Sandi Mac Full Circle

Sandi Mac Full Circle
Adelaide Fringe: World Premiere. The Arch at Holden Street Theatres. 26 Feb – 5 Mar, 2023

Despite recently defecting to Melbourne, Sandi McMenamin can be described as part of Adelaide’s ‘musical theatre royalty’. It would be hard to find a company or established performer that she has not nurtured, supported or worked with and for much of that time, few knew of her extensive, successful international career as a pianist, teacher, songwriter, television presenter and cabaret performer.

Sandi Mac Full Circle is an amble through Sandi’s life, beautifully punctuated with musical highlights, almost all of which are completely original pieces that McMenamin has written, including ‘Adelaide You’re a Lady’, which was chosen as the Adelaide City Council’s official 150th birthday song.

She was, in fact, born just up the road from Holden Street Theatres. She claims that her birth may have been the beginning of ‘being held back’ (and not reaching her potential) when her mother almost gave birth in her grandmother’s toilet. Her anxious mother was told to ‘push it back and get straight to the hospital!’ An auspicious start in life indeed.

Clearly, this has not held the indomitable McMenamin back. She is a deeply a proud South Australian, but her first album of original works was recorded in London. Her incredibly relaxed style and ability to connect viscerally with her audience reflects many years of performing in piano bars, clubs, and concert halls from England to Egypt, Cyprus to Sweden, Gabon to Greece, Abu Dhabi to Bahrain, Norway to Japan, and Indonesia back to her home town of Adelaide. Incidentally, on her travels she paused to entertain UN troops in Cyprus and had her own half hour television programme. Her music spans 100 years, from classical pieces to 21st century pop, and a significant part of her repertoire is self-written, including the show’s opening song, ‘Welcome to Holden Street’. Interestingly, almost any situation, including a café visit, prompts her to create a song.

She is generous to a fault with the Holden Street piece not being about her, but being about the theatre, the Fringe and its performers.

McMenamin is an accomplished singer and a skilled pianist and her Ragtime and ‘Dizzy Fingers’ were smooth with one comfortably seguing into the other. Coupled with her effortless pitch perfect singing, in both French and English, it occurred to me that an hour of Cabaret with her was very akin to a concert with legendary Liberace. She really captures the humour in pieces and somehow makes her witty improvising and original creations sound elegant as well as funny. I found myself closing my eyes so that I could listen to the words of her clever pieces, particularly her beautiful songs commissioned to save the Leafy Sea Dragon and the heart-warming song about the café whose tips are used to provide drinks for those who need them, reminding us that the person ‘could be anyone’s hero’. OK, I confess to some sniffing and misty vision being caused by this poignant original piece.

Musical talent must run in this family because a special treat is the appearance of grand-daughter Hannah, who sang ‘My funny Valentine’. Her voice soars and her interpretation was that of a much more mature performer and begs the question, ’Which talent show can we expect to see Hannah win in the future?’

McMenamin is resplendent in a diamante studded jacket, capturing the look of the celebrated piano bar and torch singers of days gone by. Her music is so inate that she performs without sheet music or script notes and with a little audience prompting creates original hysterically funny songs on the spot. Renowned for writing songs for local media personalities, she ended the show with the very tongue in cheek, ‘Hello, how are you Robe? - an unashamed tribute to her friend, raconteur and ABC media and Arts personality Peter Goers. It was hilarious.

She announced that she would be back in 2024 with a show called, ‘Bits that I left out”, and if Full Circle is any indication, I will be there because there is so much more to see and hear from the unsurpassable Sandi McMenamin.

Jude Hines

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