The title of this cabaret show comes courtesy of the opening verse of Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child. While the reference is a little oblique, that famous act illustrates that some people have the right qualities to shine bright at centre-stage like Beyoncé, while others lacking these slink into the background like Michelle.
Can You Handle This? is a story of how singer, actor, and sometime waiter Luke Belle (Belle… seriously? Joke opportunity missed here given the show’s content!) regrets being passed over for leading male roles due to his ‘Side-kick Syndrome’ (SKS), and the treatment he’s sought for this.
We’re off to a strong start with his rendition of I am the Pirate King from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and learn of his regret that talent isn’t enough for such a part when you’re insufficiently broad, tall, and muscular.
Things start to wobble though due to some issues – so common in open-access festivals of recent times – that suitably aware performers should be able to readily avoid. As for other shows in The Butterfly Club, the piano accompaniment had times of being just plain too loud, drowning out the vocal. The story itself would have benefitted from input from an experienced writer. There were times when the humour was forced, and some songs seemed shoehorned into the show.
It’s also unfortunate that Belle takes a road eschewed by modern comedians in ‘punching down’. His portrayal of his SKS therapist from Melbourne’s outer suburbs leaves a sour taste. That her advice is so obviously dumb (and a contrived introduction for an ill-fitting song) also disrupts our suspension of disbelief regarding his journey.
The writing is a lot more useful to the cause and authentic-seeming at other times, such as when we delve into how Belle’s upbringing in country Victoria may have contributed to his SKS. We learn of his inability to recognise his stepfather’s tools as a teen, and the consequences of a primary school game of having to choose between being a ghost or mermaid.
The humour often leant on Belle’s campy flouncing around the stage, but then, he did it so well as he delivered a selection of tunes from light opera and musicals, stylishly supported by his easy-going pianist.
I’ve seen quite a few cabaret performances over the years that have been a pretty flimsy (even cringeworthy) showcase for a good voice. It’s uncommon for a show with a patchy start to make a comeback. I’m happy to report that this offering is a notable exception as the quality of the music overwhelms its flaws; Belle’s smooth and warm Baritone is like a hot fudge sundae for the ears.
As for the question asked of the audience by Can You Handle This? – broad smiles on those charmed by the performance suggested a resounding ‘yes’. Whilst the 5:30pm slot is unfortunately early for a sometimes risqué cabaret, this is still a pretty good way to kick off a night of serious Melbourne Fringing. If history is any guide, it will be a better offering than many.
Can You Handle This? I Don’t Think You Can Handle This
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 14 September 2017 – 5.30pm
Season continues to 17 September 2017
For more information, visit: www.thebutterflyclub.com for details.
Image: Luke Belle (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte