Up Close and Reasonably Personal
Downstairs at the Maj
Review: David Zampatti
If you're "A Star", and used to performing on big stages in green make-up, the little cabaret downstairs at the Maj must be daunting.
To paraphrase the title of Amanda Harrison's one-woman show, you're right up close and very personal on that stage. If you wanted to be less naked, you'd take up stripping.
But 17 years of lead roles in big-time musicals make you brave if they don't kill you. They also give you fans (this night including Queen and Ben Elton).
Harrison's got some personal stories to tell. She juggles two careers (her husband is a theatrical production manager), her high-maintenance vocal chords, two kids and constant house moving, all on a decidedly unglamorous family budget. Whatever the world might think, she says, "we are pitied by our relatives".
The stories are good humoured, self-deprecating and animated, somewhat reminiscent of Fiona O'Loughlin's stand-up routine. There's no doubting her sincerity, or that she does shop at Target and hates cooking ("Every time I serve my family dinner, they can taste the resentment"). But Harrison comes from a business where the necessary virtues are technique and centimetre-perfect delivery, unlike stand-up, where spontaneity-however well rehearsed-is a prerequisite. Sometimes she's a little outside her comfort zone here.
The songs, though, are always convincing. It's an eclectic mix, and produces some unexpected treats-especially a gorgeous Tennessee Waltz and a pumping version of INXS's Never Tear Us Apart that even had Brian May's venerable head of hair on the move.
The illustrious Bev Kennedy accompanies on piano, and the depth and heft of her playing, and her spluttering version of the obligatory Defying Gravity, are highlights.
They compensate somewhat for the show's disappointing lack of production. Only at the end, when a video-clip fan blows through a mischievous parody of Jefferson Starship's otherwise banal Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now, and some effective lighting lifts The Wizard and I from Wicked, do we get the full impact of Harrison's prodigious talent.
Harrison is first cab off the rank in a cabaret season at the Maj dominated by women, either as performers (including the not-to-be-missed Christa Hughes) or subject matter (Michael Griffiths' take on Annie Lennox; the story of the lyricist Dorothy Fields). You could do much worse.