Monday, 31 July 2017

Bowie & Mercury Rising, July 27, 2017

Created by Warren Wills
At Chapel off Chapel, until July 30, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 27, 2017
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs July 27, 2017 & later in print. KH
 Thando Sikwila, Jess Mortlock, Warren Wills

Warren Wills’ piano playing and inventive musical arrangements are the great strength and focus of Bowie & Mercury Rising, Wills’ tribute to his musical heroes, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.

Wills, an accomplished musician and musical director, is the sole instrumentalist in this show and his arrangements for piano and electronic keyboard have an expansive, almost orchestral quality.

Powerhouse vocalist, Thando Sikwila, joins Wills on stage to sing an eclectic selection of Bowie and Queen hits, ranging from Bowie’s Life on Mars, Suffragette City, Heroes and Space Oddity to Queen’s We Will Rock You and We are the Champions.

Sikwila’s performance is refreshingly unembellished and her rich, controlled voice can be thrilling and moving; the show would improve if she were let off the leash throughout, as she was in the bold, jazz-style finale of Heroes.

Despite the musical successes, the component parts of this production do not form a cohesive whole and the problems start with the repetitive choreography (Jess Mortlock) and Sikwila’s awkward dialogue delivered at irregular intervals between songs.

Mortlock is a capable dancer, but her choreographic interludes are overwrought, do not illuminate the songs and are not effectively integrated with the singer and musician.
 Thando Sikwila, Warren Wills
Wills’ concept for the show is unclear and the dialogue, although sometimes quirky and diverting, is often confusing, providing no through-line or narrative.

The projected images are sometimes enlightening but more often distracting, and the lighting (Jason Bovaird) needs simplifying to maintain the focus on music and lyrics.

This production is crying out for a writer and, more urgently, a theatrical director, to find a narrative and conceptual thread to link the components and give greater insight into Bowie and Mercury.

This show would be far more successful if it limited its scope to being a short concert cabaret with a tight focus on Wills, the pianist, and Sikwila, the singer.  I’d happily watch that show.

By Kate Herbert

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