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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Bowie and Mercury Rising



Chapel Off Chapel – July 26-30 2017

International composer Warren Wills’ tribute to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie is a visual mess. This bemusing mishmash of montage, interpretive dance and lasers does little to honour the memories of these late icons. The often-convoluted arrangements highlight Wills’ skills rather than allowing the music to shine, detracting from the tribute.

From the obvious head shots of Bowie and Mercury through to seemingly random stock images of scenery, the projected montage has the coherence and professionalism of a school PowerPoint presentation. The transitions between images are choppy and they seem to serve no purpose other than filling in space.

Fortunately, Melbourne RnB singer and actress Thando Sikwila, whose credits include Dreamgirls and The Colour Purple, graces Chapel Off Chapel with her powerhouse vocals once again for Bowie and Mercury Rising. Offering some redemption for the disorienting visuals, Sikwila’s rich, smooth vocals supported by Wills on piano are the main draw for the show.

Inexplicably marketed as a musical, Bowie and Mercury Rising is more cabaret than musical, and more ‘inspired-by’ than tribute. Sikwila is given the host-esque role of cohering the performance, but her awkward dialogue of puns and impersonal anecdotes between songs fall flat. Don’t expect a story and don’t expect an emotional journey; there’s little in terms of narrative to guide the audience, and Sikwila unfortunately lacks the warmth and charisma needed to drive the performance in this role.

The show’s lighting budget appears to have been allocated to gear rather than design. Jason Bovaird’s light design demonstrates the same lack of cohesion as the other elements of the show. Late in the performance, a short laser show is as unexpected as it is underwhelming, apparently moving through all available settings rather than having any semblance of structure. Lights also occasionally blind the audience; squinting at the stage through the brightness, I can see I’m not the only one shielding my eyes from the glare.

Melbourne dancer Jessica Mortlock is undoubtedly talented, but her contribution to the show does little to ease the jarringly incohesive show. From writhing beneath sheets to gyrating atop the piano and later donning retro clothing to enthusiastically grin dance like the next member of High-5, Mortlock’s choreography treats each song as an individual show with no thought to the overarching performance. Mortlock clashes energetically with the laid back Sikwila, gently swaying while she sings.

Bowie and Mercury Rising should probably come with an epilepsy warning and complimentary sunglasses. Nevertheless, Sikwila and Wills will at least entertain you with this Bowie- and Mercy-inspired cabaret.