Les Femmes, features all original music by veteran performer and producer, Chris Wallace. Performed by Wallace and a bevy of talented females; Bonnie Page, Georgina Ward, Sarah-Louise Younger, Robyn Womersley and Katherine Ades, Les Femmes was intended by Wallace to “acknowledge the dominant sex”. While considerable talent is evidenced throughout the show, it fails to live up to that claim in a number of ways, and was disappointing overall.
After a solo introduction of the concept of Les Femmes by Wallace, vocals throughout the show were primarily performed by Page, Ward and Younger, ably accompanied by Musical Director Womersley on Piano and Ades on Double Bass. The three vocalists differed dramatically in looks, experience and vocal style. Younger, who has performed in a number of Wallace’s previous shows, was a standout performer. She has a rich, versatile voice with amazing range and projection. Her rendition of the Gospel style ‘Deeper’ was a showstopper, despite a painfully missed note in the final bar. Her vocal style definitely lent itself to solo performance, as her powerful voice, despite clear efforts to balance with her costars, did tend to overpower them in shared numbers. Her first solo ‘I want to be a celebrity’ was confusing however, as her accent kept slipping from something approaching London cockney when sung, to Australian Greek a la’ Effi when spoken.
Page, with her background performing at Universal Studios, brought a great deal of character to her performances, using her face and mannerisms to portray the character and emotion in each song, from cheeky stripper to lovelorn lady. While her voice was not as strong as Younger’s, her beautiful soprano line could be clearly heard in every harmony and she was a versatile performer, executing an accomplished tap dance while singing tongue twisting lyrics. I found her characterisation to be slightly over done, and more suited to a musical theatre setting, but my companion found her performance compelling and the most enjoyable overall.
The final addition to the trio, Ward, who has a background in contemporary rock music, gave her strongest performance in the understated ‘Is this a dream?’ Ward’s voice overall seemed a little husky and on the verge of strain, as if she was perhaps suffering from a cold, but this gentle, melancholy song showcased it well. Despite the small venue, Ward and Page both would have benefitted from the use of microphones to ensure nothing of their performance was lost. The solo numbers ran the gamut of genres, showcasing their versatility, and their ensemble performances were strong. They held true to their harmonies beautifully, and aside from slight issues with balance, blended well. Unfortunately, they were not the only vocal performers for the evening.
The show started with a solo performance from Wallace, extolling his love for ‘Les Femmes’. While vocally it was a little rough, it seemed to fit, as an introduction to the apparent concept of the show, as his homage to women, performed by women. For me, however, this concept was quickly derailed. Aside from ‘Deeper’, the lyrics throughout the show were trite and demonstrated a sexist, archaic portrayal of women. The song topics ranged from the joys of stripping, to being a celebrity with looks (due to plastic surgery!) but no talent, needing to be married to be complete, and being lost because their man left. Even the most positive song, an affirmation of female friendship, suggested as long as they had friends they didn’t need success or a career. As a modern woman, I found this body of work to be quite insulting and out of date. The concept was also marred by Wallace’s reappearance to sing several numbers. He was frequently off key and his repeated involvement further detracted from the theme of ‘Les Femmes’.
Overall, the show was disjointed and formulaic. The numbers jumped from stylised genre to stylised genre – from Gospel to Country to Rap, with no apparent purpose or theme. In style, ‘Les Femmes’ seemed reminiscent of a Vegas review or Chicago cabaret from days long gone by. The inclusion of eminently silly songs, such as ‘The Ping Pong Song’, ‘I Love Chocolate’ and ‘I Gotta Win the Lottery’ (in which the entire cast were suddenly Jamaican) took the show in an entirely different direction, and were painful to behold. While there was some humour in these songs (they did earn genuine laughs from some of the audience), and it was quite clever how the musicians were replaced on their instruments mid song so they could participate vocally, they bore no relation whatsoever to the stated theme and seemed never-ending (in one song this was played for laughs, but was still painful to endure).
This show has received mix reviews in the past, and clearly from the audience reactions, some people enjoyed the approach. My companion and I, however, were united in our discomfort. Never before have I seen a show with such talented individual performers, which was so difficult to enjoy. While I would happily hear any of the primary vocalists perform again, individually or in harmony, I found the show itself to be anachronistic and disjointed. Wallace has had an impressive career in all aspects of show business, and he has gathered together a cast of talented females. His lyrics, staging and overall concept however, appears to be stuck in a bygone era, and not suited to contemporary cabaret.