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Review: Philip Quast: The Road I Took at the Ensemble

Review by Carly Fisher

Big voices, intimate stage. That seems to be the common thread through the Ensemble’s rarely programmed but always appreciated cabaret line up. If you look closely at the Kirribilli based theatre’s season extras each year, you will stumble upon these gems and, as has been the case for a number of years now, once again, this little addition to the season delivered.

This year’s cabaret performance sees Philip Quast AM take to the stage. Many in the audience clearly came out because they are big fans of Quast’s work - to say that his theatrical resume is extensive is a severe understatement - and others because they were keen to be introduced to the man billed as Australian musical theatre royalty. I really appreciated this obvious mix in the audience - it gave you the impression that whilst to many Philip had little to prove, to others, this was a chance to introduce himself and his talents…and I imagine that is not something that someone with a career like his does too often. This sense of ‘keeping him on his toes’ as much as he was keeping the audience on theirs, made for an exciting watch.

To be honest, the beginning was rocky and made me slightly nervous. The first few songs didn’t land as strongly as they could have and some jokes (one of which involved clothing) made me feel significantly ‘out’ of the demographic of the intended audience. Knowing that there were 90 minutes ahead, at this point, I won’t lie, I was worried.

And then Quast sang a beautiful song written specifically for him about his father’s hands…and everything changed. Finally, his impressive Baritone vocals were on display and this particular song showcased a sensitivity and consideration that made me grateful to have an opportunity to see a master like this on an intimate stage.

That Quast clearly feels comfortable with an audience is undisputed - his crowd work in full form through the duration of the show. Advertised at 70 mins and playing for closer to 95, it was fun to get to see Quast engage with his audience - many of whom were friends and industry friends. We sang happy birthday to a mate in the back row, heard fishing tales prompted by a question from his Scottish friend, and indulged in Trevor Ashley’s notorious laugh together as an audience. Yes, these were all tangents, however, they made him that much more personable that, I’m sure like many in the audience, I found myself enjoying them all as much as what was meant to be in the script.

Two thirds into the show we paused the singing for a quick Q&A - an excellent touch! We return from this to Quast in a familiar position - in a chair, with a playschool book. It is a beautiful ode to this portion of his career.

The night is laced with some wonderful songs and if I could complain about just one thing (besides the first few songs which I do think need to be reconsidered for a better opening), it would be that there was not enough Les Miserables. Though I am sure that at this point of his career, Quast must be seriously tired of singing Javert’s songs, Les Miserables is a classic that no one is tired of hearing. It seemed to be a common disappointment as I left the theatre with many audiences surprised to not have heard more from the role that made him SERIOUSLY famous. That said, he did share a wonderful casting story about his time auditioning for Les Mis that hit the sweet spot.

On piano is the fantastic Anne-Marie Mcdonald. She is the consummate professional and a wonderful accompanist for the show - I just wish it had led to a duo! To have such a beautiful talent on stage that is not fully showcased seemed a shame. That said, I will say that Quast gives a lesson in this show to all performers in how to properly thank, acknowledge and celebrate your accompanist - He knows that without her, the show does not happen.

The show makes itself at home on the set of the Ensemble’s current mainstage production, Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, leaving no room for a set of its own to speak of.

It’s not a perfect performance but it is an enjoyable night out all the same and I hope that its success continues to encourage The Ensemble, and other Sydney theatres, to program more cabarets into their seasons or season extra offerings. Where usually the theatre sits empty on a Monday night, instead, the house was full of music, audience and wonderful reminiscing of an exceptional career.

Image Supplied


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