There is little doubt that the Australian musical theatre star, Amanda Harrison, has a ‘wicked’ sense of humour. Yes, pun intended.
Written by James Millar, Up Close and Reasonably Personal is Harrison’s brilliant new act currently touring nation – wide. It also forms part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival’s exciting and diverse 2014 programme.
Quirky touches established from the outset include a vast curtain backdrop lit emerald green, to her piano accompanist’s passionately delivered yet oddly familiar overture. Storming in from backstage, Harrison quickly put the brakes under musical director Bev Kennedy’s playing, complaining that wasn’t what she wanted at all.
Those jokes were the first of several clever set – ups throughout the 70 – minute show.
All of which allude to Harrison’s most recognisable role to date. She played Elphaba in the 2008 Australian premiere production of the global mega hit, before leaving in November 2009 citing health issues.
Harrison spoke in candid detail about why she had to eventually give up the iconic lead. Thanks to hitting ‘z sharps every night’ in ‘Defying Gravity’, the performer knew so much about her vocal cords from regular visits to the doctor, she could have become her own ear, nose and throat specialist.
In a professional career spanning more than fifteen years, Harrison has also played many other parts including Jenny in Aspects of Love, Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard, Ado Annie in Oklahoma, Ali in Mamma Mia, Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Liza Minnelli in The Boy from Oz, Paula in An Officer and a Gentleman, and Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes.
Demonstrating extraordinary vocal and interpretive range, Harrison’s varied song choices for the evening were not only limited to musical theatre. Her set included ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by INXS, ‘The Rose’ by Bette Midler, ‘Blue Skies’ by Irving Berlin, and ‘Tennessee Waltz’ by Stewart and King.
She offset these poignant and dramatic pieces with more lighthearted fare including ‘Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead’ by Harold Arlen, and ‘Let It Go’ from the movie, Frozen.
After launching into Leslie Gore’s ‘Sunshine and Lollipops’, Harrison confessed that she included the song because it was used in a recent Target promotion. As one of the discount store’s biggest enthusiasts, Harrison comically dispelled any illusions that the life of a musical star was only about sequins and red carpet designer glamour.
On this basis alone, her down – to – earth delivery is endearing to any audience. Further, we learned that Harrison is also an accomplished voiceover artist.
She currently plays Hilda Crinkle in the animated series, Get Ace, for Channel 10. Giving us a glimpse of this hilariously evil character, Harrison sang a high camp version of ‘Send In The Clowns’ from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. It was a delightful moment, lovingly channeled all eyes and teeth in the style of Dame Judi Dench.
Towards the close of her show, Harrison revealed that she is both a Facebook and Twitter addict. As a performer, she understood their enslaving power, pedestals and pitfalls served in equal measure. Particularly, when the artist ran an online search to make a point about what people write about you when you’re in the public spotlight.
Finally, she asked audience members to drop their own written confessions into a hat for her to read out.
Harrison’s reasoning was that if she could share, then so should we. Such unscripted moments can produce side – splitting results. Harrison’s reactions to some of the notes she read out were worth the price of admission alone.
I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than in the company of this delightfully engaging performer.