After 12 years in the spotlight, it seems Rob Mills (I dare not say Millsy) has finally found his happy place. Popping his cabaret cherry with this biographical walk through his rollercoaster career, Mills strikes an entertaining balance between pathos and raunchy comedy.
Bouncing on stage with a tongue-in-cheek take on a smooth cabaret star, Mills slowly deconstructs his look and his life to reveal more than just a little personal vulnerability. Taking us from his early school performances through to getting into a local pub band and auditioning for Australian Idol, the first section of this performance started off well, if a little stiffly, before crashing into a brick wall when pre-recorded vocal tracks designed for him to interact with were nowhere to be heard.
Thanks to some quick thinking from Musical Director and leader of the four-piece band, Andrew Worboys, the first missed queue was quickly recovered. But when home VHS footage from Mills’ first singing performance at a school concert played without audio, direction from the desk saw the star have to jump off stage to try to get the Mac running his a/v to play sound, while the band filled in with muzak and the audience were left to talk amongst themselves.
But as is often the case, from the jaws of disaster defeat can be snatched, and the requirement for Mills to ‘break from script’ for a period somehow managed to help him shake off the overly rehearsed nature of his first couple of numbers to rediscover the warm, natural star he really is, hitting his stride with grace and style. Moreover, it wasn’t the only disruption. Woeful lighting operation and constantly distracting chatter from so called ‘reality TV mates’ in the audience added an extra degree of difficulty for the cabaret newbie that he dealt with like a seasoned pro and somehow thrived upon.
Not living in Australia at the time of Mills’ Idol debut, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of his cheeky chappie behaviour and famous foibles with Paris Hilton, although somehow this collected knowledge of Mills had passed through the media into my consciousness. As he tells it, this stickiness of reputation has been both a boost to his career and a consternation to his life over the years, making excellent fodder for storytelling – and in this production, Mills finally tells all.
If you ever wanted to hear the truth (at least as Mills tells it) about his tryst with Hilton, then this show will put that curiosity to bed, just as he may or may not have done to the tempestuous starlet. This anecdote is capped by a very funny joke and hilarious interpretation of Taylor Swift’s ‘Trouble’, saved again by Worboys stepping in for missing audio.
Along the way, Mills also covers Gavin DeGraw’s ‘I Don’t Want To Be’, Gotye’s ‘I Feel Better’ and shows his excellence in mimicry of the Backstreet Boys and both Shannon Noll and Guy Sebastian. A rocky reimagining of Avenue Q’s ‘Purpose’ blends nicely with Mills’ rock-pop vocal style and ‘Dancing Through Life’, one of his character Fiyero’s songs from Wicked also adds colour to the anecdotes. This is where the only discomfort comes in Mills’ performance – his unnecessary tendency to take on an American accent when doing show tunes. Finding the difference between cabaret and musical theatre will add confidence to his performance.
Mills feels he has now finally located his performing niche and certainly, he has all the vocal chops and star quality required. All he needs to find now is faith in his own voice, less dependence on his script and a tech team he can rely on. Assuming that last point is ironed out, fans of Mills, and that should really be everyone, will find this to be a highly entertaining production.
Rob Mills Is Surprisingly Good is now playing at The Alex Theatre in St Kilda – Friday 26th and Saturday 27th June.