Un-Santa-mental celebrations

Babushka Regifted (Little Match Productions)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

December 14 – 17

While its set is adorned with festive baubles, an elf on the shelf and a giant advent calendar, the ‘ding, dong, here comes the bells’ arrival of the three wise women of Babushka (Judy Hainsworth, Laura Coutts and Alicia Cush) signposts that “Babushka Regifted” is very much an anti-Christmas Christmas show. Soon thereafter, ‘Wake Me Up When September December Ends’ cements the show’s sentiment as an 18+ celebration of everything we love to hate about the holly jolly season.

The trio of performers is joined in their irreverence by accomplished jazz trio Jake Bristow (Musical Director along with Alicia Cush) and the Baby Cheeses band and, after the show’s initial numbers, things settle into a comfortable banter that moves us between segments. As with previous Babushka shows, there is plenty of audience participation, this time through Grinchy games organised around the share of Festivus airing of Christmas grievances and about the worst ever received presents, which works well in the intimate venue of Metro Art’s New Benner Theatre.

Variety ensures that “Babushka Regifted” is a fun-filled ride for everyone. The eclectic mix of musical genres includes features of some classic seasonal standards from The Pogues and Spinal Tap, however, a Madonna mashup also sits comfortably alongside Nick Cave’s classic ‘Red Right Hand’, reappropriated as a warning about Santa lap sitting. In all instances, the musical arrangements from Cush and Bristow serve as perfect vehicles for the slick vocals, quirky comedy and unapologetic sass that have come to characterise the Matilda Award winning cabaret trio’s work.

This is not a santa-mental show in any way. There’s not a Mariah song to be heard. And the familiar numbers that do make appearance are not as we usually would know them. The  problematic ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is amusingly shifted in focus to tell the tale of Hainsworth’s obviousness to her prowling of Bristow, yet it still allows us opportunity to appreciate her consummate vocals. And the three songstresses harmonise together beautifully in a ‘We Three Kings Queens’ accompaniment to the story of travel to the real Christmas charcuterie Mecca. And in their serene share ‘Walking in the Air’ from UK Christmas Day staple, the enduring animated classic “The Snowman”, their voices blend beautifully (with lovely accompaniment especially from Bristol) as the trio of singers literally bounce off each other in full snowman regalia.  

A sleigh-the-patriarchy theme adds another layer to things as they sing from a hymn him her book with holy PowerPoint accompaniment. Clever lyrics give carols like ‘Deck the Halls’ and alike a rework, and then there is ‘Good King Queen Wenceslas”, because who is Stephen exactly and more importantly, who is cooking his feast!

With all that is has to offer, “Babushka Regifted” may well be your new favourite festive tradition. Unlike the silly season, however, these Babushka shenanigans will be over in a flash so you will need to don your dodgy Xmas jumpers and get along quickly to experience what is a rollicking adults-only romp laden with tinsel and tunes, especially if you want to find out why Laura’s fruit cake brings all the boys to the yard.

Photo – c/o Penny Challen

Holly-time folly

A Very Naughty Christmas (Woodward Productions)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

December 1 – 17

Think you’ve been good this year? Well, “A Very Naughty Christmas” will soon fix that. Brisbane’s favourite adults-only yuletide comedy is back, more ridiculous than ever and now in its intimate new home of La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre.

A winter wonderland has never been so hot when, shadowed away, Brisbane’s sexiest carollers wholesomely tell us to have ourselves a merry little Christmas, before launching into a string of yo mama type jokes escalated to the extreme to get audience members into the unique franchise’s feels-so-good-to-be-bad holiday spirit. The 80-minute 18+ musical Christmas comedy show, is now in its sixth year, which means its traditions are well and truly established. From an Andrews Sisters type number with a twist to an all-male “Mean Girls” ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ intro tease into a pumping twerking type number, familiar nods are there for repeat offenders to appreciate. There is also a sacrilegious story time share of the real tale of Christmas, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, with audience ‘volunteers’ making its nativity scene amongst the most memorable parts of the evening.

The adults-only tone of the show also remains well and truly intact, with its political incorrectness, dirty language and low brow humour all crafted together with wonderful wit. Stephen Hirst again has a charming appeal as the cheeky Nick, and his pants are off almost immediately with his introductory, almost gospel-esque ‘Back Door Santa’ number. And later there is his cleverly-crafted, innuendo-laden, suggestive ho ho ho share about what Mrs Claus potentially gets up to at the North Pole et al.

