Long, hot Melbourne summers are synonymous with Australia’s premier LGBTQIA+ cultural festival – Midsumma. Made for and by communities who share experiences around diverse gender and sexuality, the Queer Arts & Culture Festival has been around since it’s humble beginnings in 1989 and has grown into a premier event attracting thousands who flock to see as many of the events on offer as they can – and, there are hundreds!
One of the must, must see shows of the year is Livvy and Pete – a celebration of Olivia Newton John and Peter Allen’s songbooks performed by Helpmann Award winner Michael Griffiths and cabaret sweetheart Amelia Ryan.
The question about why these two iconic Australian greats over others prompts Griffiths to acknowledge that being an Australian singer/pianist, a Peter Allen tribute had been on the cards for a while but, he adds, there was some hesitation.
“I’d been resisting due to the wonderful ‘Boy From Oz’ musical and recent telemovie, both which told his story so beautifully. It wasn’t until after an impromptu duet of his songs with Amelia Ryan (who’d been considering an ONJ tribute herself) that a light bulb went off and we embarked on exploring the two artists together. There’s a real synergy between them and Peter’s gift to Livvy ‘I Honestly Love You’ means they will be forever connected.”
Through the work (and becoming more intimate with these performers), I ask Griffiths to share any discoveries that he had made about each one that he may not have known before beginning the project.
“There’s a wonderful story about Peter being caught in a holding pattern while waiting to land at JFK airport late one night and the line ‘If you get caught between the moon and New York City’ popped into his head. He must have had a window seat I never knew much about Olivia’s success before ‘Grease’ and we perform a country medley of her early songs on an auto harp which is always such a lovely moment in the show. I suppose the surprise is how little the two actually crossed paths but it hasn’t deterred our enthusiasm!”
Griffiths loves how much being Australian was so part of the identities of both, even with their success overseas.
“Peter of course in writing our unofficial national anthem and Olivia with her unwavering accent and clothing label Koala Blue,” explains Griffiths. “Being humble and approachable has always been part of their charm and I keep hearing stories from people who worked with both artists about how unaffected and warm they were backstage. There were certainly no diva moments or tantrums and I think kindness backstage is a testament to their character.”
Collaborating with his close friend Ryan, Griffiths says about the partnership – “Being travelling cabaret performers we kept finding ourselves on the same circuit so a collaboration was always on the cards.”
The pair met in Sydney about 5 years ago at a fundraiser on the night before they both (coincidentally) moved to Adelaide and have been mates ever since. ” We both share the same sense of humour and there are always lots of big laughs together on stage. There’s room for a lot of spontaneity in the show and we love nothing more than going WAY off script. An audience knows when you are off the cuff and always respect you for it,” he says.
Griffiths is no stranger to tribute or cabaret having performed his highly lauded tribute to Cole Porter in 2017 (amongst others) however, it is the events of another tribute that he lists as his most memorable.
“I performed an Annie Lennox tribute and a few years ago in Melbourne in winter it started absolutely pouring just as I began the song ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’. It was so magical. It sounds funny writing it down but at the time we were all stunned into silence.”
Griffiths’ musical journey began early. He grew up with a piano in the house and started playing by ear before he could walk.
“Mum used to lift me up on to the piano stool and I loved it and always knew that music would be a big part of my life. Performing and musical theatre came a little later on. I think the greatest obstacle is the constant perception it’s not a ‘real’ job and that a career the arts is of less intrinsic value. I’m very proud I make a living doing what I do and it brings me great joy sharing music with an audience.”
Griffiths has been doing Midsumma for many years now, since his tribute to Madonna ‘In Vogue’ back in 2012 and he keeps coming back for more. “Midsumma provides so much diversity in its programme, it’s far more inclusive and outrageous than a lot of other festivals I perform in. And everyone is always welcome,” he says.
Griffiths and Ryan shine in this fabulous tribute to Livvy and Pete. From their humble small-town beginnings to world domination in sequins and jumpsuits, revisit all of their sing-a-long classic, Says Griffiths: ” ‘Livvy & Pete’ is a sincere and affectionate tribute to two Australian icons and their legacy of songs. It’s also a lot of fun.”
Livvy & Pete is part of Midsumma Festival 2019 – Double Bill tickets available to also see Steven Kreamer’s I Sing Songs in the same night.
January 23 – 27