Saturday, May 6, 2017

VELVET - A Divine Discotheque Circus

Director and Creator: Craig Ilott
Musical Director: Joe Accaria
Choreographer: Lucas Newland
Set and Costume Design: James Brown
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre until 14th May, 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM

The cast of "Velvet". 

Any thoughts that Disco might be passé’ are quickly erased by this exuberant production in which toes are set tapping and hearts a ’thumping immediately the strains of “Boogie Wonderland” and thousands of disco lights and mirror balls magically transforms the usually staid Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse into a deliciously decadent approximation of New York’s famed Studio 54.

Although it has been touring since 2015, this is the first time “Velvet” has been presented in a proscenium theatre without a thrust stage, but because the height of the Playhouse’s proscenium is adjustable, allowing the show’s aerial acts to soar thrillingly right out over the audience, the show still works a treat.

A dazzling combination of lights, smoke and mirrors, and velvet drapes provide a suitably exotic atmosphere as a young man (Tom Oliver) arrives through the audience. A Bellboy, (Mirko Kockenberger) helps him with his suitcases, glamorous disco dancers (Rechelle Mansour and Kaylah Attard) beckon, and an interesting stranger catches his eye.

After singing a pensive version of “If You Could Read My Mind”, the young man discovers himself seduced by beautiful strangers who perform incredible feats of strength, skill and daring around him. The helpful Bellboy performs an amazing strip/balancing routine with his suitcases, a chubby cherub in sequin tights (Craig Reid) performs unbelievable manoeuvres with hula hoops, and exotic goddess ( Emma Goh) twirls enticingly in a silver hoop high above his head. An incredibly ripped, leather-clad apparition (Stephen Williams) mesmerises with his dangerous feats on straps, before the queen of disco herself (Marcia Hines), clad head to toe in gold sequins, emerges to command the stage with the voice that has thrilled her audiences for decades.

Marcia Hines in full flight

Overseeing all this decadence, a mysteriously be-mirrored percussionist/disc jockey, (Joe Accaria) keeps the atmosphere simmering with a non-stop succession of disco favourites, occasionally darting into the audience to insure that his music is hitting its mark.

Created and directed by Craig Ilott as a showcase for the prodigiously talented Marcia Hines, “Velvet” was originally conceived as a Spiegletent presentation, but its success internationally and around Australia has resulted in performances in The Sydney Opera House, and now the Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse as part of a 13 stop tour of Australasia.  The show features a swag of hits associated with, and sung by, Hines, as well as terrific versions of such perennials as “It’s Raining Men”, “Stayin Alive,” Shake your Groove Thing” and “Enough is Enough”, all given fresh new arrangements by maestro Accaria,  presented without an interval in a seamless stream of swivel-hipped dancing, dazzling acrobatic routines and thrilling vocalisations.

Only the finale seemed to miss the mark on opening night. As the cast left the stage, Accaria pumped out more disco favourites, setting up the expectation that the cast would return for encores. It was only as the bemused audience filtered out into the foyer was it realised that the additional music had been to allow the cast to position themselves in the foyer where they generously posed for endless selfies with delighted audience members, who no doubt lit up Facebook with their happy snaps.

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.