Saturday 29 June 2019

Crazy Arms - Cabaret Review

What: Crazy Arms
When: 27 - 29 June 2019
Where: Loft, Chapel Off Chapel
Created by: Damon Smith
Performed by: Adam Coad, Trent McKenzie, and Damon Smith
Damon Smith, Adam Coad and Trent McKenzie
These days the piano (or pianoforte in full) is considered to be something of a classical instrument but Smith knows there is so much more to it then that. In his new show Crazy Arms, playing at Chapel Off Chapel this week, Smith takes the piano out of the opera house and puts it back in the bars and dives where it lost its patina and livened up the world.

Beginning very formally, Smith comes out on stage in a three piece suit and bow tie and sits himself down at the baby grand, beginning his tale of this magnificent instrument in 1708 with Mozart. We learn a few things, such as why the instrument was such an important invention (because the harpsichord had no dynamic range - softness and loudness), why the word 'forte' is such an important inclusion, and also how Mozart found himself spying on his sister's piano lessons and then trying stuff for himself.

So far the evening seems quite formal and I found myself wandering why there was a 4 piece drum kit and double bass on stage. "Oh, they must be for the next show" I thought, given this is the Melbourne Cabaret Festival and there are several shows across the night in the venue. I settled in for an hour of beautiful music and virtuosic playing.

This is exactly what I got. Smith is a bit of a larrikin however. He has already cracked a couple of small jokes, but then he calls out a friend from back stage to help him with tempo. Out strides Coad holding a huge metronome. Immediately these two fall into a comfortable old patois and the jokes - most of them musical and all of them hilarious - begin.

After the trusty yet despised metronome gives in and as Smith moves through Beethoven and Chopin, Coad makes his way to the kit and begins to accompany Smith through the works of Satie and others (occasionally with a washboard instead...) until McKenzie also comes on stage to claim the double bass.

The journey continues across time with Smith switching between the grand and an upright, and McKenzie embraces the formality by bowing his instrument. But then we enter the era of Boogie Woogie and all bets are off (as is Smith's jacket and McKenzie's bow).

Leading us into the 20th century, Smith allows us to realise the fun and importance of the pianoforte on modern music. We visit Liberace, Atwell, Joplin, Dr John, and others. Moving from Boogie Woogie into rock and roll the team serenade us with 'Blueberry Hill' and 'Great Balls of Fire' before sliding gently into the jazz era with Dorsey.

This festival iteration of Crazy Arms is a pared down version. The full show is 2 acts of 50 minutes, but in the Loft we got a greatest hits version across a very short hour. One of the highlights was the groups version of 'Night Train' which allowed McKenzie and Coad to really strut their stuff with solos. The night ends with the title piece 'Crazy Arms'.

Don't be fooled into believing Crazy Arms is a concert. The music includes classical mashups and modern medleys and even 'Popcorn' pokes it's head out at one very delightful stage.

Crazy Arms is only on for one more night at Chapel Off Chapel. Don't despair if you can't make it tonight though because I believe there are a couple of tour dates coming in July.

4.5 Stars

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