Buzzing Broadway

Buzzing Broadway
Free-Rain Nightclub. Directed by Cate Clelland, with musical direction by Nicholas Griffin. Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre. 30 October – 1 November 2015

Buzzing Broadway is a kind of low-key cabaret, with a little food included, playing in the Canberra Theatre’s intimate Courtyard Studio.  Though the stage simply doesn’t support the glitz and polish that you might hope for in a sampling of Broadway numbers, there was an engaging presence in the cast that made such peripheral concerns hardly noticeable.

Broadway retrospectives sometimes have a job of shaking off a little of the dust from some of the old tunes, or perhaps it’s in bringing into them the authentic sense of the era in which they were set.  Buzzing Broadway exhibited no such challenges.  This lively series of numbers, all but one of them sung, and several danced too, retained a charming sense of genuineness throughout.  This arose partly through their simple introductions by the those about to sing them, and partly through the most noticeable feature of the programme: the utter naturalness of the performances.

At no point was there a sense of an actor donning a role; not because the performances lacked suitable character at all, but simply because all the cast members seemed to have adopted their characters easily and naturally.

Every performer was consistently good, with no over-acting or artificiality in evidence.  Naturalness may have been the production’s most noticeable quality, but I’d be remiss in limiting my praise to that.  Aside from the teensiest flatness (and I’m very picky about this; it wasn’t a big deal) of a number of high notes in solos -- due, I’m sure, only to lack of proper breath support -- the pitching of the singing was very good indeed; and this pitch accuracy was vital, because the harmonies throughout were sublime.

There were at most just seven people singing at a time; yet they were clearly singing at least six-part harmony in a couple of songs.  These harmonies were delicious: rich and daring, but tuneful and mellifluous.  Rather than being at all achromatic or (like, say, some of the harmonies of The Manhattan Transfer) dissonant, these vocal arrangements had that very satisfying sense that comes of following the basic rules of harmony; and not a note was out of place.  Supported only by an electric piano (manned with zing by musical director Nicholas Griffin), the singers’ inherent musicality, and evident mastery in musical direction, each of the numbers, from the 1963 “On Broadway” to the 2011 “Alto’s Lament”, made us tap our toes, smile, even laugh aloud.

Special mention must go to Steve Amosa.  Not only did he manage to deliver a performance of “The Music of the Night” (from Phantom of the Opera) with genuine feeling; his compelling stage presence throughout added several touches of charming comedy.  Also in the cast, his daughter Kirrah showed a good deal of that same stage presence, a sense of centredness that keeps your attention.  I wasn’t surprised to learn later that both are highly experienced musical performers; they in fact perform together regularly.

This very enjoyable production deserves broader exposure.  I hope it receives it.

John P. Harvey

Image: [L–R] Lisa Irvine, Steve Amosa, Kirrah Amosa, Louiza Blomfield, Alexander Chubb, Cher Albrecht, and Kaitlin Nihill, in Buzzing Broadway.  Photographer: Janelle McMenamin

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