CABARET FRINGE FESTIVAL REVIEW: DIAMOND LIVES, PICTURE BOOKS, AT THE JADE

The publicity blurb for Diana Scalzi and Ben Gatehouse’s Cabaret Fringe show is a little misleading in claiming that this show could be even partially described as ‘indie rock opera’ – and it was that phrase that piqued my initial interest and encouraged me to put my hand up to review this production. Neither the headliners or the support duo, Orelia, ventured into this musical domain at any time during the two hours of the show.FullSizeRender-3

To be fair though, the show’s description also claimed that a ‘kaleidoscopic’ portrait of ‘the sophisti-pop of the ’80s’ would be painted for the audience, and  whilst no ‘kaleidoscope’ materialised, the ’80s blue-eyed soul numbers came thick and fast and were performed with an infectious enthusiasm and a lot more than just a modicum of talent, and an impressive musical picture, as promised, was fashioned for the audience throughout the evening.

The title of the show gives a clear hint as to the musical focus of the song selection for this show. Sade’s ‘Diamond Life’ and Simply Red’s ‘Picture Book’ albums obviously being clear frames of reference for the main duo.

Sade’s songs were well-represented – Is It A Crime (nicely segueing into Terence Trent D’Arby’s Sign My Name), No Ordinary Love and Smooth Operator were all prominently featured and interpreted beautifully, whilst Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years, which allowed Gatehouse to channel his inner Hucknall admirably, also made the cut.

Other ’80s standards, such as The Style Council’s Ever Changing Moods; Crowded House’s Fall At Your Feet; George Michael’s Careless Whisper; and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time, along with his duet with Kate Bush, Don’t Give Up, were sung with heartfelt respect and a sincere passion which the audience responded to with great enthusiasm.

The penultimate song, a stunning interpretation of Womack & Womack’s soul classic Teardrops, actually had the audience literally whooping with excitement.

Both of these performers sing beautifully. Scalzi’s rendition of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill proved to be worth the price of admission on its own, whilst Gatehouse, admitting that this was his ‘first ever fringe show performance’ (which did show in his nervous, unscripted between song patter) sang his heart out on every number, consistently showcasing his magnificent voice.

FullSizeRender-7

On a small stage, in an intimate room, playing a mostly acoustic set, there is nowhere to hide if you do not have the talent to keep your audience engaged and absorbed. Both Scalzi and Gatehouse did not miss a beat in this show, their voices combined seamlessly, and their performance was amongst the best I have seen in recent years at the Adelaide Cabaret Fringe.

Earlier, Orelia, a duo featuring Chelsea Thomas on piano and vocals, and Troy Benson on drums, performed a brief set consisting of some reimagined standards amidst a handful of impressive original tunes.

Thomas’ voice battled with the volume of her piano early on, but this issue was soon remedied and the strength of the original material shone through.

Whilst it was clear that the limitations of the arrangements based around the two instruments did not allow the full complexity of their compositions to come across fully  – and I would love to hear these songs with a full band to bring them into their best light – the duo performed them with animated energy.

Playing only one song from their 2015 CD-EP, An Imaginary Life, as well as a couple of old classics, like Eddy Arnold’s You Don’t Know Me, and a take on the Nina Simone version of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Feeling Good, fitting beautifully amongst their newer songs (in particular the excellent Aviary), Orelia made it clear that they have an abundance of talent and ability, and set the bar high for the main act to follow.

Diamond Lives, Picture Books is scheduled for one more performance at The Jade, 142 Franklin Street, Adelaide, next Friday night, June 16 at 7:30pm.

Word of mouth, after this first show, should ensure that tickets will be scarce by the end of the week. Buy yours now.