Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cabaret: Exactly Like You

Exactly Like You: The Magic of Dorothy Fields
book by Nick Maclaine and Izaak Lim
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Music by Cy Coleman, Jerome Kern and Jimmy McHugh
Directed by Michael Loney
Musical director Lochlan Brown
Performed by Ali Bodycoat, Ian Cross and Izaak Lim
Downstairs at the Maj
9 – 11 October, 2014

Three years ago the young writers and producers Nick Maclaine and Izaac Lim teamed with director Michael Loney in the snazzy Cole Porter biographical pastiche, You’ve Got That Thing.
They top it with Exactly Like You: The Magic of Dorothy Fields, a vivid memoir of one of the most durable and influential musical artists of the past century.

Fields is rarely mentioned among the immortals of American music writing (which is something of a boys’ club), but 400-odd lyrics in six decades ensure her a place in that pantheon. She had hits from 1928’s I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to 1973’s It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish, including the rapturous Oscar-winner, The Way You Look Tonight, On The Sunny Side of the Street, Rhythm of Life, A Fine Romance, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Big Spender.
Barack Obama paraphrased Fields in his first inaugural address: “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” He was adopting her spunky, optimistic ethos along with the line from her Start All Over Again.
Exactly Like You captures that ethos, and more, as it traces Fields’ three great collaborations, with Jimmy McHugh, Cy Coleman (both played by Lim) and, especially, Jerome Kern (the terrific, persuasive Ian Cross).
Ali Bodycoat’s Fields always looks the part, and she resists the temptation of overplaying her hand vocally and losing the consistency of her characterisation. It’s a very impressive performance.
Lim is a little unconvincing early, but comes into his own as Coleman, most notably in a marvellous scene where the composer and lyricist build Big Spender together.
Lochlan Brown provides adroit accompaniment on piano throughout, and Loney shows he has every bit of the experience, range and touch as a director that he does as an actor.  
In the play’s best scene, Kern and Fields talk about lyric writing. Kern tells her she has a gift for making the American vernacular sing, and Fields, deeply affected, replies that everyday speech comes straight from the heart, and that’s where she wants to write from.
You quickly get what they were talking about in this stylish and enlightening show. 

This review appeared in The West Australian 14.10.14

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