Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
The number 13 may have unlucky connotations for some, but for Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, it offers only excellence as 13 of its musicians begin “Coupling” with string sounds of what is revealed to be ‘Believe’ from the messiah herself, Cher. The show/queer love mix tape which features at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture, is a musical collaboration of the most entertaining sort as it reclaims great love duets of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s for same sex couples.
Thanks to Trevor Jones’ impressive arrangements, the show offers exciting new takes on old favourites. With such an extensive repertoire from which to draw, the playlist covers a range of emotions and various stages of relationships, from Kylie and Jason’s much-loved number-one ‘Especially for You’ and Elton John and Kiki Dee’s Mowtownish ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ to Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond’s ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ lament of heartbroken lovers who have drifted apart and Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin’s ‘Separate Lives’. Ultimately, however, there is a huge rejoice in love at the organising centre of both its songbook and life’s experience alike.
Not all songs are the perhaps expected sweet ditties or yearning ballads. In amongst the smooth grooves and sexy beats, is a rousing ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, theme song to the greatest of guilty secret favourite films “Dirty Dancing”. And special guest vocalists Sean Andrews, David Ouch, Luke Hodgson, Greg Moore, Monique Dawes, Emily Gilhome, Jessica Mahony and Ellen Reed all do much to make each number distinctive from its source material, beyond just their reappropriation as same sex couple duets. David Ouch makes ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’ particularly provocative, and entertaining, and Greg Moore gives audiences an early highlight courtesy of a raunchy ‘Islands in the Stream’. There is comedy too, for example in an epic love duet sing off melody featuring, amongst others, a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ vs “Home and Away” theme battle.
As is always the case with Camerata, the music is both beautiful and flawless. Striking string sounds soar songs like ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and ‘Leather and Lace’. Indeed, one of the most marvellous things about Jones’ arrangements is the opportunity they provide for the Camerata musicians to display their skills, not just in complement to the vocalists, but in showcase instrumental sections. Vocal performances are strong from the start. Ellen Reed is a particular standout throughout, in songs from ‘Suddenly’ to ‘You’re the One that I Want’. And in unite, the eight vocalists work wonderfully together in reminder that love can withstand the struggles of a relationship and make it stronger ‘Up Where We Belong’.
“Coupling” is a celebration of so many things: songs, music, love and vocal talent. In its journey through showcase of all of these aspects, it may take audience members to some unexpected places, such as the “Family Ties” theme song, but this just makes for an all-the-more-fun ride. With clap and sing-along opportunities galore, there is certainly a mood of celebration, with smitten audiences clearly wanting for more at the end of its 70-minute duration. “Coupling” may be like a daggy mix tape, but it is compilation crafted with nothing but love, and it serves as a real highlight of this year’s Melt festival. By simultaneously celebrating music nostalgia and giving the associated sentimentality new scope, it speaks musically and lyrically to audience members of all persuasions and preferences, musical or otherwise, making everyone believe in life not only after, but before and during love.