Catherine Alcorn – Cathartic
Alcorn certainly has one very powerful voice. in this show she used it to full effect in presenting songs mainly from the 80’s and 90’s. With the Space in club mode, small tables crammed together and the bar in full swing, the atmosphere was complete.
Alcorn was backed by an unusual band for mostly rock songs, all acoustic, guitar, percussion (no drum kit) and piano. All credit to them, however, as they managed to make one hell of a racket and render the need for electric instruments redundant. All thanks here to the wonderful guitar and arrangements from musical director, Glenn Moorhouse.
After a few 80’s songs, including the intro “Maneater”, infused with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Alcorn settled into her prime territory, the 90’s. Whilst it is hard to agree with her that this is the era that will always be remembered, she delivered the songs with seriously powerful and emotional vocals, even managing Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”.
But she didn’t rest there with a show stopping highlight of the Waif’s “Flesh And Blood”, complete with dazzling work from Moorhouse and pianist Michael Dench. Somehow, she even managed to do a great version of a song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York”
Alcorn, the very pregnant Alcorn, interspersed every song, in true cabaret style, with some great banter, including a few digs at the audience, great fun.
Michael Feinstein – Sinatra and Friends
Her Majesty’s Theatre
There’s is one particular aspect of Festivals that makes shows that much better, the ability to bring a complete act. In this case, Feinstein’s complete 17 piece band and what a band!
Feinstein did not try to copy Sinatra, something that is not really possible, but he brought the legendary singer back to life with emotionally charged vocals and the personal stories between numbers, including his meeting the man himself.
As you would expect, the show was littered with songs made famous by The Voice, “Witchcraft”, Night And Day”, “That’s Life”, “Summerwind”, “Come Fly With Me” and so on. Magic.
But he also paid tribute to others of the era, most notably Sammy Davis Jr, complete with great story of meeting the man himself.
Throughout the show the band brought the songs to life and provided the perfect backdrop to Feinstein’s superb vocals. Like the man himself, Feinstein is the consummate performer.
More than this, the sound was excellent, making it possible to pick out every note and nuance of the excellent bassist, Tim Bowen.
This outstanding show come to a great climax with an almost over the top rendition of “New York, New York”, ending with Feinstein standing on top of the Steinway, arms outstretched, belting out the words, brilliant!!
Great show, lapped up by the enthusiastic audience.
Promise and Promiscuity
A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton
Artspace June 17 and 18
The esteemed writer, singer and dancer, Miss Penny Ashton, has produced a fable whererin both sense and sensibility prevail and pride and prejudice are vanquished. The Slowtree sisters, Elspeth and Cordelia are in need of a husband to avoid the unmentionable fate of spinsterhood, but as their mother, a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper opines, a large income is the best recipe for happiness. A man of sufficient means is required, and men do not appreciate a woman with pretensions to intellect.
Money may certainly provide carroway seeds for cakes and ribbons for bonnets aplenty. But will that suffice? Certainly not for Elspeth who is not silly and ignorant as are other young women. Under a male pseudonym she is a successful writer. Her sister, Cordelia, while having no such claim to accomplishments, looks for a man who is as passionately fond of music and dancing as is she. Her excessive good fortune was to find such a man sitting at a front table in the audience.
Elspeth had the excessive misfortune to be assailed by a proposal of marriage from her dyspeptic Cousin Horatio, assuring her, in the most animated language, of the violence of his affections; an outburst of emotion somewhat sullied by the effects of his poor digestion.
So the story unfolds as the Slowtree family suffer the vicissitudes and arrows of cruel fortune, all in the hands, feet and voice of the versatile Miss Penny Ashton, aided by her ukelele, and music arranged by Robbie Ellis.
The audience left the ArtSpace exhibiting every sign of satisfaction, and hastened to avail themselves of the opportunity to purchase a fridge magnet as a fitting remembrance of an thoroughly enjoyable evening. All that remained was to wish Miss Penny Ashton a felicitous and succesful sojourn to foreign climes as she transports the charming Slowtree ladies, their ardent suitors and their prejudiced neighbours to bring delight and merriment to fresh audiences.
