Review by Darby Turnbull.
Two thumbs up and highly recommended.
OK I’ll sing for my supper.
Just the other day, a colleague was bemoaning the fact that he was beginning to lose faith in the cabaret scene; it is to my great relief that I am not nearly so jaded and will take great pleasure in directing him to the Butterfly Club before the end of this week to experience Drew Downing’s Rebel – a show which, I hope, will be one of the highlights of his and your Midsumma experience.
Backed by a thrilling three piece band and performing selections from his own songbook, Drew Downing is sensational as fictitious rock star, Rebel, seamlessly combining coy boyish charm with raw Rock and Roll sensuality as he weaves between his private and public personas, exploring the titillating rise of rock and roll and the isolation and loneliness of being a closeted gay man in 50’s and 60’s America.
The real strengths of this performance lie in how it continuously defies expectation in offering an alternative to loneliness and despair of being forcibly closeted; which is heartbreakingly real and certainly prevalent but instead allows the characters to prevail with their sheer force of self respect and dignity. Whilst Rebel has brief and profound interactions with two famous (gay) ideals of masculinity – Rock Hudson and James Dean – the real figure that dominates the performance is the saintly Uncle Randy who lives discreetly but unapologetically with another man and who teaches Rebel in his own quiet and dignified way the strength of being true to yourself. The inclusion of Uncle Randy certainly proved as inspirational to the audience as it does to the title character. The tenderness and vulnerability that Mr Downing displays behind the showman is an absolute credit to his range as a performer and to his director, Rob Gaetano.
Special mention of course must go Mr Downing’s strength as a songwriter with a fantastic selection of self composed songs that seem to have been plucked straight from the era with clear influences from the likes of Elvis Presley, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The infectious charisma that he displays during the musical numbers is equal to any of the aforementioned artists; if an album is released in the future, I’d certainly buy it.
It is rare to come across a performer, especially in a self devised one man show, who possesses the self awareness and ability to construct their performance so flawlessly to their own strengths as an artist. If the forty five minute taste I got last night is an indication of what to expect for the future, I definitely look forward to seeing what Mr Downing will produce next. Rebel itself certainly deserves to be viewed by a much wider audience and possibly developed into a longer piece.
The Midsumma festival is always a fun and exciting way to start off your theatre going year and I couldn’t be happier that this brave, poignant and inspirational performer and performance are being showcased in this year’s programme. Rebel will certainly appeal to audiences both gay and straight or simply lovers of good music and quality entertainment. It runs until Sunday evening at the Butterfly Club. Be sure not to miss out.