The Wonderland Festival is wonderfully broad. Described as a ‘unique carnival of comedy, burlesque, circus, music, theatre and more’, it’s a Wonderland in the sense of Alice’s Adventures; you never know quite what you’re going to get when you fall down the Powerhouse rabbit-hole.
There’s Something About Mary(s), a new cabaret from the team of Cassie George, Luke Volker and Michael Mandalios, did establish clear expectations; a cabaret exploring the ‘symbiotic relationship between one woman and the entire gay community of Brisbane’. I was surprised to find that the core of the show was the dating life of its heroine, Cassie G, and the tribulations of her very straight love life. A number exploring her unrequited passion for a gay pianist was a highlight, with Cassie getting excellent tragic, comic and tragicomic mileage out of lapses from singing to broad-Aussie-speaking-voice. But most of the show follows her journey from fruitlessly randy Christian schoolgirl, to lovelorn uni student, to the present day.
I’d be lying if I said my first reaction, as a certified Austere Queer, wasn’t a little cranky. But this is clearly not a case of gay characters being used as props for a straight origin story; given the involvement of Luke Volker, whose active presence on the stage – complete with slumber-party sweats and a glass of rosé – was a pleasure from start to finish, that would hardly be a fair accusation. I wonder if this isn’t more of a Sex and the City scenario; the fascinations of a straight woman’s journey framed by benevolent gay onlookers. In any case, it turned out to be the Golden Gaytime-flavoured ice cream sandwich of shows, with the Gay Times mostly around the edges.
As for the ice cream itself, the act is made up of jukebox numbers, charmingly delivered by Cassie George, broken up with storytelling and banter between the two performers. In an echo of Wonderland’s eclectic approach, the show’s many moving parts had varying impacts. I loved the granular level of the references to Cassie’s Gold Coast upbringing. I also loved her wide-eyed commitment to her character, her physical comedy flourishes, and her confidence with the material, bolstered by Luke Voller’s on-point accompaniment. I was less impressed with some of the song choices – in a post-Glee world, my patience for musical theatre-inflected covers of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ is wavering – which occasionally seemed ill-chosen, notably a solemn number which seemed to imply the opposite emotional reaction to a break-up implied in the storytelling. In the other direction, the songs often leaned towards obvious choices, relying on recognition rather than novelty for their appeal.
The team of There’s Something About Mary(s) has brought real commitment and confidence to a home-grown cabaret, that most vital of local produce. There’s obvious writing and performing chemistry between them, some of whom were debuting in their roles. Though I would have loved to see more complexity brought to the subject matter and song choices, they’re having a killer time and bringing the audience with them.
Book tickets at brisbanepowerhouse.org
By Rebecca Cheers