Genius is clearly very much a work of love for all those involved. Who could ask for a more fitting venue, the heritage listed church which is a landmark in Collins Street. Who could ask for a better subject, the legendary Ray Charles, member of the Jazz Hall of Fame, the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame and the Songwriters' Hall of Fame and winner of 18 Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award – and that's only some of the many accolades he received. And then there's the music, some thirty-four songs some written by Charles, many not, but all made very much his own.
One of the real stars of the night is Chris Kirby who plays The Very Reverend Frederick Douglas Jackson. He 'hosts' the performance in the role of a Baptist preacher and his 'lessons' outline some of the major and formative episodes in Charles's life. Kirby is just perfect and the script is full of humour – what do you need to sing the blues: poverty, handicap, blackness, the name of a president? Kirby creates an entertaining and informative link between the songs so that even those who aren't really sure who Ray Charles was can learn something of his musical genius.
The two lead singers are also very good. Jeff Duff proves that a white man can sing with depth, resonance and add vibrato when necessary. Wylie J Miller is the epitome of the black singer sporting a yellow suit and red satin shirt with real applomb and he has a voice to match – full of passion and colour. The Rayons (Shirley Davis, Kau Kau (Coco) Karauria and Tracey Miller) provided a strong backing group. And the band, the Shake Ya Tail Feather Big Band, produced a great sound, despite being cramped together on the small stage. Added to this was a gospel choir The True Believers.
My only criticims are that the sound system failed to do full justice to the singers and, whilst they had good voices, the gospel choir weren't really able to capture the depth and resonance one might hope for, but then there wasn't an Aretha or a Mahalia in the choir.
Genius offers its audience a night of colour and movement; a hand-clapping, roof raising good night out and music to die for. Make sure you take your heart, your sould and your dancing shoes along.
Craig Wilkins presents
Genius: The Gospel, Soul and Rock ’n’ Roll of Brother Ray
Venue: Collins St Baptist Church
Dates: 23 Sept - 10 October 2009
Times: Doors open at 6.45pm, show starts 7.30pm daily | Excluding Sundays, Thursday 1st October, Monday 5th October and Thursday 8th October
Tickets: Conc $30.00, Full $49.00, Other $99.00
Bookings: Festival Tix: 03 9660 9666 or www.melbournefringe.com.au