Amanda Muggleton at Teatro Vivaldi
Musical Director: John Martin
8th and 9th August 2014.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
With its cosy theatrical ambiance, rich red walls resplendently decorated with gold-framed theatre posters and photographs, Teatro Vivaldi’s is one of Canberra’s most elegant and cherished entertainment venues.
Since it was first established 10 years ago by Mark Santos and Anthony Hill, Teatro Vivaldi has played host to some of the country’s best known cabaret performers, among them, Amanda Muggleton and Dennis Olsen, who performed their show “Marvellous Party!” for the official opening of the venue in May 2004.How fitting then, that 10 years on, Amanda Muggleton chose Teatro Vivaldi to launch her new solo cabaret “The Men That Got Away Thank God!”
Intimate cabaret provides a wonderfully seductive medium for an experienced performer to showcase their talents. But it can also be riddled with booby-traps for the unwary, as Amanda Muggleton discovered on the opening night of her new show. Ideally cabaret is the opportunity to let the audience know more about the person behind the performer. Some have famously described it as turning around and discovering yourself naked in front of an audience.In the pre-publicity for her new cabaret “The Men Who Got Away – Thank God!” Muggleton promised that her show would be revealing. On opening night it certainly was, but not, one suspects, in the way she had intended.
Muggleton is a master communicator. She is widely admired for her ability to communicate with her audiences through her characterisations. This talent she has demonstrated over many years, in roles as widely varying as Maria Callas in “Master Class” , Bette Davis in “Me and Jezebel”, and Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly”. Those who saw her stunningly revealing performances in “Steaming” and “Shirley Valentine” and most recently in “The Book Club” cherish the memory of these performances. But of course, in all these she was playing characters, and although Muggleton is no stranger to cabaret, when here, stripped of the façade of a character, her first performance of “The Men That Got Away – Thank God” at Teatro Vivaldi, seemed surprisingly insecure.
The show commenced promisingly, with Muggleton making a pensive entrance through the audience, dressed elegantly in a long black ensemble. Eschewing a conventional microphone, she wore a head-mic. Her only stage props were a music-stand on which rested her script,(no doubt intended only as an aide memoire should she need a prompt) and a coat-stand draped with costumes.
Her opening song was a down-beat version of “The Man That Got Away” which segued into a section of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”. The lyrics for the latter, she read from the open script. She also appeared uncomfortable and hesitant with her connecting dialogue, referring to her script frequently, even though she had written it herself. Her famous bravado seemed to have deserted her.As the show progressed reading from the script became the modus operandi, as if she couldn’t tear herself away from it , even for “Mad about the Boy”, which she must have sung literally dozens of times before.
The song selection was good. Cole Porter’s “The Physician”, Tom Lehrer’s “The Masochistic Tango”, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon”, even Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” were included, as well as less familiar songs like “I Regret Everything” and “My Shattered Illusions”. All should have been highlights, but none had been sufficiently explored to discover how best to deliver the lyrics to serve the storyline, or indeed even survive her often strident delivery.Musical Director John Martin provided good-natured accompaniment on the baby grand. He sang gentle harmonies for “Something Stupid” and “Nature Boy”, contributed an excellent account of Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu”, and joined Muggleton for a short piano duet.
The best moment in the show occurred in the second act when Muggleton spoke about her parents. For this section she abandoned the script and for the first time, allowed her obvious enthusiasm and affection for the topic full reign. In this moment we caught a glimpse of the private Amanda Muggleton, the doting, indulgent, loving and vulnerable daughter, usually hidden behind the polished façade of the witty, glamorous leading lady.There is much more to be discovered about Amanda Muggleton, a true professional, and a quick learner, who will no doubt have learned a great deal from this uncomfortable first performance of “The Men Who Got Away – Thank God!”. One suspects that once she gets the full measure of the material, future audiences will be treated to a very different show. One which truly celebrates the talents of a leading lady of her stature.