Wonderland walk

Fire Walk with Us (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 24

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There is a distinct feel to the “Twin Peaks” otherworld, captured in the aesthetic of The Powerhouse Theatre during the venue’s Wonderland Festival, despite the still-afternoon sunshine outside. The saturation of lighting creates an unsettling sense of warmth at odds with the constant menace lurking in the underbelly of what was a unique television experience, but it makes it all the easier to be enthralled into the intriguing journey that is Electric Moon’s “Fire Walk with Us” live re-imagining of songs and music from the iconic, instant-hit “Twin Peaks” mystery, horror, drama television series of early 1990s.

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As drowsy saxophone sounds lure the audience into the acclaimed score, the lush lighting captures the distinct mood of the show’s early numbers, despite a sometimes bothersome spotlight in audience eyes during Lucinda Shaw’s mesmeric ‘The World Spins’, in which she effortlessly channels the recognisable ‘low and slow’ signature Lynch sound texture in delivery of the spine-tingling memorable series number (it featured in a climactic second-season episode that revealed the killer of troubled prom queen Laura Palmer).

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The set list features a sampling of songs from the original iconic David Lynch series, the prequel film “Fire Walk with Me” and even an Alison St Ledger share of a Latin-infused ‘No Stars’ from the recent third series of the franchise, perfectly curated together in authentic album track listing sequence.

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Top-of-mind numbers like the soaring, airy ‘Nightingale’ and the signature theme song ‘Falling’ are there as highlights of floating, soft-focus, sweetly-serene vocals along with the spiralled frenzied jazz jams of the doomy ‘The Pink Room’ and the innocent sounds of ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’ (in juxtaposition to its deliciously dark lyrics).

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Indeed, it’s an eclectic mix of dream pop warbles and benchmark jazz bass lines and finger-snap rhythms, but it absolutely works in evoking the beauty, yearn, mystery and playfulness of everything “Twin Peaks”. ‘Just slow things down and it becomes more beautiful’, David Lynch once said and “Fire Walk with Us” is certainly testament to this in its evocation of many moods and a range of emotions.

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A 12-piece ensemble of musicians works together to elevate experience of the Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch compositions to more than just backing for the four diverse vocalists Mia Goodwin, SS.Sebastian, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger, giving, for example, the surreal ‘Sycamore Trees’ an orchestral swell in sit against the song’s essential stillness. This means that whether part of the show’s devoted cult following or as a newcomer to the pop culture classic, there is much to be enticed by in the dreamy, dark, moody and emotional journey of the “Fire Walk with Us”. Its experience more than delivers on its promise to provide a masterclass in minimalist synthpop atmospheres, haunting vocals, occasionally off-kilter jazz stylings and sinister soundscapes.

Photos c/o – Jade Ellis Photography

007 sounds

The Music of James Bond

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 18

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“The Music of James Bond” begins, appropriately, with multi award-winning singer Kate Ceberano slinking onto the Concert Hall stage in a sparkling gown befitting her opening number, ‘Diamonds are Forever’. It is a look and belting sound very much suited to Shirley Bassey’s smash hit and with delivery of its tremendous expression, dramatic flair, soulful emotion and intrinsic glamour, the audience is easily assured as to the quality of the show to come. When Luke Kennedy appears to deliver a crisply crooned ‘From Russia with Love’ (stepping up from guest appearance role due to original performer Michael Falzon’s ill-health), the stage is well and truly set for an evening of entertainment in celebration of the spy film franchise’s music.

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For over 50 years, the thrilling exploits of the world’s greatest spy have been accompanied by the world’s finest theme songs, making the night’s set-list a spoiled-for-choice scenario. With the full live symphonic sound of a 20-piece orchestra, every number is elevated in its experience, especially our revisit of the ubiquitous main signature James Bond theme, which allows for audience appreciation of how its instruments layer atop each other and especially of its percussive notes and the distinctive rhythm of its famous guitar riff.

As thorough as the Bond theme collection is, however, time is also taken to visit some other spies with a dynamic instrumental “Mission Impossible” theme, complete with rollicking urban samba sounds, and jaunty “The Spy Who Shagged Me” spoof theme song. Even Kate Ceberano’s own ‘Untouchable’, written with Paul Kelly, makes an appearance within the repertoire as her version of a Bond song.

The comprehensive catalogue of the Bond collection means that we hear the songs of a range of artists over the course of the evening… Gladys Night, Nancy Sinatra, KD Lang and Carly Simon, amongst others, and experience songs in a range of styles. From the light touch of Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love’ delivered in duet, complete with a little cha cha across the stage, to the bombastic rock of Paul McCartney’s epic ‘Live and Let Die’, orchestrations are a treat for the ear, aesthetically enhanced by gorgeous stage lighting.

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“The Music of James Bond” has all the ingredients for a superb, nostalgic celebration of an iconic film franchise, starting with its ‘quantum of soloists’, conducted by Mr 007 himself, the always charismatic Guy Noble, who bring the brilliant arrangements of the world’s finest theme songs to life. They add a light touch but also symphonic grandeur to Kennedy’s romantic ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and pair Ceberano’s powerful ‘Goldfinger’ with lush brassy orchestrations and horn sounds.

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Ceberano is sensational. Her vocals are on-point, making for many standout moments, such as her ballad ‘Skyfall’, in which she succeeds in making abstract lyrics emotionally moving. Kennedy, too, delivers some tender moments in ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, although it is his Act Two opener, catchy ‘80s classic ‘A View to a Kill’ (the only Bond song to hit Number One of the charts) that serves as the real highlight, full of dancey fun and very Duran Duran.

With all of its components considered, “The Music of James Bond” cannot be anything but a joyous experience of shared celebration of timeless hits. Its only pity is its one night only programming.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

More Megan

Megan Hilty in Concert

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 20

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Megan Hilty is a musical theatre person. She reminds the audience of this early on in her return to QPAC, this time in concert with Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra. Those familiar with the Tony Award-nominated songstress, however, need little reminder; the Broadway star rose to prominence with roles in musicals including “9 to 5: The Musical” and, before that, ‘a little show’ called “Wicked”. The big musical theatre set features some of her favourite songs as well as those from the shows she has done, punctuated by anecdotes about her experiences, including her four years doing “Wicked” and step-up to the role of Glinda the Good Witch the most powerful sorceress in L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz, at times alongside Idina Menzel as Elphaba. Her peppy ‘Popular’ is appropriately bubbly, but also a wonderful showcase for her comedic as well as singing talent, and it goes down a treat with the eager audience alongside a stirringly gorgeous, emotional ‘For Good’.

Hilty’s In Concert experience also features some non-Broadway songs, including songs from her debut solo album mix of original numbers and covers, “It Happens All the Time”. The paired back ‘Learning to Live Without You’ offers quiet contemplation with sparing piano accompaniment, however, Hilty is at her best when belting out numbers like the scorching, powerful set opener ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line’, from the musical-drama television show “Smash” about the creation of a fictitious new musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, in which she starred as tough Broadway veteran Ivy Lynn. Other “Smash” songs make appearance also in celebration of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s clever creations, including ‘Second Hand White Baby Grand’ based on a true story about Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with her mother, which also allows for showcase of some wonderful string sounds from Camerata.

The Chamber Orchestra is outstanding throughout the show, in light-touch numbers like ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and rousing big-bandish songs like ‘Get Happy’ alike. Indeed, the setlist not only suits Hilty’s versatility but also showcases the orchestra, from the early brass of an upbeat ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ to the wonderfully melodic tour through snippets of a range of familiar songs from “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Sound of Music” et al, when Hilty asks to be given chance to sing melody.

