Sunday 31 July 2016

Changes - Music Review

What: Changes - A Tribute to the music of David Bowie
Where: Gasworks Arts Park
When: 27 July - 6 August
Direction by: Kendall-Jane Rundle
Musical Direction by: Jeff Wortman
Costumes by: Jessica Allie
Lighting Design: Bryn Cullen and Rob Sowinski
Performed by: Jacqui Essing, Charlotte Fox, Candice, Lillian, Isabelle Mulrooney,Kendall-Jane Rundle, Benjamin Samuel, Melanie Stevens, and Robot Child.
Stage Managed by: Michael Wilson
                                         PHOTO COURTESY OF ENCORE PR

Changes is a fun night chock full of all the greatest music created over the decades by David Bowie. From Space Oddity, through the Ziggy Stardust years, and onto the 80's pop era, this is a night which will leaving you reeling as you remember the truly phenomenal talent and contribution Bowie made to world of music.

The first act is more of a Greatest Hits collection (my favourites were 'Fashion' and 'Young American), the second act seemed to focus on the musically great numbers including 'Fame' and 'Life on Mars'. Robot Child really broke out of there constraints in the second act and took over the room. 

Robot Child is the band Waleed Aly plays in, for those who are interested. Jeff Wortman is the lead singer and his vocals were superb. The band are a truly magnificent ensemble. The clapping routine in 'Love is Lost' was mesmerising and anyone who has ever tried it will know how hard it is to sustain!

LSS did the sound and I was really impressed with what they achieved from an RCF/EV sound sytem.  The mix was a bit choppy at first, but by the middle of the first act it settled down and was not inferior to what you might hear in Hamer Hall. Part of the problems with the sound in the first act was more about the performers and microphone technique anyway, which the engineer can't do anything about.

Changes is not just a concert. It has a performative side to the tribute. You may recognise Rundle's name from my review last month of Psychosis 4.48. In that review, I commented that I felt the work was imprecise. Changes does not have this problem. Every move and moment is deliberate, considered and very well executed. 

Conceptually, Rundle and Wortman have created a performance surrounding the music which references the style and/or content of Bowie's video clips. The six chorus take on the rythmic movements of characters in clips or form photo shoot tableaus. Jacqui Essing really shines, and one of my favourite moments is 'Dancing in the Street' where she takes on the persona of Mick Jagger.

Wortman told me before the show that getting the rights was a fascinating negotiation. One of the important caveats was they were not allowed to 'impersonate' Bowie. It's a tricky problem but one which Rundle and Wortman have solved beautifully. Essentially they have separated (for the most part) the singing and the body of Bowie, treading a fine line between giving the audience what they have come for and respecting the wishes of the intellectual property owners. In fact, there is something quite illuminating revealed by separating the image of Bowie from the music. 

Visually, the focus is on bleach-blonde 80s Bowie, and Allie has done an amazing job of creating a collection of those wonderful Don Johnson style jackets in all the tones and hues of the 80s including fusschia, ming blue, aqua, royal blue, etc. Rundle is the iconic Bowie in red jacket, and white dress shirt, although where Bowie was always pristine in the 80s, Rundle is tousled and deconstructed.

The most annoying part of the evening was in act one Rundle had a lot of trouble with her 'madonna' mic. Focussing on her acting, and not having choreographed with the microphone in mind, it kept being knocked and falling which interfered with the vocals and therefore the performance. Given the nature of the show, the singing is more important so a bit of choreographical nuance would make a world of difference. Having said that, Rundle has a good singing voice and with some breath training she will develop a mighty set of pipes!

The first act is too long and too visually repetitive, but the songs are good. Don't give up at interval though, because act two will blow you away! A big shout out to the lighting designers as well. Magnificent work.


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