Love songs reclaimed

Coupling

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

May 19

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The number 13 may have unlucky connotations for some, but for Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, it offers only excellence as 13 of its musicians begin “Coupling” with string sounds of what is revealed to be ‘Believe’ from the messiah herself, Cher. The show/queer love mix tape which features at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture, is a musical collaboration of the most entertaining sort as it reclaims great love duets of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s for same sex couples.

Thanks to Trevor Jones’ impressive arrangements, the show offers exciting new takes on old favourites. With such an extensive repertoire from which to draw, the playlist covers a range of emotions and various stages of relationships, from Kylie and Jason’s much-loved number-one ‘Especially for You’ and Elton John and Kiki Dee’s Mowtownish ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ to Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond’s ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ lament of heartbroken lovers who have drifted apart and Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin’s ‘Separate Lives’. Ultimately, however, there is a huge rejoice in love at the organising centre of both its songbook and life’s experience alike.

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Not all songs are the perhaps expected sweet ditties or yearning ballads. In amongst the smooth grooves and sexy beats, is a rousing ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, theme song to the greatest of guilty secret favourite films “Dirty Dancing”.  And special guest vocalists Sean Andrews, David Ouch, Luke Hodgson, Greg Moore, Monique Dawes, Emily Gilhome, Jessica Mahony and Ellen Reed all do much to make each number distinctive from its source material, beyond just their reappropriation as same sex couple duets. David Ouch makes ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’ particularly provocative, and entertaining, and Greg Moore gives audiences an early highlight courtesy of a raunchy ‘Islands in the Stream’. There is comedy too, for example in an epic love duet sing off melody featuring, amongst others, a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ vs “Home and Away” theme battle.

As is always the case with Camerata, the music is both beautiful and flawless. Striking string sounds soar songs like ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and ‘Leather and Lace’. Indeed, one of the most marvellous things about Jones’ arrangements is the opportunity they provide for the Camerata musicians to display their skills, not just in complement to the vocalists, but in showcase instrumental sections. Vocal performances are strong from the start. Ellen Reed is a particular standout throughout, in songs from ‘Suddenly’ to ‘You’re the One that I Want’. And in unite, the eight vocalists work wonderfully together in reminder that love can withstand the struggles of a relationship and make it stronger ‘Up Where We Belong’.

“Coupling” is a celebration of so many things: songs, music, love and vocal talent. In its journey through showcase of all of these aspects, it may take audience members to some unexpected places, such as the “Family Ties” theme song, but this just makes for an all-the-more-fun ride. With clap and sing-along opportunities galore, there is certainly a mood of celebration, with smitten audiences clearly wanting for more at the end of its 70-minute duration. “Coupling” may be like a daggy mix tape, but it is compilation crafted with nothing but love, and it serves as a real highlight of this year’s Melt festival. By simultaneously celebrating music nostalgia and giving the associated sentimentality new scope, it speaks musically and lyrically to audience members of all persuasions and preferences, musical or otherwise, making everyone believe in life not only after, but before and during love.

Silver songstresses

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

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 10 – 12

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Wonderland

Wild at Heart (Ellen Reed)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 30

If you don’t know of Ellen Reed, you should. “The Voice” 2016 grand finalist has big, bold red hair and an ever bigger, bolder unapologetic voice. And in her cabaret show “Wild at Heart”, its magnificent power is on display right from the opening number, the original titular song. Original numbers pepper the performance, which creates a mostly engaging ebb and flow to the evening as she takes audiences on a  journey, for example, from the poignant delivery of ‘Stars’, full of genuine,  painfully-honest lyrics, to a much grungier share of Bruno Mars’ raunchy ‘Gorilla’.

Act One flies by (#inagoodway), especially as she revisits and redefines moments from her television journey, including the soulful, sentimental ballad ‘Stone Cold’ and an emotional performance of P!nk’s pop ballad ‘Perfect’ (which sealed her spot in the Grand Finale). Things rock on as she puts her personal twist on Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ (the huge song that landed her the final spot on Team Jessie J in the show’s blind audition phase), in a number that showcases the blistering band, particularly Justin Bliss on bass and Mik Easterman on drums.

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Things bang back also in Act Two with songs including her triumphant take of Jess Glynne’s ‘Hold My Hand’, featuring the stage awash in yellow in some of the best lighting even seen in the Powerhouse Theatre. From the intimacy of Rhiannon’s ‘Diamonds’ to the feistiness of Sheryl Crow’s ‘My Favorite Mistake’, Reed’s energy never wanes in showcase of her adaptability. And her skill for self-effacing storytelling in between select numbers only adds to her appeal as a performer.

When things slow down with her take of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, the audience knows that the show’s end is regrettably not far away. Yet there is still much to be made from the show’s final numbers. When she sings ‘Ain’t Nobody’ the crowd appropriately erupts in the euphoria of its rocking realisation, including a shared energy that sees even the ushers dancing with abandon and leaves everyone in want of more.

It is entirely appropriate that Reed should appear as part of The Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland festival, given the dynamic Queensland singer/songwriter’s powerhouse voice. “Wild at Heart” certainly showcases her vocal range and versatility, alternating as she does between belting out verses and delivering others with stunning softness. With just enough edginess to move her away from bland middle of the road territory, she makes so many songs memorable and familiar, meaning that ‘ain’t nobody’ can stop her.