Studio At The Memo. Reviewed by Andrew Tanner.
Music theatre & cabaret? Not a big fan. All those jazz hands, all that over emoting. When someone starts warbling ‘Send In The Clowns’, I’d rather see an actual troupe of unicyling, red nose sporting dudes in comically oversized boots enter the room than have to sit it out ‘til the end of that treacly tune. Mark me down as a ‘Liza with a no thanks’ kinda guy.
Which is all by way of saying I approached the new local Foxtelproduction StudioAt The Memo with some caution. The opening titles give us a fair indication of what’s to come. Host Tim Rogers, a rock’n’roll veteran of several decades standing, trawls through St Kilda’s back alleys as an assortment of suspiciouscharacters look on. It’s noir-ish, all smoky eyeliner &blue light, and it presages a more adult, late night version of the showbiz life. Then we’re into the red light bathed Memo, as our host delivers the show mission statement: a traversal of the various byways of ‘burlesque, cabaret and other assorted entertainments’.Gulp.
But here’s the thing. The second ep turns out to be a pretty satisfying watch. Rogers is an engaging presenter – a lower key, less arch version of Joel Grey’s emcee in Cabaret. While there’s been some criticism of his theatrical, heavily scripted style I for one am happy to see an Australian TV host play something other than the ‘hey, I’m just an average bloke like you’ card.
For uncommitted viewers like yours truly, Memo has all the benefits of the variety show format, to whit – if you don’t like this act, wait 3 minutes and something else will come along. Like a leggy showgirl folding herself into an impossibly tiny Perspex box. Yes she did.
Alongside contortionists, you can expect a cavalcade of local and international performers, a sprinkling of interviews and a varying standard of comedic acts. But music is the main game here, and it’s damn good. The second show featured a powder pink suited Paul Capsis belting out Laura Nyro’s stone cold classic ‘And When I Die’ (by way of Blood Sweat & Tears’ intricate arrangement) alongside Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. Zoot suited r’n’b singer Mojo Juju and alt rock rising star Abbe May rounded out the musical guest list, ably backed by the super slick, super tight house band The Syndicate. They’re the show’s secret weapon, adept at toggling between bold’n’brassy or sleazy and sinuous depending on the demands of the material.
Tim Rogers himself is in fine voice, clearly enjoying the chance to stretch out on some soul and r’n’b grooves. His opening number with the band was a fine version of last year’s collab with The Bamboos ‘I Got Burned’, and spark up it did.
Regrets? I had a few. Tex Perkins hamming it up on a spoken word pisstake of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (the Stewart, not Young version) felt more school camp skit than high camp comedy. Rogers isn’t the greatest interviewer, but what the conversations lacked in deep insight were more than made up for by the genuine warmth and enthusiasm between host and performer.
The major criticism was the surprising lack of live ambience. Audience interaction has always been the DNA of this kind of show, and it’s not like Rogers can’t generate that kind of heat. Turning up the floor mics might be a good start, so we catch some of the laughter and applause that ensues.
All in all these are minor quibbles. In a TV landscape that offers sparse opportunities for local performers and musicians Studio At The Memo is a worthy platform – and for this cabaret sceptic, a lot of bloody good fun too.
Studio At The Memo: 8.30pm Tuesdays on Studio(Foxtel)