Triply belated theatre

In a posting a few weeks ago, I noted that I really need to make more of an effort to get to the theatre in Australia, rather than just packing everything into celebrity-filled outbursts in the UK once a year. It’s perhaps symptomatic of the chaos of my current life that I’ve actually been to the theatre three times in the past fortnight, but haven’t yet got around to blogging any of these visits. So this is a catch-up post.

First off the rank was Joan Rivers, who passed through the country a couple of weeks ago on her archly-titled ‘First Annual Farewell Tour’ and who I went to see with my mother (no novice theatregoer herself) at the State Theatre, which has better leg room than I remember. I’m leaving that badly-constructed sentence there as a reminder of the merits of brevity.

Rivers’ support act was English cabaret duo Kit And The Widow. I enjoyed their performance, just as I did when they supported her last time she was out. Unfortunately, at least 50 per cent of their set was also material they used last time out, which inevitably dulled their impact.

Rivers herself, though, was entirely fresh — or as fresh as anyone with that amount of plastic surgery can be. She’s certainly more sprightly than anyone else over 70 I’ve seen on stage for a while. Much of the pleasure of her performance comes from her willingness to attack absolutely everyone and everybody: in the first ten minutes alone, she’d lampooned Tom Cruise, the Logies, old people, Muslims, Aborigines and her husband’s suicide. The audience was alternately hysterical and gasping. All in all, great fun.

The next night, Mum and I trundled over to Star City (and for the first time I’ve ever seen, couldn’t use the main walkway to Darling Harbour because it was raised to let a ship through). Our destination this time was Dusty, which as the title suggests is an musical biography of the late, great Dusty Springfield.

Tamsin Carroll has been deservedly acclaimed for her performance as Dusty; she has a magnificent voice which lends itself well to Springfield’s material, no mean feat given how well known some of her songs are. The supporting cast are also excellent, and there’s room given to solo obscurities (such as ‘Soft Core’) alongside the expected and familiar hits, some of which are redeployed quite imaginatively (‘Wishing & Hoping’ as a lesbian duet, anyone?)

For all that, it wasn’t an entirely satisfactory show. Like the Johnny O’Keefe bio-musical Shout! (from the same team), the producers sometimes seem determined to insert musical nostalgia no matter how inappropriate. Thus we get Dusty’s family doing a performance of ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’; her dresser mocking other 60s icons in a scene that’s hilariously rendered, but awkwardly placed right before the scene where she dies; and a super-extended rendition of ‘On The Good Ship Lollipop’ to open the second act. Yes, Dusty did do this number in cabaret, but it really has no place here. Apparently, the backers have ambitions for a West End opening in 2007. If so, they’ll need some major script work (and they’ll need to overcome the fact that there’s already been at least one similar show touring the provinces).

Fast-forward to last Sunday, when I went to a Melbourne matinee performance of Eurobeat at Crown, a mock-Eurovision musical in which the audience gets to vote for their favourite from 12 acts which mock all the worst excesses of the annual European songfest. All the expected clich├ęs were there, from Eastern European boy bands, Scandinavian ABBA clones, impenetrable regional music and ludicrous lyrics — and, of course, every second act ripping half of their costume off in a belated tribute to Bucks Fizz. The whole thing is beautifully held together by Julia Zemiro and Jason Geary as the bemused hosts. I had a whale of a time, but it would be even better to go with a bunch of friends so you could really argue over the voting. It’s coming to Sydney in September, and I suspect I’ll be up for a return visit . . .

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