The ensemble cast of scantily clad performers share in bringing us all sorts of salacious segments as cast regulars Hirst, Emily Kristopher, Aurélie Roque, and Shay Debney are joined by newcomers Ethan Jones, Em Whitefield and Taylah Ferguson. And while all performers are very good at what they each do, Debney is both a standout and an audience favourite as he scampers around as Santa’s poor put-upon elf, especially in his bounce about in ‘Six White Boomers’.

A live band (Dominic Woodhead on keys and guitar, Tom Collins on guitar and bass and Chris Evans on drums) helps in bringing to life the show’s soundtrack of Christmas classics as never heard before, and providing the bed upon which vocalists lay some splendid harmonies including in the traditional closer ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’. Yaxley, in particular, showcases some strong vocals in ‘Never Fall in Love with an Elf’, delivering the number from the Broadway musical based on the beloved 2003 movie about Buddy the Elf with a combination of wry pizazz and heartfelt lament. And thanks to Kristopher, you will likely never listen to the Divinyls quite the same way again.

Things are updated in light of 2022 events with lyrical mentions of Elon Musk and an attempted Tik-tok type of rebranding of Santa. After we hear about how Santa discriminates according to socio-economic status in this time of cost-of-living concerns, there’s also a high-energy Christmas can-can reminder of the shopping centre and family lunch elements of the most wonderful time of year, cresendoing into a spelling out in choreography moves, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ style.

With numbers featuring burlesque, tap and even some riverdance moments, there is something for everyone in “A Very Naughty Christmas”… apart from the easily offended. If you like having a laugh, partial nudity and a mixed playlist of classic carols to modern pop, the irreverence of “A Very Naughty Christmas” is sure to get you in the mood for the silliest of seasons. Its mischievous celebration of the season of holly is full of filthy, frisky folly, making it the perfect escape from your festive season stresses, for return and newbie audience members alike.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

Fem-led fierceness

In Your Dreams (Polytoxic)

Brisbane Powerhouse

November 23 – 25

Polytoxic is an Australian collective known for creating hyper-visual, pop-inspired performance work built upon the foundations of diversity, collaboration and intersectionality, and their new cabaret work, debuting at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt festival celebration of queer art, artists and ideas, is very much in keeping with this mantra. Though scaled down from 2021’s “Demolition”, “In Your Dreams” still explores some very big and important ideas. Forget Aria, Oscar and Matilda… this is an awards ceremony for the future, with all the glamour, drama and entertainment you could want. It’s a utopic vision where everyone is recognised, presented as a femme led future. We appreciate this from the moment its troop of performers takes to the stage’s red carpet to take out their anger upon the statutes that line its runway.

From there, we are welcomed to the FOMOEOS awards (you will have to go to find out what this acronym stands for) by Polytoxic leaders Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton. There is a bit of a film theme running through its early numbers, which include musical nods to “Rocky” and “Grease” (with an unusual in-time audience clap along) as bros BIG M.I.C (Busty Beatz) and Young Harrison (Hope Haami) attempt a misogynistic reclaim.  

The work features a line-up of glass-ceiling smashing, system dismantling, genderqueer, fiercely intersectional artists including Alinta Mcgrady, Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, Lilikoi Kaos, Mayu Muto, Matehaere Hope Haami Aka Hope One, Gogo Bumhole, Richie Lestrange and Rhythmology. The ensuing range of acts includes the usual mix of disciplines, only perhaps with more provocation than the company’s previous works, meaning that this is not a show for the easily offended (who may have to check their privilege), in terms of both its language and conceivably confrontational subject matter to some.

Numbers include impressive aerials, big vocals, beatboxing, hoops, street dance, lip-sync, drag and performance art and there are many highlights from within them. Fearsome warier Mayu Muto takes advantage of the lofty Powerhouse Theatre space to impress with some gravity-defying aerial rope work, while ripping apart anyone who gets in her way. In another of its circus-themed acts  Fa’alafi twirls fire sticks sans fire in a frenzy that creates an amazing visual spectacle. And Shelton shows strength and skill in a memorable sex-doll pole routine.

