Review by Cicely Binford
If you see the name Michael Griffiths attached to a cabaret, you can expect the best. Griffiths has a few shows he can pull out of his hat to entertain us (i.e. his Madonna show, his Annie Lennox show for example), but he’s currently performing Cole Downstairs at the Maj, which sold out before it even opened. So if you managed to grab a ticket to see Griffiths do Cole Porter, you’re in for a treat.
Griffiths enters the stage slowly in low light; he’s carrying a cane and walking with a limp, indicating he’s chosen to do the show in character. He gingerly sits down at the grand piano that’s taking up most of the stage and begins the beguine…well, actually, “Begin the Beguine” comes a bit later, but he does open with “Anything Goes” and all the ladies’ shoulders in front of me do the Hillary Clinton Shimmy.
This is a ‘greatest hits’ show, with Griffiths walking us through the glamourous life and times of Cole Porter; he tells us how he met his wife Linda and fell in love with his lover Boris. He tells us about escapades and parties around Europe, openings in New York, life in Hollywood, and his debilitating riding accident. Griffiths chooses songs that perfectly suit the story, and sometimes changes lyrics to suit the venue and the milieu, making references to Perth. His piano work is flawless, his vocals steady and clear, his delivery charming and assured.
His Cole portrayal is exactly what it should be, with that old Hollywood touch, the affected, posh Anglicised American accent, the impeccable manners, the wicked humour, the twinkle in his eye. He acknowledges the audience and gets us to take part in the story by having us verbally greet his two damaged legs, Geraldine and Josephine, and later singing along to “Another Op’Nin'” until we show enough enthusiasm to suit him.
I’d say there are two stand-out, showcase songs that really demonstrate Griffiths musicality and appreciation for Porter’s gorgeous songwriting: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Night and Day.” These are two of Porters most romantic tunes, and Griffiths shapes them to his own sensibilities with a slightly modern musical theatre take on the compositions, though he still takes care to remain true to the original — in his fashion.
At the end of the 13-ish-song set, he springs to his feet for a bow, and thus he’s dropped out of the Cole character and emerged as Griffiths. Breaking into his own Aussie accent and shedding his double-breasted jacket, he greets us like we’re all old friends and tells us a little bit about where the show came from. It was written by pianist Anna Goldsworthy, who was a classmate of Griffiths in Adelaide. A chance encounter led to the creation of this captivating little show, which will soon be captivating Californian audiences. He does one final number, leaving us with a tender “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets to Cole at the Maj, you can take the train to Mandurah on Sunday, October 2nd to see him perform his newest cabaret Adolescent at Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. And you can expect the best.
For more information about Adolescent and tickets, visit the MPAC website here.