Margi de Ferranti – Teach Me Tonight

Something happened to Margi de Ferranti last night.

Part of the Australian Cabaret series, bringing monthly cabaret shows to the Vanguard in Newtown, de Ferranti’s Teach Me Tonight – Tales out of School was a much-buzzed act.

Margi de Ferranti
Margi de Ferranti

Her first solo cabaret in 15 years, de Ferranti is renowed for her powerhouse vocals and sense of comedy. She’s fondly remembered for her roles in hits like Mamma Mia. She’s respected as a teacher, both as part of NIDA’s full time programs and privately with her own studio. A Margi de Ferranti show at the Vanguard was, simply put, highly anticipated.

But something happened.

It was under-rehearsed, perhaps. Under-developed. Maybe the choice of band didn’t mesh well with de Ferranti and her style. Despite her warm, receptive, and supportive audience, things fell apart.

It’s as though we’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Why didn’t this work? On paper, nothing could have worked better. de Ferranti’s Teach Me Tonight would feature songs she’s never performed before; songs her students sing that she wanted to tackle herself. It could have been irreverent, charming, delightfully skilled. Surprising. Something new from an established performer. It was trying to be irreverent; you could feel the effort. See the cogs turning. It just didn’t quite land.

It started off strongly after a warm-up act from likable Trent Kidd. Telling stories at first of her own schooling, Margi The Class Clown burst into an out of left field but kind of wonderful of “Totally F–ked” from Spring Awakening. It was energising — exactly the kind of millenial musical theatre number to fit the bill of a teacher singing their students’ anthems.

After that, nothing quite hit the mark again.

The comic beats were missed, largely, due to apparent unfamiliarity with the script. It was as though after de Ferranti missed one line, the next would fall apart too, and the next. Jokes were missed in the awkward shuffle of verbal missteps; the band played at the wrong cues, and possibly in the wrong key. Twice, de Ferranti abandoned numbers due to forgetting the words, or apparently not being able to sing the arrangement — or both.

It felt as though the majority of the show was sung by her backup singers (all-round entertainer Matt Young shone in the ‘bad audition’ montage which, but for his ease of comic send-up stylings of audition staples like “This is the Moment” would have been unbearable).

For such an intimate form, it’s as though we never really saw de Ferranti at all — save for the moments she broke after a script or lyric mistake; “I’m too old for this sh-t,” she told us, “That’s what this is.”

It was painful, but it was a shared pain. After a sung-through joke collapsed, one of the abandoned numbers, de Ferranti sat on the stage and sang simply “Both Sides Now”. And the pain was palpable, and the applause was warm, accepting, forgiving. Because it’s Margi de Ferranti, and even after a stumble, the audience trusted her. Loved her.

Because that’s the thing: when she sings, when it’s not uncomfortable, when everything falls away and it’s just the music, there’s still all that Margi de Ferranti magic. She came out for an encore, sang “Teach Me Tonight”, and it was beautiful.

It was just, unfortunately, too late.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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