Michael Griffiths: Cole

★★★★
music review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Michael Griffiths
Published 08 Aug 2016

Australian cabaret performer Michael Griffiths has done pop divas—Madonna and Annie Lennox, specifically—and made quite a name doing so. So it's a change to see him taking on an old bloke from the thirties. Cole Porter, though, was no ordinary man, rather the writer of some of the 20th century's most dazzling songs. And Griffiths is no ordinary singer, but an interpreter of extraordinary sensitivity.

Partly, it's Anna Goldsworthy's script which raises this show above the ordinary. Porter is a fascinating character, occupying a series of liminal roles—married but obviously homosexual; a family failure but global success; a studiously polite man living in "anything goes" times—which Goldsworth makes the most of. She balances smart song choice with monologue, always skirting close to a heart of darkness without ever needing to call it by name. After all, "that's what a song is for".

Mostly, though, Griffiths' performance provides the alchemy here. He maintains a studied politeness which is both comically knowing—slathered in irony—and deeply fragile. He leaves space for careful introspection, foregrounding Porter's remarkable wit and sparkle but never allowing it to dominate. He's very funny, very reflective – oh, and very, very good at singing. With full-throated glee, Griffiths ekes every last bit of irony and tragedy from Porter's lyrics, accompanying himself on the piano with arrangments that are much more than serviceable. He picks out bass motifs to toy with, or chord clusters to refresh: these are real interpretations of standards rather than singalongs. Of course, there's a singalong too. And a suave rewriting of a verse that the great songwriter would undoubtedly written himself had he loved Edinburgh rather than Paris. Michael, baby, you're the top.