Little Diana and the Big Fuzz purports to tell the story of a fictional singer and her band getting their start in Detroit in the 1960s. They were part of the scene when Motown records was at the peak of its influence and importance in launching African-American R&B and Soul acts on to the airwaves.
The festival guide entry claims “The show will have you reliving the 60s and give you an insight into Little Diana‘s life and incredible struggle which is inspired by the iconic women of the era.” Against its own criteria, the show is a long way from being successful, being little more than a concert with a token attempt to define a character.
The songs performed by this “fictional” singer – Little Diana played by Bree Langridge (Wicked, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) – seems to make her a pretty thinly-veiled version of Diana Ross. Ross’ tracks such as Upside Down (1980, written by Rodgers and Edwards, not Michael Jackson, as bizarrely claimed in the show), and Chain Reaction (1985) showed that most of the time the music wasn’t from the 60s. The scarce genuine 60s hits included Supremes tunes Love Child and Can’t Hurry Love, although Little Diana somehow brought these into being without any backing singers.
The slight writing doesn’t illuminate the 1960s, and makes it difficult for Langridge to do much with her lightly-sketched character. If anything, our diva seems to have had a pretty easy ride. Little Diana was discovered in the 1960s just sitting on the steps outside of the original home of Motown.
Her angst over a realisation that her love for the label boss meant that she didn’t know where her money was going was short-lived and unresolved, serving only as a segue into 1984’s (!) What’s Love Got To Do With It, causing me to ask “What’s Tina Turner got to do with it?” Credibility is stretched further by stories of how she’s been with the four (quite young-looking) dudes of her band for decades, and her description of choreography gets more time than any life event.
You can accept merely getting a concert if the music’s good enough. Unfortunately, I often didn’t dig what was being laid down here. Langridge has a powerful voice, and while I might like to hear a songstress belt out Defying Gravity didn’t seem suited to many of the selections. This was made particularly obvious when lead male vocalist (also guitarist and Musical Director) Kuki Tipoki gave a rendition of It’s a man’s world, showing more soul in his two minutes of lead vocal than the rest of the performance. Other band members David Wiskin on keys and backing vocals and the uncredited percussion and bass players might have looked awkward during their superficial involvement in Little Diana’s stories, yet were a solid unit, giving as good a distillation of Motown as you could hope for with four players.
Little Diana completely captures one feature reported in various accounts of Diana Ross – it’s all about her! Little Diana was a suitably glamourous vision with various costume changes, complemented by Benjamin Moir’s hair and makeup.
When all the guff was abandoned late and Little Diana and the Big Fuzz performed an uninterrupted bracket to finish the show, it made me see their real potential. If they’d stuck to their strengths and played a late-night club session rather than a Cab Fest show, I’m sure I would not have had unsatisfied expectations and would have been much more enthused about the performance.
Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2015: Little Diana and the Big Fuzz
The Loft – Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Thursday 25 June 2015
Season : 25 – 27 June 2015
For more information, visit: www.melbournecabaret.com for details.
Image: Bree Langridge as Little Diana (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte