Review: Joey Arias (Melbourne Cabaret Festival)
I feel like before I even start writing this review I need to point out that (due to a few miscommunications and a bit of befuddlement on my part) I did not actually realise I was going to see Joey Arias. I wandered into Chapel off Chapel’s theatre and sat down to watch what I thought was going to be Chaplin: A Life in Concert. Ten minutes later, after the lights had dimmed and the smoke had substantially thickened, it was clear that tonight was NOT about Chaplin – but we were certainly in for a show.
Joey Arias is a New York cabaret icon, performing two shows as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival. Joined by pianist Charly Zastrau, Arias treats the audience to an intimate show filled with personal songs from his first recording Arias on Holiday, some rock classic and soulful renditions, laughter… and a whole lotta sass.
With Zastrau pounding out the opening of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, Arias appeared, his vast stage presence filling Chapel off Chapel’s smaller scale theatre. Audience members had followed the usher’s advice of “the closer the better” and this was certainly the intimate show that had been promised (so intimate in fact, one audience member was granted three languorous, torch-lit kisses from Arias, much to the thrill of the crowd). Joking about the smokiness of the venue, Arias stumbled comically around the stage, comparing the haze to the “London fog”. These affectionate Chapel off Chapel cracks continued throughout the show, Arias playfully pointing out it was like being in his own lounge room. Received with delight by an obviously adoring audience, this well-intended jesting made some audience members (well, one) comfortable enough to deliver some of their own. The resulting banter isn’t something I’m sure I want to share here. But it was funny. Very funny.
The hour long set was a musical mix of rock, blues and soul with Arias performing originals, such as the sultry “Sex is Beautiful” and “All of Me” (which resulted in the aforementioned kiss after each three lines of “take my lips…”). The smoke eventually lifted and Zastrau picked up where he had started the night off, this time with Arias joining in to complete “Kashmir”. Assuring us that Jimmy Page was okay with it, Arias launched into a commanding and impressive rendition of the Zeppelin classic. Let’s face it: it’s a seriously cool song and one I’m always happy to hear.
Other highlights included a cover of Cream’s “White Room” and my personal favourite, a finale of The Ronettes “Be My Baby”. The microphone was passed to a couple of audience members who happily sang the chorus (it was clear we were among show people and I may have been the only one in the room without a scrap of singing talent) and Arias exited the stage to the audience singing to him. I felt a little out of place at this point, being one of the only people not knowing the words, but it was beautiful to see Arias have this crowd sing to him. Impromptu group singing just gets to me (it was kind of like that last scene in Mighty Ducks 2 where they’re singing “We Are The Champions” around the campfire…pretty heart wrenching). In all seriousness though, I was lucky enough to witness something pretty great.
So, in essence, ten minutes into this show Chaplin had been well and truly shoved from my thoughts. The hour was all about Arias and he delivered an elegant, insanely fun evening that I wished had gone for longer. If you hate crowd interaction and swearing, maybe sit up the back (although this won’t help for the swearing, and there is still a chance Arias will find you and kiss you). Special kudos go to Zastrau – his playing and repartee with Arias made this show especially brilliant.
Thursday 27th June, 9pm
Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran