Speakeasies, jazz and a social conscience are what’s on tap Downstairs at the Maj with an airbrushed, highly polished resurrection of the Harold Arlen tribute cabaret Fancy Meeting You, written by Izaak Lim, Amalie O’Hara and Kathleen Douglas. This trip down memory lane directed by Michael Loney promises some favourite old standards from the composer who got us through some ‘Stormy Weather’ and took us ‘Over the Rainbow’ back in the last century.
This refresher course in Arlen’s canon attempts not only to remind us of the way things used to be, but also brings us up to speed on how we’re doing as a society in terms of racial and sexual tolerance. To be honest, it’s a little heavy-handed for my taste, but there are probably a fair few individuals who still need a good strong hand to grab them by the ears and drag them kicking and screaming (or humming) into our much less rigid 21st century.
In any case, Fancy Meeting You is performed by a trio of talented young whipper-snappers, Cassandra Charlick as the Cotton Club’s matron, Lucille, William Groucutt as the club’s quirky clarinetist, Abe, and Anne-Marie Biagioni as the club’s newcomer, Maggie. They’re all in personal turmoil due to living against the grain, Lucille being a single pregnant woman, Abe being gay, and Maggie being a race other than Caucasian.
Biagioni has an impossibly boundless energy and all but takes over the stage whenever she appears. But in contrast to her big, comedic acting style, her vocals are all subtlety and finesse; she can work a phrase, and her timbre is rich and warm.
Groucutt has an incredible range and reaches the upper stratosphere with ease and finesse, but not only that, he’s an affable performer, a boy next door with sheepish charm. But my question is, did he learn how to play clarinet just for this role, or did he already know how?
Charlick is the least accessible of the three; her character has a bit more of an uphill battle to win our hearts, given her views about “coloured girls” and her somewhat detached, ethereal presence. I would have preferred to see someone a little earthier in this role, a Bette Midler type, a bold queen to hold court at the Club.
The audience, mostly an older set, absolutely ate it up, singing along, reacting with oohs and aahs at some of the plot revelations. The show ends with the trio singing “Over the Rainbow,” which has an even more poignant significance after the story we’ve just been told by these performers. It’s a bittersweet reminder that although we’ve come pretty far since young Judy Garland sang about a world without troubles, we still have a long way to go, and we may never get there.
Perth Theatre Trust presents
Fancy Meeting You
by Izaak Lim, Amalie O’Hara and Kathleen Douglas
Director Michael Loney
Venue: Downstairs at the Maj, Perth, WA
Dates: 29 – 31 Oct, 2015