Melbourne Fringe – Mama Alto: Extravaganza

Melbourne Fringe Mama AltoMelbourne’s own ‘gender transcendent starlet’ Mama Alto made a triumphant return to Melbourne Fringe with an evening of blues and jazz standards. Shows don’t always live up to their title, but happily Extravaganza is a strong and supple musical offering with a lot to enjoy.

Extravaganza lightly sketched the course that took Mama and her ‘Musical Directress’ and piano accompanist Miss Chief from a Melbourne Fringe season around six years ago, to some local notoriety, to featuring in Cuba’s international arts festival.

the show is pretty loose. Our diva explained that she doesn’t plan much of what happens between the songs, which was a bit obvious at times. In the spaces between tunes, Mama tended to drop throwaway lines about the ‘cis patriarchy’ that aren’t going to mean that much to a general fringe audience. I would have like to hear her explain more about her ‘Queer experience’ so that we could get to know her better.

Perhaps she could learn a little from performers such as Paul Capsis or Marsden and Wood’s Mother’s Ruin  who effectively manage a little pointed political prodding through cabaret that’s also very entertaining. However, just the fact that Mama is out and proud in her fur wrap and sparkling frock is surely important for young, queer-identifying, binary-gender-rejecting folks to see in particular.

The relaxed proceedings were fine for an evening show, especially as the performances were often sublime. The programme showed that Mama has given serious thought to her interpretations. I particularly liked how she eschewed the ‘bigger is better’ style of belting that TV talent shows have forced on us, in favour of nuance and subtlety.

In her collaboration with Mama, Miss Chief showed herself a gifted musician. There were so many little touches to savour, such as how she would modulate volume, passionately pound the lower end or dance playfully over the higher notes as a mood required. Miss Chief’s medleys also had some cute innovations.

Be warned though, with a short season there’s very limited opportunity to take in this stylish pair. Punters will find tickets for the cheap Tuesday in particular an absolute bargain.

Melbourne Fringe – Mama Alto: Extravaganza
Fringe Hub: Lithuanian Club – The Ballroom, 44 Errol Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Friday 16 September 2016 – 9.15pm
Season continues to 23 September 2016
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au

Image: Mama Alto – photo by Trent Pace Photography

Review: Jason Whyte

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