For a lot of us, the wounds are yet to fully heal from David Bowie’s all too soon departure from this world.
He’s an artist that we cherish and hold in the highest regard, and when going to see a tribute act we do so with trepidation, ready to be critical of an impersonation that will surely not meet our expectations. Yet, after entering the Melba Spiegeltent and feeling mixed emotions, where Highwire Entertainment’s Rebel excels most is in Stewart Reeve’s performance as Bowie. Far from an impersonation, from the moment Reeve hits the stage, he is the embodiment of Bowie with vocals and a presence that could be mistaken for the artist himself, and while the costumes are fabulous, the authenticity of the portrayal comes from everything he throws at it.
Rebel is an experiment, we are told that from the get-go. It’s the first development of a work that deserves to live and grow after it’s Midsumma season. Put simply, it is a live circus rock tribute to David Bowie, and the reality is that it’s little more than that. Which is valid given it’s a highly entertaining hour full of nostalgia and circus fun.
The circus acts are impressive, however there is nothing new or inventive being performed, with a lot of acts dragging and growing tired as they seem to be bound to the duration of the song they are paired with. Backing up Reeve was an equally fabulously dressed band that not only provided a stunningly accurate soundtrack—shoutout to the musical director Matt Bradshaw for bringing together a beautiful mix of sound and arrangements—but also doubled as the circus performers swapping between instruments and circus acts. This would have been more effective had the load been shared equally between the artists, as it seemed that a lot of the circus elements of the night relied solely on Jane Schofield, who was phenomenal in all that she did, yet conversely, outside of a saxophone solo in ‘Lazarus’ she was left with not much to do when stuck up the back with the band.
A highlight was Schofield’s aerial work paired with Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, it was perhaps the item of the night that married the music and the act together the best as the silks provided a context to being lost-in-space like the subject matter of the song. Rachel Trainor’s hauntingly good backing vocals were also pivotal in creating that layered Bowie sound, which was refreshing as it would have been so easy to have done this pre-recorded, yet her ability to follow Reeve meant that the entire sound mix was live. Reeve’s take on Bowie was incredibly considered, it was done with absolute conviction, and you could clearly see he has the utmost respect and admiration to the artist. He worked well with his fellow performers, integrating himself just enough into the acts happening around him without it ever looking messy or like he was in the way. Impressively, his vocals and energy didn’t falter in what had to have been one of the most humid evenings Melbourne has seen in years. It didn’t matter to Reeve, his love of what he was doing was evident and throughout it all he was an absolute vocal powerhouse who at times, seemed to sing Bowie better than Bowie himself!
It was acknowledged early on that due to international copyright laws, they were unable to create any characters or semblance of a story to pair with Bowie’s music. This was perhaps the most disappointing part of the experiment as at times, with little to tie the two together, it was confusing to know whether to watch Reeves or the circus, plus the Bowie catalogue would actually provide an array of character constructs and a through line that the show as a whole really would have benefitted from. Cirque Du Soleil should take note of this, as they would have the money to create a fully fledged Bowie circus spectacular with a story and characters, and it would be a hit—provided Reeve landed the Bowie vocals! All things considered though, looking at it as a night of circus which could be paired with virtually any music, I for one am glad they did it with a Bowie soundtrack…