Wolfgang women

The Wives of Wolfgang (Hannah Belansky & Co)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

December 1 – 3

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“Three women: the cat, the wife and the mistress, meet in the wake of their mutual lover’s death to ensure that he doesn’t take all his secrets with him to the grave.” Certainly “The Wives of Wolfgang” is enigmatic in its self-promotion as a sexy and entertaining cabaret of songs, burlesque and dark comedy to awaken the senses… and the dead. In execution it is just as enigmatic, but in a beguiling and intriguing way.

‘What’s the time mister wolf?” its three female characters chant in combined question to Wolfgang (Michael Whittred). The occasion is the lone-wolf’s funeral, where the three unacquainted ladies meet, set upon solving a few mysteries and share some secrets. When they do so in poetry, it makes for a wonderful artistic experience, especially as lush lighting compliments the stylised, sexy movement of stage. It is an aesthetic that is established from even before the show starts, with Wolfgang frozen in stance on stage alongside his coffin, but one which is unfortunately not always maintained throughout the show’s realisation, as comical moments of dialogue parroting contrast to the sophistication of others, created a confused rather than coherent tone. The show’s music, however, is a standout, especially the numbers featuring Composer and Performer Whittred on guitar. And his vocals, in particular, resonate richly, particularly in a number sung to his wife in admission of wrong doing but belief still in their relationship.

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Jessica Kate Ryan has a beautiful voice but even in a catchy, melodic introduction to her cat character, the lyrics are not always clear in competition with the soundtrack. Writer and performer Hannah Belanszky gives a committed performance as the perfect wife, self-indulgent and better in all that she does, while Caitlin Hill exploits every comic possibility from her role as the mistress in search in validation. They are all strong, yet flawed, complex female characters, which is superb to see, even if at times it seems like we only scratch the surface of their characters in what feels like a rush through their stories. Although its aesthetic is generally mesmeric, things could be clearer. The cat metaphor, for example, creates some unnecessary complication and has audiences potentially urging for the simplicity of less elements, all given opportunity to excel, as opposed to the woe of mismatched content and sensibility.

As cabarets go, “The Wives of Wolfgang” is certainly original in its sensory experience. And although overt references, for example, clang against its generally sexy and seductive tone, it is, on the whole, entertaining. Its “The Stepford Wives” meets “Chicago” description is absolutely apt and something worth focusing on without distraction for its potential to be realised.

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More Marys merriment

There’s Something About Mary(s) (Cassie George)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 23 – 26

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Although promoted as being an insight into the mildly unhealthy symbiotic relationship between one woman and the entire gay community of Brisbane, “There’s Something About Mary(s)” is no ‘Lady Ga Ga at the Superbowl’ type spectacular. There’s no rainbow flag, but there is some Cher amongst plenty of well-known tunes as Cassie George presents her hopeless romantic love timeline from devout and demur Christian school days to university study of musical theatre and being queen-in-waiting to a gaggle of gags.

As audiences saw when the then-ten-minute version of the show played as part of the 2016 Short+Sweet festival, Cassie’s needs are simple; she wants romance with someone who is smart, sensitive, and sincere and all the things summed in ‘Kiss’. This is just one example of how songs are made her own as the narrative finds its way to ‘Believe’ admission of being in love with love.

George has a powerful voice that is showcased in vibrant delivery of Hilary Duff’s ‘What Dreams are Made of’ talk of dates with legitimate heterosexuals. Jewel’s ‘You Were Meant for Me’ is another strong number that platforms her solid, clear and characterful vocals. Her charisma as a performer is best showcased, however, in numbers where she moves from internal thoughts to awareness that she’s been singing them aloud, like Christina’s Aguilera’s ‘Come on Over (All I Want is You)’, animated and amusing, even before audience involvement enhances its humour even further.

Another highlight is a sassy Salt-N-Pepa breakout, despite Musical Director Luke Volker’s reluctance to rap along with ‘the voodoo that makes you wanna shoop’. Volker is a vital part of the show. Not only can ‘no pianist improve on the way he plays that groove’ but his reactions and interactions with George are part of the work’s special charm.

As cabaret shows go, “There’s Something About Mary(s)” is a burst of humorous, energetic and light-hearted fun. At less than 60 minutes running time, it seems over just as it has begun and although its songs are strong lyrically and musically, they could be crafted together to fashion more narrative clarity in support of its genuine feel-goodness.

Captivating cabaret

Torch Songs (Mama Alto)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 23 – 26

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“Torch Songs” is not a fun drag queen lip sync show. This is evident not just from Mama Alto’s own admission but, in fact, from the moment the gender transcendent diva and jazz singer statuesquely slides on to the stage, hair clustered with gardenias, to open the cabaret show with the legendary Billie Holiday’s ‘Blues are Brewin’.

