As a dancer, actor, choreographer and director, Jason Coleman is clearly a man of many talents. Remember, he was the one who choreographed the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2000 Olympics. After his last show, Spiegelicious, took to the road in 2015 it became clear to him that he needed a bigger venue. That’s when he and company manager Mitchell Hunt came up with the idea of constructing a world-first, fully transportable setting made out of re-purposed shipping containers – 24 in all.
The space is three storeys high and air-conditioned. There is a stage – upon which is positioned a baby grand piano – and a catwalk, around which the audience of up to 240 sits. Up front scaffolding has been erected, securing 15 blackened and separated “cubby holes”, each just large enough to hold upright one performer. The outside of the, all but square, “Cathedral” is covered by a “skin” resembling a French palace, certainly a drawcard for anyone who drives past.
Razzle Dazzle was put together in 10 weeks to play in Coleman’s hometown of Rye on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. The cast consists of 15 performers – the three standouts of which are Coleman, Wayne Scott Kermond (the emcee) and Gareth Jacobs, who has a big voice and plays to the crowd assuming the persona of a cross dresser. Among the eight women and seven men are several who have graduated from Coleman’s Ministry of Dance, a one-stop dancing, singing and performance institute.
Razzle Dazzle is a mixed bag of cabaret and burlesque – outrageous, colourful and pulsating. It is a production that is irreverent and a little “naughty”. There is a wild and varied showcase of music, song and dance (including tap), with a strong vibe throughout that the audience appears to relish. Popular favourites are intermingled with show tunes and an original number.
Among the first half highlights is a spoof on pop culture, starting with a hilarious take off (or should that be, put down) of The Brady Bunch. In the second act, a series of quick fire routines acknowledge the efforts of trios that have taken the world by storm, like The Andrews Sisters and The Three Stooges.
Then we are transported around the globe for lively tunes from Spain to Thailand, from South America to Ireland (and much mirth in a special treatment of Lord of the Dance) and, finally, on to France. There are two aerial acts, one in each half. The first involves a single performer and netting, and the other an acrobatic duet in an open sided cube.
With his easy-going charm and a put-on European accent, Kermond sings, dances, “frocks up” and interacts with the audience repeatedly, singling out a couple for special attention. Notwithstanding all of what he does that is good (and there is plenty), his clichéd one-liners start to wear thin after a while. He also talks up just how “fantastic” the performers and performances are, which is totally unnecessary and grating. Let us judge that for ourselves. In fact, overall, he speaks too much.
The climax should have been a rollicking “Can Can” number. Instead, we were brought down from that high as Kermond gave away his accent to continue to exchange pleasantries with the audience as the Aussie he is. Then we were treated to a tribute to Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson, followed by another up-tempo number. Why? The show biz terms “always leave them wanting more” and “less is more” should have been a red light, which meant “stop while you’re ahead”.
This is a show best described as one that tries hard to impress but fails to reach the high water mark set by other professional troupes. Nevertheless, it is most certainly fun, good humoured and energetic and it is not as if there aren’t a number of noteworthy and memorable moments.
Razzle Dazzle is playing at the Cabaret Cathedral at Rye until 31st January.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television