Mama Alto’s Follies Girl promised an hour of “vaudeville delights transporting audiences to a classic era of mid-century glamour reinterpreted with contemporary queer flair” in a stage spectacular inspired by the Folies Bergère, the Ziegfeld Follies, and the golden age of MGM movie musicals. I had expected, perhaps incorrectly, that a show celebrating the vaudeville arts would have more dance with its song, and more variety acts to make it vaudevillian and more like the follies.
Mama Alto enters the stage adorned in a black sequinned long dress, paired with a black feather-boa, and black feathered head-dress. Sadly, for the audience there weren’t many costume changes – just the addition of a purple transparent gown with fluffy cuffs later in the show. Again, the follies were known for their opulent costumes.
It was from when the giant teacup appeared on stage courtesy of her showboys, that Mama Alto truly shone. She said that Dita Von Teese has her famous champagne glass, Australia’s own Brief Boys have their champagne coupe, whereas for Mama Alto, her favourite drink is a big cup of tea. The tea was the perfect setting for her to perform Nina Simone’s “I want a little sugar in my bowl” and Vera Lynn’s “Be like the kettle and sing“. That leads to a very comical moment where she decides to sing like a kettle – i.e. whistle as she wanders through the audience. She says “if you had told me as a child that I would be paid to whistle and sing…”
When Mama Alto was good, she was great, but sadly the first few songs and the encore number let her down. It seemed to take her a while to warm up – her pitch was off initially but then she settled in and wowed us all with her talent. By the end of her second song. Louis Armstrong’s 1964 “Hello Dolly”, she impressed us by finishing with a sustained, long note.
It was her enchanting stage presence that kept the audience engaged through those earlier moments. For those unfamiliar with Mama Alto, she is very funny. She is clearly comfortable with the audience telling us her shows are “not scripted, I just talk to the audience and hope for the best”. We wouldn’t have known if she didn’t tell us. A few songs in she realises she hasn’t introduced herself and declares that “it’s too late to go back now” and “For those who don’t know, shame on you.”
In Follies Girl, Mama Alto is occasionally joined on stage by her showboys, one of whom was performing in Ziegfield Boy later that night. They performed a fan dance early in Follies Girl, with fuschia feathered fans and wearing nothing other than a jock-strap. Later, in a tribute to the trope of always having a song to do with the moon in the follies, Mama Alto sings Moon River while one of her boys appears on stage wearing nothing and holding only a crescent moon for decency – and as to why the men “because feminism” she declared.
Occasionally, Mama Alto appeared to be channelling Meow Meow – amusingly stopping before the end of a song to ask the audience if they’d like a big or a small finish to the song, and later asking her boys to help her out to the teacup, only to lie there and not move to help assist them at all.
Mama Alto is accompanied by a pianist, Alex Wignall, who has a few moments where he really gets to shine particularly with his piano solo in Round Midnight. The set list appears to be much more heavily inspired by the MGM musicals than by Folies Bergère or Ziegfeld Follies. However, there was a nod to the Folies Bergère with a performance of the song of the same name mixed with Puttin’ on the Ritz.
Mama Alto is clearly very talented but the bookends of her performance of Follies Girl at Adelaide Cabaret Festival sadly let her down last night. If it weren’t for those parts of the show, we would have given this 4 croissants.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
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