Bawdy bibliophilery

The Babushka Book Club (Little Match Productions)

Judith Wright Arts Centre

March 25 – 26

Babushka is back … darker, greyer and shadier than ever with a bawdy book club celebration of all the wine and worries of the suburban middle class experience. The appropriately-named Queensland Cabaret Festival show includes tips for nailing your next literary gathering, on making yourself and your book look the part, and how to provide acceptable conversation contributions. It’s all very funny as non-much-of-a-reader, earth mother Laura (Laura Coutts) and desperate-for-a-drink Alicia (Alicia Cush) mess with sophisticated book club founder Judy’s (Judy Hainsworth) meticulous planning. That is until her ‘Torn’ admission of Jamie Fraser feelings upon recall of her “Cross Stitch”, “Outlander” introduction the bibliophile life.

As with past Babushka cabaret shows the set list features iconic pop songs mashed up and used anew (music arrangements by Alicia Cush and Luke Volker) as favourite novels of chick lit, New York Times best sellers and even well-thumbed erotic thrillers are explored. Who knew, for example, that Blondie’s light and catchy ‘One Way or Another’ is so stalkery, making it the perfect expression of Coutts’ “Twilight” inspired fan fiction plans. And Hainsworth’s gritty Eminem style rap retelling of ‘The Hunger Games’ is worth the price of admission alone.

Witty dialogue and lyrics, instrumentation, costume reveals, props and accompanying reimagined Mills and Boonish book cover backdrop imagery are all very clever (designer Penny Challen), with even throwaway type lines adding much to the trio’s distinct charactersations. This is a book club at which you most definitely want to spend time, with the only disappointment being how quickly the tongue-in-cheek experience appears to be over.

With Music Director Volker in piano accompaniment, the gorgeous vocals of these talented performers harmonise in lovely blend, such as in an early, jaunty “Pride and Prejudice” inspired tribute to white-shirt men, ‘The Bad Guy’. And the ‘totally relatable’ ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the perfect vehicle for Coutts’s exquisite operatic voice, making it a clear Kate-Bush-inspired highlight.

Also of note, is the work’s clear feminist themes. Not only are the Brontë sisters doing it for the selves, but a snappy ‘That’s Not My Name’ shout out to women authors who have penned novels under male pseudonyms, captures the uplifting spirit of its sentiment.

Indeed, experience of the “The Babushka Book Club” is a joyous journey of song, laughter and even drinking along with its take through eleven chapters of deconstruction of literary classics of all genres. Under Bridget Boyle’s lively direction, the 60-minute cabaret is highly entertaining for its duration, even for those who may only have read the movies of the novels mentioned. Hopefully, it is bookmarked for a return Brisbane season soon.

Photos c/o – Mish Photography

Hail holy queens

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves (little red company)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 17 – 20

When last in New York for a bit of Broadway, I was lucky enough to attend a Sunday gospel mass in Harlem. It was one of my most incredibly joyous travel experiences, back to which experience of the little red company’s “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, transported me back in sound and sentiment. Indeed, the show’s relive of the joy of the “Sister Act” soundtracks (appropriately in the first film’s 30th anniversary year) is sure to fill all in its audience with the light of a happy day.

The show begins with our favourite new girl band of performers (Angela Fabian, Irena Lysiuk, Prinnie Stevens and Alisha Todd) taking us to church with ‘Amazing Grace’. Lavishly costumed by designer Gail Sorronda, these sisters are certainly doing it for themselves as they preach the gospel according to Sister Mary Clarence (aka nightclub lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier) under a stained glass imaged backdrop.

Alex Van den Broek’s vocal arrangements not only acknowledge audience nostalgia for the iconic film franchise, but balance this with some interesting new momentum builds in Peggy March’s ‘I Will Follow Him’, for example, performed by the nuns’ chorus for the Pope in the original film. Also in support of the on-stage dynamism are the four apostles of music, Mik Easterman (drums), JaZZella (guitars), Michael Manikus (piano), OJ Newcomb (bass) who appropriately provide pathos or energy as needed to enhance the diverse musical program.

