Michael Griffiths is performing his two shows, ‘Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox’ and ‘In Vogue: Songs by Madonna’ , back to back in a unique double billing. The two shows follow the same basic premise – Griffiths presents the life and music of an iconic 80’s music legend in the first person, but without the addition of costumes, wigs or accents. Griffiths is Madonna and Annie Lennox. Despite the similarities in format, there is quite a different feel between the 2 shows.
The more sophisticated lyrics and melodies of Annie Lennox’s music in ‘Sweet Dreams’, lends itself to Griffiths arrangements for solo voice and the Grand Piano. The music is beautiful and soulful, and Griffiths provides some new interpretations to the sometimes obscure lyrics, linking them to major events in the professional and private life of Lennox. Griffiths, an experienced performer who has toured with musical productions such as Jersey Boys, Shout, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and We Will Rock You, has a beautiful voice, which for the most part, fit these arrangements of Lennox’s music well (other than some occasional difficulties with the high notes in Love is a Stranger). Griffiths immediately captured the audience’s attention with his opening song ‘Missionary Man’, and developed a warm, intimate vibe with friendly banter, humour regarding shared hardship (temperatures are extreme in Melbourne this week!) and careful eye contact with the entire audience – including those sitting almost behind him. He ensured everyone was included and felt part of a friendly, personal gathering. This environment was enhanced by the fairly small and intimate space and quintessentially ‘cabaret’ setting. There was tiered seating in the rear, but the majority of the audience were seated at small tables spaced closely around the grand piano and the room was lit by candlelight. The stage lighting was simple and low key. Gentle lights directed at the wall behind the stage highlighted the rough walls and hand painted windows of the minimalist, Avant-garde art space, and minor lighting adjustments throughout the show provided mood changes and punctuation.
While there were clearly some Annie Lennox fans in the audience, it was not necessary to be an aficionado of Eurythmics music to enjoy the show. Griffiths’ vocal expertise and accomplishment as a pianist were a pleasure to listen to, and the monologues that connected the various numbers, including classics such as Thorn in My Side and Walking on Broken Glass, were highly entertaining and provoked frequent laughter. It was hard to tell whether those conversations were based on concrete research or creative license, but the pithy ‘quotes’ from Lennox’s father (“The worth of a thing is best known by the want of it”) and the personal anecdotes were amusing and engaging and enhanced the atmosphere of an intimate gathering. Griffiths’ engagement of the audience was especially demonstrated in their enthusiastic audience participation during Thorn in My Side. The small crowd sang ‘back up’ and even performed actions-despite the 40+ temperatures.
‘Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox’ gave me a new appreciation of Lennox’s music and a highly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
The break between shows was perhaps an awkward length… 45 minutes wasn’t really long enough to leave and find somewhere to eat or grab a drink (a thought that was especially uninviting in the middle of a heatwave), and was quite a long time to wait in the venue. Despite this, patrons waited enthusiastically as we had all thoroughly enjoyed the first performance. As mentioned, the ‘feel’ of the second show was quite different. The introduction and lighting changed to demonstrate the ‘Diva’esque status of the subject of the second show – Madonna, the ‘Queen of Pop’. The general tone of In Vogue: Songs by Madonna seemed more satirical and ‘self’ deprecating. The arrangements to suit solo voice and piano this time, served to highlight the superficial nature of the majority of Madonna’s lyrics. Her music, so well-known to all, at times appeared insubstantial without all the pop music accoutrements to support it. That in no way, however, reflects upon Griffiths performance, which despite the grueling structure of back to back shows, gave the audience just as much energy in the second show. As I was more familiar with Madonna’s music, I was able to hear more clearly how Griffiths had substantially re-interpreted the music to cleverly suit the piano, his voice, and the mood of that part of the show.
While the earlier show focused heavily on the personal aspects of Annie Lennox’s life, this show highlighted Madonna’s professional career – giving us a tutorial breaking down the structure of the perfect pop song, touching on Madge’s movie career and quest for an Oscar winning performance, and her dalliance with ‘art photography’, although it did also touch on personal aspects too. Once again Griffiths re-interpreted lyrics to present an alternative view – in this case, connecting Like a Virgin to the birth of her daughter. Despite them being billed as only 5 min different in length, the Madonna show felt substantially shorter and seemed to end quite suddenly. Perhaps I was merely disappointed such an enjoyable performance was coming to an end?
Overall, despite the trying weather conditions, the evening was highly entertaining musically and comedically. If you are an 80s child, this is a must see show, but even if you are not a fan of 80s Divas, you will still find yourself thoroughly amused and impressed with Michael Griffiths skill as a talented musician, singer and comedian.
‘Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox’ and ‘In Vogue: Songs by Madonna’ performed by Michael Griffiths and written by Dean Bryant is on at Fortyfive Downstairs in Flinders Lane until the 26th January.