No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Cabaret

Review: Milk, White & Dark

Young cabaret performer Lucy Gransbury is originally from Adelaide,  now living with the bright-lights and big city of Melbourne after graduating from the University of Ballarat’s Musical Theatre program in 2010. In a mainly friends and family showing in Adelaide last week, Gransbury presented three short cabaret acts on different themes.

My Best-Laid Plan was written for university, and we are introduced to a version of Gransbury (who I’ll refer to as Lucy for clarity) who has planned her cabaret show down to the minute. Each step (some witty banter, an emotional ballad) is detailed: it’s Lucy’s perfect recipe for cabaret.

In Dragostea Mea, written for Short+Sweet Cabaret, Gransbury presents to us the story of Livia Bistriceanu: a Romanian woman who was convinced she was married to Leonardo DiCaprio and had his baby. In Gransbury’s version, Bistriceanu is sitting in DiCaprio’s driveway, yelling for him to come out.

Sweet Release of Death is the most structurally achieved of the pieces. Written for a group cabaret show, it has Gransbury’s droll Dorothy Parker walking through a versified version of Parker’s review of Winnie The Pooh and skipping lightly over biographical details in between the songs.

The title of show, Milk, White & Dark, relates to the chocolate which Gransbury (or at least, Lucy) turns to as a source of comfort, and it becomes a recurring theme in the three acts. You get the impression that Gransbury is well known for her love of chocolate, but that doesn’t make its interoperation through all three works any less awkward.

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Fringe Review: Chants des Catacombes

You often find in shows in the fringe design becomes the least rigorous element. Tight deadlines, tight bump-in/out schedules, tight budgets: it makes sense that the focus on design might be lost.  The focus is on the central element: the text, the choreography, the music. Design is often simple, perhaps a few key items picked immaculately.

Chants des Catacombes bucks this trend completely. In the Old Adelaide Gaol (at the end of a poorly lit, poorly sign-posted road) for the Adelaide Fringe, the design is stunning.

We’re invited to walk into the space in small groups, and under the starry night air we walk between high, sheer walls of stone, the path marked with flickering candle light.  We are released into a large, grassed courtyard, where we can just make out the silhouettes of our fellow travelers. As someone lightly plays away at the discordant piano, we sit talking with each other around candles in jars.

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Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

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Breifs: A Cabaret Festival Wrap-Up

It seems time got away from me during the Adelaide Cabaret Festival!  I meant to be a lot more active in my writing, but life got in the way, and then this amazing opportunity came up and took out a slab of time.  So!  For the things that escaped my blog in the three weeks, we have today’s quick catch up.

After his fantastic opening night, Nadler continued his crazy antics in the piano bar.  I have had my fill of Somewhere Over The Rainbow for quite some time, but The Magnets certainly did a fantastic rendition.  Caught up with Adhocracy I didn’t see a lot on the opening weekend, but I did get to Ansuya Nathan’s Long Live The King which was a fine show marred by some terrible sound issues.

Nadler’s show proper of the festival was Mark Nadler’s Crazy 1961.  The most interesting part of the show was learning how all these historical events were linked at the same time.  I was surprised that I knew more of the history of the year than the music, and I wasn’t surprised that three of the four songs I recognised were from a musical (Carousel), a movie (Breakfast At Tiffany’s), and a movie musical (101 Dalmatians).  It was great to see Nadler in a different element, and a little more subdued than the Hootenanny (and wearing a suit and drinking water!), but then to see that same joy and energy come out when he truly got to pound away at the piano, and some craziness come out when he performed the top 50 songs of the year in five minutes.

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Review: Josie In The Bathhouse

A side tilt and a small breathy single laugh, that’s how Gillian Cosgriff demonstrated her “fake waitress-laugh” in her Cabaret Festival show Waitressing and Other Things I Do Well (review here).  Two very sharp and loud “ha”s, that’s how Josie Lane shared her fake laugh during Josie In The Bathhouse.  Except, Lane wasn’t demonstrating her laugh to us.  It just came out.  A lot.

Writer and Director Dean Bryant has made a name for himself in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and the wider Australian cabaret scene through his character shows, including: ‘Tegrity: Britney Spears Live in Cabaret starring Christie Whelan, Newley Discovered on Anthony Newley staring Hugh Sheridan, Liza on an E on Liza Minnelli staring Trevor Ashley, and back again at the 2011 festival with In Vogue: Songs by Madonna staring Michael Griffiths.  Bryant also created the cabaret show I’m Every Woman, staring Ashley covering artists from Shirley Bassey to Lady GaGa, and with writing partner Matthew Frank he is a well respected musical theatre writer.

Josie In The Bathhouse is a departure for Bryant away from these heavily character based works, as Lane is ostensibly presenting the show as herself.  Without the framing device of a character, personality, and repertoire, however, this production falls down, with a heightened and inaccessible Lane presented to the audience.

