Fringe Review: Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir: Earthalujah!

We enter the ecclesiastical gloom of the Bonython Hall. Dim blue lights glow from the far-off stage. As is only proper, the choir processes into the venue.  We hear them behind us, singing a segment of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, as they make their way to the stage. They sound great, although the words seem unfamiliar. Banners, carried by two children, proclaim “Stop Shopping: Earthalujah!”

By
Earthalujah!
Overall
4.5

Reviewed at Bonython Hall on 1 March 2019

Presented by RCC Fringe

We enter the ecclesiastical gloom of the Bonython Hall. Dim blue lights glow from the far-off stage. As is only proper, the choir processes into the venue.  We hear them behind us, singing a segment of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, as they make their way to the stage. They sound great, although the words seem unfamiliar. Banners, carried by two children, proclaim “Stop Shopping: Earthalujah!”

The choir begins a driving up-tempo number about the imminent end of the world as we know it. There are ten singers, a non-singing electric bass player and a very-much-singing keyboard player, Nehemiah Luckett, in a sharp-as purple suit. This is a broad church, and a colourful one, too.  The dress code memo must have read “Fluoro/sparkly”. The choristers display an assorted range of ages, races, genders and skin colours, and their clothing is just as joyfully diverse.

One more song, a gentler ¾ piece, pondering the “market is god” concept, and Rev Billy himself appears, suggesting a more positive viewpoint in the version he sings, about a place where protest is not a mortal sin. The Reverend, in fuschia pink lounge suit and clerical collar, and a hairstyle reminiscent of the late Billy Graham’s, wears a mildly worried look most of the time. Understandably. He speaks and sings about consumerism, sweatshop labour, racism, corporate greed, threats to the environment, imminent extinction of many species, fossil fuels, and the human animal as predator. He also enumerates positive steps which could delay or prevent disaster.

The choir sings a refreshingly varied range of material, but everything is heartfelt, passionate, unambiguous, articulate, fearless and in gorgeous harmonies. Their voices blend well, and there are outstanding voices amongst them. Soprano Jessica Wiscovitch has an astonishing voice, both true and timbrally glorious. Nehemiah Luckett, the choir’s music director, sings up a storm in his solos. In the final song of the show, Graham (sorry, no surname) gave an impassioned reading of a song which, amongst other things, said “borders are made-up stories”. This is hugely relevant socio-political material, never trivialised, always pertinent.

Throughout the performance, a large black-and-white photo of a man’s face is displayed onstage on an easel. Rev Billy mentions that this man, Teoadros Tamirat, formerly of Ethiopia, who now sings with the choir in New York, was refused exit by American customs and refused entry by Australian authorities.  Shame.

Through entertainment, highly skilled musicianship, sincerity, good fact-finding research and a gut-load of despair at the lack of ethical leadership and empathy worldwide, this cheery choir, child of Billy Talen and Savitri Durkee, teaches new generations to care for Gaia and curb blind consumerism, while the elders in the pews cry “Amen!”.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Venue:  Bonython Hall
Season:  1st – 10th March, 2019
Duration:  60 minutes
Tickets:  $33 / $28

 

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