Lonely Heart - the musical

BATS Theatre, Wellington

17/01/2012 - 28/01/2012

Production Details


BATS Theatre and Peter & Fran are kicking off 2012 with a brand new musical Lonely Heart!

After 18 years Wellington’s talented Musical Director Michael Nicholas Williams has finished writing Lonely Heart!

With a fantastic cast & crew on board, the musical makes its exciting premier in January at our beloved BATS Theatre.

A show that guarantees you the best singing in town! Lonely Heart presentsWellingtonwith a brilliant line up including Bryony Skillington, Nick Dunbar, Emma Kinane and two more up and coming performers directed by Jeff Kingsford-Brown.

Lonely Heart is based on a true story of the Lonely Heart Killers inAmericaand the film Honeymoon Killers which was banned inNew Zealand. The musical is about how one of life’s losers Martha Beck falls in love with Ray, but he isn’t what he appears to be…

Find out what happens by not missing out on the chance to see Lonely Heart the Musical in January 2012! 

Where: BATS Theatre, 1 KentTerrace, Wellington 
Performance Dates: 17th January – 28th January 2012 
Tuesday – Saturday: 8pm 
No Show on Sunday or Monday

Ticket Prices: 
Adults $20
Students & senior citizens: $14
Groups: 6+ $15

Box Office: 04 802 4176 or www.bats.co.nz 

Martha Beck:  Bryony Skillington
Ray Fernandez:  Nick Dunbar
Julia Seabrook/Janet Fray/Delphine Downing/Lonely Hearts:  Emma Kinane
Bobby/Rainelle Downing:  Natasha McAllister
Maitre’D/Brother:  Nick Purdie

Set Designer:  Dan Williams
Lighting Designer:  Jen Lal
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Cathro
Producer/Publicist:  Eleanor Cooke
Stage Manager/Choreographer:  Nick Purdie
Technical Operator:  Ashlyn Smith
Film Cameraman:  Stephen Press
Photography:  Philip Merry
Costumier assisted by Leimoni Oakes, Kelly Bargh, Jo Rothaum, Amelia Cathro  


Review by Craig Beardsworth 26th Jan 2012

In the 1940’s America was gripped by the trial of ‘The Lonely Hearts Killers’. Raymond Fernandez scanned the personal lonely hearts column looking for rich spinsters wanting companionship. He wooed then married them and Martha Beck posing as his sister helped him knock them off. This gruesome story has provided rich pickings for Michael Williams to generate a musical.

Williams notes in the programme that he originally had a lyricist and script writer lined up, but he ended up writing everything himself including the music. As a composer and lyricist his job was well finessed – so often musical theatre can be derivative with lashings of schmaltz. The tunes were fresh and the score inventive. What really stymied this production was the script and pacing, for example, Julia (Emma Kinane) – the vitriolic mother of Beck (Bryony Skillington) is cruel and discouraging, regularly calling Beck ‘a fat slut’. Yet when neighbour Bobby (Natasha McAllister) comes in with news of a blind date for the shy and downtrodden Beck the three women break into a jolly trio about how exciting it all is. 

The script lurched from pathos to slapstick and not enough time was taken to build to the next plot point. With such emotionally loaded material I wish Williams had aimed for more black humour to use as a foil and avoided the tap dancing and spirit fingers. 

The singing and acting was well handled. Nick Dunbar made an oily Fernandez, Kinane had a busy night as a host of characters as did McAllister and Nick Purdy shone vocally in a well judged lounge singer cameo. Skillington was the lynchpin. As the flawed Beck she had to be vulnerable, scheming, desperate, sultry and angry. All were achieved.

What wasn’t addressed was the power of her voice. Skillington belted in true music theatre style, but it was too big for the venue. She obliterated the other singers in ensembles and at times during the dialogue I felt she was at the Coliseum.

I also have reservations about directing singers to sing the ‘money notes’ as loud and long as possible every time. What about subtlety, phrasing, contrast? There were lost opportunities and this did a disservice to the drama and the music. It needed a dramaturg to whip it into shape.


