By Nick Pilgrom
Please note: this review contains spoilers.
Fortyfivedownstairs is one of Melbourne’s most revered and popular performance spaces. Positioned three flights below Flinders Lane, the long-standing visual arts and live entertainment venue stages everything from musical cabaret to light comedy, searing drama and powerful solo spots, just to name a few.
This week alone they held a mini festival, featuring three distinct vehicles. These being:
- ‘Electric Loneliness’ (Performed by Night Creatures);
- ‘Don’t Make Me Play Piano Man’ (Performed by Steven Kramer); and,
- ‘Greatest Hits’ (Performed by Michael Griffiths).
Griffiths is well-known and respected for his contribution to both the international stage and cabaret scenes. With a self – confessed passion for eighties’ pop, this accomplished artist is also a singer, pianist, actor, composer and musical arranger.
Since graduating from WAAPA, Griffiths has worked around the globe in productions which include ‘We Will Rock You’, ’Shout!’, and ’Priscilla: Queen of The Desert’. He also played Bob Crewe in the Australian hit, ‘Jersey Boys’ for more than four years.
Celebrating a decade performing cabaret, during this time Griffiths created a series of revues each dedicated to some of the most influential and iconic musicians from both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The artists in question are:
- Peter Allen;
- Annie Lennox (from The Eurythmics);
- Kylie Minogue; and,
- Cole Porter.
To mark this exciting anniversary, I can’t think of a better way to showcase the occasion that merging elements from each show together (as well as including several other key soloists and groups) into one glorious event.
What makes Griffiths so special, is his ability to reconfigure pop standards to cabaret’s more theatrically-inclined format. That he also sings pieces often reserved for the opposite sex, gives these experiences an extra twist.
For the most part Griffiths chose specific songs to drive the narrative, which resonated with him as a teenager growing up in suburban Adelaide, and later, in his journey as a touring professional.
In no special order, his eclectic set list features the following iconic eighties hits and timeless classics, including:
- ‘A View To A Kill’ (by Duran Duran);
- ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ (by Peter Allen);
- ‘Express Yourself’ (by Madonna);
- ‘Gold’ (by Spandau Ballet);
- ‘I Honestly Love You’ (by Olivia Newton John);
- ‘Karma Chameleon’ (by Culture Club);
- ‘Knowing Me – Knowing You’ (by ABBA);
- ‘Let’s Misbehave / Anything Goes’ (by Cole Porter);
- ‘Locomotion’ (by Kylie Minogue);
- ‘No One Is To Blame’ (by Howard Jones);
- ‘Stand By Me’ (by Ben E. King);
- ‘Take On Me’ (by A – Ha); and,
- ‘Thorn In My Side’ (by The Eurythmics).
Generous, funny and revealing, at several points during the show we were asked to be his backing track. That the audience on opening night were probably around the same age, or at least knew most of the songs, really personalises the shared rapport Griffiths takes great care to create.
Of his show’s many highlights, one moment particularly stood out. Griffiths uses ‘Express Yourself’ by Madonna to deconstruct how hits from that era invented and refined the distinctive ‘eighties sound’. In his expert hands, it is a fascinating and accessible lesson.
Supported by a slick two-piece band (bass guitar and drums), ‘Greatest Hits’ is scripted in such a way that Griffiths makes the sixty-minute set appear fresh, loose, and present, at all times. That the trio is positioned at floor level with the audience, reinforces this critical intimacy.
Coming as no surprise to learn that Griffiths often utilises it as his Melbourne stop, fortyfivedownstairs is the perfect choice for this style of concert. Outstanding sound and lighting design add to the loft’s supper club vibe combined with a rock concert arena edge.
One of the perks of writing a piece, is reviewers are (mostly) given two tickets in exchange for their collective thoughts.
That being said, my plus-one for the event (and new to Griffiths’ work) said they connected with his musical choices and relaxed presentation, as though the entertainer was singing just for us. Furthermore, my guest intends to pay it forward by inviting someone else to the show later this week, so they can enjoy the experience again through the eyes of another friend.
Meaning, because this ten-year celebration packs tremendous joy and detail into the hour-long journey, it demands repeat viewings. I can’t think of a better endorsement for seeing ‘Michael Griffiths: Greatest Hits’ than that.
The show plays each night until this Sunday at fortyfivedownstairs. Catch him while you can!