Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cabaret: Tribute (★★★)

Written and performed by Ruth Wilkin
Downstairs at the Maj
22 – 24 September

Audiences want more, and performers need to give it to them. So it’s unsurprising that the stock-standard cabaret tribute show has been re-invented by artists who see its potential as a launch pad for something more complex, nuanced and satisfying.
We’ve seen that potential realised recently in a couple of shows in the cabaret room downstairs at the Maj; the writer Izaak Lim (with others) and director Michael Loney, after delivering attractive bio-tributes of Cole Porter and Dorothy Field, took the songs of Harold Arlen and fashioned them into Fancy Meeting You, an original romantic comedy musical, while John O’Hara and his writer/director collaborator Anthony Harkin’s Dedication used a suite of songs to drive the internal monologue of a late-night schmaltz jock.
Both shows became greater than the sum of their parts, and great successes, while more traditional tribute shows– there’s no need to name them, even though some of them are very well performed by very talented artists – increasingly seem less than the sum of theirs.
Ruth Wilkin has taken things a very long step further. 

She’s also devised a bio-tribute, only, in Tribute, she’s invented the star whose story she tells and whose hits she sings.
That’s a big call, and a high bar, but it’s such a good idea that it overcomes some shortcomings.
The songs – a pastiche of the styles of artists from Madonna to Miley Cyrus, are a little too referential, reverential and regular. Wilkin could do with letting herself go a smidge more – she’s got the voice, and the pizazz, to do it, but she’s a little more careful than she needs to be.
That might be helped by live accompaniment like Michael de Grussa gives Geraldine Quinn (at the moment it’s backing tracks, with a very little piano from Wilkin herself).
Maybe, too, if at least some of the songs were by the star, not about her, they, and the show, would have some more fire in their belly.
For all that, Tribute is a cracking idea, Wilkin is a smart, well-informed and engaging performer, and, as always Downstairs at the Maj gives Perth audiences the showcase cabaret experience that’s sadly lacking in this town.

ENDS                                David Zampatti 23.9.16

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