By Tania Herbert
With checkered table cloths, piano accordion music and rather copious amounts of wine, we could have been any Italian restaurant on Lygon St. But the opening announcement: “If you could please turn off your phone and your flashing Jesus and Mary” (our table centrepieces) reminded us that rather we were out the back of the fantastic Howler Bar, watching the best that kitsch has to offer with Annabella Dickson‘s return season of That’s Amore for this year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival..
It’s West Side Story goes disco as two cheese-crossed lover, Annabella Mozzarella and Johnny Parmigiano (both played by Dickson) find themselves separated by the seas after Johnny leaves their home of Napoli to take a job as a mechanic in Coburg. Annabella is left to contemplate whether to leave her old life behind- and what Eve should do when she reaches for the apple only to find she’s picked a lemon.
Not quite play, cabaret or burlesque show, That’s Amore is more reminiscent of an adult pantomime, with character switching, lip-syncing, cheap laughs and outrageous costuming. There are trinkets for sale and a long interval for additional wine purchases, and what was expected to be a short cabaret was instead a real night of entertainment. Annabella’s switching from the female to male characters is over the top, but also impressive – the great mannerisms and self-aware stereotyping are fun and (just) on the right side of the ‘too much’ line.
Much of the show is pre-recorded film scenes, which are used to smoothly link the dance numbers and allow for interaction between Dickson’s two lovers – in addition to allowing for huge costume (and gender) transformations.
Whilst Annabella is every bit the star, she is backed up by a talented support cast of five, each with their own impressive resumes of dance and music background. Anjelika Thwaites (dancer and choreographer) was the particular eye-catcher – her burlesque performance whilst hanging out the washing being the sexy high point. The dancing ranges from cute choreography (spoofing film great moments from Titania to American Beauty) to some impressive contemporary numbers – particularly a touching male-partnered ‘living statues’ number.
It’s not high art, and best taken with lots of (preferably Italian) wine, but That’s Amore is an awful lot of fun, meticulously produced and absolutely self-confident.
Ridiculous, flamboyant and thoroughly enjoyable, the show is perfectly pitched to the bawdy audience it attracted – and it is not surprising the season has, again, sold out. Also, I want the soundtrack.
That’s Amore is playing as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival at Howler Bar on 6, 7 and 9 April, 2017.