Nothing is off limits in this loud and proud mother of all #hellyeah take downs, which has been created and written by Fa’alafi and Shelton in collaboration with the cast. Kayne BIG M.I.C returns to the Polytoxic stage, uninvited and unannounced to steal the limelight and take home all the awards, and the ensuing 90s r-and-b boy band ‘Hot Brown Homies’ parody is absolutely hilarious in its exaggerated r-rated reminders of the genre’s dance moves and archetypes.

One of the features of a Polytoxic show is a dynamic soundscape and, in this regard, “In Your Dreams” does not disappoint. With music direction by Fa’alafi and Shelton in collaboration with Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, the soundscape is as big as it gets and adds much to the amplified aesthetic. And when Badass Mutha Alinta Mcgrady takes gold with a late-show ‘Winner Takes It All’, her passionate delivery not only emphasises her vocal talent, but focus us on the show’s articulated spotlights on notions of body sovereignty and similar.

Unforgiving and unapologetic activism is what this company is all about and “In Your Dreams” is a fierce, in-your-face reminder of this in its essential, explosive celebration of glass-ceiling smashing and colonial hetro-normative patriarchal system dismantling. This is a fantastical VIP-style party where the queers, outcasts and political activists are celebrated and win the awards they deserve. Indeed, “In Your Dreams” is a theatrical feminist feast of disruption that (literally) rips to shreds antiquated notions of girls on film and alike. Its inclusive celebration of resilience and freedom never wanes in energy, including in its sensational slip and slide curtain call.

Photos c/o – Jade Ellis Photography

Disco delights

Velvet Rewired

Wynnum Fringe Garden – George Clayton Park, Raine & Horne Wynnum Spiegeltent

November 16 – December 4

There was much conversation from audience members while in line for entry to the 8pm opening night show of “Velvet Rewired”. It was coming, largely, from those who had just seen the 6pm performance, raving to us about how wonderful it was. They needed to be spruiking, however, to those yet to purchase tickets, because this is fabulous entertainment that everyone should experience before it heads south for a season at the Sydney Opera House. The new, reinvented “Velvet Rewired” is the showcase event of the Wynnum Fringe Festival, now is its third year. Its home of the Raine & Horne Wynnum Spiegeltent within the Wynnum Fringe Garden of George Clayton Park on the shores of Moreton Bay, allows audience members to get up-close and personal with its performers, including commanding headliner The Diva, Marcia Hines.

As Hines makes her way out into the audience at one point, it is clear that love for the iconic national treasure is still strong. The Australian Queen of Pop’s voice is as powerful as ever, but still richly warm, and is smoothly complemented in duet with Tom Sharah as Country Mike in ‘You to Me Are Everything’. It is, however, her 1977 hit ‘You’ that really pinnacles the show. And, joined, as she is by a cast of internationally acclaimed circus performers and dancers, the highlights are plenty in this fusion of flawless glamour, glitz and jaw-dropping feats. Multi-skilled circus artist Beau Sargent stuns with aerialist work high about the stage. Indeed, as he hangs from an aerial hoop from just his neck, audible gasps replace the mouth agape awe of onlookers. Harley Timmerman’s too, provides a memorable aerial accompaniment to a multi-faceted ‘It’s Raining Men’ number’.

As with so many numbers, there is so much going on with James Browne’s set and costume design and Amy Campbell’s choreography, that our eyes are spoiled for choice upon where to settle. When ‘greatest dancer’ Craig Reid, aka The Incredible Hula boy storms the stage, our attention is commanded to the one spot. The multiple Guinness World Record holder, is clearly the King of the Rings as he simultaneously hulas hoops on multiple limbs and even while ascending into the air. The Skating Willers, Pierre and Stef too, have difficulty keeping their feet wheels on the ground with a daring number, especially for those seated in its front row danger zone.

As with previous “Velvet” undertakings, while seats close its thrust stage allow for intimate appreciation of the precision, strength and balance of circus performers, those located further back in the venue are rewarded with appreciation of the full spectacle of the show’s dynamism. Inspired by Studio 54, “Velvet Rewired” is full of exciting colour and moment in celebration of freedom, with Matthew Marshall’s vibrant disco lighting design adding to the excitement in its precise execution.

