Elise Brennan was in the third year of her degree at the University of Ballarat Arts Academy. At the ripe old age of 20, she thought she knew exactly what the Kander and Ebb song ‘Maybe This Time’ was all about and selected it as her piece to perform. Brennan gave it everything she had to assessor Vicky Jacobs.
Jacobs response? “That was terrible.”
Brennan was shocked, but Jacobs explained, “You don’t know anything about what she is talking about. Do you know what this character has gone through? I’m not feeling it.”
Brennan sat there, feeling completely beaten down, then realised Jacobs was right. Brennan hadn’t experienced enough of life to really be able to understand what she was trying to perform. She realised there are some things in life you need to experience yourself.
Brennan says she has always felt a connection to the women of Kander and Ebb, who are best known for musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret. Growing up as a dancer, Chicago had always been a favourite musical. As Brennan started to delve into cabaret she began to really listen to the pain in the lyrics.
“I felt their stories have always been the strongest: the women who have been beaten down but just choose to survive. I always found that very interesting and empowering to sings those songs and to play those women,” says Brennan.
A few years ago, the idea came to Brennan to put this music into a cabaret show. She approached Nicholas Christo, writer and director, and together they began to explore women through history and look at how they could be connected and linked through the songs of Kander and Ebb. They wanted to use inspiring women from different eras and different walks of life and tell their stories; women such as Joan of Arc, Lilith and Josephine Baker. There are even references to Yoko Ono in VAMP.
The end product is VAMP. A cabaret that tells the story of the power and strength of women and the capacity for that strength to change lives – and it’s all told using the music of Kander and Ebb. Brennan hopes the show will appeal to any audience, but in particular will inspire the everyday woman to find her own inner strength.
Interestingly, while Kander and Ebb musicals are well known, their names are generally not known to anyone other than those within the industry, There are no Kander and Ebb shows being performed at the moment and Brennan hopes that VAMP will be an opportunity to put their music back out there for everyone to enjoy, remember, treasure and appreciate.
Earlier this year, Brennan had the opportunity to perform ‘Maybe This Time’ again for Vicky Jacobs, hoping that now, at the age of 28, as a more mature and educated woman, she had a better idea of what this character would have been feeling. This time Jacobs was thrilled and loved the performance, but more importantly, Brennan felt she had achieved something herself. As she says, she’d grown up.
VAMP: The Songs of Kander and Ebb
Ruby’s Music Room, Cnr Bennetts Lane & Little Lonsdale Street
Thursday 20th and Friday 21st August