Megan Hilty is a generous performer, not just in her talk of the performers with whom she has shared the stage, but in acknowledgement of everyone involved in making the show happen. She is genuine, funny and real, authentically taking audience members along with her through a range of emotions to a final number that is moving as much for its backstory as its musical realisation.

“Megan Hilty in Concert” serves as a reminder that ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ that unfortunately at 80-minutes duration seems to be over all too soon. While we might be left wanting one or two songs more, the end of show ovation indicates that the audience is just as satisfied as when the star received a rock star reception in her first Brisbane show three years ago. Clearly, opera camp’s loss is most definitely the musical theatre world’s gain.

Tribute triumph

The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 24

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There is something very unique about experience of “The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston” and it is evident from even before the Belinda Davids show has started. The audience joined in anticipation of the honour of the most awarded female artist of all time is incredibly diverse, yet still united in a camaraderie that gives confidence to the expectation of a great night ahead. From the time the show opens with one of Houston’s most recognised songs, the booming ballad ‘Run to You’, from the hugely successful The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album, it is clear why the show has been critically acclaimed; the undeniably talented Davids brings Houston’s legacy to life in her spot on performance and out of this world vocals.

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“The Bodyguard” numbers feature throughout, building towards Houston’s signature song, ‘I will Always Love You’, brilliant from its restrained a cappella introduction and then beautifully melancholic in its gospel-infused dramatic development. The, as assumed, end of show number, confirms Davids’ impeccable vocal control in recreation of Houston’s astonishing voice and distinctive style. Her breathtaking vocals are also especially showcased in Houston’s early-career ballads such as ‘You Give Good Love’, ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ and ‘The Greatest Love of All’, resulting in a deserving pre-interval standing ovation. It is not long before we are on our feet again in acknowledgment of the soaring heartbreak of ‘I Have Nothing’, for not only is Davids’ recreation of Houston’s sound uncannily accurate, but her physical performance is perfectly nuanced down to the most minute of gestures.

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The show’s set list reflects the eclecticism of the Whitney Houston’s 30-year career catalogue of hits with an intertwined yet balanced repertoire of ballads and upbeat numbers alike. The energy, both on stage and in the audience, is infectious in fan-favourites ‘How Will I Know’, ‘I’m Every Woman, and ‘So Emotional’ and when it is time for ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ the audience needs little by way of invitation to rise to their feet to dance along in joyous celebration, following the high-energy lead of Davids’ talented choreographed dancers who are obviously skilled in a range of styles.

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Davids is also supported by backing vocalists and a live band, members of which are all given their own opportunities to shine, including most memorably on haunting saxophone in an emotionally vulnerable ‘Saving All My Love For You’, which serves as another of many highlights. And the other performers do well to occupy audience attention as Davids quick-changes into an array of fabulous costumes, sometimes as recreations of Houston’s iconic gowns.

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“The Greatest Love of All – Tribute to Whitney Houston” is a wonderful two-hour homage to one of the world’s most revered singers. The all-aged affair makes the shared celebration of the music and legend of Whitney Houston especially engaging, with everyone in the audience joined together even at intermission in shared nostalgic song and dance off, a unique experience in QPAC’s Concert Hall that makes for an all the more memorable night.

This one-night-only celebration of the icon’s music and memory is not just for Whitney fans, but all music lovers in search of a genuinely heartwarming experience. Unlike other tribute shows, it doesn’t share detail of the artist’s life and career, instead focussing more on the music, which is precisely where Davids’ excellence lies and so what makes this tribute such a triumph.

More Minchin

Back (Tim Minchin)

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 9 – 12

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Tim Minchin’s new show “Back” begins suddenly with the internationally acclaimed Australian composer and musician appearing almost out of nowhere, spotlit in his seat at the centre-stage piano. A fumble at the beginning of one of his newer songs forces a restart so we get to see his (re)entrance after all. It is actually quite an apt beginning, indicative of the show’s organic, bespoke feel.

