Last year the icon Stephen Sondheim passed away and the loss was particularly felt amongst the queer theatre kids (and adults) who grew into themselves through the soundtrack of Sondheim’s love stories. In this celebration of the man’s legacy, Little Triangle present an honorary cabaret with a twist: sweeping, scalding, passionate love but no straights, only queer!
In thinking up the concept for this cabaret, director Alexander Andrews wanted to see more of himself and his community represented in their beloved musicals. In these stories, the characters’ queerness isn’t a burden or obstacle and their love, all the sticky, salty, sweetness of it, takes centre stage in the same way heteronormativity has allowed straight love stories to shine for decades. Andrews integrated the spirit of queering into his selection of songs, as well, by using quite a few cut songs that didn’t make it into the final musicals and some mash-up songs from the musical revues Putting It Together by Sondheim and Sondheim on Sondheim by James Lapin. In this way, Isn’t It Queer? has all of the feeling and oomph of Sondheim without the huge hit songs and the heavy baggage that previous performances and pop culture references attach to them. The song selection allowed a freshness to the performances and opened up the possibilities of these new loves.
Some quirky queerings worth mentioning were turning “Pour Le Sport” from the Last Resorts into a will-they-won’t-they gay romp between Samuel Hurley and Jack Francis West and merging the lyrics of the original “Someone is Waiting” and the 2018 gender-swap version of Company for a new bi anthem performed by Blake Condon. Understandably, many of the songs featured failures of love and the foibles of unrequited love or distant yearning like “The Wedding is Off”, a cut song from Company, with Phoebe Clark as a bride fleeing her groom on their wedding day or “Pretty Women” from Sweeney Todd with Addy Robertson, Marissa Saroca, and Condon simply musing over the power of beautiful women. Some songs stood alone as ruminations on the pros and cons of love, including a jazzy performance of Dick Tracy‘s “Live Alone and Like It” by West, but Andrews additionally shaped a handful of couple storylines throughout the production that worked particularly well for adding angst and context to the songs. The seamless transition between solo songs and the through-narratives was in no small part assisted by the accompaniment of violinist Alec Steedman and pianist Andrew Howie who supported the actors very cleanly and with their own pizzazz. Robertson and Saroca were audience favourites for their hot renditions of “Bang!”, a raunchy cut from A Little Night Music, and a heartfelt but still spicy “Unworthy of Your Love” from Assassins. The two had a bold and committed dynamic that cut through the kitschy sweetness in other numbers, adding fun and flirty variation to the production.
Stand-out performances, though, came from two other couples: Andy Freeborn opposite Gavin Brown and Jahla Black opposite Alinora Tame. Two cross-over duets were especially beautiful and turned the cabaret into a truly moving production. First, Freeborn as Brown’s long-suffering wife stoically endured his performance of “I Never Do Anything Twice” from the Seven Percent Solution, before transitioning into a mash-up of “My Husband the Pig/Every Day a Little Death” (A Little Night Music cut/A Little Night Music) duet with Black. Freeborn’s demeanour was cold and piercing but they let the cracks show for a very affecting performance. On the other hand, Black was vulnerable and fragile in this duet and a later sequence of “Rainbows”, cut from Into the Woods, and “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen”, cut from Follies. In this section, Andrews’s attention to the emotional detail of the song selection came through by pairing these songs as opposite sides of two painful break-ups. The narrative arc from “Country House” (Follies cut) to “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen” (Follies cut) for Black and Tame was heartbreaking and moving in a way cabaret usually isn’t.
Unfortunately for many, this season of Isn’t It Queer? has already sold out as another testament to the talent of the Little Triangle team. Time and again Little Triangle shows Sydney audiences what is possible for independent musical theatre with exceptionally talented performers, dedicated musicians, and astute direction.
Isn’t It Queer? is running at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists from April 19th – 23rd
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