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Musical revives old murder story

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th Jan 2012

The theatrical year kicks off at Bats with something dark and strange: a home-grown chamber murder-musical. It’s based on a true story of two murderers, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez who murdered about twenty women between 1947 and 1949. And like most musicals it’s all about love, but this time twisted love.

Murder is not unknown in musicals: Porgy and Bess, St Louis Woman, Oliver!, Lost in the Stars, Chicago, and Sunset Boulevard. The body count in Lonely Heart seems almost has high as it is in the bloodiest of all musicals, Sweeney Todd. And like Sondheim’s masterpiece, Lonely Heart mixes comedy with the blood shedding; though, to be accurate, we are spared the blood at Bats.

In herFloridahome, which Martha describes as something out of a Bela Lugosi movie, she puts up with her repellent mother (Emma Kinane) and a neighbour (Natasha McAllister) who arranges a date for Martha via a lonely hearts club.  Raymond Fernandez, whom the mother describes as “an oily rat”, turns up all the way fromNew Yorkon the lookout for wealthy widows.

Martha, who falls for Raymond, is on the lookout for a Rhett Butler to relieve her of the drudgery of home and her job as a nurse, which she sings about in the best song of the show Day after Day. I should add that Martha has had two husbands, a couple of kids and in her childhood she was sexually abused by her brother (Nick Purdie).

Martha follows the creepy Raymond (played with ratty charm by Nick Dunbar) toNew Yorkonly to find he has just got married. She poses as his sister and the pair then works together bumping off the gullible wives. The funniest scene and song is a train of weddings with the brides, all played by Emma Kinane, going to their deaths with smiles on their faces one after the other.

While his lyrics lack bite and the comic/dramatic juxtaposition lacks any moral or artistic purpose, Michael Nicholas Williams’ music captures the 40s well though the period pastiche gets stretched a bit with a Lloyd-Webber-like aria.

However, the musical does allow the talents of Bryony Skillington to properly shine. We knew she is a very funny comic actor, now we know she can also lead a show and sing with considerable power and without the aid of a microphone.  _______________________________

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Top quality musical theatre

Review by Jo Hodgson 19th Jan 2012

I’m not sure how many musicals have taken 18 years to see the light of day, I wonder how many don’t ever get a chance – but Michael Nicholas Williams persevered because he knew he had a winner and that it is.

What an amazing piece of musical theatre. Heartfelt, sinister, witty, and poignant all energized with intense passion from a wonderfully talented cast.

It’s a brilliantly told tale about two deeply unhappy and lost individuals – Ray Fernandez, a gold digger, and Martha Beck, an oppressed, ‘damaged’ solo mother of two – who are brought together, one through greed and the other need, through a Lonely Hearts club.

Martha’s opening sung soliloquy, ‘My story is a Love story’, sets the scene giving us some essential background and insight into who she is. Later in Act 2 we are enlightened more profoundly with a reprise of this narrative song setting.

In the ‘theme’ song, Lonely Hearts, sung with gusto and fab harmonies by Emma Kinane, Bryony Skillington and Natasha McAllistair – Martha (Skillington) is convinced by her friend Bobby (McAllistair) to go on a date with ‘Charles’ (Nick Dunbar). From there things take quite a different turn.  (See John Smythe’s review for more detail on character and plot)

Bryony Skillington’s portrayal of Martha is absolutely outstanding. With a wonderful mix of gutsy, emotionally charged belt, and such stirring depth of vocal colour, she gives us a totally connected, honest performance from head to toe.

Emma Kinane (who the role of Martha was originally written for, all those years ago) is excellent as the interfering, self-esteem bashing yet frightened mother singing with strength and vulnerability as required. She also portrays several other Lonely Hearts dates/brides to great comic/tragic effect.

