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Stormy and unwelcoming the weather might have been, but the second night of the premiere cabaret at Sydney new North Shore venue, the Lounge at Chatswood’s Concourse, proved to be hot, intense, dazzling, bright and above all welcoming. 

Catherine Alcorn almost redefined the nature of homage performance, as she “channelled” (in words of the program) the iconic Bette Midler in a down under one hour and 45 minutes of song, blistering wit, devilish movement and facial nuance, song, jokes and more, and audience interaction that if anything also does homage and outstrips Dame Edna Everidge. 

What would Midler think if she was sitting in the front row – she would be rib tickled by what in many ways and in the over the top comic style of Midler is a gentle satire of her own style. The  circuitous shuffling across and off stage are more cumbersome that the slinking of Midler on stage, but hey this is Australia, and Midler would above all be one to enjoy occasional parody. 

The Diva is on overdrive – the false starts, running jokes, interruptions, mealy mouthed chiding, feigned hurt and plaintive calls for louder applause. This business is all highly entertaining and compelling, and does not distract from or compensate for the music because the production and musical qualities, from the Harlette Trio (Kat Hoyas, Kirby Burgess, Tomas Cantor, pianist and musical director (Benjamin Kienhne), choreography (Cameron Mitchell), and the band, are just so much on top of their game, and the numbers so consistently outstanding, high energy and staged (director Ted Robinson) that they need interludes. From a Distance up a ladder in the audience – but it works. It is a show of unexpected risks, which it pulls off, allowing it to set its own rules and take audience along. I can’t remember backing singers so good – they not only sang, they danced/moved and at the same time, and sometimes sang impressive solos (they could each hold up in a solo show). Despite their tacky personas, their sets were on point and irresistible. 

As for Alcorn, what more can be said – she has such an impressive, well reviewed and international career behind and ahead. The talent oozes and bursts through the glitzy costumes, the voice can erupt like a volcano and flow like a gentle river. She speaks all theatre languages – the face, the timing, accents, caricature, interaction, jokes – in an impeccable finely textured whole. Many times (The Rose, In the Mood) one felt someone or some energy greater than the show was being channelled, that moments were so special and engaging, as good as performance especially can be.

It is great that a smaller suburban venue has been opened. I hope audiences continue to grow and shows multiple. In all the plans and spending for large scale lyric venues, studio and lounge spaces, the heartland for independent and small production, can seem overlooked

The show has a quantum of explicit expletives and so called smut in its banter, presumably in the tradition of humour Midler was famous for. These have been updated to Australian idiom. I can’t find too much vulgarity in online videos of Midler’s early shows, but assume it featured on stage. There seemed a barrage of crudities in last night’s feast, in a show that was already rich to digest. Presumably the content works to a tee with audiences here and especially overseas, especially those who know Midler well.. 

The show ended with the group as they often are throughout in first gear (Boogie Boogie Bugle Bay) they had become the storm, in a swirling display of synced actions and robust choruses. vo The show gained not only one but two standing  applauses – the second for the encore (Wind beneath my Feet) leaving no doubt about the audience’s excitement (and warmth) with the program overall.


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