Paris – A Rock Odyssey
Before he passed away in March last year, Jon English was well underway planning a professional production of his rock opera, Paris. Mounting this limited run concert production in his memory, Music Theatre Melbourne with this talented cast of Australian professionals and up-and-coming performers have done tremendous justice to this show.
Paris follows, arguably, the original epic love story. Paris (Matthew Manahan), the Prince of Troy, embarks on a peace-keeping journey to Greece, but on his arrival falls both in love with the beautiful Helen (Madeleine Featherby) and in danger with the Greek council of leaders. Fleeing for his life and taking Helen with him, he incites a war that will play out over ten years as Paris and Helen remain behind the walls of Troy. Paris explores this classic story from the angle of all the characters involved. The prophet Cassandra (Kerrie Anne Greenland) who is cursed never to be believed with her spot-on prophecies. The mostly rational warrior Achilles (Ben Mingay). The peaceful and pragmatic Ulysses (John Waters). Leader of the Greek world Menelaus (Mark Dickinson). And his war-hungry, blood-thirsty brother Agamemnon (Tim Freedman).
Within a cast full of seasoned professionals who know how to hold a crowd of a thousand in their hand, there were two performances from relatively new Australian talent which stood out far and above the rest. Matthew Manahan as the leading Prince Paris showed the audience why the show is named after him. His vocal power, aided by a selection of songs which allowed him to show off his rock range, allowed him to create a performance that overlooked Paris as the catalyst for all this suffering and actually made you want his love for Helen to come out on top.
The other star of the show was the indomitable Kerrie Anne Greenland. Most of Melbourne has seen Kerrie Anne perform Eponine in the recent tour of Les Misérables, but her role as Cassandra in Paris allows her to explore an entirely different style and live on stage as a rock goddess. For those who are unaware with the original tale, Cassandra was a prophet who foresaw the demise of Troy but was cursed due to previous events so that no one would ever believe her prophecies. Overtime, being able to see what disasters were coming to your family and friends but not being believed would take a toll on one’s sole, and Kerrie Anne embodies this outrage as she pleads with amazing rock vocals for people to listen to her. The highlight of the show comes in the eleven o’clock number when she takes over the stage by herself to sing the anthem ‘Oh, Paris!’ with melismatic drama that needs to be showcased in every show she does from now on.
Long friend of Jon English, John Waters plays Ulysses as an ex-rocker who is still too cool for school which is precisely in this actor’s wheelhouse. His portrayal of this crucial character couldn’t be more closely linked John Water’s already commanding stage presence and amplifies this into a captivating performance alongside Trojan beauty Helen who beautifully manages the performance part way between traditional musical theatre and rock concert as she is torn between her obligations to two lands.
Being a concert production, minimal set is employed allowing a clever lighting design, the actors’ performances to shine and these rarely heard songs to not be overshadowed by, say, a huge Trojan horse. In saying that, there is clever use of the video screen at the back of the stage to provide some context through simple animation and talk through some fight scenes (although there could have been scope for more of these to be acted out by the talented performers who are certainly up to the challenge).
The comic relief for this largely dense story comes right near the end with the song ‘Inside Outside’. A welcome addition to the serious cast, Brian Mannix drinks himself into a stupor and puts on a performance reminiscent of Jon English’s stage presence in Pirates of Penzance – especially when he grabs the conductor’s baton and beats in his own unwritten reprise. But he doesn’t do this alone. He is joined by two up-and-coming performers, Jack O’Riley and Jordan Mahar, who can quite easily give his comic performance a run for its money.
A show in tribute to such a great performer certainly needs to bring Jon English back to the stage, and that is done after the bows with a performance of his hit song ‘Love has Power’. Jon Waters takes over from a recording of the legend himself, followed by a heart-wrenching guitar solo by Jon’s son Jon Sora-English and accompanied by this impressive band.
Paris may have not made it to a long-running professional production yet, but this concert production certainly brings life back to this music genius who continues to be missed in the Australian music landscape.
Paris is playing for a strictly limited run through July 15th at the Melbourne Recital Centre. For more details and to see this show in tribute to the rock legend Jon English, visit www.melbournerecital.com.au