When Velvet welcomed its first audience two-and-a-half years ago at the Adelaide Fringe, it received a tremendously positive response. It’s since chalked up more than 300 shows, travelled across the country and even abroad to the Edinburgh Festival and, now, the aptly described ‘divine discotheque circus’ has commenced an encore Sydney season.
Combining an irresistible soundtrack of disco classics with circus acts, dynamite vocals and a stellar lighting design (by Matthew Marshall), Velvet pays tribute to Studio 54, the world-famous New York City nightclub of the 1970s and 80s. Described by one Vanity Fair journalist as “the giddy epicentre of 70s hedonism”, patrons of Studio 54 in its heyday included A-list stars of the screen and pop music royalty (US President Donald Trump is said to have been a regular guest from the night it opened). Not only was Studio 54 a wild and debaucherous playground for the rich and famous, but was also renowned for its openness to ‘alternative’ lifestyles.
Velvet invites attendees into a nightclub that conjures the essence of Studio 54. Musical director Joe Accaria is also our club DJ for the evening. We then meet a young man (Tom Oliver), dressed as though he’s in the Book of Mormon’s ensemble, who enters the club and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. His curiosity draws him into the venue and he quickly becomes acquainted with each of Velvet’s colourful characters. As time goes on, his reticence gives way and he casts off his inhibitions, embracing the culture that characterises the club.
Velvet makes for a thoroughly engaging fantasy that keeps its audience engaged for every one of its 76 minutes. Oliver is well cast as the naïve nightclub visitor, unprepared for the experience that awaits him. Vocally, he’s strong throughout, but his moment to shine comes late in the piece, performing a slowed-down, stripped-back and wonderfully melancholic rendition of the Bee Gees’ 1977 hit ‘Stayin’ Alive’. It’s a rare downtempo moment but certainly one of the evening’s most memorable segments.
Craig Reid, aka ‘The Incredible Hula Boy’, is a clear audience favourite, his remarkable hula-hoop circus act provoking some of the most rapturous applause of the night; Emma Goh, Mirko Köckenberger and Stephen Williams execute impressive acts of aerial artistry; and providing vocals for a substantial chunk of the setlist are Rechelle Mansour and Kaylah Attard, who showcase terrific singing prowess.
And as all good discos should, Velvet has its very own powerhouse pop diva in the form of Marcia Hines, and whether it’s delivering Stephanie Mills’ disco-infused R&B number ‘Never knew love like this before’ or belting out the anthemic Weather Girls’ hit ‘It’s raining men’, she’s every bit the part and vocally in fine form.
Director and creator Craig Ilott (whose other recent credits include Shake & Stir Theatre Co’s production of American Idiot and the world premiere of B-Girl at the Sydney Opera House) has crafted a circus-themed variety show that offers audiences one of the most exuberant and enjoyable nights at the theatre this year. It’s virtually impossible not to be swept up in the fun of Velvet, taking 15 of the most enduring disco tracks and capping off their live reinterpretations with first-class vocals and performance artists. Be sure to get your friends together and catch the divine discotheque circus before it leaves town.
VELVET – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
VENUE: Roslyn Packer Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
DATES: Playing now until Sunday 20 August
PERFORMANCE TIMES: Tues-Fri 7:30pm, Wednesday matinee 2.00pm, Sat 5:00pm & 8:00pm, Sun 3:00pm
PRICES: Tickets from $45
BOOKINGS: ticketmaster.com.au or www.roslynpackertheatre.com.au