High gloss and high sheen (and not just on the oiled chests of the towel boys) is the call for the evening and this, paired with the rowed seating on the flat in the Space Theatre, and a show stemmed with no less than two costume changes means we don’t have any chance to get to know the real Lane.  And the Lane we are introduced to is highly unpleasant.  Not because of her seemingly sexual promiscuity (or, in retrospect, perhaps that should be lack there of – towel boy Michel (Griffiths) was having much more luck with an annoying bit about Grindr), or her watching of porn on the hotel TV, or her love for McDonald’s after a night on the town, but, rather bizarrely, because all of these things are performed – and Lane never turns off from the character she is playing – with an air of judgement.

Lane undeniably has a power-house belt which is shown off well in the song selection and with the five piece band, yet some songs were questionable.  A re-written Business Time by New Zealand comedy duo The Flight Of The Concords isn’t nearly as funny when being sung by an attractive girl in a vintage one-piece bathing suit.  An emotional ballad seems to come apropos of nothing, unless Lane truly intended those feelings about her brother’s girlfriend’s bagged umbilical cord?

Ultimately, and perhaps most disappointingly, the show doesn’t allow us to meet the Lane we’ve seen make guest appearances on the Piano Bar stage at the last two festivals.  The bawdy, sexy sensibility mixed with Lane’s voice (and the towel clad men) is seemingly the right ingredients for a fun cabaret show.  This incarnation just misses that mark.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival presents Josie In The Bathhouse, staring Josie Lane, written and directed by Dean Bryant.  Season Closed.

For all my 2011 Cabaret Festival Reviews, go here.

Review: Introducing Molly Pope

Nervous yet confident hands grasping her small and suitably retro suitcase, Molly Pope surveys the world spread out before her. New York City. The Big Apple. The Big Time. Broadway.

This is the city which will take little Molly Pope, conveniently born a red-headed orphan when both her parents died during childbirth, from her small town to stardom. It won’t be easy, but Molly has watched enough movies in the convent, where the nuns played movies to raise money in the face of dwindling Sunday attendance numbers, that she knows how to follow a path to The Top.

Molly Pope

With her acting course she is surely qualified to be your waitress.  Oh… you… sorry?  No, but if you just look at her resume.  Are you sure, when you hear her name on the radio you can say “she worked here!”  But… Okay.  Sure.  No, no, that’s fine.

It will be rocky, sure, but if anyone can make it, it’s Polly Mope. That’s the name they’ll be yelling, Polly Mope!

Well, yes, it is is too bad they won’t be yelling Molly Pope.

It is Molly Pope!

And you’re right, it’s not the nicest bar, but it’s a job.  And she’s no waitress here, sir, so if you could just find one of the other girls.

Oh, you’re a … producer? You’re not a producer! You are?! A Broadway producer?!  Well, if you would just stick around for one song, Molly will be right back and she would love to chat. Just hold on for one quick song, she’ll be here in a flash.

Just you wait, it may not look like much now, but just you wait, it’s a long climb to that top and Molly is going to hit every rung – twice! Sure, once will be on the way down, but we can forget that one, can’t we?

But he’s not in. Again. No, no, Molly understands, he’s a very busy man. If he would just send her a text, just so she can know what’s going on.  Just a quick text, that’s all she asks.

A letter.  That’s nice.  That is nice.  That’s… oh.

But never-mind.  Molly Pope will be okay.  There’s more to the world than New York City.  Touring, escaping the city, that’s where she’ll make it.  And boy does she make it.

What?  No.  No!  She was thinking of you the whole time; it’s not cheating then.  He looked like you.  She swears he looked just like you.  Molly Pope surely doesn’t know what you’re insinuating.

And then… is that it?  Is that where it ends?  Molly Pope will have none of that. She’s seen the movies: a little drugs, a little strip, then the press loves nothing more than a good come back story. You just have to find the right angle. Or angles, even.  The right inspiration.  That Hitchock, he had some good ideas going for him, didn’t he…?

In Introducing Molly Pope we are taken along Molly’s insatiable journey chasing stardom in New York City.  In a delightful melding of 80-years of pop music (thank you, press-kit) with the jazz flavour of Pope’s rich, brassy tones favoured by the American musical of the middle of the last century, Pope takes us along the rocking journey of the heightened reality of Molly’s rise and fall.

Appearing without the band in the above video, simply (ha!) with the sensational piano stylings of the sock-footed sure-footed Kenny Melman, the wall to wall musical accompaniment can be, at times, exhausting, as Pope swiftly condenses Molly’s ten-year journey into a one-hour, one-woman piece of musical theatre.

In a world where old meets new, where the hand-cranked phone exists alongside text messaging, where a sixty’s frock exists alongside a colour headshot, Introducing Molly Pope exists in a time which is really neither here nor there, but both.