Idea of North with Kaichairo Kitamura – Groove Sessions
An almost packed Playhouse welcomed the so-called “Groove Sessions”, presumably named because on the inclusion of Japanese vocal percussionist Kaichairo Kitamura. There is no doubt that his inclusion added a welcome depth and rhythm to the a cappella ensemble. It had little to do with the “groove” usually referred to in the nation’s clubs, however.
Although the Adelaide born bass vocalist has been with the group for only three months (not that one could tell) the group displayed vocal skills that can only come from long experience singing together and supported by many of alto Naomi Crellin’s clever arrangements.
There is no doubt that this is on the lighter side of music, with an opening medley including a Michael Jackson song, but did include the jazzier “Embraceable You”. Kitamura skill is unquestionable, his ability to sound like a complete drumkit is uncanny and his input added a great deal, without him the music may have become less interesting.
The performance seemed, however, to lack cohesion after a promising first half. Kitamura did a solo segment that went on too long, a German “folk” song (it was not folk, but a not very good novelty piece) an audience member conducting the group and so on. More emphasis on their real skills would have raised the quality of the show.
A great arrangement of Cold Chisel’s “Flame Trees” and an encore of the Joni Mitchell classic “Big Yellow Taxi” did bring the show to a fine conclusion.
Peter Coleman-Wright & Nexas Quartet
Coleman-Wright was encouraged to present this tribute to the great German composers of the Weimar Republic by none other than Barry Humphries. Thank heavens for that!
His classically trained voice lends itself beautifully to these wonderful arrangements, underpinned by the technically perfect and simply brilliant saxophones of the Nexas Quartet. The period clothes and powerful images of the era appearing on a large screen above the musicians set the ambiance necessary to transport the audience back to 20’s Germany and beyond.
Each of the five musicians (Coleman-Wright doubling on piano) adopted the persona of a composer and provided background to the songs and the composer’s life. The composers included Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Robert Gilbert and Erich Korngold. The spectre of the Nazi’s loomed large and led to their exile, mainly to the US, where their songs were appreciated by a much larger audience.
And then there is the music, mostly sung in German, as they were written. Coleman-Wright sang with passion and conviction that brought out his love of these songs. The saxophones breathed life into the songs with gorgeous interplay and sensuous lines. “September Song”, “The Girls Of Bordeaux”, “The Rose And The Lilac” and the wonderful encore of “Mack The Knife” were just a few of the highlights.
A very fine show. The CD of the show’s music, “Ballads Of The Pleasant Life” is available on ABC Classics.
Love, Sex & Death
State Opera SA Opera Studios, Netley 14,15 and 16 June 2017
This Cabaret Performance by State Opera could have added Power to the title, as, while Sex and Death featured strongly, Love less so, there was a manifestation of lust for power, or we could say, lustful power. The Macbeths plotted the death of Duncan and their own rise to the throne, Scarpia, being the most powerful man in Rome, forced himself upon a hapless Tosca while Carmen scorned a miserable Josè.
Love came, if sadly, with Madama Butterfly, but we all know how that ended. West Side Story was another beautiful love story, but how did that end? Lovers sacrificed to the power of family and tradition! More cynically, there were extracts from Cabaret and Chicago. Something different ‘but not as you remember it’ as the publicity told us.
Unfortunately, while the Madrigal Room, with small tables, candles, and a drinks bar, looked the right sort of cabaret scene, the ability to see the singers was limited. Had they had even a small raised stage it would have made a word of difference. The singers in the upper part of the scaffolding used that space to effect, especially Jeremy Tatchell, as the Devil, welcoming his victims to hell. Those who were at floor level, especially when they sat down, were invisible except to the people at the front tables.
Desiree Frahn’s Carmen was terrific, especially when she danced with Aidan Kain Munn. She toyed with Josè, while he suffered, pleaded, whined and wheedled.
The songs from Cabaret and Chigago were performed with energy and style. What dod you have to do nowadays to be a successful opera star?
The more dramatic opera scenes suffered because of the setting, but were sung with authenticity. Maybe Madama Butterfly was not so authentic, but to reveal why that was so would to be a spoiler.
