WAAPA students. Picture: Jon Green

THEATRE
Hair/The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
WAAPA third-year music theatre/acting
Geoff Gibbs Theatre/Roundhouse Theatre
REVIEW DAVID ZAMPATTI

The first round of productions at the WA Academy of Performing Arts is like the first round of the footy season. What will the new kids be like? Who'll be the stars? WAAPA unveiled its 2014 graduating classes in acting and music theatre in two sprawling, messy and entertaining productions.

The messiness, I hasten to add, was not the fault of the young performers or their mentors. Both Hair and Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui were written on the run, and it shows.

In Hair's case, the haste was about cashing in on the fascination with the hippie phenomenon of late 60s America. Its score bears little relationship to the real music that drove those times. It is largely harmony pop, cynical and irresistible, and it's little surprise that Aquarius, Let the Sunshine in, Good Morning Starshine and the title track became enormous hits for middle-of-the-road acts.

The show's best songs are its least typical: Easy to be Hard (convincingly performed by Sophie Stokes) and Where Do I Go? (Du Toit Bredenkamp, whose Claude, along with Daniel Berini's George, anchors the show's fairly shallow narrative) and, especially, the endearing Frank Mills, with the $2 the love-struck Crissy (nailed sweetly by Shannen Chin-Quan) doesn't want back.

The chorus were in great voice and threw themselves about director Tanya Mitford's comical choreography with abandon - yes, the show's big-selling hook happens, albeit lit with some decorum by Ashlee Blakers - and the eight-piece band, led by David King, is fabulous.

In 1941, Bertolt Brecht was holed up in Helsinki, waiting to escape to America, when he hurriedly wrote Arturo Ui, a satirical expose of then recent events in Germany. There's no doubt about the target of Brecht's invective, and British director Michael Jenn, who returns to WAAPA for this production, pulls none of the playwright's punches.

The play is almost too direct to be an allegory. Arturo (Aleks Mikic), the Brooklyn-born hood who ruthlessly takes over the Chicago cauliflower trade, is Adolf Hitler to his jackboot-straps, and his gang, Giri (Julio Cesar), Givola (Liam Maguire), Roma (Joel Horwood) and the others are the prominent nazis. The upright Dogsborough (Harry Richardson) is the old Chancellor von Hindenburg, Chicago is Germany, the nearby town of Cicero is Austria, the Cauliflower Trust are the Junkers, a warehouse burns and a Jew is framed for it, Roma and his faction go down in a Night of the Long Tommy Guns, and so on.

Brecht overburdens his text with his passions, from Shakespeare to gangster movies, and the play is overlong. But it's a great vehicle for the cast, from the loose-limbed, charismatic Mikic whose Ui has something of Chaplin's Great Dictator, to its finely marshalled and talented ensemble.

Like Hair, Arturo Ui is a production only WAAPA, with the talent and resources it has at its disposal, could mount in Perth. We're lucky to have it, and them, and it's well worth your while to add their season to your regular theatre-going.

WAAPA unveiled its 2014 graduating classes . . . in two sprawling, messy and entertaining productions.

The West Australian

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