The responsible song is the metaphoric and meaningful ‘If This Plane Goes Down’, (“remember me as someone who cared, often, but not always, about his hair, self-righteous when shit wasn’t fair.”) Its sentiment is a theme that appears a number of times throughout the show, such as in the haunting ‘I’ll take lonely tonight’. As the show’s tag line of ‘Old songs, new songs, f*** you songs’ attests, the set list features a lot of retrospective focus, going back even so far as Minchin’s complicated beat poem ‘Mitsubishi Colt’ set to impressive improvised jazzy piano accompaniment.

All numbers of course showcase his penchant for puns and interesting deft phrase rhymes of the Cole Porter sort, only with swearing in their rhyming couplets. It is accurate assumption too that “Back” is polemical in its Ted Talk style touch on controversial issues of religion et al. While he talks of confirmation bias, increased tribalisation and the hypocrisy of assumed religious indemnity, ‘Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ does not feature. ‘Pope’ and ‘Thank You God’ (“for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s Mum”) do, however, and are as wonderfully jaunty as ever, especially ‘Thank You God’, which features as an early show highlight in its lyrical avalanche of mockery of how prayer might mobilise religious response from an omnipotent ophthalmologist god.

“Back” is a mixed but still balanced bag of a musical experiences and laughs aplenty, full of sharp turns that take us from talk of George Pell to Minchin’s epic rock song opera ode to cheese and then the lovely ‘Leaving L.A.’ ‘Rock N Roll Nerd’ features a marvellous musical reveal that is worth the price of admission alone and things only soar higher from there. The absence of ‘Dark Side’ is disappointing, with encore instead featuring songs from his ill-fated Broadway musical adaptation “Goundhog Day” and also “Matilda”, for which he wrote the music and lyrics.

With an all-star band (including The Whitlams’ Jak Housden) in support, familiar songs like ‘If I Didn’t Have You’ are given a new, and in this case, sexy feel. Minchin himself is as skilled as even on piano, as is showcased in numbers like ‘Prejudice’ and from the opening song his voice is a smooth as ever in that ‘White Wine in the Sun’ sort of sentimental way, making us especially thankful for the Concert Hall’s impressive acoustics. Ever-talented, he takes to the guitar too in the closing anti-American anthem ‘Fuck’, another highlight in its hyper-real realisation.

“Back” tickets may set audience members back some decent coin, but they are worth every cent in every regard, even down to detail of lighting which enhances the little moments of songs as much as it awashes the stage with narratively-theme colours. But above everything else, after a seven-year stage absence it is just marvellous to see the multi-talented musical comedy genius touring our stages again. While his talk of his admittedly now rich white man privilege is tongue-in-cheek, there is an honesty too in his reflection about what has brought him home to Australia.

“I’m not saying I’m Jesus” Tim tells us in the lyrics of ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, despite his bare feet, long hair and bearded appearance, but he is a god of musical comedy cabaret and without doubt he is well and truly back. And given that his one sold out Brisbane show immediately morphed into a four night run, it seems audiences are excited by the prospect.

The joy of the show is infectious; for over two high energy hours (without intermission), Minchin is pure entertainer, jumping about the stage, squatting at his piano and posing atop it in his trademark bare feet, yet it feels like the shortest time. Indeed, while each evening may deliver a unique experience, it is sure to be an entertaining one…. Maybe less so for those unknowing audience members who were overhead after-show expressing their surprise at the ‘interesting’ religious focus of his repertoire, but from the standing ovation at show’s end, it seems they are in the minority.

Sweet dreams are made of this

Sweet Charity (Understudy Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 24 – February 10

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With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon and choreography from Bob Fosse, “Sweet Charity” is, understandably one of the greatest of Broadway musicals. Yet, far from being a big, razzmatazz affair, it is essentially a simple and tender story, which makes it an ideal fit for Brisbane Powerhouse’s intimate Visy Theatre. Actually, perfection is also a far-from-hyperbolic descriptor of the show by Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.

