Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Jones/Woods Holiday Special - Holland St Productions (26 July 2014)

Back in a time before digital music downloads there used to be something called an ‘album’. This was a collection of songs played in a pre-determined order. Quaint, I know! This led to what was known as the Greatest Hits album where the best songs of a band or artist over their career were brought together onto the one record. Or what young people today call a ‘playlist’. Usually, to release a greatest hits album, you’d have to have a sustained period of success…

How audacious then for Messrs Jones and Woods to put together a showcase of their ‘greatest hits’ for two performances only at the Hackett Hall in Floreat. Billed as The Jones/Woods Holiday Special the evening was a collection of original musical theatre songs written by Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods and performed by them with a little help from their friends. Except audacious is a perfect word to describe this duo and they have both the talent and material to more than pull off such an evening. In fact it was a stunning and hilarious night that had the audience stomping and clapping in approval.

I was fortunate enough to see the final show of Point and Shoot at this year’s Fringe Festival, a musical that deservedly won the Artrage Theatre Award for Best Theatre Production and the coveted Martin Sims Award for Best New Western Australian Work. They had taken out the Artrage award the year before for Falling to the Top, a musical featuring The Divalettes, a group on the comeback trail with their appearance here (a chapter that will surely make its way into the annals of pop music history). I had also been impressed with Jones’ Finley Award nominated role as the lead in the musical Curtains as this very venue last year. It’s fair to say my expectations going in were high. It’s also fair to say they easily cleared that bar.

Three things that immediately struck me during this show – the showmanship on display (the chemistry between Jones and Woods is impressive as they introduced each segment, bantered, mock-argued, made-up and, at times, genuinely amused each other); the brilliance of the songs which are smart, incisive, clever, and outright funny; the absolute affection they have for not only musical theatre but also - and this was what I didn’t know but should have guessed at from Point and Shoot - feature films. There is a perfect fusion here between those two passions – film and musical theatre – and it’s a potent mix.

This was highlighted with a punctuation point in the closing section of the evening when they presented a new, short piece Gravity the Musical, a film Woods described as the greatest ever and bemoaned the fact it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar. Brianna Williams gave a pitch perfect performance as ‘Sandy’ with St John Crowder as ‘George’ and Jones himself as the third astronaut whose name nobody remembers and, donned in a blonde wig, Sandy’s daughter. The lyrics here are so incisive as they lovingly pay homage to the film but also mock it mercilessly (the lack of ‘Sandy’s back story other than she had a daughter… who died; and the massed company imploring  Sandy that “she can do it” satirising the film’s ropey second act turning point). This is a Fringe Festival show and lawsuit waiting to happen. But, oh my, it was jaw-achingly funny.

There were so many other highlights as the duo presented their back catalogue – a Japanese version of Lookamalips from Falling to the Top performed by kimono-clad Ichina Parker while The Divalettes looked on unimpressed; Jones singing the witty You’ll Do from Zombie Girlfriend, and an aching lament to Ashley Judd for never winning an Oscar; a roaring 80’s style pisstake, One Heart, from the duo’s Moviefest Extra entry Dragon Conquest, belted out by Ann-Marie Biagoni with a little help from Robert Woods and an over-the-top dual saxophone solo that was hilariously on point; the wistful Absolute Perfection from Point and Shoot which is perhaps my favourite of their songs, beautifully sung by Tamara Woolrych; You’re Insane from Robert Woods’ solo musical theatre exploit, Delicious House, featuring Timothy How and Tamara Woolrych; Paul Spencer’s rendition of Astronaut as a rhyme-challenged Woodsman; and Woods singing an excerpt from Jones’ Year 12 essay on the film American Beauty chosen at random by an audience member.

Phoebe Jackson was featured in two numbers, I Want To Fly (from undoubtedly the definitive Peter Pan adaptation) and Awful Folk from The Amberly Show. The Divalettes (Breeahn Jones, Kimberley Harris, Mariaelena Velletri and Claire Taylor) also had their moment to shine with a sassy reprise of Lookamalips. The ensemble from Point and Shoot (Jones, Woods, Woolrych and a wonderfully zany Erin Hutchinson) ran through four songs from that show and perhaps the biggest applause of the night was for youngster Rhylan Bush who played Captain Hook in I Want to Fly. David Gray rounded out the ensemble with vocal support on numbers such as the deliciously black Zombie Girlfriend and, if I'm not mistaken, was on keyboards at one point. 

This company of talented performers clearly relished working with such quality material and, again, there was real chemistry between them all. The fact that the show was put together with something like only three weeks rehearsal time is testament to their abilities. The audience response was as enthusiastic as anything I’ve seen in Perth – foot stomping intensity in fact! 

Robert Woods and Tyler Jacob Jones are a duo to watch. They are touring the eastern states in a couple of months and I expect that they will break and break big – there is too much creativity, invention, and sheer chutzpah for them not to. On the evidence of this fabulous showcase theirs are names we’ll be hearing a lot of in the future. 

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