Starman supernova

Starman (Sven Ratzke)

Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

September 12 – 13

It is Tuesday night, near the Brisbane ‘fairy wheel’ and the Magic Mirrors Speigeltent is packed with music fans and cabaret connoisseurs alike, in await of Sven Ratzke’s “Starman” show, inspired by the music of David Bowie. We look gorgeous, we are told, and so does the rock and roll serpent himself, strutting about the stage in an impressive fashion ensemble of the Ziggy Stardust sort, in an early-show rendition of ‘Rebel Rebel’.

Starman (2).jpg

This is the hyper-real world of ‘70s glam rock where Sven Ratzke inhabits Bowie’s multiple personas in exploration of his life from New York to Berlin, in the most original of ways. “Starman” is not what you might expect of a Bowie tribute show. The songs, although there, are few and far between, for example. But that is ok, because what the audience is given instead, is the most random of rides through tell of his anticipation of coming to Brisbane and experience of staging the show across the ditch in New Zealand. The larger-than-life Dutch-German cabaret artist is an immensely talented performer, and you could easily listen to his eccentric (and hilarious) monologue stories of camels and bikes, pineapples and cocaine all night, thanks to the engaging physicality and characterisation with which he accompanies them. Indeed, the night is full of clever comedy, including ongoing call-backs to audience interaction contributions that are just as funny with their every mention.

And then there is the music. Song selection is not predicable (#inagoodway) with numbers like a lingering ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ sitting alongside a stripped-back and entrancing ‘Space Oddity’. Accompanied by a first-rate three-man band, Ratzke, presents the sometimes cryptic songs with an intimacy that allows the lyrics to speak anew. And his voice is superb, particularly in captivating delivery of a poignantly beautiful ‘Heros’ to triumph the show.

Starman (1).jpg

Like a supernova, this starburst of cabaret is over all too soon, leaving audiences aglow from its unique experience. In both its classic songs and surrealist storytelling, “Starman” transcends preconceptions in the very best of ways, making it a glam ride of entertainment not to be missed, whether you be Bowie, cabaret or comedy fan.

Get your tickets at www.brisbanefestival.com.au

Advertisements

Sappy song satisfaction

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Thetre

June 16

Alan Cumming is a versatile performer, as well known for his role as cunning political consultant Eli Gold on TV’s “The Good Wife” as for his Tony Award winning turn as the debaucherous “Cabaret” emcee. And versatility, appropriately, characterises “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs”, which contains a perfect balance of songs and stories.

brisbane-powerhouse-Alan-Cumming-3-1178x663.jpgCumming is the consummate cabaret performer and an engaging storyteller (not just because of his ‘soon-to-be-independent’ Scottish accent), creating an intimate connection with the audience, despite the Powerhouse Theatre’s vast size, through his vulnerability in share of personal stories. The show allows Cumming to share some of his favourite songs, looked at anew. “Take off your judgey hat,” we’re told early on, and, as promised we do hear them in a different way, from fellow Scot Annie Lennox’s ‘Why’ as opener to a mid-show mash-up of Adele, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, ‘because they are kind of the same song right’? In each instance Cumming finds the emotional heart of the songs, sharing it as his own, but engaging too through gossipy between-number anecdotes with tell of Liza Minelli, a regretful tattoo, and a retro online commercial he made with Ricki Lake for Trojan condoms.

There are serious times too as Cumming touches on personal traumas that those familiar with his best-selling memoir “Not My Father’s Son”, will recognise. Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ is dedicated to his combat-traumatised grandfather and Rufus Wainwright’s ballad about father-son estrangement, ‘Dinner at Eight’ is delivered in reference to his abusive father, createing real poignancy.

The band (Lance Horne, piano; Eleanor Norton, cello; Chris Jego, drums) is excellent in musical support, adding to the linger of numbers like Hue and Cry’s ‘Mother Glasgow’, a tribute to the second city of the empire and its perpetual succour, at first comically but then movingly shared. And Cumming sure can sing, as seen in his rousing finale, ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ from the Broadway musical “Company”.

In Cumming’s charismatic hands, this is cabaret as it should be: emotional and personal, yet also chatty and with an easy charm (and sometimes bawdy humour). Indeed, “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs” is old fashioned entertainment from a master showman, easily able to take the audience from laughter to tears through the passion and pathos of his stories and songs. As such, it is not only a treat for Brisbane audiences, but up there amongst the most satisfying ever of Brisbane Cabaret Festival shows.

Bush best

In The Warm Room – The Music of Kate Bush 1978 – 1980 (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 9

josh daveta

When a show is billed as “the voices of eight seasoned cabaret performers will shine Bush’s creativity, imagination and innovation”, expectations are high. Appropriately so, given Electric Moon’s previous shows, and as-anticipated, realised from its opening, beautifully-mournful number, ‘Moving’, by Josh Daveta, with ethereal additions from Bethan Ellsmore. And then there is Alison St Ledger who sounds just like the iconic and unique artist in the meta-music ‘Wow’.

alison st ledger.jpg

It is not all whimsical, however, with Daniel Hack rocking ‘Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak’. Indeed, there is something for everyone, from everyone; the stage is cluttered with collaborators (#inagoodway) and the show is all the better for it. The ten piece band, for example, does an excellent job in evoking a variety of moods and genre influences, as eclectic as its source songstress’ musical catalogue.

lucinda shaw.jpg

Highlights include Daveta’s rollicking ‘Oh to be in Love’ and a haunting ‘’Oh England My Lionheart’ from an imposing (as always) Sandro Colarelli. And there is also Lucinda Shaw’s guttural ‘The Kick Inside’ and later symphonic post-apocalyptic ‘Breathing’, and a wonderful ‘Wuthering Heights’ from Bethan Ellsmore, in nod to Bush’s trademark cinematic and literary references and as example of Ellsmore’s vocal prowess.

wuthering.jpg

In each instance, the songs in the warm room are almost shared anew as the performers each bring something different to bringing out Kate Bush’s very best. But one would expect no less from Sandro Colarelli, Lisa Crawley, Josh Daveta, Bethan Ellsmore, Daniel Hack, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger… the best bringing out Bush’s best in make of an infectiously-entertaining evening.

Photos c/o – Lachlan Douglas

Stories and song (lines)

Song Lines (Michael Tuahine)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 1

For aboriginal and Torres Strait island people, a song line is who you are and where you come from. Accordingly, in his Queensland Cabaret Festival debut, “Song Lines”, acclaimed actor and singer, Michael Tuahine takes audiences on quite the journey of his ’42 and single’ song lines, weaving in and out of each other as the most genuine of stories often do.

There is an appealing authenticity from the tale that follows, stemming from the stories of his proud and determined Central Queensland mother and New Zealand Special Air Service Maori father, told with photographic slideshow accompaniment to help in celebrating the history and icons that have shaped his story. The show’s soundtrack is impressive in its considered curation, from Goanna’s ‘Solid Rock’ in tell of his mother’s life at Cherbourg Mission under total control of the Aboriginal Preservation Protection Act to Jenny Morris’ ‘She’s Has to Be Loved’ as chronicle of her journey, ‘waiting for some recognition’ to New Zealand, in search on her dreaming place.

There is much humour too, often at New Zealand’s expense. Indeed, Tuahine is a charismatic performer with a natural, comforting charm. The show is still a little rough around the edges; the live band accompaniment is competingly loud in, for example, in an otherwise outstanding ‘Great Southern Land’ opening number and there are few distracting sound and lighting issues. However, these a minor detractions from an otherwise absolutely entertaining cabaret experience.

