California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)
The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent
September 8 – 16
Opening night of the Brisbane Festival was certainly a swellegant affair thanks to the infectious cabaret stylings of California Crooners Club. The group, featuring ‘that guy from “Packed to the Rafters” singing’ is all swinging swagger and style as its members groove and move audiences through a dynamic party of a show, packed with personality.
The smash hit, which was born of late night chat in the jazz clubs of Hollywood, returns after a sold-out season at the 2016 festival, with a newly configured show featuring new members added to its lineup, including its first female Crooner. And from its Latin-infused ‘My Heart is in Havana’ opener, it is clear that the show’s sounds are still as smooth as ever.
As its early number blends suggest, this show sees less numbers of the traditional old school crooner sort, though there is still some Sinatra et al; a new take of ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ is sensational, especially in its showcase of newcomer Johnny Manuel’s stunning voice. Also new to the group is Maiya Sykes, whose powerful, soulful vocals command attention in Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’. Meanwhile, Emilie Welman’ textured voice continues to complement with comforting Bulble-like sounds, especially notable in the summery jam, ‘I Like It’, while Hugh Sheridan still brings incredible energy and charm, both vocally and in front man banter. Supporting the tight harmonies are an accomplished group of musicians and it is great to see their talents particularly showcased in early Cuba-fied numbers like ‘I Like Me Better’ and brought to the front of the stage for a jazzy hip-swaying ‘Uptown Funk’ encore.
Like previously, the show features some original California Crooners Club numbers, including the wistful and reflective ‘Dreamer’ written by Sheridan as a ‘I Still Can Australia Home’-type tribute to Australia. While these are pleasing in themselves, the absence of peppy pieces like ‘I Need You’ and/or ‘Just a Little More’ is disappointing. Indeed, while more mellow numbers of the ‘Halo’ sort are beautiful and affecting in their controlled delicacy and show how the group certainly knows how to croon, the vitality of the upbeat numbers are most appreciated by the audience.
As Sheridan himself tells us, this is the first time they have ever done this show, which makes it more exciting as neither the audience or performers really know what is going to happen; this is true and while sequencing makes for some startling transitions in song sentiments and tempos, nobody in the enthusiastic Spiegeltent crowd really seems to mind. As with any California Crooners Club experience, the show is a guaranteed good time as its performers bounce about in playful banter with and in serenade of audience members, dancing with them in the aisle and bringing them up on stage in an ending that comes way too soon.