Strange Bedfellows: Under the Covers

The Vanguard, December 16

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen. Photo: Jeff Busby

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen. Photo: Jeff Busby

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen describe themselves as the “oddest of odd couples in opera in Australia”.

Colleagues at Opera Australia, she is a mezzo-soprano who has just played Meg Page in Verdi’s Falstaff in Melbourne and whose roles next year include Amneris in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Aida; he is a tenor best known for comic and character roles, who starts next year as Monostatos in The Magic Flute in Sydney.

Off-stage they have a close relationship, which they have discussed openly in recent media interviews, as a straight woman and gay man raising a son together (though he is not the biological father).

Now, as Strange Bedfellows, they are performing in their first cabaret show together, Under the Covers, which celebrates their relationship and gives vent to their wicked sense of humour and broad musical taste.

Clad in skimpy, sexy outfits, the prevailing vibe is 1930s Weimar cabaret: dark, decadent and deliciously bawdy. It’s pretty out-there on a couple of occasions, with a song about a paedophile watching a young girl on a slide and another about a ménage à trois involving a family pet, but mostly it’s full of mischievous fun.

Under the musical direction of Daryl Wallis, resplendent in sparkling red jacket on the keyboard, they’ve chosen a wonderful eclectic choice of repertoire ranging from Amanda Palmer to Jacques Brel and Kurt Weill with smatterings of INXS, Tiny Tim, Rolf Harris (Jake the Peg) and a few operatic references.

Naturally they both sing superbly. Highlights for me included the more personal moments: Breen’s take on Is That All There Is? about growing up as a gay man and a song that Dark wrote about trying to get pregnant using IVF.

The show would be even better if it had a slightly stronger framework, and if their patter early on gave us the chance to get to know them a little better and therefore connect with them more – particularly for those who don’t know a great deal about them.

However, they both exude oodles of stage presence. Dark is warmly engaging, while Breen with his fascinatingly complex, ambiguous charisma is absolutely in his element.

They ended the show touchingly with Rickie Lee Jones’s We Belong Together to rapturous applause. Under the Covers won’t be to everyone’s taste but for those who love a little salacious fun allied with wonderful musicianship it’s a great night out.

Strange Bedfellows: Under the Covers returns to The Vanguard in Sydney on January 3 & 4, then plays at the Butterfly Club in Melbourne, February 18–22.

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