22
Jun
14

Queensland cabaret Festival – Batt On A Hot Tin Roof

 

Batt on a Hot Tin Roof

Queensland Cabaret Festival

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

Friday June 20 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

Infinite Joy

 

BPH_QCF_Bryan_Batt_3_2014

 

We’re seeing a massive resurgence in cabaret at the moment. We’re craving stories, and a more personal approach to the telling of them. We want the intimacy we thought we’d get from social media. I know. Why did we ever even think for a moment that Facebook could be, in any way, intimate? Batt on a Hot Tin Roof takes the cabaret genre to a whole new intimate level. You know, we didn’t get to see this show in 2011 (Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne got it), so it was with great anticipation that I took Mum to the one-night-only performance on Friday night as part of Queensland Cabaret Festival.

 

Bryan Batt may be best known for his closet Mad Men character, Sal Romano, but in a previous life he enjoyed considerable success on Broadway (even securing a caricature on the wall at Sardi’s!), and now it’s this show that will put him on the cabaret map. Maybe it already has, although – I hate to admit it – Brisbane has come to it late. Or, it has come to Brisbane late. But better late than never!

 

I knew Sal from Mad Men, but I haven’t had a chance to keep watching the series; it’s on a shelf with Revenge, Smash, Sex and the City, Alias, Boardwalk Empire, Spartacus, True Blood and Game of Thrones. What? I like my DVDs.

 

This guy (Batt not Sal) is almost up there with Mandy Patinkin and look, coming from my mother, who has not only seen Patinkin perform twice but has also met him at QPAC and had a fangirl photo with him, this is high praise indeed!

 

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Bryan Batt says of his show that it’s a mixed bag of nuts, developed as a benefit after Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown New Orleans in August 2005. He’s been performing it ever since so naturally, we can expect it to be polished. What we don’t expect is just how slick and savvy and funny this guy is in real life on stage, and also, how fresh and new this show appears to be. Batt is effervescent and lavishes the Brisbane audience with well rehearsed hilarious stories of growing up with his high society Southern Belle mother and a tall, dark and handsome manly man father, more difficult to connect with until later in life. The latter is a picture painted beautifully delicately, later, in What You’d Call A Dream (Diamonds). From the first to the last, it all comes across just as naturally as if we were standing outside Bar Alto by the river with drinks and cigarettes.

 

 

“Should we drink before or after the meeting? Or both…”

 

Not only does Batt regale us with stories from his own life experience, he cleverly, sensitively references the Queensland floods, empathising with anyone who has ever seen 9ft of water in their home. It’s Amazing the Things That Float written by his talented mate, the award winning Pete Mills, brings home the point. It seems Batt is driven by genuine kindness and gratitude rather than a need to jump on the cabaret bandwagon; it’s the essence of this show, this sharing of his personal take on the world. He’s actually the ideal cabaret creature.

 

Also, he gives us a few top cabaret tips. That’s right. The third song in a cabaret show is always a ballad, a love song, but this one is a little different! From COPS (was the musical ever even finished?), Sensitive Song seals the deal for those with any doubts – this guy is GOOD! We recover from total hilarity quickly, with a change of mood in a microsecond because following that bit of evil genius by Lawrence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin is the most intense, gorgeous version ever of Cole Porter’s Night and Day. I decide that Batt is actually a mood change master, someone from whom so many cabaret artists can learn so much, when next comes an amusing anecdote about leaping from the back seat of the car to the front and politely asking Mother for a hairbrush-for-a-microphone to sing along to Downtown. And we don’t hear them all out lout but there are those occupying the tables up front who are quite clearly singing along at the top of their voices, if only in their heads and hearts.

 

The next little run of songs challenges – you can feel it in the air as we’re faced with the actual historical evidence behind the success of Mad Men – with Burt Bacharach’s Wives and Lovers (and This Guy’s in Love With You). This is a beautiful arrangement to highlight one of the most disturbing songs ever written, which we heard (just in case we’d missed the point!), at the end of Mad Men Season One. Oh, you don’t think? Think again. And again, Batt effortlessly makes the message clear.

 

Hey, little girl,
Comb your hair, fix your make-up.
Soon he will open the door.
Don’t think because
There’s a ring on your finger,
You needn’t try any more

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
I’m warning you.

Day after day,
There are girls at the office,
And men will always be men.
Don’t send him off
With your hair still in curlers.
You may not see him again.

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
He’s almost here.

Hey, little girl
Better wear something pretty,
something you’d wear to go to the city.
And dim all the lights,
Pour the wine, start the music.
Time to get ready for love.

Dim all the lights,
Pour the wine,start the music.
Time to get ready for love.
Time to get ready,time to get ready for love.
Time to get ready,time to get ready for love.

 

Horrifying. And incidentally, really gratifying to watch this version of the song and see the resemblance to Jack Jones that our good friend Grant Smith sports. In suavity only, not in archaic attitude, let’s be clear about THAT.

 

The one that gets me though is Unusual Way, from the Maury Yeston musical NINE (one of my favourites, not staged often enough!). Originally, one of Guido’s many lovers, Claudia, sings Unusual Way, and despite hearing male voices sing it before, the effect of Batt’s heart wrenching rendition is immediate, in fact to hear him sing these words you would think they’d been written for him.

 

Another surprise, but not really, is the very sweet, very moving I’m Becoming My Mother.

 

“You mean a person can act one way and be thinking the exact opposite?! That’s ridiculous.”

 

To get back to upbeat, we hear the tale of Batt’s first Broadway experience, seeing Gilda Radner sing Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals with his mother, and very proper grandmother… O.M.G. In case we didn’t yet have tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks, Batt performs Way Ahead of My Time (The Caveman Song), another little bit of pure gold from composer/lyricist Pete Mills. COME TO OZ, PETE MILLS! During the final segment of the show we understand Batt’s love for New Orleans (Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans) and NYC (a double time New York State of Mind). And then, Batt on a Hot Tin Roof doesn’t end with Jerry Herman’s I Am What I Am from La Cage Aux Folles but with the affirmation after the affirmation – William Finn’s Infinite Joy (Elegies), which Batt dedicates to a much-loved teacher and delivers with greater quiet strength and better measured passion and conviction than anybody on YouTube. And you KNOW I love Betty.

 

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Batt on a Hot Tin Roof is not just a mixed bag of nuts; it’s a bit more special than that. For me it’s a treasure trove of glistening fairy wishing stones, like the ones Poppy puts out on the volcanic rock by our pool beneath a full moon. Each musical number is an absolute gem and the patter in between each is smooth and secret and friendly and confident, just the way cabaret chat should be.

 

If you’re yet to discover the magic of Bryan Batt’s cabaret persona, look out for his next live appearance – there is nothing online that does this performance justice. If only the show we enjoyed on Friday evening had been filmed and added to the YouTube universe, you’d see precisely what I mean, and my pitch to bring Batt back would be almost complete.

 

 

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