Melbourne Cabaret Festival: We’ve Only Just Begun – The Music of The Carpenters

It’s 1970 and Angela (Giuseppina Lumicisi) is 16, the youngest daughter of a very traditional Italian family living in East Brunswick, Melbourne. At school, hearing The Carpenters – and Karen’s voice in particular – instantly made Angela the “#1 Carpentarian Fan”.

In We’ve Only Just Begun – The Music of The Carpenters, Angela would share Karen’s highs and lows. Most importantly, Angela would be inspired by the singer’s determination to live life on her own terms. Performer Lumicisi has varied credits including an Australasian tour of Wicked, and Cio Cio San in the opera Madame Butterfly. Clearly she’s far younger than the on-stage Angela born in 1954, but she’s easy to believe as the girl growing into a woman.

Lumicisi’s experience showed itself in this opening night performance that was bedevilled by technical issues. Often the piano accompaniment was loud (verging on insensitive to the source material) and competed with Lumicisi’s voice, especially her lower notes.

The lighting was haphazard as a spotlight might find the singer’s face well after the start of the song, yet her cream-coloured culottes were often well lit. And, when the piano volume came down a notch halfway, sound crackles were followed by the microphone dropping out. For demonstrating how “The show must go on”, Lumicisi is a Superstar.

Lumicisi has an evocative voice with a warmth quite similar to that of Karen Carpenter. Overall this is a quality show, but there was the odd unconvincing story beat. A contrivance to inject some ill-fitting comedy and the aftermath of a lacklustre date didn’t ring true. I expect that the show would benefit from thrashing out some ideas with a recognised writer. The result of smoothing these slightly distracting credibility wrinkles might turn a very good show into a great one.

The potential for greatness is certainly there when you have Lumicisi’s performance to work with. Even if performer and character Angela are not the same, the former brings to the latter such conviction that you can’t take your eyes off of her. You could say There’s a Kind of Hush over the audience as she works her magic.

Whether autobiographical or not so much, Lumicisi could easily push our emotional buttons. Renditions of Carpenters’ songs were paired suitably with Angela’s readings of diary entries, and covered much of the group’s variety.

A work with heart and talent like this is exactly what I hope for in a Cabaret Festival. It was disappointing to see such a small crowd at such a worthwhile performance. Again, a 6pm time slot isn’t helpful here. The good news is that We’ve Only Just Begun has a season longer than many at Melbourne Cabaret Festival. If you want to be On Top of The World, go see it!

We’ve Only Just Begun – The Music of The Carpenters
The Loft – Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Wednesday 20 June 2018 – 6.00pm
Season continues to 24 June 2018
Information and Bookings: www.melbournecabaret.com

Image: Angela Lumicisi stars in We’ve Only Just Begun – The Music of The Carpenters (supplied)

Review: Jason Whyte

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