Fringe World 2016 burst into life Friday night and with 700 shows on offer everyone is looking for that diamond in the rough. Well, look no further. Powered by 2015 WAAPA graduate Megan Kozak and ably supported by current third years Jason Arrow and Rory O’Keeffe this hour long show sparkles in the intimate Casa Mondo situated in The Pleasure Garden (Russell Square).
The storyline is simple – Mary (Kozak) has been a backing vocalist for ten years and quite frankly she believes greater things beckon. An unfortunate ‘mishap’ to her fellow Diamonds allows Mary to take centre stage with the help of Jason (Arrow) on keyboards. She launches into various Motown classics before Chris the security guard (O’Keeffe) intervenes having discovered the lengths to which Mary will go to seize her big moment. Not to be deterred – after all the audience has paid for tickets – she co-opts Chris by appealing to his inner rock star. What follows is a clutch of Aussie classics before the curtain comes down on Mary’s brief reign as budding superstar.
There is no doubt that Kozak is a powerhouse vocalist. Early on I was a little worried about the sound of the air-conditioning unit in the relatively small space. But when she cuts loose on songs like Aretha Franklin’s immortal Respect or gets her Whitney on such fears quickly melt away. The first half of the show is a roster of classic songs including Son of a Preacher Man, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and I Heard It Through The Grapevine before an hysterical change of pace to the much lambasted I’ve Never Been To Me which Kozak delivers with such over the top earnestness that the audience was in stitches.
It’s here that Kozak really impresses above and beyond her vocal ability – the stagecraft on display is exceptional. Looking stunning in a blue sequin dress she assumes the persona of Mary, American accent and all, with impeccable comic timing and exaggerated facial and physical movement. The audience is hooked early as Mary tells her backstory and interacts with individuals directly. (Well done to Peter for supplying ‘backing vocals’ to Respect!) The fine line between delusion and unquenched ambition is crossed with abandon to amusing effect.
O’Keeffe, stepping in for the original Chris (Chris Wilcox), is a handsome comic foil playing the straight man that Kozak riffs off. Her attempted seduction of Chris to stop (watch for the running gag) turning Mary in to the police is another highlight. He has his own musical moments as Motown gives way to Johnny Farnham and other true blue working class anthems. Their duet of Endless Love, however, was lovingly mocked with exuberance.
Jason Arrow provided the main musical accompaniment on keyboards while supplying increasingly exasperated asides to Mary’s antics. O’Keeffe featured on guitar while Kozak was relegated to kazoo… due to budgetary constraints!
This is funny, well performed, and exceptionally sung. My only quibble would be that the ‘Chris threatening to dob in Mary’ card is played a few too many times but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise entertaining and thoroughly engaging show that is perfect for Fringe.
Backseat Diamond is on at the Caso Mondo, The Pleasure Gardens, 8pm every night until 27 January.