A gentle share of India Arie’s plaintiff balad, ‘I Am Light’, in which the four holy queens are joined by JaZZella in tender guitar accompaniment, allows an opportunity for Todd to take the lead in slowing things down, adding a richness to the tapestry of the show’s unfolding. And as the songstress share personal anecdotes as to their own journeys, including the teachers who nurtured them along the way, the result is touching but also essentiality celebratory.

Director Naomi Price and co-creator Adam Brunes have crafted a celebratory and spirit-lifting show that effectively balances sentiment and humour. And it is wonderful to see the serenely-voiced Lysiuk showing her vivacious comic side, to repeated hilarious effect, especially in her appropriation of classic Kathy Najimy et al interjections in a bouncy ‘My Guy’ (as ‘My God’).

The vocal talents of all four performers are undeniable. The celestial cast of divine divas harmonise beautifully, especially in an cappella ‘How Great Thou Art’ hymn lead in to an upbeat ‘Rescue Me’. And, together, they sizzle in testimony of a burning love in ‘Heatwave’. Fabian has a powerhouse voice and Stevens smooth vocals are elevated by a commanding, sassy stage presence that sees her leading ‘Oh Happy Day’ into an infectious congregation clap-along highlight.

With catchy heaven-sent hits from Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lauryn Hill and Tina Turner, “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, is stacked with joyful joyful moments to leave audiences holy satisfied in understanding that, as its early ‘Dancing in the Street’ number proclaims, all we need is music, sweet music. And in trademark little red company tradition, there is also some mass audience interaction and larger-scale surprises, along with announcement of their next outing, “Skyfall” in build upon their 2021 Brisbane Festival cabaret show success. Amen to that!

Photos c/o – Steph Do Rozario

Ready, set, Gold

Theatreroo Gold (Theatreroo)

Twelfth Night Basement 

From February 19

Theatre is back at The Basement with a new show, “Theatreroo Gold” set for its grand opening on January 22. And, as its pre-Christmas preview showing revealed, the show is set to be something special. Like a live experience of a mix tape of the company’s best-ofs from a mix of musical styles, “Gold” features songs from “Boadicea: The Celtic Opera”, “Utopia: The Amazing Australian Paraguayan Story”, “Macbeth: Contemporary Rock Opera” and “Live at the Trocadero”, shared by a cast of talented, passionate performers who effectively emote the experiences of their range of characters across time.

As Queen Boadicea Lizzie Moore compels us with her magnificent vocal intensity in early numbers from the epic rebellion / revenge tale “Boadicea: The Celtic Opera”, which depicts the life and times of Boadicea, the Celtic British Warrior Queen, who in 60 AD led an uprising against the Romans. And when we are taken to the contemporary rock opera of the similarly-themed Scottish play (one of the company’s most popular shows), Matt Newnham shows the versatility to take us from an early decisive Macbeth singing his insightful letter home to his Lady to the character’s later more contemplative considerations of his famous ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ soliloquy in song, with appropriately stirring musical accompaniment (Musical Director Sante D’etorre and music composition by Clarry Evans, Denny Lawrence, Micheal Lynch, Judy Stevens).

Sandro Colarelli is similarly affecting in his tender vocal share of Macduff’s mindset after discovery of his family’s fate upon the now-tyrannical King’s orders. Also versatile, Colarelli shines in lead of the ensemble’s soft-shoe shuffle vaudevillian take of the murderers preparing to execute Macbeth’s orders upon Banquo, complete with enticing everyman bowler hat moves to add to the joviality. And his energetic share of Paraguayanode to coffee brings vitality to the section of the show dedicated to

“Utopia: The Amazing Australian Paraguayan Story”, which tells the 1890s story of a group of Australians who set out South America, to establish a Socialist society. Under Denny Lawrence’s direction, excellent ensemble work ensures a lovely harmony to these numbers, however, the highlight comes in the form of a compelling late-show love song duet between Cassie George and Connor Hawkins, from the coming-of-age 1942 wartime Brisbane love story, “Live at the Trocadero”, which tells of a young singer from Townsville who finds herself working in Brisbane’s hottest nightclub during a tumultuous period of the city’s history.

