Marina Prior: A Prior Engagement

Hayes Theatre Co, June 6

Who knew that a long, gold, beaded gown could be a health and safety issue in a cabaret show?

Marina Prior found herself in a slightly slippery situation in her cabaret show A Prior Engagement: An Intimate Evening with Marina Prior when she sat on a stool to play guitar and promptly slid off, having to perch rather cautiously from then on. A shiny stool is like ice, it transpires, when you sit on it in a beaded dress. Needless to say, she handled the situation with amused aplomb and grace.

Tracing her 30-year career, Prior mixes it up in A Prior Engagement performing folksy pop and Gaelic songs (her heritage is Irish and Scottish) as well as musical theatre numbers.

Prior was famously a student and regular busker when she saw an advertisement for open auditions for a production of The Pirates of Penzance and landed the role of Mabel. Since then, she has never looked back, going on to roles in umpteen musicals including the original Australian productions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, as well as West Side Story, Mary Poppins and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee among countless others.

Recently, she was seen in a Sydney Theatre Company/Melbourne Theatre Company co-production of Jumpy, a comedy by British playwright April De Angelis, and said that later this year she will be in another big show, which she couldn’t name. She did say, however, that one of the songs she would sing during the night was a hint. My guess is that an audience sing-along to Eidelweiss was the clue. (The cast of the new Australian production of The Sound of Music is to be announced tomorrow).

The rest of her eclectic set included Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair (on which she played guitar), Adelaide’s Lament from Guys and Dolls and Before I Gaze at You from Camelot.

She also gave a beautiful rendition of The Music of the Night, originally written for Christine Daae, apparently, then reworked for the Phantom when Andrew Lloyd Webber decided he needed another song.

Along the way, she told some gently amusing anecdotes including one about the challenge of performing opposite a very grouchy Richard Harris in Camelot when she was just 20 and still very inexperienced.

She finished the night with Auld Lang Syne and the Italian popoperatic number Con te partior (Time to Say Goodbye).

Accompanied on piano by David Cameron (her musical director for 24 years), as well as three ladies on strings, her husband, performer Grant Piro, also popped up now and again as a wry stagehand.

Prior’s lush soprano is still a beautiful instrument, her voice soaring on The Music of the Night and Time to Say Goodbye. With an effortless ease, grace and elegance on stage, she exudes genuine star quality.

An audience of adoring fans – many of whom who had clearly followed her career since day dot – gave her a rapturous standing ovation, clearly relishing the opportunity to see her up close in such an intimate setting.

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