“I’m absolutely, irrepressibly optimistic about this season,” says Melvyn Morrow.
Morrow has contributed his writing skills to a wide range of media (television, radio, stage) and a wide range of genres (comedy, cabaret, musicals including Dusty and SHOUT!). His play, Vice, looked at sexual abuse in private schools and recently finished its successful season at Newtown’s King Street Theatre.
But what he is referring to here is the new season of Popinjay Productions’ Cabaret in the Day that opens at the Mosman Art Gallery on May 31.
This self-proclaimed “ratbag” curated the first season there in 2013 after coming up with one of those left-field ideas that—once you get over the surprise—seems wonderfully logical. But first you have to come to terms with the notion of cabaret during the day, which at first seems counterintuitive, given cabaret’s cheeky, late-night reputation.
Then there is the venue—a former Methodist Church, now a performing space—probably the complete opposite to a smoky laneway bar.
And then there is the sheer unlikeliness of the astonishing bunch of performers Morrow has rounded up—people so highly acclaimed that you’d assume would all be too busy.
And then—while you are still saying, “He did what now?”—you notice the intriguing program of three shows that focus on slightly lesser known celebrities from a time when music was melodic and radio was king.
The result is an enticing season, a high calibre entertainment in which consummate entertainers pay tribute to consummate entertainers. “It’s like a genuflection to the greats of another era,” says Morrow. “The quality of the songs they sing is gold plated.”
One big coup was signing irrepressible pianist/singer Glenn Amer as musical director for all three afternoons. Amer, described as “the man with the fingers of Liberace and the voice of Mario Lanza”, is not only a showman through and through, but is deeply steeped in musical history. “Glenn’s house is full of 1920s phonographs,” says Morrow. “He’s the only person in the Southern Hemisphere who still records piano rolls. There would be no one in Australia who knows more about this era of recorded music than Amer.”
On May 31, double Logie-winner—and Mosman local—Andrew O’Keefe (currently on Channel 7’s Sunrise) and Glenn Amer present Glorious Mud!, a look at the comic songs of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann who were, during the 1950s and ’60s, “the most sophisticated musical duo in England”. “Glorious mud” refers to “The Hippopotamus”, one of their many animal songs, but Flanders and Swann applied their “merry, wicked and charming” wordplay to humans as well, in “Have Some Madeira M’Dear”, for instance.
Says Morrow: “The curious thing about Flanders and Swann is that they were the end of a certain kind of English witty revue, before people like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did Beyond the Fringe.” And although they are satirical, their approach is “not so much one of savagery as amused observation.” Musically, Morrow says, they were at “the very end of the Gilbert and Sullivan melodic trail.”
Then, on June 28, operatic baritone Geoffrey Chard AM and Glenn Amer present Memories of Peter Dawson (written by David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow). During the six decades of his career, Dawson—an Australian—was the most famous recording artist in the world. His recordings included “On the Road to Mandalay” and “Land of Hope and Glory”.
Chard is very proud to have met Peter Dawson, who died in 1961, but Morrow never knew him. Nevertheless, research conducted by the writers gave Morrow a sense of the man: “He was an old-fashioned three-piece-suit sort of guy, very conservative, and I think he represented a kind of respectable Empire attitude.”
The final presentation, on July 5, is Our Glad, written by Morrow and honouring Gladys Moncrieff, Bundaberg-born star of operetta and musical comedy. Christine Douglas, formerly with Opera Australia, pays tribute with songs like “The Merry Widow Waltz”, “Tea for Two” and, of course, “Love Will Find A Way.” Again, Glenn Amer accompanies, bringing his own showmanship and comic talents to the show.
When Morrow proposed the new project to Christine Douglas, she at first demurred. But when he told her that the show was about Gladys Moncrieff, she could no longer refuse. “My father was Gladys Moncrieff’s last leading man,” she gasped. “So the answer is yes, I will absolutely do it.”
Morrow describes Moncrieff as “a tough old broad” whose worldwide fame made her “the Sutherland of musical comedy … she made herself a legend.” But, he says, her voice was very light. “Christine’s is a much better voice, in my opinion. Her voice is exquisite and because it so decorates that very decorative music, I think you’ll be knocked out by it.”
But why cabaret during the day? Morrow has an impressive list of persuasive reasons: “This way you can have Sunday lunch, then swan up to the Mosman Art Gallery. Parking’s easy, you don’t have to pay the ludicrous amount of money you pay in town, and—if you are from the lower or middle North Shore—you don’t have to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Art Gallery management are wonderful. They give everyone a cup of tea afterwards, and the artists mingle with the audience. It’s all very relaxed, and you can get home by 5 and have a cocktail.”
When asked if daytime programming dissipates any of cabaret’s bohemian atmosphere or politically pointed edge, Morrow says that he doesn’t see any of these entertainers in “smoky cellars”. Anyway, he points out, there are different kinds of cabaret: “I think cabaret can be gentle and amusing, as well as sharp and incisive.”
So for a different kind of Sunday afternoon, venture to the Mosman Art Gallery, browse the exhibitions, and enjoy the performances in the “big resonating space” of the Great Hall. Go back to a time prior to rock-n-roll, when music “worked on the emotions in a less aggressive, more subtle way”, according to Morrow.
And still make it home in time for that very civilised cocktail.
Each production will be presented only once at Mosman Art Gallery, corner of Art Gallery Way and Myahgah Road, Mosman (phone 02 9978 4178)
Glorious Mud! Sunday May 31 2015
Memories of Peter Dawson Sunday June 28 2015
Our Glad Sunday July 5 2015
Tickets are available at the door (note: cash only), or book online here.