Auckland International Cabaret Season
“Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox” +
“In Vogue: Songs by Madonna”
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall | June 4-5
I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Griffiths perform two shows over two consecutive nights. The first night he sang the songs of Annie Lennox (and by default Eurythmics) while on the second night he sang the songs of Madonna . Although they’re completely different shows, it seems silly to review them separately because they display the different sides of this performer so brilliantly.
I was curious about the first night, because although I’m as much a fan of Annie Lennox as anybody else is, I was intrigued as to how her songs would adapt to a cabaret show. One could draw a clear line between Eurythmics and Lennox’s solo career, which seemingly presents a roadblock for anybody trying to put all her songs into one show.
Griffiths quickly replaced that curiosity with pure delight. An utterly charming presence from the moment he stepped onstage, he took us through Lennox’s life in first person—before Eurythmics, during Eurythmics, and finally through her solo career, interpolating songs from both eras throughout—while simultaneously standing within the character of Lennox and commenting on it at the same time.
In good voice and even better humour, Griffiths is an apparently effortless performer. Every Eurythmics and Annie Lennox hit you can name, and many you can’t, are rearranged for the piano with touching effect, none more so than ‘Why’, an already emotive song which is lent a plaintive quality that lingers even after he moves on.
The respect with which Griffiths treats Annie Lennox and her songs, even as he lightly ribs her life, is the most remarkable and surprising aspect of the show. Griffiths is aware that most of the people who are coming to this show are fans of Annie Lennox, and it takes little coaxing to get the crowd to join in for parts of ‘Thorn in My Side’. This is a performer who not only loves Lennox, but understands her and why people love her.
It is a sharp contrast from his treatment of Madonna the following night. This is not to say that he doesn’t respect Madonna—you couldn’t craft a show that goes from ‘Burning Up’ to ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’ without a respect for the performer—but he also recognises that Madonna’s life, and the way Madonna presents herself, is ripe for comedy and parody.
The audience is also totally ready to laugh at Madonna. Make no mistake, this was a crowd who loved Madonna. Even the most obscure of songs received whoops from certain parts of the audience, and when he asked for requests towards the end of the show, some songs that I hadn’t even heard of were yelled out by more than one person.
It’s hard to call it an educational experience, but as somebody who came to Madonna late in her life and early in my life (around Ray of Light/Music, for anybody keeping score), it’s nice to get an overview of her life and find out that Madonna has always been a ridiculous, easily parodied figure in the pop music scene.
Griffiths performs ‘as’ Madonna a similar way to the way he performs Annie Lennox; in first person, going through her life while also commenting on it. While in character, he stays in his own voice, and his Adelaide lilt provides a cutting undertone to quotes that are quintessentially Madonna.
Throughout both shows, Griffiths is an immensely charming and talented performer, and clearly very grateful to an audience who loves these artists as much as he does. Whether it’s ‘Thorn in My Side’ or a rendition of ‘Like A Prayer’ that brings down the house, he gives his all to the songs he is performing, and to the audience.
There was a lot of love in both those houses, and more importantly, a lot of fun. I would see Griffiths do anything, and if you’re even slightly a fan of pop music, his shows are a must-see. Wherever he is, or wherever he ends up, don’t miss out.
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Auckland International Cabaret Season
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall | June 5-8
Lady Rizo is everything.
I mean that in the literal definition of the word and also in the definition of the word that the Internet has come to, where everything is “really good.” So I reiterate: Lady Rizo is everything.
I come to Lady Rizo as a very distant fan. I’ve bought the two albums she has available on iTunes, I’ve watched every video she has on YouTube, mostly shot by similarly enthusiastic fans on their mobile phones. Even on a tiny laptop screen on tiny headphones, Lady Rizo comes across as a star. She has a titanic charisma, a once-in-a-lifetime voice, and a sense of glamour that is simultaneously timeless and utterly her own. I was more than amped to see her in the flesh.
Lady Rizo exceeded all my expectations. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Even watching her remotely from the other side of the world, something about Lady Rizo plucked something deep inside of me. She embodies everything that makes a star, and makes cabaret great. She can go from comic highs to these incredibly touching lows within a single song, go from sexy to absolutely filthy without missing a beat, and make fun of herself while utterly being the best version of herself.
It’s easier to review the woman than it is to review the show, which is more like hanging out with Lady Rizo for an hour than it is a show, and hanging out with Lady Rizo is like a show in itself. Whether she’s vamping her way through one of her own songs, such as the funny/sexy ‘Ink Dip’, absolutely destroying the house with a mashup of ‘Sinnerman’ and ‘I Feel Love’, or just riffing about her time as a lounge singer on a cruise liner, she is an utterly captivating performer.
But beyond being captivating and larger than life, she is also devastatingly human. She feels the extremes of everything, and makes her audience do the same. Nowhere is this more evident than during her song ‘Cherry Lane Saint’. More stripped back and emotionally naked than her other songs, she delivers this raw love song with a voice that is in perfect shape, but also a voice that has lived. I was weeping at the end of the song, as were the other people at my table, and though this wasn’t the last song, it left me trembling even as I left the space.
It’s this human quality that makes Lady Rizo one of the best performers I have ever seen. She feels the same things that we do, but she amps them up to the thousandth degree so that we can feel them like she does. She is love, she is life, she is sex, she is filth, she is sad, she is happy.
She is everything.