Ensconced on a huge sea shell, aping her idol, Bette Midler, Catherine Alcorn is a unique and highly accomplished artist. She spits orders to her two long suffering Harlettes (Candy Cane and Miss L Toe), as they work desperately to guide the unwieldy Shell around the stage.
As Miss Bette, she prowls the stage, exuding excessive effervescence, punctuated by glances of steely disdain at anyone or anything that threatens her aura of self-satisfaction.
Using the seashell as a screen, she quickly removes the outer layer of her costume to reveal an incredible red sequined concoction, before noting that “there’s good beneath the gaudy” and launching into a stylish version of Meredith Wilson’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas for which the Harlettes dutifully provide superb harmonies.
Alcorn has been performing The Divine Miss Bette around Australia and internationally since 2015. Indeed she won the Best Cabaret Production in the 2018 Broadway World Awards with the original iteration, which has also been seen previously at The Q.
For this Christmas edition, Alcorn has taken the opportunity to introduce even more wacky costumes, (at one point dressed as a Christmas present with the Harlettes as bon bons), natty new choreography, and some superbly arranged Christmas songs.
She’s cleverly retained the best songs from the previous version, including Delta Dawn, Do You Want To Dance and Under the Board Walk, and the best of her wickedly bawdy, Sophie Tucker jokes, all of which, like your favourite Christmas cracker jokes, are so bad they’re good.
She teeters around the stage in perpetual motion, skewering audience members foolhardy enough to have purchased front-row tickets with personal questions. Stopping only long enough to charm with yet another superbly sung ballad, because with all her other gifts, Alcorn is a very fine singer.
Among her most memorable songs is her goose-bump -inducing interpretation of the Julie Gold ballad, From a Distance for which she was sensitively accompanied by one of the best accompanists in the business, Michael Tyack, on piano, and three equally accomplished musicians in Crick Boue and Tommy Novak on guitars, and Geoff Green on drums.
As diverting and razor sharp as are Alcorn’s comedic skills, it’s her talents as a superlative songstress that had her audience demanding more songs from her. She happily obliged with scintillating versions of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, The Long John Blues and inevitably, The Rose – as well as a red-hot arrangement of Jingle Bells, and a dreamy version of Silent Night – which had the audience, unbidden, softly crooning along with her.
Though you could be forgiven for thinking that Alcorn was the only person on stage, she has cannily surrounded herself with top-shelf supporting artists in Kirby Burgess and Clare Ellen O’Connor as the Harlettes. Both are superb backing singers, excellent dancers and clever comediennes who provide delightful characterisations which support, without drawing focus from the star.
Her band and musical arrangements are excellent, as are the quirky costumes, choreography, and pretty Christmas stage decorations, all of which make this a Christmas show to be relished.
The Divine Miss Bette Christmas Special
The Q Theatre, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Wednesday 18 December 2019
Season continues to 21 December 2019
For more information, visit: www.thedivinemissbette.com for details.
Image: Catherine Alcorn stars as Miss Bette – photo by Michael Moore
Review: Bill Stephens OAM