Friday, September 30, 2016

Cabaret: Cole ★★★½

by Anna Goldsworthy
Songs by Cole Porter
Performed by Michael Griffiths
Downstairs at the Maj
29 Sept – 1 Oct, 2016

Michael Griffiths is a frequent visitor to the Perth Fringe and the cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj. The 1999 WAAPA graduate has been partying like it’s that year ever since, with long stints in Jersey Boys, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Shout!, We Will Rock You! and a string of highly successful one-man character shows under his belt.
This short season of his latest, Cole, is already sold out, testament to the loyal audience he has built up here.
Cole deserves its success. Griffiths is on very firm ground with the story and music of Cole Porter, much more so than he was in his Annie Lennox tribute, Sweet Dreams, where his interpretations, though fine enough, paled against her peerless original performances.
Cole Porter presents Griffiths with no such problems; though he was a crafty performer of his wonderful tunes, it’s the songs, not the singer, we are in awe of.
And so we should be. From Anything Goes to Night and Day, Griffiths takes us through the luxurious tangle of Porter’s ridiculously elegant, swelligant songbook; De-lovely, Paris in the Springtime, Let’s Fall in Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, What is This Thing Called Love?, Let’s Misbehave, a terrific Miss Otis Regrets, You’re the Top, Love for Sale and a great little sing-along to Another Opening of Another Show. (I list them all to demonstrate the enormous bang for your buck Porter and Griffiths deliver here).
There’s no attempt to shoe-horn the material into a chronology, and that’s a good thing. Griffiths as Porter sits at his piano and chats to us, in that strange, trans-Atlantic accent he concocted, about his charmed life, his understanding, loyal wife Linda, their wealth and profligacy, his homosexuality and the horse-riding accident in 1937 that left him crippled and in pain for the rest of his life.
What the show’s writer, Anna Goldsworthy, and Griffiths really give us, though, is a convincing study of a phenomenally intelligent boy in a bubble, perhaps the most culturally aware songwriter ever (or until Randy Newman at least), who could turn everything around him into a smile, a laugh or, even, a snigger (Porter delicately tip-toed through the minefield of the Hays Code in the ‘30s), while living a life the ordinary people who loved his work could hardly even dream of in those troubled times. Or these.

Why have I put Why here? Because I can, and you deserve it.

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