‘John and Jen’ is a delightful musical with lyrics by Tom Greenwald and music by Andrew Lippa. It is based on their own book. This 20 yrs. old show premiered in Connecticut, being set in the USA between 1950 and 1990 it is about the strong bond between Jen and her brother John.
This fantastic two-hour production has curtain-up at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until Saturday 5th October. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on September 22nd and 29th.
You can catch this top rate show at the Stirling Theatre in Morris Place, Innaloo.
The Scene: A small town in the USA, 1952. Post war poverty is still biting.
The Set: is most novel idea designed and constructed by George Boyd. Around the wings are small rostra about 150 cms high. There are three or four 50 cms square, colourful multi-purpose cubes. The centre piece was the rear wall on 33 cms clear Perspex cubes, clipped together to give a wall approximately 2 x 4 metres. With hinged doors on the front, these cubes acted as storage space. The wall was lit from behind by a series of LED lamps that changed colour with the mood of the situation. A new approach that worked very well, thanks to George and the lighting designer / operator in the Bio Box, John Woolrych.
The sound design, musician final balance and headpiece operation were by Tyler Eldridge, seated in the back row of the theatre.
The busy stage manager was Linda Redman who had many props to coordinate.
Jen Tracey (Stephanie Hickey) is six when her brother John is born. We watch as little Jen loves and cares for John (Timothy Tyrie) as he grows through childhood. Jen protects her brother from their abusive father, after all, love and family are everything. Every few minutes of the show we see the two siblings become a year older.
We see Jen going on her first date and john as he joins the local baseball team. They soon become ready for university and a new future.
The second Act introduces a couple of new characters, also played by these two highly talented actors.
The orchestration was by Jason Brown, but for this production it was brought to life by musical director / conductor, Liam Gobbert and his exceptional quartet that at times seemed to be a full orchestra. The musicians were – on keyboard Benjamin Hogan, Cello Amanda Reynolds and Russell Vernon (alternating nights), with Anthony Leadbetter on percussion and drums. The musicians were tucked into the tiny chair store on the left of the auditorium – at the side of the audience – so that it could have been easy to have a poorly adjusted band, however Liam and his musicians were perfectly balanced and play at a volume and tempo that allowed the perfect enunciation of every word of the songs to carry clearly to the whole audience.
Even with a talented young director like Tyler Eldridge, the demands on two actors to carry a show alone for two hours is a huge ask. But Stephanie Hickey – who has only been in WA for about four or five years – has starred in several major shows and has already been nominated for a Finley award. Timothy Tyrie was in a few shows as a youngster but has only come back to the stage recently after graduating as a music teacher. (What a lucky school!).
Expecting anyone to act in a simple two-hander play is challenging. The actors were expected to depict mood changes from tension, elation, love, hate, with full dramatic action being called for at times. These two comparatively young performers had then to sing two dozen songs, without any signs of fatigue and with perfect diction, success again. Then there are almost two dozen periods throughout the musical when the actors are expected to change character and portray different ages and personalities. The actors were flawless in EVERY section.
The costume designer was Lynda Stubbs, who had sewing help from Marjorie DeCaux and Fran Gordon. Lynda also became an extremely busy dresser, as each era came around, unnoticed the actors left the stage one at a time for their next costume change. The outfits were perfect for the age from ballgown to hippie, from mother to child. These numerous costume changes were not simply signified by a new T-shirt or a hat, but by a complete change of clothing.
There was no hesitation in the action, as the show’s delightful score (90 per cent of the show) flowed seamlessly.
The topic of this production doesn’t sound too exciting, but it is a top-notch musical, extremely well presented by talented musicians and two amazing and indefatigable actors. Very highly recommended.