Sunday, 1 February 2015

Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage - Fringe World (31 January 2015)

The subtitle says it all – The Music of Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland. Performed by Ryan Taaffe, Elethea Sartorelli, and Rachel Monamy respectively, this was a collection of great songs including classics such as Over the Rainbow, Cabaret, New York, New York, the Oscar winning Arthur’s Theme, and the unofficial Australian National Anthem for all ex-patriates, I Still Call Australia Home.

They couldn’t afford a band on a Fringe budget but they did have the Minnellium Dancers – Allen Blachford, Hillary Readings, Jessica Helen, and Rebecca Jayne – who contributed the requisite colour and movement to make this a most enjoyable hour of cabaret. 
Sartorelli added the pizazz as Liza with a Z; Monamy the moxie as Garland; while Taaffe contributed a touch of snark as the three shared good-natured banter between songs. That’s not to say there weren’t a few jabs along the way – Garland’s battle with pills and booze; the doomed-to-fail marriage of Minnelli and Allen; and Minnelli’s struggle to cope with the enormous shadow of her mother – were all touched upon.

The conceit of the show is that it’s Minnelli’s story and Sartorelli, fresh off winning a Finley Award (Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Xanadu), is excellent with a wonderfully energetic performance and powerful singing voice. Of course, Garland and Allen can’t help but interrupt – we’re talking some huge personalities here - and Monamy is impressive as the mother who constantly strives to upstage her daughter, at one point showing Minnelli how The Trolley Song should really be done. The competitiveness between mother and daughter is brought to life in perhaps the best sequence of the show that included Don’t Rain On My Parade

Monamy also has a big voice and the two of them together were a potent combination. It’s unfortunate that Garland’s signature song from The Wizard of Oz was drowned out a little by an over loud backing track (the only occasion this happened).

Taaffe (himself a 2014 Finley Award winner as Best Director for Xanadu) imbues Allen with the snide remark or Ocker cheekiness that powered a lot of the humour. I Go To Rio gets an obligatory maraca-styled performance with no less than Garland and Minnelli on backing vocals! While I Still Call Australia Home generated the mandatory audience participation I was more enamoured of the highly personal Tenterfield Saddler and Don’t Cry Out Loud was another strong number.

While the songs were being performed images of the real life Garland, Minnelli and Allen were projected on the back wall as well as posters from movies and other snapshots. These did much to visually establish their relationships and career highlights.

With three powerful voices on stage sometimes the sound mix struggled to adjust but this was a well sung and charming trip down memory lane with a nice sense of humour and a roster of terrific songs. It didn’t take much encouragement for me to Get Happy and I’ll confess to bouts of toe tapping as well.

A most enjoyable interlude at one of the many Fringe outposts outside the CBD, this one being the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre which had a real festival atmosphere with plenty of stalls... and the hot dog consumed before the drive home wasn’t too bad either!

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