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Charity Hope Valentine (Naomi Price) is a girl who dreams of being loved, despite the continuous misfortune of relationships handed to her by ‘the fickle finger of fate’. One day after work as a dance hall hostess at New York’s Fandango club, she, by chance, meets the film star idol Vittoria Vidal (Andy Cook) and is bewitched by his charm and riches, until his lover Ursula (Lizzie Moore) returns into his world. With hope that her life is changing for the better, Charity seeks out some cultural enlightenment, however, gets stuck in a broken elevator with shy, claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist (Stephen Hirst). Romance is sparked, despite her worry that he will not approve of her career choices and she lives… hopefully … ever after.

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Often I find myself judging a show by how long in it is before I find myself glancing at the time. With “Sweet Charity”, however, I found myself so caught up in its all-round entertainment that the only distraction of which I was aware was the face-ache caused by the smile and laughter that it induced. Unlike many perhaps, I knew little of the musical beyond recognition of its big-ticket number ‘Big Spender’. Rather than being performed by Charity herself, however, this is a sensual ensemble number by her fellow hostess dancers in proposition of the audience. Instead, her turn with a familiar tune comes courtesy of the energetic ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, in which she reflects on her marvellous luck as she spends time with Vittorio. The scene that finds her hidden away in a closet of his luxury apartment while he reconciles with his glamorous girlfriend is a hilarious showcase of Price’s impeccable comic timing, exact exaggerated facial expressions and spot-on awkward movement.

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The role of Charity Hope Valentine appears as if was written for Price and in conjunction with its comedy, she easily conveys the character’s enduring innocence and irrepressible optimism with a warmth that makes her immediately endearing to the audience. She also plays the poignancy of its final, vulnerable scenes with emotional sincerity. Price is vocally versatile too and always on-point, whether in the introspective reflection of ‘Where Am I Going?’ or the lively elation of ‘I’m a Brass Band’. And by the standing ovations offered, it appears that I am not alone in thinking so.

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Opening Night was a sold out show and I imagine the season will shortly follow suit. Things are busy on stage also, thanks to the production’s large cast, however, the stage never feels overcrowded, even in the ensemble numbers, in which movement generally appears effortless. Clever choreography (Dan Venz) provides an added element to the entertainment with nod to its era and also the precise and provocative Fosse style of snaps, swivels, thrusts and glamourous gestures, but also a modern touch. The brilliant ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ dance routine is a Fosse and Fellini (the musical is based on the Italian director’s film “Nights of Cabiria”) infused imagining that is worth the price of admission alone. It also highlights the vibrant musical arrangements (Musical Director Shanon D Whitelock) that characterise the production’s slick realisation of the musical’s jazzy score and swing from song to song. And it is difficult not to be enticed when the ensemble moves into the audience such as in Act Two’s knockout gospel-like number, ‘Rhythm of Life’, in which Charity and Oscar spend a date at a church run by a group of hippies. Although the number doesn’t have any real connection to the central story, its comprehensive scale and slick execution mean that this hardly matters.

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The success of Understudy Productions’ “Sweet Charity” is that it simultaneously works on every level and in every way, however, it could not succeed without a strong personality in the lead role which demands someone who can act, sing and dance in equal measure. And in this regard, the company could hardly have made a better choice than Naomi Price. While she sparkles, however, it is not at expense of the strong supporting cast. The main players, especially, all convey a strong stage presence. Andy Cook is deliciously over-the-top as lothario movie star Vittorio, especially when his mannerisms are even more heightened in interaction with demanding girlfriend Ursula (an appropriately melodramatic Lizzie Moore, who also impresses as Charity’s frank and streetwise colleague and friend Nickie). In a contrast to his recent roles, Stephen Hirst plays Oscar with warmth and sweetness that makes you genuinely want things to work out for them, right from their beautifully played first meeting. And Elliot Baker is magnetic as the mysterious Daddy Brubeck, cool and funky guru leader of the Rhythm for Life Church.

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Like the character of Charity herself (I’m not sure if I want to be her or be friends with her), this production is utterly charming. By focusing on Charity’s optimistic and hopeful nature, co-directors Kris Stewart and Maureen Bowra have crafted an appealing story of a confident, quirky and determined young woman. Like her, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously which is the essence of its joy, with both hilarious situations and little unexpected comic touches that only make its experience more endearing. Indeed, the effervescent production bursts onto the stage with a vitality and contemporary energy and perspective that means that the now dated pre-feminist text can still entertain as escapism.

So Frenchy, so fabulous

So Frenchy So Chic – Clara Luciani

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 20

As recent January weekends have reminded me, there is an egalitarian appeal to a summer Sunday session of either ales or cocktails. Regardless of one’s beverage of choice, however, there is nothing like live music to top it off and when the tunes come courtesy of luminous Paris-based musician Clara Luciani, it can only make for the most satisfying of sophisticated Sunday afternoon-into-evening outings. Judging by the appreciative crowd gathered for the first Brisbane Powerhouse show for the year, the return of “So Frenchy So Chic”, it seems many are in agreement.

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With her vintage styling and heavy-fringed brunette looks, Luciani certainly looks the part, in that effortlessly-fashionable French way. Even though most of her songs are laments about love, the charismatic Marseilles-born artist’s live show seems more groovy than glum. Indeed, those expecting a sedate experience of the laid-back smoky-jazz sort may be disappointed, through likely also happily surprised.

From the moment the show bursts to life with ‘On ne meurt pas d’amour’ there is an undeniable chic coolness that comes courtesy not only of the former member of the eccentric psych-punk band La Femme, but also the brilliant band of musicians, who names I wish I could locate to rave about in more unambiguous praise. The follow-up, more-moody and sensual ‘Eddy’ is equally musically impressive, leaving new-to-her-talent audience members like myself, excited for what is to come.

The catchy ‘Comme toi’ about love’s complications is another snappy showcase of the on-point four-piece band (which also sometimes features Luciani on guitar). The intoxication continues as things slow hauntingly with an almost-ethereal, but also earthily-deep, ‘Drôle d’époque’, which she tells us is about being a woman in these strange times. Indeed, it is a testament to this musical artist’s skill as a songstress, that she is able to take us so easily from the sad love song lament of her early-career ‘Monstre d’amour’ (Monster of Love) to the light-hearted naughtiness of the newer ‘Nue’ (Naked) – which bounces along like a good The Go-Betweens melody.

The show is full of pleasant surprises in which to delight, like the discovery of a song about the quiet beauty of flowers, ‘Les fleurs’, complete with electronic sounds that only add to its captivation. And then there is our trip along together, not to Paris, London, Berlin, Hong Kong or Tokyo, but ‘the bay’. For over seven magnificent minutes, the audience is on their feet, united in clap and dance along disco-shaded celebration of the Metronomy cover ‘La baie’. Indeed, it is a real highlight, that would likely make a better encore than Luciani’s intimate solo ‘Jean bleu’ cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Blue Jeans’.

At times richly textured, and at other spirited, despite its songs mostly being tales of broken-heartedness, “So Frenchy So Chic – Clara Luciani” is an enigmatic show, almost too difficult to describe beyond just exclamation of its marvel. While its style is undeniably and delightfully French, its experience serves as proof that you don’t need to understand lyrics to feel the joy of pure pleasure of musical moments, without burden of distracting thoughts.

Luciani says at one stage in her alluring accent, she doesn’t know English too well. This creates no issues at all, especially as the music is just so good. Add to this, its appealing authenticity and catchy charm and you have a must-see musical show. Unfortunately, this was the last stop of the alluring modern performer’s Australian tour. Like many, I certainly hope she will return sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there is always her debut album ‘SainteVictoire for recollection of a fabulous Sunday session of music.