Closer to Heaven

Brisbane Powerhouse (Visy Theatre)


Profit share production

You leave some shows wanting more; hands clamouring for encores.

Unfortunately Closer to Heaven, playing at the Powerhouse as part of the Brisbane Pride Festival, is not one of them.

It could have been. The music is great, courtesy of the Pet Shop Boys, England’s song writing duo with 26 million albums world wide, and well realised in this production by musical director Daniel Baker.

The story (book by Jonathan Harvey) is tug-at-the-heart stuff. Boy meets girl; they make out; boy turns gay; his lover dies; boy survives. Think 19th century operatic tragedy like Boheme or Traviata with a twist and you have it.

But Closer to Heaven, (C2H from its website) is over-crowded and when boy is left searching for a “positive role model” in the final number, you realise that the issues are too many and their analysis too brief. Try this.

Girl’s (Shell, Crystal Taylor) dad is gay; they haven’t met since she was five; he’s racked with guilt and with lust for boy.

Dad (Vic, Chris Herden) runs a London dance club where boy (Straight Dave, Regis Broadway) aspires to more from life and love. Dave ends up not so straight and in bed with an abandoned, unloved street kid/drug dealer (Lee, Julian Curtis) who falls victim to his own dealing before realising the depth of Dave’s love.

Shell is pretty annoyed at Dave, but before he falls for Lee, she introduces him to her sleaze-bag boss (Saunders, Christopher Maver) who promises Dave, the boy from Oz, fame and fortune. In the original London Arts Theatre production, which ran from May to October 2001, Dave hailed from Ireland.

Dispensing words of wisdom to all who will or won’t listen is aging rock star Billie Trix (Libby Munro) surrounded by an ensemble of all-singing all-dancing Babes. Add an overdose of drugs, a spoonful of expletives and mix and C2H should be a raunchy winner.

But the so-billed “controversial” show doesn’t strut far enough off the stage. Director Simon Chan plays it safe. Admittedly his production is done on a shoe string but the scenes are ill-defined and the threads of this unwieldy story are left dangling.

The opening number is tired, not a great way to start a show. The Babes are neither slick nor black-eyed sleaze. The spark that veteran performer Maver injects on his first entry is a welcome lift and applauded as such; Munro likewise convinces at the top of Act II and in her Caligula number.

Herden sings clear and strong and Taylor as the wronged lover distractingly paces and struts her anger where Broadway tells his unexpected but accepted homosexual love with a compelling stillness. His duet with Curtis is tenderly and quietly honest a high point. And if Billie Trix were cast less like her Babes, her camp mother role would be more compelling.

The Other Production Company’s Australian premiere of C2H by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd is a mixed bag. It promised lots but I left wanting more sharpness, edginess and conviction. Then my hands would have been really sore.

Directed by Simon Chan

Playing until 18 June 2005: Thu-Sat 8pm

Running time: 2 hours 15 mins including interval

(Performance seen: Wednesday 15th June)

— John Colwill
(Performance seen: Tue 14th June 2005)