The welcome of wonderland

Velvet (Organised Pandemonium)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 16 – 26


One wonders if there is anything more ‘70s than the purple sequinned hoodie that bellboy Mirko Köckenberger wears as he kicks off some of the circus performances that punctuate the musical numbers of “Velvet”. Then the statuesque, iconic diva Maria Hines emerges in a sequined jumpsuit…. Welcome to the funky boogie wonderland of 1970s disco, Brisfest style.

While Hines’ classic ‘You’ evokes much joy in nostalgia of a Countdown childhood, you don’t have to be of any particular vintage to reveal in this show’s glittery abandon as there is an assured sound to every song, with number after number, leading to applause of endorsement by audiences in recognition of its opening bars alone. And it isn’t all soaring, synthesized ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Le Freak’ disco sounds, with a highlight coming from an intense, unplugged version of the Bee Gee’s anthem ‘Staying Alive’, to add some mix to the froth and bubble of the vocal acts and live DJ, Mix-Master Joe Accaria.


Some salacious and hedonistic burlesque numbers (most notably from New Orleans Burlesque Queen Perle Noire) also add to the variety, always good fun and in keeping with the show’s eclecticism.  And there is an unexpected appearance from the talented human slinky/kaleidoscope, La Soiree’s Craig Reid which is just funny beyond words.


As the headliner, ARIA Hall of Famer Hines is a consummate performer, commanding the stage in every instance. Her interaction with the audience is such that it seems as if lines are sung directly to you, which is warmly embraced by the crowd. And when she belts out ‘It’s Raining Men’, the result is entirely infectious.


And from the moment he appears in almost Elder Price type, to his revelation of flamboyant Priscilla-esque costume, it is clear that Brendan Maclean has a tremendous stage presence. In every instance his performance is full of energy and while his voice is a marvellous complement with Hines’ in duets such as ‘You to Me are Everything’, his early-show solo of ‘If you could read my mind’ is a testament to his calibre of his talent.


The circus performances from Stephen Williams and Emma Goh are skilled, particularly in astonishing aerial work, however, of particular note is acrobat Köckenberger, who gives a quite unique sense of actual presence, and the show is warmer for it. His cheeky charm is clear, his eyes alive with enthusiasm and his smile infectious, even when performing balancing acts on suitcase stacks.


And this is also what stands “Velvet” apart from others, with its thrust stage allowing audience members a more up-close-and-personal experience befitting a show that is all about the party, complete with the requisite glitterball glamour, bright, pulsing lights and pounding beats.

While it might be deemed the decade that style forgot, a ‘70s cabaret show is a marvellous idea and “Velvet” is a dizzy delight of a party experience to which everyone is welcome, in keeping with its Studio 54 inspiration. With a wink and a twirl, it takes audiences on a whirlwind tour through its music and mood, proving that while it may burn, baby, burn in inferno, disco most definitely is not dead.

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