BWW Review: MONSTER SONGS at BATS Theatre
A Supernatural Pop Concert
Wellington 23-30 October 2019
Director: Ben Emerson
Musical Director: Clinton Zerf
Theatre Company: WITCH
Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling
WITCH returns to Bats Theatre with a creepy and cringy revue before All Hallows Eve. This "Supernatural Concert" - Monster Songs - is a mash of musical theatre, cult classics and pop.
Entering the Random Stage, the space is effectively decked out like a cheap, underground club - dry ice, colourful lights, raised stage with large fans and musician Daniel Hayles in the back, right corner (there is much murmuring and excitement over the keytar). The upstage entrance is covered by vibrantly backlit louvre doors that add to the spooky atmosphere and provide a number of dramatic entrances that the supportive audience enjoy.
"Day O" from Beetlejuice the Musical opens the show with Kree McMillan entering through the audience to join her fellow performers on stage for "There's a Light" from Rocky Horror and "Superstitious" by Stevie Wonder. The singers are all absolute powerhouse performers vocally, with solid harmonising but in aiming for creepy carnality some movement and costume is a little overstated and so alienating that it skirts close to self-indulgence. It was difficult to decide whether it was supposed to be a send-up or not and a little more tongue-in-cheek, banter and energy directed to the audience would engender more of a relationship and allow us to feel free to laugh.
There followed a number of songs from relatively new musicals such as Hadestown and the aforementioned Beetlejuice and it was a shame that the sound balance wasn't quite right on opening night. It is so vital to be able to hear the lyrics clearly when performing new, unfamiliar and edgy repertoire.
"Sweet Transvestite", however, set the audience alight. Jonathan Morgan (J-Fan)'s fabulous facials, vocal chops and energy were perfect for this number (as well as the devine characterisation brought to "I Put A Spell On You") ably assisted by McMillan's impressively soaring clarity. A sultry torch version of "Creep" emphasised the impressive vocal talents of Natasha McAllister and Joseph Mara delivered a beautifully restrained version of Bowie's "Life on Mars". The highlight of the evening, however, was a gorgeously emotional version of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Caitlin Penrose who personalised the story, made it fresh and held the audience spellbound. Devon Neiman and Jade Thomson, both also accomplished vocalists, rounded out the cast.
Clinton Zerf's musical direction and his team's arrangements of familiar and new songs was delicious but, although, Monster Songs wouldn't have been complete without Lady Gaga, the eclectic song choice of pop medleys and musical theatre did not create the most cohesive flow or coherent theme to create a deeply satisfying gamut. That being said, Hayles was outstanding. An impressive one-man-bandathon of musicianship and mojo.
Choreography was cute, snappy, fun and retro. "Oops! I did it again!" was like being at a Backstreet Boys concert and the performers struck tableaux and danced in heels with gusto.
Pop concerts usually invite us to share in the moment and relive feelings invoked by familiar songs. Monster Songs is more of a spectacle and musical theatre geeks will be enraptured. As for me, with this kind of talent on stage, I was desperate for a little more "Rent".