Comedians On Stage Auditioning for Musicals

Comedians On Stage Auditioning for Musicals Cabaret Festival 2024Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Banquet Room. 21 Jun

 

Michelle Brasier and Ben Russell play a divorced showbiz couple whose luminous careers have descended to casting for the Wagga Wagga Amateur Musical Society. Their CabFest show features the divine Gillian Cosgriff onstage at piano under strict instructions to stick to “plinkyplonk" and not, under any circumstance, upstage those two stars. 

Being an award-winning comedienne, musician, actor and composer, she plays her part as well as she plays the piano and, come the show’s denouement, she plays the audience most charmingly, too. An endearing CabFest star she is.

 

Brasier is pretty impressive, too. Talk about confidence. She’s so over the top, she’s a flood - so very funny and, of course, talented with capital T’s and an extremely short skirt. Russell is something else. One has never seen an actor with a more actorly face or, indeed, actorly demeanour. The two of them caricature most beautifully the divine arrogance of the very toffy repertory fallen stars who have succumbed to their own myth of stardom, now “resting" in the sticks.

 

Their shtick is very good fun and there is plenty of ensuring improv as they bring on their auditioning comedian singers. 

First up, Boo Dwyer who, of course, is fabulous and hams it up nicely as the amateur hour discovery. Very Weilley, too. (A bad Kurt pun.)

Broden Kelly turns up as a loudmouth Ocker spouting Adelaide’s unfashionable suburb’s names for cheap, easy and successful laughs. He plays at his dream of being a Gypsy. The audience loves him to bits. It is loving everything.

 

Jealously, Braiser explains the audience’s enthusiasm with a gag about how it would even laugh at being asked if it liked drinking water. “Yes", it torrents. She and Russell conclude that this is all part of the odd phenomenon of being cabaret performed in a 6.30pm timeslot.  Silly them. The Banquet Room tables are laden with champagne bottles. There’s a bar outside the door. This critic has a pink gin and soda in hand. It’s Adelaide CabFest time. It is Friday after work, for heaven’s sake. The sell-out crowd is happy already.

 

The next auditioner has a name that is hard to catch. She identifies herself as “the brown one”. She turns out to be fabulous and fearless Leela Vargehese. She sings beautifully, strips off her butch black leather outfit to reveal a white coat and brings the house down with the I’m Your Dentist song from Little Shop of Horrors.

 

Then Mad Dog Malcolm struts through the audience. What a roughy! He says he’s only here because his old mum wants him to audition. He then sings They Call the Wind Maria. It is so pure and powerful and utterly sublime that the room holds its breath. Dammit. Give him the job. Any job. Can I marry that voice?

 

Finally, an overly breathless and inept would-be star comes aboard with words and sheet music in hand. She’s been a bit too busy to learn her song, she says. Not surprising. It’s CabFest supremo Virginia Gay. Um, yes, a teeny bit busy. She does the Sweeny Todd pie song and throws ham, ham pie and, indeed, very well-cured gourmet ham into a dauntingly energetic performance. One may mention the voice. She is right at home in that big-musicals genre and her vocal range is very pleasing. She puts out. She’s a team player and it is her team.

 

The Wagga Wagga pair insists the room stays black so that their “plinkyplonk" pianist won’t show off while they exit to consider their verdict. 

 

Cosgriff lures a couple of audience members to illuminate her with their iPhones and she gives a spellbinding performance. 

 

Even she ends up being selected for the Wagga Wagga musical and everyone sings a grand finale of Magical Mr Mistoffelees from Cats. And they sing it and sing it and…er. Everyone’s singing it. Did they say for 20 minutes? They have 20 minutes to fill? The show has run short? Perchance they are one auditioner short.

 

For an improv show, one wonders why two of the country’s most accomplished improv performers could not have improvised a rabbit out of their hat when they had time to spare.

Oh well. Big deal.  The audience gets back to the bar early.

It’s Cab Fest time. The warmest winter festival in the world. It was a good laugh. Everyone one is plain old-fashioned happy. 

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 21 to 22 Jun

Where: Banquet Room

Bookings: Closed

Murder for Two

Murder for Two Cabaret Festival 2024Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Space Theatre. 21 Jun 2024

 

Murder for Two is a cabaret version of theatrical romps of the likes of The 39 Steps, where the action races by at a dizzying pace performed by a handful of actors (in this case two) playing multiple parts. Gabbi Bolt plays a detective who is eagerly learning the ropes of the sleuthing profession, but is a stickler for protocol, and Matthew Predny plays a bevy of witnesses and potential suspects to a murder. Without elaborating the convoluted plot, witnesses are questioned, motives are unmasked, opportunities are exposed, and the case is eventually solved!

 

On a raised stage in the cavernous and uninviting expanse of the Space Theatre, the packed-out audience enjoys ninety minutes of slapstick humour, witty vocals and vamping piano playing, very tightly executed sound effects by a gun tech team, and elaborate story telling told at an unrelenting pace. Bolt and Predny are in their element, and apart from the sound effects, they do everything – it’s a tour de force.

 

Murder for Two is the creation of Kellen Blair (book and lyrics) and Joe Kinosian (book and music), and they pack a lot into the show; it’s almost too much. It has a relatively long performance history and has played off-Broadway. Everyone loves value for money and feels gypped when too much of folding stuff is doled out for too little time, but this show edges in on the other extreme. It is often overwritten, and the detail becomes an obstacle for the two performers to overcome. They are often forced to play the action too much at the same frenetic level with precious little ‘light and shade’ and almost no let up. Sometimes it feels like you’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson with your hands tied behind your back! BUT …. This didn’t seem to matter to many of the sold-out audience who sat back with their obligatory glasses of oh-be-joyful and let it all wash over them. Like sponges, they gleefully soaked up the fun bits and revelled in the occasional pratfall, faux violence, and politically incorrect references.

 

This is a show for anyone who likes a tongue-in-cheek laugh and enjoys whodunnits, but doesn’t really want to think too much about it!

 

Kym Clayton

 

When: 21 Jun

Where: Space Theatre

Bookings: Closed

Pop Culture Vulture

Pop Culture Vulture Cabaret Festival 2024Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Johanna Allen. Dunstan Playhouse. 19 Jun 2024

 

Johanna Allen utilises the metaphor of the bin chicken in describing her means of picking out cultural morsels of songs from every era that sustained her, for this show. Then segues that into the bird of song metaphor, illustrating fabulous women of song who are an inspiration, roaming from Ella Fitzgerald and on (yay for a dash of Puccini to balance out the 80s pop stuff).

It’s like being an artist, she notes, this scrapping and greatness at once.

 

No scrapping for this song-bird, at all. She’s sharp. On point. Holds her audience with absolute ease. Equally sharp and mesmerisingly gifted is accompanist and Musical Director Mark Simeon Ferguson. A formidable creative team indeed.

 

Allen is cheeky as she takes on Kylie Minogue then a Disney fave with a backwards looking “did I just do Disney?” comment. This is the fun first half of the show, including a phones-in-the-air moment for the snog song some in the audience may not have ever snogged to.

 

Roars from the blues to that Les Miserables ballad, proving without doubt Sarah Brightman can’t sing. Allen gets to you with this torch song, mid-show, like no one else will. Truth, hurt and hope are so powerfully, honestly rendered. This second half of the show is deeper. It gets into you.

 

Allen’s voice is capable of spanning and mixing operatic and pop forms in a single song, something one would rarely find (unless you happened to be Freddie Mercury).

 

From here it’s all France, Spain to Hammerstein with a very sweet cheeky take on Patti LuPone whose show just happened to start bang on at the end of Allens’. Cheeky, but with much respect.

 

One has not seen Allen on stage for a long time. This show was one huge treat of a catch up.

 

David O’Brien

 

When: 19 Jun

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

Bookings: Closed

Patti LuPone - A Life in Notes

Patti LuPone Cabaret Festival 2024Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Festival Theatre. 19 Jun 2024

 

Cabaret Festival 2024 headliner Patti LuPone had every tool in her arsenal ready to bring a Festival Theatre full house whooping and thundering to its feet.

 

She had given a performance of sheer impeccability. Sheer professional prowess.

She is the goods. She knows it and she shows it.

“They didn’t think I’d last on Broadway! Hah!”  sings the Broadway legend. 

 

Three Tonys later, as a stunning septuagenarian, she can reflect and jest about bygone years and the physical woes of age while flourishing her maturity with cool panache.

Everything about her 100-minute performance is five-star from the set of the shining black Steinway Grand with its simple glass vase of crimson roses to the perfection of sound and subtle lighting changes.  Not to mention her accompanists: her musical director Joseph Thalken on piano and the sublimely talented Brad Phillips sitting amid his five stringed instruments in a forest of instrument stands. Thalken’s arrangements deliver ethereal moments when the world is just guitar music together with that soaring mezzo voice of LuPone’s. Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina lingers in the mind.

 

LuPone does not waste a lot of time chatting. She has a slick script written by Jeffrey Richman in a concert conceived and directed by Scott Wittman. It is her Life in Notes and it is adorned by the musical “touchstones” which punctuated the years: from summertimes at the age of nine in Northport, NY, to Julliard classes and years in NYC and hippie 60s when her apartment looked like “a Bombay bordello” through to the melancholy of the aching AIDs 80s … A tear falls. There’s the covid lockdown in NY with her husband and son, washing hands and vegetables and appreciating time itself. There’s aging and humour about teeth and wigs.

And, of course, there’s Broadway and big numbers. There’s Alfie and Ladies Who Lunch, I Dreamed a Dream, My House, Forever Young, Lilac Time, I’m Ready to Go Again; familiar songs and less common songs, powered forth by that voice of such durably rich range.

 

As for the frocks. Well, for the first half she wears a tailored black suit with glittering lapels over a black fashion bra and chic flared slacks. After interval she wows in a silver lame sheath with a shimmering translucent silver floor-length cape flowing like a dream from the shoulders.  

 

Thanks for your memories, Patti LuPone. Adelaide adored them - and you.

 

LuPone is continuing to tour with this snazzy show and methinks we’ll hear audiences cheer from wherever she may go.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 19 Jun

Where: Festival Theatre

Bookings: Closed

You Are the Kitten

You Are The Kitten The Mill Adelaide 2024Who Died and Called you King. The Mill. 14 June 2024

 

Gritty down to earth road show tale theatre, in production and performance, with a brilliantly developed black comedy end makes You Are the Kitten a gripping, must see, think-lots-after experience.

 

New Years Eve, Sydney:

Claire (Chrissy Miller) has busted out of home after a mother/daughter argument. She crashes into Elisabeth (Britt Ferry), a none too together human leading a too thin for its own good greyhound.

 

Somehow, in the midst of their equal or opposing goals for the day (which coincidentally includes mutual need to escape one thing, person or other), they hang together; kind of bond; build a loose plan to do NYE together. See fireworks at midnight.

 

What ensues is a series of encounters and experiences in which both women, with different backgrounds and realised, or unrealised, sufferings explore that through bent, wonderful, and twisted encounters culminating in a significant moment. The moment an op-shop owner blows dope smoke into a small kitten’s face. It’s a pivotal symbolic image. Are their lives, their experiences as awake or aware as a stoned kitten? Let’s see.

 

Ellen Wiltshire’s direction is ideal for stripped back bare bones theatre in which narrative is key, as is the design. Gloria (the greyhound Elisabeth leads) is represented by a heavy length of jetty rope, synonymous with Sydney harbour. That dog’s suffering is emulated in howling voice by Elisabeth during its part of the narrative.

 

Playwright Nicole Plüss’s characters are a brilliantly opposing yet united pair; Claire, a middle-class girl awaking to the reality of her sexual abuse by a family friend; Elisabeth, a very street wise, deep in poverty, smart arse, housed in a shit hole, with a cat house, filled with real cats.

 

The power of this gripping production is the choices these emotional misfits make. Claire is so easily led. Elisabeth so easily willing to offset her realty with such remarkable, gutsy, pop philosophy, chutzpah. It’s also too funny for subject matter. They are an absorbing duo of compatible incompatibilities. Ideologies that somehow find a wondrous dark unity.

 

The twist and turn of imagery and shared narration/action between Claire and Elisabeth is seamless as it is physically played out onstage. This is majestic poor theatre at its finest. Then it does a marvellous turn in the last quarter of the production. It’s the kicker. The thing that makes one think!

 

Playwright’s great achievement, well set by Director.

 

David O’Brien

 

When: 14 June

Where: The Mill

Bookings: Closed

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