Pope’s sparsely furnished stage becomes increasingly cluttered with the contents of Molly’s suitcase and the disarray of Molly’s career, as the simple props and costume change punctuate the complex tale.  It is, like I said, at times exhausting, as Pope is near unrelenting in her story and her performance, yet forcing your brain to power through these moments means the payoff of powerful vocals, beautiful stage-presence, and captivating tale is more than worth it.

From rags to riches, to slightly more classy rags, and hopefully back up to riches, it was lovely to be introduced to you, Molly Pope.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival Presents Introducing Molly Pope by Molly Pope and Robby Sandler.  Directed by Jesse Geiger, Musical Direction and piano by Kenny Mellman.  Starting Molly Pope.  Adelaide season closed.  For all my NYC readers, the show plays Ars Nova July 18-20.

For all my Cabaret Festival Reviews, go here.

In Brief: Adelaide Cabaret Festival Opening 2011

As per usual (well, as much as twice can be considered usual), the high sheen, glitz, glamour, and product placement of the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Variety Gala was overshadowed by the under-rehearsed, over-enthusiastic insanity of Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny. 

While the Festival Centre stage gave way to the (considerably thinned out) Adelaide Art Orchestra and some of the largest voices of the festival, it’s disappointing that as a format it really doesn’t leave much room for what is my favourite part of cabaret, the connection the performer forms with their audience, and the stories they intersperse between the songs.  Here, singers are invited onstage to sing their song: one short performance and little else.   Consequently, the performer which had the greatest opportunity to shine was emerging cabaret artist Gillian Cosgriff, with a piece by Simon Taylor entitled The Song Song, which gave Cosgriff a true opportunity to talk to her audience.

But any fears of not getting to know your performers are not necessary in the Piano Bar.  As Nadler frantically plays the piano, he brings up any performer he can find.  On opening night, we were treated to bubbleologist Dr Froth, David Daniel Boys, Nadler’s “future employer” Kate Ceberano, Carrie Rawlings, Mitchell Butel, and a line up of dancers featuring a very shocked yours truly.

Nadler’s energy is insatiable, his performers brilliant, and the love which pounds through the Piano Bar, packed to the rafters with not a spare chair in sight for the many standing or sitting on the floor, is a wonder to behold.  While the Gala is fun for its introduction to the festival, it doesn’t stand an iota of a chance standing next to the Hootenanny.

Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny continues tonight and Sunday, 9:45pm in the Piano Bar, free.  The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs to June 25.  Click here for more information.

For all my cabaret festival reviews, go here.

Review: Something Old, Something New

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

Ali McGregor, as always, is resplendent in her choice of shoes and songs. Returning to the Adelaide Fringe, this year she has left the late night crowd and has come to the Spiegeltent (or “a tent in the middle of a field in Adelaide”, as she puts it) for two weekend afternoon shows. Under the light of the afternoon sun, Something Old, Something New is a lot more tame and straight-laced than theMcGregor which has visited us in past years.

But perhaps that is for the best, as McGregor tells us Adelaide is the only city where she has gotten complaints, going so far as to send her letters complaining about the comedians and burlesque; one in particular exclaiming, “that comedian Adam Hills is clearly taking cocaine!” 

It is these stories that McGregor peppers and paints her show with which lifts it; after an hour in her presence you not only have been given some wonderful songs, some with intriguing twists, but you feel like you have gotten to know a bit more of herself.

This weekend, we are being introduced to a slightly discombobulated, but all the more endearing, McGregor, as she has come to Adelaide with her nine-month-old daughter suffering from a cold. McGregor says she knows it will all be over and fine within a week, but “try telling her [daughter] that”, who is thus acting like it is the end of the world.

With the support of a wonderfully jazzy three-piece Adelaide band under the musical direction of talented pianistMatthew Carey, McGregor gets the chance to sing some songs she has done before in Adelaide, some new ones, and she leads on to expand the expression to include something blue.

We are treated to songs given the “McGregor Pizzazz” (“No, no, that’s not a real thing,” she adds, perhaps a little embarrassed for uttering it in the first place), from Madonna’s San Pedro to Britney Spears’ Oops, I Did It Again, to popular standards Bye Bye Blues and The Man I Love.

McGregor’s richly colourful soprano silkily wraps over the jazzy renditions of these songs, filling the day lit Spiegeltent with the light of her voice, and the humour and vocal tricks that comes with it. A delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Interview: Meow Meow

Last week I did my final interview for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and it was a hard one to find the time for – her working in London and my working full time in Adelaide doesn’t leave a lot of compatible time.   But in the end, Meow Meow was lovely enough to find the time to answer my emailed questions.  It was hard to write, because the answers she gave me were so great, and so I didn’t want to chop them up into an article.  I didn’t have to place them within an article, I could’ve done straight questions and answers, but part of the reason I do this is to become a better writer.  I did, however, leave the answer to my first question (How would you define cabaret?) untouched; there is no way I could’ve broken that brilliant answer down.

