Review: Milk, White & Dark

by Jane

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.

Of course, whether they were all independently written to feature the chocolate or that was a quirk of coincidence, I can’t say. But when they are placed in this situation together the choice becomes stark: is this the only punch line Gransbury could rely on? Playing to the friends and family audience (of which, perhaps, I should point out, I am neither) Gransbury seemed to be capturing parts of herself to present to her audience, but overall these made for a weaker show.

And it is a pity, because all three of the chocolate punch lines are independently funny in their acts: Lucy sating her nerves, Bistriceanu eating her “baby” Jesus in a fit of panic, Parker and her peanut-filled chocolate shock. The reactions of these characters to the chocolate in their predicaments are funny, and the chocolate is (at least comedically) justifiably present in each of the cabaret pieces. The trouble is Gransbury fails to rely on that well-played out – but well-played out for a reason – rule of threes: we need to be surprised on the third appearance, not receiving of the expected outcome.

On the musical side, when we get a chance to listen to the fullness of Gransbury’s voice, it is young but lovely. Unfortunately, here, it is too often masked by her characters; Gransbury not yet quite mature enough to meld the characterisation while holding onto the full power of her voice. She gets closest in the Lucy of the first act, and I suspect this would also be true if she was performing other characters like herself. Not knowing Gransbury, I can’t comment specifically on who that person is, but I did find it such a pity when her own voice would fall back into the American Musical Theatre standard. This is in no way to say I think that a “musical theatre” voice is a bad voice; by the contrary I spend many hours listening to Broadway cast recordings, but to say I think it’s a pity that Australian musical theatre is so dominated by American works and (fake) American accents that its rare to hear singers in an Australian voice

As a young performer, Gransbury’s voice is at its most beautiful when she allows herself the freedom or relaxation of her natural Australianisms: the sound becomes less pushed and more relaxed, and you can hear a roundness to the heights of her notes that the Americanisation and characterisations somewhat erode.

I would love to be able to look out at an industry and think there were more places for young Australian singers to take the roles of young Australian characters. And perhaps that means, too, I wish in cabaret we could see more Lucys; and less Bistriceanus.

Lucy Gransbury’s Milk, White & Dark, with accompaniment by Matthew Carey. At the Bunka Room at The Austral. Season closed.