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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Review: Divine Divas at the Aotea Centre

Posted in: Performance
By Richard Howard - 1st November 2009


Divine Divas - ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge.

1 November 2009

Produced by Mario Mailo Promotions (Australia)

Warren Gooch - Director

Choreography by Todd Patrick

Anita Beer Compere

Like the array of musical Divas presented on stage, the concept and the show itself was a bit of an impersonation of the high-energy Las Vegas style show we were promised.

It's a very strong cast, each performer specializing in the characterization of one or more of the world's leading women musical stars; we know them better as 'our gay Icons'.

Overall there was some excellent impersonation work, performed in that Amazonian, high drama, 'drag queen style' but tempered with the softer tones associated with the female impersonation genre and with clearly identifiable references to the physicality and style of the living characters.

Although the visual attributes of the characters were not in all cases captured as well as they might be, the reverse was also true, especially Liza Minelli played by Raymond Joosten and Cher by Wayne Heaton; both strong in looks and performance. Tina Turner by Owen Moss, was a little stunner and there was no doubt about whose enduring spirit and presence ruled the stage at that moment.

Barbra Streisand, Pink, Whitney, Celine, Beounce were all presented well among other stars. Perhaps a better choice of song for Madonna, a better wig for Dolly Parton and more attention to Kylie Minogue's first costume may have suspended my disbelief a little more.

When I say that the two, mainly bare-chested, slim hipped professional male dancers (Wellington and Melbourne trained) dazzled the audience with ultra rapid, sexy, sustained high energy 'dirty dancing' like moves, I mean that they stood out and shined brighter than the sequins on a drag queens evening purse. They are star performers, sometimes overshadowing the performer or the ensemble that they were supporting.

Miss Anita Beer, irritatingly always introduced as the Star of the show, provided a warm, fun connection between the stage and the audience as the compere; with female impersonator looks but drag queen patter.

This ballsie band of OZ gender-benders have put in the hard yards and generously lavished their skills and talents; and a container load of dazzling, feathered, sequined and bejeweled –costumes; upon a largely appreciative audience. Good on you mates, err gals, err boys err men!

So why then did this production ultimately fail to amaze, to lift the roof off, to deliver on the promise?

Well where was the Las Vegas type staging? Where were the amazing lighting and visual effects? Where was the classy creative direction? Where was the champagne character that we associate with such spectacles? Well, wherever it all was - it didn't arrive in Auckland among the myriad of hat boxes.

Divine Divas performs against a large plain black curtain with some flashing swirling disco lights and a bit of wispy smoke. Had anyone bothered to whip over the stage floor with a mop or a polisher recently?

A centralized screen at the back flashes old footage of the living characters in concert and in film roles. The classic show voice welcomes and welcomes, and welcomes the performers to the stage again and again across the p.a.

In the first half particularly there is a pedestrian quality to performers moving on and off stage as if to the beat of a well worn drum. There is no light or shade in this production, No pathos, no torch songs; it's all loud and in your face. Two male dancers work valiantly to fill the role that should appropriately be filled by a full dance chorus.

This is expensive costuming with quality performances overall but with cheap staging by numbers folks; and it lets the performers and the audience down big time!

Divine Divas is a highly commercial entertainment product; one of many, high-earning tribute type shows coming out of Australia right now and circulating the middle of the road populations of the planet. There is nothing innovative or clever about the productions, no particular technical feats of stage magic. Such shows are entertaining enough but like the lost second half of a fruit and nut bar you are left pining and wondering what it could have been like!

Richard Howard - 1st November 2009

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