Does the musical version of a tell-all book work on stage?
Show attended: Wednesday, February 19 at Slide Lounge, Sydney
YOU'D have a point if you argued it’s a bit of a conceit for a guy to write part one of his autobiography at 24. Unless he had something extremely worthwhile to say, and that he said it extremely eloquently and passionately.
And you’d be on even safer ground if you raised an eyebrow if that guy then turned his story of beating lifelong depression and debilitating bouts of drug and alcohol addiction . . . into a stage show. With songs. Which he sings.
That is, unless he brought to it the same candour and beautiful turn of phrase . . . and had a surprisingly amazing singing voice.
Matthew Mitcham’s Twists and Turns cabaret opened at Slide Lounge in Sydney last night and Matthew, who turns 26 on Sunday week, had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand and his heart.
Matthew strutted and strummed his ukulele and sang an eclectic and relevant collection of pop ballads, a couple of rock songs, blues and even some Irving Berlin as he wound his way through an outline of his life story to date.
Twists and Turns songlist
His mum, Vivienne, “nuttier than a bag of trailmix”, makes an audio appearance in pre-recorded voice-over. She’s the star of the appealing anecdote about how she and 6-year-old Matthew lived without power for six months while she stubbornly stood up to the electricity company. All they had for entertainment was an old gramophone and old hit records. Cue Has Anybody Seen My Gal?
Matthew is beautifully supported by the wonderful Spanky, New Zealand’s Rhys Morgan, who plays the devil in drag on Matthew’s shoulder . . . or, more often, in his head as Matthew deals with his demons. Spanky is a strength of the show, lovely timing and great attitude, also unobtrusively supplying very strong backup vocals.
As does musical director Jeremy Brennan, who was one of the Jersey Boys, who plays the piano so well and contributes the important voice of the media in Matthew’s story.
Not far into the show Matthew dropped his pants. Not sure why, and clearly no one cared why, and he sang a whole song with his shorts round his ankles. He was wearing his Australian team Speedos. He also does a few numbers without his shirt and for a diver who could argue against that?
We’re also treated to a display of top-notch trampolining, harking back to his early days of competition.
After an entertaining round of various songs and life episodes Matthew stops the show with a poignant rendition of Alanis Morrisette’s Perfect. It couldn’t be more appropriate for someone dealing with horrible self-doubt and a belief that he had to be the best in the world to be loved:
Don't forget to win first place,
Don't forget to keep that smile on your face ,
Be a good boy, try a little harder,
You've got to measure up and make me prouder.
Matthew made himself vulnerable, and the audience took him to heart. And everyone was with him at the end when he said he was heading for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August; and that he’d learned to be happy in his own skin, with or without medals pinned onto it.
His delivery of words was sometimes too fast and we didn’t get the time to let what he was saying sink in. There was so much to ponder. When it came to singing, the music kept his pace measured and his careful breath control focused his delivery.
In an email exchange after midnight Jeremy Brennan wrote to me: “Wasn't Matt just beautiful tonight? Not bad for a fella who arrived direct from Madrid at 7am this morning. No sleep. And then to pull out a show like that? I'm f - - - ing impressed :) .”
We all were. It was great work by everyone concerned. ❏
Twists and Turns cabaret plays one more night at Slide Lounge tonight (Thursday, February 20). It may be sold out. Details, bookings: 8915 1899.
■ Read Ian's other interviews:
Simon Vowles for Queens of the Outback – A frock and a rock hit town!
Nick Atkins for A Boy & A Bean – Jack, the giant killer
Matthew Mitcham for Twists and Turns cabaret – Matthew . . . all singing, all talking, all dancing!
Debbie Reynolds for Behind the Candelabra – What a glorious feelin’, I’m workin’ again
Lily Tomlin for Web Therapy – Lily caught in Phoebe's web!
Todd McKenney for Grease – Todd’s got chills, they’re multiplyin’
Matthew Rhys for The Scapegoat – Seeing double . . . and the Walkers' wine was real!
Casey Donovan for Mama Cass tribute – Casey has found her own idol
Amanda Muggleton for The Book Club – A book club for those who'd rather laugh than read!
Rachel Griffiths for Magazine Wars – We owe a big debt to Ita and Dulcie
Simon Burke for Mrs Warren’s Profession – A timeless take on the oldest profession
Ellen's mum, Betty DeGeneres on marriage equality – Not supporting gay marriage is bullying
Amanda Muggleton for Torch Song Trilogy – Amanda returns to the spotlight
Matthew Mitcham for Twists and Turns book – He couldn't believe the moment would last . . . and it didn't