18765623_10155401464368866_7023576265757850559_n.jpg

The Aussie and NZ soundtrack is a real treat, featuring as it does, songs from Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and Split Enz, alongside lesson known numbers like ‘Brisbane Blacks’ and of course a singalong ‘Slice of Heaven’. While there is light and shade within the show’s soundtrack, including a wailing performance of Rob Orbison’s organic ‘Crying’, Tuahine is best when with guitar in hand in share of country rock sounds, which serves as reminder of his wonderful work as Jimmy Little in Queensland Theatre’s 2015 celebration of the musician’s life and music, “Country Song”.

Although it is a one man show, “Song Lines” is so much more than just one man’s story. In its trace of ancestry through music, it presents a rocking story of family, identity and belonging, told with pride and love. Its only pity is that it is a one-night-only season, as the want to return with others is strong, such is its infectious appeal.

Sinatra satisfaction

Seven on Sinatra

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 2

With a stellar cast of some of Brisbane’s greatest songstresses in celebration of the Leader of the Pack, “Seven on Sinatra” is a real night to remember as Liz Buchanan, Jo Doyle, Jacqui Devereux, Bethan Ellsmore, Rebecca Grennan, Claire Walters and Melissa Western do it their way with a swing band of the Sands Hotel Copa Room sort.

With a catalogue of 200 career chart songs, Sinatra leaves the ladies copious crooner choices and the show’s selection of swinging tunes and suave sounds allows every performer their chance to shine, from the melodically charming ‘It Had to Be You’, now of “When Harry Met Sally” association to the ultimate love song to love, ‘Moon River’. And the result is a show of many highlights with some stunning vocal ranges giving the songs new life and depth, including Ellsmore’s beautifully ethereal take on the swinging ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, Devereux’s ‘You Can’t Take that Away from Me’, at once tough and tender in its mix of joy and sadness, and a declarative ‘That’s Life’ that Western makes all her own in belt to the back of the room. In every instance the power and pure emotion behind each number is clear, with the overall mix of ballad and uptempo numbers working well.

Seven on Sinatra.jpg

It’s not all solos though; the magic begins with a ‘That Old Black Magic” duet and ends with an encore of a shared ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. The range of songs from the canon of the most important and influential American standards not only allows the songstresses to showcase the memorable melodies, but gives the live band opportunity to shine. And shine they do, in numbers like, ‘Night and Day’, for example, where the jazz musicians breakaway with multi-layered, seductive soundscapes, worthy of mid-song recognition applause. And amidst the smooth sounds are fun moments too like an interesting take on ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and surprises such as when Doyle emerges from the crowd to croon a syrupy ‘Strangers in the Night’.

Frank Sinatra is one of the most influential popular singers of the 20th century, not just because of the longevity of his success, but his cement of many of the songs that occupy the American Songbook. This show not only includes the most essential Sinatra songs, all impeccably arranged, but showcases the strong technique of some talented vocalists. Indeed, with seven styles of singing, “Seven on Sinatra” offers satisfaction for everyone, be they a Frank fan or not, sure to satisfy in its mellifluous melodies and show of how Sinatra is Sinatra and why we love him still.

Songs for you

Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 3

brisbane-powerhouse-Queenie-2017-2-1178x663.jpeg

From the moment “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” opens with cabaret chanteuse Queenie van de Zandt sharing its titular song from a lushly-lit Powerhouse Theatre, it is clear that the night is going to be a very special experience. It’s an appropriate opener for a show that shares the story of a life often spent in heartbreak, that of musical legend Joni Mitchell… a life of childhood hospitalisation with polio, art school abandonment, depression and unwed motherhood.

Given the Canadian singer-songwriter’s status as both an esteemed pop vocalist and composer, Mitchell’s songs are incredibly special, especially in their powerfully personal storytelling, and in Queenie’s hands, their poetry is made all the more apparent, allowing the sold-out audience to appreciate anew their narrative appeal. Inset with voiceovers representing those close to Mitchell, the setlist is perfectly curated to chart the emotions of the star’s extraordinary life. This also allows Queenie to stay in role, but of own voice, as Mitchell, relating experiences with a mix of humour and pathos as she speaks to, rather than at, the audience. Indeed, despite being played in the large Powerhouse Theatre, there is a really intimacy to the show’s revelation of the truths behind some of Mitchell’s most hauntingly-confessional songs.

