BWW REVIEW: Disco, Circus and Cabaret Combine To Create The Energetic And Inspiring VELVET
Thursday 27th July 2017, 8pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre
Merging Cabaret and Circus with Disco, VELVET delivers a heart-warming story of discovery, acceptance and finding your place in the world. Following on from successful national tours and a season at Edinburgh Fringe, VELVET returns to Sydney as part of their new tour which will see them tour to New Zealand in September.
VELVET separates itself from other similar cabaret/circus works by having a beautifully simple story line woven through the acrobatics and music. The adorably innocent and naïve looking young man, Tom Oliver, who could possibly be a lost character from THE BOOK OF MORMON (sadly no door bells rang), finds himself checking in to the welcoming and accepting home of VELVET, a rather surreal nightclub of sorts. Watching the variety of performances, the young man is ultimately captivated by the club's chanteuse, the incomparable Marcia Hines AM. He is drawn into the somewhat hedonistic world of rhinestones, sequins and stilettos, overwhelmed and intrigued by incredible skill and grace, fun filled and honest expression and non-judgemental acceptance that the inhabitants of VELVET exude.
Whilst the work has previously been presented in Spiegeltents or 'black box' theatres, VELVET's return to Sydney sees them take up residence at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Set and Costume designer James Brown has adapted the traditional style space of the proscenium theatre with the removal of the first rows of seats to make room for a catwalk stage culminating in the traditional circular stage over which aerial work is focused. The height of the theatre allows for musical director Joe Accaria to oversee proceedings from a DJ and Percussion station high above the wall of light and mirrors that form the backdrop for the action and creates the disco feel. Brown uses his costume design to add the sparkle to the work, with countless sequins and rhinestones glittering in contrast to the young man's staid white shirt, black pants and tie. The only quibble with the costumes would be issues with fit that that left the statuesque Ms Hines looking uncomfortable and unable to move easily in the clearly heavily corseted confections.
Of the circus elements, Emma Goh takes the aerial hoop to a new level with a hint of the BDSM that is yet to come with sky high, lethal, studded stilettos. Stephen Williams demonstrates a phenomenal strength on the Aerial Straps as he redefined how toned a body can be, giving the audience a breathtaking view of his physique as he flew over the audience. Whilst Mirko Kockenburger drew the audience into the other world of sequins with his striptease balancing act and the subsequent redressing while inverted, the "Incredible Hula Boy" Craig Reid delivered the most inspiring of the circus stories. The somewhat rotund but definitely enthusiastic Reid serves to remind every kid that doesn't quite fit the stereotype for a physical performer that they can find a place for themselves. He has an infectiously cheerful boyish charm that shines throughout his routines that build in complexity, all presented with a gentle humour of a kid that is so thrilled to have found his place in the spotlight.
The circus acts are supported by a combination of live vocals and Accaria's percussion or recorded tracks along with good balance of stand alone musical numbers. Whilst there were sound balance issues at the start, with levels set above a level necessary to impart mood, opting to deafen and demolish any hope of understanding the lyrics, they were for the most part corrected until backup singers Rechelle Mansour and Kaylah Attard reached their solos in Turn The Beat Around where the sound was inexplicably dropped on the individual microphones leaving the lyrics unintelligible until they came together for the choruses. Aside from the technical issues, Mansour and Attard deliver solid vocals throughout and they infused their own personality into Lucas Newland's choreography.
Hines is stunning, delivering a textured soul filled series of songs, connecting with the audience along the way. As the young man finding himself drawn to Hines fabulousness, Oliver also delivers some wonderful vocals as the meek mouse finds his voice. His final solo, post transition, is a poignant reinterpretation of a disco classic, giving new meaning to Stayin' Alive to become an anthem of sorts for those in the community that are still breaking down barriers to acceptance.
Accaria has a delicious gravitas and cool smoothness as the overseer dressed in black crystal encrusted suit and Monoblock robot style sunglasses. Accaria has ensured that the musical arrangements highlight the importance of percussion and electronic synthesisers have had on disco music and his solo work showcases why he is one of the country's most sought after drummers.
This 80-minute work has something for everyone although, with the Book of Mormon meets Mardi Gras and 50 Shades of Grey themes that run through the storyline, it may not be suitable for young children. If you like disco, circus, fabulous costumes and fierce footwear, VELVET is well worth braving the winter weather for.
Sydney: Roslyn Packer Theatre - July and August 2017
Christchurch, Taranaki and Auckland New Zealand - September 2017