Together in talent

Home for Christmas (JD Production Company)

The Old Museum

December 16

There are many highlights to JD Production Company’s “Home for Christmas”. Most of them are musical, but the standout for me comes when its headliner Josh Daveta, talks about the joys of being able to gather together and welcomes those who might have come along to the concert alone. In this smallest of show moments, the sentiment of the one-night-only celebration of the festive season is truly summarised. There’s an essential generosity of spirit to the whole venture with Daveta appearing on stage at the Old Museum not only with The Sequins singers, but guest performer Asabi Goodman and the Brisbane City Gospel Choir, in celebration of the diversity of representation through the common language of music.

A jazzy ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ introduction eases the audience to the concert’s start before the gospel choir (conducted by their musical director Tosin Adewumi) gives as an appropriately angelic ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, featuring Montana Lara, from in front of a packed stage of talented performers. Like their later ‘Silver Bells’ featuring Kelly Keim, it features some glorious vocal layering, and also, in this early instance, s impressive keyboard accompaniment to set the serene scene (keyboard 1 Musical Director Paula Girvan). And while this is a classic rather than Mariah version, the Songbird Supreme does make a later appearance. Anyone who knows Daveta would expect no less. ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is then a joyous percussion-filled continuation of the show’s spirit and my favourite of the night given its gospel vibes and resulting infectiously spirited clap-along. It is also the first showcase of Daveta’s razzle dazzle festive costumes, designed by Joel Dunkley.

The concert features a mix of musical styles as well as performers. Straight from the “Hairspray” stage, when she is playing Motormouth Maybelle as part of the musical’s Australian tour, Goodman absolutely owns The Manhattan Transfer’s ‘Operator’, giving us a gutsy gospelesque take with her Aretha-like belt. Indeed, her voice is so stellar as to elicit an almost visceral response from in-the-moment, absorbed audience members who can’t get enough of her talent.

Cassie George shares a strong jazzy cover of ‘Last Christmas’, meaning that those still going with whamageddon remain safe and Aya Valentine gives us a beautiful ‘The Christmas Song” courtesy of a delicate arrangement with feature of Harvey Blues on guitar. Light and shade is provided by numbers like Daveta’s heartfelt and wholly beautiful ‘Miss You Most (at Christmas Time)’ and Tallis Tutunoa shares a lovely sway-along ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ still-relevant wish for a year without any fear.

Across all numbers, the incredible 11 piece band is given ample moments to shine, both collectively and as individual musicians, especially in an Ella Macrokanis led, eventual all-in ‘Joy to the World’ and then a full-of surprises (#inagoodway) ‘Joyful Joyful’ crescendo towards the concert’s all-too-soon conclusion.

There is much to enjoy and also celebrate about “Home for Christmas”, which is now in its fourth year. The first show of Daveta’s freshly launched company JD Production Company is one of sequins, candy and Jingle Bell Christmas cheer in abundance, but also some of the best talent we have in this city, so be sure to mark any of its future outings in your end of year calendars.

Pop classics challenged

My Funny Valentine (Josh Daveta and The Sequins)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

October 29

The day that “My Funny Valentine” was due to open as part of Metro Arts’ Season of Surprises, southern Queensland went into a three-day lockdown. As devastating as its reschedule was, the show’s reappearance as part of Queensland Cabaret Festival’s Cabaret Long Weekend represents the perfect opportunity to shake off the short (for some) week that was.

Taylor Swift’s dance-pop song ‘Shake It Off’ appears as part of the setlist, however, not as the uptempo tune we might expect, such is the show’s challenge to present pop songs as jazz standards (think of it as old radio meeting Spotify). After a flash, bam, alakazam opener welcoming us into the cosy living room staging of the New Benner Theatre, Josh Daveta outlines the show’s premise and what follows is indeed a vintage experience through the lens of the pop music world of modern day Mariah Carey and Katie Perry et al magnum opuses. And thanks to Daveta’s jazz stylings and the smooth musicianship of the Kendall Layt, Jordan Garrot and Gracie Mack, we are delighted with the rhythmic surprises that ensure.

Wonderfully, band members are all given moments to shine such as pianist Gracie Mack’s magnificent introduction to ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, which segues into a buoyant Beyoncé number. And while Daveta delivers down to the “Single Ladies” hands-up oh, oh, oh choreography, the jazzy slow-down of its usually rushed lines, layers the lyrics with new meaning.

Things are paired back also in a slow and melodic ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ and Daveta’s impressive vocal range is particularly displayed in a transformed, but still rousing ‘Bad Romance’. Indeed, as the lights dim down, the number builds beautifully from tentative outset to a confident crescendo declaration that leaves no question as to the talent on display.

