Performance review: Broadway Bingo, Brisbane Powerhouse

An interactive and engaging approach to presenting classic musical hits, Broadway Bingo was a highly entertaining and fun night out.  
Four singers in black line up behind each other, first person crouching, so that the heads of each show above the person in front. The man at the back holds up a large perspex bowl full of coloured balls.

Brisbane-based musical theatre company Outside the Jukebox has found a niche for itself that’s centred on innovative and engaging ways of presenting the musical theatre genre. Recognised for its unique approach in the performing arts space, its recent production of a Christmas cabaret show entitled Merry Mixology earned the company a Matilda Awards nomination for Best Cabaret or Musical in 2023. Importantly, it seems to be building a solid and loyal audience base with an emphasis on attracting a new and relatively young market.  

Outside the Jukebox comprises four multi-talented triple-threat artists (they can all dance, sing and act) who collectively own and run the company. They create and write their own material, arrange and direct the musical numbers, undertake all the administration and marketing and, finally, perform their work.

Hayden Rodgers, Marcia Penman, Oliver Samson and Hannah Grondin are all trained musical theatre performers and past graduates of the Musical Theatre course at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. Collectively, their voices offer an astonishingly diverse variety of songs, even if their voices do not initially seem to divide easily along strict vocal lines.

Penman and Samson have the higher female and male voices, while Grondin and Rodgers offer a deeper vocal quality, though interestingly the songs were not divided in any conventional manner. Rather some songs written for female characters were sung by men and vice versa. It allowed for some unique vocal perspectives, mashing up potential arrangements for duets and quartets in particular to allow a flexible delivery.  This made for an entertaining mix, especially when falsetto and deep bass notes were added to traditionally male or female voices respectively. Mostly, it worked well. 

Billed as ‘an innovative entertainment concept’ and an ‘unpredictable musical experience’, Broadway Bingo was the Outside the Jukebox’s latest offering. Within a concert framework, the company included a fun gaming element by introducing bingo. On stage, this played out with the cast pulling coloured balls out of a giant spinning cage at random, each ball denoting a specific show tune as being the next to be sung.

There were 28 songs on the full playlist and 15 were chosen in total on the night this reviewer attended, each show thus offering different song combinations. This put the artists on their mettle, clearly needing to be word-perfect across a relatively large playlist to adapt to the unpredictability of what would come next – and they appeared to do just that. An added fun component was that the four cast members each had a Power Card, which they used to control the performance of one of the other singers, producing some lively and unexpected results. 

Each audience member was additionally given a bingo card, ticking off squares as they answered questions about what they were seeing and hearing on stage. Prizes were offered to the first, second and third winners while the overall audience response was akin to a comedic TV quiz show, both exuberant and noisy.  

The set was minimal and modest, the basic costuming a mixture of black outfits to which additional costumes from a coat rack could be added as required. Electronic backing music was provided digitally on a laptop and lighting was simple but reasonably effective for the variety of solos through the staged and semi-choreographed numbers.

The emphasis was on the delivery of the songs, as well as on audience participation in the bingo game itself. The Underground Theatre at the Brisbane Powerhouse was also the perfect space for an interactive cabaret show of this kind – big enough for a reasonably sized audience to participate, but intimate enough for the interaction required. 

Perhaps due to nerves on the opening performance, the show got off to a chaotic start, with the four singers falling over each other vocally to explain to the audience what to expect. Grondin spoke so quickly that it was difficult to understand much of what she said. Fortunately, this settled down with the first musical number. From Rent ‘Seasons of Love’ is a perennial favourite, here arranged for the quartet by Penman. Melodic and with some well-paced harmonies from all four singers, it was a terrific first song.   

The diversity of the program that followed was good; the songs were given individual treatment and with some well-staged movement and costume additions.        

Standout numbers included a range of solos. Samson’s touchingly sung ‘Waving through a Window’ from Dear Evan Hansen, and a fiery and impassioned interpretation of ‘Heaven on their Minds’, Judas’ aria from Jesus Christ Superstar, were splendid. His is a rich baritone with excellent diction. Grondin gave a moving and powerful rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’, Jean Valjean’s aria from Les Misérables. With her strong resonant chest voice, she also emulated Streisand’s performance when it came to ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ from Funny Girl, which was no mean feat. Directed to be joyous in the first half and depressed in the second by Penman, she brought this off with aplomb.    

In the role of George III, Marcia Penman sang ‘You’ll be Back’ from Hamilton. Exceptionally well-managed, its usual comic value was greatly enhanced by Rodgers’ manipulation of her arms and legs as if she was a puppet – hilarious and very well-received. Rodgers gave us a beautifully enacted ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ from Tim Minchin’s Matilda. Dressed as a pirate and brandishing a badminton racket, his Miss Trunchbull was fearsome while the remaining singers played the trembling children to great effect. 

Sondheim’s ‘Heartbreak Medley’ was cleverly arranged as a duet by Samson and Rodgers and included well-delivered extracts from popular songs ‘Agony’, ‘Johanna’, ‘Every Day a Little Death’ and ‘Not a Day Goes By’. Several first-rate quartets included Jason Robert Brown’s ‘The New World’ from Songs for a New World. A marvellous but difficult song, it was very well-delivered by all four singers with its powerful crescendo.

As arranged by Penman, The Sound of Music was played tongue-in-cheek with a choreographed comedy routine from all four singers that was great fun. Also arranged by Penman, ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked saw each member of the quartet singing a line in rotation, coming together for a strong heartfelt finale. A final encore offered four charming extracts of Disney songs, sung by each singer in turn, which brought the show to a rapturous close. 

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Grit and determination, plus bucketloads of energy and enthusiasm alongside considerable musical talent and skills, make Outside the Jukebox a company to watch in the future. If Broadway Bingo is anything to go by, it has found a winning formula in both its distinctive programming and in communicating with its audience. Engaging and highly entertaining, Broadway Bingo offered a really fun night out for any age group.  

Outside the Jukebox 
Broadway Bingo
Brisbane Powerhouse
Creative Producer and Designer: Hayden Rodgers
Musical Director: Marcia Penman
Technical Producer: Oliver Samson
Created and performed by: Hayden Rodgers, Marcia Penman, Oliver Samson and Hannah Grondin 

Broadway Bingo was performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse from 19 to 21 April.

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She is a freelance arts writer and has been writing reviews and articles for over 20 years, regularly reviewing classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals. Most recently she was Arts Hub's Brisbane-based Arts Feature Writer.