When: 26 - 30 July 2017
Where: Chapel Off Chapel
Written and directed by: Warren Wills
Performed by: Jess Mortlock, Thando Sikwila, and Warren Wills
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird
Such amazing potential and timing to create a work of impact and significance has been missed completely by musical theatre artist Warren Wills. It has been a year since David Bowie and Freddie Mercury died and the nascent show Bowie & Mercury Rising, playing at Chapel Off Chapel this week was the perfect opportunity to celebrate their music, their lives, and continue a trajectory their music brings to their fans beyond number. This is what the audience wanted, needed, and was hoping for but instead we were in for a night of disjointed individualism, lack of insight, and almost unrecognisable musical self-indulgence on the part of Wills.
I should begin by saying that getting the rights to perform any of Bowie's music (and most likely Mercury's as well) is incredibly difficult and carries many caveats and this makes it very difficult in an homage context. Bowie & Mercury Rising, however, was promoted as a musical tracking the journey of a London actress searching for her own hope through their music. A clever concept except that Wills forgot to include the actress and the journey. He also possibly forgot to tell the rest of the team.
Instead what we got was a highly self-indulgent piano recital of overly arranged music which was almost beyond recognition. There is no doubt Wills is a brilliant pianist but his variations are like Mariah Carey's vocal trills - there are too many, they are too long, they all start to sound the same, and they interupt the flow of the music and story telling. The ultimate evidence of this is when Wills performed 'Radio Gaga' to a lazer light show. After much confusion people around me were saying 'Oh, it's a light show!' Eventually even Bouvaird ran out of ideas and we were left with endless variations which left the audience bored and looking around at each other asking when it was going to end.
Don't get me wrong. The four artists involved are individually absolute masters of their craft. Thando Sikwila has a magnificent R&B voice full of power and grace, Jess Mortlock brings what little life and artistic interpretation there is in the show to her lyrical ballet vignettes, and Bovaird has realised his full potential as a master lighting designer who makes the technology a full and complete player in the story-telling. I have already said I consider Wills to be a master pianist.
Wills is not a writer though, and if this is any example, he is not a story teller either. The four artists in Bowie & Mercury Rising all appeared on stage doing what they do best but they were four individuals who did what they do rather than working together to take the audience on a journey. At the end I didn't care about any of them and I almost stopped caring about Bowie and Mercury too!
The show doesn't even work as a concert because as amazing as Sikwila's voice is, she is not a charismatic stage performer and lacks the presence to hold the audience in the palm of her hand. Even if she could, she is competing with Wills for musical attention and she is always the second fiddle (pun intended).
Bowie & Mercury Rising is not a show for David Bowie or Freddy Mercury fans. It is not a show for fans of musicals over. Go and see Bowie & Mercury Rising if you want to hear a piano recital of their music or want to listen to trite and irrelevant observations about their lives which lack insight or significance of any kind. Otherwise, take a walk down the street and check out Provocare instead.