“Theatreroo Gold” is full of impressive numbers, powerfully presented in the intimate performance space of the company’s new permanent home in theTwelfth Night Theatre’s Basement venue. The classy 60-minute cabaret not only highlights the very best of these four classic Theatreoo productions, but it ties each one together nicely with enough information provided to contextualise the numbers for those unfamiliar with the works. It both shares some of the interesting shows from the company’s repertoire, and also showcases its performers’ admirable talents, which, in combination, makes for a highly-entertaining experience, as is the case for all of the company’s miniaturised pub theatre versions of well-known theatrical shows.

Suave circus style

Cab Suave (Sparkle Society)

The Ron Hurley Theatre

January 21 – 22

In a twist to traditional cabaret fare, Sparkle Society’s “Cab Suave” promises a film noir-themed circus show. The premise is introduced immediately as our narrator, Private Investigator Dick Johnson (Jack Wilde) tells us of the greatest case he has ever worked, at Cabaret Suave, a questionable establishment run by four scandalous dames (Winter Chapman, Abby Kelso, Laney Mejias and Latonya Wigginton). From here the story isn’t exactly prominent, but it barely matters as its stylish aesthetic is what operates at the show’s forefront.

In true film noir style, our narrator is trench-coated against threat of prevailing darkness, the contrast between light and dark coming with the circus performances that follow in the tight 60-minute show. Amazing acrobatics and impressive circus tricks include exciting aerial silk work that sees Kelso striking stunning poses and spiralling her body into and out of various positions before wrapping herself high up on the silks and dramatically falling towards the ground, a showcase of static trapeze skills from Latonya Wigginton and group acro-balancing to affirm the strength and skill of the pyramid of performers.

One of many particularly memorable moments comes courtesy of a hoop routine that sees Kelso atop Wigginton’s shoulders, while both are spinning hula hoops around their waists, however, balance, poise and coordination are on show throughout, including as Wilde impresses with some circus fare though a juggling routine that graduates to him throwing blades while balancing on a free-standing ladder. And Mejias brings the cabaret as the show’s provocative songstress, including through providing a feverish accompaniment to Chapman’s exciting fire twirling routines.

Costumes are fitting with the vintage aesthetic, while live music both transports audiences back in sensibility and enlivens things from a modern perspective. Indeed, the sultry feel of classic film noir is elevated by the show’s dynamic soundtrack, which culminates with infectious reminder that a little party to never killed nobody. Touches of humour, too, add to the engagement, notably through the detective’s comic timing of his increasingly hyperbolic descriptive commentary about his clients.

Sparkle Society, which was founded in 2019 by established circus performers and this show’s directors Wigginton and Kelso, has been waiting through COVID delays to finally commence what will be a show tour to festivals in Melbourne and Adelaide, and,  as audiences at Brisbane’s preview season can attest, it has certainly been worth the wait. While Cab Suave’s distinct identity is certainly interesting, it is ultimately its exciting circus performances that resonate most in testament to the demands of the artform and the high degree of strength, power, flexibility, courage, stamina, and grace of its practitioners.

Ready Eddie

Eddie Perfect – Introspective

QPAC, Concert Hall

December 21

Fortunate as the arts has been in Queensland comparative to some other Australian states, Eddie Perfect’s “Introspective” marks my 100th show as reviewer in 2021. The word reviewer as opposed to critic is a deliberate choice in this statement, given the Australian singer-songwriter’s darkly tongue-in-cheekDeath To A Critic” number which tells of a fictional Shakespearean actor who plots to rid the world of all critics. The song appears as part of Perfect’s storytelling around moving his family to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and his two years working as an outsider on Broadway shows there…  and very much sums up the 70-minute show that Brisbane has been waiting through a number of COVID-related delays to experience.

The Concert Hall easily becomes an intimate venue as Perfect takes the stage without bravado, just him at the piano with accompaniment from two highly skilled musicians, Anita Quayle on Cello, and Xani Kolac on Violin. Accomplished as he himself is on the keys, the addition of the strings layer numbers with beautiful contemplation, such as in a stripped-back version of the catchy but challenging ‘Dead Mom’, the most-covered song from the musical “Beetlejuice”.

Experience writing the music and lyrics of the musical version of the ghost-with-the-most occupies a key part of the show’s content as Perfect talks about the Tony Awards nominations and ‘The Whole Being Dead Thing’ performancethat instigated the hype that saw formation of the musical’s multi-platform, multi-medium, often-online fandom, and delights the audience with the song that didn’t quite make it into the musical, ‘Death’s Not Great’, originally-conceived lyrics and all.

Conversation does not shy away from the realities of the Broadway baptism of fire that saw Perfect struggle through the creation and realisation of the experimental and critically-panned “King Kong”. Ultimately, his comfort in talking honestly about failure as much as success is refreshing. And he is an easy, engaging storyteller, whose humour and relaxed approach connects with the audience from start to finish, from a satirical song about the suburban routine of bin night, which serves as a wonderful opening tribute to the joy of being able to sneak bottles into the neighbour’s rubbish, to a Christmas-season-appropriate and close-to-home-for-many recall in song of the antics of parents putting together a trampoline in the dark.

Attention never diverts from Prefect’s lyrical creativity and pleasing vocals. Lush lighting illuminates the stage, with green and gold accompaniment to performance of ‘Australia’, the 2019 song he was commissioned to write to attract the Brexit-ed English to visit, is about as flashy at things get. Broadway composer Perfect is obviously proud of his work, and deservedly so. His song lyrics are very witty when required, but also sentimental too, as seen in his share of the tender ‘New York Fledgling’ about the starlings he observed raising their chicks on the streets of Manhattan. And the quiet storytelling style of just him at the piano allows sharp showcase of his undeniable musical talent. Curated together as they are, the numbers of “Eddie Perfect – Introspective represent a nice mix of heartfelt reflections and sometimes self-deprecating comedy. Indeed, its interesting stories and industry insights provide a great night of entertainment, well worthy of the wait.  

Photo from “Eddie Perfect – Introspective at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre – Ian Laidlaw

Celebrating administration

Reception: The Musical

Judith Wright Arts Centre

December 18

A celebration of all things administration, Reception: The Musicalshares the cabareted story of a frontline worker of adifferent sort, classical musical academy receptionist Bethany (writer-performer Bethany Simons) and her frantic day-to-day world of busy-work and customer service. Inspired by true stories from behind the front desk, this original 60-minute cabaret comedy, appearing as part of Brisbane Musical Festival, is a must-see for office workers and theatre lovers alike.

Written by award-winning Simons and leading Melbourne composer Peter de Jager, the show takes the form of a series of vignettes displaying the range of aspects to a receptionist’s life. The original score, performed by composer Peter de Jager on the piano is full of upbeat numbers like a ‘My Name is Bethany (Not Stephanie)’ introduction to our protagonist’s daily phone answering dilemmas and ‘Do You Have Sticky Tape’ because magic tape is indeed a powerful commodity.And the patter song introduction to ‘I can’t help but help’ wonderfully captures the mania of having 20 multi-tasked things going on at once.

Despite telling the story of someone glued to her desk all day, the one-woman show is full of movement, comic energy and entertainment. Simons showcases some lovely vocals, however, it is her mimicry that ensures that interest never wanes. Her characterisations of clients, subscriber audience member encounters and the eclectic characters who wander in to the foyer each day are highly entertaining through her jump in an out of characters both vocally and through nuanced body language. Indeed, this is a show more about performance than staging, which is appropriately minimal, adding to the intimacy of the cabaret.

Clever writing ensures that you don’t have to know about reception work or classical music to appreciate its humour around phone voices, overuse of acronym jargon and the processes of becoming initially acquainted with a new employer’s processes and the unique language of each industry. Indeed, the fact that the show is based on Bethany’s own, very relatable, experience as a receptionist, means that it comes with an appealing authenticity that celebrates the perks more than wallows in the repetition that comes with the role. Accordingly, “Reception: The Musical” presents an uplifting story of not just filing, photocopying and the anxiety of ‘type fright’, but the fun of all the drama that can be seen and heard from the front row seat to the office action.