Blake Erickson has the kind of natural gravitas you can’t quite train for; he has an ability to share the most embarrassing or vulnerable stories and still retain a quiet, indelible dignity. With two feet firmly on the ground as a performer he is remarkably cerebral, and you don’t have to look much further than his excellent one-man Orson Welles show, Pearls Before Swine, to see that.
But along with this, never really divorced from this, is Erickson’s second gift: as an actor and singer, he is incredibly empathetic. He finds the soul and still-beating heart of a number and a character and wears it bravely on his sleeve and in his throat and in his eyes: he is our centre, our gateway into the world of a person and a show. When Squabbalogic staged A New Brain, he cracked everything open with “Sailing”; when he starred in [title of show], he humanised the ache and excitement of the creative process fully and roundly.
I’ve long said that Erickson is one of our most important and probably underrated players in the Sydney independent scene, with a smooth, appealing voice and this fine acting ability, but what we’ve never yet seen is Erickson on stage as himself.
Enter the Hayes Theatre Co and their “Month of Sundays”, a lovely programming decision that gives emerging and established artists alike a home for their own cabaret shows. Following Marika Aubrey now is Erickson, and here’s how we’re going to meet him: with Hold Me Closer, Logies Dancer.
Logies Dancer is a personal narrative cabaret, one of those sprawling life-story, or artistic-life-story pieces that start with that first spark of recognition, that ‘I want to do that’ moment. For Erickson, one such moment came watching The Logies, that delightfully uncool Australian TV awards show, a night of night, of sorts, for our small screen.
Erickson is deftly comic and self-deprecating as he describes this particular Logies opening number he can’t help but love, even now, and how it took him on a (very) long and (very) winding road to his place on stage now as a writer and performing artist. There’s a stint in miserable chorus, a life-changing moment on top of a mountain, a refreshing frankness. Remember those feet Erickson has firmly on the ground? We learn here that those are part of his usual life, too, a sort of ability to keep moving forward, to find his footing again even when things seem lost or difficult.
Written in two months, it doesn’t at all feel rushed or anything but considered and genuine: Erickson sings for fun – a Chinese “Anything Goes”, a fun spoof of “Luck be a Lady Tonight” (with Logie instead of Lady, obviously) – and he sings for real, with numbers from [title of show] and Now. Here. This. Erickson has this unique ability to infuse contemporary musical theatre numbers with a classical sensibility: he finds the truth in the line and sings it straight, to hell with irony, to get his point across, and it’s really quite irresistible. Director Neil Gooding and Musical Director Andy Peterson are right there with Erickson on this: giving him space to smile and crack a joke, and then opening that space and filling it with music and Erickson’s trademark warmth as he sings.
For someone with such a positive, appealingly approachable manner, it’s always a surprise when his longing and confusion come through so powerfully in his voice. All audience members of a certain age will remember the plaintive, gently alternative Lo-Tel song, “Teenager of the Year” and in Logies Dancer this is the cumulative moment of Erickson’s life plans, fears, and secret dreams: he sings the song from his core and his voice hangs in the air with honey and conviction and something so very personal that it brings tears to a few eyes in the crowd.
Logies Dancer is uniquely part of a certain time and experience, and yet true of so many experiences for people in their late twenties and early thirties in Australia, people who didn’t get straight to their ideal life and career destination, for people who are always looking, those who put themselves on display despite knowing the potential risk involved. Logies Dancer is genuinely hilarious, but it also strikes a real chord. Who am I, it asks, and how did I get here? And then, it answers its own questions, and quietly, with real optimism, suggests we ask it of ourselves. In the moment, that specific moment, I think you’ll feel optimistic about it too.