By Nick Pilgrim
‘I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook or the ovation
It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in
Life’s not worth a damn till you can say
I am what I am’
La Cage aux Folles by Jerry Herman
Powerful lyrics to live by, Paul Capsis is a veteran of the Australian musical theatre and live entertainment scene. This national treasure has featured in iconic productions such as Cabaret (as the Emcee), Tommy (as the Acid Queen), and most recently, as Albin in the above-mentioned La Cage aux Folles.
As a last-minute replacement for another reviewer who had taken ill, I relished the chance to witness this sixty-minute star turn. With an innate ability to bring a special spark to any ensemble experience, I was curious to see for the first time how Capsis would headline his own showcase vehicle.
Dry My Tears is as much about the journey as it is living in the moment. Very much a scrapbook album linked to the singer’s musical and artistic evolution, Capsis performed a solid handful of classics with clear purpose. This set list was an emotionally eclectic mixture of popular and lesser-known works; the hour he generously shared with us simply flew by.
How much of his self-effacing banter between pieces was scripted or impromptu, kept me constantly guessing. Whether observing Capsis silently reading the room or mischievously holding court, one simply can’t take one’s eyes off him.
Channelling torch song legends the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Marianne Faithful, Billie Holiday, Elton John, Janis Joplin, Ute Lemper, Edith Piaf, Jimmy Scott, Nina Simone, and Bessie Smith, Capsis employs these muses to become one with the music. At times reconfiguring works to suit his specific vision, Dry My Tears included:
- Wilkommen (from Cabaret);
- The Alabama Song;
- Mack The Knife;
- Falling In Love Again;
- Beautiful Dreamer;
- Little Girl Blue;
- Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word;
- Je ne t’aime pas;
- Worrisome Heart;
- One For My Baby;
- And So It Goes; and,
- You’ve Gotta See Mama Every Night.
FortyFiveDownstairs is the perfect space for this kind of show. Up close and personal, there is an unspoken intimacy shared between appreciative viewers and the artist. Three flights below Flinders Lane, the room was bathed in soft lighting which highlighted raw materials such as unpolished wooden floorboards and exposed brick.
Taking a bold back-to-basics approach, Capsis worked with few props and no form of sound amplification. Instead, the abovementioned surfaces do that work for him. (Special mention for simple yet effective spot lighting added to the overall mood where needed.)
Musical backing was delightfully provided by Francis Greep on grand piano, driving home the evening’s Manhattan supper club vibe.
There is a certain power to working unmiked; performers magically bring fans and followers to them. Two similar and equally significant markers come to mind.
Twenty years ago, I saw Barbara Cook cover an evening called Mostly Sondheim at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. Ending her act with ‘Anyone Can Whistle’, it is something I will never forget. Then in 2013 Idina Menzel dazzled a packed Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, concluding her powerhouse marathon with ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’.
Like Capsis at FortyFiveDownStairs, it is during these moments you could hear a pin drop.
Playing until Sunday May 28, Dry My Tears is traditional cabaret at its most magnetic. Don’t miss out!