Ali McGregor’s Alchemy
REVIEW CRAIG McKEOUGH
No matter how serious or highbrow our musical background or taste, everyone has a trashy little secret or guilty pleasure.
The musical career of Melbourne’s Ali McGregor may be more hifalutin than most of the performers at Fringe World — she is a former principal soprano with Opera Australia with a string of high-profile roles to her credit — but as a teenager in the 1980s, she had her share of fan-girl crushes on pop stars of the day. And she is bravely airing that old laundry in public this week with her Fringe World show Alchemy.
Alchemy is the fabled process of turning base metals into gold and McGregor does the same with her music. She spends more time in the world of cabaret than opera these days but she brings a distinctly operatic sensibility to some of the pop that shaped her musical awakening.
It’s all there — the fixation on Michael Hutchence, a bit of Madonna, Fine Young Cannibals and even hip-hop act Salt’n’Pepa — but McGregor jazzes them up, literally, with the aid of a tight three-piece band that turns faded pop into late-night, smoky cabaret gems.
Highlights include INXS’ Never Tear Us Apart, Blur’s Song 2 and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, which shed their pop origins for new life as jazz standards with the occasional operatic flourish.
McGregor describes the Kiss classic I Was Made For Lovin’ You as the sexiest song ever written, a doubtful claim, but in her hands it suddenly seems possible.
The only competition for the title seems to be Barbie Girl, the trashy 90s pop hit by Aqua, which McGregor reimagines as a saucy romp. With a nod, a wink and a sexy squeal, she gives cause for question to those of us who allowed their nine-year-olds to listen to it repeatedly back in the day.
McGregor brings a great sense of humour to her performance as well as an impressive vocal ability. It’s an entertaining night for those who enjoyed these songs in their youth and are open to hearing them in a whole new guise.
Ali McGregor’s Alchemy runs until Sunday.