The self-confessed big Melbourne star is compelling performer with a versatile countertenor voice as she tributes vintage torch singers of the Ella Fitzgerald sort (torch songs meaning usually ballads sung by the great divas in share of their strong emotions of desire or loss).

In Della Reese’s ‘Stormy Weather’, her textured voice is stylish, seductive and full of emotion. Similarly, when she flawlessly shares a melody of Sarah Vaughan’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ inset with Roberta Flack’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, it makes for a captivating experience, bringing tears to some eyes, such is pure and heartfelt honesty of its beauty. As notes are lingered lovingly for savour by songstress and audience alike, there is no denying both the lusciousness of her vocal textures and the superbness of her vocal control, whether in belting out an ending or favouring distinction and delicacy.

When we indulge her in performance of Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’, we are rewarded with a sublime experience that entrances all. And a late-show share of ‘Songbird’ showcases her intuitive delivery of both lyric and melody, serving as a highlight in its musical mashup with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, courtesy of collaborator and Musical Directress Miss Chief’s perfect piano accompaniment. Having worked together for seven years, the duo have a natural, witty banter with each other and the audience alike, full of fun but also mutual respect. It is an appreciation that is also shown for all songs, even when ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ becomes an audience sing-along.

“Torch Songs” is a spellbinding experience thanks to the exceptional talent of its star. This may be Mama Alto’s first solo show in Brisbane (she also appeared at 2015’s Wonderland Festival as part of the Glory Box ensemble), but you have to hope it will not be her last. Beyond her mastery of jazz standards, she sings with such dramatic power and interpretive depth that the result is an unforgettable, absolutely beguiling experience of musical magic in which to marvel.

Silver songstresses

Women in Voice #25 (Women in Voice in Association with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 10 – 12

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“Women in Voice” is a much-loved feature of the Brisbane music and theatre landscape, which not only goes from strength to strength, but increases in popularity each year, as evidenced by its packed Powerhouse Theatre audience. The local phenomenon is not only well-liked, but unique in many ways, including its allowance for all performers to leave their distinct mark in curation of its program. In its silver anniversary show, this is ever the case with its versatile program ranging from ethereal ‘60s numbers from the stellar Allison St Ledger to Carita Farrer-Spencer’s faded diva delivery of self-lamenting standards and all things French, from Pepe Le Pew to Manu, featuring alongside segments also from a soulful Pearly Black and powerhouse vocalist Ellen Reed.

With such a formidable line-up of superlative songstresses, of course all performers are of excellent voice. Indeed, the immense talent of all the women is undeniable, especially when they join together for a final ‘Good Vibrations’. Ellen Reed, is, however, a standout, especially in stunning delivery of a soaring ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’ from “The Rose”. The song features as part of a unique set in which she sings ‘man’ songs whose narrative changes when sung by a woman.

Offering a different perspective is a key factor of the show’s success as the songstresses ensure audiences appreciate well-known songs and lyrics anew. Pearly Black moves from Carole King’s ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ to a raw and vulnerable ‘Jealous’ yearn by the divine Chrissy Amphlett. And Reed both strips back George Michael’s synth-y ‘90s chart-topper ‘Fast Love’ and shares an intimate rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ complete with carivalesque musical accompaniment.

Under the musical direction of Stephen Russel, the Women in Voice Brand is versatile in support, but given chance to shine in numbers like Black’s share of Joni Mitchell’s sweet ‘Edith and the Kingpin’. The most memorable moments, however, come from a very funny Bridget Boyle as emcee in role as ‘fine Rockhampton artist Anna Smart’ who entertains with a tambourine/interpretive dance routine, complete with ‘Piano Man’ sing-along. She also provides a hilarious highlight with a ‘needed’ political statement through mashup of Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name Of’, which serves as contrast to the an earlier ensemble ‘Meet You in the Middle of the Air’ by Paul Kelly in fitting tribute to those of the Women in Voice cannon who have been lost, including pioneering rock chick Carol Lloyd.

Certainly, the “Women in Voice” celebration of individuality of entertainers from different musical backgrounds and generations offers something for everyone in its diversity of musical choices and arrangements. And at well over two hours duration, the immensely entertaining musical experience makes for a marvellous night out. See these ladies once and you will surely be in their audience annually as the institution continues to journey from an intimate concert in an alternative café in West End to the longest constantly running local production in Brisbane’s history.

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’.

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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.

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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

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

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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