Dale Ringland led a small ensemble whose playing was a feature of the evening.
Hats off to SA Opera for pushing the boundaries to show opera in a different light. In another setting it may have worked well.
One of the planet’s finest jazz guitarists came to the Cabaret Festival to celebrate the songs that he grew up with in his show “When You Wish Upon A Star”, following on from the album of the same name.
And what a show.
He was supported by a band of A listers it couldn’t help but impress and amaze. There’s drummer extraordinaire Rudy Royston whose imagination and skill raised percussion to a new level, double bassist Thomas Morgan who couldn’t be ordinary if he tried and Petra Haden, triplet daughter of one of the jazz greats, bassist Charlie Haden, whose understated vocals were simply sublime. And then there’s Bill himself, not flashy but simply brilliant.
The songs were from his past, although and as you would expect from Frisell, from barely recognisable to an outright celebration. With “Farewell to Cheyenne”, Haden did her best to cajole the inherently reserved Adelaide audience to sing along, there were two Bacharach / David tunes, “Alfie” and “What The World Needs Now Is Love” sort of straight and gorgeously sung by Haden. Then there was the extended wonder of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, not to mention two James Bond themes!
Mention has been made of Royston and Thomas above, they were simply on another level, their solos inspired and captivating.
The show’s outstanding success can be measured by the very prolonged ovation at the conclusion, leading to not one but two encores, concluding with the American chestnut, “Oh Shenandoah” which Frisell recorded in 2005 on “EastWest”.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival
ALAN CUMMING Sings Sappy Songs Her Majesty’s Theatre June 11
He Came He Sang He Conquered
So great was the enthusiasm for Alan Cumming that the audience almost gave him a standing ovation as he entered the stage. He did not disappoint. With that rare gift of making every person in the audience feel that he is talking just to them, he recounted events from his life and sang songs that relate to these events and so meant something special. A consummate performer – he must have done this show hundreds of times, yet it came over as freshly as though it were the first time.
On a bare stage with musical director and Pianist Lance Horne, Cellist Eleanor Norton and Drummer Chris Jago, he took us through the beginnings of Club Cumming, which was the genesis of this show; through his times in theatre and television – remember Eli Gold in the The Good Wife – to show business stories, and stories of his childhood and difficult relationship with his father.
Then there were the stories of passions lost, lasered from his groin, and found again in friendship, (only Alan can tell that story) and between the anecdotes the songs came, full of emotion.
The musicians gave him wonderful support, which he duly acknowledged. An hilarious evening, yet heart warming and moving. He spoke of feeling initially afraid to take on a show where he played himself, but he had no need to worry. The Alan Cumming he played was a person who captured his audience, who spoke of significant personal events, was cheeky and provocative and entirely convincing. The standing ovation did come at the end of the show, and was richly deserved.
Lady Beatle (Naomi Price)
One sure way to attract a crowd is to do a Beatle show, far and away the most important pop/rock group on the 20th Century. But it’s totally another thing to be able to be original and do the Beatles justice.
With “Lady Beatle” Naomi Price has done just that.
Price joined the songs together with dialogue from the perspective of a Liverpudlian, very familiar with the band. There was mystery as it was clear that we should know who this person was, but just who was not revealed until near the end.
Of course, the music is the vital part of the show and Price and her band did the Beatles proud. Somehow they managed to cover about 24 songs (on my count) in whole or in part.
There’s a temptation by most Beatle tributes to try faithful reproductions of the original. Thankfully, here the songs were stretched and rearranged enough to bring something new whilst retaining the magic of the originals. It would have been easy to miss this balance, but “Lady Beatle” achieves this, blending the songs into the narrative almost flawlessly.
Not for one moment did this reviewer think about the fact that a female singer was embracing songs sung originally by four males. After all, women have sung them before, from Tina Turner to Ella Fitzgerald. What did catch my attention was Price’s great voice. She sang with passion and power, giving depth, grace and respect to the songs. She also engaged the gathered, moving amongst us, even ushering some latecomers to their seat and topping up another’s empty red wine glass!
