Strike a pose
By Ross Larkin
A young man singing and playing Madonna songs on the piano, and assuming her as a ‘character’, relaying snippets of life anecdotes between tunes?
You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the very notion.
However, I’m willing to risk offending many a die-hard Madonna nut, by going so far as to say, that Michael Griffiths, a WAAPA graduate of Jersey Boys fame, has more talent in his little pinkie than the material girl could fantasise about. Yet, Griffiths’ extraordinary talent is undermined by the show’s non-musical content.
Madonna is widely both loved and laughed at. Her unprecedented success and fame go hand-in-hand with immense failures, criticism and controversy: selling bucket-loads of records one minute, and being scorned for acting attempts and outlandish behaviour the next.
Griffith’s portrayal and director Dean Bryant’s vision for this year’s Midsumma Festival show no shame in showcasing Madonna in her weaker light, highlighting her often shallow lyrics and narcissistic ways to the point of mockery, even bordering on disrespect. Yet: cue the singing and playing and we’re suddenly enchanted by gorgeous and moving renditions of ‘Like a Prayer’, ‘Material Girl’ and other well-known pop classics, basking in the typically ambient lighting of fortyfivedownstairs and sounding more glorious than ever.
Sure, the aim of the dialogue is to be lighthearted and fun. Yet, unlike the duo’s other popular cabaret celebrating and portraying the career and personal life of Annie Lennox (Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox, playing in conjunction with this show for Midsumma), In Vogue lacks elegant cohesion and purpose, and therefore struggles to flow as engagingly as it should. Whereas Sweet Dreams beautifully combined the heartbreaking (and often humorous) tales of Lennox’s love affair with Dave Stewart, intertwined with brilliant reinterpretations of her songs, In Vogue generally succeeds only where the latter is concerned.
However, Griffiths is such a musical talent that the show is justified by his renditions alone. In fact, I’m always left wanting more and more of his playing. It’s just that, in this case, I could take or leave the script.
In Vogue is playing now until January 26 – Wednesday to Sundays at 9pm at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
Bookings at www.midsumma.org.au