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Monday 08 November 2010

Lyrical gender reassignment

Posted in: Performance, Music
By Jacqui Stanford - 7th September 2010

Paul Barrett

The musical director for gay cabaret Songs For Guy lives his life by one performance rule: the audience must be entertained.

Paul Barrett was the man Auckland couple Kip Chapman and Todd Emerson tasked with making the music work with the stories in their show. The pair took real stories from gay men and added a range of songs, changing their context so that they are sung by men, about men.

It's a tight knit crew. Barrett is a friend and colleague of Chapman, so it was an easy alliance. "How many gay music directors are there around?" Barrett jokes. "There aren't many of that description, of any species. So I was his first port of call," he says.

"That's how casting goes when you've been in the business for awhile. You get a call 'do you want to do this role?' and go 'oh yeah ok'." So now Barrett does not have to line up with sweaty, nervous people auditions for roles. "I've done my time," he laughs.

He sure has. The actor, singer and musical director has appeared in over 100 professional theatre productions, played numerous roles on television and recently carried out his most challenging show – a solo piece TIC TAC, which was part of the comedy festival .

Kip Chapman
He says Chapman fashioned the stories around the music, "to make them either segue nicely around the numbers or be in ironic contrast to it, in some cases. You know, there's one story where you see a guy who is terribly nervous and terribly insecure – and then (performer) Steven Butterworth goes into a really outrageous almost sort of drag song, so it's a wonderful contrast."

Many of the songs are from male artists, who sing about women in the originals. Barrett put the lyrics through what he describes as 'gender reassignment'.

"It was easy to change she to he and her to him, because they're both one syllable. Unless there's some line like 'I want to have his baby,' which can cause some problems, emotional loss and erotic sexual jealousy of course are common to any combination. "

Barrett cites I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy from South Pacific as an example of where it was a little easier. "We do that classic – that was my idea that one. I said 'here's a great song, it's already a song sung about a man . . . that number is sheer joy at the discovery of love."

He says the song finishes with the line 'I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love' repeated 18 times. "And we all know that feeling. Sometimes the most simple statements are just the freest and most open."

"There might be a few people who are shocked to hear numbers like that famous Bill Joel song, become 'He's Got a Way About Him', because it's so famous. But that's part of the fun of it."

Performer and co-creator Todd Emerson
There is a real range of music in the show and Barrett laughs that for a bunch of gay men, there are actually very few musical theatre numbers. He says many of the songs are actually rock ballads. "I was really worried actually. I was saying to Kip 'are you sure we're not overdoing the big power ballads?'"

"But we've decided that's ok, that's what's unusual about the cabaret – you know there are a lot of very moving songs. It's always lovely to discover songs for the first time – there are lots of songs these guys have found which I'd never heard before. I'm delighted to play them, they're beautiful numbers."

Barrett purely wants the audiences who see the show to have a good time – because he sure will be.

Songs For Guy opens tonight at Auckland's Limelight Laugh Lounge at The Edge's Aotea Centre and runs through till Saturday.Click here for more information

Musical Director: Paul Barrett
Performed: by Todd Emerson, Andrew Laing and Stephen Butterworth
Directed: by Kip Chapman
Script Advisor: Shane Bosher

Jacqui Stanford - 7th September 2010

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