BWW REVIEW: Sydney Symphony Orchestra Presents A Beautiful Backing To MEOW MEOW'S PANDEMONIUM.

BWW REVIEW: Sydney Symphony Orchestra Presents A Beautiful Backing To MEOW MEOW'S PANDEMONIUM.

Monday 22nd January 2018, 8pm, Concert Hall Sydney Opera House

Australian cabaret performer Melissa Madden Gray, otherwise known as Meow Meow, returns to the Sydney Opera House to join forces with the wonderful Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for Meow Meow'S PANDEMONIUM. Under the baton of conductor Iain Grandage, who also worked with Madden Grey to compose a number of the works, the SSO creates an often cinematic score for Madden Gray's madness.

Drawing on her standard well worn, and often overworn, 'tricks', Madden Gray presents an overly self-indulgent, narcissistic performance that, whilst appealing to some of her stalwart fans, rapidly alienates Sydney Symphony Orchestra fans as she talks down the venue and barely acknowledges the talent of the assembled orchestra. Given the show lacks any discernible plot apart from Madden Gray seeking adulation and bemoaning the facilities of the world class Concert Hall, being more familiar with cabaret circus styled Spiegeltents, the repeated gags wear thin quickly. Known for her 'late arrivals', audience involvement in the form of selecting a bevy of often very embarrassed men, and crowd surfing, these fan favourites were dragged out painfully in the Concert Hall space and uncomfortably repeated in the case of the audience participation. Whilst Madden Gray has the stamina to deliver a two act show, this does not necessarily mean that she needs to demonstrate it and this work would benefit greatly from a serious edit and removal of the tedious repetition. In addition, Madden Gray has drifted so deeply into her alter ego which was once an endearing combination of Lesley Joseph's Dorien Green from BBC's Birds Of A Feather and Jennifer Saunders' Edina from Absolutely Fabulous which had an underlying vulnerability to present a snobbish, ungrateful and difficult diva impression. She delivers quips like her reference to the iconic Sydney Opera House as "having to perform at the end of a jetty" with a bitterness and 'I'm too big for Australia now' sneer. She misses the opportunity to present the jibes with a more self-effacing manner, failing to find the balance between the nostalgic wistful warmth and barbs that other famous Australian exports like Barry Humphries manage so well.

Whilst Madden Gray used to have the capability to present deep emotional connection, she has reverted to her old shtick that refuses to allow vulnerability and connection which also insults the audience's capability to engage with more sensitive songs. Works, composed in conjunction with Grandage and Pink Martini's Thomas M Lauderdale, which require wonderful tenderness and have the capability for deep emotional connection are reigned in as Madden Gray opts for aiming for cheap laughs, destroying the evocative imagery that the orchestra has painted with their interpretation of the arrangements. With new Cabaret performers that can connect and deliver a balance of heart and humour rising up the ranks, Madden Gray's obnoxious diva antics which make it clear she'd rather be anywhere but in Australia will make her redundant to anyone who understands what great cabaret can and should be.

The saving graces for this performance which drags out to a long 2 and a half hours are Iain Grandage and the skilled SSO along with the handful of guest appearances by incredibly talented performers. The SSO's response to the Avant Gard styling of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini is inspired and expresses the orchestra's playful side as does conductor Iain Grandage's delightfully enthusiastic engagement in his passionate and faultless conducting. Thomas Johnson, one of Opera Australia's resident repetiteurs, plucked from the audience (clearly a plant), presents an amazing performance to accompany the sweeping At The End Of The World which has a rich texture to the ominous tones. 'Dresser' Cameron Menzies presents a delightful little interlude as the only person that appears to be able to get the diva to do something she doesn't want to, if only temporarily. Opera Australia favourite and Cabaret genius in his own right, Kanen Breen however steals the show as Meow Meow's "taller, thinner" and more endearing, enigmatic and engaging alter ego. Whilst Madden Gray bemoans the obviously planned 'missing items' with tediously repeated "I have to do everything myself", Breen gets on with the job and manages the clearly unscripted wardrobe malfunctions and prop failures with his brilliant ease that makes for perfectly understated physical comedy all the while entrancing with his beautiful tenor tones. Whilst Johnson, Menzies and Breen's contribution to the night are not really acknowledged, the post interval introduction and individual recognition of the members of the SSO was a lovely touch to the performance.

For Sydney Symphony Orchestra regulars, if you can endure the insults and self-serving soloist, Meow Meow'S PANDEMONIUM is a chance to hear the SSO perform some lovely interpretations of Weimar era cabaret standards and new music. With only a short run, hopefully the SSO will have the opportunity to perform these orchestrations again with a more sympathetic singer.


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