Her band also deserves credit for a fine performance.
Quibbles? Only one comes to mind, “Got To Get You Into My Life” suffered a bit from the missing brass section, so essential to the original.
However, there were some nice touches, the Vox amp and the Ludwig drums, championed by Ringo.
Go see the show, fabulous fun! You only needed to look around at the audience, bopping, dancing and generally having a great time to confirm this.
SPOOKY MEN’S CHORALE
ADELAIDE TOWN HALL May 19 2017
It was all about timing and anticipation! The music and the theatricals complemented each other and even though the non-musical aspects were quite simple – it was the timing!
This was the first concert of the Spooky Men in Adelaide although they did appear at Womad last year. It was certainly an entertaining evening and because a large proportion of the audience were devoted fans already, Stephen Taberner, the conductor, and his ‘Men’s Group’ were carried along on their enthusiasm. I’m sure they will feel like returning!
Fairly complex 3-part harmonies were blended with confidence, the timbre of the soft passages was beautiful, the raw energy of the loud parts was commanding and the ensemble excellent. The diction was mainly clear and it was important to hear the words of the songs as they were thoughtful, meaningful and funny. Most of the songs were written by Stephen and he sometimes asks the ensemble for ideas. ‘The Affirmation of St Kevin’ was a joint effort and the chant-like melody and harmonies were reminiscent of the Swingle Singers! There was variety in the subject matter and the treatment, though maybe too many “bom, bom” bass lines! The two Georgian folk songs were very powerful and it was interesting to hear the different tone of the voices in the second song without microphones. I was surprised to see microphones anyway; their voices are resonant enough without them.
Even with the microphone Stephen’s soliloquies were not always clear, but he has that talent of creating suspense by just standing there! His rapport with and control of the group was excellent and their antics so coordinated; there is a lot of routine there! The singers ranged from about twenty to sixty years old, but the blend was very homogenous. Their special blend of disciplined choral work and larrikin humour makes The Spooky Men a very original group.
It was a long concert, a bit too much talking and maybe a few too many songs but the final items were memorable. The massed choir was arresting; after a few hours workshop on the previous day, Stephen inspired about sixty diverse people to sing together in harmony and with such passion. Very impressive. And right at the end of the evening everyone joined in, singing and dancing, which created a great atmosphere. I am still smiling when I think about it!
Holden Street Theatres 18-27 May 7.30pm Matinee 21 May
Wrtten by Hannie Rayson
Produced by Red Phoenix Theatre
Directed by Robert Kimber
Two Brothers is a hard hitting and challenging drama, peeling back the veneer of public personna, as the conflict between two brothers unfolds. Written by the highly successful playwright, Hannie Rayson, it was first produced in 2005, but is as relevant today as it was then. Eggs Benedict is a wily, ambitious and ruthless politican. His brother Tom is a human rights activist, representing asylum seekers, looking to help refugees find a peaceful life in Australia. While a comparison with Peter and Tim Costello may spring to mind, the characters are not based on them. Instead they are archetypes of any number of people in public life. Their sibling relationship, even rivalry, brings into sharp focus the motivation of men and women who claim to serve society in one form or another, while seeking to serve themselves. Much praise must be given to the director, Bob Kimber, for his staging of this play. There are a number of short scenes, sometimes overlapping, yet the changes and the movement of the actors was seamless and not distracting. The two brothers were played by brothers, Brant Eustice (James ‘Eggs’ Benedict) and Michael Eustice (Tom Benedict). Both roles were played with subtlety and strength, this being essential if the play is going to work. Other members of the cast also gave fine performances, especially Lyn Wilson, Tracey Walker and Fahad Faroque.
The opposing points of view expressed in this play were put strongly, allowing no room for grey – only black and white. The same could not be said about the machinations and tactics displayed by characters whose wellbeing or reputation was threatened. There were no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys when it came to self preservation. And then there was the question of family relationships, loyalty and protection of one’s own.Lightened by humour and clever dialogue, the issues are hardhitting but not unremitting, although the issues are serious and the solutions far from straightforward. Two Brothers is a play that stimulates thought and discussion, as all good drama will.