Under The DJ’s (music director Joe Accaria) watchful eye, Siren dancers Sasha Lee Saunders and Jacinta Giliano ensure that energy never wanes as the setlist takes us through over 15 of-era classics, including ‘Disco Inferno’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’, though not always as we might remember them. In balance to the exuberant sparkle, there are even some more avant-garde moments and more subdued numbers as classic disco era songs are considered anew.

Like its previous incantations “Velvet Rewired” is a fusion of discotheque, nightclub, burlesque and carnival. The Australian-made global smash hit cabaret presents the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas along with the death-defying world of Cirque du Soleil, which results in sheer entertainment of the most exhilarating sort. So break out the sequins and get yourself down to see it at the Wynnum Fringe Speigeltent as soon as possible so you can then be the one urging others along to its disco delights.

Rocket Man memories

Your Song (The Little Red Company)

QPAC, Concert Hall

September 30 – October 1

The Little Red Company turns 10 this week and how appropriate it is to mark the occasion with return of one of their fastest selling shows, in one of Australia’s most spectacular concert venues. And the mood is certainly celebratory from the start of “Your Song” as ‘Benny and the Jetts’ leads into introduction of the performers returning from the show’s 2021 season at the Judith Wright Arts Centre, Luke Kennedy, Andy Cook and The Sunshine Club’s dynamic duo Marcus Corowa and Irena Lysiuk.

Along with a world-class band (Mik Easterman on Drums, Michael Manikus on piano, OJ Newcomb on bass and Stephen Ward on guitar), the fabulous foursome reminds us of why the show was the 2021 Matilda Award winner for Best Musical or Cabaret. Far from being a typical tribute show (no-one takes on the role of Elton John) creators Adam Brunes and Naomi Price have crafted a unique verbatim musical theatre experience that merges the music and lyrics of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songs with powerful true stories of heartbreak and hope, pain and passion, first loves, final moments and more.

Nuanced original musical arrangements by Maitlohn Drew, Alex Van den Broek and the cast capture not just familiarity of well-known numbers but the emotion at the core of each song in relation to its corresponding story. And the stellar cast of performers are all compelling as they gateway us into the power of Elton John’s music through the eyes of everyday people.

Andy Cook is again a standout. His stage presence is such that eyes are drawn to him throughout. Not only is his spirited energy infectious, but his strong vocals add a resonate depth to all range of numbers. While he enlivens a surprisingly poignant ‘Crocodile Rock’ to a big-voiced, spirited glam-pop celebration of life, music and memory, his astonishing voice also gives us the show’s highlight in an almost a cappella ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with the barest of piano accompaniment, enrapturing the Concert Hall audience into mesmeric awe. It is just one of many moving moments evoked through reconsideration of songs’ simple and profound lyrics.

Lysiuk’s ‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word’ evokes the raw honesty at the heart of a reflection on loneliness and Corowa’s glorious voice layers his numbers with rich emotional texture, with his ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ serving as another highlight. Meanwhile, Music Supervisor Kennedy shows his versatility through both giving a beautiful rendition of the ballad ‘Daniel’ and uplifting us into the majestic chorus of ‘Tiny Dancer’.

Characteristically for the company’s shows, everyone is given a chance to shine, including, notably, Michael Manikus during the anthemic piano build of ‘I’m Still Standing’. All of Elton John’s well-known hits make appearance, if only in medley as part of the rousing on-your-feet sing-along encore. Even the show’s titular tune is wonderfully presented in a newly-imagined way with Lysiuk’s lean-in to its simple nativity with a surprise to-boyfriend share that is full of nervous, self-conscious energy showing why she was nominated for the Matilda Award for Best Female Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in last year’s debut season of the show.

The all-true, often deeply-personal stories and secrets presented take us through a range of emotions in reminder of the power of music to evoke associated memories… like (for those of us of appropriate vintage) where we were when we heard of Princess Diana’s passing. ‘Candle in the Wind’ not only does this, but with added emphasis in light of recent royal events. And the Concert Hall acoustics ensure that the group’s harmonies are as vivid as ever.

So authentic is the performers’ storytelling, that is easy to forget that these are in most instances not their own stories. And they are so seamlessly curated together with a craftedness characteristic of The Little Red Company works, that the show’s 90-minute duration flies by in an explosive experience of at-once heart, soul and distinctive Rocket Man camp.

Photos c/o – Stephanie Do Rozario

Cabaret stylings and then some

Women in Voice

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

August 26 – 28

“Women in Voice” (WiV) has been a Brisbane institution since 1993. Surprisingly though, there are still some first timer audience members at the shows. With its diverse range of quality performers, the 2022 outing is sure to convert these to annual attendees. With Master of Ceremonies Sophie Banister as support and guide in journey through the varied sets, it soon become apparent that this year’s “Women in Voice” may well be the best one yet.

Banister is given her own musical moments, comically linked together by the theme of her thwarted quest to become a Brisbane 2032 Olympics opening ceremony performer in order to have her own Nikki Webster ‘Under Southern Skies’ moment. Metaphorically flying, however are the evening’s incredible performers, starting with Naomi Andrew, whose contemplative set highlights her soulful vocals, especially in impassioned share of Rose Royce’s ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’. Not only this, but the heartbreaking song also allows for first standout of the live band’s accompaniment, with Dr Bob Bass (bass guitar and double bass), Meg Burstow (piano), Musical Director Jamie Clark (guitar) and Paul Hudson (drums) swirling their sounds around the song’s hopeless sentiments.

The second, double-bill, segment sees regular performer Leah Cottrell, joining with Menaka Thomas in her “Women in Voice” debut, to showcase the intersection of traditional and contemporary music, drawing upon Thomas’ classical Southern Indian Carnatic musical origins. After whisking our troubles away with a sweet lullaby in her mother tongue, things become infectiously joyous with the audience clapping along to a fusion number featuring join-in from Cotterell in emphasis of the cross-cultural shared language of music at the centre of the show’s celebration. And when Thomas sings of Indian goddess Vata it is with a mixture of precision and emotion that elevates this year’s WiV to being amongst the franchise’s best, especially as it then transitions into a thumping, tempoed Cotterell-led ‘Rolling in the Deep’, complete with Vata rap and Indian dance off. It’s all very clever and lots of fun.

Not only do Cotterell and Thomas share the stage, but the featured songstresses often serve as support for each other, with assistance also from Mel Lathouras and Olivia Weeks, blending their voices together to create a harmonious bed upon which other performances can shine. Musical highlights aside, the show is also very funny. Banister’s musical recount of explanation of Brisbane to New Yorkers in terms of the most significant of films to ever be shot here, in so animated in its delivery and has such a catchy hook line, that it is difficult not to toe tap along with an accompanying smile. And her re-representation of Maria Von Trapp’s third youngest adoptive daughter Brigitta gives us an angstsy ten-year-old’s reimagining of the musical theatre classic “The Sound of Music” through the lens of unresolved middle child issues.

“Women in Voice” is about empowering women to share their voices. Accordingly, the program is curated so as to present a variety of experience levels and musical styles. Act Two features another WiV debutant, Irena Lysiuk giving a stunning operatic Italian-merging-into English version of ‘To The Moon and Back’. With trademark lush Powerhouse Theatre lighting and acoustics, it’s a commanding few moments as her flawless vocals introduce us to her proud Logan girl love of pop duo Savage Garden. In fact, the 1990s group’s popular songs make up her entire set list, albeit in reimagined forms, as she considers them through the perspective of a range of musical genres to take us through opera and a stripped back ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ to a musical theatre themed ‘Shake Me Break Me’ (with Clark punctuating things along in add to its dynamism) and a country styled ‘Affirmation’ complete with twang and a great hat. (#whatcantshedo?) And her between-song banter and share of her journey to becoming a singer (inset with Savage Garden trivia) is incredibly funny in its easy nuance, making her set another of the show’s high points.

Responsibility for rounding things out goes to larger-than-life fabulous cabaret diva Dame Farrar (Carita Farrer Spencer), who stumbles onto stage direct from her bedroom in Melbourne to give us a smashing ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. Her voice is powerful, she sure can hold a note and her commitment to the little jokes that contribute to the elaborate tapestry of her over-the-top, insult-laden characterisation throughout her set is commendable, resulting in circulating tears of laughter from the thoroughly entertained audience members.

With tight direction, cohesive tie together of ideas and finely tuned performances, the 2 hours + (including interval) duration of 2022’s “Women in Voice” has all the ingredients for a wonderful night out… extraordinarily talented performers, authentic stories, humour and songs we thought we knew presented afresh. Get tickets now … if you can