‘Defying Gravity’ was iconic.
Musical theatre is a blessing in disguise in so many ways. It’s incredibly powerful watching stories unfold on stage that are a beautiful combination of unique, yet relatable aspects, and while plays move you, musical theatre inspires you. It is nearly impossible to walk away from a show without feeling better than you did when you first walked in.
Proudly presented by Phil Bathols and QPAC, ‘Defying Gravity’ is a celebration of some of the very best songs that musical theatre has to offer, presented by some of Australia’s most well renowned and awarded artists. They are the songs that made us cry, the songs that inspired us to be more than we ever thought we could be and the songs that we fell in love to.
Arranged brilliantly by the talented James Dobinson and featuring internationally acclaimed superstar Caroline O’Connor, award-winning actress and singer Naomi Price and superbly talented soprano Irena Lysiuk, ‘Defying Gravity’ was a night that won’t soon be forgotten. With Brisbane’s own golden voice Luke Kennedy guest starring, the set list included songs from some of the world’s greatest musical smash hits, including; Les Miserables, Guys and Dolls, 9 to 5, Mamma Mia, Wicked and so many more.
The show opened in spectacular fashion with the quartet performing glorious renditions of Beautiful Girls and Broadway Baby Trio from Follies, two songs that I had never heard before but instantly fell in love with. O’Connor wore a sparkling silver dress that shone just as bright as she did, with Price looking like a stunning golden Christmas present in her number and Lysiuk looking gorgeous in a sheek black dress she had to pick up at the last minute from A Formal Affair Brisbane (lifesavers!). The opening was a solid 10/10, and yet things just continued to get better and better as the night went on.
Caroline O’Connor, who is certainly no stranger to QPAC, having performed here on multiple occasions in ‘Chicago’ (1998/2008), ‘Anything Goes’ (2015) and ‘From Broadway with Love’ (2021), opened the solo performances by tackling the enormous hit, Don’t Rain on my Parade from ‘Funny Girl’. It is no wonder she continues to be cast in lead roles as her voice is truly phenomenal with stage presence to boot. Her other solos were just as beautiful as her opener, most notably Big Spender (‘Sweet Charity’) and Maybe This Time (‘Cabaret’). More than just being a stellar solo artist however, her duets with her fellow cast members were just as sweet to the ears. Alongside Naomi Price she performed a comical rendition of Master of the House (‘Les Miserables’), which they tied into a story of when O’Connor was asked to perform in Sweeney Todd in Paris’s Theatre Du Chatelet. The song was skillfully performed and it was amazing to see that additional thought had been put into the storytelling and production of the show, as opposed to just singing back-to-back hits.
Naomi Price has long been a favourite of not only myself, but the Brisbane and Australian music scene as a whole. She is a dynamite singer, hilarious host and fabulous actor and the shows she produces through her company, The Little Red Co, are smash-hit sellouts. She is a true star of the stage and her renditions of The Winner Takes It All (‘Mamma Mia’) and Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (‘My Fair Lady’) were sung elegantly. Her charm throughout the evening was related to more than just her voice though, as her ability to hold the audience’s attention through stories from her career were highly engaging and perfectly witty.
Rounding out the trio, Irena Lysiuk deserves the highest of accolades for her performance for more reasons than I can count on one hand. Not only does she have a voice to die for and charming charisma, she had to learn the entire setlist in just 48 hours. Australian musical theatre powerhouse, Amy Lehpalmer, who was originally slated for the show unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute due to the ongoing pandemic. The show had to go on however, and just two days before the curtains were scheduled to be raised, Lysiuk got the call up from Dobinson. Her solos of She Used to Be Mine (‘Waitress’) and Son of a Preacher Man (‘Dusty’) were so well controlled and meaningfully performed. I have seen neither musical before, but from her voice alone I am now obsessed with both.
Even though he was only listed as a special guest, Luke Kennedy was a staple in the show and delivered goosebumps to my arms on multiple occasions with his hauntingly beautiful voice. His rendition of Bring Him Home (‘Les Miserables’) hit all the emotional points and he absolutely slayed in his duet with his beautiful partner (Naomi) in Falling Slowly (‘Once’).
While it is challenging to single out any particular performance as being the standout of the evening, the duet of Suddenly Seymour (‘Little Shop of Horrors’) by Lysiuk and Kennedy possibly takes the cake. This is likely due to my own bias for both performers, as well as the song itself, but the audience as a whole gave a very lengthy and well-deserved applause for the number. On a similar note, the trio of leading ladies knocked Defying Gravity (‘Wicked’) out of the park at the commencement of the second act, just as Price and Lysiuk did with Popular in the first.
From solos to duets and trebles, every hit was magnificent in its execution and no audience member was left unsatisfied. Be you 16 and just getting into musical theatre, or 87 and having lived for it your entire life, ‘Defying Gravity’ was a powerful performance and one that I wish was more than just for one night only.
‘Defying Gravity’ ran for one night only at QPAC. For more upcoming productions. Visit the QPAC website.
Photos by Stewart Tyrell, PhotoCo