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Music theatre delight

Robert Hofmann and Penny Shaw, ‘Au Naturel!’ ⋅
13 September 2019, Kidogo, Fremantle ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

Perth connoisseurs of sophisticated light entertainment know they are in good hands with baritone Robert Hofmann (“fresh from New York”) and soprano Penny Shaw. The audience was treated to a range of duets and solos from musical theatre as the artists shed their operatic selves (with a couple of exceptions) in favour of a relaxed cabaret show at the popular Fremantle venue Kidogo.

The evening kicked off with the duet from Bernstein’s Candide (which some might argue to be operatic), which illustrates the differences in expectations of the newly betrothed eponymous hero and Cunegonde. The theme of odd/unlikely/unsuitable couples recurred throughout. More irony followed, with Hofmann’s warm and self-deprecating presentation of ‘Wonderful’ from Wicked then Shaw’s appropriately coy ‘I enjoy being a girl’ from Rogers and Hammerstein’s now little remembered (and possibly too non-PC these days?) Flower Drum Song. This opening bracket showed both singers in full voice (were mikes really needed?), Hofmann smoothly resonant and Shaw brightly scintillating. The singers, supported by accompanist Tommaso Pollio, blended well together, both fully engaged in the dramatic moment of each number.

Hofmann and Shaw with Pollio at the piano. Photo Mark Liao

Some less familiar fare varied the emotional trajectory, culminating in Sondheim’s ‘Broadway Baby’ (from Follies) delivered with great razzamatazz by Shaw. Then a treat: Shaw’s celebrated impressions of all the women characters in Downton Abbey, delivered in the context of a prequel to the greatly loved (and timely, given the current release of the movie) TV series. It was bracketed by the Frank Loesser song ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ and the title theme from New York, New York.

After an interval, Shaw stepped back from the mike to deliver a rafter ringing aria ‘Tacea la notte’ from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, lightening the mood afterwards with an anecdote about the super diva Montserrat Caballé. The charming Mozart duet ‘Bei Männern’ (The Magic Flute) sung in English was an excellent bridge back to music theatre. I was delighted with songs from one of my favourite musicals (and especially the Ken Russell movie version) The Boy Friend by Englishman Sandy Wilson, firstly the duet ‘You’re never too old’ (who could forget Max Adrian in soiled spats?), and Shaw’s adaptation of ‘It’s nicer in Nice’ in celebration of Fremantle.  Hofmann strutted his stuff in ‘Everything old is new again’ (by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager) and the show concluded with the duet from Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The audience could certainly have done with more, but were more than happy with what they had received, a very satisfying good night out.

Pictured top: Penny Shaw sings with Robert Hofmann. Photo Mark Liao.

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