Cabaret Review: Philip Quast – The Road I Took (Ensemble Theatre, Sydney) ★★★★

Philip Quast is musical theatre royalty. A frequent Sondheim collaborator and Olivier Award-winner, who has commanded the stages of Lincoln Center, the Royal Albert Hall, and the UK’s National Theatre. Now he’s packing the relatively petite space of Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre for an autobiographical cabaret titled, The Road I Took.

Quast is a towering figure, physically and musically, with a rich speaking voice that has seen him cast in many an authority figure role, most notably Javert in Les Miserables. His presence fills the auditorium before he even speaks, let alone sings. For this show, he’s bringing out the classics. Hits from Les Mis, Sweeny Todd, Follies, and Oklahoma are spaced out with reminiscences of his life on stage, from his theatre firsts—intimately tied to the Ensemble Theatre itself—to the world’s major stages and biggest co-stars.

Philip Quast: The Road I Took trailer, Ensemble Theatre

The Road I Took is a musical journey that takes through milestones such as the birth of his children to the passing of his parents, and how the theatre has been woven through them all. Quast is at once self-deprecatingly funny while being suitably proud of his achievements and success, such as his time with the Royal Shakespeare Company, or when Ian McKellan came with a dozen “gay dignitaries” to see him play Georges opposite to Roger Allam’s Albin in La Cage aux Folles and praised his portrayal. Then there are the tales of his early Internet fame when a blog was born extolling the virtues of his short skirt in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

His skills as a teacher are evident in his dissection of his roles; explaining to the rapt audience the difficulty of having to deliberately forget his lines as Billy in Follies and the difference it made to do it when filmed for NTLive. It’s a joy to get a glimpse of the thought and craft behind the showtunes. You can understand why Sondheim would trust him with his songs again and again, and how he became the first performer to win the Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical three times.

Quast is accompanied by his teaching partner and friend Anne-Maree McDonald, an accomplished performer in her own right. Together they’ve created a show that is exactly what any musical theatre fan would want, with a surprise or two waiting up its sleeve. Despite warning us that he has a bad habit of getting in trouble for speaking his mind, Quast kept the evening on a cheeky but polite course.

For lovers of musicals, it’s a real treat to see such a big, bold performer up close. The songs are great, and they’re delivered by one of the most luxurious voices in the business. If you are a fan of old school musical theatre, this is a show that’s tailor made for you.

By Chad Armstrong

Philip Quast: The Road I Took runs at Ensemble Theatre, Sydney until March 29th, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: