Monday, October 9, 2017

Cabaret: Chiquitita and Fernando (★★★½)

Adele Parkinson and Darren Mapes
Downstairs at the Maj
4 – 7 October
The cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj is a welcome, and underappreciated, respite from the serious stuff up on street level. While a fair bit of its programme can be formulaic, it has a habit of throwing up little gems, sometimes from unlikely places.
Adele Parkinson and Daren Mapes’s Chiquitita and Fernando is one of them.
It’s fairly obvious from the title what you’re in for: an hour and a bit of Abba and a few bits and pieces of Scandipop from Roxette and Ace of Base, among others.
What you mightn’t have expected is its tongue-in-cheek shenanigans and a wacky story laced with on-and-off stage mischiefs.

Chiquitita and Fernando are a Swedish pop duo (the longest-running of the species now that Roxette have chucked in in, they say), but they’re pretty much consigned to the Baltic Sea cruise circuit.
Not that it doesn’t have its compensations, including the bodacious Finnish ski instructor Chiquitita meets on board. She and Fernando vote Ya for a Sexy Scandinavian Ménage-á-trois, and crank up the soundtrack to the consequent goings-on.
Most of it is performed by Mapes on piano, supported by occasional backing tracks, while Parkinson delivers the bulk of the razzle dazzle.
She’s convincingly Agnethafull in a bright red double thigh split dress and an avalanche of blonde extensions (while purists might bemoan the absence of those culottes), and she’s got the pipes for the songs as well.
Perhaps it’s testament to the genius of Abba that they are so hard to adapt (as distinct from impersonate). No matter how well Mapes plays and Parkinson sings, the punch and glamour of the originals songs – those high pop arrangements, those perfectly amalgamated voices – defy reshaping.
It’s little surprise, then, that the showstoppers are Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love, and Benny’s big ballad from Chess, I Know Him So Well.
This was the Chiquitita and Fernando’s first-ever airing, and it came out tight, slick and lots of fun. Once Parkinson and Mapes come to their senses and include the song about hearing the drums in their encore (what were they thinking?) it could really go places.

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