Nick Dunbar is a suave ‘sly dog’ as Ray Fernandez – great casting with an uncanny resemblance to the real man! He has a smooth toned high baritone voice but I wasn’t as convinced by his vocal take of the role until he was really charged with fierce emotion in ‘To Hell with you’.  I realise this may have been a conscious choice, to vocally lay it back to match the more nonchalant style of the character in Act 1, heating up the vocal focus and power to match the tumultuousness and depravity of the relationship between him and Martha in Act 2.  

The cast is completed with the complementary talents of Natasha McAllistair and Nick Purdie.

Bobby is played with sass and style by McAllistair, a recent graduate of WPAC who has a lovely clear voice totally suited to musical theatre. Her Shirley Temple-style tap dancing portrayal of one of the Lonely Hearts’ daughters shows her performance skill versatility.

Nick Purdie has a hand in many sides of this production: choreographer and stage manager as well as taking several roles on stage, including a crooner where his beautiful voice is heard in his rendition of Voodoo Man.

The score is fabulously written by Michael Nicholas Williams with a great variety of musical styles: Latin, Ballad, Sondheim-esque patter, salutes to musicals past … His clever use of composition techniques pulls the audience in with unexpected key changes and powerful ‘money’ notes superbly executed by all members of the cast.

It is obvious from this performance that he has chosen and trained the singers extremely well with the clarity of diction to hear his clever libretto, especially the stunning choral sound created in ‘Hail Mary’. 

All the orchestration is performed expertly by Williams on keyboards and from where I was sitting the sound balance was perfect.  (I hope in the future with bigger budgets there will be a chance to hear the full richness and intensity of this score with a full band.)

Lonely Heart – the Musical is top quality theatre grown right here out of an enormous pool of talent that shows up both on stage and off with the specialist designers and technicians. 

All the very best to the whole Lonely Hearts team; if opening night’s response is anything to go by they’re in for a successful season!

One final note, I am also pleased to report that not all blind dates end up as the ones in this show do … 


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Potent cautionary tale deserves healthy life on the Festival circuit

Review by John Smythe 18th Jan 2012

Bats has started its year with a cracker: the world premiere of an American musical, based on a true story and created right here in NZ (well, some of it inHong Kongaccording to the programme note). Don’t miss it!

It was back in 1996, after seeing the film The Honeymoon Killers (made in 1969 but initially banned in NZ), that writer / composer / musical director Michael Nicholas Williams somewhat flippantly challenged himself to write a musical based on that true story. The journey to production has been long, frustrating and finally and random (see below).*

A darkly comic and salutary story of deprivation and desperation gone very bad indeed, it is superbly scored, told and sung by a talented cast of just five to a one-man band –Williams himself – and directed by Jeff Kingsford-Brown.

(Un)fortunately little has changed regarding the capacity of people to behave atrociously in their quests for love and wealth, so the show remains all-too-relevant.

In the aftermath of World War Two, Martha Beck, a nurse and solo mother of two (to different husbands: one dead; the other fled) is having trouble reconciling her childhood dreams of romance and happy-ever-afters with reality: a carping semi-invalid mother, Julia, who puts Martha down about her morals and weight and has a love-hate relationship towards the grandchildren she has to look after each day.

Martha’s girlfriend Bobby has signed her up to Martha Dean’s Friendly Club for Lonely Hearts, whence comes ‘Charlie’, whose real name is Ray Fernandez. Having served in the navy, he claims the crack he got on his head from a hatch cover was a war wound. The blackouts he gets as a result make him unemployable – so how is he to make a living? By preying on rich widows.

Martha is not a good target, money wise, but the relationship that evolves is complex and rivetingly rendered by Bryony Skillington (Martha) and Nick Dunbar (Ray). She knows how to sexually please a man and he gives her the love she craves. There’s just the small matter of money and those lonely rich widows are there for the fleecing. Except it’s not as simple as that …

Skillington anchors each moment in undeniable emotional truth, taking us on a guided tour of Martha’s descent into a psychopathic disregard for anyone but herself and the man she loves. Such characters are very powerful when we can see our own potential for going that way and have to check what it is that stops us.

