Ben Mingay

Slide Cabaret, May 23

Ben Mingay. Photo: supplied

Ben Mingay. Photo: supplied

Ben Mingay puts the bloke into cabaret in his new show, presented as part of the Slide Cabaret Festival. Making an unorthodox entry, he spends the night in work boots, boardies and ratty T-shirt, with a tinnie close to hand. (The supplied picture above is so not his look here!)

The show has an interval so I imagined that he would return in the second act in something more like the promo shot but, no, he merely traded one T-shirt for another.

The contrast between his downbeat look and the camp glamour of Slide is all part of the fun, of course, and Mingay – who did start out in construction – has such a laid-back, laddish charm that he pulls it off with aplomb. (Having got the joke in the first act, though, I reckon a costume change for the second could be good, adding another dimension). He tells his stories with a rough, throwaway charm and endearing honesty that feels absolutely authentic – and he knows how to spin a good yarn.

His rich, rumbling baritone works a treat across genres (rock, country, musical theatre and opera) as he traces his journey from construction worker for his Dad in Newcastle to a pub rock band to classical voice studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to roles in musicals including Hair, South Pacific, Dirty Dancing in the US and Jersey Boys. (An Officer and a Gentleman doesn’t get a mention). There’s also a passing reference to his role in Channel Ten’s Wonderland.

Backed by a four-piece band led by Bev Kennedy on piano, Mingay opens the show with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma! From there his song list takes in everything from “Working Class Man” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific and Leporello’s catalogue song from Mozart’s Don Giovanni (complete with a make-shift prop on the back of a beer carton).

At the Slide gig, he invited David Harris on stage to sing “The Confrontation” from Les Misérables with him (both made it to the final auditions for the production about to open in Melbourne), while his partner, musical theatre performer Kirby Burgess, joined him for rousing versions of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Time of my Life” from Dirty Dancing.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining show from a rough diamond with a wonderful voice. Developing a warm rapport with the audience, Mingay shares enough of himself that by the end of the night you feel that you really do know a fair bit about him. And didn’t the sell-out crowd love him.

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Avigail Herman: Good Girl/Bad Girl

Slide Cabaret, May 21

IMG_9354 Avigail In her latest cabaret show, Good Girl/Bad Girl – which premiered last Wednesday at the Slide Cabaret Festival – Avigail Herman plays an author, who is writing a series of stories based around the seven deadly sins but who has encountered writer’s block and is struggling after finishing just three.

Inspired by Audra McDonald’s 2004 song cycle around the seven deadly sins, Herman uses the framework of a Writer’s Support Group – us – to whom she confesses her pride, laziness, relationship breakup and trips to therapy and rehab.

She sings some of McDonald’s material (“My Book” by Jeff Blumenkrantz, “I Eat” by Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens, “The Greedy Tadpole” by John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey) but also includes her own, eclectic choice of songs by Stephen Sondheim, John Bucchino and Lance Horne among others.

There isn’t a great deal of patter so at times it feels more like a concert. And since the songs aren’t widely known (the person I went with didn’t know any of them), it took time for the Slide audience to warm up.

You could feel the instant response to the humour in “Making Love Alone” and during another number, which keeps breaking into well-known songs from musicals such as “Midnight” from Cats, a few in the audience yelled out “sing it all!” She didn’t oblige as the show is clearly tightly structured. But a couple of better-known numbers might help draw people in more quickly.

A little more chat and humour between songs might also help establish a closer rapport with the audience.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the show and the choice of songs. Herman is singing beautifully, still floating her soaring top notes with effortless ease and really connecting emotionally with the lyrics. “I Eat”, in which a lonely woman eats to fill the void, is particularly moving, as is Sondheim’s “We Do Not Belong Together”, but all the songs are well interpreted. And Herman’s bubbly personality does come through – it would just be good to give it a little more room to shine.