When: 23 – 25 July
Where: The Palms at Crown
Written by: John Livings
Musical direction by: John McAll
Performed by: Matt Amy, Vika Bull, Travis Clarke, Andrew De Silva, John McAll, Patrick McMullin, Haydn Meggitt, Nui Moon, Josh Owen, and Tim Wilson
Probably one of the simplest forms of performance making is the narrative concert, usually based on the life of a music legend of the past. The structure is simply to tell the main points of the story of the musicians life to link the most significant songs of their career. Room 8 has established itself as a company who delights in this formula and they have resurrected last year’s production Let’s Get It On for a short tour which commences with a 3 night season at The Palms at Crown.
Let’s Get It On is based on the life and music of Motown legend Marvin Gaye. Except for the beginning, which is really the end, the show follows a fairly strict chronological order.
We get to explore Gaye’s musical beginnings in an abusive household, his introduction to Motown where he is pressured into ignoring his beloved jazz to focus on RnB, through to the Vietnam War and – along with his release from Motown – his freedom to explore free jazz in his music.
We are introduced to the women in his life and their impact on his music. His initial partnership (personal and professional) with Tammi ‘titties’ Terrell, his failed marriage with Amy Gordy, and his devastating relationship with Jane Hunter.
These women all had a strong influence on Gaye, and as his personal life is littered with losses we see how his drug use – cocaine was his drug of choice – escalated to life destroying levels. Through it all, though, with a 3 octave vocal range, the one thing that kept Gaye going was his music.
His music was still the one constant in his life when Gaye died, suddenly and violently, by gun shot at the hands of his father. I guess, in an attempt to have the show end on a high, John Livings starts the show rather morbidly with the story of the death.
De Silva stands on stage in a spot light. The American flag is projected on screens either side of the stage, dominating the room. The we hear the most tedious rendition of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ possible. Yes, this is Gaye’s version and De Silva has a glorious voice, but the truth is that nothing and no one can save the American anthem from being tedious and musically annoying – and Gaye’s version is even more so than usual.
De Silva continues with the story of his death for a while longer before the real concert kicks in. All of that annoying Americana goes away, but the essence lingers and it took me a couple of songs to really get into the show after that stodgy and cringeworthy start.
Once ‘Can I Get A Witness’ kicked in though, life was breathed back into the room, and we call all start getting a groove on. The energy of that lifeless start unfortunately put a pall over that whole first act, and it wasn’t until act 2 that the audience really started feeling it and having fun.
De Silva is a fantastic singer and has the vocal qualities and technical ability to really carry this music off. De Silva does not in any way pretend to be Gaye, but when he sings, you can feel the aura of Marvin in the room and in the music.
Partnered by the fabulous and legendary Vika Bull there is nothing but excellence and energy in the singing throughout the whole show. If that was all it took to create a good show – brilliant vocalists – this would be perfection.
Unfortunately there are more people on stage than just the singers, and they have to do more than just sing. Bull and De Silva share narration duties, but as good as their singing is, the narration had no life and brought the energy down between every song.
Part of the fault lies in the writing. Livings – after the debacle that is the opening moment – actually writes fairly creatively in the first act. There is some wit and wordplay which is nice. Act 2, though, is just like having a Wikepedia entry read out .
The 8 piece Funk City Band share the stage and provide the musical accompaniment. Musical ability is in no way lacking. Every musician on stage knows their instruments and knows the music. Again, if playing was all that was required, this show would be unstoppable.
This is live performance though, so just a little bit of life would be helpful and would prevent Bull and De Silva from looking abandoned on stage. As I watched them, it looked to me like I was seeing four different musical influences perform. From left to right I was thinking Elton John, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and The Shadows…although all of them would have had to be severely sedated to put up this performance.
The three piece band comprising Clarke, Meggitt, and Owen did their best. But the wind section just looked and moved liked white bread boys school orchestra, and their playing (with the exception of Wilson on saxophone) lacked attitude.
Part of this problem was the mix. It was dull and lacked all sparkle. There is a saying in the sound industry that opening night is always a sound check, and as I suspected it would, the mix did improve over the course of the evening, but never to the point where the band had the life it needed.
Owen was the greatest victim. Every time the piano or horns played, his guitar was lost in the mix completely. Having said that, the vocals were front and centre all the time and some would say that is what is really important.
Act 2 had everybody pumping, and I think De Silva finally figured out that he could interact with the audience a bit to help get the room jumping (it was his first night in this role). People were up and slow dancing with ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ and from that point on the dance floor was never empty.
Musical high points for me were the acoustic version of ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’, Bull’s ‘Stop, Look, Listen!’, and the guitar work in ‘Let’s Get It On’. There is a bit of fun with ‘Sexual Healing’.
Reminiscent of Dr Frank N Furter’s moment of anticipppppppppppppppppppppppppation, De Silva starts singing the song only to stop and make a joke about not having permission from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke. You will need to see the show to find out if there is a ‘happy ending’.
Go along for the music and the amazing vocal abilities of Bull and De Silva. The rest is fixable and hopefully will be attended to, and at The Palms you can watch the show from comfy booths or tables, and can get up and get drinks from the bar pretty much any time during the performance.