Thursday, 6 March 2014

Sitting With The Fat Man, March 6, 2014 ****

Sitting With The Fat Man: The Songs of Randy Newman, by Mark Jones & Sally Bourne 
Butterfly Club, Carson Pl, Melbourne, until March 9, 2914
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 6, 2014
Full review also published in Herald Sun online and in print.  KH

  Sally Bourne & Mark Jones

Mark Jones and Sally Bourne deliver a mischievous, witty and elegant tribute that illuminates and celebrates the work of American singer/songwriter, Randy Newman, in this fine cabaret, Sitting With The Fat Man.

Newman, the titular Fat Man, boasts an exceptional career that includes Oscar nominations and awards, tunes for Pixar movies and a rucksack stuffed with political, satirical songs, many of which are featured in this show.

Jones is a consummate performer with a charismatic stage presence, wicked sense of humour, impeccable comic delivery and, of course, outstanding piano playing and a rich voice.

He pairs with Bourne’s bright, tuneful tones and gentle charm to present a cunningly chosen repertoire that ranges from the cheeky, silly song, Pants (“Take my pants off”) and the infamous Short People, to dark ballads and relentlessly sardonic attacks on US politics.

Jones sits at a piano in front of a scarlet, velvet curtain, while Bourne prowls around the small stage and both engage the audience directly in the warm, intimate space of the Butterfly Club.

What is compelling and extraordinary about Newman’s writing is that he creates a complete world within each song, with a narrative and fully formed, credible characters that speak to us through the prism of Newman’s emotional or satirical lyrics.

My favourite, Political Science, also known as Let’s Drop The Big One, is a scathing, acerbic criticism of the US government’s militaristic empire-building and the song even proposes turning Australia into a theme park; the irony was lost on many Americans who’ve had their irony gland removed, evidently.

The Great Nations of Europe turns Newman’s political wrath onto the 16th century invaders who decimated entire cultures, while Sail Away criticises the slave trade that brought Africans to America.

Newman’s themes are sometimes grim, an example being In Germany Before The War, a portentous song from the point of view of a man watching his little, blonde girl – but the horror is that the character is based on a pre-war serial killer.

The song selection includes love ballads such as I’ve Been Wrong Before, When I’m Gone and Real Emotional Girl, while the final medley includes a cute version of You Can Leave Your Hat One, the raunchy number made famous by Tom Jones.

If you love Randy Newman or just crave a terrific cabaret, you’ll relish this delicious evening of superbly performed songs, and I hope Jones and Bourne get a longer season.

By Kate Herbert

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