Melissa Western is a cabaret singer of the sultry jazz club variety. Born in England to an English father and Sri Lankan mother, this olive skinned beauty grew up in Queensland, but has honed her skills in London and New York. Her voice is incredible and she just glows on stage. Looking at her internet bio, she performs frequently in lounge and jazz festival environments and from what she showed us at The Butterfly Club, she clearly has a gift for this sort of performance.
But her new show, Melissa and The Cunning Accompanist, about to head to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, strives to be more than just a collection of melt-in-your-mouth tunes. She initially sets up the show as if she is there to tell stories from her glamorous life. She shares with us that her father was a jazz singer and her mother an award-winning model. With original songs like Tonight I’m Yours, Serendipity and Hands on Hips, she entertains with polished and appealing aplomb.
But Melissa and The Cunning Accompanist soon plunges into an existential crisis as Western plays the cabaret diva who, after initially treating her poor accompanist like a lowly servant, breaks down and cries that she is nothing more than a hot body in a dress - eye candy for her audience. In his soft-spoken way, faithful accompanist Tnee (Anthony Dyer) tries to convince her otherwise.
It’s an interesting and fruitful angle for the show to take, although the pacing and dramatic arc have yet to be resolved. There is plenty of opportunity to develop both Western’s character’s emotional build-up and her relationship with Tnee. It feels like it is on the cusp, but hasn’t yet found its natural conclusion.
As it is, Tnee is a calm foil to Western’s diva antics. He listens to her while she turns on the tears. His voice is calm and laid back; his piano playing a wicked jazz and blues. There is the sense that there is more to him than meets the eye and this also deserves further exploration.
Together, Western and Tnee are a good pairing, and they clearly relish working together. They co-wrote most of the show’s excellent songs and sing well in duet. To take the show to the next level, it probably needs an outside directorial or dramaturgical eye to help shape its thematic goals and figure out how its very intimate nature would work in larger venues (which the duo will undoubtedly play). It is still a brand new show, so this will surely happen over time.
This is not to undervalue what Melissa and The Cunning Accompanist has already achieved. It has plenty of entertainment from two supremely talented artists who are not afraid to use the cabaret/theatrical form to delve into more psychological territory.
Melissa And The Cunning Accompanist
Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 21 and Friday 22 February
Times: 7.00 pm
Tickets: $20 full / $15 concession and for groups of 8 or more
Duration: one hour approx
More info: www.melissawestern.com