, and Joseph O’Sullivan’s choreography made for a superb visual around the female Flynn.
Well. Nathan Pinnell was next with ‘I Got Rhythm’ from Crazy For You. This young triple threat just about gave everything he had to that stage. And made it look like a walk in the park! The choreography by Jan Di Pietro and the ten strong ensemble members around him helped make this one of the most riveting numbers of the night; though it was hard to take your eyes off Pinnell as he sang and tapped his heart out. He’s one to watch, for sure!
Kirsten King, Nicole Melloy, Sarah Landy and Amy Berrisford took to the stage with perennial favourite ‘On Broadway’ from Beautiful with choreography by Michael Ralph. The song has a natural excitement and build to it, and the four women executed it with aplomb.
Co-host Eddie Perfect took a brief moment to introduce an upcoming original work, stating that he couldn’t really tell us what it was about, but that he was working on a project about a girl called Muriel who wants to get married. I’m sure most of the audience would have recognised the plot from one of our most iconic Australian films, and he and Casey Bennetto performed the roles of Muriel and Rhonda in ‘Listen To Me’. The song started off a little like Rent’s ‘Take Me or Leave Me’, and found its own cool edge after the first few verses. There was a positive message of affirmation in the lyrics, and a sense of ‘girl power’ too, and I’m sure this and other songs that may make up a musical will be a big hit to watch out for!
One of the most difficult and intricate musical numbers of the night, ‘Lily’s Eyes’ from The Secret Garden was performed by Lisa-Marie Parker and Lucy Maunder. Both of these leading ladies looked stunning and have powerful voices. I may not have paired the two together as they vocally have very different sounds, but the performance was beautiful and heart warming, all the same.Another musical we are yet to see make it to Australian shores is recent Broadway triumph, Disney’s Aladdin. Fem Belling, who recently shot to national fame on The Voice, and is currently starring in Makin’ Whoppee, a cabaret with Bert Labonte, took centre stage with a billowing blue gown and sang a storm with ‘Friend Like Me’, made famous by Robin Williams’ Genie character from the animated Disney movie. Belling pulled out all the stops and performs with great gusto managing to find opportunities to include a signature scat.

Next, a real treat. Gypsy‘s ‘Gotta Get A Gimmick’ was performed by stage veterans Troy Sussman, David Rogers-Smith and Mark Dickinson. The trio kept it very masculine, but also cheekily suggestive; the stuff of comedy gold.

Arguably the highlight of the night, Queenie van de Zandt brought down the house with ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’ from Stop The World – I Want To Get Off. The consummate professional has a stage presence and voice that is breathtakingly transcendental. Just as you thought she’d sung the most impressive note of the song, another one followed. And not just that, but she conveyed the emotion of the piece sublimely. Van de Zant received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation after her performance.

Another unexpected surprise for the audience, Suzanne Johnston and Judi Connelli performed ‘Pretty Women/Johanna’ from Sweeny Todd. The revered couple blended and complimented each other beautifully. The Sondheim classic also added a different tone to the line up of performances.

Tom Sharah was next in the impressive lineup, performing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl. This song is music theatre gold, and many of the most cherished leading ladies have made their mark singing this. Well, Sharah may as well put himself in the Broadway Diva category as he delivered the challenging tune without a hitch.

One of my personal favourites from the night, ‘Be Italian’ from Nine saw Mike Snell lead an impressive all-male ensemble through the Michael Ralph choreographed number. The energy was great, and there was a raw, understated sensuality from the men on stage. The tambourines used in the tarantella section added to the fun, and the execution of all of the movement was superb.

Michael Cormick brought the ABBA classic and Mamma Mia favourite ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Cormick sat in the emotion of the piece and once again proved why he’s one of the best story-tellers in the business.

Josie Lane closed the show with a powerful vocal in ‘Goodbye’ from Catch Me If You Can. Lane rocked the stage in place of Amanda Harrison who was unable to perform at the last minute, and did a fantastic job stepping in to save the day with only a few hours’ notice.

An incredible night of talent on display, supporting a great cause; it was wonderful to witness the music theatre community come together like this. Twisted Broadway is a don’t-miss event to mark on your 2016 calendar!
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