Cabaret Fringe

Cabaret Fringe Festival Review: Little Man

Presented by Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Festival
Reviewed 12th June, 2021

Adelaide-based cabaret performer, writer, composer, choir director and all-round nice guy BJ Shaw performed a cabaret focussed on LGBTQIA+ issues associated with a range of their life experiences. Songs and patter covered their 29 years’-worth of experiences from being a Bridgewater baby to the present day. Singing, chatting and sometimes accompanying themselves on piano (rather well), Shaw’s show promised much joy, especially for people who champion inclusivity at all levels of our society.

The Nexus was packed with a crowd of people who obviously knew and loved Shaw; perhaps because of their work as a choral director in a number of communities.

Shaw’s playlist was fascinating.  As well as singing three original songs, they covered “Wannabe” (Spice Girls, 1996), “Gangster’s Paradise” (Coolio, 1995), “I want you” (Savage Garden, 1995), Magnolia (Gang of Youths, 2015), “In the wee small hours of the morning “ (Mann, 1955), “Everywhere (Christine McVie, 1986), “Space they cannot touch” (Keir Nuttall, 2008), “Out tonight” (Jonathan Larson, “Rent”, 1996), “No aphrodisiac” (The Whitlams, 1997) and “Stop” (Spice Girls , 1997). Not stinting in breadth of material, although the late ‘nineties seem to be their happiest place. What amazed me was Shaw’s astounding ability to make them all seem unappealingly similar.

Consistent and supportive playing from their fine piano accompanist, Matt Morrison, was not to blame for the sameness of Shaw’s many offerings.  It was Shaw’s own lack of dramatic focus and vocal energy which rendered bland this varied fare. Shaw has a beautiful baritone voice, with ready access to their falsetto range.  Some material was in too low a pitch for them to handle the lowest notes (for example, the prelude to “Wee small hours”). A baritone’s stock-in-trade is the warmth and resonance of their tone. Slower ballads like “Space they cannot touch” and original “My colours are my own” would have shone with added resonance. Shaw is a trained music theatre performer; it surprised me that their sung voice is not embodied.

Shaw’s speaking voice is good; even, clear and beautifully phrased and articulated, if a little too light. Their sung pitch accuracy is mostly excellent, except when coping with ultra-low notes.

The story of Little Man traces much of Shaw’s life thus far. They recollect being a 5-year-old devotee of the Spice Girls, a misfit in a faith-based school, a lonely Minnesota State U undergrad… a gay peg in a straight hole. This is such a valid and useful story and should be told. Much still needs to be addressed in our less-than-fair nation. Catherine Campbell was acknowledged as both dramaturg and director for this show. I am frankly delighted that a cabaret performer takes their art seriously enough to apply both of these critical elements to the structuring and presentation of their show.

BJ Shaw received a standing ovation from their audience. Speaking as a GFCBLF (gender-fluid carbon-based life form), I wanted a lot more commitment to the cause and less easy charm and chatting; leave that for the dinner parties. Stonewall wasn’t a high tea. Spice Girls anthems demand vocal energy and a dynamic persona.

[NOTE: BJ Shaw’s personal pronouns are they/them]

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Rating out of 5:  3 stars

Season Ended

cabaret, Cabaret Fringe Festival, BJ Shaw

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