Dunbar oscillates between gentlemanly charmer and semi-stunned man with a tenuous hold on reality. His thresholds and lack of them for love, sexual passion and murder are clearly marked. Is he equally ruthless or just as culpable through his inability to take a stand and draw the line? His sudden falls, by the way, are superbly executed.

Emma Kinane (for whom the role of Martha was originally written) also invests the awful mother, Julia Seabrook, with deep-felt truth that commands our understanding even as she compulsively corrodes Martha’s self-confidence. Her series of ‘Lonely Heart’ widows-turned-brides, culminating in the all-American Mom Delphine Downing, are also ‘true’ in the way good cartoons can be.

Natasha McAllister gives excellent accounts of Young Martha, the friend Bobby, and Rainelle – the tap-dancing daughter of Delphine. And Nick Purdie completes the excellent cast as Martha’s insidiously friendly brother, an arrogant Maître D’ at the soon-to-be-lethal-lovers’ first date, and the Priest who officiates at successive weddings and finally at an execution.

The songs flow naturally from the dialogue and action, and are strongly delivered without amplification in Bats’ intimate setting. [Jo Hodgson will also write a review that focuses on the musical aspects.]

This is a show that commands our empathy and trusts its audience to judge the ruthless actions of its characters without being spoon-fed by an agent of goodness. Although we are on the outside looking in, the production keeps drawing us into their subjective viewpoints then jolting us back to reality. The final image – of Martha having pearls placed around her neck by the deceased Ray as she stands on the scaffold – reminds us that her perceptions are not rational; not of this world.

The costumes designed by Maryanne Cathro give us instant access to the lives of those who wear them be they drab, suave, sensual red, bright white or polka dot.

Dan Williams’ scaffolding set creates two levels and a staircase, uses all Bats’ entrance points well and gives the solo musician a place to hide while seeing all the action. Jennifer Lal’s lighting maps the moods to unobtrusive effect.  

Lonely Hearts is a potent cautionary tale that deserves to have a healthy life on the Festival circuit. Catch it while it’s in an intimate theatre – who knows where it could end up!  

*More on the provenance of this show:

What is wrong with the infrastructure of NZ theatre, that it has taken so long for this musical to get produced, some six years after it should have been?

From the first inspiration in 1996, Lonely Heart evolved over time, gained development support from Playmarket, was showcased in the 2005 Adam Play Reading – “And then … Nothing happened,” the programme note tells us.

In 2006 another film version came out, called Lonely Hearts, told as a crime investigation story with two detectives to the fore. Williams got involved in other things …

We have the generosity of key players to thank for what happened next. Last year Williams played for two fundraisers in which Skillington and Bats Programme Manager Martyn Wood also performed. “I told Bryony I thought her voice was amazing,” writes Williams in his programme note, “and she said she wished there was a show she could sing in. I said (again rather flippantly) that I had written a show that had never been produced and she called across the room to Martyn, ‘Michael’s got a musical he wants to do.” He replied, “How’s January?” And here we are …”

This is a ‘no budget’ co-op production with minimal sponsorship that has been rehearsed while Michael Nicholas Williams, Jeff Kingsford-Brown and Nick Dunbar were performing the annual panto at Circa – a gig for which Williams has been writing songs for years.  These people are not ‘emerging’, they have long-since paid their dues and it is bewildering that our better-funded theatre companies are not hungry for works like Lonely Heart

Fortunately Williams has, in the meantime, written another musical ”about the dress rehearsal of an NZ version of Wuthering Heights.” Let’s hope there is more interest from those with the wherewithal to get that up in reasonable time.   


For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


John Smythe January 19th, 2012

Thanks Phil - fixed. Don't know why that happened. We've changed the default font and will have to monitor this. Please remain vigilant! 

Phil Grieve January 19th, 2012

Hey John? - can you fix a couple of typos please "Dunbaroscillates" and "Cathrogive" - (can't help myself...)

Maryanne Cathro January 18th, 2012

Happy New Year, a cracker way to start 2012 :)

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