It may take until its encore to hear the show’s title song, however, along the way to this, there are many highlights, including a gospel-like play with tempo in Billy Eilish’s taunting electropop hit ‘bad guy’. And like so many sentimental torch song greats, heartbreak features within its themes, however, with a twist, as a swinging Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next’ rolls out into a joyous audience call and response segment.

Daveta is a charming, genuine and wittily-funny performer, which makes experience of “My Funny Valentine” an absolute blast. Hopefully, we will see the show in some form again soon. In the meantime, Josh Daveta and the Sequins are back for “Christmas is here, Again?” at the Old Museum for one night only in December.

Mimi manifested

Like Mariah (Josh Daveta)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

May 17 – 19

Did you know that Mariah Carey fans are referred to as Lambs, collectively known as her Lambility? Attendees at Josh Daveta’s “Like Mariah” probably do, given that, at times, the show seems more like a support group for the songstress’ superfans. As such, there is a wonderful feel to the night as Daveta often relocates from the stage to move amongst the partly-cabaret-seated daahlings of the audience in celebration of everyone’s favourite diva Mariah Carey.

The show, which was first seen last year at the New Globe Theatre is playing in 2018 as part of the Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture. And it seems there may be no better place to pay homage to the ultimate angelic-voiced, gay-icon diva. In many ways, the more intimate setting of the Turbine Studio seems like a better fit too, especially in suit of inspirational and emotional ballads like ‘Thank God I Found You’.

Clearly Daveta is a Mimi fan, measuring his life by what Mariah song was a hit at the time, he tells us. Appropriately then perhaps, “Like Mariah” takes its audiences on a journey through many of Carey’s eras, from the expected classics like ‘Fantasy’ to the pop hit ‘Always Be My Baby and dancier numbers like ‘Make It Happen’. In all instances, Daveta’s stunning vocals glide between the elusive chanteuse’s classics in evocation of the full dreamy Mariah sound. He slays the vocals in ‘My All’, conveying both tenderness and power in tell of the loneliness of wanting just one more night with an estranged lover, and the polished melody of her iconic debut single ‘Vision of Love’ again make it a show highlight.

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Daveta is a generous performer, always reminding us of his backup singers’ (Frances Walters, Erika Naddei and Cassie George) own outstanding vocal skills and we spend a lot of the show’s time in repeated acknowledgment of their admittedly excellent vocals. Dare I say, like in Carey’s 2016/2017 New Year’s Eve lip-sync fail in Times Square, we see George deliver a fantastic, upbeat and lighthearted ‘Emotions’ for the syncing Daveta, while Erica Naddei helps us towards a lovely show ending with ‘I’ll Be There’ in nod to the incredible duets of Carey’s career. Even Peta Wilson on keys is given a chance to show her stuff through, for example, interlude in a bouncy ‘Touch My Body.

Even for those who aren’t fan enough to know Carey’s most recent studio album, “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse”, the show still has something to offer. The hits everyone knows are all there and the atmosphere is infectiously fun. The show offers plenty of opportunity to sing and clap along to mid-tempo numbers like ‘Always Be My Baby’ and to marvel about Carey’s number one hits, five-octave vocal range and immense vocal power. There is also a lot of humour as well, through inclusion of a Mariah-style dance break, with requisite attitude of course, and as Daveta responds to audience involvement with the instant wit of an epic diva. But most of all “Like Mariah” is an astonishing display of some of the lushest vocals around. Indeed, in Daveta’s hands the spirit of the Songbird Supreme lives on long and strong.

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

Daveta Divadom

Like Mariah (Josh Daveta)

New Globe Theatre

March 24

Despite the infamous New Year’s Eve performance that never quite was or the drama of her “Mariah’s World” reality tv adventure, few can dispute Mariah Carey’s massive and magical voice. And from the moment of Josh Daveta’s ‘Sweet Fantasy’ entrance into “Like Mariah”, there is indeed a spirit that envelopes the room as audience and performers join together in celebration of everyone’s favourite diva, Mimi (just don’t dare mention Whitney Houston).

This is a show full of fun from the bouncy pop melody of ‘Touch My Body’ with swinging piano accompaniment from Musical Director Parmis Rose and audience ‘volunteer’ muse, to a discoesque ‘Emotions’ with channel of backing vocalist Cassie George’s incredibly high upper range vocals, amongst its 16 song set list. And when phone torches are held aloft in sway to the encore of ‘Hero’ there is perhaps no more fitting testament to the complete satisfaction of its audience members than the standing ovation that soon follows.

