Catherine Alcorn, an award-winning Australian cabaret and stage entertainer, has spent a good chunk of her career to date wowing audiences with her impressive ability to take on the personas of some of the most successful women in music. Her show The Divine Miss Bette has received critical acclaim across the country and, paying tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie, Go Your Own Way combined storytelling and music with similarly successful results.
Last week, Alcorn returned to Slide in Sydney – a venue that, six years ago, inspired her to pursue cabaret. And, on this occasion, she’s performing as herself. Cathartic takes the songs of artists and groups Alcorn has grown up admiring, and ties them together with a collection of Alcorn’s life stories. On stage, she’s joined by her regular band – Jeremy Brennan on piano (also the MD here), Glenn Moorhouse on guitar and Jamie Castrisos on percussion. Alcorn and the band take full advantage of the venue’s space, creating an ‘in-the-round’ presentation that brings the performers remarkably close to their audience and results in an intimacy for which cabaret artists, as a rule, should strive.
At the centre of it all is Alcorn, who showcases consistently across the night her adeptness and talent for this type of performance. She possesses a strong voice with a rich tone, and as she delves into a range of musical genres and styles, she demonstrates remarkable versatility. The band members around Alcorn quickly show they’re every bit as proficient. Brennan, Moorhouse and Castrisos are first-class musos who create a strikingly vast soundscape for a trio and there’s a strong chemistry between Alcorn and all the players.
Alcorn herself is not only vocally dexterous, but presents a wonderfully grounded personality, unlike the divas she’s spent much of her time embodying. Her interactions with the audience feel natural and warm, and there’s not a hint of pretence. Alcorn is engaging as she regales attendees with stories of working on Oprah’s Australian tour, her efforts to convince Facebook users in regional New South Wales to attend one of her shows, and growing up as a child of the 80s.
Like Alcorn, I’m a child of the 80s and was fortunate to find a number of my own favourite artists represented in the wide and varied setlist. But Cathartic features such a truly diverse set of songs, and each so wonderfully reinvented, that the show appeals to a vast range of age groups. Opening the show is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ performed here in an almost unrecognisable downtempo guise. It’s followed by a similarly flavoured take on Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ before musical theatre veteran Ben Mingay joins Alcorn on stage for a duet on Bon Jovi’s 1986 anthem ‘Livin’ on a prayer’. Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Summer Rain’ becomes an audience singalong, and Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ is given a jazz treatment, suitably evoking the 1920s (the era of Al Capone and the world’s most famous gangsters).
While Cathatric is punctuated by an impressive number of winning song choices, one of the standout moments comes in the form of ‘Pearls’, Sade’s spectacular 1992 track that poignantly references the plight of a Somalian woman, and contrasts it with the problems of the ‘first’ world. Joining Alcorn and band on stage for this performance is cellist Clare Kahn, and the results are spellbinding. It’s a few minutes of the evening that effectively and appropriately contrast the lighter tone of most of the evening. Another highlight is the penultimate number, which sees Alcorn and co giving Beyonce’s ‘Love on Top’ a Nashville makeover, and eventually pushing her to the outer limits of her vocal capabilities. She then wraps up proceedings on a more subdued (but suitable closing) note a ballad from the hit American TV series, Nashville.
In allowing audiences to come to know her, rather than one of her world-famous personas, this piece was hopefully the Cathartic experience for which Alcorn was hoping. From an audience perspective, it’s certainly an immensely enjoyable evening of stage entertainment that leaves you wanting to see even more of Alcorn as Alcorn.
To learn more about Catherine Alcorn, visit www.catherinealcorn.com