We caught up with theatrical enigma Jess Barlow to discuss Rocky, Hedwig… and Gaga.
So what’s this show all about? Is it a cabaret? Scripted show? Bit of both? Is there a storyline?
It’s a Cult Rock/Glam Rock Concert. There is absolutely no story line so it’s exactly what it is marketed as which is a Cult Rock Concert. Four singers and a five piece band rocking out to some awesome songs. Quite simple. It’s billed as a tribute to Rocky Horror, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bowie, Benatar, Prince, Queen, Turner, Kiss, Blondie, Elton and some other awesome 80’s pop/rock icons. It’s bright, bold and thoroughly fearless – which is exactly how I like it – and, generally speaking, it’s very 80s!
Was this something you created yourself? How did you all come to collaborate on this?
The show was the brainchild of Dinesh (Mathew), Scarlett (Quenette), and Shanon (Whitelock) who is the MD. The cast consists of the fabulous and ever-outrageous Joel Bow; the divine, blasting, and belting Rach Collins; the one and only suave crusader Dinesh Mathew; and our super duper musical director Shanon Whitelock (who will also be playing keys). And of course, the rock pool of bubbles and weet bix, myself – Lala Barlow. Oh, and an onstage band who play instruments and get to wear mascara, latex and rock the crap out of some tough tunes.
The show is all about fun, camp glam-rock. About stepping over the boundaries and conjuring up the vibe that existed when these songs were written and performed by their owners. About performing them with spunk, attitude, and pizzazz. Above all, about freedom and loving who and what you are. All of that without a script? I think so.
To take you on a brief power-walk down memory lane, Joel, Dinesh, Shannon, and myself all worked together last year in Burlesque in the Burbs at Downstairs at Almas. We had a ball together and enjoyed both each other’s company and creativity; hence, working together on a show like this is quite simple because we all already get along so well. We’re hoping that that closeness will translate to the stage when we’re all standing and sweating on each other during the final chorus of "Livin' on a Prayer" after the 11th key change. Quietly confident.
Two different venues… What’s the mood going to be like in the room at each? What are you hoping to create?
Well, the Order of Melbourne is a much bigger venue (22nd Jan), and it’s got four stage areas (including the bar). Personally, I am very excited about having a bar to play with as a performance space and we were thinking of including a verse and chorus of "Can’t Fight the Moonlight" complete with myself throwing bottles of Jim Beam in the air and whipping myself around in some kind of unrehearsed fly swat jamboree but we decided against it for obvious reasons. It will be an interesting one to play with and we can’t wait. The Order has a very good reputation and is a delight to perform in, as everything from the staff to the decor are delicious and thoroughly professional. DnM Bar and Nightclub in South Yarra (formerly the Exchange) is going to be very cosy, as it is a far cry smaller than the Order, however we look forward to the challenge of a smaller venue (which will no doubt create a more intimate performance vibe).
Our utmost goal and intention is for people to enjoy themselves. Most of the songs we’ll be showcasing are 80’s classics where most likely everyone will recognise the whole song or at least one word of the chorus. We want the audience to have as much fun as we know we will, to break free and let loose, to sing as loud as we will be, and to revel in their individuality. For me, personally, the 80’s was a time of fierce individuality. It was bright and creative and so much of today's fashion, art, and music is 80s inspired. Let’s enjoy it!
Hair and make up will also be a feature of the show. With such a minimalist set, we’ve gone all out with costume and have been doing fairly in depth research, especially in the hair and make up department.
What a cool/interesting mix of music.. What ties it all together?
The only music which is out of the 80’s glam rock/cult rock is music from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but it actually doesn’t seem much out of place. In fact, originally the entire show was centred around Hedwig but we took it in a slightly different direction. The theme is 80’s glam/cult rock, but we’ve made some creative changes to some of the songs just to spice the girls up a bit… You’ll have to wait and see.
You’ve created your own superstar persona. Who’s your stylist? Are you a 'character' or is that just you?
Do people liken you to Lady Gaga?
What an interesting question. I’m lying. If I was to be honest, I’d probably say that I am likened to Lady Gaga about 20 times per day (and they’re only the comments that are verbalised that I actually HEAR). I don’t mind it. I hate it when people say it like they’re Cher from Clueless in a ridiculous twangy tone that makes me want to punch them, but generally, I don’t mind. I keep reminding myself that if I saw myself wandering down the street eating a Bubble-O-Bill and whistling "The Morning Report" from The Lion King that I too would probably be intrigued by this strange fairy-floss-like creature wandering nearby. All I have ever strived to do was to be myself and to enjoy and not be afraid of embracing what is different about me such as my oversized hair and my quirky shoes. I love it and I do it for no one but myself and for none other than my own enjoyment. And to be fair and square, (as I like to remind people) I was doing this before Gaga ever was, so my intention was and never has been to emulate or copy her. Our likeness is merely a strange coincidence that is both my burden and my strength. I am my own stylist and move from non-trend to non-trend. I do my own hair and own clothing and take inspiration from the art and life around me. As to whether I am a character, I suppose that elements of my psyche have made somewhat of a transformation from ‘acting’ to ‘being’ but again, I don’t really mind it. It makes for an interesting and colourful existence. What can I say, I want to be a superstar.
If you want to see Jess and the gang strut their stuff on stage, check out “What’s On” for details