Those who have seen Daveta before know what a versatile performer he is. In “Like Mariah” he is as charismatic as ever in between song banter and audience interaction. And his vocals are sensational as he goes from a high octave belt to an almost whisper within the smallest of space; his soaring ‘Vision of Love’, Carey’s lauded debut single from her eponymous debut album, is worth the price of admission alone, full of cresendoes and a spectacular belting bridge.

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Songs and sentiment journey through all range of emotions, meaning that the smorgasbord setlist includes something for everyone. From a riff-filled, audience clap and sing-along ‘Always Be My Baby’ to a moving, slow-tempo ballad ‘My All’, Daventa’s controlled  bright and clear  vocals serve as the show’s biggest star, sympathetic as they are to each individual song’s key signature, tempo and style… which is entirely appropriate for a show that tributes an artist who holds record as having the most Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s by a solo artist (18), the most weeks at No. 1 of any act (79) and the chart’s longest-running No. 1 of all-time, ‘One Sweet Day,’ with Boyz II Men (16 weeks).

With the support of Rose and backing vocalists Lachlan Geraghty, Aya Valentine and Cassie George, Daveta has created something very special that will hopefully be shared again with Brisbane audiences sooner rather than later.

Hedwigging out

Hedwig 15 (Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Queer Film Festival and Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

January 28

Sometimes it takes seeing a movie on big screen to truly appreciate its greatness. And “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a great movie, iconic in its incredible tell of an ‘internationally ignored’ rocker from communist East Berlin who sings about his manhood being cut off in a messy operation, hence the title of both the film and the  band of Eastern-bloc musicians with whom Hansel, now Hedwig, tours the pit stops of America. Its screening and concert performance, “Hedwig 15” (in gala celebration of its 15th anniversary) as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival celebration of queer arts and culture is reminder not only of its hilarity, but its soundtrack of explosive glam/punk sensibility.

Regardless of the still-light-outside starting time, sisters, brothers, misfits and all the others unite in celebration of the immortal white trash style icon with some even dressing in homage to the genderqueer singer. Certainly this is a unique event, complete with packets of gummy bears (in nod to American sugar-daddy soldier Luther’s enticement) placed about the stalls, a bar within the theatre and encouragement for audience members to move about during the show.

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And then, before the film’s credits have even finished rolling, the concert section of the show belts into being with Bertie Page’s take on ‘Tear Me Down’, which opens the soundtrack and sets the scene for Hedwig’s journey, starting as a slip of a girlyboy behind the Berlin Wall. Sando Colarelli too, brings a brazen rock energy to the liberating anthem ‘Angry Inch’, recreating the song’s vocals and later capturing the film’s essence of rock excess in a soon-to-be-torn-off chrysalis-like costume of plastic sheeting.

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The soundtrack alternates rock ballads and reminiscences as Hedwig searches for completion and a fully realised sense of self on road to becoming an ‘internationally ignored song stylist’ and things slow down to the more melodic during ‘Wig in a Box’, arguably the film’s musical pinnacle, during which Josh Daveta sings of Hedwig’s comfort in the transforming power of wigs, make-up and rock music with masterful vocals. Lucinda Shaw, too, brings impressive vocal energy and emotional resonance to the fiercely determined ‘The Origin of Love’ and its deeply tender explanation of the desperate desire to become whole and connected with other humans. And her share of the soundtrack’s anthemic reconciliatory final song, ‘Midnight Radio’, is simply sublime in its toast to world’s enigmatic souls and the power of being our authentic selves.

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The show’s killer soundtrack is skilfully supported by an all-star band led by James Lees with Shiv Zimmermann, John Meyer, Kevin Haigh and Parmis Rose, which allows each performer to bring their own artistry and embodiment of Hedwig’s characteristics to their selections. James Halloran, for example, is emotionally vulnerable in ‘The Long Grift’, a song that didn’t make the movie cut in its entirety but is a worthy inclusion for its highlight of how, during Hedwig’s vendetta against former partner Tommy, she becomes blinded to the feelings of the loved ones around her.

In the hands of Electric Moon, it is easy to see why this soundtrack has gained such a cult-status since its humble beginnings as a stage musical before movie. With only a ten song setlist, the ‘In Concert’ section of the show is over way too soon, much like Electric Moon’s last, “Ziggy Stardust”, outing. Still, its essential, sincere themes linger past its punk sensibilities with message about the hope of turning misfortune into personal power and celebration of the unique.

“Hedwig 15” like its namesake inspiration is rich in imagination and daring. The songs are explosive in their exploration of the ideas of ideology, love and destiny and they are delivered with the raw power and emotion required to have audience members on their feet Hedwigging-out in dance and sway with abandon at just 8pm, in mutual celebration of fact that we all either are or can be Hedwig.