Musically, numbers range from the light touch of ‘Little Green’ to the catchiness of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and the jaunt of ‘Twisted’. There are emotional moments too during songs about the baby daughter Mitchell gave up for adoption when she was an impoverished Toronto folk singer. In each instance, the live band adds their own appeal to Mitchell’s sometimes unusual musical arrangements.

Queenie van de Zandt is known as an artful storyteller and emotive vocalist and in both of these regards she more than delivers. Her voice is in top, translucent form, befitting a recapture of Mitchell’s delicate, ethereal vocals, in tribute rather than mimic of the icon. And her depiction of the folksy sound of songs like the quintessential counter-culture anthem ‘Woodstock’ is sublime in its affection.

Along with musical director Max Lambert, Queenie has created something beautiful in “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell”.  Its exploration of Mitchell’s songs, stories and art, makes it is easy for even the uninitiated to appreciate how the peerless provocateur created a soundtrack for the Woodstock generation. Indeed, the show is not just for fans of Mitchell’s songbook and legacy, but also for all lovers of music and storytelling as only a live show can provide. “Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell” serves also as evidence of how songs can continue to live in spirit and melody when of such lyrical and compositional sophistication, meaning that when its opening number makes mention that ‘there is a song for you’, it’s a promise that is entirely true.

The one that you want

Livvy and Pete

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 3 – 4

Livvy and Pete.jpg

It’s merriment all around as award-winning cabaret artists Michael Griffiths and Amelia Ryan present The Songs of Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen, “Livvy and Pete”, complete with maracas, sequins and “Grease” iconography, befitting the gay abandon promised in its introduction. And the result is both a celebration of the Aussie icons’ songbooks and a perfect show of the duo’s on-stage chemistry as they banter with the audience and each other in storytelling about both the titular Livvy and Pete and their own lives too.

Appropriately, mention is made of Newton-John’s recent breast cancer return, and also too of Ryan’s burgeoning ‘cabaraby’ bump, which becomes star of the show itself in the aerobics-era smash ‘Physical’, complete as the number is with authentic fluro lycra costuming and moves in precise recreation of the controversial film clip.

“Livvy and Pete” is not the slickest of shows, but that’s actually what makes it so special. Like Michael Griffiths’ previous cabaret works, it’s casual feel and audience responsiveness adds to its appeal as especially Griffiths warmly engages with the audience in between the musical memories. And sing-alongs don’t get more joyous than to ‘Summer Nights’, ‘I Go to Rio’ and the anthemic ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.

It’s not all froth and bubble though. Frivolity aside, there are some poignant moments. ‘Arthur’s Theme’ of being caught between the moon and New York City is like a nice big warm hug of nostalgia and in Griffith’s hands, as he sits singing at piano, Peter Allen’s autobiographical ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ offers audiences a wonderful opportunity to revisit its lovely lyrical and melodic genius. Then there is Newton-John’s moving ‘I Honestly Love You’, written for her by Allen, and also the Cliff Richard love song duet ‘Suddenly’ in which her golden voice honeys tenderly through the “Xanadu” soundtrack song. Indeed the similarity of Ryan’s voice to Newton-John’s is uncanny, especially in a mashup number of country hits in celebration of her life before “Grease”, in which she perfectly captures the blend of strength and sweetness that define the musical icon’s sound.

“Livvy and Pete” is very much a festival show; its hour-long duration is full of communal fun. It not only captures the essence of a time of sequins and jumpsuits, but demands your attention as perhaps only a pregnant woman roller skating to the cult classic ‘Xanadu’ can do. The idea of tribute to two of our country’s greatest entertainers is inspired and thanks to Griffith’s consummate storytelling skill and Ryan’s physical comedy, its realisation is not to be missed. This ultimate feel good show is the one that you want to see and maybe take your mum along to.