Melbourne Cabaret Festival: A Singer Must Die

If you thought cabaret was about show tunes, Melissa Langton’s gunning for your misconceptions in this return season of her latest creation A Singer Must Die: a show packed with dramatic and twisted moments from a diverse playlist.

Melissa Langton

I first became aware of Langton’s powerhouse voice through The Fabulous Singlettes and G&S productions with John English and Simon Gallagher. A recent reminder of her talent was last year’s Melbourne Cab Fest by Get Back (with Libby O’Donovan and pianist hubby Mark Jones), a memorable show of re-arranged Beatles’ songs.

Langton seems to have taken the idea of unbalancing expectations further in A Singer Must Die. From an opening where the singer reminds us that we’re gonna die and lists some far-from-natural causes of death, we’re on a trip somewhere under the rainbow.

Promoted as ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown set to a soundtrack of Leonard Cohen, Burt Bacharach, Jacques Brel, William Shatner and Johnny Cash’, there’s certainly musical elements that are deliciously unhinged. Some of these stand alone quite well: the woman rebuffed by her boyfriend who wants to ‘break up as enemies’, and another who takes a personal interest in ridding the streets of inconsiderate drivers. The comedy isn’t all externally directed loathing though, as shown through a character getting off the health treadmill and deciding to celebrate her preferences for junk food and inactivity.

When we’re not being regaled with wrath, there are questions to consider, such as whether Jesus had a baby sister. If I were to quibble, this was one of a few elements that seemed less suited to the arc of the show. There was little dialogue in the piece, and I wonder if a little more between songs might have connected them better.

For me, the most impressive feature of A Singer Must Die lies in the nuance of the performances. Mark Jones’s arrangements and direction show off Langton’s incredible versatility and some of the most dramatic moments are when Langton lets tone rather than volume do the talking, and a break into spoken word is an especially gripping rumination on unhealthy desire. Pianist Stephen Gray does very well in the shading he brings to his performance, taking a particular percussive piece from madness to melancholy shows more than just technical ability.

This cabaret noir was highly enjoyable, and seen following Amanda Harrison’s Up Close and Reasonably Personable at the same venue, gives a diverse night.

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