Rumour Has It

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, January 5

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Naomi Price as Adele in Rumour Has It.

Naomi Price has been performing Rumour Has It, her cabaret show about Adele, to considerable acclaim since premiering it in Queensland in late 2012.

With the boost in profile she has enjoyed as a finalist in The Voice 2015, she has been filling the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, performing eight shows over four days (January 3 ­– 6). The chart-topping success of Adele’s recently released album 25 can’t have hurt the show’s appeal either.

Price is certainly a talented performer. She has a good range of textures to her voice and a strong vocal technique. She also has a confident ease on stage, a robust sense of humour and is quick off the mark when bantering with the audience – the majority of whom clearly loved the show.

So why was I less enthusiastic than most of those around me?

What Price doesn’t have – or doesn’t convey in Rumour Has It – is Adele’s soul. She sings the much-loved hits (Chasing Pavements, Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You and the Academy Award-winning Skyfall among others) well, but she doesn’t touch you emotionally the way Adele does.

Adele is a hard act to follow, of course, but when you come on stage dressed like her, talking like her and as her, and singing her songs pretty much the way she does, the comparison is inevitable. And when it comes to connecting with the lyrics, Price is no Adele.

My favourite biographical cabaret shows include Christie Whelan Browne’s hilariously funny yet heartbreakingly poignant Britney Spears: The Cabaret and Michael Griffiths’ In Vogue: The Songs of Madonna and Sweet Dreams: The Songs of Annie Lennox (all three written by Dean Bryant).

Both Whelan Browne and Griffiths used the first person (though Griffiths made no attempt to impersonate Madonna or Lennox) and reinterpreted the songs using strikingly different new arrangements. Crucially, both offered a fascinating insight into the artists they were representing using their songs to comment on their life and creativity as well as themes such as celebrity.

Price – sporting a red wig and padded outfits to give her a little extra ampleness – gives us a much more straightforward representation of Adele. The show, co-written with Adam Brunes, offers a fairly bare bones synopsis of her life from working class lass in Tottenham to one of today’s biggest soul divas. Any time Price seems about to give us some genuine insight, she tends to veer off into a joke.

She’s clearly a terrific mimic (she does a hilarious send-up of Celine Dion) and she nails Adele’s accent and colourful turn-of-phrase, though makes her more consistently potty-mouthed than Adele actually is. And while Adele is famously forthright and candid, there’s a humility to her that doesn’t quite come across here. Instead, the focus is more on a brassy feistiness.

Performing with a four-piece band under the musical direction of exceptional guitarist Jason McGregor plus three backing vocalists including Price’s partner Luke Kennedy, runner up on The Voice 2013, the show is impressive musically. It looks good too, simply but stylishly staged with a galaxy of hanging lampshades.

In a tongue-in-cheek riff on reality TV shows, Price shows what good comic chops she has, and I found myself wishing she was doing her own cabaret and just including some Adele material in it.

But for me, Rumour Has It feels too much like mimicry, minus Adele’s extraordinary soulfulness. And without a great deal of insight into what makes Adele the artist she is, I was left feeling that something was missing. But for many of the audience, Price clearly gives them exactly what they want.

Rumour Has It has two final shows at the Sydney Opera House today at 5pm and 8pm.

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Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox – review

Slide Lounge, July 1

Michael Griffiths in Sweet Dreams. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Michael Griffiths in Sweet Dreams. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Michael Griffiths’ new cabaret show Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox is a cleverly crafted, beautifully performed piece in a similar vein to his previous cabaret hit In Vogue: Songs by Madonna.

Written and directed by Dean Bryant (as was Griffiths’ Madonna show and Christie Whelan Browne’s wonderful Britney Spears: The Cabaret), Sweet Dreams is clearly thoroughly researched, taking us through the life and career of the androgynous-looking, Scottish singer-songwriter who was one half of British synth pop duo the Eurythmics.

But it does so much more than simply trot out biographical details interspersed with songs.

The witty, insightful, linking dialogue gives us an insight into her life and creativity, showing how she channeled her heartache and other experiences into her songs.

Sitting at the piano, looking casually urbane in skinny-fitting trousers, shirt and tartan tie (a nod presumably to Lennox’s Scottish background), Griffiths gives an extraordinary performance that is understated yet passionate.

He speaks in the first person as Lennox but makes no attempt to impersonate her. Likewise, he interprets the songs in his own, musically thrilling way – playing the piano with the same sensitivity that he brings to his singing.

The factual information is combined with personal reflections and witty observations  – all delivered with perfect comic timing. Bryant has also incorporated a couple of gently comic motifs: Griffiths lighting a candle, which he then blows out, waving the smoke away as he tosses the match aside to symbolise putting paid to bad song ideas; and bits of sage advice from Lennox’s father (“As my father would say, Anne Lennox ….”).

All the songs that you’d hope for are there, including Why? Walking on Broken Glass, There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), Who’s That Girl?, Love is a Stranger and Missionary Man among others.

For Thorn in My Side, Griffiths enlists the audience to do backing vocals – which they do with great enthusiasm.

Sweet Dreams (which premiered last month at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) is intelligent, compelling cabaret offering a different kind of take on its subject to so many biographical cabaret shows that we see. For 70 minutes, Griffiths holds us in the palm of his hand – an angel playing with our hearts. Catch it if you can.

Sweet Dreams is at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne until July 7 as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival and then at Hobart’s City Hall on July 12 & 13 as part of The Festival of Voices.