As the audience files into the theatre ahead of Mike McLeish’s new show, the lyrical refrain I’m not angry anymore from Concrete Blonde’s song Joey plays discreetly and subversively in the background. But when McLeish walks on stage vowing “to blow everyone of you away”, the mood quickly changes. It’s a brash, risky declaration that sets up the seething tone that informs his latest show.
Message to My Girls, playing as part of the 2014 Melbourne Cabaret Festival, is a lyrical, spikey and uproarious exploration of the challenges that come with being a father to two young daughters in a world seemingly hell-bent on destroying the pure, innocent joys of childhood.
The targets of McLeish’s wrath include those peddling idealised notions of women, modern pop icons like Rihanna and Pitbull and the blunting effects of living in a wired world. But it is a tribute to McLeish’s artistry that he finds a delicious balance between the eviscerating, hilarious observations that come with his self-declared “grumpy old man-ness”, and the sweet, heartfelt musical odes to his wife and children that punctuate them.
McLeish made a splash in 2007 as the widely lauded lead role in Casey Bennetto’s highly-rated Keating the Musical and has since developed a successful career as a televison actor and theatre performer. Joining McLeish on stage throughout the show, Rosie Westbrook on double bass and guitarist JP Shilo, stellar musicians in their own right, provide wonderful, solid texture for the musical numbers.
The vignettes in Message to My Girls – one describes McLeish’s vision of the ideal suitor for his future teenage daughter – are brought to life in delightful, finely-wrought comedic detail and delivered with the exquisite pacing of a stage performer in his element. The attention to detail is undoubtedly due in part to the direction of McLeish’s partner Fiona Harris, an accomplished writer, actor and comedienne in her own right, and the producer Amanda Higgs whose input helps maintain the show’s equilibrium.
Like The World is Winning, his terrific 2011 Famous Spiegeltent show, McLeish’s latest creation takes its audience on a journey that begins angrily but that arcs to a powerfully emotional conclusion.
Given that Message to My Girls was performed just twice as part of the 2014 Melbourne Cabaret Festival, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience. McLeish is an entertainer and artist and Message to My Girls has real heart and soul.
Mike McLeish: Message to my Girls
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Saturday 28 June 2014 – 8.30pm
Season: 28 & 29 June 2014
For more information, visit: www.melbournecabaret.com for details.
Image: Mike McLeish
Review: John Paul Tansey