I have seen a lot of Cabaret in the last couple of years, and I have to say, Lady Sings it Better was one of the best. This was a show that is fantastically entertaining on both a musical, and comedy level. The basic premise is that the show focus’ on female singers performing Pop/Rock songs that were originally performed by men. But it is so much more than that!
Firstly, the ladies don’t just sing some Rock songs…. They really do sing them better! The songs have been rearranged in true Cabaret style, to represent a range of genres from Jazz, classical, country and much more, and are performed in stunning four part harmony. The voices of Maeve Marsden, whose brainchild Lady Sing it Better is, Libby Wood, Annaliese Szota and Fiona Pearson, while distinctly different, blend beautifully to raise common pop culture to a new musical high.
And while they are entertaining us with their golden voices, they are also providing a serious education – bringing home to the audience just how pervasive the misogynistic ‘male gaze’ is in popular culture. Songs that we listen to without comment on the radio suddenly become clear – and very disturbing – when the lyrics are articulated, and emphasized with amusingly stylised but explicit dance moves.
Many of the songs were medleys, and while the themes connecting the chosen songs are sometimes spurious – the musical connection was always astonishing. The opening number started with the Wiggles…and went on to include a number of songs focusing on ‘wiggling’ in one form or another. Another mash up focused on horses… sort of. Ginuwine’s Ride my Pony, Mack Rice’s Mustang Sally and Daryl Braithwaite’s Riding on the Horses were an interesting combination that worked surprisingly well. One very disturbing set focused on a stalker theme (and all huge hits – what were we thinking?) and there was also a combination of George Michael songs – and no surprise that they were extremely uncomfortable when looked at through this musical magnifying glass! The few individual songs performed also ended up sounding like medleys, such as Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out, as it was sung to cover 3 or 4 distinctly different musical genres. The rapid changes in key, tempo and genre showed a great deal of talent and skill.
The ladies were accompanied by Hayden Barltrop on Piano, who continued the gender swapping theme by ably performing Future Husband by Meghan Trainor during a costume change, and Lauren Allison on the Cajon. It was hard to believe she didn’t have a full drum kit at her disposal – we didn’t note a lack, that’s for sure.
The well-loved Butterfly Club is such a great venue for Cabaret – an intimate space that ensures everyone can see and hear (and nurse a drink at the same time). The stage is a little cosy for four singers and two musicians, but despite this, the ladies managed some great choreography – tight and often highly amusing. The choreographer Laura-Beth Wood definitely captured the ‘essence of boy band’ during one very well received medley. Even without being explicitly familiar with the bands in question, it was clear that the movements and facial expressions were mimicking specific individuals, and the audience loved it.
There was only one costume change – but they couldn’t have been more different. Maeve, Libby, Anna and Fiona started the evening dressed as the Wiggles, which led to some amusing banter about the educational nature of their show (and where men liked to ‘wiggle it’) and later they ‘glammed it up’, to present their sexier sides. The costumes worked well with the nature of their act, and supported, rather than distracted, from the focus of their show.
There are not too many shows that manage to hit both sides of cabaret – music and comedy, to such a high standard, and none that do it with such a healthy dose of political awareness and feminism. Lady Sings it Better will have you laughing out loud solidly for an hour, dancing in your seat and leaving in awe of the soaring harmonies and fantastic arrangements (and deeply disturbed about the level of sexist language and offensive imagery that is readily accepted from male musicians). Definitely a must see show in the last few days of this year’s Comedy Festival!