Songs For the Fallen, the current show at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne is almost impossible to categorise, as it covers several genres. Its publicity describes it as “the wild and hilarious new Australian musical, charting the extraordinary life of Marie Duplessis, the muse that inspired The Lady of the Camellias, La Traviata and Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge! Songs for the Fallen is an invitation to the decadent final party of the real-life woman who defied her fate and captured a nation.”
And that’s a better description than I can give you. Written by the multi-talented Australian performer Sheridan Harbridge (pictured), it certainly is a tour de force that allows her to wow the audience in the central role of Marie. As her sidekicks, Ben Gerrard and Garth Holcombe give her solid and enthusiastic support, deftly playing the multiple roles she has given them.
In the opening scene, Harbridge warns the audience that the fourth wall has been lifted and this is one of those interactive shows – a fact which front row audience member Peter will remember forever, as he becomes the target of Harbridge’s witty off sides and at one point ends up with a lapful of diva.
Songs For the Fallen starts off in a most promising manner, with lots of humour and wit and an interesting story line. As it progresses, for this reviewer, it seemed to meander and lose its way at times and become a series of bawdy vignettes, lurching between burlesque and cabaret.
However, Harbridge has a killer music theatre voice which she uses to great effect with a score that is quirky and involves everything from rap to belt, and she is a theatrical dynamo. I enjoyed the high quality of the performances but was less enamoured of the show as a whole. However, I suspect I was in a minority, as the opening night audience certainly had a lot of fun and the show has received rave reviews both overseas and elsewhere in Australia. It’s probably a good idea to leave any theatre-loving but prudish aunts (or uncles) at home for this one.
Go along and make up your own mind – one thing that is sure is thatSheridan Harbridge is a major talent as a performer, and it’s worth seeing the show to marvel at her virtuosity.
At the Fairfax Studio until October 3.