Between them, Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney can boast nearly 90 years of performing on stage in plays, musicals and variety. Their paths first crossed when Hayes was starring in the musical 42nd Street and McKenney was performing a featured role. Later they toured together in a hugely successful tour of the play Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.
Bosom Buddies is an elegantly constructed biographical show in which they share stories of the shows in which they have appeared together, and separately. It’s a masterclass in stagecraft, a lesson in Australian music theatre history and sheer delight from beginning to end.
Stylishly directed by Jason Langley on an elegantly dressed stage on which two comfortable lounge chairs occupy one side, and two director’s chairs emblazoned with the artists names are set on the other. Suspended above, a gold-framed screen on which, throughout the show, archival film highlights and photographs are projected, commencing with the overture during which a cleverly edited montage of film from Australian national productions including Chicago, Crazy For You, The Boy from Oz and Annie, set the mood.
Later in the program they sing a brilliantly constructed medley of songs from every show in which they have appeared, which provides a tantalizing memory test for the aficionados in the audience.
Except for a Q & A towards the end, the show is tightly scripted, but so skillfully delivered that it feels spontaneous. Both are master storytellers. Their descriptions of their on-stage experiences are most often self-deprecating, and always hilarious. Not all the filmed sequences are laudatory, especially the one of McKenney coming a cropper during a performance of 42nd Street, and neither resists the temptation to pepper the films with cheeky jibes at the other’s performance in them, much to the delight of the audience.
But as fascinating as the archival film is, it is the moments when they recreate, mostly briefly, their performances at certain key points in their careers, which make this show so unforgettable. When Hayes sings a snatch of the title song for Cabaret, in which she starred in the first Australian production, or Adelaide’s Lament from Guys and Dolls, or when McKenney, with just a dab of make-up and a snippet of Money, Money, Money, recreates his interpretation of the decadent MC in a later iteration of Cabaret, or later, dueting with a film of Peter Allen singing a moving version of Tenterfield Saddler, the audience becomes privy to an extraordinary glimpse at what it is about these two artists which have allowed them both to reach the peak of their profession.
Their costumes throughout are impeccable, and the changes subtle, as is Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting design. The superb recorded musical arrangements by Michael Tyack allow transitions between filmed soundtracks and live performance to be achieved gracefully… and yes they dance … wonderfully … individually and together.
This beautifully crafted show is currently enjoying an extensive regional tour. However, Sydney-siders will have an opportunity to catch it at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta on Sunday 3 June. It will also be performed in Adelaide as part of the 2018 Adelaide Cabaret Festival on Sunday 10 and Monday 11 June. Don’t miss it!
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Monday 21 May 2018
For more information including touring schedule, visit: www.christinedunstan.com.au for details.
Image: Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney star in Bosom Buddies (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM