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’.

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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

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

Comedy chaos

The Really Real Housewife of Surfers Paradise (Lisa Lachelle)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 2

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The Real Mercedes DeLuca-Jones (Lisa LaCelle) is glamourous, fabulous and filthy rich. So when The Real Housewives franchise announces open auditions for a Gold Coast reality show, she sets upon a mission to be invited to join the cast. It’s only a matter of time; she just like Gina Liano, apart from the whole lawyer thing. For future fans of the fictional franchise, it’s totes exciting… infectiously so with the Visy Theatre busting at its seams with many liquored up ladies out to share its good time tell of Mercedes’ desperate attempt to hang onto her youth and make her mark in the world.

Act One begins as a casual chat, with Mercedes outlining her quest and sharing stories of her George Clooney desires, her hubby Gregory and home-stay exchange students. When in Act Two, the focus changes to tell of Gregory with an exchange student, the show becomes all the better with second-half highlights including her musical explanation of how a cockroach featured as catalyse for her marriage breakdown and determination to arise from loneliness to make a second sashay coming.

Unfortunately, however, the one woman comedy cabaret is more comedy than cabaret. And when it isn’t, there’s still not a lot of singing with only occasional song snippets of recognisable but reappropriated tunes. The comedy is strong throughout thanks to the work’s well-written script, peppered with pop culture references and euphemistic speak. As musical therapist to the middle-aged misfit, accompanist Peta Wilson adds to the comedy with reactions and interjections alike and LaCelle is committed in performance at Mercedes, bringing lots of funny to her over-the-top character’s every little nuance and easily moving off script to respond to some of the rudeness of audience’s disruptions. At times, however, timing could we better managed to allow for the laughter that often ends up rolling over forthcoming jokes.

Although not the slickest of shows, “The Really Real Housewife of Surfers Paradise” has a real spirit to cater for the glam and ordinary folk alike. As a comedy it is great; as a cabaret, not quite as much, not that its late show crowd minded when caught in the comic chaos of Mercedes’ crumbling world and quest for reality show salvation.

Lady Beatle love

Lady Beatle (La Boite & The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 25 – June 3

With a spotlight cabaret seating section and shadowed stage, the preshow aesthetic of “Lady Beatle” is of Liverpoolian grey, like through the eyes of a ladybird. This is the Lonely Hearts Club, soon to be coloured with the music of the Beatles as Naomi Price bursts forth with the penultimate ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, and its hope that we will enjoy the show. It’s a particularly appropriate initial number given that opening night marks the 50th anniversary of the band’s innovative, ground-breaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Over the following 70 minutes, UK-born star Naomi Price proceeds to tell a story, but probably not the one you think you are going to hear, a story that includes tell of the lucky Lady Beetle and so much more, in nod to her personal Liverpoolian roots. Her assumed Scouse accent certainly adds to the authenticity of the experience, however, what makes the show truly engaging is her banter with the audience that is so central to a quality cabaret experience. There is a lot of comedy, much of it at George Harrison’s expense, but also surprising poignancy. However, it’s not Naomi guiding audiences through this Beatles story, but their number one fan, an ultimate outsider who loves the Beatles (even George) more than anyone.

Naomi Price in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

The kaleidoscopic soundtrack is full of highlights, thanks to the show’s incredible live music and new song arrangements, like a stripped back and absolutely beautiful, nostalgic ‘Penny Lane’, allowing the song’s story of a street near John Lennon’s childhood home, to take centre stage. The comprehensive coverage of the group’s extensive catalogue ensures that the show is packed full of favourites and there is even a rocking medley to end the night on the highest of highs.

Andrew Johnson, Mik Easterman, Naomi Price, Michael Manikus, Jason McGregor in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

In support of Price, the virtuosic band is uniformly excellent, and it is wonderful to see drummer Mick Easterman, bass guitarist Andrew Johnson, pianist Michael Manikus and guitarist Jason McGregor given their own moments to shine, such when ‘the band begins to play’ in ‘Yellow Submarine’ and in a rocking medley mix of ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Revolution’ with ‘Love Me Do’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Let It Be’. On paper, mixes like this shouldn’t probably blend, but in this show’s hands they do, meaning that ‘Strawberry Fields’ sits comfortably alongside a clap-along ‘Hey Jude’. And the result is a superb soundtrack, befitting the dynamic performer leading the stage.

Naomi Price, Michael Manikus in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

It is easy to appreciate why Brisbane loves Naomi Price. Like the fab four themselves, she is effortlessly cool and charismatic, and her voice has never been better, showing full technical and emotional range from a melodic, fantastical ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ to the lyrical linger of the experimental ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and yearning plea of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.

Michael Manikus, Naomi Price, Jason McGregor in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

In its celebration of song nuance and detail, “Lady Beatle” also becomes so much more, in examination of the peace and harmony of the messages of numbers like ‘Come Together’, ‘Yellow Submarine’ (including an organic sing-along), a hauntingly honest ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ and finally a hopeful ‘Here Comes the Sun’, which sees Price return to the stage in a rocking pants suit courtesy of costume designer Leigh Buchanan. Every aspect of the show is on-point in contribution to its overall message and appealing aesthesis. Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, for example, is everything it needs to be: bold, beautiful and perfect in accompaniment of the show’s changing musical moods.

Mik Easterman, Naomi Price and Michael Manikus in Lady Beatle at La Boite Theatre - image by Dylan Evans

“Lady Beatle” shows how, as a creatives, Adam Brunes and Naomi Price can do no wrong. Although unlike their earlier “Rumour Has It” and “Wrecking Ball”, this third and final show in their pop culture cabaret trilogy, isn’t a biopic, the modern memory play’s explosion of musical colours is just a rewarding. Given The Beatles’ recognition as the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed act in popular music history, audience members are sure to come with expectations, all of which will be exceeded in what will be an infectious rediscovery of the band’s iconic, diverse catalogue anew, channelled through a sole female voice. Indeed, its song curation and story craftedness combine to make “Lady Beatle” an example of cabaret at its very best, to make you laugh, cry and smile in hope for peace, equality and love.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans