Double bill with a difference

Larry Paradiseo and the Fabulous Dame Farrar (Judith Wright Centre & Women in Voice)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

July 15 – 18


From the moment Dame Farrar enters through the audience, dressed in pink, with Martini class in hand, her fabulosity is clear. Far from demure, however, she is drunk, debaucherous and every bit the diva as she entertains with all sorts of outrageous demands of poor accompanist Stephen Russell. Her stories are also gloriously over the top in their tragedy of life growing up in an orchestra pit and the bitterness of her love and loss of many husbands. Her Act One set is filled with hysterical comic moments amid her songs, to be lapped up by the audience. And by its end it is clear that Carita Farrer Spencer has created quite the character in the fierce Dame.

And then there is Act Two’s introduction of gender bending ‘International Sex Symbol’ Larry Paradiseo, who arrives with swagger and glorious hair to flirt outrageously with the ladies in the crowd through his suggestions and double entrendres. His sleaze is harmless and everything is in good fun as he has us sing and sway along to a few of his favourite songs from Kiss, Doctor Hook and every a bit of Johnny Farnham, and, like the Dame, gets audience members on stage as part of the act. Like Dame Farrar, Larry Paradiseo is a character created by the former Brisbane performer, now based in Melbourne, for “Women in Voice”, so they have both been tried and tested before. And clearly Spencer is comfortable in their similar but different over-the-topness.

Comedy has always been at the heart of Spencer’s performance style. It is clear that she has a devilish sense of humour and the sustained skill required to perform in such diverse character is to be applauded. It is all about timing of course, and down to the tiniest of moments, her characterisation is nuanced but never taken too far in terms of audience interaction. Even when, as Larry, she emerges for a showstopping finale take on Conchita’s 2014 winning Eurovision number ‘Rise like a Phoenix’ in guise as the Austrian drag queen, the result is nothing but riotous laughter. It is pleasing, however, that this is followed by a virtually uninterrupted version of Sinatra’s ‘One for my Baby’ as encore because, antics aside, Spencer has an immense vocal talent and it is a shame that this is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of a laugh, for although there is no doubting the success of the comedy I can’t help wondering whether the hilarity really has to be at the expense of the song.

These days there is so much more to cabaret than lounge-singing crooners. With niches now covering all range of themes, no two shows are quite the same. And “Larry Paradiseo and the Fabulous Dame Farrar” certainly shows this. Its descriptor of “One Woman. Two Genders. One Amazing Double Bill” is an entirely apt representation of what the night’s entertainment beholds. If there is one thing that is certain about Carita Farrer Spencer, she knows how to do it her way. And on a cold scotch and dry July night, there is nothing better to warm the soul that this double bill with a difference.

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