This interview originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Meow Meow is returning to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010 with Feline Intimate at the Dunstan Playhouse on the 19th and 20th of June, and she answered my questions via email from London. With the difficulties in completing this interview due to international time differences and hectic schedules (first it was going to be by email, then by phone, then back to email again), it is no surprise then in Adelaide, Meow Meow looks forward to “having a lie down.” She tells me “A stage dive and crowd surf is the best rest I can have these hectic days. Such a great way to get to know the audience Really Intimately! Multi-tasking is a necessity in this line of art!”

Feline Intimate has played in Brisbane and Melbourne, with the Melbourne season of the show resulting in three nominations in the Green Room Awards, for Cabaret Production, Artiste, and Musical Director John Thorn. Of coming to Adelaide, Meow Meow says “Adelaide’s Festival is unique – and always so invigorating to be a part of…it’s like a beautiful bijou, a fantastic cabaret paradise where like minded souls converge once a year. It’s very special.”

In Adelaide, Meow Meow tells me there will be “Life! Joy! Heart Break, Hilarity, Agony and Ecstasy in musical doses. Sequins, sexiness (it’s just inevitable, I’m afraid, and in my contract), songs sung most of the way through.” Also in her contract are audience favourites, but with Thorn “playing some very mean ivories”, she will be premiering new songs for Adelaide audiences. In addition to the music, “there may be some audience loving and hugging, but no promises.” She is “very excited to see what will happen in the Dunstan Playhouse.”

Meow Meow is a true performer of the international stage: in the past year she has played in cities such as London, Paris, New York, and Taranaki, New Zealand. I ask if, as a performer, she finds differences between Australian, European and American audiences, and are her shows tailored towards these differences? “Yes of course,” she answers. “People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.”

For her performances next weekend, Meow Meow wants audiences to get “An earful. An eyeful is inevitable. In short, sensorial and cerebral overload”, and she would like to get “Buzzing brains, split sides, slapped thighs (their own), eternal adoration, and a good martini post-show, of course,” from the audience (but please note, “Only red wine or whiskey during the actual show, please.”)

The 10th Adelaide Cabaret Festival holds host to a whole range of shows, and the variety which can been seen on its stages every night makes the term “cabaret” very hard to define. Artistic Director David Campbell describes the program as one “that inspires, excites and leaves the audience wanting more.” I asked Meow Meow what her definition of the art form was, and I loved the answer so much, I think I may have to use it from now on. It may be a bit cumbersome to always explain, but I think using it would be worth it:
People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.

“Everyone from Kander and Ebb and the State of NY to the invisible fairies of Wikipidea have their own succinct spins on that – readers you can neatly access endless opinions on this topic in bars, theatres, circus tents, parliament, the courts and even on the world wide web with a savvy usage of key word questionings…I would hate to limit myself to one definitive version. I think one could safely trace it back to Ur, and the Greeks, though, and then Schubert and Schumann, for starters…

“Today (tomorrow I may feel differently), the cabaret I love incorporates the best bits of all the so-called genres of this multi-definitional thing..- wondrous music with political satire mixed with out and out showbiz, high and low art (in the same breath), the ancient and modern, astounding virtuosity , some kind of truth in delivery that makes us hear a song or an idea completely differently to the way we’ve always ( or never) heard it, that feels comforting, healing or revelatory. The intimacy that can be created through the excitement of this “realness”, this spontaneity, regardless of the size of the performance space. The countless wild stories that can be told in song after song – masses of human emotion and experience distilled in a song, universal stories that feel completely personal, special, cathartic. An excitement or danger as we wonder where the performance will take us. An expectation that anything could happen, and those exquisite moments of genuine uncensored reaction where we cannot even understand why we are suddenly weeping or laughing! Enlightenment! The tensions between words and music, and their fabulous collisions and collusions! I always want to be astounded. Is that too much?

“I love the flexibility of a cabaret format to take risks – to be endlessly reinvented, to respond to the personal and political circumstances of the audience, the performer, the larger world environment. It is a vehicle built for changes, in all senses and for me, at least, drags its history marvelously with it. There is something also about some kind of exposure that is possible within cabaret- within a song – be it of the vulnerability of a vocal fold or a human heart, or a viewpoint. In the cabaret that I love, there is always a sense of rawness, or perhaps just “realness”, even when covered in sequins and lush chordal structures. It should be a dangerous and passionate mix of art and craft, heart, head and spirit! It’s Life in macro-microcosm. How fabulous! I’ve made myself excited! Let’s put on a show!”

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