In a tribute befitting Bastille Day, Wendy Lee Taylor executes a quaint little number based on her experiences in Paris.
The mood in Chapel off Chapel's charming black box theatre is immediately set by the show's jazz trio: Joe Ruberto on the piano and accordion, Leigh Barker on the double bass, and Justin Marshall on the drums. Taylor enters with her own wry kind of charm, dressed as she might be found in the Lido de Paris, in corset and extravagant headpiece. She transitions straight into narrative, pre-recorded telephone conversations detailing her placement at the Lido de Paris. Her own experiences act as a backdrop for familiar and new songs. The titular Paris Walk is Taylor's opener and descriptive of how as an Australian, she stood out. She relates her own experiences with the assistance of her musicians, which act as a sort of chorus, holding up translations on placards and occasionally joining in with the vocals (which would undeniably benefit from miking). A particular shout-out must be paid to the charming Marshall, who quite clearly laps up every inch of the evening and plays the role of Taylor's musician beau with particular aplomb. Care must be paid in future stagings that the intricate instrumental does not overshadow Taylor's voice: at times, the two battle one another in terms of volume.
Taylor makes it clear that this is cabaret in it's rawest form – a performance, not a story despite the premise of a narrative. She addresses the audience and draws up members to perform alongside her: there's no fourth wall in place. This choice can be detrimental: unable to decide between performing or telling a story, Taylor's narrative meanders and has no proper middle or conclusion. Her songs of her various relationships in France feel more fiction than fact from which she springboards into songs.
While Taylor's renditions are crystal clear and the power behind her soaring vocals is noted, there's sometimes more technique and less emotion to them. While the solely-instrumental interludes in between vocals are refreshing, Taylor's tendency to wander out of the light and perch herself to the side confuses the viewer as to what precisely is happening. Other staging choices are also similarly perplexing. Taylor dons a pair of pink plastic gloves at one point, then swaps them for bare skin, and later, black silk. There's no particular tie-in to the narrative or the songs she performs to explain the slight costume change and instead, appears to be a stalling for more time. The minimal set up of a cafe scene stage-left is also barely touched: Taylor's painting on stage as a visual metaphor for the artisan lifestyle gains a perplexed and lukewarm reception. Lighting is used to guide the audience as to what is occurring in the narrative, and smartly illuminates decos of the Eiffel Tower and Opera House to point out where Taylor is in the narrative. However the unnecessary raising of the house lights during one number, for no discernible reason, is jarring and effects similar to strobe lights, during Taylor's number on building a home in Paris, grate.
Muddled direction aside, Taylor's vocals appear to be what has pulled the crowd. Shining in powerful Piaf pieces – Padam, Padam; La Vie en Rose; and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien – Taylor is relentless in her delivery of vocally intense numbers. The balance between instrumental and vocals are precise here. She is similarly sublime is her jazzed up versions of Anyone Can Whistle and the rousing applause she receives is well-earned.
Those that attend for the music, less so a story, will find themselves pleased.
2012 Melbourne Cabaret Festival
The Paris Walk
Wendy Lee Taylor
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel
Dates: 13 – 15 July, 2012
Tickets: $35 – $32
Bookings: 03 8290 7000